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No easy answer to fixing city’s image problem

Ask someone from southern Ontario to describe Sudbury and you will get answers along the lines of “the Big Nickel,” “mining,” and “trees.
Ask someone from southern Ontario to describe Sudbury and you will get answers along the lines of “the Big Nickel,” “mining,” and “trees.”
Make the same demand of a Sudburian and the answer might be somewhat different, “bad roads,” “crumbling infrastructure,” “poor service.”
Greater Sudbury has an image problem.

Forum Research Inc. released the results of a poll last week looking at Canada’s 30 largest cities and people’s satisfaction with the municipal services they receive.

Sudbury ranked dead last. Just six per cent of those polled said they were “very satisfied” with the services they receive from the city. What’s more, the city actually lost ground over last year when Sudbury placed second-to-last and 12 per cent of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with city services.

The thing is, Greater Sudbury is actually doing pretty well right now. The jobless rate is low, the real estate market is healthy, and the industrial sector is poised to kick off some big projects. More jobs and development are just around the corner.

But Sudburians are unhappy, and pinning down the reason why is no easy task. First of all, polls are highly subjective, so it can be a challenge drawing a direct correlation between information contained in a survey, and the real-world implications thereof.

That being said, the information gleaned from surveys can be instructive, and Sudbury’s elected officials need to take a long, hard look at how their constituents think the city is performing.

That’s not to say city councillors or city departments are doing a poor job necessarily; surveys that ask for an opinion are not about facts, but about perception.

And, it is that perception that is important here because, when that many survey respondents are dissatisfied, there is a problem. A pretty big one.

The survey asked respondents to rate police, fire, emergency, garbage, transit and library services (it also asked about zoos which doesn’t apply here, although some taxpayers would certainly argue Tom Davies Square could sometimes double as such), as well as their overall opinion of the services received.

Individually, respondents generally rated the services received in Sudbury within 10 percentage points of the average for the 30 cities rated.

It is respondents’ overall satisfaction where Greater Sudbury really falls down.

While scandals at city hall play a role, political scientist Robert Segsworth, who is the director of the Centre for Local Government at Laurentian University, has suggested that much of the dissatisfaction can be traced back to 2001 and the amalgamation that birthed Greater Sudbury.

People were promised lower taxes and more services. In the minds of many taxpayers, they received neither, Segsworth argues. And it is this perception that such promises were made to sell amalgamation to a skeptical populace, and then not delivered upon, that has left ratepayers with a sour taste in their mouths, and a sour view of the community.

Whether that view is justified is open for debate; what is not open for debate is that perception exists, and the city has its work cut out for it in trying to change it.

Because that is what Sudburians want to see: change.
It is up to city council to navigate through the thorny labyrinth of perception and opinion, and deliver it.

Posted by Vivian Scinto