Thunder Bay Mayor Hobbs Inauguration Speech

Mayor Hobbs is encouraged by the response from voters at the doors
Mayor Hobbs

Mayor Hobbs is encouraged by the response from voters at the doors
Mayor Hobbs

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs spoke on Monday night on the inauguration of the 46th City Council in Thunder Bay.

Here are the remarks delivered by the Mayor:

Good evening and Boozhoo, and welcome to this inaugural meeting of the forty-sixth Thunder Bay City Council.

Greetings on behalf of the City of Thunder Bay, which resides in the Robinson Superior Treaty and has been built on the traditional lands of the Ojibwa people of Fort William First Nation. I would also like to recognize the contributions made to our community by Métis people of Ontario.

I am joined tonight by your newly-elected City Council. I am pleased to see many returning faces here in Council Chambers – fine councillors who have served their City well over the last term. To each of you, congratulations on your re-election.

The Grade Five Class at St. Bernard School toured City Hall with Mayor Hobbs.
The Grade Five Class at St. Bernard School toured City Hall with Mayor Hobbs.

I would also like to thank all those who stood as candidates in the recent election. Thank you for caring about your City and putting your names forward.My thanks also goes to the Office of the City Clerk for overseeing the 2014 election.

On a personal note, I would to take a moment to recognize former City Councillor Joe Vanderwees, who recently passed away. Joe was a dedicated and passionate representative who did many great things for our City and he is an inspiration to us as we move forward with our work over the next four years.

Tonight, this Council is joined by two new members – Northwood Councillor Shelby Ch’ng and At-Large Councillor Frank Pullia.

Councillor Ch’ng, welcome, and congratulations. Your obvious passion for Thunder Bay and your success as an entrepreneur here in our City will no doubt allow you to make significant contributions. We look forward to working with you.

Councillor Pullia, you are no stranger to these chambers, and we are pleased to welcome you back. Your experience as a councillor and businessperson, as well as your knowledge of Thunder Bay, will be great assets during this term.

Unfortunately, we cannot welcome new councillors without saying goodbye to others.

Tonight, we recognize Ken Boshcoff and Mark Bentz. Both have served our City as members of this council for many years, and each has contributed greatly to the success of Thunder Bay.

Ken’s long service to this community has included a remarkable 26 years on this Council. His network of relationships has served this Council, and this City, extraordinarily well.

Mark too was a dedicated member of Council, overseeing often-difficult budget deliberations, leading the development of our award-winning waterfront, and offering a pragmatic approach to issues.

On behalf of the citizens of Thunder Bay, we thank them both for their contributions, and wish them the very best in their future endeavours.

They have much to be proud of, as do all the returning councillors here. Over the last four years, we saw some major projects and initiatives come to fruition. Our award-winning waterfront at Prince Arthur’s Landing is one example, and I am excited to see where phase two of that project takes us.

Ongoing repairs to streets across Thunder Bay are continuing.
Ongoing repairs to streets across Thunder Bay are continuing.

We’ve continued to address our City’s infrastructure needs. During the previous term, I often referred to my colleagues as the “infrastructure council.” I stand by that – in the last term of council, we dedicated $252 million to infrastructure.

We will continue with this critical investment in our City over the next four years.

Our credit rating has increased, and we’ve seen a record number of building permits issued. Our unemployment rate is low.

Our city’s economy, meanwhile, continues to diversify, and through that, Thunder Bay is positioning itself to seize future opportunities, such as those in the mining and knowledge-based sectors. When it comes to the economy, we work hard for everything that we get – and we will continue to work hard.

One just needs to drive around our city to see the progress. New buildings are going up. New businesses are opening their doors. Our infrastructure is being renewed and rebuilt.

Further, should we get the funding in place, we will continue to work toward the construction of a new event and convention centre that will further strengthen the ongoing revitalization of the downtown north core.

We expect to hear about that funding by the end of March 2015. If all goes well, we fully anticipate construction to begin next summer.

We are, in short, on solid footing as we move forward into a new term, and we have a strong Council in place to act as a guide. Around this table is a great deal of experience, as well as some fresh eyes that will offer new perspectives on our City’s ongoing projects and initiatives, as well as new ideas that will guide our path forward.

These next four years will surely present their own challenges, but they are full of potential and opportunity, as well.

