Sault Ste. Marie and the Ring of Fire

Recently, Allan Coutts and Stephen Flewelling of Noront Resources visited Sault Ste. Marie to discuss progress on the Ring of Fire developments. I was glad to host these two gentlemen at the Mayor’s Office for a meeting to hear about the latest news from their company.

I first met with Mr. Coutts and Mr. Flewelling in November, 2016 to discuss their Ring of Fire holdings and the potential to construct a ferrochrome refinery in Sault Ste. Marie. I have been in touch with the company a few times since on these same topics. There have also been a number of employees at the EDC who have kept in close contact with Noront over the last several months and I want to credit them for their good work in promoting the Sault as a favourable location for a processing facility.

For those who may not be aware, we’re one of several sites vying to become home to an eventual ferrochrome refinery, including our fellow northern Ontario cities of Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Timmins. When you hear the scale of the facility, it’s easy to understand why it is so sought after—it will be a $1 billion construction project that will lead to 300+ well-paying industrial jobs once the plant becomes operational.

While the refinery would obviously be a longer-term project, we have all the elements that are needed for it in Sault Ste. Marie and as such I think that our location is being very seriously considered. Noront is hoping to select their preferred site towards the end of the summer, so we will continue working with it and promoting the case for Sault Ste. Marie.

Sault Ste. Marie hasn’t traditionally been a big player in the mining sector but we are hoping to get in the game because it certainly appears to be an industry that will grow in Northern Ontario. The Ring of Fire has potential to be one of the largest and most lucrative resource developments in Ontario’s recent history. If managed properly, the benefits will flow all across Northern Ontario, including in the many First Nations communities that are located near the mineral deposits.

It’s important for those of us who are elected officials in Northern Ontario to do all we can to encourage cooperation and collaboration so that the mineral wealth of the Ring of Fire can be developed responsibly for the benefit of our region. That includes ensuring that environmental concerns related to both mining and refining operations are addressed properly and mitigated as much as possible.

We are in the very early stages and there is a lot more work to be done, but we are up to doing it.

A busy start to May

May has arrived and the first week of the month was a busy one, with some great events and announcements taking place around the city. It’s worth a look back on some of the good news stories and notable events that happened to lead off the month.

Special Olympics Announcement

On Wednesday May 3rd, Sault Ste. Marie was announced that it had been selected as the host site for the 2019 Ontario Special Olympics Winter Games. The community last hosted the Special Olympics in 2001 and this will be the first time we have hosted the winter games.

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At the announcement that the Sault will host the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Winter Games on Wednesday May 3rd.

With 450+ athletes and coaches expected to make the trip for the games, the event will be quite substantial and a significant economic boost for our tourism sector. But more importantly, the games will afford us the chance to celebrate the human spirit and the unique abilities and potential of every person. I know it will be a very meaningful event for everyone involved and I am glad that we will be able to host it in our community.

At Wednesday’s announcement, Special Olympics Ontario declared the Sault Ste. Marie’s bid was “the best they had ever seen.” Congratulations to the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie for all of their excellent work on securing the event.

Riding the Big Bike with Reggie and his crew

A month or two back, I dropped in at Reggie’s Place after work with a few people. Lorraine Daigle (Reggie’s sister) asked me if I would be interested in riding the Big Bike with their team in May. I suggested that I’d be glad to do it, but that I thought it was important that we had Reggie participate as well. Lorraine pledged that if I did it, she would get Reggie to do it.

Fast forward to Thursday May 4th and both Reggie and I made good on our respective promises. The Reggie’s team was kind enough to outfit me with a flashy cape and even added me to their team name. It was a great time with a fun bunch of people and best of all we were able to support the great cause of heart and stroke research.

Jane’s Walk for Accessibility

On Friday May 5th, I took part in the Jane’s Walk for Accessibility that occurred downtown. City Accessibility Advisory Committee Member Diane Morrell led our tour of Queen Street East and it was very enlightening. There are many little things that make for accessibility challenges—like the slope of a driveway or uneven sidewalk blocks—that you don’t really appreciate until you travel in a wheelchair or push someone in a wheelchair. Making our city accessible is an on-going job, one that government, businesses, and residents all have to be mindful of its importance.

