THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Governing is about setting priorities. On Monday, City Council with the exception of Mayor Hobbs, Westfort Councillor Virdiramo, and Neebing Councillor Rydholm all voted to spend $904,000 tax-dollars to erect a pair of steel girders with led lights on them at Marina Park. The artists designing this “showcase” for our city are not from Thunder Bay. They are from Manitoba, with one artist apparently from San Paulo Brazil. Yet their artwork is set, apparently, to highlight what is often being billed as fully representing our park and our community’s history and heritage.
I am not an art critic. I am not going to comment on what my feelings are toward this piece of art.
I am however concerned about a city council which chooses during a time when money must be carefully spent, and could be invested in things that are really needed, that almost a million dollars would be spent like this. One of the justifications seems to be that only one third of the money is the city’s actual share, and that means it is alright.
First it is another step toward more division in a community that needs unity. The message of spending almost a million dollars on artwork that this vote sent to the taxpayers of this community is one that has generated a lot of discussion in our community. None of the people I have spoken with believe this is a positive thing for Thunder Bay.
Council should be looking overtop the presentations brought to them. It should be looking at what it means for the entire community. That didn’t happen here, and it should have. Perhaps Council should have been asking if we have far better uses for our share of this expenditure?
Secondly, this kind of decision demonstates reigning and ruling, rather than engagement and listening to the people. Some Councillors might be more comfortable reigning over the residents of this community, but that isn’t what voters decided when they voted for elected representatives.
Have not one Councillor heard the concerns of residents over the past several years on crime, drug problems, rough roads? Deciding to spend money on art in a home that has holes in the walls and a leaky roof is not the kind of message a Councillor who is engaged in listening to the people of our city would ever make. At least in my opinion.
If Councillors were fully engaged with the people, listening to them, coming out to see what conditions really are like in some of our hardest hit neighbourhoods, we would never see them voting for this kind of spending. Some Councillors are making the effort, but obviously not enough of them are.
It is a decision that likely would never have been made during an election year. It would be a game changer during a campaign year. If this decision had been made last September, likely it would have seen several Councillors swept from office by voters demanding better.
Politically, one of the developments of this decision has been the creation of a Facebook page which will start tracking the voting records of Councillors and maintain those reports. That likely will be a factor in the next election. Often it appears politicians don’t think voters will remember. That is thinking that dominated the past. It is pre-Internet thinking, and it is definately pre-social media thinking. Today tens of thousands of people can connect at the click of a mouse.
Email travels in nano-seconds. Ideas no longer are simply printed on paper to be long forgotten a year after they were made.
Over the past seven months, since our new City Council has been sworn in, there has been more discussion about civic politics than about provincial politics. That is a good sign for the future. It likely means Thunder Bay is evolving and people are becoming more engaged and more caring. This is key to the future of our city and region.
It will take time, but likely over the next three and a half years we are going to see major changes at our civic political scene shifted into a whole new era.