THUNDER BAY — Mayor Ken Boshcoff says he’s optimistic a sit-down with Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford earlier this week has set the stage for a strong working relationship with the province.
It was one of the first significant meetings Boshcoff has held with provincial and federal officials after taking office on Nov. 15, and his first with a provincial cabinet minister.
“The minister and I had easily one of the most cordial meetings in our long, long [history],” he said in an interview. “So I’m very optimistic about not only Minister Rickford’s help for us, but for the whole Northwest. I’m really quite pumped about the potential.”
The meeting focused largely on economic issues, he said.
“It was mostly on the economic development front, where we need cooperation in terms of our tourism thrust … Making opportunities come into reality is probably the short version of [our] conversation.”
While Boshcoff didn’t point to specific actionable items coming out of the meeting, he called it largely a chance to build a foundation for the city’s relationship with the province for the 2022-2026 term of council.
“Step one is important in itself, and that is that we’re ushering in a new era of cooperation, which will lead to step two, which is vaulting forward onto the prosperity deck.”
Rickford, for his part, said in a statement the meeting “mark[ed] the beginning of a renewed partnership between the province of Ontario and one of it’s largest Northern cities.”
“We share a keen interest in attracting Northern investment, and bolstering Thunder Bay’s resource sector and local economy,” he said. “Ontario recognizes the City of Thunder Bay as an important hub for economic development and a key player in Northern supply chains.”
“We look forward to future discussions about the region’s prosperity and building on shared priorities.”
His office provided that brief statement on the meeting via email, but did not answer specific questions posed by TBnewswatch.
Boshcoff has called securing increased provincial and federal funding for social services and policing a top priority for his term, arguing Thunder Bay is severely underfunded given its role as a regional hub that attracts thousands from across Northwestern Ontario to access services and opportunities.
It’s an ask Boshcoff hopes will be aided by the presence of a Northwestern Ontario MPP around the Ford government’s cabinet table.
“Minister Rickford knows I feel Thunder Bay is carrying a heavy load, as are communities such as Dryden, Kenora, Fort Frances — they are all in their respective areas shouldering a [disproportionate] weight for not only policing, but also for hospital services,” he said.
He also suggested a push for further funding will require “a strong united front” from regional municipalities and First Nations.
“With a united front, it makes it much easier for the minister to be able to convey that message to Southern Ontario types, who most of the time have a difficult time understanding” the region, he said.
“Thanks to Minister Rickford, the province is becoming more aware of the singular importance of us being able to afford not only hospitalization, but also the policing," Boshcoff said. "With the mayors and the reeves and also the chiefs coming together, we could give Minister Rickford the backup that will really deliver a solid message to the provincial government.”