Its hard to truly say what Thunder Bay will look like in 40 years and what we can expect of not only our city but our leadership. It’s likely that city council be more gender equal and we will see more representation of minority groups like First Nations; both of which would be positive advances from where we are today. Yet, there are also concerning factors for Thunder Bay that cannot be ignored and today’s leaders need to start laying the groundwork for. It’s often tough to look beyond that 4 year stretch and make decisions that will have little to no impact on your term in council today but these decisions need to be made none the less. Thunder Bay is continually faced with tough decisions when it comes to budget seasons and the future holds no different. Infrastructure deficits, pressures on emergency services and more all play a big factor in how Thunder Bay functions as a city and how it operates. For Northwestern Ontario and Thunder Bay they face the additional challenge of out migration and economic issues associated with the geography of the territory. As city council struggles today to make ends meet I believe its time that we start to look at what exactly are our core responsibilities as a municipality, how we can improve our city through urban design and how we can address the future challenges.
Thunder Bay stands at 108,359 people according to the 2011 census a decrease of 0.7% over the previous census in 2006. It has a population density of 330.1 per square kilometer and has a median age of 43.3 years old. While I have lived in southern Ontario for the last 3 years, I have seen a lot of similarities between Thunder Bay and Barrie but there are distinct differences between the two in the statistics. Barrie has a population of 135,711 per 2011, an increase of 5.7% over 2006, its population density is 5.3 times higher then Thunder Bay at 1,753.10 and its average age is 37 or 6.3 years younger then Thunder Bay. It’s right to wonder what these numbers mean for both communities but the simplest answer is that Barrie will have a much easier time attracting economic development to its community, supporting that development with services like transit and providing quality of life to its residents. Thunder Bay on the other hand due to its sheer size, its aging and declining population will be forced to make significant cuts to services necessary for its citizens.
If we were to look at the data for population for the City of Thunder Bay it has decreased at a range of roughly 4% between 1996 and 2011. This mean at a population base of 109,000 people the City of Thunder Bay would lose 4,360 people every census. Given that 40 year span and 8 censuses between now and then if the city continued to lose at that rate it would lose 34,880 people or in 2056 be a population center for just under 73,500 people. Factors such as increasing median average age will also play a factor in decreasing populations and the large size of older individuals (65+) in the City of Thunder Bay will also affect the numbers in a negative way. Items such as Aboriginal influx into Thunder Bay will have a positive correlation on this total population as Aboriginal people are one of the fastest growing and youngest demographics in Canada.
For the city to potentially lose 34,000 people would be devastating to the city’s tax base and to the services that rely on them. Many services would either be diminished or drastically cut that they would be a shell of their original self. In a 60 year period Detroit lost 64% of its population and it is suffering from poverty, addictions, crime and corruption and its services have been slashed and burned. To lose almost 30% of your population would be just as drastic and have huge implications to the city and its residents. So the time to act is now to prepare ourselves for the future and make sure our feet are firmly planted going forward. We continue to feel the effects of the Orval Santa’s regime where their 0% tax increases were loved by the populous but are being felt on the roads, parks and under our feet in the sewers. Thunder Bay needs to look for new ways to address these issues and make some tough decisions.
I truly believe that if we want to support the programs we have today that we are going to have to let things go.
Councilor Ch’ng has been an effective fighter for more infrastructure money and we need to see others get on board with this. We cannot let our infrastructure get further behind because every day we do we fight the interest clock and changing values/ideals. Infrastructure investments are beneficial to those surrounding them and they provide an economic boost to the city. Infrastructure like parks, roads, disaster prevention all play an important role in improving the life that citizens of Thunder Bay have come to enjoy. Making smart investments with our infrastructure resources is also an important factor which means reducing the sprawl of Thunder Bay and investing in the cores/established areas. Thunder Bay needs to continue to infill its established lands and build up; it cannot let residence slow down or fight density. Making sure we are investing the proper amount into this field will held to address unknowns like the gas tax refund cities get. What does transit and infrastructure funding look like if the gas tax is gone or severely reduced? If we find a way to pay for these items now we can provide the flexibility for a lot of other items going forward.
That being said there are operations within the city that need to be done by the private industry to get these costs lowered or eliminated from the city’s books. We need to look at centralizing city operations and the number of individuals that we employ with the corporation. Its much tougher given that Thunder Bay is very reliant on the 3 levels of government for a vast majority of its larger employment centers but if the statistics are right we need to make these changes now. If we can find ways to reduce the organization in scope and size starting at the top we can avoid the issues now. We can avoid the nightmare scenario of Detroit where someone comes in and makes the decisions to cut or we have to do it whether we like it or not. Thunder Bay needs to have administration in my eyes sit down and really plan out the future beyond its long term projections and we need to make these decisions matter to the future. Using the seventh generation principle of the Iroquois “applied to relationships – every decision should result in sustainable relationships seven generations in the future.” The decisions council and people make today affect tomorrow and well down the line.