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Touring Queen Street East, as part of the Jane’s Walk.

This is the second year that Jane’s Walks have taken place in the city and they are a tremendous event. The walks are a great way for residents to learn about neighbourhood histories and local urban issues from their fellow citizens.

Milestone Anniversaries

On Sunday May 7th, I was privileged to attend a mass and dinner in celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. Throughout its history, the church has been an important place of spirituality and worship. It’s also provided an important link to Ukrainian culture and heritage. Best wishes to everyone from the church’s community as they celebrate their centennial year!

Thoughts on the McMeeken Incident

We had an alarming incident occur in our City on Tuesday evening when the McMeeken Arena had to be evacuated due to elevated levels of carbon monoxide. A substantial number of people who were exposed became sick and had to seek or receive medical treatment, while an even larger number had to go to Sault Area Hospital to be checked out as a precautionary measure.

Ultimately, it’s a relief to know that the persons affected were treated successfully and that everyone is going to be ok. However, that in no way discounts the discomfort and anxiety that this episode caused, which was very real and understandably upsetting to everyone involved.  Adding to the apprehension was the fact that many of the people affected were teenagers and in some cases young children. As a parent myself, I can appreciate how frightening it would be to have to take an ill child to the hospital as a result of something like this.

I want to acknowledge and recognize our firefighters who did a terrific job leading the evacuation in a calm and orderly way and then explaining to the evacuated persons what symptoms they should be wary of and when they should seek medical attention. The firefighters have also been doing great work to ventilate the building and assist with finding the cause of the problem.

I also received a compliment from a constituent about the professionalism and orderliness of the rink attendants who assisted with the evacuation, so I want to acknowledge them for their assistance.

On the medical side, as the extent of the situation became apparent, our paramedics assisted with meeting incoming patients at the hospital and ensuring that those in need started receiving treatment right way. And of course, Sault Area Hospital and their staff really stepped up and performed admirably. They’ve been rightly applauded in many corners for how they handled the situation and I’m happy to add my voice to that chorus. They quickly realized that they needed to escalate due to what was happening and they brought in substantial additional resources right away in response. Everyone pitched in, all the way up to Sault Area Hospital senior management, and their team was prepared, professional, and ready to address contingencies that might arise.

In all, everyone involved in the evacuation and treatment pulled together and worked as a team and I want to thank everyone involved in the immediate response for their efforts and great work.

Obviously though, we are left with some pressing questions that need to be answered. We need to know the source of the carbon monoxide and why the climbing CO levels did not trigger an alarm from one of the multiple detectors located in the building.  We need to come to understand why this incident happened and, just as important, we need to know if there is something that the City needs to be doing differently to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again. We’ve had regulatory personnel from TSSA, third-party experts, and City staff working on the scene to find out what happened and why.

My commitment to you on behalf of my office and City Council is that we will find the answers, we will bring those answers to the public and we will make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that something like this does not happen again.

 

A Place for Everyone

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet a newly-arrived refugee family at the airport. They were a family of seven from the Congo. They had undergone a long and tiring journey, travelling from Zimbabwe to Germany to Toronto and then to here. Despite the difficulties of their travel and despite being overwhelmed at arriving in a place unlike anywhere they had experienced before, I could tell they were relieved to be here.  Exhausted no doubt, but relieved.

It was touching to see, just as it was touching to see the excitement and happiness on the faces of the staff from the Sault Community Career Centre and the volunteers from the community who were there to receive them. I was even able to carry out a young, sleeping boy to the car that was taking the family to their hotel. It was a special moment.

It is my understanding that there are more than 65 million refugees in the world, displaced because of war, famine, and political instability. It’s a shocking statistic.

We can all agree that Canada is a big place. We’re a country of some 36 million but we could accommodate many millions more than that. Canada has the opportunity to be a world leader in resettling displaced persons. To put it very simply, we have the room.

