Councillors from across the province to meet at ROMA

By Kevin Jeffrey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
TBnewswatch.com

THUNDER BAY — Several local representatives will soon make the case for Thunder Bay issues in front of provincial members of parliament and ministers.

Mayor Ken Boshcoff will head to Toronto this week along with councillors Shelby Ch’ng, Kristen Oliver and Kasey Etreni – for the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference beginning on Sunday.

Boshcoff is looking for a permanent solution to re-establishing a forensic pathology lab in Thunder Bay.

“We’re hoping to see some permanent funding out of the guns and gangs initiative because sending officers down to Toronto to wait three or four days during a pathology analysis . . . is a hugely expensive proposition to deploy,” said Boshcoff.

“It takes officers out of the city to just wait for pathologists to do this work. By getting a permanent forensic pathology lab, it will save the province and the city millions of dollars in the long run.”

In September, administrator Malcolm Mercer told the Thunder Bay Police Services Board that the staff of the provincial forensic pathology unit in Toronto will form a mobile team to come conduct some autopsies at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Earlier in 2023, hospital officials said a lack of resources would force them to stop performing forensic autopsies in June.

Oliver agrees with the mayor and said this is a “band-aid solution” that wouldn’t happen in southern Ontario.

“Why does the North have to settle for a secondary sort of remedy to how this situation is going to go? Especially when there’s been recommendations that have come out of a number of reports around Thunder Bay Police and the OIPRD investigation,” Oliver said.

“The province has been quick to point to the city to say you haven’t performed in these areas, which is fair, but what has the province done to fulfill their obligations and recommendations as part of the reports?”

Oliver argued that a more permanent solution in Thunder Bay will help alleviate the pressure that Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Fort Frances have to go through.

In 2018, the Office of the Independent Police Review director’s Broken Trust Report identified having a forensic pathology unit in Thunder Bay as one of its recommendations.

Housing will also be a talking point for the mayor, who was able to attain ‘strong mayor’ powers by pledging to meet a provincial housing target of 2,200 new units built in the city by 2031.

“The province is fundamental, and they have already come to the table,” Boshcoff replied when asked what type of role Queen’s Park plays in housing.

“When we go now to see the provincial people, their first question is ‘where are the feds with this?’ Now we can say that our federal members here (Minister Patty Hajdu and MP Marcus Powlowski) have been helpful, not only on the housing fronts but on the policing and the addiction sides. I see a lot of cooperation, and it really has been making the job of this council a lot easier.”

In August, council submitted a revised $45-million application to the Federal Housing Accelerator Fund. If it is approved in full, that fund could help support the construction of roughly 1,700 new housing units over three years.

Boshcoff was also complimentary of having a local MPP on the government side helping navigate more for Thunder Bay.

“Kevin Holland is widely respected among his colleagues, but he also has a solid reputation as being the former mayor of Conmee,” Boshcoff said.

“He knows his way around the halls and he is also helpful to all of the municipalities of Northwestern Ontario because he knows what our issues are intimately, in terms of the dynamics of how it affects a particularly smaller community. He also knows the city so well, which is really a help for us.”

Oliver noted that the city will be presenting the province with solution-based recommendations.

“For at least the last 20 years, we have certainly been going to the table with some sort of recommendations and a possible solution. It may not be the one that we land on, but at least it opens up the door to have those conversations to see where we can find some consensus and land somewhere,” she said.