If you look through this week’s newspaper and other recent issues and take note of stories and columns about Thompson’s violent crime problem, the difficulty businesses have attracting workers and the problems besieging Northern Manitoba’s healthcare system, you might be tempted to lament how badly things have deteriorated.
In reality, however, these same problems, along with some others such as the number of homeless people in Thompson (the problem is that they don’t have homes) and the amount of public drinking and intoxication in the city (also related to people not having homes), can be found in issues of this newspaper dating back 10 years and more. In short, they’re stubborn issues that aren’t easy to solve. But that doesn’t mean politicians and regular citizens shouldn’t try.
There’s an old saying which says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. While that’s a pretty poor definition of insanity, it is, admittedly, sort of a bonehead thing to do. But perhaps there are some reasons to hope for some kind of change to start happening soon, based on initiatives that are already underway or set to be that way soon.
For one thing, there’s going to be a new head of the Northern Regional Health Authority next year for the first time since it was created when the former NDP government merged various health authorities around the province, including the Burntwood Regional Health Authority and the NOR-MAN Regional Health Authority into the NRHA. While it’s probably unwise to lay all the blame for the problems affecting northern health care at the health authority CEO's feet, it’s not like we can say that things are much better now than they were at the start of her time as head honcho. With her pending retirement, scheduled to take place next spring, it isn’t unreasonable to hope, even if it’s a long shot, that perhaps a new head could bring some new ideas about how to treat the healthcare system’s symptoms of malaise. To turn another popular saying on its head, “If it is broke, do fix it,” and plenty of patients and workers would be willing to tell you that the system is plenty broken based on their experiences with and within it, or as evidenced by their decisions to leave it, in the case of former employees.
Violent crime in Thompson is another problem that a few mayors and RCMP detachment heads have struggled to reverse. It’s driven by addictions and by Thompson’s status as the downtown of Northern Manitoba and even the police will tell you that they can never arrest their way out of it. That’s why recent public safety and addictions related initiatives such as the establishment of a multi-agency public safety committee and the pending creation of a 24/7 sobering centre are needed, even if they are very much overdue, having been talked about for a decade or more in the city and, even after having been announced, taking years to come to fruition, at least in part as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It may not seem like violence and healthcare have a lot to do with businesses struggling to find competent workers but in reality it’s all part of the same whole general mish-mash. It’s difficult to attract people to a place with a reputation for violence, where you see drinking and drunk people out on the streets at all hours, and where healthcare is quite obviously inferior to how it is down south, as evidenced by the number of procedures northern patients have to travel to Winnipeg for. To be a desirable place to live, a city needs amenities and, although no community anywhere is free of the problems that affect Thompson, their prevalence here, as well as some other drawbacks like long, long winters, can make people think twice about moving to the city. There are good aspects too, but some of those become evident only once you live here, which doesn’t help employers fill jobs that they can’t find anyone suitable for locally. Intractable as crime and healthcare problems are in Thompson and the surrounding area, the labour shortage may be one of the hardest to solve. Many of the city’s youth are forced to go elsewhere for education, unless they want to pursue one of the relatively limited opportunities that exist here. After that, life happens, and many don’t return, some because they always wanted to get out, others because they fall in love or take a job and put down roots elsewhere. It’s true that, for the right amount of money, someone can be found to fill pretty much any job. The problem is that customers of those businesses aren’t necessarily willing to pay any amount for their goods and services, which can make it impossible to sustain high enough wages.
When faced with hard-to-solve problems, it may seem like the only path is to throw up one’s hands and declare them unsolvable or somebody else’s problems. And while it’s true that neither Thompson nor any other community can ever completely eliminate crime or homelessness or addiction, and that northern healthcare will never rival that in Winnipeg, simply because of economics, fresh ideas need to be imagined and tested and new people given opportunities to succeed, even if there’s a good chance they’ll fail. That’s the essence of hope, which is something everyone can always use a little more of.