It was an interesting exercise in neighborhood participatory democracy… Di Matteo


THUNDER BAY – It was an interesting exercise in neighborhood participatory democracy that I attended this evening at the Boys and Girls Club on Junot. Members of the neighborhood turned out to discuss the proposed sale and development of a forested lot of city-owned land at the corner of Junot and John. Also in attendance were Mayor Hobbs and Councillors Ruberto and Mackinnon.

The essence of the issue seems to be as follows: the City of Thunder Bay has a conditional agreement of sale on a piece of land in the middle of a residential area to a developer who wants to build a mega Tim Horton’s and a future hotel on the property. The City rezoned the land in 2010 from residential to Neighborhood Centre 3 to make it more attractive to developers and by extension make the property more attractive to buyers via additional uses. The City benefits from the sale first in the revenue from the sale but also from the conversion of the property into a productive piece of tax-paying property. The neighborhood gets increased traffic and congestion at an intersection that is already prone to frequent accidents. The debate was quite spirited though in the end given that the property was already rezoned to NC3 in 2010, ultimately the issue is whether the City will rezone the land to permit the bigger Tim Horton’s and a hotel. If the developer had not applied for the rezoning, the land could have been sold quietly and an albeit smaller Tim Horton’s constructed there anyway.

My major points at the session were: 1) If the purpose of locating the new EMS station on Junot (just up from this piece of land) was to improve response times, how did creating more traffic on the road contribute to improved response times for emergency vehicles and 2) There were a number of pieces of land in the city already that have been sold and were supposed to be developed and all that has happened is that their trees have been cut down and they have remained vacant for years and how does the City of Thunder Bay ensure the developers follow through. 3) The development could likely reduce my property value, not that property values here have been going anywhere over the last twenty years. No one tackled my first or third points but Councillor Ruberto in response to my second comment proceeded on a rambling explanation of how the City had many things to balance and that included generating tax revenues through land sale. When I assertively asked if this meant that the City then did not care what happened to a piece of land they sold as long as it generated revenue, Councillor Ruberto responded rather heatedly that I had made a “false statement”.

Councillor Ruberto has a reputation of being a rather frank and direct fellow but if he publicly states I have made a false statement then he is basically calling me a liar. That is particularly disturbing behaviour for a politician – if you don’t like what someone is saying, then either say or insinuate they are not telling the truth. The fact is, the City rezoned the land from residential to commercial uses so that they could eventually sell it and generate revenue. It was obviously a successful process as they now have a conditional sale which, lo and behold, will generate revenue. Given the failure to place conditions on rapid development of a property after sale so that it lies deforested and vacant means they either don’t care what happens to it or are not forward thinking enough to follow through. Why that analysis constitutes a “false statement” is beyond me. I could ask for an apology but I won’t because I already know that being a politician in Thunder Bay probably means never having to say you are sorry.

Livio Di Matteo

P.S. To aspiring politicians everywhere, the following advice. When faced with a constituent whose views you disagree with, correct responses may include “I do not agree with you” or “I think your analysis may be flawed” or the completely innocuous “That is an interesting point”. Telling them they have made a false statement is probably not a good idea.

Di MatteoLivio Di Matteo is an economist in Thunder Bay, Ontario specializing in public policy, health economics, public finance and economic history.  Livio Di Matteo is a graduate of the Fort William Collegiate Institute (1898-2005) whose school motto “Agimus Meliora” has served as a personal inspiration.  Livio Di Matteo holds a PhD from McMaster University, an MA from the University of Western Ontario and an Honours BA from Lakehead University.   He is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University where he has served since 1990.  His research has explored the sustainability of provincial government health spending, historical wealth and asset holding and economic performance and institutions in Northwestern Ontario and the central North American economic region.  His historical wealth research using census-linked probate records is funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  He has constructed, assembled and analyzed nearly 12,000 estate files for Ontario over the period 1870 to 1930.  Livio Di Matteo writes and comments on public policy and his articles have appeared in the National Post, Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press and Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal and  Livio Di Matteo has had an entry in Canadian Who’s Who since 1995.

This article was originally posted on Livio Di Matteo’s NORTHERN ECONOMIST Blog at

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