Whatever anyone might think about Rick Bartolucci and his politics, Sudbury reaped the rewards of having him in Queen’s Park.
As the city’s man in Toronto, he had almost unparalleled success at driving home an agenda that greatly benefited Sudbury.
Bartolucci was a player in the halls of power, a politician who had the ear of those who make things happen in Ontario and he wielded that influence deftly.
And, since the Nickel City is, in many ways, the Toronto of Northern Ontario, what benefits the city often benefits this oft politically neglected part of the province.
Bartolucci’s aggressive political style and fondness for press-conference stunts helped ensure Sudbury’s needs were well-known in the media and in cabinet.
He said in his Feb. 7 retirement speech that in 10 years he secured close to $8 billion for his riding. In 2012 alone, Bartolucci made funding announcements just shy of $80 million.
Bartolucci was the man who finally succeeded in getting a commitment on four-laning Hwy 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound. His efforts helped ensure the creation of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
His influence secured Canada’s first architecture school in 40 years for Sudbury. The city’s exploding movie industry has Bartolucci’s fingerprints all over it.
Whatever captured Bartolucci’s attention benefited from his ability to play politics.
It is impossible for someone whose talent for getting the cash was once referred to as magical to be without critics and his legacy is not without controversy.
He drew fire from the United Steelworkers in 2005 for his refusal to intervene when Inco looked to close its Copper Cliff smelter.
When he skipped a vote on a private member’s bill that, if passed, would have banned the use of replacement workers during a strike, union ire was directed his way again in 2010 during the year long Vale strike.
For some, he will be remembered as the Community Safety minister at the helm when Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act was passed for the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto.
This legislation, Ombudsman André Marin said, contributed to “massive violations of civil rights” during protests that ended in the single largest mass arrest in Canadian history.
And most recently, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli of North Bay said Bartolucci will be forever remembered as the man who sold off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission — although, conveniently, Fedeli seems to forget it was his PC party that looked to privatize the Northern Ontario institution.
And, as any northerner who has relied on it can tell you, successive provincial governments either ignored, mismanaged or outright attacked the ONTC. The Liberals will just be the ones remembered for pulling the plug.
Bartolucci’s departure also leaves many wondering about the fortunes of the city’s Liberal faithful. Without Bartolucci as its face, can the party hold the Sudbury riding against a rising NDP tide that nearly swept them out of office in 2011?
As Northern Ontario’s answer to Toronto, Sudbury will not stop progessing because Rick Bartolucci has decided to ride off into the political sunset. Our gravitational pull is too strong for that.
But the city has lost a powerful ally at Queen’s Park, one whose talents served the Nickel City well, and it may be some time before Sudbury has another Bartolucci to call its own.