Northern Economist 2.0

Showing posts with label thunder bay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thunder bay. Show all posts

Friday, 25 October 2019

The City of Thunder Bay Has Spoken, The Case is Closed

Thunder Bay City Council and its municipal administrative apparatus seems to have embarked on its Roman imperial phase with respect to community relations with its taxpayer base.  In response to those who provided input ( my input here ) on the 105 Junot Avenue South Rezoning application and following the October 21st decision to uphold the rezoning in a 7-5 vote, the Office of the City Clerk provided a Notice of Passing decree that begins as follows:

The Thunder Bay City Council passed By-law 94/2019 on the 21st day of October 2019, under Section 34 of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990 as amended.

Public comment has been received and considered and had no effect on Council’s Decision as the application is consistent with all relevant planning legislation and represents good planning.”

I suppose all that was missing at the end of this statement was a simple “All Hail the Glory of the Emperor” to convey the full message of conquest and victory.  The implied message seems to be that any resistance to the edicts of City Council is futile and has no effect.   Whatever is decided is consistent, represents good planning, and the final collective decision is ultimately infallible. 

The entire public drama and division over 105 Junot was amplified by The City of Thunder Bay because they encouraged the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Corporation to expand the scale of the transitional project from 20 to 58 beds to “maximize” the use of the site which one suspects probably really means greater property tax revenues for the City - assuming that the OAHC pays property taxes.  A smaller scale facility more in keeping with other such projects around the province would have been more suitable given the many concerns raised by residents in the area and generated less discord. 

Unfortunately, the Aboriginal Housing Corporation was caught in the middle of this unfortunate situation and making it into an emotional issue that attracted the attention of the Globe and Mail did not serve anyone’s long-term interests.  What the City of Thunder Bay should have done in response to the input received was return to the original proposal of 20-beds but that would have required actually listening and accepting at least some of the arguments made by those who presented their concerns.  Really, how can a facility approved on a much larger 58-bed scale in a neighborhood with the social and crime issues that were raised be “good planning?" 

In the end, it is water off a duck’s back because many members of council believe they have been annointed as “progressive” thinkers who love their community.  The strength of their love means that they are doing good and therefore the ends always justify the means.  If that means tacitly implying that opponents to their good works are insensitive to poverty or diversity, then so be it.  They constantly solicit input from constituents but listen through a set of political noise cancelling headphones so that the discordant notes from any input not coinciding with their vision of fighting social and economic injustice is politely filtered out.

Those in Thunder Bay who uncritically champion all social injustice issues with unquestioned fervour and feel they have the ear of City Council and its municipal-corporate apparatus should be cautious.  In the end, any dispensed progressive works are to be accepted on The City’s terms because they know what is best for you.  Take the example of Dease Pool as a case in point.  Here, a long-standing community pool in what is considered a disadvantaged neighborhood was closed because it was old and needed substantial and expensive renovations.  There is continuing opposition to the closure but The City forges ahead.

The proposed new draft plan (available here) will essentially replace the pool area with a tennis court and a community garden.  Given that swimming pools accommodate a greater and more diverse number of users than a single tennis court, it seems like an oddly elitist rather than progressive use for the site.  However, consciences will be soothed with a multi-user community garden – which also atones for the environmental sin of an asphalt surface on the tennis court.  If all this redevelopment was designed to somehow deal with the rising costs of an old and aging pool, those of us with a more fiscally conservative bent could be understanding.  However, this will still cost a lot of money and in the end not fully serve the needs of the area.

As for the money that will be spent, it does not seem to matter because a “progressive” council that wants to do great things will simply raise the tax rates on its residents - who by the way are now responsible for the lion’s share of property tax revenue given the declining industrial and commercial base.  Be prepared this year for an initial budget proposal that stakes out a high increase in the tax levy.  This will be blamed on the provincial government who, being conservative rather than progressive, are the source of all fiscal evil.  After a cleansing public ritual of debate and input of appropriate length, The City will then retreat to an increase of between 3 and 4 percent thereby demonstrating that it is both fiscally responsible and generous in matters of expenditure. 

We should not complain too much.  We elected them.


Sunday, 20 October 2019

Which Federal Party Can Open the Door to Thunder Bay's Employment Growth?

With the federal election into its home stretch and the vote scheduled for tomorrow, voters in Thunder Bay have to decide who to vote for.  Needless to say, it has been a disappointing election given that the major parties – as well as the smaller ones – have presented grandiose expenditure visions that are for the most part fiscally unsustainable.  Moreover, much of the campaign has been not on policy but on opportunistic promises with major efforts expended on digging up dirt on opponents, mixing it with a little self-righteous water and then spattering it about in the hope that it sticks somewhere. 

