I have to admit, the start of the last term of city council in 2014 was a bit painful.
With so many first-timers – 11 out of the 13 – the first several months were spent familiarizing everyone with how local government works. It's far more complicated than many people think. Budget 2015 was painfully slow at times.
Despite their inexperience, however, city council 2014 was elected to break with the previous two terms and work together, and largely they did.
But cracks appeared as the term went on, with the controversial Fire Optimization Plan driving a wedge between Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, and their colleagues. The Kingsway Entertainment District was also divisive, as you may have read.
This time around, no incumbents were defeated and there are only two new councillors – Geoff McCausland in Ward 4 and Bill Leduc in Ward 11. So what can we expect for this term?
Here's a few things to watch:
The last council began taking control of areas that had been run either by outside contractors or independent boards. Animal control is one, where protests from animal activists and a dispute with the contractor led the city to take over the job itself. Staff said they could do it for the same price as the contractor, but costs are rising and bylaw staff is dealing with a flood of complaints. Now council is taking over control of Sudbury Housing Corp. from an independent board.
Usually councils defer to independent boards because the boards can make decisions (especially budgetary) without political interference. It will be interesting to see if costs go up here, with the politicians in charge.
This is obviously a big term for Mayor Brian Bigger. He had a strong mandate in 2014, which helped him overcome his lack of political experience. But now the new-mayor smell is gone and a more experienced council is likely to be independent minded. Bigger is also going to be challenged by Vagnini, who has raised a ruckus for several meetings now. Then there's the Doug Ford government, who will not be signing cheques for the city the way Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty did. Bigger will have to hold the line on taxes, do it with less money, and try and deal with the LPAT appeal with the Kingsway project.
Tough decisions will have to be made about the Junction, the proposed library/art gallery and especially the convention centre slated for downtown. It's a lot of money to add performing arts capacity, when the Place des Arts is already being built and cash from upper levels of government is drying up. And if the Kingsway project dies in planning appeals, it's going to be a tough sell politically for a lot of councillors to keep backing the Junction.
Another project – the soccer dome at École Sacré Coeur – appears to be moving forward, but it's hard not to be concerned. The dome planned by the Fabio Belli Foundation was going to cost around $6 million when everything was included. The Sarcé Coeur dome is slated at $3.3 million, and is being funded by an investor in the background. It reminds me of when the dome was 'nearly' built six years ago. The developer was willing to spend $2 million, but balked at the extra $1 million concrete and other costs the city required to secure the structure for northern winters. Now proponents are calling on politicians to push city staff to approve the plan quickly. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself.
Finally, and on a lighter note, I do wonder whether this council will continue its obsession with splash pads. Last term, it seemed every playground in every ward was getting a new one. We're a city of 300 lakes with short summers – is this a wise use of money? I know it's a feather in the cap of any councillor who can bring stuff to their ward, but aside from the capital costs, that's a lot of treated water going down the drain.
Call me a curmudgeon, but geez, how many do we need?
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com and Northern Life.