Thunder Bay – State of the City Address 2016

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Thunder Bay City Hall
Thunder Bay City Hall


THUNDER BAY – CIVIC – Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs has delivered the Annual State of the City Address:

Members of Council and Administration – Friends and Family, citizens of Thunder Bay: Good evening and Boozhoo.

Before we get started I’d just like to take a moment to acknowledge the recent loss of former Council Member Lorne Allard. Many attended his funeral last week, and at last week’s Council meeting we honoured his nine years of service to our City with a moment of silence. As we sit in these Chambers and continue the work of Councils before us, it is important to acknowledge their contributions.

Tonight, I am proud to deliver the annual State of the City Address. Our shared and amazing city resides in the Robinson Superior Treaty and has been built on the traditional lands of the Ojibwa people of Fort William First Nation. I would also like to recognize the contributions made to our community by the Métis people of Ontario.

On January 1, 2020, the City of Thunder Bay will be 50 years old – we are quickly approaching the Golden Jubilee, a milestone we can all be proud of. The last decade in particular has seen tremendous change including the transformation of our waterfront, major building projects throughout the city, transformation of key industries, work to improve our image routes, and growth.

Growth as a regional hub, growth in business, and growth in diversity and services for all. 2015 has seen the best assessment growth the City has seen in 25 years.

We are constantly communicating with citizens through tools like the Citizen Satisfaction Survey, and citizens tell us they generally like what they have in terms of City programs and services. They want us to focus on making what they have even better. I want you to know that we’ve heard you, and that is what we are committed to.

We have a new four-year Strategic Plan titled Becoming Our Best with a detailed implementation plan that is well underway. We ARE working to become our best.

Better roads and more enhanced infrastructure investments.

Cleaner, more beautiful streets and public spaces. More focus on addressing social issues and challenges such as the critical need for housing, eradicating homelessness, and tackling addictions issues, building more respect in our community, and continued effort to diversify the economy.

While Thunder Bay, and every major city in Canada and throughout the world, is not without its challenges we have a lot to be proud of. Pride is something I am going to talk a lot about this evening.

Located in the centre of Canada on the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes and surrounded by the boreal forest, WE ARE a proud city of contrasts – historic and modern, ecological and technological, intimate and magnificent, close-knit and urban.

Robert Bolton, an English playwright and a two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter, said: “A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind”

The belief of THIS Council is that we are a City that is Healthy, Vibrant, Connected and Strong and if we work together can, and will, become even better. We have worked hard to capture the key themes we heard from thousands of residents during the development of the Strategic Plan to articulate a shared vision for where we need to head.

Council identified social issues in the City as a #1 priority in the Strategic Plan. We are putting a robust focus on these areas this year and going forward.

Along with many, many dedicated organizations throughout Thunder Bay including the Anti- Racism & Respect Advisory Committee, the Crime Prevention Council, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Shelter House, the Multicultural Association, the Indian Friendship Centre, the Guardian Angels and more, we are working to address racism, homelessness and poverty.

I am pleased to report that Thunder Bay has just completed the Point in Time Count and initiated the 20,000 Homes Registry Campaign to enumerate and identify homelessness in our city. This is the first coordinated homeless count among communities across Canada, and Thunder Bay is the first community to conduct the 20,000 Homes Registry in conjunction with that Count.

I am pleased to report that I just had the opportunity to speak at the NAN Chief’s Assembly and that the City got a shout out from Grand Chief Fiddler and Chief Peter Collins of our neighbouring Fort William First Nation for the good work we are doing trying to build an inclusive city. Let’s continue this good work and not let archaic attitudes and negativity limit the potential of our City.

On the heels of Martin Luther King Day last week, and with these important issues in mind, some of his powerful words come to mind and I ask that we all keep these words at the forefront as we move forward to become our best.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

As a community, we need to evolve this conversation and rally together to build civic pride together and heal our community spirit. This can only be done through respect for all and a united commitment to move forward together and not allow the damaging effects of racism in our community.

We can take pride in the relationships we have built and the strong commitment we have with Fort William First Nation and new executive from Nishnawbe Aski Nation. We recently held an historic joint Council meeting when FWFN Chief and Band Council met with City Council in these very Chambers.

There has been much talk about the connection between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation. Thunder Bay is working hard to maintain a bridge – that is both figuratively and literally.

I’m pleased to report that we won round one in the James Street Bridge court proceedings with CN that gives City Engineers access to the bridge and confirms we will be avoiding an expensive protracted trial that would cost millions of dollars. We are still hopeful we’ll see the bridge open again soon.

Just like the City, the Corporation is changing and evolving. We have seen several retirements  of key members of our senior management in the last year, and have welcomed strong new leadership. This comes with new and fresh energy and ideas and is very exciting. I want to thank recent retirees Tim Commisso, Carol Pollard, Darrell Matson and other management, along with all staff for their contributions to running our City day in and day out, and their commitment to our citizens.