When it comes  to making a ballot-box decision, the prevailing sentiment on the street seems to be that it is hard to choose from a set of equally unpalatable national parties.  So, the next best approach might be: let us look locally and make the decision, based not on what might be best for the country, but what might be best for Thunder Bay.  Here too, the answer is really quite muddy as ultimately what is best for Thunder Bay is making sure that at least one of the ridings is with whoever ends up as the governing party.  However, even that is a difficult game to play given that we are probably looking at a minority government situation.  And such strategic behaviour is made even more difficult by Thunder Bay's historical genetic aversion to any federal choice but Liberal - except when they seek to punish the Liberals by voting New Democrat.  Thunder Bay has not elected a federal conservative since the 1930s but then oddly wonders why conservative governments do not grant its wishes.

In terms of what is best for Thunder Bay, needless to say a government that promotes economic growth and diversification is always a safe bet but that can often only be judged years after the fact.  The current north side incumbent who is also a member of the present governing party certainly points to the last four years as a period of economic growth for Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario in part due to the “millions of dollars coming into our area” which she no doubt ascribes to her government and her role as a Minister of the Crown.

Quantitatively assessing growth in Thunder Bay and the region is never easy but a glance at employment numbers is one way of providing an evidence-based attempt on how much growth there has been.  Between 2014 and 2018, total employment in Thunder Bay has indeed grown by 3.6 percent – from 61,500 to 63,700 jobs – which is actually not bad given that Ontario over the same period increased by 5.3 percent.  However, when employment is examined in a longer-term framework using the period from 2001 to 2018 – see Figure 1 – it is still within the traditional employment range of the last two decades.  We basically bounce up and down between 60,000 and 65,000 jobs and never seem to break out of that corridor in any sustained fashion.  Between 2001 and 2018, Thunder Bay’s employment grew 3.4 percent while Ontario grew 22 percent. 

What is also interesting as shown in Figure 2 is when employment growth by occupational category over the period 2014 to 2018 is examined. The most employment growth since 2014 has been in occupations related to arts and culture (26.7%), health (22.2%), natural and applied sciences (17.6%), manufacturing (13.3%) and law, social and government services (12%).  However, sales and services, business and finance, and construction have all seen declines.  As for the manufacturing resurgence, given the 550 jobs slated to disappear at Bombardier, manufacturing is poised to continue the decline that has been underway since 2001.


So, has Thunder Bay’s employment grown over the last four years?  Yes, but there are important qualifications given the dynamic nature and unique features of any local economy.   Here in Thunder Bay jobs are both created and destroyed but in almost perfect balance over time so as to keep total employment locked within a narrow corridor.  This corridor has remained the same for decades and Thunder Bay remains in an overall total employment stasis despite the efforts of two growth plans - one provincial and the most recent federal.   This is unlike Ontario as a whole where jobs are both created and destroyed but on net over the last 20 years many more jobs have been created than have been destroyed.  In choosing who to vote more tomorrow, voters need to think long and hard on which party they believe can actually open the door to getting us outside our historical corridor of employment stasis.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Why Understanding Crime Numbers Is Important for Public Policy

The meetings currently underway in Thunder Bay for police service boards and chiefs is focusing on challenges facing the north and in particular those dealing with guns, drugs and gangs.  In particular, the lack of funding for addressing what is perceived to be escalating crime is a major grievance given that the federal government has transferred money to the Ontario government to fight gangs, drugs and gun related activity but to date the province has apparently only chosen to assist Toronto and Ottawa.  Jeff McGuire, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, is in Thunder Bay for the meetings and stated: “I think the government had the right intentions, there were serious guns and gangs issues going on at that moment in Toronto and GTA area. Members of OACP were quick to point out it’s not just a GTA challenge.”

What is interesting when looking at this issue is taking a look at the violent crime statistics.  Figure 1 plots total violent crimes from 1998 to 2018 for Thunder Bay, Toronto and Ottawa.   If a provincial government politician handing out money to fight growing violent crime is deciding on where need was most urgent based on Figure 1, they would automatically judge that need was greatest in Toronto.   Toronto not only has the most violent crime incidents of the three cities but also what seems visually to be a rapidly escalating problem since 2015 - which by the way was preceded by a long decline.  Indeed, after a period of decline, all three cities have seen an increase in total violent crime largely related to increased gang and drug activity, but Toronto has the most violent crimes, followed by Ottawa and then Thunder Bay.


