Why LUSU’s plan to ‘Fight the Fees’ actually costs students.

Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students have announced a new plan to ‘fight the fees’. Essentially, they are rebranding their annual proposal to vote no to tuition increases or to abstain from the vote at the board of governors meeting by participating in protests or sit ins. Annually, they lose these votes because they are outvoted by the rest of the board of governors and current/future students lose twice because they lose their voice and receive the tuition increases anyways.

The reason I am writing this blog is to show the folly of their plans and to provide a constructive criticism along with contempt as a student who suffers due to their actions. The board of governors typically votes during the summer at their general meeting on the amount of increase they will pass into tuition to help cover the expanded costs of operating the university. These costs are maxed out by the government and for many years it was 8% which is 2.5x times general inflation, currently it is 3%. Tuition rates have increased well beyond inflation and have caused severe strain for students and their financial supporters. I truly believe that the Ontario government and the Federal government need to look for new ways to prepare significant and stable funding increases for universities to cover costs. I would also like to see the Board of Governors move their meeting to during the school year so more students can be present and participate in the processes to which they are subject.

Yet, at the local level there are a number of things that could have been done to reduce the costs associated with the operation of the university and the services it provides to its students if LUSU was able to look beyond their own term in office. When LUSU votes ‘No’ or abstains from the vote at the board of governors they are effectively giving away any and all influence in the decisions on how that money is spent and what mandates we want it to go towards. This voice that students give the individual is wasted and thrown away and does nothing to benefit the university, students or future students.

Looking to the university campus there are a significant number of buildings that were designed, built and continue to operate in a pre-environmental concern mindset. Imagine if LUSU had voted for these fee increases and used that influence to change the landscape of the campus, reducing the number of buildings by combining them into larger structures which not only reduces the environmental impact, it reduces costs in taxes, heating, electricity, maintenance among many more. New facilities are also a huge draw for students and a larger student base spreads that cost over a much larger number of people meaning the individual cost is less. These new buildings influenced by LUSU and the students as to the needs and desires of students with an environmentally friendly and technology conscious mindset could help guide Lakehead for the next 50 years.

A reduction of current facilities into an amalgamated facility also allows for certain other things if the buildings are removed. Increased greenspace, opportunities for future facilities, expansion of facilities. As Lakehead is a school of the north and focuses heavily on the environment and forestry there could be community gardens, traditional aboriginal services or even cultural spaces from the many different communities and countries the international students come from. A modern campus would allow for a multitude of things to happen that could be increasingly beneficial for the student population, Thunder Bay and more.

Working with the university rather then fighting them also brings in a number of other impacts that could benefit student life and reduce the cost to students. Imagine in that new building (s) that LUSU worked with the university to build; it has a grocery store, cafe, among other privately run businesses that increase the offering of services on the campus and reduce the cost. It reduces the cost because now it is not only being shared by government/university and students it is being shared by government/university/students and private enterprise. It also provides employment for students to gain some much needed workplace experience, income and social connection that our university campus desperately lacks. We have 1,200 students on campus that live, study and socialize here. Its a captive audience for businesses lost by poor planning. Foresight, would reduce the cost of operating the university and the cost of university for the students.

As a student I have to question some of the auxiliary fees that I pay that go directly to support LUSU related activities or projects. I pay almost $17 for computer upgrade fees of which I use everyday through the wifi provided by Lakehead, school computers etc and yet I pay $6.66 for LUSU radio that I have never listened to. No private business operates with a subsidy so why is it that LUSU radio can not operate without a student subsidy; is the business plan so ineffective that it simply can not and as a student do I really want to pay for that failed business plan. Answer for me at least is NO. LUSU recently posed the question to students (couple years ago) about rebuilding the pool and the cost associated with that; they posed to students the question if they would be willing to pay for it. As a student who does not use the facility I see no personal benefit but others likely do and as a democratic organization if the student group said yes then that is fine to me. What I do question is: had LUSU considered working with the City of Thunder Bay in finding an operating agreement to use the complex as a facility for gym and pool. Other then a membership there is no cost to LUSU or the students. Whereas now we pay operating, staffing and maintenance costs. Had LUSU worked with the Board of Governors could that building could had been redone on Lakehead’s dollar and influenced other levels of government to reduce the costs. Could students have shouldered 15% of the rebuild cost rather then 100%.

