To the Editor:
Disagreements among council members are not necessarily a bad thing, I believe. Active debate, exchanging views and information can lead to better decision-making. Unfortunately, here in Thompson under outgoing Mayor Dennis Fenske and ex-mayor Tim Johnston’s leadership (rather inseparable in character it seems), councils were divided. Members whose views didn’t fit in with the group and didn’t change their view were labelled as radicals, or as “not team players.” This really is just an attempt to silence them, shame them and motivate them to join. I believe this practice of creating inner group are responsible for passing resolutions approving poor agreements, in particular the grant-in-lieu (GIL), the wastewater treatment plant and the water treatment plant, which will haunt Thompsonites for many years on our water and tax bills (a perfect storm really, alongside the decommissioning of Vale’s smelter and refinery).
I have also been a critic of economic development for years. From the failed Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG), to the downsizing and eventual closure of Thompson Unlimited community development corporation, to a period of time with no local economic development, and now the doubtful Thompson 2020 that was initiated through a proposal written by Vale. We’ve had 8 years to get this right since the initial announcement of the smelter and refinery. Different people have to lead this now.
Immediately following the city’s announcement of signing the new GIL, council considered imposing 10 days of unpaid work for city employees. Imagine what this would look like in terms of getting water breaks and road repairs done in a timely manner. This prompted me to write another letter to the editor in January, where I tried to make the case for holding this outgoing council to account for signing this agreement, and tried to encourage persons not only to vote in the next municipal election (specifically newcomers and Aboriginal people), but also run for election. With the high number of persons seeking election, it is clear to me that people want change.
I think many persons do not understand the significance of the reduction of the grant-in lieu, including persons on council now and those seeking a council position in the election. It is foolish to believe there will be no negative impact. The Norplex Pool, capital improvements of roads and sidewalks, snow clearing, public transportation, etc., may be impacted. Mayor Fenske indicated that the GIL is not a negotiation with Vale. I do not agree. As I argued before, I hope Vale realizes that Thompson’s economic and social well-being directly affects their business here.
I sent the City of Thompson a FIPPA request to obtain a copy of the transaction agreement between Vale and the City of Thompson concerning the transfer of the water treatment plant. The Manitoba Ombudsman had to intervene to obtain the complete agreement, unfortunately. My understanding from reviewing this considerable document is Vale retains ownership of the pumphouse. Water is pumped to the treatment plant from the pumphouse, and Vale charges the City of Thompson (ratepayers pay this ultimately) for all this water. In turn, Vale pays the city only for the water that they use for operations. In effect, local ratepayers subsidize Vale’s water bill now. A sweet deal negotiated through the city negotiating committee, of which I believe Coun. Kathy Valentino was chair, and approved by the mayor’s inner circle including councillors Blake Ellis and Penny Byer (who also voted in favour of giving raises recently to already highly paid city management). The donation receipt for income tax purposes for Vale valued for over $23 million is extra sweet. The structure of this deal contributes to rising water bills, folks. I would like to encourage the new council to consider seeking a legal opinion concerning the fact that Mayor Fenske’s signature appears within this transaction agreement and his perceived conflict of interest (as with the GIL), for the purpose of renegotiating this agreement for the betterment of Thompson ratepayers.
We need council members who can think for themselves. Whoever the next mayor will be, if at the end of your term you feel like yet another disgruntled ex-mayor, you failed as a leader, I believe. We do have some independent and critical thinking persons like that on council now who are running again! Time for accountability. Time for those eligible to vote, to do your part now, and vote!