However, making the decision only based on total volume misses the point that crime is not only about total scale but also intensity relative to the size of local populations. Toronto and the GTA does indeed have the most violent crime, but it also accounts for almost half of Ontario’s population.  What is also relevant is crime per person or per capita which adjusts for total population size.


Figure 2 plots the number of violent crimes per 100,000 population and here the difference is startling.  While all three cities have seen an increase in violent crimes per capita over the last three years, Thunder Bay’s rate is practically double that of either Ottawa or Toronto.  Its policing numbers and resources per capita are definitely not double those of either city.  Some help is obviously needed.

The provincial government does need to address the local policing situation though as has been noted, more money alone will not solve the problem.  We need to understand why it is that after years of decline, violent crime in all three cities is now trending upwards.  As was noted by Jeff McGuire, there are other issues to be addressed including mental health, poverty and firearm access. Nevertheless, a good start would be understanding the distinction between totals and per capita amounts and making it part of any decision making process that allocates new resources.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

CNEH 2019 Wraps Up in Thunder Bay

The Canadian Network for Economic History (CNEH) successfully concluded its 2019 Meetings sponsored by Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and held at the historic Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel. The three-day event from September 27th to 29th, 2019 included three days of sessions, two keynote speakers and also provided keynote Professor Ann Carlos from the University of Colorado-Boulder as the speaker for the Lakehead Faculty of Science and Environmental Studies September 26th Science Speakers Event.  The event was met with sunny crisp autumn weather that highlighted the scenic Sleeping Giant out in the harbour.

The conference theme was the economic history of Indigenous communities, and interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous economies in Canada and the conference attracted Canadian and international scholars. The Mary MacKinnon Memorial Lecture was given by Donna Feir (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and University of Victoria) and was titled “Economic History and Reconciliation”.  The Saturday evening keynote by Ann Carlos (University of Colorado-Boulder) was on “Globalization and the Fur Trade.”  Elder Gerry Martin from Mattagami First Nation shared his insight and wisdom with opening and closing remarks.  A theme that emerged from all speakers as well as the specific sessions dealing with Indigenous and European interaction, Indigenous health and well-being was that more effort must be made to bring the Indigenous perspective into our research and teaching on Canadian and North American economic history. 

Generous financial support was provided by the Canadian Economics Association, the Alan Green Memorial Fund, Lakehead University's departments of history and economics, the Faculty of Science and Environmental Studies at Lakehead and the Lakehead University Office of the Vice Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives.  Special thanks to administrative assistants Jennifer McKee (Lakehead) and Sharon Sullivan (Queen's) for their hard work in putting everything together.

Plans are for the next CNEH to be held in Vancouver in the Spring of 2021.  From the mid-coast to the west coast.  See you there!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Weighing In on the Transitional Housing Project

There has been a fair amount of debate on the proposed transitional housing project in the neighborhood across John Street adjacent to ours.  When the project was initially proposed, my wife and I were fine with it but as the issue has progressed we have come to the conclusion that if it goes ahead, it needs to return to what was originally proposed in terms of both scale and scope. So, the following was sent today via email to the Mayor and Council of the City of Thunder Bay.

Dear Thunder Bay City Councillors:

We are writing to express our concerns regarding the proposed transitional housing project at 105 Junot.  This has become a difficult issue to discuss as any criticism of the project immediately seems to lead to one being labelled as insensitive or worse. Yet, this is not a constructive way to counter appropriately voiced concerns as there are legitimate issues regarding the project.  While there is an urgent need in Thunder Bay for additional shelter and transitional housing for the homeless and those with mental health and addiction issues, what is being proposed requires more thought.  The time for reflection on the project is now, given that the land required apparently needs a zoning change to allow the multi-unit transitional residence to be constructed.  

The original proposal was for a 20-bed unit but the scale of the project has nearly tripled to 58 beds.  If this project had stayed at 20-beds, we would not be writing this letter.  The purpose of transitional housing is temporary assistance for those who are homeless and have addictions and provides an environment with support on a scale that facilitates individual attention.  For example, a recently funded 9-bed transitional housing project in Kitchener will provide 24-hour on site medical and healing supports and services.  In Sioux Lookout, a 20-unit transitional housing development opened last year.  In Thunder Bay, the announced Lodge on Dawson is 30 beds with staff on-site 24-hours, 7 days per week providing services and supports. 

