2017 State of the City Address – Mayor Keith Hobbs

Working to unify Thunder Bay would help build the city stronger
City Hall Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs at his desk in City Hall
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs at his desk in City Hall

THUNDER BAY – Mayor Keith Hobbs delivered his 2017 State of the City Address at Monday’s Council meeting. This will be the Mayor says his last State of the City Address. Mayor Hobbs has served two terms as Mayor. He does not plan to seek a third term.

Here is the address as delivered at City Hall:

Good evening, Boozhoo and welcome to the Annual State of the City Address.

The City of Thunder Bay was built on the traditional territory of the Ojibwa people of Fort William First Nation – signatory to the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850.

We are also a historic Métis settlement.

That acknowledgment is important. Not just because it shaped who we are today. It will also shape our future. The relationship of this municipality with all Indigenous people has always been a priority for City Council, and an important part of the fabric of Thunder Bay.

It has been a huge privilege and honour to serve on this council for the past two terms. This will be my last State of the City address as your Mayor, and I have been reflecting on my time in that role, as well as the cherished time I have spent with my colleagues over the years.

For the last seven years, we have functioned as a very purposeful group. Apart from a few contentious issues, all members of City Council have moved forward with mutual respect.

We don’t always agree, nor should we. It’s in debating our differences that we have represented our city as the tough decisions have been made. But what we’ve done as a Council, in my opinion, is tremendous.

In 2010, I stood before this Council and the citizens of Thunder Bay and talked about resilience.

I said that each person living in this city deserves nothing but our best in ensuring that all included in our efforts.

After fifty-one years of living in this city, and almost eight years as your Mayor, I now see how incredibly resilient our people are, and how determined they are to make Thunder Bay a better place.

By capitalizing on our resilience and determination, we are moving through our challenges and turning them into new opportunities.

Together, we can build an even better city.

It’s through our efforts that I am constantly reminded that there is so much to celebrate.

  • Like the resounding success of Goldcorp—Musselwhite Mine. They have branded our city home, and have grown their Thunder Bay workforce to 285 employees, established a large office here, and annually contribute $45 million dollars of
  • 2018 will also see Northwestern Ontario produce approximately 1 million ounces of gold – that’s 22% of Canada’s total gold production and huge mineral wealth!
  • The hundreds of millions of dollars that contribute to the economy of Thunder Bay from Indigenous
  • We were recently ranked by MoneySense magazine as Canada’s top city to buy real estate
  • Our strong budgetary performance, effective cost controls, low municipal debt burden, and excellent liquidity balances have led to a credit rating of Double
  • There is renewed vitality in neighborhoods across the
  • Property values are rising, and the cost of living in Thunder Bay is only 1% above the national average.
  • Investment in the city is
  • And restaurants, arts and cultural amenities are bringing back night-life to our

So tonight, I offer this year’s State of the City address as a toast to all we have accomplished as a city together.

To the dreams realized, the promises fulfilled, the obstacles we have faced, and those yet to come, and a renewed, vibrant and ever-changing Thunder Bay.

The plans we made, the partnerships we forged, the actions we took have led to a strong city.

For almost three years now, City council has introduced a new way of engaging citizens in the budget process – one that is open, transparent and accessible.

We know that citizens are concerned with how best to balance taxes and service delivery levels, given the challenges we face as a community.

We are working hard to address these challenges through ongoing operational reviews and working diligently on the 2018 budget.

In September, we held a pre-budget consultation, and will hold the second of two Public Pre-Budget Deputation Meetings at City Hall in January to involve residents.

Along with Administration, we are constantly searching for efficiencies and alternatives, while building and maintaining our city and providing important services to residents.

We will continue to be vigilant in the search for savings, and we’ll be working hard on your behalf.

Thunder Bay is open for business! In 2017, the city’s Development Services division issued 1048 building permits, with a construction value of $133 million dollars of activity. Since 2010, at the beginning of my first term, we issued over 10,000 building permits, for a total construction value of $1.2 Billion dollars of activity!

