THUNDER BAY – Leader’s Ledger – Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs delivered the annual State of the City Address to Thunder Bay last night. Here is the text of his remarks:
Good evening, Boozhoo and welcome to the Annual State of the City Address. I would like to start by acknowledging our beautiful city, which resides in the Robinson-Superior Treaty and has been built on the traditional lands of the Ojibwa people of Fort William First Nation, and is an historic Métis settlement.
The City is committed to its citizens and we have been working collaboratively to protect and build on what we have. I am pleased to lead this vibrant and progressive community as we move forward together. Great improvements have been made, and there are many more to come. I am very optimistic about this city. I believe that the future of Thunder Bay is great and that growth is on our doorstep.
It’s hard to believe that it was just over a year ago we gathered together for the inaugural address of this new Council. So much has happened. As individual members of Council we have attended literally thousands of events. It’s been a year of learning, of talking to people, of getting our plans in order.
We have met hundreds of people doing extraordinary things, and it gives me a great sense of pride to be involved in the future of Thunder Bay.
One of the greatest highlights so far as Mayor was being a part of the Special Olympics and meeting the amazing athletes with overwhelming heart and courage.
I walked onto the ice at the curling rink and they were all chanting “Go Hobbs Go!” I had tears in my eyes. Seeing their faces and feeling the energy in that venue was an experience I will never forget.
Thunder Bay also recently beat out more than 20 other communities across North America to host the 2016 Can-Am Police-Fire Games. The estimated economic impact for the week-long event is 5.8 million dollars! I was proud to be part of that bid committee!
Our vibrant city by the bay will also be playing host to numerous events in 2012, for example the Northern Ontario School of Medicine will host a major joint world conference known as Rendez-Vous, and the Ontario Business Improvement Association will welcome BIAs from across the country.
We have had great success in hosting the World Junior Baseball Championships and the Special Olympics, and have become an inspired destination for meetings, conferences, events and conventions offering an experience worth remembering.
As Mayor of this great city I feel very fortunate to work with such an impressive team of City Councillors and Administration, and I have no doubt in my mind about their desire and their ability to build a vibrant Thunder Bay. As a Council, we may not always agree, but we all want this City to move forward in a positive way.
Working together as a new council this past year has been a big learning curve for all of us. But with most of the issues we have come across, there has been unified support.
Long ago, a visionary Chicago architect said: “Make no little plans.” He said, “They have no magic to stir men’s blood. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” That spirit of aiming high and making big plans reflects the approach we brought to our Strategic Planning.
Before we were even sworn in, your Councillors met to capture what they heard on the campaign trail. We listened to what people had to say to us. We shared what we heard while it was fresh. We made a bold plan for action. City Council, staff and more than 900 citizens and organizations put in countless hours to set a direction for Thunder Bay.
On one hand, the plan coincides with the term of Council and is a corporate document. On the other, the plan impacts the community as a whole and its goals are longer term – 10 years or more.
It was apparent throughout the process that we all want the same results – A Thunder Bay that is connected, healthy, vibrant, strong.
The Strategic Plan sets in motion actions to address many of the things I talked about in last year’s inaugural address – the need to raise the bar on poverty, to create an inclusive, safe and welcoming Thunder Bay, to recognize the contributions of our diverse community, and to roll up our sleeves for the economy and jobs.
We were once again ahead of the curve in having a Strategic Plan in place by June. Not many cities could say that.
For our Strategic Plan, since we were setting 10-year goals, it was only natural that we would also look back 10 years, to a time when we still had two campuses of the regional hospital, no medical school, and not much of a biotech sector to complement our traditional strengths in forestry, transportation and manufacturing.
Today, we have a Regional Health Sciences Centre that is world-class in cancer and diabetic care, and is expanding into new treatments like angioplasty and cardiac care.
Along with other advancements at Lakehead University, we have Canada’s first medical school in 30 years. We have a new REACH building at Confederation College that brings health and community service programs together.
We have a growing biotech sector, and on the horizon, Ontario’s first new law school since 1969 located right here in Thunder Bay.
Coincidentally, we also have new leadership at the City, the University, the College, and the Regional Hospital – and we’re all committed to working together.
We have new, state-of-the-art infrastructure such as the Water Treatment Plant, Secondary Sewage Treatment Plant and the Thunder Bay Regional Protective and Emergency Services Training Facility. We also have a new Mary J.L. Black Library that demonstrates how a library can be a true neighbourhood hub. And in February, we will have new facilities that provide one-stop access for social services, and a new headquarters for Superior North EMS.
We continue to provide leadership and continual improvement in environmental management and performance. The 2010 EarthWise Annual Report is the second Report on the implementation of the EarthWise Thunder Bay Community Environmental Action Plan.
Progress has also been achieved this past year we have seen both ongoing and new environmental initiatives developed throughout City departments.
