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City Government

Mayor Delivers 2008 State of the City Address

December 15, 2008 - Each year, Mayor Peterson reports on the State of the City to Council and all interested citizens. The 2008 State of the City was delivered this evening at the Community Auditorium.                                                            

  • 500 km away someone like you and I are reading their morning newspaper
  • 1,400 km away the Government of Ontario has committed billions to mass transit
  • 10,000 km away reactors are loaded and shipped for installation in North America
  • 6,500 km away a group of young people are chatting on-line about a cool new facility
  • 16,000 km away a head coach is planning his trip with the national team
  • 1,400 km away policy makers are determining how we will continue to support those in need
  • Right here in Thunder Bay a young boy is inspiring others to give

Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to present my 5th Annual State of the City Address. These examples are not fictitious. They are all happening and the common denominator is Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay plays a significant role in the day to day lives of millions of people and is an active participant in the global economy.

We all know that the global economy is in a downward trend that is unprecedented in recent memory.

All around the world changes are being made.  And this trend, it appears, will continue for some time and will have real impacts on each one of us, our community, our employers, our families and our friends. City Council understands the difficulties many citizens face and that they are basically re-engineering their lives.

For many, the reality is a continuous search for new jobs, retraining, and moving into new sectors and industries. They are doing what they need to do because they are resourceful. That’s a theme you will hear repeated throughout this address.

We have weathered downturns in our local economy – and we know how to persevere. We are probably one of the communities best positioned to tough it out during these global economic circumstances.

The global economy makes it tempting to dwell on the negative. Personally, I and the Members of this Council agree with Churchill who said: “for myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.”

In Thunder Bay, we’re all about what’s useful and practical, and what moves us forward as a community.

As well, the work Council and our efficient Administration and staff have done, and continues to move on, has positioned this community to weather the economic storm with certainty that we will come out perhaps a little different, but definitely stronger.

Examples of these actions include investing $5 million in what is now called the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, creating the Community Economic Development Commission with a $300,000 project fund and a $1 million investment fund, our Waterfront – and the other 85 other initiatives outlined in our Strategic Plan and reported on in our recent Annual Report.

One of our Strategic Priorities is to be among the best-run cities in Canada. One way we will achive this is through our Asset Management Plan which lays out the regular infrastructure investment we will make each and every year including paving another 20 kilometres of road in 2008 alone. In fact, Engineering oversaw $42 million in infrastructure improvements this year – from the Landfill to street lights and everything in between.

We are also reinvesting in our buildings, parks and community facilities in a way that takes care that these facilities are here to serve our community for the long term. As we strive to be one of the best-run cities in Canada, we know we are on the right track. When surveyed, the citizens of Thunder Bay have told us that they are generally satisfied with the services they receive from their municipal government.

This brings me back to the very real examples I shared with you when I started this address.

While someone in Minneapolis is reading the morning newspaper they probably do not know that it is printed on paper that is made in Thunder Bay.

No one can deny that the forest products industry is in transition and that there continues to be significant challenges facing those companies across the Northwest that employ people, buy products, support community efforts and pay taxes.

I have heard it said and, I am sad to hear this from Northerners, that this industry is dead.  Specifically when those who know – or perhaps should know better – that this industry has historically been a strong part of our economy and will continue to be in the future. This is an industry that continues to invest in its facilities.  Since the year 2000, one company alone has invested more than $700 million in Ontario – primarily in Northwestern Ontario.

The forest products industry is at the foundation of the new resource and green economy.  On this we must be clear. Its existing infrastructure, systems and expertise provide the building blocks for the evolving bioeconomy.  We need a healthy primary forest industry in order to achieve the benefits of a value-added one.  Today’s forest products industry is more than wood, pulp and paper. It’s the platform for the development of new products and industries like biochemicals, biofuels and bioenergy, all of which provide endless opportunities from our sustainable and renewable forest resource.

If you can make it out of a barrel of oil, you can make it out of a tree. That’s why our university has created a Biorefining Research Institute and the Government of Ontario is investing $25 million in the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy that was announced this morning.

Early in the new year, Administration will also report back on NORD 21, the Northern Ontario Research Development for the 21st Century Initiative, from Lakehead University.

This project is another example of the unique opportunities that will allow Thunder Bay to become known on a global level, as a centre for excellence in research and innovation.

The Canadian mining sector has also been swept up in the global economy; however, this sector is expected to come roaring back in the mid-term, which has very positive implications for this area.  In preparation, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce hosted a Mining Conference this fall. And the Community Economic Development Commission recently convened a focus group that laid out a strategy to grow the infrastructure required to support this sector when it is re-energized. 

1,400 kilometres away the Government of Ontario has committed to invest billions in mass transit.

This presents a significant opportunity for the Thunder Bay Bombardier plant – a plant that can manufacture the rail, subway and street cars needed with the quality and efficiency that this great Canadian company is known for around the world. We not only have the capacity to produce these quality products, we have a track record of doing so at an affordable price.

