THUNDER BAY – Newly-minted Mayor Ken Boshcoff says he’s focused on priorities including attracting mining investment and greater government funding after assuming office on Tuesday, as well as hoping to unite the new city council around common goals like minimizing tax hikes.
Boshcoff said he’s “inspired” to be working with the new council, which includes a mix of new and experienced councillors.
“I am wise enough to know there’s lots of expertise on the council, and lots of new people who haven’t been tapped for their resources. I’m hoping we can get that together in good chemistry and get a good fit rolling very quickly.”
He believes the new council is united on two key priorities: seeing the city play a lead role on issues like homelessness and addiction, and bolstering the city’s economy with a focus on attracting investment and responsible spending.
“One of the [important] things is that there’s a lot of compassion, because it’s hard to ignore the social issues,” he said. “On the other hand, a lot of people are quite worried about the financial future, because of the state of the world, and how it’s going to impact us and some of our larger industries.”
Boshcoff has described himself as a “frugal guy” and called minimizing tax increases a priority, though he didn’t say if he had a “red line” in mind for hikes to the municipal tax levy in 2023 – something council will decide when it finalizes the budget in February.
“There’s a looming fear of a big tax increase, and people are nervous because of financial constraints,” he said. “To me, it’s a very worthy concern that has to be addressed and put front of mind of everybody who got elected.”
“Even coupled with extremely high inflation, we’re going to have to live within our means, because eventually the system will implode. Raising taxes… only postpones an inevitable systems defeat.”
Boshcoff has also argued repeatedly Thunder Bay’s municipal government is being underfunded for the services it delivers, given the city’s role as a regional hub.
He says he’ll build a case for the province to grant Thunder Bay “special status” recognizing that role.
“The case that will be made by the City of Thunder Bay is that Thunder Bay is now handling a disproportionate amount of social servicing, as well as medical and policing aspects, for the size of our community,” he said.
“I think everybody’s starting to realize for a city of 110,000 people to try to finance this… is burdensome.”
Bringing other municipal councils and First Nations in the region on board to endorse that strategy will be key, he said.
“I want to get the support of the district for us to be able to go to the provincial and federal governments to get the kind of funding we need to deal with this on a much larger scale.”
The 73-year-old pitched his experience – he previously served as mayor from 1997 to 2003, and as Thunder Bay–Rainy River MP from 2004 to 2008 – as a resource for the municipality in achieving those aims.
“Because of the complexities of the relationships between the different orders of government, it helps that I’ve been through all of that.”
Boshcoff also sees economic opportunity for the community in a hoped-for mining boom, saying Thunder Bay has the chance to vie for related investments like head offices.
“There are many organizations looking to invest in the community,” he said. “I have to make those at least a major part of my priorities.”
It’s not just industry and government Boshcoff hopes to build bridges with – he called effective constituency work and public engagement top priorities.
“I think what you’ll see from my office is very accessible,” he said. “I pride myself on the fact that I try to return every call and every communication.”
However, the mayor suggested his office may need an expansion beyond a single policy advisor to help maintain that standard.
"It seems the workload is going to be bigger than that, so we’ll have to figure something out in the next couple of months," he said.
He echoed comments from members of the new council about finding a “better collaborative approach” to manage questions and feedback from the public.
“I’m hoping the new council will really pick up their socks and return their calls, return their letters, and meet with people. I think if we can get all 13 people pulling an equal share, the citizens of the city are going to be much more relieved, and also feeling gratified they voted for the people they did.”
Boshcoff also hopes his experience will help him foster more consensus on council, after divisions stymied progress on several major priorities during the last term. Council will look to set an agreed-upon vision for its term when it begins a strategic planning process in the New Year.
“I’m hoping a fresh look, a fresh council will have the courage to make these decisions,” Boshcoff said. “That’s where I would like to start from.”
As to where he’d like to end up, Boshcoff sketched an ambitious vision for what he hopes council can accomplish in the coming four years.
“I would like to say we got the opioid, homelessness, and addiction issues cleaned up… or at least being satisfactorily addressed,” he said. “I’d like to say the influx of new businesses we’ve been able to attract because of the mining expansion in Northwestern Ontario is helping to finance [that].”
“I’d like to see that our city pride and energy has been not only restored, but totally reinvigorated, and everybody’s really proud to say they’re from Thunder Bay.”