THUNDER BAY – Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here to give my first State of the City address.
The partnerships between the Chamber, the City and First Nations from across the region are vital. These partnerships help our community to grow, retain and expand business, provide jobs, and have a higher quality of life.
We are neighbours, partners and friends.
After forty-six years of living in this city I am still amazed at the treasure we call home.
Our geography is second to none – its beauty a part of who we are.
Our people are incredibly resilient – determined to make Thunder Bay a better place to live and enjoy.
Today, global forces and global demands for natural resources are creating huge opportunities for the economic future and diversity of our region.
The next four years will be spent building a solid future that keeps our children here, a future inclusive of young and old, rich and poor, the able and the physically challenged.
I believe each person who lives in this city deserves nothing but our best in ensuring they are included in our efforts.
Today, we face challenges which we will address by working together with confidence, dedication and fresh ideas.
Two such challenges are the Wind Farm and completion of Phase 1 of the Waterfront Project.
We’ll have to wait out the first issue. As it makes its way through legal channels I can assure you City Council will be diligent. By now you will have heard about budget escalation associated with the Waterfront Project. While I’m disappointed, I will support the recommendation to increase the budget at this time, which involves reallocating available City funds from the next phase of the project. We need to complete this project. From my perspective we can’t move forward by looking back. Come October 31st we will all have a project of which we can be proud. Maybe we can bring in the New Year with fireworks and a skating party. For the longer term I would also like to see a winter carnival down there that rivals the Quebec Winter Carnival.
A personal hero of mine is George Chuvalo, who I met this summer in Gull Bay with Wilfred King.
A retired Canadian heavyweight boxer, he was never knocked down in 93 professional fights between 1956 and 1979.
He didn’t always win (though often he did) but he was never knocked down!
Closer to home we see that kind of resilience in Thunder Bay lawyer and human rights activist David Shannon. In 1999, he trekked 9,000 kilometres across Canada in a wheelchair to promote greater social inclusion. He was the first paraplegic to reach the North Pole. And, since late last month, he’s now a recipient of the Order of Ontario.
That’s the kind of resilience and determination I see in Thunder Bay. We’re fighters. We go the distance and, when we set our sights on achieving goals, we very often win! We may sometimes be on the ropes but you just can’t knock us down.
By capitalizing on our resilience, our determination and our imagination, we will respond to new global challenges and turn them into new and exciting opportunities.
Economic development is as important a challenge as any.
We must learn from past endeavours and ensure that every step we take is a building block to our future success… As a research and innovation centre… As a mining service centre. ..As a value-added forestry centre …As a manufacturing centre…As a regional health centre. As a transportation hub.
We know elections are coming up for the other orders of Government and we, together with the Chamber, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, First Nations and other partners, want to send a strong message that the north deserves special attention. It must be recognized that Northwestern Ontario is an emerging force. Just last week I attended a meeting of the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors. We were unanimous in calling on the Government to release the final version of the Northern Ontario Growth Plan along with new funding dollars for infrastructure and labour force development – and, I stress, new dollars. We said give us the tools and we’ll put them to work for sustainable economic development. History tells us that when Northwestern Ontario does well, all of Ontario benefits!
We must also listen carefully to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing people, businesses and organizations in our city.
You may have heard about my Walkabouts. Walkabout Wednesdays. I together with other Councillors and senior managers make a point to get out of City Hall to see and hear first hand what is happening in the community.
On a bus to the east end we learned that the seniors are having difficulty because the bus stops in the early evening and they’re left to walk across the bridge or through the underpass.
On a tour of Lakehead University we met the new president, Brian Stevenson, and learned how excited he is to advance our university as a learning and research facility and as an engine of opportunity, as a collaborative force in job creation and investment partnered with the Thunder Bay CEDC.
On a visit to Confederation College, I saw how they are preparing folks for emerging jobs in the mining sector. President Pat Lang has done an amazing job anticipating and responding to changing trends and the College has big shoes to fill. I would like to recognize Pat. It’s that kind of foresight and insight that makes Thunder Bay such a wonderful place.
On future walkabouts we hope to learn more about the concerns of business – large and small – and how we can better support you for the “waves” of opportunities we envisage over the next five to 10 years.
The walkabouts are a demonstration of our philosophy as a City Council. We want to be visible in the community. We want to listen. We want to bring what we learn to the City Council table.