And not just in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. There is an opportunity for Sault Ste. Marie. We’re a City with a population in the 70,000s, but we have the infrastructure to support 85,000 or 90,000, perhaps even more.  With the right support from the provincial and federal governments, slow-growing places like Sault Ste. Marie would be able to take in a substantial number of refugees and new migrants to Canada.

I think that could be a very good thing for our City. While I recognize that people need opportunities for work and so forth, people can also create those opportunities. People create economy. Ultimately, bringing people here means more customers for businesses, more students for schools, and more people paying taxes. It’s an investment in our own human capital.

However, to make this happen we have to adopt the right mindset. We have to embrace diversity and inclusiveness and we have to work hard to make newcomers feel at home. Like the arch in front of the Civic Centre declares, we have to be “the friendly City.”

Ultimately, we are going to need a lot people just to maintain our current labour force and population and those people, whether they are immigrants, new Canadians, millenials, or former Saultites thinking of moving back, are all going to want the same thing: a City where they feel safe, welcomed, and at home.

We can only achieve that if we commit ourselves, as a community, to the values of tolerance, respect and open-mindedness. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s not just a moral imperative, for us, it’s also an economic and social imperative.

I think we are on our way. As Mayor, I’ve spoken with international students who are enthusiastic about the City and want to stay after they graduate. I’ve seen the recent outpouring of local support in the wake of a hateful incident that happened here and also in response to the tragedy in Quebec City. And I’ve seen the caring and commitment of citizens who have stepped forward to donate time, money, and possessions to help those fleeing unimaginable circumstances settle in our community.

We don’t have to look further than Passport to Unity, held yesterday to see some of the great work happening in our community.  It was a tremendously successful event and I noted, as I made my rounds, that the family from the Congo that I had welcomed at the airport a few weeks ago was there – eating submarine sandwiches in and amongst dozens of other newcomers.  I was happy to see them.

Sault Ste. Marie can be a place for everyone. With all the challenges in the world and with our own demographics being what they are, we have to be.

-CP

Civic Centre Renovations

Yesterday, City Council debated the replacement of the windows and cladding of the Civic Centre. I’m not surprised that this project has attracted quite a bit of public interest and that there are some misconceptions about why it is happening, which I would like to try to clear up.

To begin with, I want to make it clear that the renovations are not happening for aesthetic reasons. It’s being made because the current state of the windows and cladding present a health and safety issue. An asset review study that was done in 2014 recommended making the replacements as soon as possible, but no later than by 2018. It is a project that has to happen and we would be negligent to try and postpone it any longer.

The Civic Centre will be 42 years old this year and it is starting to feel the weight of those years. Extensive work was done on the roof last year. I think just about all of us understand that roofs wear out over time and eventually they have to be replaced. In this case, the replacement of the windows and cladding is similarly necessary.

It is also important to understand how we will pay for the project. We are going to use long-term debt to pay for the majority of the costs to replace the windows and cladding. To me, this is a prudent decision because the City carries exceptionally low debt and we are still in a very favourable environment for interest rates. Furthermore, an annual stream of funding has already been identified within the 2017 budget to finance the loan. This project is not increasing the budget or increasing your taxes.

The City is required by the province to have an asset management plan. The plan guides how the City makes needed repairs and upgrades to its buildings and facilities over a 25-year horizon. There is an annual allocation within the budget (approximately $2.3 million) that funds the asset management plan. This is money that is used to make repairs, improvements, and replace equipment. A portion of this annual amount will be used to finance the loan.

The point I want to stress is this: if we did not have to replace the windows and cladding at the Civic Centre, the money in the budget that is going to finance the loan would be used for other projects and other repairs to City facilities, because that is its dedicated purpose. We would not have any additional money to lower property taxes or to provide extra services.

I know we are still in the midst of a difficult economic climate, so I understand some of the outcry about what the City’s “priorities” should be. However, to that I will say this: taking care of the things we own as a City has to be a priority too. Because I think experience has taught us by now that we don’t gain much by stalling decisions for another day. The options generally boil down to paying today or paying more in the future—and often suffering problems in between when we decide to kick things down the road.

