Northern Economist 2.0

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Choosing Thunder Bay's Next Mayor

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Henry V

The municipal election process in Thunder Bay culminating this October is starting to pick up steam and there are now two candidates in the running for mayor: Iain Angus and Larry Hebert.  Both are long time stalwarts of Thunder Bay City Council and have contributed years of valued service to the community in assorted capacities.  Both also topped the polls last election for the position of Councillor at Large with Angus at 15,861 votes and Hebert at 14,664.  Given that the two top contenders for the Mayor’s Chair last election came in at 14,463 (Keith Hobbs) and 12,051 (Ken Boshcoff) votes, they are certainly credible contenders for the position of Mayor. 

Of course, when one looks at the current composition of City Council, there is indeed an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential candidates for Mayor.  It is always time for a female Mayor in Thunder Bay and given Rebecca Johnson’s sterling career of community service, one would expect that she would also consider a run for Mayor. It would be credible given she garnered 14,620 votes last election in the At Large race.   Frank Pullia has carved out a strong role both as an advocate for community causes as well as a strong showing in the finance portfolio at City Hall.  At 14,112 votes last election, he is a key contender.

And of course, who can forget the ubiquitous Aldo Ruberto whose passion for quality of life issues in Thunder Bay plus 14,311 votes in the last At Large Race also puts him within reach of the Mayor’s Chair.  There are also some strong candidates in the ward Councillor category – the names that particularly come to mind are Joe Viridiramo and Andrew Foulds.  They are both high profile candidates committed to their city and with exposure across the community.

Of course, they cannot all be mayor but being the Mayor in Thunder Bay is important given the need for a sustainable economic future that embraces all the people of Thunder Bay and the leadership role that Thunder Bay plays in the region.  It is important to have as strong a slate of visionary candidates as possible to generate the ideas we need to move forward.  This election is an opportunity for defining debates and visions in the areas of economic development, First Nations relations and social and urban affairs and what better way than a strong Mayor’s race with many quality candidates. 

It should be noted that the race for Mayor need not be relegated to current City Council incumbents.  There are many individuals in Thunder Bay who also have strong community leadership credentials and it would be a shame if Ken Boshcoff or Shane Judge did not put their names forward again. Indeed, Shane Judge apparently will be running.  It is also a shame that Lisa Laco has stated she is not running.  And then there is the business community.   Having someone prominent from our local business community step up would also bring a vital perspective to the municipal election especially with respect to issues of business development and taxation. 

This is a crucial time for picking Thunder Bay’s next Mayor and council given the many challenges that have faced our community over the last four years and that will continue in the future.  We are also picking a Mayor who will be the public face of our community at an important milestone – the 50th anniversary of Thunder Bay’s creation that will occur in 2020.  Having a strong mayor’s race full of vigorous visions would be the ultimate community contribution our community leaders could make.  Having a strong slate of candidates for Mayor would be a vote of confidence in the importance of municipal politics in Thunder Bay and the importance of civic leadership in shaping our future.  It is time for our accomplished community leaders to step up to the leadership challenge and run for mayor.

Friday, 20 April 2018

A Unity Circle: Celebrating Thunder Bay

The new Thunder Bay City Council that will be elected in October of 2018 will have a number of economic and social challenges on its plate but there is one item that should be a source for celebration.  The year 2020 will mark the 50th year of the amalgamation of the twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William and the rural townships of Neebing and McIntyre to form Thunder Bay.  The urban history of the Lakehead communities actually goes back to the late nineteenth century and both Port Arthur and Fort William obtained city status in the first decade of the twentieth century as the great boom drove their urban growth and development. 

I always thought it was somewhat of a shame that not more effort was made to celebrate the centennials of the twin cities circa 2006-07 but I suspect the history of urban rivalry between the two cities was such that no one really wanted to deal with it.  However, we now have an opportunity to celebrate amalgamation and I think it should go beyond simply a number of commemorative events and the publication of self-congratulatory histories.  I think an effort should be made to leave behind something concrete that adds to the city’s environment and is a legacy for the future.

As a result of its urban history of being two separate cities, Thunder Bay has always lacked a more centrally located focal point that could serve as a gathering place for the public to celebrate events.  Many cities around the world often have public squares or sites that can serve as gathering points for celebrations and events and that act as emblems for the city.  Think of Trafalgar Square in London, for example or Washington Square or Times Square in New York or the iconic four columns in Barcelona.

We of course cannot reproduce these types of landmarks nor should we but I think as a city we can take the step of creating a public space that celebrates the creation of Thunder Bay as well as points the way to a future that includes all its residents.  Somewhere in the Intercity area, preferably close to the banks of the McIntyre River – the old boundary between Port Arthur and Fort William – we should consider putting into place what I would like to call Unity Circle.  It would be a celebration of amalgamation and the bringing together of the twin cities to form Thunder Bay and would also look towards the future by including First Nations. 

Unity Circle would be a public space in the Intercity area that would contain a number of columns - I suggest six large columns of identical height arranged in a circle with the columns representing the original four municipalities that came together to form Thunder Bay, the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation. At the center of Unity Circle there would be a flame that would burn perpetually.  I think a message of unity is very important given the many social challenges that have faced Thunder Bay over the last decade and may help represent a way of moving forward into the future.

