Event centre plebiscite rejected by Thunder Bay council

Continuing the planning process for Thunder Bay's proposed events centre will not go to a public vote this fall.

Ballot vote would have allowed "everybody to have their say," Coun. Linda Rydholm says

Thunder Bay residents in support of a plebiscite held a rally in front of city hall, before council met on Monday night. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Continuing the planning process for Thunder Bay's proposed events centre will not go to a public vote this fall.

At a meeting Monday night, many councillors — and some members of the public — spoke against the idea.

Coun. Linda Rydholm wanted a plebiscite on the event centre to "check in with the people."

But before voting on the proposal, council heard four deputations, three of which did not favour a ballot box question.

“At this particular point in time, doing a plebiscite … puts us in a bit of a jam, not knowing all of the information from the final phase of the feasibility study,” said Nathan Lawrence, president of SHIFT, a young professionals network that’s been supportive of the event centre.

SHIFT president Nathan Lawrence. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

That view was shared by the majority of councillors.

Coun. Aldo Ruberto also questioned why some are asking for a ballot vote now.

“Nobody mentioned a plebiscite until the location was determined,” he said.

“Once the location was determined to go into the downtown north core, all of a sudden [we heard] 'we want a plebiscite’.”

Survey coming

Prior to the meeting, two groups held peaceful rallies in front of city hall. One group was petitioning in favour of the events centre and one group was supporting the call for a plebiscite.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he doesn't understand the calls for a vote on the issue.

Supporters of an events centre also made their presence known before council met on Monday. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

“The city, the taxpayers, have put us in charge of a city with $2 billion in assets ... they put us in charge of overseeing Tbaytel, a half a billion dollar corporation,” he said.

“Yet some don't want to trust us in getting this project to a shovel-ready state. I just don't understand it.”

In the end, council voted against the idea.

After the meeting, Rydholm expressed her disappointment.

“A ballot vote would have provided a chance for everybody to have their say,” she said.

Rydholm said she was pleased by the amount of discussion in the community her idea generated, however, and that several councillors thanked her for proposing it, including Andrew Foulds.

“There's a part of me that's sort of inspired by the level of public engagement there has been,” said Foulds.  "At this point, I want to thank Coun. Rydholm for bringing this up because it has, in fact, encouraged more discussion. And frankly, that's a good thing."

City administration is preparing a community survey to gauge public opinion on the project, however. That survey is slated to take place in May.

Other council news

Thunder Bay city councillors also voted to support, in principle, the proposed waste management strategy.

Administration said the city can double the amount of garbage it diverts away from the landfill through some new short-term programs. Some of those include expanded leaf and yard waste pickup, bulky waste collection and improvements to recycling depots.

City staff said the community is strongly behind the program, but Coun. Joe Virdiramo offered these words of caution.

“People say, well, the community is in favour. Everybody's ‘hurrah hurrah.’ However, when it comes down to the crunch, when people have to dig into their pockets and pay for things that they haven't paid before, that might be a different story. So be cognizant of that.”

A report will go before council in June on how to finance the project.


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