Clean slate?

It’s natural for people to associate New Year’s with starting fresh, wiping the slate clean, so to speak, and moving on free of the baggage from the past 365 days.
In reality, of course, we can never leave the past completely behind us—no matter how determined our efforts or best of intentions. And perhaps the most striking illustration of that lies right here in the pages of the Fort Frances Times.
Last week, for the first time ever, we asked our readers to judge what they thought was the top local story of 2003. The feedback was excellent, with some 215 people responding to the weekly Web poll question at last report late this morning.
Construction of the new Wal-Mart store, which is slated to open its doors here later this month, topped the list at 54.9 percent. It was the clear-cut winner, with Fort Frances’ centennial ranking a distant second at 14.4 percent.
Rounding out the list of six choices was the coming of broadband (10.7 percent), the change to our federal riding boundaries (8.8 percent), the town winning its hydro rebate fight (7.0 percent), and the sale of old Fort Frances High School (4.2 percent).
The fact is, however, that many of these same stories will continue to make headlines in 2004. Wal-Mart, as stated, is poised to open—and we’ll soon see what impact, if any, that has on the survival of other businesses in Fort Frances.
With a provincial election being touted for sometime this spring, Rainy River District voters may be saying good-bye to longtime MP Robert Nault and hello to distant candidates looking to capture the new Thunder Bay-Rainy River seat. Will district issues matter any more? Will our voices be drowned out by the big-city population? Only time will tell.
Renovation work continues on the old Fort High site—and so, too, may the controversy over Family and Children’s Services decision to re-locate there from Scott Street. How many other current tax-paying landlords will lose tenants to this new facility being built with tax breaks and other municipal concessions?
And then there’s broadband. When will it come to Rainy River District? Who will provide the service, and what will the cost be? Shaw Cable may be the first out of the blocks with its plans to introduce high-speed Internet access to its customers in town by next month.
Another major story from 2003, which didn’t make the poll because of space constraints as well as the fact the outcome basically was in limbo for much of the year, already is the top story in the first edition of 2004—the Northwestern Health Unit’s fight to ban smoking in all enclosed public places within its jurisdiction.
Will an appeal board rule in favour of the health unit in its decision expected sometime this month? How much more taxpayers money will be spent to fight the subsequent appeal (sure to be launched no matter which side loses)? And should Queen’s Park provide compensation to bar and restaurant owners if a province-wide smoking ban is implemented?
One other big carry-over from 2003 centres on the Civic Centre—namely the town audit which should be made public at a council meeting this month. What changes has it recommended? And at what cost?
So much for a clean slate. It’s more like “round two.”