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Community Summary Report: Flin Flon

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Community Partner name: Flin Flon Neighbourhood Revitalization Corporation

Conversation date: Saturday, January 29, 2022

1. Introduction

A. Summary

A common theme was that many people had personal experience of climate change, almost all negative. Among the most commonly reported concerns were increased impacts from forest fires, both in the form of smoke blowing in from fires near and far, and being directly affected by wildfires burning close to our community. Other common concerns related to low water levels on the lakes and long periods of very poor air quality during the summer due to the forest fires, and how it was so uncomfortable when these coincided with heat waves. Many people agreed that conservation and reduced consumption at the local level were keys to battling climate change.

Another common theme was how climate change could undermine local efforts to develop a more diversified, tourism-based economy just when Flin Flon is facing the imminent closure of its last remaining mine and needs to find a new economic basis for the community. The main points of consensus were that climate change was very real, was having a definite impact on our region, and could potentially complicate Flin Flon’s efforts to transition to a post-mining economy and that we needed to do something to fight it. It also seemed to be widely acknowledged that Flin Flon was facing a double whammy, in that the impending mine closure (and resulting economic devastation and loss of infrastructure) could complicate Flin Flon’s search for a role in the post-carbon economy. 

B. About the Green Resilience Project

This community conversation was part of the Green Resilience Project, a Canada-wide series of conversations exploring and documenting the links between community resilience, income security and the shift to a low-carbon economy. Working with a designated partner organization from each community, the Green Resilience Project aims to create spaces in which a wide range of participants can talk through the links between climate change and income security, and identify possible next steps to build or maintain community resilience in the face of these challenges.

This Community Summary Report reflects what we heard and learned in our community’s conversation. Each Project partner organization across Canada will be producing a similar report. In March 2022, the Green Resilience Project will produce a final report summarizing findings across conversations, which will be available to the public and shared with Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

Funding for the Green Resilience Project is generously provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund. The Project is Report reflects managed and delivered by Energy Mix Productions, Basic Income Canada Network, Coalition Canada Basic Income – Revenu de base, Basic Income Canada Youth Network, national experts and local partners. 

C. About the Community Partner organization

The Flin Flon Neighbourhood Revitalization Corporation is a non-profit neighbourhood renewal corporation that was established in Flin Flon as part of the province’s “Neighborhoods Alive!” initiative in 2009. The FFNRC is provincially funded but administered by a board comprised of local people. It works to promote community revitalization, administering a provincial grant program that gives small grants to community organizations. It supports downtown beautification and community events, and projects that help build and sustain community capacity and community connectedness. 

It engages in a comprehensive community consultation process every five years to determine what the community wants our priorities to be and these are then incorporated in our five-year plan. “Green” projects often rank quite high among the priorities selected by the community and over the years the FFNRC has partnered with or supported the Flin Flon and District Environment Council on several such initiatives. 

Since all provincial neighbourhood renewal corporations, including the FFNRC, are tasked with fighting poverty, a project that addresses both climate change and how to deal with it in an equitable way would seem to be a natural fit for our organization. It was also a great opportunity to join forces with the Flin Flon and District Environment Council to stage a community event with a green theme, something we always felt we should do more of. So we welcomed the invitation from the Green Resilience project organizers.

D. Why this community was selected to have a conversation

The impending closure of the mine, now set for June 2022, is by far the most pressing issue facing the community, given the threat it poses to Flin Flon’s very existence. Flin Flon grew up around the mine that was started here in the late 1920s and mining has been the basis for the local economy ever since. Flin Flon has never known an existence without the mine. If the example of other communities is any guide, the loss of the mine could effectively destroy the local economy and reduce Flin Flon to little more than a ghost town. Thus, economic diversification and the question of whether some kind of alternative to the mine can be found and what kind of post-mine existence we can look forward to are top of mind for most Flin Flonners. In addition to the looming economic devastation, the end of the mine poses all kinds of other existential challenges to Flin Flon. Flin Flon depends on the mine for its water supply and about 35% of its municipal budget each year. How those will be replaced no one knows. A lot depends on whether Flin Flon can play some role in mining activities taken place elsewhere in the province, such as by serving as a bedroom community and possibly service or even processing centre for the Snow Lake mine.

Other issues include a steady out-migration. Flin Flon’s population has been declining since the 1960s and the city is now much smaller than it was. This has also led to a steady decline in the retail and service sector, as the population needed to support these businesses shrinks.

Flin Flon’s housing stock is among the oldest in the province and is showing its age. Almost no new housing is being built and there is a housing shortage. 

An influx of people with addiction problems from outlying reserves has led to some significant demographic changes in Flin Flon and the emergence of a significant street population in the downtown, which has changed the character of the downtown and made many people uncomfortable about going downtown, particularly after dark.

