Editorial: Solving downtown problems an ambitious goal; mitigating them is achievable

The problems that Mayor Colleen Smook and city manager Anthony McInnis heard about from Thompson Chamber of Commerce members during their Feb. 6 lunch meeting aren’t new by any means, but now they are the current council and city administration’s problems, though whether they have any more success dealing with them than any of their predecessors does not seem overly likely.

When it comes to the matter of public drinking and drunkenness in the area around Canadian Tire, it has been the same story for a long time. Since the main reason is that the parking lot is close to the Liquor Mart was well as to every beer vendor in Thompson, it’s difficult to see precisely how it can be alleviated, though perhaps when the new Liquor Mart opens up in the City Centre Mall parking lot by this summer, some or even most of the problem may shift to MacLean Park or the mall property itself or somewhere else nearby. Short of eliminating homelessness and alcohol addiction, the only “solutions” that can be implemented are ways to make it more difficult for people drinking and being drunk in public to get away with it. This is part of the reason why Thompson first contracted out bylaw enforcement to Prairie Bylaw years ago and then launched its own community safety officer (CSO) program in 2015, which has now withered down to about half its former size, with four CSOs, rather than the previous eight, as a result of the provincial government cutting down how much it contributes to financially support the program. As a result of the smaller staff, fewer people are being stopped for public drinking or forced to empty their liquor bottles and presumably no longer feeling as if they have to carry out such activities away from prying eyes.

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It’s also difficult to see how the city is going to do anything about the sale of cheap liquor that is favoured by many of the people drinking outside and being intoxicated in public. Selling alcohol is legal, a new, larger Liquor Mart is being built and it is, after all, a free country. If Westminster sherry, for example, were taken off the shelves, it isn’t likely that all of those who drink it would become teetotallers. More likely, they would just migrate to buying the next cheapest/strongest liquor available and then that product would be considered the problem item. Or, worse, they would begin to ingest other substances not intended for human consumption.

All of this isn’t to say that Thomsponites must just throw up their hands to accept having people drinking and/or drunk on our streets as inevitable. Many businesses spoke up a few years ago about the impact that having eight CSOs was having on the problem. It hadn’t gone away by any means, but only into hiding, of course. Anyone who thinks that the mayor and council and city administration can actually reduce the number of hardcore alcoholics in the community on their own must be smoking something. Then again, people complaining about public drunkenness aren’t generally seeking a solution to the problem itself. They’re seeking a way to make it less visible, and that is something that enforcement can achieve. But people will have to take some initiative, like phoning up the CSOs or police when they see intoxicated people, something few of us are likely to do right now. By this point, many of us have accepted it as part of life in Thompson and we just pretend not to pay attention or perhaps just legitimately do not notice after seeing it so many times.

If you look back through old issues of the Thompson Citizen, you will find that downtown revitalization committees and plans date back to before the turn of the century. It’s a longstanding battle and one that may have seen more failures than victories when it comes to finding solutions. No one should be holding their breath in hopes that it will be anything close to being solved by the end of this council’s mandate in 2022. But perhaps, with pressure from citizens and a concerted effort on behalf of all the agencies involved, they could at least make sure that it doesn’t get worse and maybe even improves a bit.

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