Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
The Friendly City
Business View Magazine interviews Fraser Tolmie, Mayor of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for our focus on Sustainability and Economic Development in Canadian Cities.
Whether you are here for a short time or a lifetime, the City of Moose Jaw welcomes you! Saskatchewan’s fourth largest city offers a high quality of life for working, raising a family, or retiring. Safe and affordable, Moose Jaw features access to recreation, parks, cultural, and business opportunities. Residents, known as Moose Javians, enjoy all the advantages of living in a smaller city with a diverse, yet inclusive, population and a strong economic base.
Moose Jaw is a progressive city committed to building promising futures upon strong foundations. History comes to life through scenic murals on display throughout downtown’s Main Street, where shopping, restaurants, relaxing at the spa, and taking in a show at the Cultural Centre aim to please one and all.
Business View Magazine profiled the City of Moose Jaw in Feb. 2017, and we recently caught up with Mayor Fraser Tolmie for updates on progress in economic development, sustainability initiatives, and the overall positive vibe emanating out of this iconic prairie city. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVM: Mister Mayor, what has been front and center for your administration in the two years that you’ve been in office?
Mayor Tolmie: “I was elected in Oct. 2016, and one of the biggest election issues was how to fund our cast iron water line replacement program – a proposed $117-million, 20-year initiative. The previous council had voted through a local improvement program, where a homeowner would pay for their water replacement line, plus a portion of the water line out front of their house. The community felt, and I agreed, that the community portion of the water line infrastructure should be paid for by the community, and the homeowners’ responsibility would only be from the customer shut-off to the stopcock for the city water line.
“We started this council with a $400-million infrastructure deficit, or $400 million in infrastructure that has not been addressed. Last year, we spent ten times what we’d previously spent on upgrades to aging infrastructure, so there’s been a lot of construction going on in this city; which creates a lot of inconvenience for residents navigating the streets and getting to businesses.
“In 1905, the city put in cast iron water mains they believed would last for a century. 2005 was that 100-year mark. After World War II, in 1946, the city saw another growth spurt and they installed cast iron water mains to last 50 years. Consider that time span, and the fact we just started doing water mains replacements about three years ago. It’s long overdue in some areas. The challenge we have is replacing the infrastructure and mitigating water line breaks that happen throughout the year. So, we’re focusing on areas that are most likely to have breaks.”
BVM: Are you actively courting new businesses and tourism to the City?
Mayor Tolmie: “There has been a lot of interest from foreign investors in our 3,600-acre industrial park and we continue to market that, but it’s a slow process. Moose Jaw has taken a very proactive stance on attracting business. We want to ensure our economic development office is not siloed from the rest of City Hall. We’re trying to create a partnership, so when businesses do come in, they’re talking to the planning department, the engineers, the Mayor, city manager, legal, planning department, economic development officer – everybody’s in the room to help and get things done in a timely manner.
“As for tourism, we know people love coming here – Moose Jaw was voted the 3rd Coolest Downtown by Expedia and we’ve done some awesome things. Last year, we won the Coors One Horse Town Country Music Television (CMT) concert, beating out 26 other cities. Our downtown core was shut off to traffic, and Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie & The Blowfish), Jess Moskaluke, Jon Pardi, and other big-name acts performed. The show was sponsored by Coors and televised nationally on CMT. We have great hotels and the community is engaged with beautification and cleanup efforts in the downtown district and in our parks. We have exciting plans for tourism coming. Stay tuned!”
BVM: How does technology and employment fit into the City’s growth plans?
Mayor Tolmie: “We just signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Moose Jaw and the Municipal Airport, Sask Polytech (our local post-secondary college), and CAE (the contractor that owns planes at 15 Wing Military Base) to do drone training. The plan is to introduce drone training in the course curriculum, but also look at the offsets of the new economies and how those applications can be applied to crop farming in this community. Agriculture is a huge driver here. Part of my role as Mayor is to foster and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, even though I may not understand all the technical aspects. I do know that integrating technology, aviation, and agriculture – bringing all those community assets together – is a way forward for Moose Jaw’s future.