I am also pleased to welcome new City Manager Norm Gale. Norm is a proud home-grown professional who has succeeded through the ranks of the Corporation. His heart and soul is in Thunder Bay and we are proud to have him at the helm of Administration and he is also proof that our succession planning efforts are working, and working well. Welcome Norm.

Another major priority that cripples our city is litter which ranks among the top concerns for our citizens. The City of Thunder Bay has made a commitment to Clean, Green & Beautiful. I need to say though folks: litter is not a corporate problem, it’s a community problem. City staff is not out there littering our streets, parks and waterways, people are and these behaviours need to stop – we know better.

Litter directly impacts our sense of, and demonstration of, civic pride and how clean, green and beautiful we are for our children and visitors who come to our city.

I’m proud to say you’ll be seeing some fresh anti-litter messaging out this spring in conjunction with Civic Pride Month in April that reinforces that littering has no place in our Clean, Green & Beautiful City.

Together City Council and Administration are ambitiously meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Economically, Environmentally and Socially. Again we have much to be proud of. We REFUSE to let challenges and negativity outweigh the hard work, dedication and accomplishments of this City and its citizens.

Our pride shone through larger than life at the recent Rogers Hometown Hockey Event that brought 12,000 people of all ages, together at our beautiful waterfront. It was incredible showcase of our community and amazing local talents like Coleman Hell and our young athletes and families united in positive passion for our city. It also showcased our record 10 Allan Cup Championships, our NHL Players, our gold-medal women’s Olympic players and all other levels of hockey – a game our city so loves!

We will have another opportunity to showcase our City as Thunder Bay welcomes over a thousand athletes and fans and attendees for the CanAm Police Fire Games this July. I’d like to thank everyone involved from the bid process to the Steering Committee and working group, to the hundreds of volunteers giving their time to this significant event. The CanAm Police Fire Games will contribute to our economy and highlight our community across North America.

We can take pride in our strong education sector – in our partners at Lakehead University, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, the Law School and Confederation College. In our students and youth, our entrepreneurs. They are doing great things in our city.

We can take pride in the strong arts and culture community we have here. That pride is highlighted in Tourism Thunder Bay’s 2016 Experience Guide that showcases all we have to offer and the talent of our local artists and attractions – and there are many. Recently one of our local restaurants was highlighted in the New York Times online. I’d also like to acknowledge the Railway Historical Society for its work to preserve important pieces of our city’s history and culture.

I am proud of the work from groups like the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors Caucus, the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, SHIFT Young Professionals Network and many more, and all we are doing together to move the priorities of the region forward.

We can take pride in the work of EarthCare Thunder Bay and our recently approved Climate Adaptation Strategy – we are well ahead of the curve. Cities all over the world are challenged with increased budgets and infrastructure demands to prepare for climate change and adaptation. We in Thunder Bay have seen the effects extreme winters have already had on Thunder Bay and budgets; however, Thunder Bay is emerging as a leader in climate adaptation.

A significant number of community stakeholders and residents have been involved in this work – we can all be very proud.

As well, Thunder Bay has recently joined the Compact of Mayors and we are close to meeting our Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets. These are huge accomplishments. We are the second community behind only Vancouver to meet these targets.

Although it is a continual uphill battle Thunder Bay has made gains in advancing its infrastructure since introducing our Enhanced Infrastructure Renewal Program. We are investing in roads and key infrastructure and continually striving to close the infrastructure gap. In 2015, Council and Administration invested $40 million on road and sidewalk rehabilitation, residential paving, sewer and watermain repair/replacement, bridge work and streetlight renewal.

2016 will be an important year where Thunder Bay will continue to invest in rebuilding its essential infrastructure, we hope in partnership with the Federal and Provincial governments.

Since 2011, Council has invested a total of $316 million in gross expenditures on its Tax and Rate supported Capital Renewal Program. This has partly been achieved by investing an additional $31.4 million through the Enhanced Infrastructure Renewal Program. Council, you should be very proud of that initiative.

In his speech to the Toronto Board of Trade on January 21, the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, outlined the government’s priorities for infrastructure spending. He reiterated that his government would invest “$60 billion of new investment over the next 10 years, including an additional $10 billion over the next two years.” He went on to confirm that the Government has three priorities: “public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure.”

The Minister indicated that the government was considering a two-phased approach. The first dealing with what he called recapitalization and repairs and he specifically referenced repair of social housing, water and wastewater systems and aging bus fleets.

It would appear that the longer-term approach of Canada’s new government will not only deal with their three priorities but, in the words of the Minister “provide predictable, dedicated and transparent funding where it is needed.”

Thunder Bay already has a plan to rebuild our aging infrastructure and this new federal funding provides us with the opportunity to have a large percentage of this planned, and may I say, shovel-ready work, paid for by federal tax dollars.  This will free up the already committed funds for other priorities, including perhaps our proposed Event & Convention Centre.

I have asked our new City Manager to have the Executive Management Team compile the list of projects that are shovel-ready and meet the anticipated federal conditions so that we are ready to submit as soon as the program rolls out.

