Politics as they were in Thunder Bay is not how they are

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THUNDER BAY – Residents in Thunder Bay are witnessing a change. Our economy is slated to see growth in 2011. We have a fairly solid housing market. We are reaping the economic benefits from the federal stimulus program. However the real change we are seeing is the contrast between Mayor Hobbs and his style of public engagement, and the older style politics of some of the other members of Council.

That is not to suggest that Councillors are not busy. Nor is it to suggest that Councillors don’t care.

It is however to contrast “new” politics with “old” politics. Mayor Hobbs is out in the community listening, he has continued to invest time with the residents of Thunder Bay to hear their cares and concerns. Those efforts are making a difference. He is garnering strength from listening to people across our community.

Mayor Hobbs is Thunder Bay’s first “Facebook Mayor”, he is more than open to hearing from people, listening, and investing of his time. It is a welcome change from some on the current City Council who seem to be very slow to adopt the new means of communications. Its not an age thing, or a generation gap issue, it is a matter that Mayor Hobbs is in touch with a growing number of people in our city.

Hobbs is mastering the people part of politics at a speed that is impressive. That is the most important part of any elected position. Without the support of the people, you can’t get anywhere. It is my view that having elected leaders taking the time to listen, share, and care is one of the components needed in Thunder Bay to make a difference.

Often it seems that elected officials can get trapped in the process. The higher up the political process, the more the system can surround the politician, sheltering them from the public.

By maintaining his public presence, getting out from behind his desk, Hobbs is demonstrating a whole new breed of political populism in the Thunder Bay Region. There is an old political “law” that says, ‘No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care’. On Sunday, sitting over coffee with Mayor Hobbs, people kept coming up to the Mayor to say hi, and to share some time with him. Later, one lady shared with me how “We finally have the right Mayor”.

Hobbs took the time on Sunday to listen, and I mean really listen to a nine year old Aboriginal youth who shared with the Mayor his concerns for Polar Bears in his home community of Fort Severn. Hobbs is taking a path not usually taken in Thunder Bay. He has reached out to the Aboriginal population, he is engaging young people, and he is continuing to listen.

That is a way forward that will likely help the new Mayor over the coming years in pushing to succeed in his goals.

My view is that as a new politician, Hobbs is likely finding the traditional political practices a steep climb. It has appeared that early in the term, some on Council are taking the approach that the new Mayor needs to fit their mold of what the Mayor should do. That is likely a mistake. It demonstates a fondness for the status quo, and if there is one thing that has continued to change in our city it is the status quo.

One component that Mayor Hobbs has brought to the political arena is a growing number of what NNL first dubbed “Hobbits”. Those “Hobbits” are standing with the Mayor and supporting his aims and efforts. It is very likely growing numbers of “Hobbits” who first “raised the Shire” in taking the Mayor’s Chair last October was going to be willing to continue their efforts, through this term of Council, and into the next term.

As Mayor, Hobbs has the opportunity to offer leadership on issues, and garner far greater community support. Looking forward into the next few years, if things that people who voted for Hobbs are seen as being slowed or halted by Council, it is likely that many of those “Hobbits” are going to find new targets on City Council and seek people on Council who will support their views.

Right now, the next civic election is over three years away. That is an awfully long time in politics, but it is also a very long time for people to have their frustrations grow.

Over the past two civic elections, Thunder Bay has seen changes happening, it might seem too early to start making predictions about the next election, but right now, I suspect more than one person in our community is looking at Council and starting to think how things can be done faster and better.

James Murray

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