Leap Thunder Bay Plans a City Council Takeover in 2018

Earlier this month, a new local Leap group launched in Thunder Bay, Ontario, unveiling their own, localized version of the manifesto—and a bold proposal for how to enact the platform, by running a slate of Leap candidates for City Council in next year’s municipal election. 

“Thunder Bay is uniquely positioned to become a national leader in creating new approaches and opportunities that build a sustainable world for the next generation that provides quality of life for all,” the group’s localized manifesto declares. “We believe this change has to start at a local and neighbourhood level and that electing a team of city councillors who will work together to support the Leap Manifesto and endorse this vision will be an important first step.”

Like the original manifesto, Thunder Bay’s version begins with a call to respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty, and sets out some of the local dimensions of a rapid transition to 100% renewables. Most of the document’s 10 demands are thoroughly rooted in the needs and hopes of the Thunder Bay community, ranging from bolstering small business and ending homelessness, to finding ways to invite and assist new residents (“no matter their place of origin”), to reclaiming empty spaces within city limits for the public.

Leap Thunder Bay is hoping to engage with and support as many candidates committed to the platform as possible, and aims to elect at least a majority of the council. Dave Cryderman, a community mental health worker and organizer with the new group, spoke with the Leap blog recently about their political vision. 

Rajiv Sicora: So what was the initial spark for Leap Thunder Bay?  

Dave Cryderman: It’s not very old. A couple months. I’d been thinking about the idea of trying to organize a slate of candidates under some sort of banner for a while. The last election that we had here, there was a particularly ugly strain of right-wing populist, racist nonsense. The candidate got really close to getting elected. So I’d been thinking about ways to challenge that, and to prepare for that the next time out.

And I had been really interested in the Leap Manifesto since it first came out. In February, I went to this community conversation at Lakehead University on the manifesto, hosted by the Student Union’s Sustainability Initiative. And through conversations there, with other people who are interested in doing something, we came up with this idea of really needing to have a concrete next step coming out of the event. So that turned into coffee with two other people, and then that turned into a meeting with 10 people, and then we’ve had about 3 or 4 meetings since then.

RS: Did the idea of running Leap candidates take on momentum right away?  

DC: I went to that initial meeting with the idea of trying to rally people. There’s groups in town that do so much work, so much advocacy. And it’s always an ask for recognition, or an ask for funding, or an ask from City Council.

It just seems to me that in terms of the spirit of Leaping, rather than doing that incrementally, we need to just take over the City Council.

People got excited about that idea; I’m excited about that idea. And I’m excited that people are excited about it.

RS: Tell me about the process of creating your localized manifesto.   

DC: It was really just sitting around with the main Leap Manifesto, the 15 demands, on an overhead—and a group of us hashing through them, picking out the ones that we thought were really key for Thunder Bay.

They’re still fairly general, and part of our process over the next year will be getting bullet points underneath each one—specifics about how we think they could be implemented. But it really was just going through it and talking it out. And then we put a Google document up, and people commented on it, and we had some discussions and got some feedback.

The main Leap Manifesto is really about an overarching national politics. There’s a lot of things that we don’t have much power to do anything about municipally. So wanted to get it down to something concise that people could relate to issues in town.

Everything that we have on there is something that I think is a concern—maybe not for everybody. But I think everybody can find their concern in there somewhere.

RS: Were some of the demands more contentious than others?

DC: We had a lot of discussion about when demands conflict. Particularly with the idea of centering Indigenous rights and sovereignty, there’s a lot of other demands that may conflict with that.

A few years ago, we had a wind farm going up. The standard dialogue was the “not in my backyard” people against the wind farm, and the more environmentally-minded people for the wind farm.

But there was a third thing that had fallen through. The wind farm—which didn’t happen in the end—would have gone up on the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation. And no one had done the proper consultation.

In the main Leap Manifesto, demand number one is respecting the rights and titles of the people who have always lived here. We wanted to make sure that was number one in ours as well—so that it’s a kind of guiding principle, and the other ones don’t override that one.

“We need a return of good jobs to Thunder Bay. A place you don’t have to leave to go and make your way in the world.”

RS: I was really impressed with the breadth of your manifesto—it covers everything from local food and green manufacturing to the fight against homelessness. For someone like me who wasn’t very familiar with Thunder Bay, it communicated something vivid about the place and its history. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about the recent challenges and areas of potential in Thunder Bay that informed the demands.

DC: I think Thunder Bay’s really well positioned to do something. Because of our geography, primarily. We were built out of a fur trading post on a port. We used to be two towns, Fort William and Port Arthur, which merged into Thunder Bay in the 70s. So there’s an unbroken line between extractive colonialism and now.

Our industry has always been mining, forestry. This town used to have thriving paper mills along the waterfront, but Ontario’s forestry industry has been so hard hit over the last couple decades. There have been a number of reductions, partial closures, re-openings, re-closures of both saw and paper mills.

