THUNDER BAY – CIVIC – I’m running for mayor because city councillors refused to give me, or you, a chance to have a direct say in the fate of this city. I say ‘fate’ because of the jeopardy council is putting us all in by proceeding head-long to build an Event Centre we can’t afford.
Many people wanted a plebiscite. Council said that was ‘premature’. Instead, the politicians challenged anyone who disagreed with their plans to run against them in the October election. So here I am.
I’m running to give those people who oppose an Event Centre a chance to stop it. If elected, I will propose a new set of priorities for Thunder Bay. Those priorities will focus on two things: helping local entrepreneurs expand their businesses, create new jobs and to grow the city to a point where we might one day be able to really afford an Event Centre and; reducing crime by helping our community centres build neighbourhood connections.
Demographics are working against Thunder Bay. In fact, if this fall’s election were in the States, the tag line would be “It’s the demographics, stupid.”
Census figures show that over the past 15 years, the city of Thunder Bay’s population has dropped by more than five thousand people. That’s almost five per cent. In the last 30 years during my career as a reporter covering municipal affairs, we lost 11 grain elevators, three paper mills and two major sawmills, key parts of our industrial tax base. It gets worse. The provincial Ministry of Finance predicts that between 2010 and 2036, the Thunder Bay area will see its population drop by another 7,000.
Lakehead University is the perfect illustration of the dilemma. There are no longer enough students in Northwestern Ontario to sustain the campus in this region. Lakehead had to set up shop in Orillia to get the extra provincial grants and tuition needed to stay alive.
Meanwhile, a third of the classrooms in the public school system in Thunder Bay are empty. That’s according to a report broadcast by CBC Radio this spring. More school closures are inevitable. My question is, then, who’s going to pay to operate this facility once my generation (I’m 60) has passed into the great tax-free zone in the sky?
I don’t think we have enough taxpayers to carry the costs of the debt and operating expenses of this sketchy project. I say sketchy because of administration’s decision to cut proper transit and parking facilities from the base project.
I have a different plan. If elected, I will ask that the Event Centre be put on the shelf for at least a decade. I will re-direct administration to focus on job creation and growing the tax base. The new council will set specific growth targets that must be met before the project is re-booted. I believe our city and its economy needs to be at least 25% bigger than it is now to afford this project. Even when those targets are met, I believe there should be a final plebiscite before a shovel hits the dirt.
A decade will give us the time to see whether the promise of jobs and growth from the Ring of Fire and other mining ventures comes to fruition. It will also give us time to catch up on the infrastructure deficit in roads, sewers, and sidewalks that should be the priorities of our local politicians. Having one, shiny jewel in a single corner of the city while the roads to the place are falling apart is no way to operate.
I will also direct one million dollars a year from the profits the city receives as a share of the casino revenues to the Crime Prevention Council.
This money will be used as a pool of cash to which community centres may apply for programming to make neighbourhoods stronger. I’m thinking of community gardens and community kitchens, but the Crime Prevention Council will also use part of the money to research best practices from around the world for renewing neighbourhoods.
There will be no plebiscite this fall. But by voting me in as mayor, you will get a chance to send the incumbents a telling message that they’re getting ahead of themselves at our cost and you want them to stop.