On a related matter, the Thunder Bay District Social Service Administration Board (the DSSAB) has the responsibility for the development and operation of social housing. That does not absolve the City of its responsibility to look after the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community.

Goal 4 of our Strategic Plan is that Thunder Bay be a place to live with appropriate housing for all” and states that we should do this is by partnering with the TBDSSAB and the private sector to ensure more social housing is constructed in our city. By far the biggest part of their waiting list is single adults, the same people that utilize the two shelters in the city – Shelter House and the Salvation Army.

The City can do its part by providing DSSAB and others with city land in order to construct new social housing. Once again I have asked our Executive Management Team to put their minds to how best to facilitate the work of the DSSAB and to expedite the construction of new social and affordable housing.

Last year, new governments both provincially and federally came to the table. Their ideas mesh with ours and we have already held positive meetings with our new Minister Patty Hajdu and MP Don Rusnak. We continue strong intergovernmental relationships with Provincial Ministers Michael Gravelle and Bill Mauro. The Premier herself met in my office last week for an hour and the City Manager and I were able to share our priorities with her. I’m excited that together we will work to make Thunder Bay the best it can be.

I mentioned in my inaugural address that bringing one major manufacturing company to the City would be a game changer. I am proud to confidently say we will be seeing an announcement in this area shortly. We have been working with a private company to land them in Thunder Bay and make their arrival seamless. This will mean hundreds of jobs for our city and region and help our economy grow. The City has also been actively working to attract Los Angeles-based company VXi who is interested in setting up in the Victoriaville Call Centre space.

The company is holding a career fair this coming weekend to evaluate our available workforce which could translate into 300 jobs for our citizens if they choose us. This event is an important step in satisfying this global company’s needs and to help them choose Thunder Bay. We take seriously all opportunities to showcase our workforce and put a spotlight on Thunder Bay.

Strong interest from contact centre professionals is important if VXi is to commit to bringing the jobs to our City, which will have a tremendous impact on our community.

Special thanks to the Community Economic Development Commission, Realty Services and Corporate Communications for all their work and dedication to land this opportunity in Thunder Bay.

I am proud to recognize the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission for responding quickly to new opportunities and initiatives to attract direct financial involvement from government and private sectors. The CEDC provides a range of services to business, investors and entrepreneurs. Behind the scenes, CEDC staff work very hard to attract new investment and to secure confidential information to facilitate decision making. Together we are working to enhance Thunder Bay’s profile as a regional service centre and hub.

Another of Council’s Strategic Goals in the area of quality of life is to be a leader in accessible recreation and services for all people. We will do this by investing in new and revitalized recreational facilities and affordable, accessible programs and services in neighbourhoods for people of all ages.

I am proud to report work has already begun on the Community Services Recreation & Facilities Master Plan that will analyze facilities, programs and demand across the City and make recommendations to address our current and future needs. Extensive community consultation will take place over the next several months beginning in February.

Something that may not be widely known, but delivers an enormous sense of pride for our veterans, members of the Legion, the Military, the City, historians and academics is that Thunder Bay is the City of the Poppy. The historic decision to make the poppy the official symbol of remembrance happened right here in our City at the Prince Arthur Hotel in 1921.

Thunder Bay recently launched the City of the Poppy campaign in conjunction with the commemoration efforts recognizing the centennial of the First World War during which thousands of men and women from Port Arthur and Fort William served.

These commemorations began in the fall and will run through 2018 resulting in a City of the Poppy legacy. I ask all Councilors and citizens to get behind this project. I would also like to thank the World War I Commemoration Committee for all their hard work.

Economically, Thunder Bay has been identified in a new report as one of the best cities for property investment in Canada, our unemployment rate closed out the year at 5.7%, remaining below the provincial and federal average, and we continue to work hard to diversify our economy.

We are heading into the 2016 Budget deliberations. City Council is constantly trying new ways to engage citizens in the budget process. The City of Thunder Bay will be hosting a new Pre- Budget Session where the public is invited to ask questions and discuss what the proposed Budget means in an informal setting prior to Council’s detailed review.

Leaders are assessed by their courage, judgment, integrity and dedication. These qualities, coupled with the core values of generosity, volunteerism, perseverance and civic pride that have shaped our City over the past 50 years, will be the principles to which I aspire to as your Mayor, and I know I speak for Council and Administration when I say they are of the same mind.

In closing, let us take a moment to pause and consider all of what Thunder Bay means; to celebrate our history and commit to working together to shape our future. We must recognize that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

We must always honour and learn from our past and use the lessons we have learned to achieve our present goals as we work together to shape the future for those who will come after us.

Folks it is time to come together to get to work in 2016 with renewed energy, commitment and resolve. I am excited to get started, and I look forward to working alongside my fellow Councillors, City Administration, and the citizens of Thunder Bay as we continue to move our City forward to become our best.

Thank you, miigwetch, and God Bless.