Someone will probably try and say that it is impossible for students and the organization to work together since their goals and aspirations are so different. I would say to that person that they are wrong since Georgian College Student Association did just that. They put their money where their mouth is and put up cash to get a real voice in how it is spent within the organization. Their cash multiplies because they are working with other levels of government to fund the things that they want. They do not get to fund one project on their own they fund four because they are stretching their dollars. They do not get everything they want just as LUSU would not if they decided to go down this road. The influence would be much greater and we would see more student oriented items within campus.

Until LUSU and the Canadian Federation of Students get their heads out of the sand their doing more harm then good for students.

Thunder Bay’s Planning Problems

Last night at the 2017 Pre-budget consultation I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of different members of the City of Thunder Bay’s administration broken up into their respective divisions. One of these individuals I talked to was the planning department head Mark Smith. I felt that the conversation between myself and Mr. Smith was productive and felt that there was a lot of ideas from outside of the community that we have but are not being effectively implemented. The best way to summarize the building regulations and planning in Thunder Bay was ‘Loose’. I am going to try and paraphrase this conversation as best as I can without putting words in Mr. Smith’s mouth.

One of the items I brought up was intensification corridors; which are used by many other cities to increase the density of specific areas in their town to create rich, multi-use areas. Thunder Bay has some plans around intensification corridors but they are not well implemented and they run into significant challenges when it comes to actually implementing them. Thunder Bay has an perception issue with density and the ideas of smaller homes and apartment buildings. These types of developments are associated with lower income and criminality. There is also significant push back when a developer tried to bring multi-unit housing into an established area. Personally, I think that it time we challenge these assumptions and start to implement intensification corridors specifically around the areas of transit as a means to push transit use and bring density to the city.

One area I was impressed with is that Thunder Bay doesn’t really have any requirements for parking, height and other items in the downtown cores. They are pushing for development so desperately in these areas that they are willing to accommodate almost anyone. As we see more development in these areas it will be important to develop guidelines that bring in mutli-use land development practices.

The next question was about population density targets and its implementation within Thunder Bay. In reality, Thunder Bay has a very low density which is incredibly detrimental to its growth and success as a city. Stats Canada shows it around 330 people per square kilometre which is mentioned in my comparison blog between us and Barrie. Thunder Bay does not have density targets (to the best of my memory) which I believe is a direction that needs to change especially when it comes to additional developments in the city. Our urban sprawl is the biggest cause of city service costs and the biggest driver of tax increases. Looking to the Ontario plan for population density in Southern and Central Ontario I think its high time that we look to developing our own plan for modern, smart urban growth.

Finally, we talked about the idea of a development tax in Thunder Bay and the possibility of it being a factor in the city. Mr. Smith talked about a number of different potential revenue generators associated with the costs of developing in Thunder Bay that could change. As of now “We want people to put nails into boards and we make it very easy to build which is a significant difference then communities like Barrie who struggle on where to put things”. Thunder Bay’s practices on building and its continued allowance of urban sprawl is killing the city and will be the cause of service collapse. Frank Pullia in his explanation of the costs of the city said it himself “The size of the City of Thunder Bay is the same as the City of Montreal but we do not have the population they do”. Its time that the developers who come to our community pay to build here and for the infrastructure they leave behind for the city to pick up. If the demand is there people will pay to have their dream home.

