Ontario utility costs, a comparison

I have been serving on the PUC Boards (PUC Inc., PUC Services and PUC Distribution) and the water commission (PUC) since shortly after I was elected in 2014.  I want to recognize the hard work of rest of the directors who sit on the Boards with me, along the management team and staff at the PUC group of companies.  We have done a lot of good work over the past few years and we have been mindful of and focused on the cost of water and power to our consumers.  We recognize that with the rising cost of electricity, it is becoming more and more difficult to pay your PUC bill.  We have, where we can and with the help of City Council, tried to reduce the burden as best we can.  While we still recognize that it is challenging for many, I think these two graphs highlight our hard work:

Residential 200m3750kwh

In the first graph you will see that our water/waste water costs were the 11th lowest in the province in 2017 (see the first black arrow) of 98 comparators.  The data in the top left corner data box compares our 2017 costs to North Bay, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay specifically.  You can see the that water/waste water costs are quite a bit lower here than in those communities.

In the second graph you will see our monthly electricity costs compared to the remainder of the local distribution companies (LDCs) in Ontario.  The data we have compares a residential user at 750 kWh per month across the province.  Sault Ste. Marie is the 4th lowest of 81 comparators.

I don’t offer you this information to suggest that your monthly water/waste water and electricity costs are low or affordable.  I appreciate that to and for many they are not.  I offer this information to you so that you can see we are trying our best to make these essential services as affordable as possible and that, comparatively, we are making progress.  We will keep at it.  It is important to me, City Council and the PUC boards that Sault Ste. Marie is an affordable community to live in.

– CP

A Smart Cities strategy focused on Sault Ste. Marie’s youth

The City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Smart Cities challenge application has been submitted and it is focused on youth.

This competition is an exciting opportunity to address some challenging socio-demographic issues. The City believes we are the best suited to develop and implement a smart cities strategy to address them. Sault Ste. Marie has a history of being a maker-community; we are a trailhead community at the heart of the Great Lakes and we have some important community assets that we are ready to build upon.

The challenge calls on communities to identify a challenge and develop a measurable, ambitious, and achievable plan to address it.

Our challenge statement certainly reflects this:  We are going to reverse population decline and youth outmigration by building the Country’s most advanced youth engagement and data analytics platform which will connect our youth to their community and its opportunities and will encourage them to develop the skill sets that are required by the new economy.

As the lead of the City’s Smart Cities taskforce, I am confident we produced a compelling submission. It was informed by the Community Adjustment Committee’s final report and recommendations (which featured community engagement activities involving nearly 5,000 people), feedback from youth forums held by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, feedback from open houses held for the Smart Cities challenge, meetings and conference calls with private sector companies and attendance at the Microsoft Smart Cities event in Toronto.

The next step in the process is the announcement of finalists, which is expected to take place in the summer of 2018. Finalists will receive a $250,000 grant to develop a proposal, which is due in the winter of 2019. If the City is selected to move forward, further engagement with the community is planned for the development of the City’s proposal.

It is clear our City has to focus on, engage with and invest in our youth, and this challenge is an opportunity to work with them and build our community together.

Humboldt Strong

30531156_2011181049131379_8295038065827643392_oI want to take a moment to recognize the incredible kindness and generosity our community has demonstrated all week, but really emphasized at Friday night’s Soo Greyhounds game in response to the Humboldt Bronco tragedy.

City staff and Arthur Funeral Home organized a condolence book that Saultites from across our community have signed and we will be sending that to Humboldt next week.

The Soo Greyhounds organization is donating $20,000.00 to the fundraising effort, and a group of our citizens has organized a #HumboldtStrong t-shirt fundraiser which I think raised approximately $15,000.00 at Friday night’s game. 

It is really touching to see and it makes me proud of our community. I hope many of you feel the same way.

Well done, Sault Ste. Marie.

Addressing Ontario’s immigration imbalance

An important Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors (NOLUM) meeting was held in Sault Ste. Marie this week.

NOLUM is calling for remedial action from the Federal and Provincial Governments to address Ontario’s immigration imbalance

Provincial population projections released by the Ontario Ministry of Finance in 2017 indicate Ontario’s population is expected to grow during the period of 2016 to 2041, but Northern Ontario is projected to see an overall decrease from 797,000 to 782,000. In terms of provincial population share, the Northeast is expected to drop from 4.3% to 3% and Northwest from 1.8% to 1.3%.

According to the report, Ontario Population Projections Update, 2016-2041, migration is the most important factor contributing to population growth for Ontario as a whole and the North receives only a small share of international migration. Census results (25% sample data) indicate Greater Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Timmins combined received 2,285 immigrants between 2011 to 2016, while Ontario received 472,170 immigrants during the same period.

Large urban areas currently receive most of the international migration to Ontario, precipitating the need for a policy change. NOLUM recommends the Federal and Provincial Governments partner to implement a similar program to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. The program sees the Federal Government and four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) help employers in the region hire job candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents by expediting the immigration process. The candidates fill jobs employers have had trouble filling locally.