We also want to take Council’s goals and priorities to the community. Together, we will find solutions to the challenges and the many emerging opportunities we face as a community.
Seeing first hand – and I have seen it first hand, believe me –the devastation caused by substance abuse it’s clear we must work together to act before circumstances worsen. We must support the drug strategy and I salute Rebecca Johnson for being chair of that strategy. Just this past Monday, Council supported a needs analysis to address crisis related housing for people with substance abuse problems. We are addressing this problem now. We cannot let it fester any longer.
Seeing a child without food is unacceptable. Our city should not tolerate hunger and poverty. We are committed to working with the community to develop a poverty reduction strategy with measurable goals. In four years we must be able to say we have raised the bar. We simply cannot fail.
Everyone here is part of the solution like the Paterson Foundation and Fort William Rotary when they made major contributions to the building campaign for the Regional Food Distribution Association. I challenge each of you to reflect on your contributions to social sustainability. Can we do more – individually and together?
Seeing many aboriginal people still fighting for equality or waiting to be welcomed within our society is something that in 2011 should no longer exist – and I, as Mayor, will not tolerate. We have made some progress but not enough.
We need to recognize and appreciate that our closest neighbour is Fort William First Nation, and it is on their traditional land that this city was built. We have met with Chief Peter Collins and together we’re planning an historic meeting between Thunder Bay City Council and the Fort William First Nation Band Council. We can – and we will – accomplish many great things together.
Thunder Bay is also a historic Métis settlement so we must remember the contributions that Métis people have made and continue to make in our community.
People from Nishnawbe Aski Nation are not only our guests, they are our family, our friends, and our partners in building a new regional economy and a new north where everyone’s human rights are respected. I am pleased to have been invited to address the NAN Economic Summit and in December I spoke to the All Chief’s Conference – and it was an honour. We have met with Grand Chief Stan Beardy. He has 49 communities in his territory. Our vision is to make
Thunder Bay the 50th NAN Community. We are building a strong rapport that will only grow stronger over time.
We are fortunate to have major First Nation organizations and businesses in Thunder Bay – like Matawa, NAN, Wasaya – and many, many more. Recently, the City Manager and I have met with many Aboriginal organizations and the message I’m hearing is that we’re not taking full advantage of the opportunities they have created by choosing Thunder Bay as a home base. We have heard that nearly $1 billion leaves Ontario for Manitoba for everyday goods and services.
Really, though, economics is a secondary benefit. What comes first are our relationships – it’s about respect, inclusion and being good neighbours. And we must remember that when we talk about the Ring of Fire.
Hearing from people that they are having a tough time making ends meet and feeling overtaxed is another reality and a challenge we must recognize.
Creating a city that provides efficient affordable services while finding new and innovative ways to deliver them is possible if everyone, management and union, Council and Administration work together to make it happen. In 2011, the City Manager will be starting a detailed multi-year review of all corporate processes and City services to identify cost savings that can go to reduce taxes or reinvest in areas like capital road improvements.
Administration has worked hard to deliver a preliminary budget for Council’s consideration with a projected 1.6 per cent average residential tax increase. An important point to note is that if your property assessment has not changed in 2011, there will be no increase in City taxes. Budget discussions are currently underway and, over the next few weeks, Council will continue to discuss priorities and take a close look at the Budget. As you may remember from the campaign, I wanted a budget freeze for two years and, while that’s not possible because of service and infrastructure needs, we will get as close as we possibly can. Currently, the City budget overall is only up by 0.4% in 2011. So, I’m happy with that, but I still want it to come down.
As Mayor, I am working closely with Council, the City Manager and our Administrative Team starting with our new strategic plan that will set priorities for the City. We are off to a good start and later this month, we will be asking citizens for their thoughts on services and priorities as part of our Strategic Planning Process. We will be asking community leaders like the Chamber to be our partners in the process. We want to align our efforts for the benefit of the community overall.
In 2009, citizens told City Council that roads are a top priority for service improvements. We are listening. In addition to 10 million dollars for road improvements, bridges and related infrastructure through the normal capital budget, a new Infrastructure Renewal Program of 1.5 million dollars is proposed that would focus on enhanced City roads resurfacing and early work to prepare the way for major infrastructure enhancements to the important Golf Links
Road/Junot Avenue Corridor. We will also be working through our Clean Green and Beautiful Committee to beautify our city starting with the image routes we all drive every day. I personally want the trees back on Memorial Avenue to honour our soldiers.
