Requiem for City Council
NORTHERN ECONOMIST 2.0 Ontario economics and policy
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO ~~~~~ July 31, 2022 (LSNews) Thunder Bay City Council this week began to move into its “lame duck” period - which officially starts August 8th - with its decision to hold off on advancing the Turf Facility project and essentially kicking it down the road to the next city council which will be elected in October. While they still might revisit the project before the 8th, it is unlikely and signals acceptance that this legacy project will not be the current council’s legacy.
Of course, key to the problem is the cost of the project and the lack of external funding which has made the project controversial in part because early on Council rejected a private plan for a bubble type project. And the failure to attract federal funding which instead has gone to the Art Gallery project and a new Science north Facility suggests there will not be any federal funding soon making the project reliant on municipal borrowing.
As to whether the next council will support another go at a municipal Turf Facility is a good question given there is going to likely be a major change in its composition given that several incumbents including the current mayor have decided not to seek re-election. What seemed to be a dearth of candidates earlier on is now dissipating as there are quite a few candidates starting to declare. There are now four candidates for mayor and nine candidates for the five At Large seats. There are two candidates each in Red River, Westfort, and McKellar Wards and four in Northwood. Current River is likely on the road towards acclamation as only the Incumbent has declared to date. Neebing Ward has three candidates. Only McIntyre still has no declared candidates but that will likely change. So, with the filing deadline being August 19th, sufficient choice is on its way.
The more interesting question is why some of the incumbents have decided not to run – at least four so far and maybe more given that some still have not declared. Part of the issue may be fatigue given the length of time many of these incumbents have served in local politics especially when combined with the events of the last four years. Thunder Bay has been beset with numerous controversial issues – poverty crime, the opioid crisis, racism and of course the entire police department which essentially has come under external direction and scrutiny. There is also the dismal state of road infrastructure and sinkholes popping up where they should not be. All these issues have had to be dealt with during an unprecedented pandemic which along with the disruption also complicated the conduct of council business. This conjunction of events would have taxed the stamina and patience of anyone. Of course, add to this the presence of several class action lawsuits all dealing with municipal water issues including the leaky pipe fiasco and one can see the possibility of a lot of trouble coming down the pipeline over the next couple years on a wide range of issues – not least of which will be the police service.
And the kicker was of course that the current council signed off on pay increases of up to 12 percent for senior staff - something that is definitely going to eat into the popularity of some of the more vocal incumbents. That this salary increase came on the heels of the announcement of a record budget surplus of 10.9 million dollars for 2021 did not help and neither did pronouncements by at least one incumbent that future tax increases should be kept in line with the rate of inflation -which incidentally is at about 8 percent. And interestingly enough, the projection for 2022 is now that after years of surplus, there is a 5.3 million dollar deficit being forecast for 2022. Who could have foreseen such a thing especially in the wake of the salary adjustment for staff?
And so, there is likely going to be quite a bit of turnover on Thunder Bay City Council this time around – perhaps a generational change – after which you can expect the same faces to remain in place for a decade or so as that is the nature of municipal politics. Retiring incumbents already worn down by the pandemic have decided that they have run out of the political capital needed to easily gain re-election. New candidates with political aspirations have decided now is the time to strike. Hope springs eternal in fresh candidates that with their skill set they will be able to make a difference in a role which is a difficult and thankless task. The old city council is dead. Long live city council. Once again, the drama begins.
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|Livio Di Matteo
- The Northern Economist blog started on Shaw Webspace as commentary and analysis of economic issues and policy from a Northern Ontario perspective by Livio Di Matteo, Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It had regular posts from November 2010 to February 2012. Posts continued on Northern Economist 2.0 until 2013 when I took an extended break. Occasional posts resumed effective December 2016. With Shaw terminating its blog space functions, I have archived the old posts at: northerneconomistarchive.blogspot.ca.
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