That is amazing.

Over the years, we have also been methodically rebuilding ourselves as a knowledge economy centre, attracting jobs in the medical, educational and government sectors.

Similarly, hard work over these past years has positioned our city well for future growth and development, greater vitality, more jobs, more residents and more visitors than ever before.

Tourism is a major economic contributor to our economy, and we continue to strengthen our position as one of Canada’s Premier outdoor cities.

This past summer saw hotel occupancy reach almost 90 percent – one of the highest rates in our history, and among the three highest found across Canada. We put a strong focus on telling our good stories to the world through a content-driven tourism strategy that has leveraged over $800 thousand dollars in partner resources this year. Over thirty travel media were enticed to come here from across North America and Europe.

A new product development plan has also been recently approved in principle by Council that will guide tourism infrastructure and tourism business growth over the next four years.

Members of the Lakehead Transportation Museum Society succeeded in getting the decommissioned icebreaker, the Alexander Henry, back to Thunder Bay.

Getting the ship home is a tremendous step. Being able to celebrate our marine heritage is important as well as something I don’t think we’ve done enough of as a community.

The Community Economic Development Commission helped start up or expand 34 new companies through Starter Company Plus, bringing our total since the start of the program to 110.

And the Entrepreneur Centre helped 33 businesses get started or expand for a total of 46 jobs.

The Port of Thunder Bay continues to experience strong cargo volume, and they are expecting a strong finish to the 2017 shipping season. They expect to ship a level of cargo only achieved three times in the last twenty years. To date, the port is about 11 percent ahead of its five-year average for cargo moved.

Fuelled by international traffic attending Confederation College, Lakehead University, and the Under 18 Baseball World Cup, the Thunder Bay Airport set an all-time passenger volume record in August.

For the first time in the airport’s history, monthly volume was over 81,000 passengers!

Strong partnerships with our college and university are also vital to driving economic growth, building a vibrant community, preparing students for the future and enhancing the quality of life for all.

To help support a growing need for education focused on working with Indigenous communities, Confederation College established a new Indigenous Governance and Public Administration program.

The College also launched a new Digital Media Production program to help meet the needs of the ever-evolving media arts industry, preparing graduates for a wide range of careers.

And work is well underway on their new Technology, Education and Collaboration Hub set to open next year.

For the third consecutive year, Lakehead University was named Canada’s Research University of the Year in the undergraduate university category.

Their success in research and innovation has been steadily growing for years. That is due, in part, to the collaborations they have with various industry, government, and community partners.

Because of those partnerships, Lakehead is able to offer more research opportunities to their researchers and students.

Seventy percent of Lakehead’s full-time students come from outside the community, and new money annually brought into Thunder Bay by these students is estimated to be almost $82 million dollars. Lakehead’s total annual economic impact on the City of Thunder Bay is approximately $324 million dollars.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre continues to rank among the leading health research institutions in the country.

Although the hospital serves a region that faces many health challenges, including distance to services and poorer outcomes, they are increasing access to important services and reducing wait times for people in the North.

Most recently, an investment from the Province in a comprehensive cardiovascular surgery facility will provide care closer to home for approximately 1,000 patients in Northwestern Ontario each year.

This means fewer trips away.

It has also been a year full of important directions and actions of a variety of corporate plans.

These plans provide a focus on the City’s efforts to deliver the greatest value of services and infrastructure that are most important to residents, while managing the opportunities and challenges of our city.

Council and Administration have put a strong focus on public engagement, trying our best to involve the public in major projects, plans and initiatives.

From pedestrian crossovers to our Climate Adaptation Strategy, to the City’s Corporate Strategic Plan, we strive to get residents involved and share their views on as many city projects as possible.

The City’s 2015-2018 Corporate Strategic Plan, Becoming our Best, has helped City Council and Administration make important decisions over the last four years for the city and its citizens.