During the NOLUM meeting on Thursday, I made a presentation about demographic challenges related to age structure, the pace of natural increase and immigration to the North. Northern Ontario faces similar and in some cases even more precarious demographic issues as the Atlantic provinces partnering with the Federal Government for the pilot program. For example, in terms of immigration, census results (25% sample data) indicate the four Atlantic provinces received 12,075 more immigrants between 2011 and 2016 in comparison to the 2006 to 2010 period, while Greater Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Timmins experienced a net increase of 205 immigrants during the same period.

NOLUM members (myself), Mayor Steve Black, Mayor Brian Bigger, Mayor Al McDonald and Mayor Keith Hobbs have committed to seeking the support of their respective City Councils regarding the implementation of a program similar to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

Additionally, as a result of the meeting, NOLUM members highlighted northern priorities ahead of the upcoming provincial election.

W5 Documentary – Opioid Epidemic

I have received a number of Facebook messages, emails and telephone calls since last night’s airing on W5 of the Vice Media production “Steel Town Down”.  Some have been concerned with how the documentary portrayed our community, some with what the City is/is not doing to address the issues raised in the documentary and some with what I did/did not know about opioid abuse in our community.  To put it simply, the responses that I have received have been very mixed but consistently concerned.  I thought it would be helpful to offer my perspective.  

First, I think we need to acknowledge and recognize that there are a lot of people in our community that struggle with substance abuse.  These people are often marginalized and they need the support of our larger community.  The opioid crisis that has spread across the Country is here and we are dealing with it, as best we can, on very limited resources. We need to do more, and do better, and the community at large, especially those that are in need, need to know we are trying.  

There is a critical gap in services available in Sault Ste. Marie.  Sault Area Hospital (SAH) has applied to the North East Local Health Integrated Network and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for funding to improve our community’s infrastructure and the services that are offered here.   I have supported these efforts. SAH will be at our next Council meeting outlining the project for Council (and the community) and we will commit to help SAH get the funding it needs.  It is important to note that this work was going on before, and independent of, the documentary.  

With respect to the documentary itself, it was filmed in November.  I met Desiree Beck from the Group Health Centre earlier in the fall at the Recovery Luncheon.  I was asked to bring greetings on behalf of the City.  I attended to show my support and encouragement for people in recovery, those trying to get to recovery and the family, friends and frontline workers who provide a critical support network.  Desiree and I met at the luncheon and we agreed that she should come to City Hall to so we could speak further.  She wanted to give me a sense of what she is dealing with in the community and I wanted to hear from her.  We set up that meeting and the short clip featured on W5 was from that meeting.  

I was aware Fentanyl was in our community and that our paramedics are administering Narcan with greater frequency.  I was aware of the larger socio-economic and mental health challenges in our community that relate to substance abuse.  I have spent the largest part of my mayoralty trying to create a system whereby we deal with these challenges more effectively.  I was not aware of the actual number of overdoses per month until the director of the documentary threw the statistic into the meeting from off camera.  No one had (or has) ever provided me with the actual overdose statistics.  That is not to say that the City does not recognize or is not aware of the overarching problem. It does and is.             

A lot of people are really bothered by how our community is portrayed in the documentary. Many people feel that the documentary was imbalanced and partial to a narrow perspective.  I agree that we do live in a beautiful, caring and engaging city. There are a lot of positive things happening (and a number of really good initiatives) across our community which can rightly make us proud of our community and embrace it as a great place to live.  However, we have to recognize that what we saw in the documentary is real and that it is happening here.  We have to recognize that people are struggling, that families are in turn struggling and that people are dying.  This community, the one that is struggling with substance abuse issues, exists alongside and within our larger community.  We will not be helpful to the people in our community that need our help if we don’t start by acknowledging that the need exists.  It is why I went to the recovery luncheon to speak on behalf of the community.   It is why we support the Neighborhood Resource Centre, the Algoma Leadership Table and the United Way Poverty Plan. It is why I met with Desiree Beck. For all of the great things about our city and happening in our city, substance abuse and the opioid epidemic are real and they are here.  And I want those people who are suffering and fighting through these challenges to know that they are important, that we acknowledge their challenge and that we are working to get them the support they need.       

Growing support for those who could use a boost

I had the pleasure of checking out the Food Bank Farm in Sault Ste. Marie this year.

The work being done by Colin and Sharon Templeton, along with their team, is having a significant impact on our community.

The Food Bank Farm operates on a not-for-profit basis and fresh, quality food is distributed to local families in need.

“At the height of our season we were delivering fresh produce twice a week to the Soup Kitchen,” reads a newsletter put together by the group.

“When we add it all up we delivered approximately $13,000 worth of food to the Soup Kitchen. Not a bad year with very poor weather.”

The Food Bank Farm is launching a new initiative I’d like you to be aware of. The team wants members of the community to become Food Bank Farmers.

They want local gardeners to plant an extra row of veggies that will be given to local families. The farm plans to establish drop-off locations where people can leave their donations.

If you’re interested in being a part of this initiative, contact project coordinator Ayushi Shah at planning@foodbankfarm.ca or 705-255-1459.

This is a great example of innovative thinking from members of our city, and we can all help take this to the next level by getting involved.