THUNDER BAY – City leaders are back from a provincial conference after advocating for the new government to move forward with two major projects promised by the previous regime, though they don’t have firm timelines for when they will proceed.
The Thunder Bay delegation, which included Mayor Bill Mauro, Coun. Brian McKinnon, Coun. Kristen Oliver and city manager Norm Gale, returned from the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference that was held this week after meeting with a number of provincial politicians.
Mauro and McKinnon said they pushed for the cardiovascular surgery expansion at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the replacement of the nearly century-old Thunder Bay District Jail, two projects that had been promised by the former Liberal government.
McKinnon said he was told the new jail, which would be located on the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre property on Highway 61, is a “done deal.”
“I think it’s soon,” McKinnon said. “That’s all I can say. I know it’s a vague word. It’s soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if it started within a year.”
At the time of the original announcement, the cardiovascular surgery program was scheduled to be operational in 2020. Mauro said the government did not indicate whether that timeline remains in place.
City officials also discussed the increased financial demands on the Thunder Bay Police Service budget, particularly as the force beings to address recommendations from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director report.
Police have made a request for an additional $1.08 million to start the implementation of some of the recommendations, which would result in the total municipal tax levy increase at 3.69 per cent if approved.
Mauro, who as the former provincial municipal affairs minister had sat on the other side of the table at several of these conferences, said has not been a definitive response from the province if the city will receive financial assistance.
“At meetings like this and conferences like this you don’t walk into them expecting that they’re going to give you a definitive response,” Mauro said. “That’s OK. We don’t go down there expecting that.”
The trip included an off-site meeting about the Bombardier plant with the chief of staff for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, which had company and union officials at the table, along with the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission and representation from the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association.
The long-term viability of the plant has been cast into doubt as its current contracts approach expiration.
Mauro, who made it clear the city of Toronto will likely need provincial and federal partners to continue buying mass transit vehicles, said the emphasis was on trying to extend the current orders for another year.
“We focused a little bit on the options that existed. It wouldn’t require another tender. It would simply require a triggering of the contract,” Mauro said.
Mauro said he also advocated for the overhaul of the Thunder Bay Expressway, a project which his Liberal government spent between $4 million and $6 million in planning and environmental studies.
“My hope is that the current provincial government might see the wisdom in moving forward with that project, even in pieces, one intersection perhaps at a time because of the money that has already been expended,” Mauro said, adding it’s possible that environmental assessments could have to be conducted again if there is a significant delay.