This influx has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in crime, vandalism, public drug and alcohol abuse, and antisocial behaviour in general. 

People of working age are very worried about whether they will have to move once the mine closes and whether they or their children will be able to earn a living here. People worry whether Flin Flon will be able to attract new businesses, new investment and new employers, and whether the ones already here will have to leave or shut down. Seniors worry about what kind of contact they will be able to maintain with their children and grandchildren if they have to move away to find work.

The most pressing issues confronting Flin Flon today are thus linked to income security and community cohesion, and the very survival of the community rather than climate change.

The frequency of forest fires and reduced air quality in the summer have been the most dramatic indicators of climate change at the local level. Although forest fires have always been part of life in the north, their intensity and frequency have increased dramatically in recent years. Almost every summer now sees sustained periods of poor air quality due to forest fire smoke. Every year these periods grow longer and more intense. They have gone from being an occasional nuisance that might crop up for a day or even a weekend or two every few years to lasting weeks or even months at a time. In the summer of 2021, for example, Flin Flon was under extreme hazard level air advisories from the beginning of July to the end of August. It is also far more common to have major forest fires burning far closer to Flin Flon to far longer periods of time. Even the drive to Flin Flon has changed. Until recently it was possible to drive to Flin Flon from Winnipeg or Prince Albert through hundreds of miles of pristine forest. Recent massive forest fires now mean that the driving to Flin Flon now involves long stretches of ruined forest, no matter which direction one comes from.

Up to now, the community’s steps to address climate change have mainly been focussed on recycling and forest remediation (on a modest scale).

Discussions have been underway regarding the energy transition and what could be done to position Flin Flon as a possible site for a hydrogen extractor while the main efforts with regards to income security and community resilience have involved trying to secure some long-term alternative to the mine that will involve lots of high-paying jobs.

Until very recently Flin Flon was known as a safe, relatively affluent (thanks to the high wages paid by the mine, the town’s largest employer), largely conflict free community and the northern city with the lowest crime rate. It is largely free of the ethnic division, racial violence, and tribalism that characterize all too many of Canada’s larger cities. It was a place where many people didn’t even bother to lock their doors until recently and where people felt comfortable shopping and working in their downtown. 

It has a large workforce trained in mining operations and a substantial mining-related infrastructure.

In recent decades Flin Flon has won recognition for its strong cultural sector, particularly in music and the performing arts. It has a significant talent pool that has put on productions that rival their Broadway counterparts, and an audience base that supports that. 

The community is also well-situated for those who enjoy the great outdoors and the northern lifestyle, whether it be fishing, boating, canoeing, hunting, snow-shoeing, or water-skiing. There are numerous lakes a short drive away. Flin Flon also has a great cross-country skiing trail, a popular junior hockey team and excellent arena.

E. About the conversation participants
# of conversation participants: 20+ in person, about 50 online

Because of the small size of Flin Flon and the worsening pandemic situation, our main challenge was not turning away would be participants but managing to reach a critical mass of participants for our town hall. 

To attract people, we eliminated all barriers to participation. It was a free event open to all (we invited everyone) and we also included an option to attend virtually. The town hall was advertised extensively over the radio, in the newspaper, and on social media. We also promoted the event through word of mouth and through engaging with our contacts and community partners. The FFNRC has strong connections with Flin Flon’s cultural community and the live music element made our event more attractive to local music enthusiasts. The “green” community also engaged with our event, in no small measure due to our close working partnership with the Flin Flon and District Environment Council 

We reached out to racialized people known to us and made a special effort to encourage their attendance and participation. We also contacted the Friendship Centre and specifically invited their participation and consulted with them on ways to engage the aboriginal community and to make the event more welcoming to aboriginal people. I also pitched the event to the “Everyone Deserves a Home Group”, a broadly based organization of representatives from several different groups that engage with the homeless and hard-to-house population in Flin Flon. 

We tried to encourage participation by providing free food and refreshments and an evening of free live music from some of Flin Flon’s most popular and well-known performers.

If the live in person version of our event was any indication, people that self-identify as aboriginal and black people were likely overrepresented among the participants in this event.

There was no sign of any attendance from Flin Flon’s most disadvantaged social strata, such as the street population. Attendance was very strong from the cultural community, and by those who traditionally support live music events and green projects in Flin Flon. There were several city councillors and those known for their concerns about climate change.

At the live version of the event extra efforts were made to encourage responses from participants who might otherwise have had reservations about participating due to cultural factors or on the grounds of age/background/newcomer status.