 We have a real concern that once the project obtains the rezoning, the scale of the expanded project may be increased yet again.  What is to prevent a project that has already tripled in size to not double or triple yet again?  This is no longer community scale supportive transitional housing but a multi-unit residential project being placed in a neighbourhood that is composed of lower density housing and major institutions including several schools.  Moreover, we are still not aware as to the exact details on the types of counselling, services, staffing and supports that will be offered for residents.   The is effectively a large multi-unit apartment project and should really be placed in a denser area such as a downtown core where the homeless and addiction problems are quite obviously severe, there are nearby services being provided for the homeless and the current density of functions and activities better reflects what now seems to be a large apartment complex.

 If there is a need to rezone the land for the proposed project, that means the land was not originally zoned for a large multi-unit residential structure.  The City of Thunder Bay’s planning department wanting denser utilization– hence the increase in scale by the proponents after the original proposal – has stoked this issue.  The original zoning is part of an established land use plan approved by the City of Thunder Bay after a formal process of planning and consultation.  A need for the zoning change means that this is an ad hoc change and not part of a longer-term plan and requires a more formal process of consultation.  Simply having a convenient piece of land available that the City of Thunder Bay desires to build density on without long term planning or consultation is not the best reason for building such a large facility.

 Rushing to rezone a piece of land for a project that appears to be very fluid in both scale and scope of purpose is not good policy and not wise long-term decision making. 


Livio and Rosanna Di Matteo

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Crime Statistics Update 2018: Thunder Bay Crime Rate Down 6 Percent

The Police-reported crime statistics for 2018 from Statistics Canada are out.  The police reported crime statistics provide both the crime rates and the crime severity index as well as more specific data on things like the homicide rate.  According to the report, police-reported crime in Canada, as measured by both the crime rate and the Crime Severity Index (CSI), increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, growing by 2%. Despite the increase, the CSI was 17% lower in 2018 than a decade earlier. Indeed, over the period 1998 to 2014, the crime severity index in Canada fell rather dramatically – dropping by about 44 percent - but has now started to rise.

The CSI increased in two-thirds of Canada's largest census metropolitan areas in 2018, with the largest increases in Windsor (+21%), Moncton (+15%) and St. Catharines–Niagara (+15%). Breaking and entering was an important contributor to the increases in Windsor and St. Catharines–Niagara, while fraud was an important contributor to the increases in Moncton and Windsor. The largest decreases in the CSI were in Belleville (-20%), Saguenay (-12%) and Peterborough (-10%). 


The value of the CSI was highest in Lethbridge at 137, followed by Regina at 126.6 and then Winnipeg at 119.4.  Thunder Bay ranked 8th out of 35 on the level of crime as measured by the CSI index (See Figure 1) while Greater Sudbury ranked 14th.  In terms of changes, Thunder Bay and Sudbury both registered an increase in the CSI in 2018 at 9 and 5 percent respectively (See Figure 2) with Thunder Bay reporting the 9th largest increase and Sudbury the 17th.  Driving Thunder Bay’s increase in the CSI were increases in breaking and entering; robbery; fraud; trafficking, production and distribution of cannabis (pre-legalization); attempted murder; and homicide.  As for Sudbury, the increase was driven by Increase in breaking and entering, and sexual assault; and partially offset by decrease in child pornography.


However, when the increase in crime is reported using the traditional crime rate (which measures total reported crimes per 100,000 population without any weighting) Thunder Bay actually registered a decrease in reported crime (See Figure 3) while Sudbury registered an increase.  Indeed, Thunder Bay registered the third largest decrease in crime rates of these 35 CMAs at -6 percent while Sudbury was up 5 percent.  However, at 8 homicides in 2018, Thunder Bay still ranked first in the homicide rate amongst Canadian CMAs coming in at 6.38 per 100,000 of population.  Greater Sudbury comes in at 0.59 per 100,000 – one of the lowest homicide rates in the country.  Barrie was the lowest in 2018 coming in at 0 homicdes.  Brantford, came in as the second-highest this year with a rate of 3.36 homicdes per 100,000 followed by Regina at 3.1.  

So the long and short for Thunder Bay this year is that crime rates are down but the severity is high.


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

So What's Up With Air Canada Service to Thunder Bay Now?