Fundamentally, the Strategic Plan is about leadership, and it has provided clear direction to Administration on Council’s priorities.

The objective has been to address change through a rational and structured framework, coupled with a dynamic vision. And I think we have done just that.

We unveiled the new Official Plan this past October. It was developed using three over-arching approaches, including environmental sustainability, climate adaptation and a healthy and safe community.

The draft Official Plan guides the development of all land within the City, and the Planning Services division has been working very hard on this project for a number years. It addresses issues like where new housing, industry, parks, shopping areas, schools, offices and other land uses should be located, as well as how and when such development can occur.

The Recreation and Facilities Master Plan, FIT Together, was approved this year as well.

It will provide a framework for future investment over a 12-15 year horizon into our facilities, programming, and services for City recreation.

Recreation has always been a valued part of our culture, and this plan will help identify how recreation needs can be met.

It will help direct the investment of resources, prioritize needs, enhance customer service and align recreational services with the City’s strategic goals.

We have also been gathering information and citizen feedback over the past year for the Transportation Master Plan.

This document will help guide the City’s investment in transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and motorists for the next 20 plus years.

In neighborhoods across Thunder Bay, our investments are continuing to strengthen our city, while paving the way for new developments.

As I often say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. We have a huge role in Canada, and we should always be thinking big.

In the words of Louis Riel: “Deeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours. A century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time.

What I have learned in my two terms is that we can’t accomplish everything we set out to do. It’s going to take a lot more time.

But we do our best at setting a clear path for the things we are most passionate about, and we put our trust in those that follow us that they will do their best to continue our efforts.

We have been working on a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership.

We have placed a great deal of emphasis on this monumental challenge put before our city.

Through the Anti-Racism and Respect Committee, to our response to the Seven Youth Inquest, the work that we do must move our city to a place where all our families thrive, regardless of race or status.

I, for one, think that we are making great strides on social issues and racial divisions that have put our city under the microscope across the country.

As our City Manager, Norm Gale said in a recent Editorial to the Toronto Star: A deeper look at Thunder Bay tells a story of movement toward reconciliation, toward caring, and an ever-intensifying effort to learn from the country’s First Peoples.

We aspire to be a city in which all citizens feel — and are — safe and included. The Crime Prevention Council continues to mobilize the community to play a role in community safety and well-being. They developed a new strategy in 2017 that prioritizes evidence-based efforts to strengthen neighbourhoods, empower youth and keep women and children safe.

River safety audits were done, and many improvements have already been implemented, including improved lighting, removal of overgrown vegetation and graffiti, and supporting the efforts of Police and local education institutions to increase patrols in these areas.

Plans are also underway to evaluate a comprehensive public safety surveillance camera program, focusing on river areas and multi-use recreational trails.

We have also been working with community partners to submit a significant proposal to Public Safety Canada to invest in a Youth Inclusion Program.

It will provide additional supports and opportunities to youth who find themselves at risk, and will better support youth who are coming to Thunder Bay from northern communities for high school.

Over the past year, the Drug Strategy conducted an assessment on substance use and related harms in our community.

This was used to inform the development of a new four-year strategic plan titled Building a Better Tomorrow. Endorsed by City Council, it set the direction for a cohesive and collaborative approach to address substance use and challenges at the local and regional level.

Addressing these challenges head-on is crucial, yet we are a city rich in so many ways.

There’s the arts and music and a cultural richness rarely seen in communities our size. From Magnus Theatre to the Community Auditorium, to the animated space we create every August with City Hall Sounds, we have something for everyone when it comes to the arts. Let’s continue to build on the vibrant arts and culture of our city.