Changes:

  • Introduce Intensification corridors to Thunder Bay in order to increase the density of the community and its self-supporting tax base. Looking to transit routes as potential areas for growth to help support the additional people. Attached is Barrie’s Intensification plan which is helping to support one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario http://www.barrie.ca/Doing%20Business/PlanningandDevelopment/Policies-Strategies/Pages/Intensification.aspx
  • Introduce a density target for the city. Require new developments to facilitate these density targets in order to help facilitate the future repair and maintenance of city services. Minister Mauro from Thunder Bay – Atikokan is the minister in charge of the Ontario Places to Grow Plan that introduces these targets we can use his expertise to do it here. https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=420&Itemid=12
  • Introduce a modern development tax: A tax associated on distance from anchor points (Downtown) where the further from that point the more the tax is. Downtown development could potentially be given a rebate of 5% in order to facilitate development. Whereas a home in Neebing or McIntrye could see a 25% tax in order to pay for the future maintenance and rehabilitation costs. While Thunder Bay would be on a much smaller scale this is a potential major source of income “Toronto made about $150-million from development charges in 2012. (National Post)” http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/toronto-to-consider-almost-doubling-development-charges-levied-on-construction-projects

 

How can city’s road departments save money?

Roads are a vital part of our cities; they provide the networks for which we all get around and good are delivered. They have allowed us to travel from across continents and countries in a safe and effective means. Roads have become just as important for our cities as water and telecom and your more then likely to hear people complain about their poor condition if they are in such shape. They are expensive to maintain and cities have fallen behind on their repairs which costs motorists and humans alike. As municipalities and provinces struggle to keep up with the costs of repairing and keeping up with modern maintenance requirements we need to ask: How can cities road departments do more with less?

If we look at one of the streets in Thunder Bay; in this case a city block of Halton St. The street is 158 metres long by 9.75 metres wide with expanded areas by intersections that aren’t counted in this example. This gives it a total volume of 1,540.50 and if we convert it to square ft it equals 16,581.804. While its unknown what the City of Thunder Bay would pay for a square foot since they would purchase in bulk the cost for an average person ranges from $2 a square foot to $5. To get a nice mean number we will use $3.5 a square foot for the example. Using these two numbers, we get a cost beyond $58,000 top repave the road and we have not accounted for labour, cost of materials underneath the road, additional work like sidewalks, sewers and telecommunications. We can see that this type of work gets expensive and gets expensive very quickly for for taxpayers. This increasing cost is part of the reason why urban sprawl is so deadly to city budgets. What can a roads department do to reduce the costs of repaving roads and fixing up our infrastructure. One means could be reducing the size of the road or for marked roads the lanes that are on the space. A reduction of width from 9.75 metres (Halton) to 9.25 is a reduction of half a metre which would be negligible for drivers and users of the road. That reduction brings the size of the road down from 1,540.50 metres to 1,461.50 or minus 79 metres. The square foot measurements of that road is reduced from 16,581.804 to 15731.4551.  This reduction in size allows the city to save almost $3,000 in direct savings on asphalt. This $3,000 savings is a a 5% cost reduction on that portion of the costs alone which could provide the City of Thunder Bay millions if spread over the total cost of the city. The City spent $19 million dollars this year on roads rehabilitation; if we were to estimate that 10 million went to asphalt costs and used this 5% reduction by eliminating 0.50 metres. The city would save $500,000 annually that could be reused to pave additional road, add accessories like bike lanes or sidewalks or returned to the city coffers. A small reduction that would be the equivalent of a 0.5% tax increase to pay for other ways.

Another question we need to ask while proposing this idea is: is reducing the size of roads safe for the users. A recent report for the Department of Transportation (American) found that smaller roadways have the same or less accidents then wider roadways. The Texas Transportation institute found “On suburban arterial straight sections away from a traffic signal, higher speeds should be expected with greater lane widths.” So smaller roads mean we drive slower, we have less accidents and the severity of those accidents are less. Its also been reported that people tend to drive slower, pay more attention and use their cell phones less. This means safer drivers, less emergency services costs and lower insurance rates.

