If the city is going to be able to take full advantage of the current healthy economic times it finds itself in, Greater Sudbury’s elected officials are going to have to set aside their personal differences and get down to the business of governing.
The undercurrent of friction between some members of Greater Sudbury council and Mayor Marianne Matichuk bubbled to the surface last week in dramatic fashion after Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann lobbed a bomb into a city council meeting — saying she was dissatisfied with how council was operating and suggesting some form of retreat for councillors to regroup — then promptly left the room.
While Landry-Altmann’s motivation remains unclear as she has yet to explain herself publicly, her outburst gave voice to an opinion held by many: Greater Sudbury is being governed by a council divided.
What followed was a slew of accusations flying from both sides of the debate.
Matichuk was accused of being disconnected from what’s happening in the wards and uninterested in having a relationship with her council. She was described as being incapable of doing the necessary politicking to move her agenda forward by getting backing from councillors.
Others lobbed accusations of inexperience and questionable political alliances at Matichuk. Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli, who is normally supportive of the mayor, described the last two years of council as wasted.
Matichuk fired back, first by press release — which has become an all-too-common method for her to express herself; trying to schedule an interview with the mayor is particularly difficult — and then in a no-holds-barred interview with Northern Life.
In the release, she acknowledged that public confidence in council has “eroded,” and said council must find some way of working together. In the interview, she accused some councillors of making it clear from her first day in office that they would not work with her and had no interest in the agenda upon which she was elected.
That last point is key, if one assumes Matichuk was elected on her platform and not on the performance of her predecessor, John Rodriguez. Like Toronto mayor Rob Ford, she was elected on the trim-the-fat ticket and, like Ford, she seems to have floundered since taking office.
Matichuk started the job with guns blazing for change, a move that appeared to alienate her from council. So, she pulled back and tried a softer approach that was met with indifference.
What she needs now is an issue that will galvanize the majority of council, something they can get behind and support and which will, in turn, translate into more support for her.
If the majority of voters who cast a ballot for Matichuk were supporting her platform, councillors who attempt to block Matichuk’s agenda are not working against the mayor, but against the taxpayers who put her there.
Personalities will clash — and, in fact, must clash — in order for there to be robust, productive debate among councillors. But the clash of personalities only works well when there is an over-arching vision under which debate can occur.
In Greater Sudbury, the mayor seems to have a vision for the city based on prudent spending, change, accountability and economic diversity, but she also has real trouble communicating that vision to councillors and to the public.
She cannot hope to curry councillors’ support on the merits of her ideas alone. Matichuk must do the legwork, the horse-trading that politicians must engage in routinely to move their agendas forward. The mayor should not be walking into a council meeting without knowing in advance how each councillor will vote, and the only way to do that is to develop relationships with them, to trade horses — in short, to get political.
Common ground can be, and must be, found. Perhaps this public airing of grievances will clear the air and allow cooler heads to prevail. The petty infighting must end. Because taxpayers really do deserve better than what they have been getting lately.