The EarthWise report highlights many progress areas including, methane capture at the landfill, commissioning of the UV-Cogeneration project at the Atlantic Avenue Water Pollution Control Plant, our first off-grid city facility, and new bike lanes.
The report also has a rate structure to support a financially sustainable world class water system, a 100% mark on our water system review from the Ministry of the Environment, increased local food use, a “Go Green Expo,” and the list goes on. Solar panels are beginning to dapple the roofs of neighbourhoods, and we’re seeing rain-barrels, composters, and naturalized yards.
While we still need to build on these beginnings, our progress is evident as we build a cleaner, greener, more beautiful and proud community.
When it comes to housing prices, our City continues to offer an affordable lifestyle to residents and newcomers. Thunder Bay was ranked first nationally, and 20th among 272 international cities for housing affordability in 2010.
It’s been another very busy year for the construction industry in Thunder Bay. Building Permit applications represent a record total of over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of construction within the City.
Last year we reported that those values were higher than they had been in decades. This year building activity is higher still – and by a considerable margin.
The consolidated courthouse has contributed significantly to that total, but even without the construction of the courthouse, building activity in Thunder Bay would be much higher than the recent norm.
Housing starts are well up over previous years. By the end of November, there were 366 total units started in the Thunder Bay area for 2011.
That represents a 75 per cent increase over last year’s statistics. In fact, activity is strong in all areas including the residential, commercial, industrial and institutional sectors.
In 2012, the Building Division estimates a large number of significant projects on the horizon, including a number of hospital and health care facility developments.
Most recently, a new partnership was built between the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, the City of Thunder Bay, the CEDC and Lakehead University to bring Cancer Care Ontario to Thunder Bay. Cancer Care Ontario will aim to enhance our development and software testing of information management solutions in cancer care. It will also mean six new permanent jobs, and up to 30 in the coming months in Thunder Bay.
These jobs will be opportunities for our graduates from Lakehead University and Confederation College, two of our premier learning institutions.
This is more great news for our local economy and our commitment to attracting high-quality health care jobs to the region.
There is also construction activity with various condominium, hotel and office building developments, several school additions, as well as food store and retail store expansions.
The opening of various financial institutions and knowledge-based companies throughout Thunder Bay also reflects a strong commitment from the business community. With new buildings for the Royal Bank, Northern Credit Union, Investors Group, and TD Canada Trust, to brand new institutions like Provincial Alliance, new career opportunities and expanded services for residents are happening.
In September, True Grit Consulting also announced the development of its new corporate headquarters and materials testing laboratory in Innova Business Park.
True Grit exemplifies the knowledge-based entrepreneurial revolution occurring in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.
I understand that TBayTel is also having a record year, with revenues well exceeding 2010 thanks to the first-ever, unprecedented partnership with Rogers.
As promised during the election campaign, we are committed to accountability and transparency with respect to the City’s finances. In 2011 the City’s total tax rate actually decreased slightly as compared to 2010 and the previous two years. If your assessment did not go up, your taxes actually went down. If your assessment did go up, the good news is the value of your house has also gone up, and that is true across Thunder Bay.
For the first time ever, public open houses were held to garner feedback and provide information on budget directions and the city’s infrastructure deficit.
Administration presented a multi-year Budget Directions report including options for enhanced infrastructure programs for 2012-2014. We are delivering on our promise.
It is clear that we need to invest more in infrastructure. Municipalities across Canada are facing major infrastructure deficits and are falling behind in upgrades to roads, bridges, storm sewers, parks, recreation facilities, libraries and other important municipal infrastructure.
City capital projects such as road rehabilitation, new facilities and renovations directly create jobs for the local economy.
We spent an additional 2 million dollars on infrastructure this year, which was very noticeable and we appreciate the public’s patience. Thunder Bay is getting a makeover, and we will be seeing more works happening in the future.
Capacity will grow as we invest more in infrastructure, such as pipes and pavement. In October, Council directed Administration to increase spending by 6 million dollars for the next three years.
The City Manager is looking to save 4-and-a-half million dollars over the next three years.
At the same time that we are investing more in infrastructure, we are also looking for efficiency-related savings and service improvements. One component is the CityLean program. CityLean is about how we do business.
It’s about systematically and continuously minimizing waste and improving service. CityLean contributes to value for taxpayers because, by eliminating waste, it allows the best use of corporate resources to provide the services citizens want and need.
In my walkabouts, when I talk to businesses, most say they are having a great year. When I talk to residents, it depends on their economic circumstances.
President John F. Kennedy said, “Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of people remain in poverty while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.” Social progress is a huge focus for this Council.
Together we are creating a city that provides efficient, affordable services while finding new and innovative ways to deliver them. As we considered all this, our theme became, “a progressive City continues its transformation.”