Throughout this Council term, we’ve been looking for opportunities to divest the City of old buildings and property to thereby lower our asset management costs. Our recent decision with respect to the Steelton Seniors Centre is a good example.  By relocating the Steelton Seniors Centre (from an old, inaccessible building) to the fully-accessible Northern Community Centre, we have helped the City forego more than a million dollars in future renovation costs.

However, I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that our municipal government could function without a City Hall, so it is important that we commit enough funds to make sure the one we have stays in reasonably good working order. The building is, after all, a reflection of our community and as such we can’t let it fall into disrepair.

Lastly, I appreciate that some people are disappointed by the proposed change in the building’s look.  We have to keep in mind that over 40 years have elapsed since the cladding and windows were first installed.  Materials and technology changes and in this respect, Council has to defer to the architectural and engineering experts.  In the end, I am confident that we will have a visually appealing and modern looking building that will continue to be one of our city’s distinctive landmarks.

-CP

Ste-Foy

This was going to be a different post. Then on Sunday January 29th the mosque attack in Ste-Foy, Quebec City happened.

As is well known now, this hateful crime has taken a tremendous toll. Those killed, injured and subjected to this extreme violence were husbands and fathers, friends and colleagues. They were part of the fabric of their community in Quebec City and they were a part of the fabric of this great country. The loss of these lives and the hatred that motivated it is senseless –  making it hard to understand.

No country can hope to be immune from the problems of the world, but it is still shocking to see such a reprehensible act happen in our country.  The only comfort we can take is in the response that has come in the aftermath of this tragedy, from across Canada, from around the world, and from within our own community.

As a nation, we’ve mourned in unison for those lost in the attack and for those left bereft by their loss. We’ve seen Canadians stand in solidarity with our country’s Muslim community and we’ve seen kindness and empathy be extended to our own small but growing Muslim community in Sault Ste. Marie. We’ve seen countless people raise their voices and take action to show that they care; to show that they will not abide hatred happening in our midst.

To be sure, there is more work to do here, just as there is more work to do everywhere. However, I feel resolute in my conviction that ultimately we are going to do it.

The promoters of hatefulness and bigotry seem to be having a moment right now. But it’s a moment that’s going to pass. Because for every racist, bigot, or xenophobe there are hundreds more of us who are tolerant, compassionate, and welcoming. Our voices are louder, our will is stronger, and our collective might is much greater than anything the forces of intolerance could hope to marshal. Matched against us, the beliefs they espouse are not going to take hold and their attempts to sow fear and division are not going to succeed. They’re not going to win.

Community Orchard officially inaugurated

On November 16th, 2016, Sault Ste. Marie’s first community orchard was officially inaugurated. Located at the Algoma District School Board’s Etienne Brule site, the orchard will eventually include 48 apple trees and 30 sugar maples. A total of 24 trees have been planted so far, with the remainder to come in the spring of 2017.

The establishment of the orchard was made possible thanks to a grant from CN Rail’s “From the Ground Up” program. Sault Ste. Marie was one of 25 communities across Canada that was awarded a grant in 2016. The successful application was developed by Tori Prouse of the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Planning Department.

orchard

(Left to Right: Mayor Provenzano, CN’s Drew Redden, DSSAB CAO Mike Nadeau, ADSB Chair Jennifer Sarlo and Raymond Carriere of Communities in Bloom perform a ceremonial tree planting.)

The orchard is another positive development at the west-end site, which has become a community hub since the closure of the former Etienne Brule elementary school. The building now houses the Urban Aboriginal school program, a daycare, and several programs that have been developed in partnership with Ontario Works and other social service providers. In addition to the orchard, the property is also home to a playground, a Hub Trail spoke, and a community garden.

Though it will take a few years for the trees to mature and begin bearing fruit, in time, the orchard will be a fantastic community resource for citizens to enjoy.