Municipal elections are generally about sewer and water, potholes, sidewalks, social support, recreation, taxes, services (from buses to snowplows) and the relatability of our representatives. People want to be treated fairly and support politicians they like.
In Northern Ontario, we add economic development. It is paramount. It is preeminent. It is the oxygen of prosperity. It impacts virtually everything we do. We live in a commodity economy. We are always in a battle for economic relevance and survival. That is our reality although not always top of mind with electors.
Promises about keeping taxes low is the currency of local politics. The reality is that if you cannot continually invigorate your economy in Northern Ontario it's all just wishful thinking. Like any family you need an income to pay the bills.
Sudbury is an economic miracle. In the last 50 years, we have transformed our economy from a mining camp to a diversified juggernaut of sophisticated growth in education, healthcare, central place retail and distribution facilities and hundreds of companies operating in the mining supply and services sector. They are exporting intellectual property around the world at considerable profit for themselves and employment for the rest of us.
This success is rooted in risk-taking, sophisticated municipal advocacy, and remarkable community support and expertise.
We are living off of past laurels.
The past council was so anxious to reverse the tepid development strategies of the prior administration it was prepared to do literally anything. It careened from the previous dithering council to planning mayhem.
Occasionally, big issues transcend the usual. In Toronto, it's transportation, affordable housing and a testy relationship with the provincial government. In Calgary, it was a battle between the mayor and the owners of the Calgary Flames about who was going to pay what for a new arena.
In Sudbury, it's about the Kingsway Entertainment District.
It is the biggest municipal decision the city has made in 50 years. It is also the worst.
To succeed, the community must find some middle ground to the current
$100-million bet on an ill-conceived entertainment centre perfectly imagined to mitigate growth, burden taxpayers, waste money, send more indirect taxes to Queen's Park, pollute drinking water, dissuade development and hollow out a downtown that is needed to help attract millennials who will power tomorrow's innovative economy.
Nickel is our lifeblood, but our economic sustainability is rooted in venture capital, commercialization, immigration, education, innovative technology, lifestyle investments, and creative and courageous political advocacy harnessing the power of community.
Sudbury is a city state. We export nickel and innovation to the world. We need a leader who has the moxy, the track record and the vision to deliver on services and fairness to constituents, and who understands creating wealth is the life force of our success.
The first order of business is to detach from the Kingsway Entertainment District. It makes no planning, social, financial, cultural, business, or environmental sense. It is unwise and ill thought out. The battle lines are well drawn on this project.
There is no way to finesse this. You either plow ahead or you retrace your steps and take the original advice of city staff, city consultants (Price Waterhouse Coopers), the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Improvement Association, Laurentian University and the easily accessible anecdotal stories from communities across Canada and their arena war stories.
Mayor Brian Bigger is running hard in support of the district he originally opposed. Dan Melanson wants to move ahead with it although he mines for KED opposition votes by heavily criticizing the nature of the deal with the developer. Patricia Mills although opposing a casino of late wants to review the financial structure of the whole development, which she views to be disastrous.
No matter who gets elected, Sudburians will get a new or refurbished arena, or the winner will have a short stay at city hall.
We want to thank Bill Sanders, Bill Crumplin and Jeff Huska for being clear in their opposition to this development.
We are focused on the long game.
Although Bigger is by no means an evil villain in these proceedings, he has been naïve and irresponsible in driving massive infrastructure projects with virtually no planning and less leadership. His indecision and lack of strategic thinking is why we find ourselves in this position. We cannot support him.
Dan Melanson is a good man. We supported him four years ago, but find ourselves nonplussed that his strategic impulses escape him when considering the financial and tactical burden of the Kingsway Entertainment Centre. It may just be politics or a sincere conclusion, but we can't agree.
Patricia Mills in our opinion has been the most strident and articulate in opposing the financial ramifications of the Kingsway Entertainment District although sadly she has said with the right deal (developer contributing to infrastructure, a P3 etc.) she would be open to building the arena in the same location. We can't support that position.
Cody Cacciotti, though young and inexperienced, has run a strong campaign that has propelled him to be among the front-runners in this race. But his refusal to stake out a position on the KED until after the appeals process has wrapped up strikes us as a case of Cacciotti trying to have his cake and eat it too. Taxpayers deserve to know what, and who, they are supporting. We can't support that.
Given our position that moving forward with the KED would harm Greater Sudbury's economy and harm the downtown core of the city, perhaps irreparably, and given that none of the front-runners opposing Bigger in the race for the mayor's chair acknowledge this, we find it impossible to endorse any of them.
What we do endorse is you, the voter and taxpayer, to cast your ballot with integrity and thoughtfulness, to seek out the candidate whose position most closely aligns with your own, to consider the needs of tomorrow's taxpayer as much as today's, and to reflect on what healthy and sustainable development means to you in our amalgamated city.