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Plebiscite denied

City council will not be adding an event centre question to the Oct. 27 municipal ballot. Couns.
People rally both for and against a plebiscite on the proposed event centre Monday night. (Jamie Smith,

City council will not be adding an event centre question to the Oct. 27 municipal ballot.

Couns. Linda Rydholm and Larry Hebert were the lone dissenters of 11 around the council table Monday night, voting in favour of asking voters if they thought the city should halt the process of pursuing the controversial $106.1-million facility.

"Are you in favour of city council continuing with the process to build the proposed event and convention centre in Thunder Bay?" Rydholm's question asked.

Rydholm said she brought the ballot question to council after hearing from her constituents that they would like one, not because she's opposed to the project.

"For some folks that’s the way its been interpreted,” she said. “They just wanted to have a say.”

Rydholm, the Neebing councillor, said gauging public support was a matter of good governance.

But Mayor Keith Hobbs said the public elected council to oversee $2 billion worth of assets, $300 million budgets and corporations like tbaytel.

"Yet some don’t want to trust us in getting this project to a shovel-ready stage,” he said.

"I'm tired of it."

Council has been nearly unanimous in supporting all stages of the project's process over the years and he said he's learned to trust the experts and professionals put in place to guide it along.

It's the reason he reversed his 2010 call for a plebiscite on the issue.

"I wasn't as wise a man as I am now," he said.

Northwood Coun. Mark Bentz said he's generally in favour of ballot questions and even looked into whether or not to have one on the project a few months ago. But it's the next term of council who will decide whether or not the centre goes ahead and then, as stated many times, only if federal and provincial funding is in place. Maybe then the question could be asked.

"It's a good debate," Bentz said. "But ill-timed."

The idea of a ballot question wasn't even on the radar until the preferred location, which would replace the Water Street bus terminal, was chosen, Coun. Aldo Ruberto said. Even now he's only received about eight calls and a dozen emails on the issue. He said a few people are fear mongering with talk of high debt levels and other negatives about the project.

The public can say things because they're not accountable to the people, unlike city council.

"It makes me sick when I hear those things," Ruberto said.

The city will host a survey on the issue later this year, something Rydholm said she is happy about. But she would have liked to see the ballot question go ahead.

"I'm disappointed that council doesn't want to sort of check in with the people this fall in a meaningful way," she said after the meeting.

About 60 people, both for and against the event centre, rallied outside of city hall before the meeting Monday. Some made deputations, including Steve Robinson, a big supporter of the project, who said a ballot question would interfere with due process. He said the best way for people to show how they feel is to vote in October.

"We have the power to elect or not elect yourselves as members of our council,” he said.

The city is in the midst of a Phase 3 study that will create a business plan and finalize costs, allowing officials to take funding requests to senior levels of government.

Follow Jamie Smith on Twitter: @Jsmithreporting


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