THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay city council table will have a number of new faces starting next week.
The outgoing term of council held their final meeting on Monday night with seven of the 13 members bidding farewell, for at least the next four years.
Mayor Keith Hobbs, who chose not to seek re-election after eight years as Thunder Bay’s top municipal elected official, praised his colleagues for doing what he suggested was a thankless job.
“I think we’ve moved the yardsticks,” Hobbs said. “It’s because each and everyone of you have committed yourselves to serve the citizens of Thunder Bay with little thanks, and I’ll tell you right now there is little thanks. But know this, I recognize and a lot of good citizens in Thunder Bay recognize what you’ve done.”
Along with Hobbs, McKellar Coun. Paul Pugh decided to step aside from city hall. At-large councillors and mayoral hopefuls Iain Angus and Frank Pullia came up short on election night, as did fellow at-large Coun. Larry Hebert. Two-long time ward councillors – Westfort Coun. Joe Virdiramo and Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm – were also defeated.
Council spent a portion of their finale reviewing the four-year strategic plan that coincided with their term, setting the city’s direction from 2015 to 2018. That roadmap set out 21 goals, which included creating a unified city with strong, active and vibrant neighbourhoods, being safe and inclusive, being sustainable through enhanced infrastructure renewal, marketing Thunder Bay to business and investors and being fiscally strong with a sustainable tax base.
While a number of objectives were met, the city’s assessment growth went backwards in 2016 and 2017 and the number of building permits issued annually has trended down since 2012. As well, plans such as the Downtown and Neighbourhood Strategy and aspects of the Transit Master Plan were deferred.
Angus, retiring from politics after his unsuccessful mayoral bid capped his 15 years of municipal experience, said he is looking forward to spending time with family and being able to travel.
“It’s the end of a long journey,” Angus said, choking up during an interview after the meeting.
Angus said council has become more strategic now than ever before and pointed to city spending for the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute and Regen Med as two specific examples.
“Those kinds of strategic decisions I think are what’s making this city grow the way that it is,” Angus said. “I’m really, really proud of that.”
Angus added he is proud of granting the former Grandview Lodge home for the aged to Matawa Learning Centre for a new Indigenous high school, as well as providing land for supportive housing for Indigenous youth.
Rydholm, who served five terms in Neebing, pointed to the decision made during one of her early terms to tap into federal money to build Broadway Avenue extension around the mill, which came in handy this summer during highway construction work, as one particular project that was beneficial.
"I enjoyed doing ward work because I liked doing projects," said Rydholm, who wouldn't completely close the door on her political career when asked if this was going to be the end. "I liked seeing things happening and I like to see change occurring. We've had a lot of changes in the last 18 years."
Angus said the one piece of advice he would pass along to new incoming councillors is to listen to the city’s administration.
“We pay these people good bucks to provide us with good advice,” Angus said. “Don’t second guess them. Don’t think that you know it all, because you don’t. I found that out the hard way when I got on council.”
During his farewell speech, Hobbs gave a special mention to city employees and said one of his sources of pride as mayor was that there were no municipal work stoppages, despite coming close in 2016.
“They dedicate themselves and they do a fantastic job,” Hobbs said. “Our citizens’ satisfaction survey always gives our staff a high mark. Transit operators, road crews, EMS, fire, police, senior care, office staff, administration, I can’t commend you enough for what you do.”