Manufacturing continues to be hard hit in Ontario and we continue to aggressively support a buy- Ontario and buy-Canada policy. When governments are spending public dollars, if at all possible, not one nut, bolt, or steel frame should be manufactured outside of our own borders, nor should we allow final assembly to take place anywhere else but in this great country.

Wouldn’t it be great if the proposed new Go Rail Express cars envisioned in The Big Move Plan that was recently released by Metrolinx were built right here in Thunder Bay?

Most countries have policies in place that reinvest tax dollars in their own boundaries.   We need to work together to bring these projects home.

In late November, four reactors, weighing approximately 450 metric tons arrived in Thunder Bay from Japan, bound for the Oil Sands.

Thunder Bay’s geographic location and port infrastructure gives us a strategic advantage – an opportunity being pursued by our local Port Authority and the CEDC.

Along with an increase in our traditional strength of grain shipments, Thunder Bay is emerging as a natural strategic corridor and link to the long-range plans of companies operating in Western Canada and around the globe.

 A lot of work has been done to date and the plans are in place for many more shipments through our working Port in the years to come.

On a blog a young man from Germany is speaking about the vitality of Thunder Bay’s waterfront and the new skateboard/BMX plaza.

“Thunder Bay is all about the kids,” announces the blog. As the news is spreading around the world, we at home know that this is just one small piece to a much larger waterfront plan. It is just one of the many good things that will happen and we all need to share the vision and perhaps dream a little about our future.

Our dedicated Waterfront Development Committee, citizens and Councillors alike, gave voice to what we all want - a waterfront that is connected, year-round and ours to celebrate. In short, we are working toward a waterfront that’s developing to its full potential, whether that’s the skate plaza, more recreational trails or the proposed waterpark and hotel.

And, while it’s great that our efforts are attracting international attention, and adding value to our growing tourism industry, the primary objective is to work toward a great gathering place for the residents of Thunder Bay.

16,000 km away a head coach from Australia is planning his trip with the national team.

In fact, coaches, players and families from Asia, Europe and Central America to name a few, are planning to visit Thunder Bay to participate in the 2010 World Junior Baseball Championships. Canadian University Hockey Teams for the CIS Championships will be visiting us this March, and Thunder Bay has recently been identified as a Celebration City for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games Torch Run.

These are all opportunities to showcase our community, our quality facilities and our pride.

The Sport tourism industry can make an even greater contribution to our economy. Besides the immediate economic injection during these events, sport tourism assists our city with infrastructure development that we can all use recreationally for many years to come.

Sport Tourism announces this is a community that welcomes visitors, and creates events that instill pride among our citizens.

Policy makers in Toronto and Ottawa are reviewing budgets in the wake of this new economy. There is a growing concern that in tough times, those that have not, will have even less.

We all must encourage the other orders of government to continue with their anti-poverty strategy to build a fairer and more inclusive society, give families the tools they need and focus on children as a priority.

Children have wonderful imaginations – let us wish for our children the magic of a fully integrated life in keeping with the Thunder Bay Children’s Charter.

For those unable to stay alone and in need of accommodation in their senior years, as of January 1st, the two D-listed Homes for the Aged will continue to operate as we work in partnership with the Province, St. Joseph’s Care Group and other agencies on the Senior Centre of Excellence which will result in a new long-term care facility. This is already enhancing support initiatives and programs that can help our seniors stay in their own homes longer.

Right here in Thunder Bay, 8-year-old Mitchell asked for donations to George Jeffrey Children’s Centre instead of presents, and is inspiring others to give as the holiday season approaches.

Although we continue to press for more assistance and support for social programs, we must also look to ourselves. For it is perhaps in these times when the need is the greatest, that those of us who have, can give what support we can, to those who have not.
That spirit of giving was demonstrated earlier this month when City employees topped $1.1 million in contributions to the United Way over the past 13 years. They know that when they give the community gets results. When the food banks needed more food, guess what? We all rallied in Thunder Bay and they got it.

We have the know-how and the desire to help our neighbours – and that kind of resourcefulness is what the world as a whole needs to survive and thrive.

In addition to the examples I began with, we have remarkable community assets and strengths on which to build.

Research and innovation is vibrant in our city and is moving toward playing an even more significant role in the knowledge and research-based economy.
Education is one of the cornerstones of a healthy economy, and we are extremely fortunate to have two renowned post-secondary facilities that provide the venue for research, innovation and training.

The Bioforestry initiative and the new Centre for Research and Innovation are just two examples of good things happening within Lakehead University, confirming they are playing an increasingly important role in the provincial and federal innovation agendas. Lakehead now has five PhD and 26 Master programs with several more to come.

Similarly, innovative training and education programs in and for the mining sector are being addressed right now, right here at Confederation College.

Canada’s newest molecular imaging institute, the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, will create 40 new jobs by the end of this fiscal year, on its way to employing 200.
The institute has already launched three research product lines including advanced detection development, imaging guided interventions and biomarker discovery. The City’s $5 million investment has certainly been worthwhile and will continue to provide dividends.

And, finally, our Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and our Northern Ontario School of Medicine round out our growing knowledge, research and innovation corridor. We are producing the next generation of northern doctors right here in Thunder Bay. Talk about an investment in our future!

