Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay raises health care, Indigenous relations at provincial meetings

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference wrapped up Wednesday in Ottawa.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference wrapped up Wednesday in Ottawa

Councillors Iain Angus and Joe Virdiramo were part of a delegation from the City of Thunder Bay raising issues with the new provincial government at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference this week. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Health care, Indigenous relations, and marijuana were among the many topics on the agenda as officials from the City of Thunder Bay met with members of the new provincial government at this week's Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa.

The delegation from Thunder Bay included Mayor Keith Hobbs, City Councillors Iain Angus and Joe Virdiramo, and city manager Norm Gale.

For many municipal officials in the province, it was their first time meeting with representatives of the Ford government. 

"I think the overall tone was a positive tone, where the new ministers and new government people were actively listening to what we had to say," said Coun. Joe Virdiramo, who chairs the city's intergovernmental affairs committee. 

"They were aware of the issues because they'd been in opposition before."

City officials sought to cooperate with the province's cost-saving mandate, Virdiramo said, in part by pointing out where short-term increases in expenditures could save money in the long-run.

For example, Virdiramo said, they cited a need to invest in training personal support workers and taking other necessary steps to open more long-term care beds for alternate level of care patients, to relieve pressure on the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

"I don't know exactly what the figure is — a daily stay at a hospital and a daily stay at the other facility, but I know it's a lot less at the Centre of Excellence than in a hospital setting," he said. 

The City also asked the province to contribute to better lighting around area waterways and other costs associated with keeping youth in the city safer — part of its response to the recommendations from the Seven Youths Inquest.

"We also mentioned to them that there were 450 or 460 occurrences by the rivers last year, and 127 lives were saved by first responders, by police going into the waters, pulling people out and saving them.  So if we had more surveillance on the water ways ... then that's something that could save money in the long run," Virdiramo said. 

In addition, the meetings touched on the legalization of marijuana and the potential costs associated with increased policing and the need to purchase devices that can detect cannabis impairment in drivers. 

The government has pledged $40 million over two years to support municipalities with the transition, Virdiramo said, but he's not yet sure how that will impact Thunder Bay specifically. 

Other topics on the city's agenda included the new Thunder Bay correctional facility, which the province has pledged to follow through on building.