Air Canada’s new three times a day with larger planes Rouge service from Toronto Pearson to Thunder Bay seems to have become quite erratic over the last few weeks based on some of the arrival times.  The new service began May 1st with a ceremonial greeting at the Thunder Bay airport using water cannon.   However, the anecdotal evidence from conversations with a few people suggests that there have some significant delays of up two hours and sometimes more in recent weeks.  This is likely not due to adjustment to a new schedule as it has now been in place for several months.  One also suspects it is not an official part of some type of preliminary celebration of Canada’s new air passenger protection laws.

In terms of some specifics over the last week: Last Friday (July 12th), my in-laws were on Air Canada 1512 which was supposed to arrive at 4:17pm and they arrived at almost 7pm.  A flight earlier in the day also had a substantial delay of several hours.  On Sunday the 14th, AC8547 was supposed to arrive at 11:02pm but did not show up until one and a half hours later. On Monday July 15th, the last flight of the day 8547 was only about a half hour late.   On Tuesday July 16th, AC 1510 due at 10:17 am arrived at 11:40am while AC 1512 due at 4:17pm came in at 6:04pm.  On Wednesday July 17th, AC 1512 was again late and at the time of this posting is supposed to be coming in at 6:42 pm. 

Not sure what is responsible for this service deterioration – it does seem like a pretty bad on-time rate.  In a discussion with one of my more well-traveled sources, we hypothesized that part of the problem seems to be the fact that Rouge also services international markets and some of these planes coming to Thunder Bay may be part of a chain with origins in the United States and the Caribbean.  So, for example, the story is some of these planes do runs for Rouge like say New Orleans-Toronto and then Toronto-Thunder Bay or a Caribbean destination to Toronto and then Toronto-Thunder Bay.  Small delays on the earlier international leg then cascade into larger ones on the final leg into Thunder Bay. Another story is that this may have something to do with the removal of capacity resulting from the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max8.  Given that Rouge has larger planes – AC 1512 last Friday was a 270 seater – there may be last minute diversions onto other routes going on which complicate the schedule.  Air Canada does claim in their messages to delayed passengers that there  have been “scheduling issues.”

Of course, who really knows what is going on here other than God and Air Canada. It would be nice for Air Canada to acknowledge that they are having difficulties getting to Thunder Bay on time with an explanation why and what they are doing to address the situation.  One expects that passengers in Thunder Bay will have better luck getting an answer from God.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Bombardier, Technological Unemployment and OMNI TV - A Busy Week for Northern Economist

It was a busy week for me as there was the release of a report by the Fraser Institute I contributed to as well as the Bombardier story that announced 550 layoffs in Thunder Bay that generated some media activity for me.  The Bombardier story is in many respects not a surprise given that the talk over the last year was that the contracts were ending and in the absence of substantial new contracts, there were gong to be layoffs.  The real question is if these layoffs are temporary until a major new contract comes online as has often been the case in the past or whether there is going to be a permanent downsizing of Bombardier's Canadian rail operations given that they are expanding their US presence as a result of Buy America provisions.  Of course, more Canadian contracts would be a solution but Canada compared to Europe or the US is still not an urban rail transit country as its cities are not as large or as dense and there is a preference for driving.  Moreover, even if new contracts come along, there is going to be more international competition for the contracts and Bombardier needs to up its game in terms of meeting its delivery obligations as well as being more price competitive.

The Fraser Institute released a report this week on the impact of artificial intelligence and technology on employment and my contribution was an essay showing that historically in Canada, technological change - like in many other countries - is accompanied by short term employment disruption but in the long run employment has grown.  This also generated for me an oped in the Full Comment Section of the National Post and several media mentions as well as a number of comments and emails from interested readers assuring me that I was wrong and we are all headed for an apocalypse of mass unemployment notwithstanding the evidence of the last 150 years.  No doubt, the view of many is as in mutual fund returns, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.  Such is life.

The Bomdardier story also generated coverage by the Globe and Mail,  the Financial Post, Radio-Canada and an opportunity for an oped with the Globe and Mail which incidentally also contained a nice plug for Lakehead University and its efforts to recruit international students.  The material for Radio-Canada included a television interview and a quote about how the layoffs represented a blow to the heart of Thunder Bay.  Interestingly enough, the best editorial cartoon I have seen on this point of a blow to the heart was in Corriere Canadese with La Vignetta di Ynot and I have the link right here.  And Corriere Canadese also ran a story on the return of OMNI programming back to cable in Thunder Bay.  I should note that OMNI Senior Manager Charmaine Khan did contact Corriere Canadese and assured them the disruption was temporary and also did eventually email me with an explanation so all is well!