We are also striving to be a leader in Canada when it comes to environmental sustainability. Long-term changes are required to combat climate change, and we have been making great strides:

  • Like the development, adoption and implementation of the EarthCare Sustainability Plan and the Climate Adaptation
  • Our commitment to the Global Compact of Mayors to reduce the City’s Green House Gas
  • Being recognized by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s 2016 Award for Environmental Minister Murray said we are ahead of the game on that front.
  • Reduction in overall Greenhouse Gas emissions for the
  • And, an increase in active transportation investments, including green bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, pedestrian crossovers, and active transportation

We continue to make significant investments in critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, water, and wastewater. This year that investment reached almost $39 million dollars.

Funding received in 2017 through the Clean Water & Wastewater Fund has allowed accelerated investment in water infrastructure including the integration and installation of Low Impact Design (LID) features in capital reconstruction projects to naturally manage stormwater.

We will never forget the unprecedented, flood-emergency of 2012 that triggered a city-wide emergency. In the early hours of May 28, more rain dropped in Thunder Bay in two hours than normally falls on the city in the entire month of May.

Between midnight and 2 am, 77 millimetres fell in sheets over the Neebing River Watershed, causing floods across the city.

But we came together, almost immediately, working around the clock to help those affected get through the crisis and begin the cleanup.

I could not have been any prouder of our citizens who stepped up and volunteered their time, and the hundreds of city staff who did everything they could in our time of need.

During the recovery process, the City began the important path of addressing the short-term needs and preparing for long-term solutions to address flooding. We have come a long way since most recently adopting the City’s first Storm Water Management Plan.

Accelerated investments in public transit have also been realized with funding from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund – including a route optimization study, expansion of the active transportation network, and new and improved accessibility of our transit fleet.

We also have partnerships with post-secondary institutions and our Indigenous education partners to provide accessible and affordable service to those priority populations that rely on it.

There is positive economic development activity taking place across the City, and we need to forge ahead with our strategic investments in infrastructure, social issues, and so much more.

The City’s Inter-Governmental Affairs Committee proactively builds strong relationships with other levels of government, municipal and community partners to influence policies, advance community needs and further the City’s goals.

This Committee has proven their ability to get results.

In July, the Provincial government announced it was establishing a new Indigenous Youth and Community Wellness Secretariat here to address First Nations Youth Health and Safety Crisis.

In May, the Provincial government announced funding for a new multi-purpose correctional centre to replace the Thunder Bay District Jail. Since 2014, the City has advocated for a new jail and has communicated with various stakeholders to address the health and safety issues and inefficiencies of design, technology, and space in the existing facility.

The festivals and events that take place in our city create tremendous community and economic impacts. The partnership with and support from the local community, at all levels, is so critical to their success, and Thunder Bay residents never disappoint!

Baseball fans in Thunder Bay had the chance to be a part of the very successful and action-packed Under 18 Baseball World Cup here in September.

Twelve teams from all around the world came to Thunder Bay, and we had the opportunity to showcase our city to those countries.

City staff worked around the clock to make sure everything was perfect for the event, with significant field improvements that resulted in two world-class baseball facilities between the Port Arthur Stadium and Baseball Central.

One of my greatest highlights as Mayor was being a part of the 2011 Special Olympics, and meeting the amazing athletes with overwhelming heart and courage.

Seeing their faces and feeling the energy at the venues was an experience I will never forget.

This past August, I was so thrilled to hear that Special Olympics Canada chose Thunder Bay to host the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games. This coincides with the City’s 50th Anniversary.

Thunder Bay has an excellent reputation as a host for winter sports events, and we look forward to showing our northern hospitality to Special Olympics athletes and their families from across Canada.

And as we continue to showcase our world-class events and hospitality, we must have the digital tools to back it up.

From our new app Pingstreet to more services being accessed online – including the opportunity for residents to vote online in the 2018 Municipal Election – the image we portray on the internet is very important.

That is why we are launching a new City website in June 2018! We recognize that needs have changed since our last website renewal nine years ago, and we need to change too.

Mayor Keith Hobbs meeting with Bobby Orr
Mayor Keith Hobbs meeting with Bobby Orr

One of my idols Bobby Orr once said: “There are no environments where you’re only going to win because life just isn’t like that.”

