Thornhill group charts own path for the future

Monthly meetings explore various ways to govern the community

WHILE THE Kitimat-Stikine regional district and the provincial government explore the future of the Thornhill rural community, a group of citizens is taking matters into its own hands.

Formed late last year, the “Thornhill: Your Vision” group has been meeting once a month to examine various options as to how the community should be governed, particularly if large scale industrial projects get underway.

“And the best part is that all of these people are very participatory. They are asking lots of questions and making good suggestions,” said Diana Wood, one of the group’s organizers. “And this is our ultimate goal….to have Thornhill residents engaged in the process where we can all learn and share together.”

The November, January and February meetings welcomed 15, 50 and 80 people.

“We decided that even if a small percentage of the projects planned for the area come to pass, Thornhill is not ready. We don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate a sudden growth spurt,” said Wood.

“It is our belief that we need to be informed as to our options and we wanted to include as many people in this discussion as possible,” said Wood.

“We believe that it is very important to be proactive now rather than reactive later,” said Wood of the three governing options in Thornhill’s future status quo, incorporation or merging with Terrace.

A subject of debate over the decades, a renewed effort to take Thornhill out of the regional district and into another form of government began last fall when the regional district asked the provincial government to consider incorporating the community as a stand alone municipality.

The province has now offered to pay for a study of governing options, one of which could include joining Terrace.

But in advance of any government action, Wood said it’s important to listen to what Thornhill residents have to say.

Helping the group formulate ideas is Calgary resident Adrian Bohach, the CEO of the Ability Society, a non-profit social services agency which which raises its own revenue by charging out its administrative know-how to others.

Bohach has spoken at the group’s meetings and was drawn into the Thornhill debate by Thornhill regional district director Ted Ramsey who met him through a common acquaintance.

Ramsey wants Thornhill to be its own municipality and lobbied for the regional district’s letter to the province last fall.

Bohach has been paying for his own travel and expenses and says he’s been impressed with what he’s seen and heard so far.

He’s focussing on what he calls a social impact assessment, which “looks at a project and asks the right questions of how the process will unfold and how it will affect the citizens’ daily lives so that the citizens can decide how they want to proceed.”

Bohach declined to give his opinion on what path Thornhill should follow, saying Thornhill residents don’t need any more outsiders telling them what to do.

“This process is about grassroots democracy and it is up to the citizens of Thornhill to decide what is best for them,” he said.

“What is interesting about Thornhill is that it is a community with a long and rich history. People have lived there for generations. It is not an ‘instant’ resource-based community like, say Fort McMurray.

“Therefore the local citizens have a stake, based on history and the power of choice, to self-determine how the future of the community unfolds.”

At the first meetings, Wood said there were strong feelings among individuals who had already decided how they want Thornhill to be governed.

And now, for some, those feelings have softened as group participants find there’s more information that needs to be gathered and digested, said Wood.

“If we don’t go through the process of educating ourselves, we may end up going down a road that we hadn’t thought through. There are going to be growing pains but we can circumvent some of them by starting to plan now,” she said.