So the question of how can roads divisions save city’s money? The answer is where possible build smaller roads. Its cheaper, saves lives and allows residents in these smaller roads to do more things with the extra space such as bike lanes, additional green space, larger sidewalks etc.

References:

http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/why-12-foot-traffic-lanes-are-disastrous-for-safety-and-must-be-replaced-now/381117/

Looking to City of Thunder Bay Budget 2017

2016 has quickly come and gone and it is time for the City of Thunder Bay departments to bring together their wants/needs/deferrals and dust off the projects that got put on the shelf a long time ago. As Thunder Bay departments look to the future I think its necessary that those on City council take a step back from the political posturing (Councillor Verdiramo) and really try to deal with Thunder Bay’s realities. Council last year deferred projects and items that will come back to make this years budget process even harder. The decisions that we make today are going to effect us going forward. We need to make the right decisions in order to truly create the city that people will want to live in and move to. Some of the items below aren’t going to be directly related to budgetary concerns but as the minds of Thunder Bays departments come together it could lead to policies that improve and help to direct the city going forward.

Policies:

  1. Density Targets – The Province of Ontario is setting new and increasingly dense targets for communities in Central and Southern Ontario to address the concerns of urban sprawl, transit and more. While Thunder Bay isn’t a part of this new plan its time that Thunder Bay adopted these guidelines and policies to help create the density it needs. Thunder Bay has a density of 330.1 people per square kilometer which is incredibly low for a community of this size. It means that our services are stretched longer and cost more and that the people that live in the community are less healthy. Adding to our density will work towards helping improve the life of our community and stretch our dollar further.
  2. Humanity and Clean&Green – As Thunder Bay moves forward and plans/builds new facilities I believe that it is time to provide a safe space for everyone. We continue to see groups of marginalized people like those of the LGBQT community face daily challenges. As a small means of solidarity; I would like to see the City of Thunder Bay develop a policy that includes gender neutral bathrooms in the design as a mandatory component for city buildings. Additionally I would like to see the city establish electric power stations at its new facilities to help facilitate the expansion of electric vehicles within the community.
  3. Green Buildings/vehicles – Many of the City of Thunder Bay’s facilities are older and are built for a time before climate change. Its time to look at creating a plan to reduce the footprint the City of Thunder Bay has and creating modern, efficient buildings that cost the city less and produce less harmful effects for the environment. The city of Thunder Bay as an entity created 30,078 tonnes eC02 and used 4.280 million litres of fuel throughout 2015. As we look forward we need to consider the types of vehicles and units we use; if there are legitimate environmentally friendly options for the city to use instead. Every penny that fuel costs rise cost transit $44,000 and with the projected costs only to go up we need to make these decisions now.
  4. Investing in Technology – Technology has become an important part of how we as a society function and operate. There are always new and emerging ways to make the job easier, quicker and reduce the negative effects on individuals bodies. Thunder Bay Police Service is one institution that could easily benefit from additional technology. Many officers are still stuck writing tickets by hand and stuck for extended periods of time writing multiple copies. Cruisers are small but they can be adapted to work for the officers benefit. Printers that double as a head rest are just one example. Instead of taking 45 minutes to write 3 copies of the same paperwork it could be done once on a computer and have the officer onto the next call in significantly less time.
  5. Modern Parking lot Codes – Thunder Bay is obsessed with parking and the opportunity to park as close to the establishment as possible. This is not only unhealthy for the user as it promotes a lazy lifestyle but for the environment as well. The modern parking lot acts as reflective shield bringing large amounts of water to the storm sewers and catch basins. Whereas green space would catch this or a portion of the water the asphalt deflects it. Requiring those who plan to develop parking lots or fix established ones in Thunder Bay to change how they create this space. If a business wanted to create a 200 stall lot under the old standard they would see this happen but if we introduced new rules it could develop more greenspace. Requiring 20-20% of land to be used as green space for shrubs, grass, trees etc would reduce water flow to city sewers and provide green spaces within the community.

