A Tale of Two Cities

By Jason Menard

Apparently, winning in London depends on which side of the Atlantic you’re on.

Yesterday London, England surprised many and plucked the 2012 Olympics out from under France’s nose. And, in a cosmic balancing of franco-anglo relations, Montreal edged out London, Ontario for the rights to the Shiners Children’s Hospital.

So while they break out the party hats on Downing Street, there will be a noticeable lack of fezzes on display in The Forest City. And instead of developing a new site to help sick kids, Londoners on this side of the Atlantic will have to find a cure for bruised egos.

But once the shock and disappointment of losing what was, at one point, professed to be a sure thing passes, North American Londoners will have to realize that it’s time to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on whatever increased recognition the city may have earned from this five-year process.

However, London’s representatives at the conference almost erased any goodwill with an inflammatory video that alleged the proposed site of a new Shriners Hospital in Montreal’s Glen Yards – next to McGill’s planned superhospital – is contaminated. That game of dirty pool has put London behind the eight ball in terms of public relations.

While all parties were making nice afterwards and saying the right things about mending fences and working together in the future for the benefit of the children, the fact of the matter is that London and Montreal’s delegations have acted more like kids themselves during this process.

Whether it was questionable accusations about contaminated land or supercilious dismissals over the status of London as a major player in the medical game, both sides haven’t come out of this unscathed. But with the right attitude going forward, London’s loss could end up being a win-win-win situation for all parties involved.

Win #1 – The city of Montreal retains the Shriners Hospital, and whether they choose to renovate the existing Mount Royal location or invest in building a new site, the city is assured of remaining a hub for specialized pediatric care in North America.

Win #2 – The Shriners, despite what Londoners may think, made the right decision. Essentially, they were taken for granted by the powers-that-be in Montreal, who ignored requests for concessions until it was almost too late. In the end, the Shriners were able to use London’s efforts to woo them to work a better deal with their existing city while continuing 80 years of tradition.

Win #3 – And this is the trickiest of all. The clock is ticking on London’s 15 minutes of fame. As it stands now, we’ve proven that our existing facilities are worthy of international recognition – so much so that we were almost able to wrest away the prize of a Shriners Hospital from much bigger competition. But the key is to be able to build on that fame and entrench it into the minds of the masses.

It’s not enough to be respected – London needs to work to be revered. Respect means that those in the industry know what your city has to offer in your chosen field. London’s got that already – our hospital system is on par with any other in the country and, thanks to the University of Western Ontario and its research facilities, we’ve earned a solid name in the medical and research communities.

But reverence? That’s something difference. To be revered means that Joe (or Jean) Average knows who you are. Reverence means that perceived transportation issues – like those that allegedly helped to sink London’s bid – are a non-factor because you’ve got that name recognition to back it up. It’s all about how you market yourself.

Londoners are blessed and cursed by our self-importance. Internally, the city’s leadership believes The Forest City is a major player on the Canadian landscape – but externally, we’re really not much more than a spot on the map. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver – they can get away on name recognition alone. London has to work at promoting itself as a haven for the medical community.

There’s room for smaller cities to make their mark in this nation. One needs to look no further than down the 401 to see how the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge region has become an international star in future technologies and research, powered in large part by RIM.

London needs to market itself less for its forests and more for its forceps. The Shriners’ decision shouldn’t be lamented as a loss, but rather recognized as an opportunity. The city has stepped onto the national and international stages, the audiences are waiting – now it’s time to make others see what Londoners believe: that London is, and will continue to be, a legitimate player in the theatre of Canadian health.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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