Times of transformation raise new hopes, new aspirations and new challenges. Kennedy lived in a time of huge transformation for our neighbours to the south. Yet some of the issues he talked about are still true for us in Thunder Bay more than 50 years later.
He said we must study and learn from the history of Aboriginal people to find a way forward to avoid “a national disgrace.”
Well, there are circumstances of national disgrace and deplorable conditions in First Nation communities right here in our very own Province, and I believe we must do what we can to shine a light on these communities and educate those around us.
I have been honoured and humbled to travel to the Northern communities of Eabametoong, Pikangikum, Bingwi Neyaashi and Webequie First Nations this past year.
I was welcomed by the Chief, band members and citizens with open arms. I wanted to get a first-hand look at the living conditions and talk to as many Northern communities as possible.
I want people to know that progress is being made in some communities, but more collaboration needs to take place between all levels of government.
We welcome hundreds of people from these communities each year for their schooling, medical needs and business, so it seems only right that we do whatever we can to work together on a brighter future for all. Did you know that there are 4800 Aboriginal families in Thunder Bay, 48% of whom own their own homes?
Here at home, we have recognized that our closest neighbour is Fort William First Nation, and it is on their traditional land that this City was built. 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.
As many of you know, The City of Thunder Bay has begun a journey of also working more closely with our local First Nation, Métis and Inuit people. We signed an historic Declaration of Commitment on October 4th between Fort William First Nation Band Council and Thunder Bay City Council, which represents a way to move forward together towards a brighter future.
As Chief Collins said, “It’s an exciting time for us in our journey toward the new path we’ve created.
We used to make two footprints in the sand and that’s what we had for years.”
Now it’s time for a new journey for us – we’ve created one footprint that looks at better opportunities for both communities, and beyond. It’s a public demonstration that we’re working together, and we understand each other.
Seeing many Aboriginal people still fighting for equality or to be welcomed within every part of our society is something that should no longer exist. We as a Council have made some progress but not enough.
We are committed to working with Fort William First Nation and dedicating our time and energy to strengthening our relationships with the Aboriginal community through our Elders Advisory Council, our Aboriginal Liaison and the individual work that City Council does.
The Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism, on which Councillor Rebecca Johnson has worked so hard, has also recently created a work plan with five main objectives to work towards addressing racism in Thunder Bay. In keeping with the guiding principles of accountability, respect, integrity and openness, this committee acts as an integrating structure and builds on the relationships that the City has already established with various organizations and the broader community.
Thunder Bay has also joined a growing movement to understand the root causes of crime at the local level by approving the Community Safety and Crime Prevention Strategy, including a preliminary audit of crime and disorder in Thunder Bay.
I look forward to seeing its implementation and results, as well as the good work we will do with Chief Levesque and Deputy Chief Hay on new community policing initiatives and crime prevention.
With support from generous local businesses, we also celebrated the extraordinary people making Thunder Bay a safer and more welcoming community through the first Community Safety and Crime Prevention Awards.
We must provide a safe and positive environment for business to grow and prosper. We cannot ignore our role. We must set concrete measureable 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.
City Council was very proud to support the Shelter House Provisional Housing Project and Alcohol Management Program to address major community issue of public intoxication among homeless or under housed individuals. The 15 beds that have been allocated are certainly not enough, but they are a good start.
These are very positive steps to address social issues. It is a great example of how we are taking constructive action and not just talking about it.
Councillor Andrew Foulds recently told me that this initiative is what he is most proud of so far in his tenure on Council.
Each person who lives in this city deserves nothing but our best in ensuring they are included in our efforts. I believe that eliminating poverty in our community and addressing the needs for social housing are a must. Work is underway, and the City is prepared to play our part with other social service agencies.
We must also harness the vast level of talent that exists here and this must include engaging the youth of our community. Every decision we make will have a far greater impact on those born in more recent decades than most of us here today. We need to hear their concerns and give voice to their dreams.
The Youth Services Advisory Committee was formed to develop options and make recommendations to Council on the delivery of youth programs and opportunities. It is so great to see youth being active and making a positive impact in our community and its future.
We are having discussions about youth centres, and wouldn’t it be great if a year from now we announce we are moving forward.
On the other end of the spectrum, Thunder Bay also officially joined the World Health Organization Age-Friendly Network.
This means we are committed to working toward more age-friendly features that promote quality of life and independence. Seniors are a growing economic and social sector of our community.
Thunder Bay is also on its way to becoming a regional and global servicing centre for the mining industry. There are over 1200 people already employed in the mining field in Thunder Bay, with over 80 exploration companies and 300 projects underway in the region.
Thunder Bay has seven engineering firms with more than 300 people specifically working on mining projects in the area and those numbers, like other services, are expected to grow in the coming years.
The Community Economic Development Commission appointed John Mason as its new Project Manager of Mining Services, and he is committed to maximizing Thunder Bay’s potential for the mining industry.
