Build It Now, Ask Questions Later – It is a chronic complaint in Thunder Bay

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Port of Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – Guest Editorial – Build It Now, Ask Questions Later – It is a chronic complaint in Thunder Bay that whenever something new and great is proposed, there are always naysayers trying to “impede progress”. There is a very loose definition for “impeding progress” in Thunder Bay, however. Take any major capital expenditure by the City, and there are people asking questions like “Can we afford this?” or “Will this project really be successful?” or “Do we have bigger priorities at this time?”

These are very prudent questions; questions that need to be asked when tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are going to be irreversibly spent.

Doubtless, some people will be opposed to the project. I don’t imagine if you ask roughly 125,000 people a question, they will all answer it the same way. The chronic complaint that there are always some people opposed to any project is therefore a non-starter. World leaders are elected despite some people in their respective countries voting against them. Yet, we can’t make any real decisions in Thunder Bay unless EVERYONE is on board?

Rather, the charge that “naysayers” and “NIMBYs” are “impeding progress” is merely a political tactic that really does impede progress. It’s a farcical notion that to even promote scepticism about a project is akin to opposing the project, hating Thunder Bay, and being (my favourite) a “negative Nancy”.

If we were living in the times of the Spanish Inquisition, the detractors from every project would have each of their limbs tied to a Manitoulin transport truck and sent in the directions of Nipigon, Neebing, Ignace, and Marathon, respectively.

The charge of “impeding progress” is meant to steamroll over the (often, but not always, legitimate) concerns that some people may have with a particular project. Yes, to those fervent supporters, hearing vocal opposition (Heaven forefend!) is excruciatingly painful, but that’s the mark of a working democracy.

Every citizen has the right to voice his or her opinions on how things are run in the City, even if their concerns are a little nutters.

Take myself, for example. I’ve often had the charge labelled against me that I “impede progress”. The most recent two cases were because I suggested the city should tackle the problem of urban sprawl and I suggested that we need more private sector jobs in the City.

If anyone could explain to me how this is an impediment to progress, I’d be delighted to hear it.

When these exchanges are limited between Thunder Bay citizens who have the zealousness of a fervent evangelical missionary in blindly approving each and every project City Administration proposes, and those who merely want to ask questions or point out the shortcomings of a project, that’s one thing. But I’ve seen our own City Councillors engage in this kind of behaviour. One Councillor suggested to me that I must somehow be suffering from difficulties in my life because I insisted that Thunder Bay needs more private sector growth. I was also told by that same Councillor that he was “wasting [his] time and energy trying to convince [me] that this city is moving forward with or without people who think the same as [I] do”.

This is a strange attitude for an elected representative of the people, to just dismiss a constituent’s concerns with the direction the City is taking with such hostility. The context of that exchange was that I asserted that most of Thunder Bay’s job growth is due to public sector investment from the federal and provincial governments. With both levels of government mired in debt, I asked if that funding was sustainable over the long term and if the city was trying to actively develop any particular private sector industry.

I was told that I “obviously pay attention to only bad news or negative news……[I] have choosen to ignore any posative development or announcement …. even with the multi plex [I am] already being negative and we haven’t even built it” and “…..[he] cannot waste time debating or trying to convince [me] about what has taken place in our city …”.

With regards to the multiplex, all I said was that I was sceptical of the success it might have if we don’t give people from nearby major centers (like Winnipeg and Minneapolis/Duluth) a more cost effective means of getting to Thunder Bay and don’t market our City events down there. I didn’t even say I thought the multiplex is going to fail. All I did was suggest that maybe there were some extra steps we could take to ensure it is successful. How is this negative?

It also goes to show you the backwards mindset some at City Council have. “Let’s build it now and ask questions later”. That’s a highly irresponsible way to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. These kinds of questions should be asked before it is built. The groundwork for the multiplex to be successful should already be in place before it is built. You may disagree that my concerns are legitimate, but that wasn’t the Councillor’s charge. It was specifically that I was being negative for suggesting that we should ensure the multiplex will be successful.

If you dare suggest that there are things in Thunder Bay that need to be fixed, you are made to be a pariah. Youth like me in this city, when they graduate from Lakehead or Confederation College, will likely have to move out of town to find good paying jobs. Some like me are actively involved in the city. They want to stay, but will be forced to go. What was the Councillor’s answer to this? He told me to re-educate, re-train, or move. Rather than listen to my concerns as a constituent and try to develop more private sector jobs that will retain more youth in the City, I guess I have to spend thousands of dollars more educating myself to either work at the university, hospital, college…or just move elsewhere.

Other youth WANT to leave, and precisely for the reason that they see so many problems in the City and there is little to no political will or action to fix them. How much more does our population have to dwindle down before Council realizes this? Thunder Bay is a great place to live and I would gladly stay if I could find a job. But if some Councillors have the attitude of “re-educate or move”, what hope do we have in staying here?

It’s the notion that there is nothing worth fixing in Thunder Bay that is the real impediment to progress; not the naysayers; not the NIMBYs. When our own elected representatives dismiss our concerns as just being “negative” whenever we feel there is a problem that must be addressed in the city, and rush to spend our money on projects that there might be some significant opposition to, we have a major breakdown of our democracy. They will take our money, they will take our votes, but they will never take our advice.

The people of Thunder Bay aren’t going to “riot” over telecommunications towers. If the people here will do any rioting, it will be over having their concerns ignored and their money mismanaged. But maybe I’m just being “negative”.

Kyle Pereira

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