It has been a busy week.  A veritable symphony of media activity from start to finish! Now it is time to enjoy what looks like a glorious summer weather weekend here in Thunder Bay. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Italian Programming on OMNI in Thunder Bay Appears to Have Suddenly Returned

Last week, I posted about how the noon-day Italian newscasts on the OMNI channel on Shaw cable in Thunder Bay had disappeared.   There used to be both a RAI broadcast from Italy as well as the OMNI network's Italian language newscast which covered Toronto, Canadian and international news including Italian items.  This appeared to have been a somewhat arbitrary change given the size of the Italian community in Thunder Bay.  I contacted OMNI via their contact page, I put a link to my blog post on my LinkedIn account and even forwarded a copy of my post to Corriere Canadese, Canada's Italian language newspaper all in the hopes of attracting some attention.  I did hear back from Corriere Canadese and they expressed interest in the story but until today have yet to hear anything back from OMNI.  However, flipping through my channels this morning,  I noticed that all of a sudden, the noon-hour Italian newscast was back followed by a half hour Italian cooking show. 

So it looks like I can go back to my practice of PVRing the OMNI Italian newscast out of Toronto for viewing in the evening in order to keep up my Italian as well as get a different perspective on the world news.  It would be nice to have the other RAI newscast return too but hey, I suppose sometimes we have to take what we can get.  Not sure what got things moving.  Have not heard back from OMNI directly so hard to know.  Perhaps it was contacting the Italian media community via Corriere Canadese that got things moving or the contacts on the LinkedIn network. In any event, thank you to whoever helped to get things moving.  Hopefully, the Italian content is here to stay.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Why Has OMNI Television Stopped Italian Programming in Thunder Bay?

My Shaw Cable package in Thunder Bay includes a channel (No. 195) called OMNI.  As its website states: “OMNI is Canada’s only multilingual and multicultural television broadcaster, offering a wide range of ethnocultural and third-language programming to the country’s diverse communities. OMNI is available in more than 11 million households across Canada through its five local over-the-air television stations in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto (OMNI.1 and OMNI.2) and its national speciality channel – OMNI Regional, which is comprised of four regional channels and is offered as part of all digital basic television packages throughout the country. In Quebec, OMNI Regional has partnered with independent ethnic broadcaster, ICI Television, to offer French-language local programming to the province’s ethnic communities. OMNI offers a wide range of locally produced and acquired programming, including daily national news in Cantonese, Italian, Mandarin and Punjabi, current affairs programming and popular entertainment programming including Bollywood movies, Asian cinema, and Italian and Portuguese telenovelas.”

Now the channel available in Thunder Bay via SHAW appears to be some version of OMNI regional.  Its two Toronto channels are OMNI1 and OMNI2 with OMNI1 offering a fair amount of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese programming while OMNI2 offers more Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese programming. Until last week, what I assume is OMNI regional here on Shaw in Thunder Bay had two Italian newscasts around noon – one its Toronto news program in Italian and another the RAI news broadcast from Italy.  I used to watch them quite frequently and would even PVR them if I was unable to watch them during the noon hour period.  Well, this week these seem to have disappeared and the OMNI channel’s programming in Thunder Bay seems to largely reflect OMNI2.  When I contacted SHAW, they said that they have no control what OMNI provides, they just provide access to the Channel.  I have contacted OMNI itself via their “Contact Us” link but have yet to hear back.

Not sure what has happened here given that there are nearly 3000 people in Thunder Bay whose first language is Italian (Thunder Bay’s CMA population in 2016 according to the Census was 121,620) and the entire community of Italian descent is probably close to 10,000. Italian appears to be the largest foreign first language group in Thunder Bay followed by Finnish at just under 2000.  True it is an aging first language community but then so is the Italian community in the GTA which has access to OMNI1.  In terms of some of the other first language groups in Thunder Bay with programming available on OMNI there is Cantonese (180), Mandarin (315), Punjabi (75), and Tagalog (200). Yet OMNI no longer has  Italian programming from the OMNI regional feed available in Thunder Bay. 