F. The Community Conversation 

The conversation was presented as a hybrid event. Participants had the option of attending the event in person at Johnny’s Social Club, a former confectionary converted into a popular local live music venue or participating in the livestreamed version on Facebook.

The questions were divided into 3 sections and each question section was preceded by a short musical performance (typically just a couple of songs). As the event was beginning the technician explained to people how the process was going to work and how people could participate online. Then there was another introduction where the presenter provided some background on the Green Resilience Project and the groups/persons facilitating the conversation. Considerable attention was paid to ensuring people knew how to participate online through use of the comments function and to posting the questions so that they could be readily accessed by the online audience.  The presenter briefly touched on the sort of issues raised by the climate change situation and how climate change was being experienced locally. She also noted the impact climate change could have on livelihoods and the importance of a just transition to a post-carbon economy. She also briefly reviewed some key concepts such as net zero emissions and community resilience.  Once each musical interlude was over the next question on the list was addressed. Typically, the person moderating the comments on Facebook would come up first and read aloud the Facebook comments responding to the questions, and once those were exhausted the mikes would be turned over to the in-person attendees for their responses. Once the last question was addressed there was a brief discussion on how we could build on the momentum generated by the conversation and what some “next steps” could be.

The only significant change was that the presenter felt there was significant overlap between questions 1 and 2 and so she opted to merge them in the interests of saving time and getting a better focus on the questions. There were some minor adjustments to the wording that did affect the sense of the questions

In most respects the conversation seems to have been a successful community event. Participants who attended the live version of the event who submitted a participant evaluation form rated it an average of 4.27 out of 5 on the satisfaction scale, (with 5 being very satisfied). Certainly, the response from those who voiced their opinion at the live event or online was universally favourable, one respondent calling it an “enlightening evening” and another noting that “This whole idea is awesome”. Several participants expressed their thanks to the presenter and to the organizations that put on the event. People generally seemed to be on the same page and were quite respectful of each other. People seemed genuinely interested in the views shared at the meeting and there was no nasty sniping or negativity whatsoever. There was also good integration between the online and the live audience. Sometimes at hybrid events the live and in-person attendees are able to dominate the proceeding simply by virtue of being on-the-spot and having the advantage of responding verbally and in real time to remarks made on the floor. There really was none of that here. The process whereby the online responses always led off the discussion once the music stopped probably contributed to that and the fact that there was a dedicated “online participation facilitator” also helped a great deal. Some attendees were amazed that we were able to get any live participants as all, given the pandemic situation. It seems the online participants felt that they had a fair chance to participate the discussion and people generally seemed to enjoy the evening, with quite a few hanging around long after the music was over. People also seemed to be energized by the discussion and eager to follow up on what was achieved. The blending of music and discussion worked even better than anticipated and might have contributed to keeping things civil, for while town halls on controversial topics can sometimes generate some heat, it would be all but unthinkable for anyone to act up or be rude at a Johnny’s social club event. The presenter is probably the most respected environmentalist in Flin Flon and brought a great deal to the presenter role and came across as extremely well-informed, encouraging and reasonable, and was very effective in engaging both the live and virtual audience and getting them to participated.

There were some initial challenges involved with recruiting the necessary organizers and facilitators but once they were all in, they pushed this project forward with great energy. Some challenges were encountered in connecting with an audience and working out the technical details of hosting a hybrid event. By far the greatest challenge was posed by the changing Covid situation, as not long after we agreed to host the event the pandemic took a dramatic turn for the worse. This made it impossible to predict if a live event would even be permitted under whatever public health orders might be in force at the time the event was to be held. Covid has also had a chilling effect on all public events in Flin Flon, making it much more difficult to attract any kind of live audience. Covid also required us to adopt all kinds of hygiene and infection control protocols that added to our workload. It also interfered with the planning progress, as at least one key member of the event committee and several performers were laid low by Covid prior to the event taking place, so we constantly had to adjust to account for these sudden gaps in our ranks.

2. What We Heard

  1. How are the changes to our community’s environment and economy discussed in the introduction affecting you, your family or the community as a whole?

The increasing danger of forest fires was the most common climate change related concern. As one respondent put it “Forest fires, I’ve seen Fort Mac” and another “I’ve had wildfires on my mind too”, going on to note that his wife had packed an emergency bag for them that summer in case they had to flee a fire on short notice. A third summed it up with “We are concerned about the threat of forest fires. The hot dry windy weather is a big worry”.

Other signs of climate change in Flin Flon weren’t linked to economic concerns, though “There are some changes that are very worrisome”. One respondent expressed her concerns about “low water levels” while another respondent spoke of “plow winds on the Easterville Road”.  He noted that he was seeing more and more places where plow winds had done great damage and noted the risks of being caught out in the open when such a wind struck. Climate change was seen as putting people at physical risk from things like forest fires and plow winds, with the former having the potential to devastate the entire community.