Our Official Plan update is nearing completion. We are also well on our way to completing new master plans that will govern how our City handles climate change adaptation, and storm water management. Both of these documents will prove important to Thunder Bay’s future as we deal with increasing numbers of extreme weather events.

We must turn our focus to revitalizing our City’s historic south core. One of the first reports this new Council will deal with, in fact, is a safety audit of the South Core. That is due to be presented here on December 15.

I firmly believe we, as a Council, should focus our energy on this area of our City, and I look forward to hearing my fellow Councillors’ ideas on how we can turn the area into a thriving hub by 2018.

Many of our residents have also expressed concern over property taxes. We’ve heard you. We have reduced business taxes by an average of nine per cent in the past few years and, while seventy-five per cent of our City’s tax increases have gone toward needed infrastructure renewal, it is time we examined how we can lighten the load on our homeowners.

This is not going to be easy. Thunder Bay is faced with a challenging budget in 2015, brought on in large part by harsher winters that are expected to continue to result in higher winter maintenance and operating costs.

In addition, we must contend with MPAC’s systematic and adverse reassessments of industrial properties including, most recently, grain elevators. City Council will be faced with some tough decisions at budget time as we work to reduce costs.

To be successful, we must focus on building our assessment base by attracting new business and retaining existing businesses. We will continue to work with the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, SHIFT, our City’s young professionals network, and the Community Economic Development Commission, or CEDC, to support our City’s business sector.

We must continue to be great partners with Lakehead University, Confederation College, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute to name a few, all economic drivers in their own right.

I wish to acknowledge the CEDC here tonight, not only for the great work they’ve done for our City, but also for their leadership and initiative. Under the guidance of CEO Doug Murray, the CEDC recently completed a new three-year Strategic Action Plan.

Titled Transitioning to Growth, this new and comprehensive plan is divided into seven themes:

  1. Entrepreneurship
  2. Innovative manufacturing
  3. Training and education
  4. Logistics and supply hub
  5. Social enterprise, ICT (information, communications and technology), regional food, and film
  6. Mining readiness
  7. Business retention, expansion and succession planning

These are the areas the CEDC will be focusing on over the next three years. As a community we have worked hard to recoup employment lost from forestry through diversification. That focus has paid off with a 77 per cent increase in employment from manufacturing from 2011 to 2013.

The strategic plan is very thorough, and I look forward to seeing it produce some very exciting results for our City. Much has been done and there is much more to do to support continued economic growth in Thunder Bay and Region.

The last point on the CEDC list – succession planning – is a particularly interesting one. As our city’s population ages, and our entrepreneurial residents reach retirement age, they seek to sell their businesses to new owners. However, many have had trouble finding suitable people to take over those businesses.

Alongside the CEDC, we will work to attract new entrepreneurs to our City who can take over these established local businesses and keep them prospering.

We must also continue to take a regional approach to our economy, working with regional partners like the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and the Thunder Bay District Municipal League. I have said it many times, and I will say it again – what is good for the Region is good for Thunder Bay and what is good for Thunder Bay is good for the Region.

There are some issues we must address. Social issues such as poverty, homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, addictions, crime, racism and discrimination.

We want our City to be safe, warm, inclusive and welcoming. That sentiment, in fact, is expressed as a strategic direction in Thunder Bay’s 2011 to 2014 Strategic Plan, which directs us to create “a caring, welcoming, inclusive City,” one that’s good for those of us who live here, for our visitors, and our businesses. We all need to work harder to achieve this.

This, I believe, will be a major focus of our City’s next four-year strategic plan, which we will immediately get to work on building. I look forward to working with this new

Council to develop this road map, and working alongside our City’s dedicated Administration to see it implemented.

We want to ensure everyone, from youth to seniors, have opportunities and a sense of security. We must restore hope. Our people are our greatest strength and the diversity of our people is directly tied to our resilience as a community.

Thunder Bay has had a difficult year. Over the last 12 months, our City was faced with 10 homicides.

I think we can all understand a certain feeling of cynicism and hopelessness when faced with such tragedy.

Step back for a moment and think about what the causes are. The real risk factors of crime. Not just homicides, but all crime.

Substance use. Mental health. Poverty. Homelessness. Racism and discrimination. Bullying. Desperation. Lack of opportunity.

