THUNDER BAY – Robert Szczepanski says its time to send career politicians packing.
At 33, he’s the youngest of five candidates seeking the mayor’s chair in Thunder Bay, but said his lack of experience around the council table isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
With new blood comes new ideas and a chance to wash away the status quo, which clearly isn’t working, Szczepanski said.
“I have lived in this city my whole life and I’ve worked so many jobs where I’ve had to interact with so many people from so many different class systems, and I’ve learned over the years what people want and what people don’t want,” he said.
Born and raised on the south side of the city, Szczepanski said the No. 1 issues he’s hearing about these days as he campaigns for mayor is that something must be done to improve mental health in Thunder Bay.
Fix that, and many of the other problems go away, he said.
“My biggest hope is we can either reopen the [Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital] or even just build a new one. After the LPH was shut down, our homeless numbers shot up, because those people don’t have anywhere else to go. A lot of these people don’t have the ability to take care of themselves,” Szczepanski said.
The first-time candidate said unlike career politicians, he won’t treat the position of mayor as simply something to do, a stepping stone for other political ambitions or as just a chance to earn a paycheque.
“To me, I’m just a guy who wants to fix this city and make it better for every single person, not just the one per cent who currently run everything,” said Szczepanski, who currently works multiple job, including at Eat Local Pizza and the Shuniah landfill.
He also volunteers at LU Radio.
Another issue Szczepanski would like to address is crime.
An opponent of plans to build a new $56-million police headquarters, he said there are much better ways to spend money allocated to the Thunder Bay Police Service. First and foremost, if the mental health piece is fixed, the need to self-medicate with illegal drugs will also start to go away, Szczepanski said.
“When people have that need for illicit medication, that requires the need for people to sell it. If we remove the need for people to self-medicate, then we remove a chunk of drug dealers’ profits. Then they either have to leave or get real jobs,” he said.
Szczepanski also opposes city involvement in an indoor soccer facility, calling it unnecessary at this time.
“It’s a waste of money. We should be focusing on the people first. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, you can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their most vulnerable citizens. Thunder Bay, right now, doesn’t care about our most vulnerable,” he said.
“We just cancelled that SOS program. Why? That was a great program that a lot of people depended on.”