There are some tough choices to make next week when it comes to who will lead Greater Sudbury for the next four years.
Our city is at a crossroads and needs a council that is dynamic, progressive, bold and pragmatic. And that council needs a mayor with an ability to marshal its members’ strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses; a mayor who can get city staff to take their marching orders, but from a position that is consistent and part of a broader vision.
A newspaper endorsement does not amount to a crowning, but we will tell you who we feel is the best candidate to tackle the challenges Greater Sudbury faces, and our thought processes in arriving at that decision.
When we polled you on the issues (Oraclepoll survey, Sept. 24-25), roads, taxes, transparency/accountability, a change around the council table and the economy were your top concerns. Using these items as a lens, we’ve looked at the top three election candidates and their platforms.
As auditor general, Brian Bigger has proven himself to be a tough and determined fighter. He knows city hall, its inner-workings and its personalities. As an accountant, we trust that his knowledge of financial matters would certainly be an asset as head of council.
But being good with numbers doesn’t mean you’re good with people — and that must be a mayor’s prime strength. Politics is about people; it’s forging relationships, identifying allies and limiting the reach of enemies.
By running for office and using his position to garner support, Bigger politicized the auditor general’s office, an institution which, by its very nature, must be apolitical. We’re uncomfortable with what that says about him as a candidate.
As the auditor, he repeatedly used unco-operative city staff as excuse for why audit deadlines weren’t met. The city needs someone who can get things done anyway. An adversarial relationship with staff won’t go away just because he changes hats.
His platform consists mainly of criticisms and talking points that he won’t, or perhaps can’t, expound upon. How will he find the $13 million he needs to freeze taxes while maintaining services and preserving jobs? His answer: Trust me, I’m an auditor. His Vision 2025 plan has a good title, but Greater Sudbury needs vision now, not more consultation to identify a direction.
John Rodriguez is an experienced politician who governed better in the last two years of his mayoral mandate than in the first two, demonstrating an admirable ability to learn on the job. A seasoned legislator, Rodriguez was highly popular with city staff and a charismatic people-person whose charm and wit served him well in marshaling support for his agenda — all excellent qualities for a mayor.
But Rodriguez’s continued interest in legacy projects like a performing arts centre is misplaced right now. This is not a time for grandstanding; it’s a time for action. We do think Greater Sudbury needs a performing arts centre or multi-use complex to help secure its place as the North’s quintessential city, but let’s get our house in order before we start working on the landscaping.
Greater Sudbury may deserve to receive a portion of mining revenue from the province, and that argument needs to be made, but any notion the cash-strapped Liberals will give up $30 million a year is just that: a notion. Even a man as charismatic as Rodriguez won’t be able to charm them into it, considering the debt-ridden province has nothing to gain.
And securing the purchase of Hydro One’s local assets by Greater Sudbury Utilities is, again, another good idea that would take years of lobbying to accomplish, if at all.
Good things take time to grow — the Northern Ontario Medical School and Science North are perfect examples — but we need a plan that addresses the most pressing needs now, with continued work on big picture items.
Two main planks of Rodriguez’s platform can’t be delivered without the moral and financial support of other levels of government, but Greater Sudbury needs a plan that will address its challenges now, not years from now.
Under Rodriguez’s watch, the fee structure for development charges soared – yet he now criticizes them for hampering industrial growth.
Dan Melanson has moved from criticizing city council to attempting to change city council. The successful owner of an aviation firm has a track record of success in business that demonstrates financial know-how and creativity. To his detriment, he laid out a plan describing exactly what he thinks Greater Sudbury needs to move on, which gave his opponents ample ammunition for criticism.
Melanson’s platform melds with what our poll identified as your priorities and makes promises that appear deliverable.
Candidates criticized his idea of using municipal bonds to fund infrastructure work, arguing it would only lead to more debt. But the city is already sitting on a multi-million dollar infrastructure deficit that’s growing by the hour.
Leveraging historically low interest rates and the city’s good credit rating to improve the asset, and the value of the asset, will incur costs, to be sure, but if your house is crumbling and you’re trying to sell it, wouldn’t you incur some debt, too, if it meant profiting in the long run?
From returning the Ontario Ombudsman to installing an integrity commissioner, from spending prudently to fostering cohesion around the council table, Melanson has demonstrated he sees the city’s deficiencies and has ideas to address them.
Melanson is far from perfect, though. We agree with Bigger that it’s beyond inappropriate for Melanson to say publicly that he plans to pursue CAO Doug Nadorozny’s dismissal — it shows a degree of political immaturity. The media is not the forum to call for someone’s head.
And while his idea to build an aviation parts supply sector for Greater Sudbury is an interesting one, like Rodriguez’s legacy projects, it’s another long-term goal that might never materialize. Stick to our most pressing needs.
Melanson has also had trouble articulating his plans in simple enough terms that most of us can grasp and the dour, mustachioed image on his campaign advertising did more to frighten voters than attract them.
But in his favour, Melanson has already begun building alliances with candidates and other key people, demonstrating he understands politics, despite his inexperience.
Politics is about relationships as much as anything, and Melanson has demonstrated that he understands this. Whether he gets the job done by charm or coercion or both doesn’t matter to us as long as the job gets done.
To be sure, his platform is not a panacaea for all that ails Greater Sudbury, but of all the candidates, Melanson has shown he sees the big picture.
That’s why Melanson is for us.