While it is easy to say we must attract new industry, the fact is we simply have to just do it if we are to alleviate the tax burden on our businesses and property owners. In 2010, our assessment base increased by 0.64 [point six four] per cent so we’re heading in the right direction and I would like to see our tax base increase on average by 1 to 1.5% per year. New assessment means new jobs, new homes, new businesses and it is a major indicator of the prosperity of a City.
Global competitive economic factors are a reality but we need to do everything we can to get that figure up above one per cent and head towards the two per cent range so we can realize real growth.
We must continue to support, reinvent, and grow our traditional resource-based economy which if achieved can only add to those successes and create a future that a decade ago was only a dream. Forestry may be on the ropes across Canada but it will rebound as a value-added industry.
Now that AbitibiBowater has stabilized, the company will, subject to certain corporate conditions being met, invest about 48 million dollars over a two to three year construction period for a new condensing turbine at their Thunder Bay facility. More competitive energy pricing will help all of our industries to compete in a global marketplace. We will be bringing that message loud and clear, Councillors, NOMA (Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association) and others, when we go to the OGRA (Ontario Good Roads Association) Conference at the end of the month.
The potential for the mining sector, new exciting jobs in health care and new contracts and new jobs at our local Bombardier plant are wonderful examples of efforts to help us transition our economy from one that depended traditionally on natural resources to one that is diversified and better positioned to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Growth in each of these areas means we must continue to fight for our community.
In fact, we see growth and development all around us. Old buildings are coming down. Building permits are going up. We’re seeing new buildings come up from ground like the DSSAB (District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board) building in the South Core and excavation has started on the consolidated courthouse.
Thunder Bay has made it well known that it is keenly interested in the potential of being the site for the proposed ferrochrome processing facility – and it’s not a smelter, I don’t want to hear that again… We must never forget, however, who manages and directs the resources on First Nation lands. I’m going to repeat that: we must never forget who manages and directs the resources on First Nation lands.Equally, it’s not about winning or losing – it’s about talking to our neighbours about who can do what and what’s best so we all win. Whether we are selected as the final site or not, there will be huge spinoff benefits to Thunder Bay as a mining service centre. We are dealing with a global company and we are totally committed to realizing all of the value-added opportunities that our mining resources will offer us in order to enhance our quality of life.
Another example of working with our neighbours for everyone’s benefits is Global Sticks in neighbouring Oliver Paipooinge. The state of the art facility, which I toured on Monday (and I was amazed by what I saw at that plant) will be exporting 20 different manufactured sticks from popsicle sticks to tongue depressors to the United States, supplying nearly 40% of the total market. Global Sticks will be a wonderful example of what other hard-hit forestry-dependent communities have been trying to accomplish and what Thunder Bay is actually doing – helping business create the “value add” component in forestry resources. With an investment of over 10 million dollars, the facility is expected to initially create between 85 to 90 jobs once it is fully operational and I heard just this week that it has the potential for up to 300 jobs as market opportunities emerge around the globe. This plant is going to take off and it’s going to do wonderful things for our area.
Thunder Bay’s CEDC worked hard to support Global Sticks and many other companies and initiatives in 2010. Council had one of its regular updates from the CEDC on Monday and they were involved in projects and developments that created hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in 2010. They work hard, often behind the scenes and under confidentiality agreements, to support business retention and expansion in Thunder Bay.
Finally – and very importantly, for the benefit of all residents and business, we must make community safety a priority. All local stakeholders and each one of us must band together and take back our streets.
Our City Council is tasked with providing a safe and positive environment for business to grow and prosper. We cannot ignore our role. We must set concrete measurable goals to reduce crime.
We need to show criminals that they are not wanted here while letting the rest of the world know that Thunder Bay is a safe and inviting city for business. Four years from now our community will be a safer cleaner business-friendly city!
Less poverty. Less crime and disorder.
More jobs. More economic diversity. More acceptance.
Those changes will truly make Thunder Bay one of the best places to live.
We have what it takes. The people in this room have what it takes as does our community as a whole.
Our unemployment rate has been on a downward trend since the depths of the financial meltdown. As of January, it stands at 6.8%, lower than many “comparable” cities in Southern Ontario. Nevertheless, we have much work to do to realize our potential and drive that employment rate even lower.
Let’s get off the ropes and get to work.
The future is now for Thunder Bay!
Miigwetch! Thank you!