We have had a lot of wins, and a lot of losses over the years, but it’s the people along the way that have really stuck with me.

Like Gisele McDonald and Joe Bova, the developers who took a chance on the Thunder Bay Waterfront, and persevered to give us something so incredible.

They pushed through so many roadblocks and jumped at the chance to work with this municipality to find an agreeable solution. I thank them both for their vision and their friendship.

Or regular citizens like Rocket Ronny. A former miner, I first met Ronny in Nabigoon and on the streets during my Walkabouts. He fell on hard times after an injury and ended up on the streets, but he has always had a great spirit about him and was one of my biggest supporters. I was sad to hear of his passing this year.

To the great entrepreneurs, I have had the pleasure of meeting over the years. You are what makes this City so great, and you are such an inspiration to me and to this community. Your hard work epitomizes what Thunder Bay is all about.

The entrepreneur’s in our city have courage that never ceases to amaze me.

As a community, as hard-working citizens, we always seem to keep up. It`s amazing when I travel to other cities and see how ahead of the game we are on so many fronts.

It has been an honour to lead this vibrant and progressive community as we move forward together. Great improvements have been made, and there are many more to come.

The next council faces an incredible prospect, one that comes with determination and hard work.

Juggling the challenges of a fair budget, along with embracing our role in committing to a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and becoming the city we all want. Those changes will, I’m sure, be challenging but hugely important for our future.

To Norm Gale, our city manager, thank you for your dedication to this city and your skill in performing your duties. And to acting City Manager Kerri Marshall, our hard-working General Manager of Infrastructure & Operations, thank you for stepping up and taking the lead when we needed you.

To all of the other General Managers – Mark Smith of Development & Emergency Services, Kelly Robertson of Community Services, and Linda Evans of Corporate Services & Long-Term Care – thank you.

To City Clerk John Hannam and his team, and to all of the department managers and supervisors, thank you.

The fact is, we couldn’t do what we do without you.

To Karen Lewis and Stacey Levanen, thank you. For almost eight years now you have helped me deliver the State of the City address, as well as hundreds of other speeches along the way.

Thank you for your hard work, and thank you for continuing to get our message out to the citizens of Thunder Bay.

We are all very fortunate to have an incredible team of employees working for us. Our dedicated Administration, Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, engineers, snow plow operators, transit operators, building inspectors, child care workers, and the list goes on and on.

These are true public servants who work so hard with such passion, integrity, creativity, and talent. Let’s keep nurturing them and showing them our appreciation.

My gratitude also goes out to the many volunteers who serve on our Committees and Boards, our various business partners, and the citizens of Thunder Bay for all of the things you do, big and small, to make our city so extraordinary. We are all part of a collaborative team, and together we can build the community we want.

Any achievements and progress I have made for our collective endeavour has only been possible due to my passionate and hardworking colleagues on City Council.

After all, I am only one vote – we do this collectively. I have learned so much from each and every one of you, and it has been an honour to serve with you.

I would like to recognize my beautiful wife Marissa, here with us tonight, who through her endless love, advice, and support has made me able to do what I have done.

Colleagues, I wish you all the best, thank you once again. Good luck for the future. In me, you will have a lifelong champion of this great city.

Finally, to the people of Thunder Bay, I owe a great debt to each and every one of you. Together we have made our city a better place to live. It’s been one of the great privileges of my life being your mayor. Thank you for giving me that chance!

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

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Keith Hobbs, Mayor of the City of Thunder Bay, was born in London, England, and moved to Thunder Bay in 1964. He graduated from Hillcrest High School and after college worked in the grain industry, Great Lakes Paper (now Bowater) and other industries. Mayor Hobbs joined the Thunder Bay Police in 1976 and was promoted through the ranks and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was a recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, the 20 & 30 year Good Conduct Medals and numerous commendations for service above and beyond the call of duty.