THUNDER BAY – On December 6th, as the new City Council and Mayor take office, Thunder Bay is about to get a new Mayor in Keith Hobbs. The retired police officer will provide a new leader atop City Council. There are also two new Councillors in addition to the Mayor; Ken Boshcoff who received a massive endorsement from voters across Thunder Bay; Paul Pugh in McKellar who steamed into office with a large majority of 65% of the votes in his ward. Hobbs won with 46% of the vote and a major lead over incumbent Mayor Lynn Peterson.
With the election will come change atop City Council. Mayor-Elect Hobbs is demonstrating in the three weeks since the civic election, that he meant what he said about several of the issues he campaigned on.
Hobbs’s style during the campaign was to engage residents, and listen. The Hobbs campaign used social networking, especially a growing Facebook group to reach out to people in Thunder Bay. Hobbs also spent literally hundreds of hours door-knocking, and listening to residents.
Speaking with Hobbs during the campaign, he expressed how over the summer he had been engaged in “gathering evidence” on what people in our community wanted. By September his four-month campaign made, in effect the standard campaign anti-climatic.
In terms of keeping promises, Hobbs promised that on Wednesdays, he would be out of the office and out in the city to continue his public engagement. Hobbs calls the effort “Walkabout Wednesdays”.
The Mayor-Elect has also kept his Facebook presence going strong.
It is a process that Hobbs, who is fairly new to social-networking will likely see some commentators and political experts try to get him to stop. It is one however that if he did, the “Hobbits” who marched with Hobbs into office likely will not accept.
In a way, Hobbs is Thunder Bay’s first “Facebook Mayor”. The Internet was, in many ways the impetus that led the way for Hobbs’ campaign. Online polls on the Internet demonstrated that there was a mood for change.
The Hobbs campaign seized on the desire for change and rode it into the Mayor’s Office. Perhaps the greatest contrast between Mayor-Elect Hobbs and Mayor Lynn Peterson was the depth of their use of new media and social networking.
Mayor Peterson declared her intention to seek re-election in January. Hobbs declared his intention to seek the Mayor’s Chair in the spring, and filed the day after he officially retired from the Thunder Bay Police Force.
By the time, Hobbs declared for Mayor’s race, the Hobbs campaign had built up almost 1000 people on the “Draft Keith Hobbs for Mayor” Facebook site. Those supporters continued on the group into the campaign. Almost every online poll was won substantially by Hobbs.
Hobbs has over 1800 Facebook Friends, and there are over 1300 people on his supporters list on Facebook. That represents a significant reach into the community. Especially when you consider that each time a person joined the Facebook page, all of their friends would see it.
Mayor Peterson’s online presence didn’t come about until September. Mayor Peterson’s website was up for the campaign and came down very quickly afterward. Mayor Peterson didn’t generate a Facebook presence at all. Now it is not that Facebook is critical to political success, but to ignore it is not a good strategy either.
The changes in technology and communications are there for all to see. In the City of Thunder Bay those changes have been in constant upgrade and improvement in most city departments. Communications from the City have improved dramatically over the past five years.
Thunder Bay, in fact much of Northwestern Ontario are now fully in the Digital Age. TBaytel is expanding, and will unveil their new combined telephone, Internet and television package in a few short weeks. An announcement from the Ontario and federal governments last week will expand high speed Internet to the North. In short, the Internet is taking an ever more important role in our city and in our region.
During the 2007 civic election, the Internet arrived as a campaign tool. The 2010 civic election saw how the newer tools of Youtube, Facebook and Twitter were solid factors.
The changes in communications for Hobbs, and for other City Councillors are critical for to both understand and engage. The new communications tools are only likely to expand throughout Northwestern Ontario, and Thunder Bay with Tbaytel moving forward to 3G Networking.
In addition over the past two years, on Facebook the demographics have shifted. While Facebook originally was mainly youth, in Thunder Bay and region, of the 70,000 people on Facebook a majority is now over the age of 40.
Communities in Northwestern Ontario have a large Internet footprint. Kenora has an 80% Internet usage, just like Thunder Bay where a large majority of the population is online.
Think of it, right now there is talk of building a new Multiplex in our city. However if all the people online on Facebook in Thunder Bay were to decide to meet, there isn’t a venue in our district large enough to handle a group of that size.
Communications on a regular basis for our incoming Mayor, and our City Councillors will be critical to engaging citizens, and in shifting old attitudes in our city. There are many mediums in the city where that can be done. They include the daily newspaper, online media, Youtube, Facebook, and the MyTBay newspaper that the City publishes.
Mayor Peterson understood that sharing information was important, and started her annual “State of the City Address”. The problem in today’s world; an annual address just isn’t enough anymore.
The Mayor seemed, through her second term to breeze past the Internet’s growing importance in Thunder Bay. Offered the opportunity to reach into the growing sea of residents, it increasingly appeared that she didn’t want to venture online.
That is not to say that Mayor Peterson doesn’t understand the importance of the Internet for Thunder Bay, but that perhaps she did not understand the importance for her campaign.
The task of navigating into a new era will now fall to Keith Hobbs. Backed by his legion of “Hobbits” it is likely that the Internet will play an ever expanding role in Thunder Bay’s civic political arena.
City Council will web-stream Council Meetings, and achieve those meetings online. It is a move that Thunder Bay must do. The first test of a live-stream Council meeting was done on NetNewsledger.com.
Having the video archive will provide an online means of recording history in Thunder Bay, and in making Council even more open and transparent to residents in our city.
Of course the in-camera sessions would not be recorded, but the impact of having yet another means of our ever Internet savvy community viewing Council Meetings would be a plus for democracy.
Change in Thunder Bay is the one constant. As a community we as residents, and our political and social leaders have to adapt and engage those changes.
It is way too early, and would be wrong to suggest that traditional media, including newspapers have seen their best days. However as the Internet continues to evolve, it is likely that Thunder Bay, like many other communities will have to continue to evolve too.