  1. How are these environmental and economic changes related to each other? 

In Flin Flon the impending mine closure is such an enormity that it dwarfs all other longer-term economic concerns, so there were not many respondents who linked climate change with economic change. There was some talk of climate change undercutting efforts to diversity the post-mine economy into things like tourism.

  1. What are some possible solutions to the challenges we’ve discussed that will help the community respond to climate change and create income security for all community members? 

There was some discussion of whether Flin Flon could become a hydrogen extraction centre, using its two natural advantages (a grid connecting it to an abundant source of hydro power and abundant local water) to produce hydrogen as a non-carbon-based fuel substitute.

  1. How do you think these solutions can be achieved to build, maintain or strengthen community resilience? Who is responsible for these changes—individuals, community groups, governments or a mix? 

Many of the solutions proposed were at the individual level and individual responsibility came up again and again. As one respondent noted “We are all accountable for the decisions we make and the short and long term impacts on the environment.”  The participants referred to several things they as individuals could do, such as reducing unnecessary car trips into town from the lake, strictly rationing their energy use at the lake, avoiding idling, 

The participants also recognized a role for communities and governments. As one participant noted, Flin Flon’s hills made it a decidedly bike unfriendly environment but that there was potential to make public transit a more popular option by making city buses run both ways. Several participants decried the waste caused by idling and planned obsolescence and seemed to leave the door open for government regulation to discourage these, possibly by increasing the cost of gas. 

3. What We Learned

  • Please summarize your perspective on the key points you listed in section two. Why were they important? Were they brought up frequently, met with contention, surprising to you or your facilitators, etc.? Was there a strong consensus on any of the key points? You are welcome to expand on any key points you find especially interesting.

The importance of forest fires in the responses reflected Flin Flon’s very intense experience with increased forest fires (and extended periods of reduced air quality from them). This was not surprising, though the extent of the concern about winds and the interested in positioning Flin Flon as a centre for hydrogen extraction was. Consensus was the rule at this town hall session, almost no one contested any of the points made by any of the other participants. 

  • To what extent do you think your conversation built wider and deeper understanding of the links and synergies between community resilience, livelihoods, income security and the low-carbon transition? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all

X 3 

  • 5 – Very much so

The livelihoods and income security aspects did not figure very prominently in the responses, again because before the existential threat posed to Flin Flon by the impending mine closure every other economic threat, even those relating to climate change, pales to insignificance. But people seemed to recognize that a successful transition to a hydrogen extraction centre could have huge implications for the future of Flin Flon and the chances of earning a livelihood here.

  • To what extent did participants demonstrate increased awareness of climate change and their own capacity for climate action? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all

X 4 

  • 5 – Very much so

The participants certainly seemed to be aware the climate change was real and most of the responses (reduced consumption, cutting back on car trips, no idling) were very much focussed on the individual. 

  • To what extent were new relationships between community partners and conversation participants created and fostered? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all

X 5 – Very much so

People seemed very keen to carry on the conversation and to go on to next steps in conjunction with the community partners. People seemed to have enjoyed the event and developed increased respect for and willingness to collaborate with the community partners as a result.

  • To what extent did your conversation create opportunities to foster ongoing discussion of solutions related to climate change, income insecurity and community resilience? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all

X 5 – Very much so

People seemed very keen to carry on the conversation and to go on to next steps in conjunction with the community partners. People seemed to have enjoyed the event and developed increased respect for and willingness to collaborate with the community partners as a result.

  • In your opinion, what does the community need to do next in order to build or maintain resilience in the face of climate change and rising income insecurity?

It needs to set up some ongoing process (in the words of one participant, “a community brainstorming session”) that will help bring people together to work on solutions and to work towards community resilience. It needs to build on the momentum of this event.

4. Next steps

Did conversation participants identify next steps for continuing the conversation, or continuing advocacy related to the topics covered in the conversation? What were they?

Yes, they talked in terms of community brainstorming events and community meetings to follow up what was discussed at the town hall.

As the community partner organization, do you have a plan for continued advocacy on the topics explored in your community conversation? Are you able to share your plan with us at this time, and whether or how conversation participants might contribute to that plan?

Although no plans have been approved by the board as yet, it is clear there is considerable community support for advocacy on the topics explored in our community conversation and that there appears to be considerable potential for collaboration with the Flin Flon and District Environment Council. People seemed to find this event very worthwhile and it appears many of the participants want to do more, they want to engage to a greater extent than was possible at our town hall. It seems like it would be a good idea to try to harness this energy and enthusiasm to address the problems posed by climate change.