Budgetary concerns:

  1. Printing Office – One has wonder if Thunder Bay needs to own and operate its own printing unit. Can things be done by the private sector for less cost? do we need to be printing as much as the city does? While I don’t want to see people lose their positions or their income one has to ask if there is a need for this under the city umbrella
  2. Staffing – Without knowing the direct operations of the City of Thunder Bay its hard for me to truly provide either a criticism or a positive on this topic but for many companies staffing amounts for 90% of their operational costs. This leaves little for other items and can handcuff corporations now and into the future. Conducting a review whether it is necessary to cut or add positions has to be a necessary evil. A review starting from the top and working down is just one step.
  3. Infrastructure upgrades benefiting urban sprawl – in 2018 the city has 750,000 projected for the NW Arterial route for property acquisition. Then additionally a projected cost somewhere in the tune of $20 million for the road itself. This infrastructure project only benefits those who live in the fringe of the community and make it easier for their suburban lifestyle. This project should be scrapped and the money reallocated for other infrastructure projects. Additionally as the expansion of road projects gets further from the cores we should start to consider additional factors like does it support urban sprawl, could transit/multi-use better suit the space etc.
  4. Development fee – Building in Thunder Bay continues to expand on the fringes of our community. A recent decision by council to increase the size of Neebing ward by 120 units means additional cost beyond revenue for the city. Its time to require development in the fringes to pay for their cost. I propose a distance based fee with the 2 downtown cores as the anchors. As the development gets x distance from the core the cost to develop increases. While developing in the core itself could net the developer a rebate on their building costs; building in Neebing or Mcintrye could cost someone 15-20% of their development costs through a fee which could be put towards infrastructure.
  5. EIRP – Simple enough, it needs to continue and potentially expand to work with Confederation College and Lakehead University to address some of their costs. Both institutions bring in youth and huge sums of money into the community. Making them more profitable and their image better only serves to benefit the community today and tomorrow.
  6. Proper Funding – Its hard to come to the community and say its going to be this percentage or this percentage. Its much simpler to let the department heads deffer projects because of variance issues at the end of the day. Its time to forgo this practice and properly fund the departments and stop dealing with the fires of variances as they arrive. Thunder Bay Police Service Chief J.P. Levesque continues to come to council with the budget they require and then council cuts it. At the end of the day we end up in the same place. When I budget I do so for my expenses and then a contingency for those issues that arise and the City of Thunder Bay should too.

 

References:

http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=3558004&Geo2=CSD&Code2=3543042&Data=Count&SearchText=barrie&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&Custom=&TABID=1

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/Strategic+Plan+2015/docs/Implementation+Plan.pdf

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Finance+$!26+Budgets/docs/Budget+2016/2016_TAX_CAP_I$!26O.pdf

 

Victoriaville: The Future

The City of Thunder Bay is looking for input into what the citizens would like to see happen to this space. Since its inception it has polarized the citizens and for many is the reason that the Fort William side of town has gone into a decline. Much has changed since the days of old and the city itself has changed. The question still remains as to what do we do with the Victoriaville Mall and how do we move forward?

I think we need to take a step back and come to an agreement that no matter what decision we make whether to tear it down or to keep it up; the area will not boom like people seem to predict. Thunder Bay is a much different place then when the mall was created and we as a society have changed as well. This idea that if we tear it down everyone will come rushing back into the area is a fallacy and it just wont happen. Fort William downtown still struggles with a bad reputation, high crime rates and lack of a real draw. I know personally that if they tear down the Victoriaville Mall; I will still have no draw to go there.

The decision on what to do with this half filled building that has struggled to bring in business and customers is an extremely challenging one. On one hand if we keep the building as such then we run deficits and spend millions for repairs to a facility we may not need. Yet, if we tear it down the question becomes the next steps for the space, the people who lose their businesses and employment. The larger picture must also be considered in this decision. The decision to invest millions in the waterfront redevelopment was not done on its own; it was done with the implications it would help the surrounding area and the investment would incite other investment.

