As the copious amount of snow that Thompson received early in the winter, and also this week, begins to melt and temperatures start climbing above zero on occasion, combined with the first calendar day of spring, people’s thoughts turn naturally to change. Things will soon start growing, lake ice will eventually start melting and evenings will continue to get longer and longer, already having done so considerably as a result of clocks springing forward almost two weeks ago. Change is literally in the air, and its presence in nature is also reflected amongst the human-made organizations and structures, both literal and figurative, that make up the community of Thompson.
Northern Manitoba’s largest community will see a lot of change in the coming months, just as it has over the past several years, one of which was a significant decline in its population – perhaps. While it is likely going to be a year before the city can say whether its decision to challenge the results of the 2021 census bear fruit, past precedent suggests that Thompson may not actually have lost as many as 600 residents in the past five years, which is what the official figure is for now. Long before that information is revealed however, there are many other changes to be seen.
The first among these, the dropping of Manitoba’s indoor mask mandate and all other provincial public health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, already occurred last week. So far, however, it has definitely not been adopted universally. It is not uncommon to see unmasked shoppers while out getting your groceries, or the faces of store clerks and other workers, but it isn’t rare to see people with faces still covered either. After wearing masks in public for most of the past two years, it will take awhile before some people are ready to pull theirs off, especially since we have less knowledge than at any time since the pandemic began about how many cases of the virus there are, how many people are hospitalized from it and how many Manitobans are dying.
In the arena of provincial politics, Thompson will soon have its third new MLA within the space of just six years, after 35 years with the same one, as a byelection to chose a replacement for the late Danielle Adams is due to be held before the calendar switches to summer. The date that Thompson and area residents will head to the polls isn’t yet known, but news about it will likely come out soon, since the March 22 byelection in the Fort Whyte riding formerly represented by Brian Pallister is over, the results tabulated and confirmed, and the former premier’s replacement as MLA will soon be sworn in as Manitoba’s newest elected official. We know one candidate seeking the NDP nomination so far and that the Manitoba Liberals do not plan to run a candidate but beyond that, things remain undetermined.
This summer will see the first work done as part of a five-year plan to fix 20 kilometres of Thompson roads and replace many water and sewer pipes. This summer may seem busy construction-wise after a couple of quieter years, but these projects will be in their early days, with the expected completion date not much further from the year 2030 than we currently are from the distant past of 2020. Other construction planned for this summer includes the provincial reconstruction of the Miles Hart Bridge over the Burntwood River, which should be completed over the course of two years.
As summer turns to fall, more political changes could be on the way, with council and school board elections that could see Thompson emerge with two fewer councillors than it has now, should the current members of that body decide to proceed with dropping down to six councillors plus a mayor, a compact size not seen since the mid to late 1960s, before Thompson was even officially a city. As at least one current member of council has previously indicated that they may not seek re-election, it’s possible that a thinning of the ranks could produce a body for which more compromise is a necessity or one for which the very idea of bridging the divide is essentially pointless. It might even be one that doesn’t have a divide, though that seems unlikely, given the experience of the past decade or so.
Unfortunately for the current mayor and councillors, running on their records is not going to be easy. Many of their city’s bigger accomplishments of the past few years are long-term projects, like infrastructure upgrades and a public safety strategy, the results of which will not be seen until long after the current term has ended. On the flip side of that equation, most likely the most impactful decision they made, the one to permanently shut down the Norplex Pool for safety reasons just a few months after being sworn in, feels like it isn’t any closer to being resolved in reality despite the existence of a design for a new facility.
Many important decisions lie ahead in the remainder of 2022, not only for the residents of Thompson, but also for those who currently represent them. Change is unavoidable and often it can be good, but sometimes the process can be difficult and painful, with the disruptions easy to see but the benefits far off or less tangible. It isn’t a post-pandemic era yet, but it is currently a post-public health crisis one and that means dealing with a lot of issues that fell by the wayside while the coronavirus was everyone’s number one priority.