So, it is just an idea.  The actual piece of land and location is of course one of those details best left to the politicians and administrators and community leaders who make these decisions.  The design of the space and a suitable set of commemorative structures is also of course up for discussion and debate. What is most important right now is the concept.  The concept of a Unity Circle is something that celebrates our history and looks forwards by leaving the legacy of a substantial central public space that could form the focus of future public community events.  I think it is worth consideration.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Lakehead Faculty of Science & Environmental Studies Celebrates Service!

Well, today was the last day of classes at Lakehead and there was an impromptu gathering at the end of the day at the Lakehead Outpost of faculty from Economics, Chemistry and Physics to celebrate the end of term.  As well as celebrating the end of this term's classroom service, there was also  recognition of the long time service of three faculty members - two who are are the table in the accompanying photos.  Dr. Steve Kinrade from Chemistry and Dr. Bakhtiar Moazzami from Economics have reached the 30 year service milestone - I'll let you guess who they are.  A third member of our faculty - Dr. Scott Hamilton from Anthropology - also is celebrating 30 years and was even seen at the outpost but did not make the photo.  Congratulations to all our colleagues on the completion of another teaching year!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Yet Another Growth Plan for Northern Ontario

Most of us are familiar with the Northern Ontario Growth Plan which is a 25-year plan that was released on March 4, 2011 by the Ontario government that aimed to strengthen the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential. 

The Plan's policies were built upon six themes that each was to  contribute to the region’s long-term sustainability and prosperity: Economy, People, Communities, Aboriginal Peoples, Infrastructure and Environment.  I have discussed this plan in several posts on this blog.

Well, it turns out that the federal government also has a growth plan for northern Ontario though I must admit that it has flown under my radar.  I guess, when one works in an ivory tower, one sometimes loses sight of activity on the ground though how I never got wind of the extensive range of consultations escapes me. I am obviously moving in the wrong social circles.  As part of the follow up to the 2017 budget, FEDNOR began to put together a Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario (PGSNO) as a “roadmap to economic development and success” for the region.

FEDNOR undertook a series of engagement activities from June to November 2017 which included round tables, meetings and online tools aimed at reaching stakeholders across the region. According to FEDNOR, there was an online questionnaire with over 600 respondents, 33 round tables and 12 presentations with over 400 participants.  The result was a report with 12 common areas/themes of action (see the report for details):

1.    Infrastructure (broadband; transportation; and, energy)
2.    Diversification and self-sufficiency
3.     Northern image
4.     Rural and remote communities
5.    Timely and effective support
6.     Shortage of human resources
7.     Indigenous participation
8.     Building on regional strengths
9.     Business supports
10.   Indigenous enterprises
11.   Technology adoption
12.   Access to support for innovation

There was an item by MP Bob Nault in February 2018 discussing the report and its availability online but there seems to be little else until now.  Apparently, on Monday April 9th there will be an announcement by federal ministers Navdeep Bains and Patty Hajdu with respect to the PGSNO.  One imagines that there will be an announcement of federal development money to implement or address some aspect of the PGSNO.  Or perhaps there will be an announcement of further study and consultation.  Maybe both? Nevertheless, given that the federal report had twelve themes as opposed to six for the provincial growth plan, I would imagine that it will be twice the fun.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Banking at the Post Office

This morning's Chronicle-Journal had a story on a call for post offices to provide banking services in small northern Ontario towns that had lost their major financial institution. As the story notes:

"Northern towns with reduced banking options, or those with no bank outlet at all, would benefit from a plan to offer regular financial services at local Canada Post outlets, says the federal NDP.
“Now is the opportune time for Canada Post to explore alternative revenue streams such as postal banking,” NDP MP Carol Hughes (Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) said last week in a news release."

The concept was being "revived" according to the story but the precedent was countries like France, Italy and Japan which continue to offer banking services in their postal outlets.

This was an interesting story given that there appeared to be no realization that Canada once did have banking functions in post offices.  Along with Federal Government Savings Banks which assumed the responsibilities of government savings banks in the Atlantic region upon Confederation, there were post office savings banks started in 1868 in Ontario and Quebec modelled in part on the success of British Post Office Savings Banks.  The size limit on a personal deposit that could be held was limited to a maximum of $1,000 in order - so it would seem according to financial historian E.P. Neufeld* - to protect the deposit business of private banks. (See: E.P. Neufeld (1972) The Financial System of Canada, Its Growth and Development, MacMillan).

There was rapid growth in government savings banks as well as the post office savings banks until the 1890s and indeed, in 1888 the savings deposits of government and post office savings banks were over two-thirds the size of savings deposits of the chartered banks.  However, this growth was due to the competitive rate the federal government offered that was in excess of private rates.  The federal government lowered their interest rate in 1889 and after that the relative importance of government savings banks - and post office savings banks -began to decline.  Post office savings banks absorbed the activities of government savings banks in 1929 and continued to chug along in an ever diminishing role until 1968 when they were finally abolished.  They took a long time to disappear.

Could post office savings banks make a comeback?  It seems like an attractive option for small towns in rural remote regions that still have a post office but it remains that the prospect faces obstacles in the internet age.   Banking consolidation has been underway in larger cities as well as in smaller towns as a result of electronic banking services and a post office savings bank would have to offer banking services competitive with any private banking sector's e-banking services.  Besides, they have also been closing post offices in rural remote areas and consolidating services across the country.  For the concept to work, Canada Post would have to demonstrate that it offered a unique product that filled a need and could actually generate revenues in excess of the costs of operation.  It might be useful to see what the ingredients of success are in for postal banking outlets in countries that still have them.