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Editorial: Council running out of time to make progress on unfinished business

How council deals with a number of important issues like a Norplex Pool replacement and a new grant-in-lieu agreement with Vale could play a big role in who voters want to come back fro another term next October.
city hall close up stock shot
Thompson City Hall

With approximately 11 months left in the term of the current mayor and councillors, this iteration of Thompson’s municipal government is getting close to the home stretch of its four-year stint, which means it’s time to take a look at some of the major highlights and lowlights of the previous three years and render judgment on whether our elected officials have earned a passing or failing grade when it comes to city issues.

Quite obviously, probably the biggest single decision this group of councillors made was to shut down the Norplex Pool for safety reasons in February 2019, within about 100 days or so of being sworn in. Given the information that has been made public, there’s no reason to assume that council made the wrong decision when it came to closing down the pool. As we’ve seen in other Northern Manitoba communities like Flin Flon, where heavy snow caused the roof of their old pool to cave in about a year after the Norplex was shut down, not taking appropriate actions to deal with safety issues could have repercussions down the road and it’s better to err on the side of caution.

No, the question regarding the pool is whether council has dealt effectively with the aftermath of their decision and on that score, the answer definitely feels like a fail. In a few months, it will have been three years since the pool was shut down. While there is a design and a location for the replacement, there isn’t much money or many publicly floated ideas about how to get it. It’s basically a foregone conclusion that the next council will be in office before a new pool is finished, and quite possibly before it’s even started. Contrast this with Flon Flon, which made sure it had money for a new pool (in the form of a federal-provincial infrastructure grant) before recently tendering out the design for it. Without the money in place, everything else is make-believe. If there’s one thing council owes its successors and, more importantly, the city’s residents, it’s having a plan in place to finance a replacement pool before the next election.

When it comes to other infrastructure, council deserves more credit. It took most of their term, but they have secured millions of dollars of outside funding for water and sewer line and road repair over the next five years, both of which are sorely needed and very difficult and expensive to accomplish without grant funding from somewhere. The work will only have gotten through its first construction season by the time the next election rolls around, however, which means it won’t be time to dish out credit for the results until the end of the next term.

Another subject on the report card is public safety. Thompson has made some strides in this area since Colleen Smook became the mayor, successfully lobbying for the reincarnation of the StreetReach North program, which has relieved a great deal of the burden for finding missing youth, particularly those in group homes or other forms of care, on the city’s RCMP detachment. The city has also developed, in association with 30 partners, a community safety and wellbeing strategy that hopes that directing efforts toward crime prevention and community spirit can help reduce the amount of violent crime in Thompson. With the strategy just starting to be implemented, however, it’s too early to know whether this will have a measurable long-term effect on the reality and perception about safety on the streets of Thompson. Given that there was a nearly fatal stabbing on a city street just last week and that a man was shot by an RCMP officer in the middle of the afternoon a month ago, there’s a long way to go when it comes to erasing Thompson’s reputation as a crime-ridden community. As for getting off the list of Canadian communities with the highest Crime Severity Index, that’s probably a multi-term endeavour, if it is even achievable. When it comes to public safety improvements, the best grade the current council can get is incomplete.

Another things the current mayor and council will likely be judged on next October is grant-in-lieu negotiations with Vale, the results of which won’t be known until maybe the start of January at the earliest. The city will almost certainly get less money than it wants, but given its weak bargaining position, it could be judged to have escaped relatively unscathed  if the loss of funding isn’t too great.

Obviously, the mayor and council and city administration deal far more with low-profile issues than big ones like these. But what matters is what sticks out in people’s memories and, so far, the record on these issues is mixed at best. But, as for a student on the cusp of failing, there’s always potential to play catch-up in the waning days of the term in hopes of achieving enough to pass the final exam. There may be a lot of cramming in councillors’ futures.