So that collapse of industry over the last 20 years is really the big feature here. I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to offer people another option. To create a new way. Particularly because we’re a hub for an area basically the size of France. We’re the largest center within 8 hours of any direction if you’re driving. And there’s quite a few First Nation communities up north who use Thunder Bay as a commercial hub and as a hub for health care.

We’re also sort of nationally renowned in the media for our racism problem. But the remedial measures have been ineffective, treating it at the individual level—people just need to be nicer to each other—and not targeting or even acknowledging the core problem of settler colonialism.

We’ve been the hate crime capital of Canada, we’ve been the murder capital of Canada. Crime, social issues, alcoholism: we have all these major issues that go along with the collapse of the economy, and that go along with being a small Canadian resource-based town, that I think play into a lot of the stuff we’re talking about.

We need a return of good jobs to Thunder Bay. A place you don’t have to leave to go and make your way in the world. There’s an option for you to stay here. And I think that manufacturing the things we need—solar panels, wind, and other renewable infrastructure—is going to be really important.

We own our own Hydro and our own telephone, which not a lot of communities do anymore. So I think we have some other options there as well, in terms of looking at new ways of doing energy. And in really trying to bring things down to a neighborhood level. There is a local organization called Roots To Harvest that we’re very interested in championing. They’re really trying to push food sustainability and community gardens in town. We want to get behind that work and make it top of list.

Saving tax dollars by focusing on urban infill is a big issue here too. We used to be a big town. With the collapse of the economy, parts of town have become abandoned. Then we still have this rural expansion into subdivisions of expensive houses, where the developers will go and put in the infrastructure, but then the city picks up the cost for maintaining it—while we’re still maintaining all the empty spaces unused in town. I think we need to reassess that. It was one of the things that came up at the table for us.

“In 2018, there’s going to be a Leap Council in Thunder Bay. So it would be great if there were other Leap councils across the country to work with.”

RS: In the localized manifesto, there’s a powerful reference to Thunder Bay being known as “the city with a giant heart.”  

DC: That was our motto. I remember that as a kid. There was always the Sleeping Giant with a big heart behind it. We were the city with a giant heart. Whether or not we actually lived up to that name….

It really is the Leap Manifesto’s idea of caring for each other and caring for the Earth. Homelessness and addiction are huge issues in town. And I think there’s a lot of ways that we could be focusing on caring for each other, and not punishing each other.

In town we have what’s called the SOS Program, which runs out of our shelter here. They do a daily 12-hour service, where it’s a van that goes around and brings people socks and sandwiches and gives them rides. And makes sure there’s nobody out in the cold. They go and just try and engage with people, and help people out. They need $200,000 to keep running for the next 6 months over the summer. And they have to shut down because they can’t find $200,000. Where else are we spending $200,000? How are we prioritizing things?

Leap Thunder Bay/Facebook

View of the Sleeping Giant. (Leap Thunder Bay/Facebook)

RS: So what’s next?

DC: We have a 3-step thing that we want to accomplish—not in this order, necessarily. But one of them is to raise our profile and get the localized vision out in the community. So that people are used to hearing from us and about us, and we’re not new on the scene when the election shows up.

The second one is to organize events and do community outreach. And a lot of those events are going to focus on picking one or two of the planks of the platform, and then bringing around the people in town who are the experts, to have panel discussions and community conversations.

And the third step is getting the Leap City Council operating. But prior to that is engaging with potential candidates, and making sure they’re well-versed in the vision.

We’ve launched on social media and online. Saturday April 29th is the first time we’re going to be out in the community as Leap, at a solidarity walk with the People’s Climate March called “Walking Together for a Better World.”

RS: For people in the area who are reading this, what’s the best way to get involved?

DC: We’re trying to use a very similar approach to the main Leap Manifesto. So you can go the website and sign on. Then we’ll have your email and can send out a welcome package. We’re definitely looking for people who are interested and excited about doing some work.

RS: Any advice for folks thinking of doing something similar?  

DC: Do it.

In Ontario, all the municipal elections are in 2018 at the same time, right? Same with BC, same with Manitoba. There’s power in numbers, so if we’re pushing in a bunch of different communities, it raises the profile as well.

In 2018, there’s going to be a Leap Council in Thunder Bay. So it would be great if there were other Leap councils across the country to work with.

In terms of getting it off the ground: We’re fairly early stages, obviously. But what’s been really important is trying to bring the people who bring people—involving folks from groups already doing this stuff, and trying to make the pitch and the appeal that we need to Leap.

Because there’s a lot of people in town who have been doing the grind for a very long time. They’ve been on the ground, grinding it out, trying to make change. Let’s see if we can get everybody pushing one cart, and just drive it right through the gates.

Worst case scenario, we don’t get anybody elected. But we’ve had a bunch of different people in town united in one network, working on the same thing. And we’ve built relationships. There’s no downside.

Read the Leap Thunder Bay manifesto, and click here to support the group’s startup fund, which will be used for launch events and materials over the coming months.