The citizens of Thunder Bay continue to be the recipient of high-quality services provided by community-owned utilities that, together employ more than 530 people. Thunder Bay Hydro is responsible for the power line system and the delivery of electrical energy to each of us, and is also continuing to engage and educate us on ways in which we can all conserve.
Hydro and the City are also looking at new opportunities such as generating electricity from the Landfill site.

In addition, we are shareholders of one of the most exciting and growing sectors and companies within the region. In fact, TBayTel provides a dividend that reduces the municipal portion of our residential tax bills by 12 per cent.  Every time we pick up a phone, or use TBayTel internet, we’re actually paying ourselves as residents. As well, in contrast to what some may think, this company also pays property taxes that exceed $475,000 a year and reinvests over $20 million annually into capital projects here and throughout Northern Ontario.

And while we have incredible assets that would be the envy of many communities, there is yet another reason for optimism. As a result of the Places to Grow Act, provincial legislation that requires a coordinated approach to development across Ontario, the Northern Growth Plan, was announced by the Province.

This Plan is designed to address our specific regional challenges and identify paths for moving forward. The objective is a stronger, more prosperous North.  Led by our own Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Honourable Michael Gravelle, the Northern Growth Plan is being developed for the north, by northerners. We see and look forward to great things coming out of this process for our community and our partners in Northern Ontario.

With today’s economy, it may very well be easy to weigh in with uncertainty. Einstein said “In the middle of a difficulty, lies an opportunity.”
He could have been talking about Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario. While we have to be realistic in our approach, we must continue to reach for a better future and accept nothing less. Reaching for opportunities is what has always moved us forward as a community and region.

Currently, Administration and Council are tackling next year’s budget with the goal of bringing expenditures down while maintaining services.  We are developing a Strategic Infrastructure Investment Fund that will target major capital projects with a direct benefit to economic growth and position us to respond quickly to opportunities presented to us by the Provincial and Federal Governments.

And we are also reviewing options regarding the establishment of a long-term tax strategy that will responsibly accommodate residential rates while stimulating business development.

Thunder Bay has an enviable quality of life. We have:
- Clean air and water.
- A short commute - our rush hour is really rush minutes.
- Affordable housing – Thunder Bay ranked 1st among 227 international cities in the 4th annual
   Demographia study!
- and safe neighbourhoods.
All that combines to make our community extremely attractive to those who are looking for a healthier environment.

We also have responsive emergency services as demonstrated by the current pilot project of Police foot patrols in the cores.

As a commitment to growing a sustainable community, we continue to put in place programs like the EarthWise Community Environmental Action Plan – the city’s first integrated community sustainability plan – and the Urban Forestry Program that accelerates the planting of more trees.

There continues to be investment in our city. $78 million of investment in 2008 alone, which includes significant projects such as retail, commercial, schools and new and retrofitted buildings.

Although these examples are a great source of pride, there is more work to do, together, to accomplish the goals we set out in our Strategic Plan. We are committed to working toward the highest possible quality of life for all residents to build on the new foundation.

Thunder Bay is known for its rich multicultural history and our community continues to diversify. We celebrate these differences, but we also know that unity and teamwork is needed now more than ever. We are getting there.

Last year, the City made a commitment to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism & Discrimination. We have committed to foster respect, equality and diversity in our city and we look forward to the proposed Community Action Plan from Diversity Thunder Bay in the new year.

This year, we put in place the Aboriginal Liaison position and I was honoured to host the first annual Fall Feast, which attracted more than 200 community members. We look forward to working inclusively with the Aboriginal community through the Aboriginal Liaison over the next few years.

We will soon have a Clean, Green and Beautiful civic space for all citizens to gather and take pride in.  The structural improvements at City Hall were mandatory – and they provided an opportunity to make the building more sustainable, beautiful and more fitting as a civic space.

Through this project, we are leading by example toward a built environment that is Clean, Green and Beautiful. We all have a role to play in keeping our city clean.

To that end, Transit has installed waste containers at bus stops all across the City and we must all do our part to keep the city beautiful by not littering, and looking for opportunities to clean up and reduce, reuse and recycle.

We are northerners…known for our tenacity and it is perhaps because we have experienced tough times before, we may be better prepared for the future.  Our citizens know that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  And we are not afraid to roll up our sleeves and get at it.

A lot has been done and there is admittedly, a lot more to do. The evidence that our city is poised for more great things to come is all around us:
- in our boreal forest that will be the building block of a sustainable, renewable economy.
- in the development of innovative products ready for commercialization.
- in our strategic location.
- in our Waterfront that is becoming a gathering place.
- in our very high quality of life.
- and most of all in our can-do people and our never say no attitude.

It’s no surprise that our reach extends around the globe and that we are already recognized outside of our own boundaries, beyond this province and this country.   We are confident because we know that while the Municipal Council is responsible for the day-to-day workings of the municipality, it takes a community to make great things happen. I can think of no better community than our home, Thunder Bay.

Please let me extend my best wishes to you and your families this holiday season.

Mayor Lynn Peterson
City of Thunder Bay