These issues are not simple to address. Their causes are complex – and, often, the solutions require cooperation and funding from other orders of government. Without those supports, cities like Thunder Bay are caught in a spiral.

We can treat the symptoms, but we’re not able to adequately address the risk factors – however, it’s only through addressing these that change will come.

I will use housing as an example, as the lack of affordable housing is a major issue facing our City. Our apartment vacancy rate sits at just over two per cent, and there are more than 1,000 people waiting for affordable housing in Thunder Bay.

Look at Shelter House, which is intended as an emergency service for those in need of temporary shelter. Today, it is struggling to provide longer-term housing for those in critical and continuous need of shelter.

Housing, however, is not just about bricks-and-mortar and buildings – although we do need more of those, to be sure. We must keep in mind that for affordable housing to work, it must be accompanied by other supports, which are designed to help those who have difficulty living on their own.

One of the tenets of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy is “all people in Thunder Bay have access to safe, appropriate and affordable housing.” Housing is critical – by providing housing, we can help our residents recover from addiction, we can help them address mental illness.

Housing changes everything – but we also need supports that will help those who need them transition from supportive housing, to transitional housing, to social housing.

As mentioned, many of these supports are outside of what a municipality can accomplish alone. That applies to other risk factors for crime as well – racism, poverty, addiction and mental health.

We, as a City, have an important role to play; however, we need the federal and provincial governments to come to the table. We need their support to help implement the programs and supports that are needed to address some of the social issues in our community so that Thunder Bay is safe and welcoming for everyone.

I pledge tonight to keep challenging our provincial and federal counterparts to do just that

– to provide the funding and supports we need to properly address the social issues we face here in Thunder Bay.

Our Intergovernmental Affairs Committee has done exceptionally well when it comes to working with other orders of government. The Committee, in partnership with the Energy Task Force, was instrumental in keeping the Thunder Bay Generating Station open.

There is still work to do on that file if we’re to see the station converted to natural gas; however, the committee has made headway in keeping the station open, and burning biomass, for five years. We recognize that ongoing progress on energy is absolutely critical to our city and region’s ongoing economic development efforts.

The members of our Intergovernmental Affairs Committee have proven their ability to get results. As we turn our attention to social issues, I’m sure they will be able to secure more support from other orders of government.

By 2018, I want to be able to say we’ve taken a huge bite out of crime by addressing social issues.

Lasting change comes from within, and so I am calling on all of our citizens to look at the changes they can make to make our City safer and more welcoming for everyone.

One example is racism – it is here, on our streets, and it is shameful.

I am greatly concerned about some of the conversations happening here in Thunder Bay. There are, frankly, racist attitudes and sentiments being expressed by far too many people in our city. This issue, alarmingly, seems to be growing.

No one should be judged based on where they come from or the colour of their skin, their culture, or their beliefs. Racism, discrimination and intolerance are frightening and devastating. I recently discovered that at least 12 of my family members were lost in the Holocaust. They were among the millions killed just for being who they are.

We must all stand up, united, and say No More. Say no to racial slurs. Say no to discrimination and harassment. We’re better than this.

I challenge every citizen to look deeper. I challenge you to evaluate your own attitudes, and to make an effort to get to know those who, on the surface, might seem different.

Challenge your own potentially hurtful beliefs, and those of others.

Last week, members of our Elders Advisory Council met with members of City Council and Senior Management for teachings and discussion. Anishnaabe Elder Tony DePerry told the gathering: “We are all from the same tree. We all need water. We all need food. We all bleed.” And, we all need respect.

Every man, woman and child in Thunder Bay would do well each day to remember to treat all others with respect, dignity and kindness. Remember, we are indeed all from the same tree!

I spoke before about the municipal government’s role in seeking funding and support for social programs. Well, the other side of that coin is our role as private citizens to think progressively and make an effort to be respectful, friendly, warm, compassionate and caring.

Our words carry a lot of power. I’m reminded of an encounter I had with a woman at the recent opening of the new Fort William First Nation Pow Wow grounds. I made what I thought was an innocent comment about First Nations “getting behind” the City of Thunder Bay to support our efforts.

“No,” she said, “not getting behind. Side by side. We’re side by side.”

