The future is now for Thunder Bay, says Mayor Keith Hobbs.
Delivering his first ever state of the city address before a packed house Thursday morning, Hobbs embraced partnerships with both the First Nation and business communities, called for less poverty and crime, and promised to work hard to bring more jobs, economic diversity and acceptance to Thunder Bay.
Hobbs said the city and Northwestern Ontario are positioned perfectly to benefit from the demands being made on the region’s natural resources, adding he wants to help the city take advantage of the “huge opportunities” and prosper one and all.
“The next four years will be spent building a solid future that keeps our children here, a future inclusive of young and old, rich and poor and the able and physically challenged,” Hobbs said. “I believe each person who lives in this city deserves nothing but our best in ensuring they are included in our efforts.”
Not one to shy away from controversy, Hobbs admitted there are plenty of challenges facing the city, including Horizon Wind’s $126-million breach-of-contract lawsuit filed last fall and the ongoing waterfront budget increases, which on Wednesday soared by another $8.6 million.
But, Hobbs said, the city can’t move forward by constantly looking back.
He sees a resiliency in the people of Thunder Bay that he believes will ensure the city’s success.
“By capitalizing on our resilience, our determination and our imagination, we will respond to new global challenges and turn them into new and exciting opportunities,” Hobbs said. “Economic development is as important a challenge as any. “
There is plenty for the city to rest its hat on, he added, calling every step a building block to success, including the development of Thunder Bay in the fields of research and innovation, mining service, value-added forestry, manufacturing and regional health.
But in order for the successes to continue, Queen’s Park must recognize that the North deserves special attention and reiterated a call for the province to release the final version of the Northern Ontario Growth Plan and the money to pay for it.
“We said give us the tools and we’ll put them to work for sustainable economic development. History tells us that when Northwestern Ontario does well, all of Ontario benefits.”
Dialogue is also key, he said, pointing to his walkabout Wednesdays and promises to bring the city’s vision and priorities to the people.
This also includes the people of Fort William First Nation and Nishnawbe Aski Nation, who Hobbs called partners in the construction of a regional economy.
Hobbs said he and city manager Tim Commisso have met with several Aboriginal groups and one message comes across loud and clear.
“We’re not taking full advantage of the opportunities they have created by choosing Thunder Bay as a home base.”
But it’s also about respect, inclusion and being good neighbours.
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Harold Wilson, whose organization hosted the breakfast that brought out a literal who’s who of Thunder Bay, said he liked what he heard, starting with more transparency in municipal government.
He was thrilled at the turnout, which in part he attributed to a desire from the business community to get to know their new mayor.
The big thing, Wilson added, is there really wasn’t anything missing from the speech.
“I think we’re seeing the right steps now,” Wilson said. “I was thrilled personally with how much the business community came out. This was a sell-out today, because they wanted to hear it first-hand as well.”
Realtor Jack Mallon said he was pleased that Hobbs plans to continue many of former mayor Lynn Peterson’s initiatives.
“I’m so happy to see Keith is grabbing it and expanding it and I’ve never seen a person learn so fast. He gets it about Thunder Bay and where we’ve gotta go. We’re growing like weeds and we’re on top of it,” Mallon said.
Hobbs is expected to deliver similar state-of-the-city addresses to other organizations over the next few months.
A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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