The City of Thunder Bay needs to look to a much larger plan then simply the space that Victoriaville occupies and create a plan to bring life into this area again. This means dealing with issues such as public intoxication, businesses supporting potentially illegal or antisocial actions and beautifying the area. We have a gentlemen in Mr. Habib who has taken the time to present his vision for the area in order to bring life back to this part of town. It is going to take a vision on a grander scale to address the issues facing this part of town and it is a multifaceted one. Looking to modern urban design principles, the realities of the city and its population along with a multitude of potential tax policies will be important.

The City of Thunder Bay cannot take this on their own and they need to introduce private partners to the plan. Residential development or having people live in the area is an important part of improving the area and bringing in other investments. Council can work with developers to create multi use facilities that build on each others success. There are a number of buildings that can be torn down to introduce these new spaces for developers to establish themselves. Toronto is one community that succeeds because they build on each other. Bottoms floors are rented out to things that the community would need like grocery stores, gyms and cafe’s while upstairs are residential areas, the people who work and use these areas. Thunder Bay needs to look to this vision beyond just the Fort William area but specifically for the plan of the Victoriaville Mall how to best create mutli-use facilities.

To the idea of what to do with the Victoriaville mall; I really hope that while the city gets input from the citizens as a whole it places more emphasis on those who work, live, and play in these areas. As someone who hardly uses this area my opinion should have less value then someone who would lose a business, employment or a recreation space due to this decision. I hope that the city looks to a pedestrian facility where people can come, sit and relax while taking in the area. A space for vendors to provide food, meals and allow for a community connection. I hope that the city takes into account aboriginal features as this area does have a larger Aboriginal population.

I guess my thoughts on this topic are that we cannot expect a miracle to happen either way. We need too look beyond this area and make the effective investments that improve life and the users of the space should have more say then those from Neebing, McIntrye or even the north core who haven’t used the space in 30 years.

Mr. Habib vision: http://visitfortwilliam.ca/NeighbourhoodNews/Avisionfordowntown.aspx

Thunder Bay in 40 years

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.

Time for a convenience tax

Convenience is like a drug; once we have access to it then its simply not manageable to return to the ways of old. While not all convenience is bad; when we put consumerism with it then we create a system of purchase and dump which is having truly negative effects on our planet. As I picked up garbage that people had so easily discarded along public areas it prompted me to think of how we as a society have become so careless about the items we purchase and how we discard things. We have promoted the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle but focused mainly on recycling and limited the reduce and reuse portion of the three. Thousands of everyday consumer items from disposable razors, coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic bags etc are purchased in bulk only to be shortly thrown away. While we have gotten better in recycling some of these items many end up in landfills or in our parks, oceans and ecosystems. We need to find ways to reduce the amount of disposable items that people purchase and find ways to pushing people to reusable items. We cannot afford to continue to purchase and dispose of these items so willingly and without disregard. Education on the effects of disposables are one important means of reducing the use of the these items going forward but education can only go so far. How many people purchase items like a coffee from your local establishment without ever thinking of using a reusable cup. I am not going to play innocent in these games I have as well been a part of the issue when it comes to purchase disposable items and simply tossing them or recycling them without thoughts for what happens after. So that leaves us in the conundrum of how do we change the habits of people to reduce the use of disposable items in a more meaningful and direct way.

In my mind the only true way is to hit people in the pocket book. When oil prices skyrocketed the number of smaller CUV’s, small cars, electric cars increased to almost a 25% of the total vehicle purchases for that quarter. When there was a decrease in the price of oil the demand for these vehicles declined (Fuels Institute) but we see that the cost of an item creates a change in the way that people react and act. We have to think that this principle can be applied to these items that we use on a daily basis that are thrown away and pollute our environment. If we can create a decline in the amount of disposable items in our consumer chain then we can have drastic effects on the environment and our own personal health.

