Deciding to put your name forward to stand for election is never an easy thing, so the seven candidates who decided to do so for the upcoming council and school board byelection the day after Thanksgiving are to be commended for their willingness to serve their community and, for five of them, to fail at achieving their goal.
And while it is never an easy decision to run for elected office, now is hardly the ideal time to seek a spot on either city council or the School District of Mystery Lake board of trustees.
On the school district side, the board is involved in one of the most complicated school years ever in Thompson, with the next closest one probably being the one that just ended in June. In addition to all the usual stuff like budgeting and updating policies, board members and everyone else employed by the school district has to take into account the likelihood that some of their employees and some of the students under those employees’ supervision will contract COVID-19 and all the steps involved in the aftermath of that. What’s more, all high school students are spending more than half their time directing their studies themselves, with help from teachers, albeit remotely, while some students who are immunocompromised might be doing all of their learning remotely. Whichever of the two school trustee candidates wins will not have an enviable job, stepping into the role mid-term in the midst of a situation that no one around them has ever experienced before.
And while things are slightly more normal at the city, being a member of council is never easy and there are some particular challenges that Thompson faces at this time. Chief among them, the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to all businesses, particularly small ones. The City Centre Mall sports several vacant spaces, there is vacant retail space around town, municipal revenues may be down due to the pandemic and, oh yeah, Vale Manitoba Operations is planning to lay off some more workers by as early as November, after managing to go through 2019 without any job losses after hundreds of positions were purged in 2018, thanks to the permanent shutdown of the smelter and refinery, and in 2017, when Birchtree Mine was placed on care and maintenance status until or if a time comes when it is once again profitable to mine nickel there. There’s no lack of forward -ooking news articles and market predictions that tout nickel as due for a comeback inspired by the increasing popularity of electric vehicles but so far, that upward swing needed to improve Thompson’s economic fortunes remains theoretical.
Also on the current council’s to-do list is finding money for a replacement for the Norplex Pool. Council approved spending nearly $1 million on the design of the new pool at their Sept. 8 meeting, but it could take 20 times as much to actually build the facility. And while the hope is that federal-provincial infrastructure grant funding could cover up to three-quarters of the cost of building a new pool, it isn’t guaranteed and, well, it isn’t always easy to find an extra $20 million in a city with a $30-some million annual budget.
And, of course, there’s always roads. Whether it’s hitting a pothole in the spring or summer, hitting your head on the roof of your vehicle as you bump your way down an endless series of frost heaves on certain city streets or spinning your tires on the way down your not-yet-plowed street in the middle of winter, nothing brings municipal government politicians to mind like the state of city streets.
Keep your eye on this newspaper and our website at thompsoncitizen.net for interviews with the council and school board candidates in the four-plus weeks between now and election day to help guide your decision. And if a particular candidate puts forward ideas or a philosophy that you really like, remember to actually vote for them on election day or in advance polls. In the last two byelections in Thompson – one in March 2019 for city council and the other in 2011 for a vacancy on the school board – the winners have needed less than 600 votes to earn victory. And, as the October 2018 municipal election showed when current council member Andre Proulx and barely thwarted candidate Chiew Chong received the same number of valid votes, sometimes one vote actually does make the difference.