From face-to-face meetings with companies looking to set up shop here, to lobbying the provincial and federal government to help with funding, we are making sure that we are positioned as a regional mining service centre.
As part of a broader mining strategy, the city has also formed an alliance with Fort William First Nation to pursue extraordinary opportunities that exist with the Ring of Fire.
We are also moving ahead with a Phase 2 Feasibility Study for the proposed Thunder Bay Event Centre and will be pursuing financial support from P3 Canada.
On a recent trip to Ottawa, we were encouraged to apply for round four of the P3 Funding. As we have said all along, this project has to be affordable and it has to be sustainable to proceed. This is a good project for Thunder Bay and it needs to keep moving forward. It will improve the lives of residents and the overall economy of Thunder Bay.
We reached substantial completion on Prince Arthur’s Landing Phase 1 by the October 31st deadline, and this past Friday, we introduced Prince Arthur’s Landing to the community with a festive celebration and the most amazing fireworks display ever. Under the leadership of Councillor Mark Bentz and the Waterfront Development Committee, this new section of our waterfront provides a year-round destination for residents and visitors alike, and expands public park areas and provides free recreation activities while reconnecting the downtown to its waterfront.
Although the waterfront development was at times a contentious issue, we can now see the results of what the past council set in motion, and they deserve praise for their vision and dedication to this project.
I have said it many times, but after forty-five years of living in this city I am still amazed over 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.
Residents have said they want us to beautify our city to live up to our spectacular landscape, and we are working on that through the Clean, Green and Beautiful Committee – starting with our Image Routes.
This work goes hand in hand with making our City more walkable, bikable and Transit friendly as envisioned in the long-term Transportation Demand Management Plan recently endorsed by Council.
Not only is it important to create a strong community, but we are committed to creating a strong region. Economic development is as important a challenge as any, and every step we take is a building block to our future success.
What is good for the region is also good for Thunder Bay. Collaborating with our neighbouring municipalities is important to build a stronger, more diversified Northwestern Ontario, and we will continue to work together.
The City of Thunder Bay has also taken a lead role in the development of a forward thinking Regional Economic Planning Zone Pilot Project. The Joint Task Force, chaired by Councillor Iain Angus, and funded by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, has brought together the broad leadership of Northwestern Ontario to design a new structure that we hope will see some authority currently vested in the province assigned to a new regional planning body.
Early on, and in recognition of the importance of the City to the region and the region to the City, it was decided to expand the area for the pilot project from just the City and immediate areas to all of Northwestern Ontario.
City Manager Tim Commisso has been an integral part in the development of the proposal and has provided excellent leadership on an ongoing basis.
One of the early successes of this collective leadership is the fact that for the first time in history, Treaty 3, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Robinson Superior Chiefs and the Métis Nation of Ontario are at the table jointly planning for the economic development of Northwestern Ontario.
The Joint Task Force will be finalizing its Draft Report in early January and then taking it on the road over that month to ensure that there is widespread support in what is being asked for. We look forward to seeing the final product.
Looking to the future, we have so much underway. As of September, the CEDC assisted in the creation of 172 jobs in the health sciences, mining services, manufacturing and fabrication, small business and information communications technology sectors.
The Thunder Bay Port Authority reported one of the busiest summers in years, with a 30% increase in cargo moved over the same time period in 2010.
The Thunder Bay International Airport also set an all-time record for volume this year, with more than 700,000 passengers travelling through the airport by the end of the year.
As I said earlier, we need to make big plans. The time is now to aim high. Our goals should always be great. Even if we fall a little short, it still may lead to an unprecedented level of success.
We must engage those who live here and ensure we all do our part to build the future we have all dreamed of. Together Thunder Bay can and will lead the way not only in Northwestern Ontario but perhaps even the country. The talent certainly exists. We need to continue to do the work, and follow the goals set out in our Strategic Plan. Just think how far we’ve already come. This January first we will celebrate our 42nd Anniversary as Thunder Bay.
I want to thank my fellow members of Council. While I have mentioned a few in particular, every member of Council is to be commended for the work they do every day on City Boards, commissions and in the community. This year has given me a deep appreciation for how hard each of you works to put the needs of this community first.
I would also like to thank our dedicated Administration, Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, engineers, snow plow operators, bus drivers, building inspectors, child care workers, and many more. My gratitude also goes out to the many volunteers who serve on our Committees and Boards, the Chamber of Commerce, and the citizens of Thunder Bay for all of the things you do, big and small, to make Thunder Bay so extraordinary. We are all part of a collaborative team, and together we can build the community we want.
On behalf of City Council and Administration, I would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season and I look forward to sharing a prosperous New Year with all of you.
Thank you, Meegwetch and God Bless.
Mayor Keith Hobbs