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Chance of a plebiscite?

With time starting to run out, the plebiscite push might be gaining traction at city hall.
A member of the audience asks a question during Tuesday's event centre plebiscite public meeting. (Matt Vis,

With time starting to run out, the plebiscite push might be gaining traction at city hall.

Despite it looking like the deadline to add a ballot question would just slide past, talk at Tuesday evening’s public meeting pushing to include an event centre vote on October’s municipal election ballot indicated the issue might be discussed at city council.

At-large council candidate Kimberly Coreau addressed the meeting and said there are some current councillors who may look to raise the plebiscite issue at an upcoming council meeting.

She claims Coun. Larry Hebert is in favour of a ballot question, adding that he is supposedly working on composing a specific question.

In an email response sent to Dougall Media later in the evening, Hebert said that he is “trying to get a comprehensive memo to council” as soon as possible.

She also claimed Coun. Linda Rydholm is looking at the issue and that conversations with Coun. Rebecca Johnson and Coun. Joe Virdiramo suggest they believe there may be a plebiscite added to the ballot.

That would be news to Concerned Citizens of Thunder Bay (CTTB) chairman Ray Smith, who acknowledged the low chances of seeing a question on the ballot despite his belief an overwhelming portion of the population wants a say.

“I don’t think there’s any (support from council) but we’re going to push anyways. Maybe some (councillors) will wake up and understand what the public is saying,” he told local media before the meeting, which was held at the Da Vinci Centre.

“The public wants a vote. You can go anywhere around town--coffee shops, shopping malls, to your friends, to your neighbours--and what do they say? They say there should be a plebiscite.”

Approximately 100 people, mostly over the age of 50, braved the weather and attended the meeting. Of those, there desire for a plebiscite was unmistakable.

A quick show of hands at the beginning of the meeting saw only four individuals indicate they were opposed to the plebiscite.

City manager Tim Commisso voluntarily stepped into the frying pan by attending the meeting, following the lead of mayor Keith Hobbs who was in the audience for a recent meeting.

Commisso was the target for a significant number of the speakers either in favour of a plebiscite or completely against the project, including Smith.

He was shouted down during his initial attempts to speak to the crowd before order was restored and he was allowed to discuss federal and provincial funding as well as the Renew Thunder Bay Fund.

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There were many vocal audience members throughout the course of the meeting.

One audience member threatened to riot and withhold his taxes if a plebiscite was not on the October ballot while invoking comparisons to Russia.

Guest speaker Jim McConnell provided multiple history lessons, including the role of the nearly 800-year-old Magna Carta in preventing “excessive oppressive governments” and said city council is not following it.

Some of the most common reasons given in opposition to the event centre included increasing taxes, need for improved infrastructure and the cost of the project.

Andrew Bryan, who says he has a business degree from McMaster University and has been a travelling musician, spoke out against the project.

He compared the thought of an event centre to “offering candy” to the public and said most people get too caught up with the thought of the project and lose a sense of reality.

Bryan acknowledged his relative youth compared to the rest of the audience and said his touring experience has left him with a negative view of similar facilities.

“Those facilities are a cash drain on these cities,” Bryan said. “It’s a difficult place to be because your fixed costs of running a show are very high.”

He doesn’t buy the argument that people from the region and surrounding areas will come flocking to the city. He said potential tourists south of the border would just go to Minneapolis and those in the Kenora region would head to Winnipeg.

“Why on earth would anyone drive to Thunder Bay and pay the high price to justify any type of act coming in a smaller theatre to come here?” Bryan asked.

While most of the audience supported those asking for a plebiscite or directly against the project, there were some who spoke in favour of the other side.

Steve Robinson takes issue with Smith’s claims to be representing the majority of Thunder Bay citizens.

He stood in front of the crowd to voice his support for the current proposal and was promptly heckled and berated.

He expected that would come with the territory.

“I think for anybody to make a statement that they represent any group of people is just a little misleading,” Robinson said.

“I think right now a group like this is getting a lot more attention and the other side will get their voice.”

The CTTB are planning on holding a rally in front of city hall prior to the next council meeting on Monday.


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