Her words really made an impact on me. Side by side, we will create a caring, welcoming and inclusive community.

A wonderful example of all this is our City’s own Crime Prevention Council. This group of passionate volunteers does tremendous work for our community. City Hall Sounds, for example, was a huge success, filling McGillivray Square in front of City Hall with music and laughter. People of all ages came to participate.

We can preach crime prevention principals all we want. We all knew City Hall Sounds, as an idea, looked great on paper. But the key? You, the residents. You bought in, you came out. And you proved that this idea was a good one by embracing it. You promoted it, you supported it, and you made it work.

This is what we need – an interested citizenry who will support the ideas not only devised here at Council Chambers, but in the community. People like Linda Bruins, who is here tonight. Linda received the Community Hero Award at our 4th annual Community Safety Awards last month for her neighbourhood work.

Her work as Executive Director of Evergreen A United Neighbourhood helped support a transformation in the Simpson-Ogden neighbourhood to a safer, more inclusive neighbourhood where everyone is engaged, supported and respected.

This type of neighbourhood investment is something I’d like to see more of. Our City has a role to play in partnering with our passionate residents and established groups in building capacity in our various neighbourhoods, not only making them safer, but also supporting those who live there, so they may lead healthy and productive lives.

I look forward to forging new partnerships with groups like Evergreen over the next four years.

At the same awards, we heard about Jeevan Chahal, the recipient of the Young Leader Award who is standing up to hate and encouraging other young people to do the same. Jeevan is also here tonight and he exemplifies the values we should aspire to emulate as we work together for a better community.

The reality is, we need one another. Our differences and diversity are the source of our resilience and strength.

I recently received a letter from David Paul Achneepineskum, Chief Executive Officer of Matawa First Nations Management, which spoke to Matawa’s interest in working alongside the City on crime prevention initiatives.

I have also spoken with Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, and look forward to meeting with him face-to-face early in the New Year for a working session, during which we’ll map out priorities and discuss how we can continue to work together for the benefit of our communities.

Another critically important issue is the James Street swing bridge. It has been closed for more than a year, and continues to hinder travel between our City and Fort William First Nation. I wish to assure residents of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation that we remain committed to holding CN accountable to fully reopen that bridge.

Our City also needs to provide more support for those residents of remote communities who are coming to Thunder Bay to get an education.

I would like to see our residents embrace a mentorship program, one that would see new members to our community paired with a resident, who would offer them support as they go through their academic careers here in Thunder Bay.

I hope to discuss the idea with NAN, Matawa and Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school over the coming weeks.

This is what the woman at the Fort William First Nation Pow Wow grounds was talking about – working together, side by side, as partners, to make our community stronger.

Side by side with First Nations. Side by side with residents. Side by side with business and organizations. All working toward the same goal – a safe, prosperous, caring and welcoming community.

A community that’s free of racism and recognizes the contributions of diverse cultures. A community that is addressing poverty and the lack of affordable housing, that is supportive of vital programs like Street Outreach Services, or SOS, offered by Shelter House working with community partners to provide much-needed help to our most vulnerable residents, whoever they may be.

A community that’s accessible and age-friendly, that’s a warm and welcoming second home for international students, that provides exciting and enriching opportunities for our youth.

It’s more than just talk. These are all priorities for our City, and they have been for some time. With the tragedies of the last year, a spotlight has, rightfully, been shone on these issues.

I believe I can speak for everyone here at this table that we, as a Council, are dedicated to continuing our work to overcoming these social issues.

They are a priority. I am committed to doing everything we can to address them, and I am sure my colleagues around this table are, as well.

We are well-positioned to continue the transformation that started with our successful Waterfront project, hopefully extending that to the proposed event and convention centre. Thunder Bay will transform even more quickly because we stand side by side.

President Obama reminded us: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”

It is time to get back to work with renewed energy, commitment and resolve. I am excited to get started, and I look forward to working alongside my fellow Councillors, city Administration, and the citizens of Thunder Bay as we continue to move our City forward.

As we look forward to the holiday season, I wish to also ask all residents to reach out to those in need in our community. Please give – there are many worthwhile organizations, such as the United Way that do important and compassionate work in our community throughout the year. Please show your support.

Thank you, miigwetch, and God Bless.

Mayor Keith Hobbs