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Politics for Joe

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Hubert O'Hearn
Politics for Joe
By: Hubert O'Hearn

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Old Guard on council is returned

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THUNDER BAY, ON  -------- October 26, 2010  -------  I've always thought that the best thing the late Rod Serling ever wrote and produced wasn't an episode of The Twilight Zone, or even Requiem for Heavyweight. There was an Emmy-nominated episode of Night Gallery in 1971 called 'They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar' in which a  down-on-his luck William Windom stands outside his now closed neighbourhood purveyor of liquid pain relief and is visited by the ghosts of his past. It ends with Windom left alone as an emotionally broken man, a grey soul living the words of the under-appreciated William Greenleaf Whittier, “of all words of tongue and pen, the saddest are, 'It might have been'”.

Which of course leads us to election night in Thunder Bay. This will definitely be the last of the parochial Thunder Bay columns for a long, long time – but having begun a story one should finish it.

Thunder Bay went through what I will call its Tim Riley moment. The raw results – at first glance a crunching win for Keith Hobbs over the incumbent Lynn Peterson, while the  City Council team effectively kept the varsity, added from the alumni and only has one intriguing new face. This mix of change and stability is like a revolution going on in a library reading room, but quietly enough to not wake the snoozing retired majors. How can something so refreshing still seem so stale?

For change is refreshing. It's why we have elections – endless trials and errors of formula combinations attempting to perfect a life for a community of people. Until the last week, as you know, I thought Peterson's 'run from the Rose Garden' strategy of pointing to past accomplishments was going to be good enough to hold the vote. Hobbs clearly had the momentum going, but I honestly didn't think his campaign was good enough or clear enough to carry the day.

I suspect – and hopefully some inspired Politics class at the College or University will investigate this – that there must have been close to a 10% swing in the last two weeks. To call a spade a spade (and risk termination by another employer) the stronger I sensed the Chronicle-Journal protecting Peterson's position, the more I felt Hobbs was gaining. Hobbs ended up winning the popular vote by 46% to 30%, which has to set some kind of record for a slaughtering of an incumbent in any office in this City's history.

That will be a hard number to beat in the future. The only way a multi-term incumbent in a non-party race gets that crushed usually requires a sheep or two and money missing from the safe.

Peterson's campaign wasn't all that bad. As I've written before, if you don't have an inspiring picture or design of the future to offer, then sure you run on the resume. Lynn Peterson does have the problem of coming across as shrill when defending herself from attack – I'm not being sexist, just observant. Shrillness to women politicians is what bad mustaches are to the males – they are qualities people don't endorse. But it shouldn't have proven fatal.

I did think Peterson was in danger were there to be a sudden change of events close to election day. Thunder Bay is not exactly the Magic Kingdom when it comes to optimism, no matter what the three levels of government attempt to tell us. Good Lord, they keep singing us a chorus of 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' from Gypsy, to a community that is living 'Rent.'

Perhaps too obscure, but those who got that will have enjoyed it.

It's a depressed, scared and frightened city that has little if any faith in its governments. Granted, there are interesting economic opportunities arising from Lakehead University as it follows the American model of pimping itself out (sorry, but that is my opinion) as a supplier of cheap research for multinational corporations. Still, a job's a job, and the rert of the economic activity at present seems to consist of the destruction of gas stations and the construction of Seniors' Homes and doughnut shops.

While the Transit strike was averted after the eleventh hour – and their Union team is to be congratulated on the brilliance of their timing in getting the best deal for their members – the Horizon Wind Farm turned an already jittery public into jabbering William Windoms.

Frankly, I've always supported the wind farm. For once this City could be ahead of the timeline and if we don't need the power at present, might it not be nice to offer it as an incentive to business? Energy will be the ultimate incentive starting on a day within our view. And if it wrecks your view, well dear, some of us recall being rocked to sleep at night by passing trains so suck it up princess.

But regardless of one's position on that subject, all of a sudden the public was looking at City Council scrambling and grasping for a position to appease protesters, there were in camera meetings being held and now this damn Horizon company was dropping a $126 million lawsuit on Thunder Bay. Pass the pitchforks and heat up the tar, someone's going to pay.

And that was the end of Lynn Peterson.

But this election also had a pathetic turnout of 47.43%. So even Hobbs' near-majority of 46% is really less than a quarter of the over 18 population. The angry voted, the satisfied stayed home with the bored.

I was part of the bored. But as there were no actual platforms, visions, meat and potato  proposals by 90% of the various candidates people went back to Tim Riley's Bar, back to the past, back to when Mom and Dad would make it all better. And therefore Ken Boshcoff again led the polls – gaining 22,516 votes, almost exactly 5,000 more than Hobbs. With the exception of McKellar Ward's Paul Pugh – who actually had to face a Red-baiting smear campaign in 2010 – Council is very much a reunion tour.

Looking to the future, the flaw of Hobbs' campaign in not having any kind of detailed plan can work as a strength if he uses it correctly. He will need to meet the Councilors individually and privately, figure out who he can best work with to form a working coalition of seven. If he is wise, he will find a meeting of the minds with Lawrence Timko as well. Timko was the Bubble Boy, finishing sixth out of an At-Large race where the top five were promoted. As Boshcoff will effectively be turning training laps waiting for the Federal election, Timko will likely be coming on board at some point in the next twelve months.

In looking at it, I can see Hobbs building a group consisting of Boshcoff (who will want to be seen with the winners in Getting Things Done), Rebecca Johnson, Larry Hebert, Brian McKinnon, Joe Virdiramo and Mark Bentz. Now, the former head of the Police Association may not like the look of this centre to centre-right grouping, but it will hold and the voters have put their trust in what is largely the old guard.

Well, it'll be interesting. Be seeing you.

Hubert O'Hearn
Lake Superior News

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