What has happened here?  Not sure because I have not heard back from OMNI but my best educated guess is that this was a made in Toronto HQ one size fits all decision that decided that since SHAW is based in Western Canada (i.e. Vancouver and Calgary are the big centres there) the programming should reflect the community composition there.  One would have expected a multicultural television broadcaster to have done a better job on its community composition home work, but these things happen.  Hopefully, OMNI will come to its senses and put back an hour or so of Italian programing back on OMNI regional (or better yet add OMNI1 to the package feed that SHAW provides in Thunder Bay) and allow me to get back to watching Toronto area news reports done by Gianpietro Nagliati.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Housing Prices Up in May...Even in Thunder Bay

The May Teranet-National Bank Composite House Price Index has been released and it shows the home price index in Canada up in May for the first time in nine months though it was the smallest May increase in 21 years.  Given that there is usually a bump up in real estate markets in the spring, given the small increase by historic standards, it means that real estate markets are still slow.  Indeed, once the index is seasonally adjusted it would appear that the index is actually down 0.4 percent in May rather than up 0.5 percent. 

Some of the largest markets in the country – like Vancouver – are still in decline but Ottawa and Hamilton have been seeing larger increases.  According to the Teranet Index: “Unadjusted indexes were up on the month for nine of the 11 metropolitan markets of the composite index, the exceptions being Vancouver (−0.2%) and Edmonton (−0.3%). Calgary was up 0.3%, Winnipeg 0.5%, Toronto 0.7% and Victoria 0.7%, but indexes for these four markets were down when seasonally adjusted. Index changes for Montreal (+0.5%), Quebec City (+0.8%), Halifax (+0.9%), Ottawa-Gatineau (+1.9%) and Hamilton (+2.2%) would have remained positive after seasonal adjustment.”

Of interest to those of us here in the North are the results for Thunder Bay and Sudbury which are part of a set of figures not included in the main composite index.  Quoting Teranet: “Down from nine months ago were the two in B.C. – Abbotsford-Mission (−5.2%) and Kelowna (−3.6%). Up were the five in Ontario – Thunder Bay (1.6%), Sudbury (2.9%), London (4.0%), Kingston (4.2%) and Windsor (6.8%).”  These last five cities are all places that have economically had a pretty tough time over the last few years and rising house prices are some evidence of recovery.

So, it would appear that the continuation of lower interest rates in Canada, plus what has been strong employment growth is on the whole managing to prop up real estate markets especially in some smaller Ontario centers a bit more removed from the GTA.  Windsor certainly comes to mind.  Prices in these markets are still more affordable at least by current Canadian standards though given the overall sluggishness one really cannot expect a resurgence of the boom of the last few years.  Aside from Hamilton, other centers closer to the GTA are not doing as well – for example Barrie, Peterborough, Guelph and Oshawa. 


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Thunder Bay's Municipal Tax-Ratio Challenge

One of the items at the Monday April 29th Thunder Bay City Council meeting was a discussion on tax policy and a move to bring it more in line with provincial requirements.  Namely, the province has property tax ratio thresholds and in order to meet them there needed to be a reduction in non-residential tax ratios as follows: Industrial ratio from 2.925444 to 2.63, Multi-residential from 2.422438 to 2.0, and Commercial from 2.137932 to 1.98.  This has been a process that has been underway since 1998 and partly as a result the share of the tax levy paid by residential ratepayers has been rising over time while that of non-residential has been declining. 

In Thunder Bay at present, nearly two-thirds of the tax levy is borne by residential ratepayers while the other third is non-residential or essentially business property taxation. In 1990, it was about a 50/50 split. It should be noted that the City of Thunder Bay’s financial statements now report taxation revenue without dividing it into residential and non-residential as used to be the case only a few years ago.  To get that information, one now has to go onto the government of Ontario website and access the Financial Information Returns provided by municipalities which can be quite a daunting task.  This lack of transparency on the part of the City of Thunder Bay in reporting these important numbers more directly is a disappointment.

Of course, municipal public finance can be a pretty arcane and complex issue– even for an economist - and the discussion the other evening was actually more spirited and informative than usual, all other things given.  Administration affirmed that the tax levy this year would remain the same and the changes to the residential burden would be phased in but in the end based on the short segment I observed they did not successfully allay the concerns of councilors that residential taxes could rise even if the tax levy stayed the same.  Indeed, the emphasis that the tax levy is going to remain the same this year did not deal with the concern that taxes for residential will rise more than they otherwise might in future.  How can this be?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Addressing Violent Crime in Thunder Bay

Mayor Bill Mauro has gone public in his calls for help in dealing with crime in Thunder Bay.  In reports by Thunder Bay Television and the Chronicle-Journal, the Mayor has called on the federal and provincial governments for assistance in dealing with the spike in violent crime that is afflicting Thunder Bay.  The City of Thunder Bay is hard pressed to deal with the financial impact on the police budget of the recommendations made by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) to deal with systemic racism and now the spike in gang-related violent drug crime that is underway.

