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Thursday September 3 2015
6:52 AM EDT
2014-04-03 at 16:22

On the table

By Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com

Linda Rydholm wants to ask the public if the city should continue a process to build a proposed event centre.

The Neebing councillor is putting a motion forward Monday night that, if successful, would put the question on the ballot in the Oct. 27 municipal election.

"Are you in favour of city council continuing with the process to build the proposed event and convention centre in Thunder Bay?" Rydholm's question asks.

Rydholm said it would be premature to ask the public whether it wants an event centre at all, as the final phase of the feasibility study isn't expected until later this year. But putting her question on the ballot would engage the public and see if support is out there.

"It would be good to garner or at least assess community interest," she said. "Without that I feel the public is somewhat disengaged."

Some around the council table think they already know how the public feels about the project. But just assuming how the public feels isn't a wise way to govern Rydholm said.

"If they're so certain that everyone in town pretty well is in favour then I think thatt (a ballot question) would be favourable for us to get that positive vote when we go and ask the province and people in Ottawa for funding," she said.

But Coun. Rebecca Johnson said how can council go to the public and ask when all of the information isn't available. Funding, business plans and feasibility studies aren't done yet.

"We don't even know that ourselves," she said.

If the city did have a ballot question, Johnson said she's not sure Rydholm's is even the right one to ask.

Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay head Ray Smith thinks it's a good question and similar to what he and the group have been proposing. He thinks council should pass it unanimously.

"We'd be very disappointed (if council refuses) because this is what the public has been asking for," he said. "Let's make this a community decision, a Thunder Bay decision."

Gauging public support is needed as it will be the people of Thunder Bay spending their money there if an event centre is built.
"Without their attendance it would be a big flop," Smith said.

SHIFT Network president Nathan Lawrence said the organization of about 450 young professionals supports an event centre as long as the city is spending properly, tax dollars are used effectively and it benefits business and the city's economy. Right now, there isn't enough information without the feasibility study's final phase to ask the public a legally binding question.

"We do feel that doing a plebiscite on this particular discussion right now is a bit premature," he said.

Meanwhile Citizens for a Waterfront Event Centre, as expected, announced they were totally opposed to Rydholm's motion, calling a plebiscite premature. 

"The deadline to legally allow plebiscite questions on a municipal election ballot is a little over a week away and therefore there is not enough time for council to properly  consider the issue, given the cost and the stakes involved in asking a legally binding question to the population of Thunder Bay," the group said in an email issued to media Thursday night. 

A question that gets on the ballot and garners responses from more than 50 per cent of eligible voters is a binding one, Johnson noted. 

Follow Jamie Smith on Twitter: @Jsmithreporting


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