Voters in this city are angry. You can hear it in the coffee shops, in the malls, on blogs and social media — people are deeply unhappy with city council and city hall in general.
I had a friend tell me not long ago that, after reading a positive comment a councillor made about this term of city council, he would never vote for that person again. Members of my own family tell me they wonder in frustration how the city council of a major city just can’t ever seem to get it right.
And while I could write about how some parts of city government work quite well — the finance and infrastructure departments, in particular — there’s no denying we have a lot to be mad about.
The Sudbury Transit ticket scandal is a wound that won’t heal for many people; local politicians giving themselves direct spending control over their $50,000 annual ward funds without batting an eye; city council’s self-defeating battles with Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, whom they fired in 2013. Not to mention Elton John and … well, you get the idea.
These are just a few of the self-inflicted wounds contributing to public anger and cynicism. Current Mayor Marianne Matichuk rode that wave of anger all the way to city hall four years ago, despite having no experience. Some voters believe lack of experience is an advantage, since you’re an untainted commodity, so to speak — a point of view that speaks to the opinion they hold about city hall.
But even a smart leader like Matichuk struggled to implement the pro-business, anti-city council platform on which she campaigned. Granted, she did have an unco-operative council, but anyone around Tom Davies Square the last few years knows there’s more to it.
There’s a huge learning curve for new councillors that takes a year or two to get around. A mayor has a much bigger and more complicated role to play, and absolutely must have skills beyond getting elected — really the easiest part of the job.
Mundane skills like running meetings, dealing with staff and having the stamina to attend countless special events are a must. But the real skill of a good mayor is the ability to build relationships with city councillors and key city staffers — that is the only way a mayor, who is really just another vote on council, can drive forward his or her agenda.
But as Greater Sudbury discovered four years ago, when voters are angry, political inexperience isn’t necessarily a problem at the ballot box.
So this time around, I’m wary of people throwing mud.
You may not believe John Rodriguez can deliver on his promise to get the provincial Liberals to sell local Hydro One assets to the GSU or share mining revenue (at least I don’t), but at least he’s pitching ideas. You may not like Dan Melanson’s bond issue proposal, or his plan to sell off city trailer parks, but at least he’s got a plan beyond cashing in on public anger.
Single-issue candidates who have a bone to pick with city hall offer very little but their anger and frustration. That might endear them to voters who feel similarly, but we already have enough of that to go around, don’t we?
What Sudbury needs are candidates with the ideas and the maturity to move beyond the city’s current political frustrations, to start working toward a common goal: to make the city run better, to address its challenges and to get down to work.
Only a council that can work together will get us there and only a mayor who can get councillors to buy into a vision — namely, a mayor with a plan of action — can get them to do that.
This is arguably the most important election in Greater Sudbury’s short history. A majority of the faces on council come Oct. 28 will be new ones.
This is our chance to turn the page and maybe get a city council that can work together and make smart decisions, that can see the forest for the trees. There are dozens and dozens of candidates out there, and finding one worthy of your support isn’t always easy.
But for my money, I’m looking for someone with a plan, not just an enemies list.
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs for Northern Life and NorthernLife.ca.