Thunder Bay is experiencing a surge in violent crime that has been underway for a number of years. While overall crime rates are down in Thunder Bay as shown by overall traditional crime rates as well as the Crime Severity index, violent crimes are up. As Figure 1 below shows, overall crime as measured by the Crime Severity Index (Source: Statistics Canada) has fallen from a peak of 126.25 in 1998 to reach 88.25 in 2017.  Violent crime, however is at 145.81 in 2017 and was 122.62 in 1998.  When linear trends are fitted to the data, violent crime has been trending up over time while overall crime severity has been trending down with non-violent crime severity quite flat.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Reflections on a Town Hall: Trudeau in Thunder Bay

Well, in the wake of the release of the 2019 Budget, Prime Minister Trudeau is off to Thunder Bay where he will be hosting a Town Hall on the campus grounds of Lakehead University on Friday March 22nd.  Indeed, the preparations for his arrival are already underway as the grounds of the C.J. Saunders Fieldhouse where the event will occur are being swept and tidied up from the accumulated grit of a harsh winter.  This is apparently Trudeau’s first visit to Thunder Bay since 2016 which is a signal that the election campaign is already underway.  The festivities get underway at 7 pm (but if you want a front row seat you need to register and arrive by 5:00 pm).

Thunder Bay can be considered a relatively politically safe place for the federal Liberals to have a Town Hall given the two ridings have returned mainly Liberals to Ottawa for nearly 100 years.  Thunder Bay voters are actually very conservative voters in the sense that they dislike change and always do the same thing – that is, return Liberals to Ottawa.  The only way they deviate from their inherent conservatism is to actually vote Conservative. Indeed, the last federal Conservative party politician who was elected was Robert Manion, who if memory serves me correctly, was around in the 1930s.  Of course, there was MP Joe Commuzzi circa 2007 – who started as a Liberal but then switched to the Conservatives and served as a Minister– but he was not elected as a Conservative so my initial point stands.

So what issues will Prime Minister Trudeau have to face in Thunder Bay? Well, the audience is likely to be filled with gushing supporters who will hang on his every word and engage in numerous standing ovations despite the recent disillusionment over the SNC-Lavalin-Raybould Affair.  Indeed, the Prime Minister is probably looking forward to an evening’s relief from the stress and acrimony of Ottawa.  There is nonetheless the potential for some fireworks and charged questions on a number of topics should the Town Hall decide to deviate from what is likely to be a large pep rally.  For those who might be interested, here are the parameters of just two interesting question areas.

What is the Federal Government going to do to help Thunder Bay address the December 2018 report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director on relations between Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service? It is true that the local police are a municipal function and municipalities are creatures of the provinces, but it remains that First Nations and Indigenous peoples are a very important responsibility for the Federal government.  The recommendations for the Thunder Bay Police Service are going to involve a substantial increase in expenditures on an already stretched municipal tax base.  Is there any real federal financial assistance coming or is Thunder Bay on its own in dealing with this? Indeed, given that Thunder Bay is a regional centre for health and education services for area First Nations, what can the federal government do to assist in this regard?

As well, what is the Federal Government doing to actually implement its own growth plan for the  Northern Ontario economy?  All of us are familiar with the 2011 Northern Growth Plan released by the Ontario Liberal government which, over the course of the next 25 years, was supposed to assist the North in reversing its economic decline.  Well after five years of the provincial Northern Growth Plan – the plan to end all plans – the population of the North remains flat, employment is down and the value of new investment is also down.  

This lacklustre result has not deterred the Federal government from announcing its own Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario in April 2018 with twelve areas of action.  However, since then there really has not been much to be seen and heard as to specifics of what this strategy entails, aside from mentioning the strategy whenever there is an announcement of federal money from FEDNOR as was the case in Sudbury in December 2018.  Aside from this, there is little to be found in a Google News search when the term "Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario" is typed in.  So, is there an actual Federal action strategy for Northern Ontario or is it just another election marketing ploy?

I guess we will have to wait until tomorrow night to see if we learn anything new.  I for one expect there will indeed be some entertainment involved in this Town Hall Meeting.  Who knows, maybe we'll even get yet another announcement of federal support and commitment for the Ring of Fire? At the very least, in an election year one might expect some federal infrastructure dollars to finish four-laning the highway to Nipigon.