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Column: Double election year a bit like Christmas

For media types like me, elections are a bit like Christmas, full of excitement and the promise of good things to come. We don’t really get caught up in the promises, mind you.
The Elections Ontario website's updated list for candidates now total eight, including two independents and some candidates from some lesser-known political parties. File photo.

For media types like me, elections are a bit like Christmas, full of excitement and the promise of good things to come.

We don’t really get caught up in the promises, mind you. Like many of you, I’m sure, reporters view election promises with skepticism, realizing all the big talk is window dressing, designed to make us take notice and forcing us — some of us at least — to examine the sloganeering rhetoric for the grain of truth contained therein, comparing each party’s and each candidates’ rhetoric to make as informed a choice as possible.

Still, it’s all a bit of a crap shoot, isn’t it?

We’re a month out from a provincial election unlike any the city has seen in a decade. The departure of influential MPP Rick Bartolucci from the provincial landscape makes the race in the Sudbury riding awfully compelling.

Not to downplay the race in Nickel Belt, but France Gélinas continues to be a popular and effective representative for the big riding. She took nearly 55 per cent of the vote the last time out, and that against Liberal Tony Ryma, who made up for in name recognition what he lacked in political clout.

No, it is the race in Sudbury that will be the one to watch specifically because of the vacuum Bartolucci’s departure has created.

The Greens have young and inexperienced Casey Lalonde on the ballot, while the Tories have school board trustee Paula Peroni, the most visible candidate in the city prior to the election call. Peroni has a bit of an advantage in that she has been on the ballot for ages, but Sudbury isn’t exactly a PC stronghold.

No, this is very much a race between one-time Grit Joe Cimino, who is stepping away from the city council table to make a run for the NDP, and the Liberal’s newly christened candidate, Andrew Olivier.

Sudbury nearly went orange the last time out and the NDP is hoping there’s still some momentum there. Olivier might not have Cimino’s visibility, thanks to the school teacher’s years as a not unpopular city councillor, but he’s smart, successful and has a compelling backstory to boot.

But Olivier also has to battle Bartolucci’s record. Rick brought more provincial dollars into the riding than any other, not something a new politician can compete with. But success and influence of the like Bartolucci enjoyed also breeds some resentment, and when you combine that resentment with Liberal party scandals of recent years, Olivier enters the race carrying someone else’s baggage.

Speaking of baggage, the municipal election is still months away, but the race for mayor got more interesting last week when former mayor John Rodriguez — yes, J-Rod, the Bus Driver himself — ended months of speculation and threw his hat back in the ring, as many expected he would.

Lining up alongside him are perennial candidate Ed Pokonzie, relative unknowns Jeff Huska and Richard Majkot, and the only two other candidates with a public profile, Dan Melanson and Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis.

Of the mayoral candidates with some name recognition, Dupuis was first out of the gate, getting his name into the press early on as someone with experience in municipal government who was looking to move up in the municipal ranks. He hasn't laid out platform specifics yet, but from information on his election website, Dupuis' theme is one of open government, economic development, fiscal responsibility and a better working relationship around the council table — something that has certainly plagued the current council.

If Dupuis sits somewhere in the middle, Melanson and Rodriguez are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Melanson helped get Marianne Matichuk into the mayor’s chair and was the most vocal and prominent member of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association, a group that had some success setting the municipal political agenda this term. 

He and Rodriguez could not be more different. Where Melanson preaches prudence, Rodriguez dreams big. Where Rodriguez’s vision has had a dollar-signs-be-damned pallor in his only term as mayor, Melanson is all about fiscal restraint.

They are a study in contrasts and their conception of what makes good government, at least from the outside looking in, couldn’t be more different. Watching them debate the issues will be a real treat.

Get to know the names behind the ballot; get to know their stories. It not only makes the politics more interesting, it makes for a more informed choice come election night. With two elections and two really interesting races in both, 2014 is shaping up to be a heck of a year.

Mark Gentili is the managing editor Northern Life and