“Our major employers are a diverse group with a global reach: 15 Wing Military Base, CP Rail, Thunder Creek Pork Plant, Simpson Seeds, Mosaic (Potash), Gibson’s oil refinery, as well as agriculture/farming. Unemployment in Moose Jaw is very low and that poses challenges, itself, because there are employers out there looking for workers and that means our population has to grow. It’s a great opportunity for people to move here.”
BVM: Is the City encouraging new residential development?
Mayor Tolmie: “In our strategic planning session in June, we discussed residential housing for the downtown. How do we get Millennials to the core? Moose Jaw is designed so there are homes and condos and seniors’ housing within walking distance of downtown. And it isn’t much of a trek to get around the city.
“To be honest, as Mayor I have to address changing the way we’ve been doing things for the last 50 years, because the population has hovered around 35,000 for that time period. It can be scary for a community that has low unemployment, a stable population base, high average income level, and good pricing for homes. In my mind, that presents a good opportunity for growth. People want to live in a stable community and that’s one of our pluses. As part of our strategic plan, we’ll be rolling out some initiatives for advertising the community – understanding that marketing has changed, and we are now our own media. We live in that world, today.”
BVM: What’s happening on the ‘green’ environmental front?
Mayor Tolmie: “We’ve been working with Sask Polytech and Mack Sun on putting a 10 MW solar farm here; a partnership with the city providing the land, and Sask Polytech helping with Sask Power, and different indigenous groups in the province. That’s a source of alternative energy for the future. Part of our challenge is we have to wait for Sask Power to make that decision, as we’re one of the cities in contention for the project.
“When it comes to sustainable water, I look at water security in three ways. First, our water source is 20 km away and we’re now upgrading that infrastructure with a $23-million project to upgrade our water lines. Secondly, our internal water lines and sewer system. – that’s a 20-year program to ensure everyone’s water lines have been fixed and upgraded. Thirdly, we’re surrounded by farming communities and Regional Municipalities and I believe, as a regional leader, we need to secure a water source to take us from a drought and flood cycle to having predictable sustainable water for crops.
“Moose Jaw is a global trading partner with southeast Asia. We’ve got the rail lines that take our crops out to Vancouver for shipment overseas. We also ship to the U.S. and send seed down to Mexico. We have to ensure that Saskatchewan is a reliable food source for the global partners we deal with; especially, Southeast Asia – they’re looking for a sustainable food provider for the long term and that’s what we need to be.”
BVM: What are Moose Jaw’s objectives for the next five years?
Mayor Tolmie: “We need to have self-awareness of who we are and not be afraid to lead. We want to work collaboratively with different levels of government to fix the infrastructure challenges we’re dealing with, so we can solve some of the future economic problems that the city, province, and country will face.
“We want to go from being reactive to proactive and that’s difficult to do. It takes time and money, and people don’t generally like handing over their dollars to government unless there’s a solid plan. So, we’re trying to figure out the future – which is a moving target – but we have to ensure we have the basic foundations, such as water security, in place first; along with an aggressive plan to market our amazing community.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
WHAT: 4th largest city in the province
WHERE: 48 miles west of Regina, Saskatchewan
G. Ungar Construction Ltd. – G. Ungar Construction is a family owned and operated business that was incorporated in 1983. From its humble beginnings as an agricultural-based, land remediation company, Ungar Construction has grown to a diversified civil contractor offering services in trunk main water and sewer construction, lift station construction, road and rail bed construction, gravel crushing, pipeline and lease construction, gravel crushing, pipeline, land remediation, disaster support to CN & CP Rail, and power line construction for Saskpower.
Ungar Construction services CN & CP Rail, Saskpower, Mosaic & Agrium, JRI, LDC and Cargill on the agricultural side, and towns and cities throughout Saskatchewan. It employs more than 100 people during the peak season, and has a working fleet of more than 150 units consisting primarily of CAT equipment. Ungar Construction currently operates 2 service shops in the Town of Theodore. – www.ungarconstruction.ca