Chamber grills mayor and city manager about local transit, public drunkenness at Feb. 6 meeting

Mayor Colleen Smook and city manager Anthony McInnis were the Thompson Chamber of Commerce’s guest speakers Feb. 6 and spent the bulk of this hour-long meeting answering questions from local business owners.

To start, Leanne Rutherford, a branch manager for Vallen, asked about the status of summer day camps, which were cut from the city’s 2018-19 budget back in the spring.

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“When we talk about doing things to keep people in Thompson, those are a huge resource for families with young children and to take them away is detrimental,” she said. “It left my family scrambling, along with a lot of other families.”

McInnis said these programs are on the table for their ongoing 2019-20 budget consultations, although this process is slightly behind schedule due to the municipal election last fall.

Thompson Bus co-founder Jimmy Pelk expressed his disappointment over the city’s recent decision to award its public transit contract to Maple Bus Lines, and asked why a local transit company wasn’t given priority.

McInnis said it is illegal under the Manitoba Municipal Act to give preferential treatment to a local company during this kind of decision-making process.

“When it’s an open tender, we’re required to put it up publicly so that anyone in Canada … is able to bid on that and we have to consider them equally,” he said.

When Pelk asked what the city’s five-month contract with Maple Bus will cost, McInnis said that number is confidential since it is based on projections right now.

Canadian Tire owner Mike Howell voiced his concerns about the number of people he sees drinking near his business, and asked McInnis and Smook why nothing is being done to address this problem.

“I pick up two black garbage bags [of liquor bottles] a week from my parking lot, which is not my responsibility, but I do it to give our business a good representation,” he said. “There’s nothing that I have seen since I got there in May that has shown any improvement to that.”

Howell expressed particular frustration with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries (MBLL), which continue to sell high volumes of potent alcoholic drinks like London Westminster Canadian Apera.

A Jan. 15 report from the Thompson Citizen revealed that MBLL sold between 60,000 and 70,000 bottles of Westminster sherry at the Thompson Liquor Mart every year since 2016.

While the city shares Howell’s concerns, McInnis said they have very little leverage over MBLL, since the Crown corporation is a for-profit business.

“I would encourage the business community to contact our politicians, as we are … basically saying we need something to change,” said McInnis. “We need help here because the business practices we don’t believe are ethical.”

Smook closed Wednesday’s meeting by saying that chamber members are also a key part of the city’s ongoing efforts to lobby the government and attract new businesses to Thompson.

“It’s very important that the business community comes on board with us,” she said. “The more people that are out there lobbying with us the better.”

The chamber will be hosting a special lunch meeting Feb. 12 with independent Manitoba Senator Patricia Bovey as their guest.

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