Tbnewswatch Local News
2014-08-22 at 3:28PM

'They get it:' city officials on response from province at Association of Municipalities Ontario conference

Coun. Brian McKinnon, mayor Keith Hobbs and Coun. Joe Virdiramo.
Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com
Coun. Brian McKinnon, mayor Keith Hobbs and Coun. Joe Virdiramo.
By Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com

THUNDER BAY -- The province understands the city's problems.

That's the message a city delegation is bringing back from the recent Association of Municipalities Ontario conference in London.

While the usual discussions of the event centre, which had ministerial support, and infrastructure, which the city could see up to $3 million a year for, Thunder Bay's main priority this time around were its social issues.

From substance abuse to the lack of a cardiovascular unit at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences centre, mayor Keith Hobbs said Health and Long-Term Care Minister Eric Hoskins showed a lot of support for the city in meetings and made a commitment to come see the city's issues for himself. 

"We told him we're in a crisis situation and we need help," Hobbs said.

Poverty, substance use and homelessness were brought up numerous times to ministries during the four-day conference.

"We think these are health care issues and that's the province's domain," Hobbs said.

Coun. Joe Virdiramo said Shelter House programming was discussed as well. The local shelter has asked for $500,000 from the city to continue its SOS program year-round, something council will likely support.

"By saying no it could mean someone freezing on the street," he said.

But the city wants to start seeing the province take over funding after Thunder Bay helps get those programs off the ground.

"There comes a time when municipalities are taxed and we are taxed right now," Hobbs said. "We don't mind kickstarting these programs but we don't believe we should be the core funders."

At the root of the problem is the lack of affordable housing. Even the city's poverty reduction strategy with its housing-first philosophy hasn't seen any traction. Hobbs said that might be changing soon thanks to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

"They gave us a commitment that we're going to have some good news soon as municipalities on this issue," Hobbs said.

Aboriginal populations coming from Northern communities to the city was also discussed, which can put a strain on every service from police to hospital staff Hobbs said.

The mayor also met with Toronto mayor Rob Ford earlier in the week to discuss the strike at Bombardier and the work being done there. Hobbs said Ford, who has been a big proponent of subways, didn't know that Toronto's street cars were built in Thunder Bay.

But he hoped the strike would be resolved soon as it impacts Toronto as well.

"I gave him a bit of an education on that," Hobbs said.

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