Expect More. That’s Jim Parsons’ campaign slogan in Corner Brook’s mayoral race. Western Newfoundland, however, continues to experience an outmigration, leading some to ask, “Expect more of what? There won’t be any people here!”
Parsons is staying positive and running under a message of hope and urgency. “I was born and raised in Corner Brook, and now I am raising a young family in Corner Brook,” says Parsons. “I think this is a great place to live, and we have a lot of potential, but we might be letting it slip away if we don’t act now.”
Parsons is an IT consultant, and as the chair of the Downtown Business Association, the owner of Swirsky’s Theatre and Music Hall, and a regular performer at the Arts and Culture Center, he has a deep connection to the community (you might have seen Swirsky’s featured recently on The Amazing Race Canada).
Parsons’ vision involves linking together diverse parts of Corner Brook and fostering partnerships. He says, “We need to establish a better connection with the pillars of our economy including business, the mill, our post-secondary institutions, and other levels of government. City Hall can take the initiative to bring these players together and spark the innovation necessary to create jobs.”
With the completely insane–to put it mildly–election cycle in the United States, it would be understandable if voters are cynical. However, Parsons is sincere, and he is more than happy to provide concrete details concerning his plans for City Hall.
On the topic of jobs, Parsons sees the key issues being ones of demographics and education. He says, “A third of our population is over 60, and our population is aging and shrinking rapidly. We need to find a way to attract young families and to retain some of these students we are producing from places like Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the College of the North Atlantic.”
Corner Brook has seen its fair share of change, and it will continue to do so. Parsons views this as an opportunity for growth if the city’s resources are channeled in the right direction.
He says, “Traditionally, Corner Brook has been a manufacturing community, but we’ve lost hundreds of jobs in manufacturing. The mill is smaller. We used to have a gypsum plant and a cement plant. We used to have two bakeries. So our challenge is to transition to either different industries, or a new type of employment. We already have a large education sector in Corner Brook, and it makes sense that we turn our focus toward the knowledge economy.”
Defining the knowledge economy as work focussed on innovation, research, and technology, Parsons adds, “These kinds of jobs don’t often stand alone. They’re integrated with manufacturing and agriculture. Imagine if we were able to build bridges between our educational institutions and the stalwarts of our economy like the mill to find new products and services.”
Aside from jobs, Parsons wants to make Corner Brook an attractive place for young people and for families. This is a real challenge as a recent report from the Harris Centre predicts that the population of Corner Brook will drop by 17% in the next 20 years. To counter this trend, Parsons plans to make the city a place where young people want to live and enjoy their lives.
“Obviously jobs are important for attracting young people,” says Parsons, “but that isn’t the end of the story. Young professionals want to socialize. They want to have great night life, great entertainment, great restaurants. They want to enjoy the outdoors through hiking, mountain biking, ATV’ing, and skiing. Young families need recreational facilities where children can participate in a variety of sports and we need good educational and arts opportunities as well.”
This has been a campaign with some controversy. The current mayor, Charles Pender, has been the victim of a bizarre series of hotdog themed incidents.
On September 7th, Pender Tweeted a picture to show that someone had left a packet of wieners on a vehicle outside his home. Earlier in the campaign, on August 31st, he also tweeted images of a defaced sign in which this so-called “hotdog bandit” had cut a hole in the mouth and stuffed a wiener inside. Pender appears to be taking these incidents with good-natured concern, ultimately hoping to move past them.
For his own part, Parsons is also looking to keep the campaign professional. “It’s unfortunate when we get distracted from the real issues that we are facing as a community and get caught up in personality politics,” says Parsons. “Politics can easily become petty, but I think we need to focus on issues and healthy debate for the good of the community that we are trying to serve.”
When Parsons says that the people of Corner Brook should expect more, he seems to truly mean it.
“The Expect More slogan is about building a collaborative environment where City Hall is a hub of communication for the city,” says Parsons.
“We need to help connect our community groups, our businesses, our arts organizations, our recreation organizations, and our environmental organizations, and City Hall is our best vehicle for that. This kind of community engagement is how we will continue to improve, attract new people, build the economy, and provide better services to the people of Corner Brook.”
It’s an intriguing and ambitious plan. Voters will decide on September 26 whether or not they buy into Parson’s vision.