In Ontario, we pay for the price of the item and then the HST. For certain items like electronics there are added charges for the future recycling of that item based on their size and scale. This helps to promote the end game recycling but doesn’t cool the initial demand. In order for us to reduce the amount of disposable items in our society we need to look at reducing the demand which means a cost up front and an end game cost.

For example:

Razor: $12.40 (initial cost) with heads that last roughly a month. Replacement heads are $2.00 + HST
Disposable Razor: $2.50 (initial cost) last 2-3 uses. Pack of 6-10 in a package.

Most individuals from a cost perspective would likely choose the disposable because there is a much larger cost associated with the reusable razor compared to the disposable. If we introduce a per unit tax or a convenience tax into the mix then it could increase the cost and level the playing field. A tax of 5% per unit or in the case of a 10 unit razor 0.0125 per unit means that the cost jumps from $2.50 to $2.625. This initial tax which would be used to reduce the cost associated with the purchase of the item would be tailored to help reduce the number of units in the public hands and create additional cost which could deter individuals from make these short term purchases. Like the electronics tax there would need to be additional funds needed to help municipalities clean their facilities from these items, properly and effectively recycle these items and dispose of them. We need funds to make this happen so another 5% per unit for a total of 10% per unit could be added to the price of purchase to help deter individuals. Meaning that initial cost of $2.50 at the end of the purchase is now $2.75 which could be changed and upgraded to determine the rate and pace of change within the population the government was trying to enforce. That $0.25 on “EPA estimates of 2 billion razors are thrown away each year” (Groundswell) (US figures) or roughly about $250 Million in new tax revenue and $250 million to cities and states for recycling, cleaning and waste reduction from disposable razors alone.

But disposable razors aren’t the only one we need to look at. There are thousands of items which a tax could apply to that helps to reduce the waste of disposable items. One of these most common items is a coffee cup and while the cup itself is recyclable the lid isn’t. Thousands of these cups end up tossed on the side of the road, in garbage cans and everywhere but where they should be. For most people their morning starts with a Tim Horton’s Coffee or Tea (Now I don’t associate blame with Tim Horton’s for their cups being on the ground that’s the responsibility of the individual) its on average $2.00 and it comes in that well known container. Inside are multiple different options for your morning coffee which are reusable, effective and have a long life. On top of that Tim Horton’s gives you 10 cents off to use one of their reusable cups to purchase your coffee. I myself purchase a large which comes to $1.90 and typically don’t ask for the 0.10 cents back with a reuseable cup that means I could be reducing my own cost. If I give away that 0.20 cents every time I make a purchase it means every 10 days I could be getting a free coffee.

Coffee: $1.90
Reuseable Cup: $3.50

After 17 trips to Tim Horton’s I have made up for that cost of owning the reusable mug. I have taken 17 disposable containers out of the system which wont be littered, discarded or end up in a landfill. Plus the mug helps to keep the coffee warmer for longer among many other benefits. But what if we were to add the cost associated with a convenience tax to the purchase of that coffee.

Coffee: $1.90 + 10% = $0.19 or $2.09 a unit. Tim Horton’s pour roughly 2 billion coffee’s annually with a majority of these being in the disposable containers which means that $190 million in new revenue and $190 million to municipalities and cities for recycling programs could be generated annually from these cups alone.

A convenience tax between these 2 items alone would add $880 million into the tax revenues and the funding allocations for cleaning, recycling, landfills of cities across the country.

There are so many more items that we could add to this list that would provide billions of dollars in new revenue for governments, introduce recycling programs for communities who don’t have one and expand others. Our communities would be cleaner and we as a society would be much happier in this cleaner environment. We need to start making changes to the way we live and the way we purchase items in order to protect the communities we have.

References:

http://www.fuelsinstitute.org/researcharticles/fuel-prices-auto-sales.pdf
http://groundswell.org/2-billion-tossed-per-year-whats-the-most-wasteful-bathroom-product/