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Committee seeks public opinion on council composition

Public engagement on the size and structure of Thunder Bay city council continues with an initial survey set to be released in 2024.
Meeting of the Thunder Bay City Council Composition Committee on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. The members include Chair Rebecca Johnson, Vice-Chair Cody Fraser as well as Riley Burton, Wayne Bahlieda, Heather McLeod and Carlos Santander-Maturana.

THUNDER BAY — A working group is seeking the public’s input on the composition of city council, with an initial survey set to go out in early 2024.

On Tuesday the council composition committee gathered to go over their initial tasks of creating the survey, engaging further with the public and reporting back to council by spring.

Committee chair Rebecca Johnson, who served on council for 19 years, said getting feedback from previous members of elected office would go a long way in shaping this decision.

“Previous councillors would have a handle so to speak or have a knowledge of how they dealt with items that came before council. Should we have [all at-large] councillors? Should we have [an all] ward council?” Johnson said. “They can look at it very differently than the current council. I think we need that perspective because they were there.”

The committee has six members, which includes vice-chair Cody Fraser, as well as Riley Burton, Wayne Bahlieda, Heather McLeod and Carlos Santander-Maturana.

Fraser was previously a city councillor representing the Neebing ward after being first elected in 2018, but decided not to run for re-election in 2022.

He said he has heard the appetite for reassessing the council structure. 

“It's not a part time job," he said. I have had several conversations with the media about this before, and [anyone else] I talk to I say the same thing; In my opinion its part-time pay for a full-time job.”

The committee, which met on Tuesday, is also tasked with looking at the composition of the ward system, and potential changes to ward boundaries.

When the municipality of Thunder Bay was created in 1970, it began with a mayor and 12 councillors elected evenly across four wards.

That expanded to seven wards in 1976, before the city, in 1985, adopted its current hybrid system that elects a mayor, seven ward councillors, and five at-large councillors.

A push for a plebiscite back in October 2021 by former councillor Peng You that would have asked citizens if they support cutting council from 13 to 9 seats and ditching the ward system was stopped in its tracks.

“I have a skewed perspective because I was a ward councillor,” Fraser said. “I was a councillor of a rural ward. Ultimately the issues in Neebing south of the mill are significantly different than the [ones at] Donald Street here in front of city hall. Having that specific representation for folks that have very different needs, in my opinion, is a good thing.”

A final report from the committee on the composition of council is slated for completion in advance of the 2026 municipal election.


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