Greater Sudbury mayoral candidate Paul Lefebvre was “politicking” when he claimed he heard “crickets” from the city when federal funds were available.
So described Mayor Brian Bigger in response to comments Lefebvre made during his campaign office opening earlier this month, at which Lefebvre claimed the city left money on the table.
“As a member of Parliament I brought the federal budget to city hall to say, ‘These are opportunities that are there for you to invest,’ and there were crickets,” Lefebvre told a group of supporters earlier this month.
“I didn’t hear anything. They weren’t moving forward and there was money on the table.”
After the meeting, he explained to Sudbury.com that in 2017, when various baskets of funding were made available for things such as affordable housing, he reached out to the mayor’s office to let him know.
“I certainly encouraged him to apply and look at the programs that are there,” he said. “There’s a dire need for housing right from the homelessness side to bungalows.”
While he said some funding opportunities did find success, there weren’t enough shovel-ready opportunities for the city to take advantage of everything available to them.
“I just want to make sure that we are ready, willing and able to move very fast when that door opens,” he said. “I know how it works, when the door opens, if you’re not ready with a project and everyone else is, they close the door and you’re not in.”
Declining to get into “too much of the weeds” of the city’s shortcomings when it came to receiving federal funding, Lefebvre said he brought opportunities to the mayor’s office and “was the one initiating it and talking about it and bringing it forward and never got or received a call.”
He clarified that he wasn’t talking about city council as a whole, and he was “dealing mainly with the mayor’s office on that matter.”
After expressing some reluctance to get into a “back and forth,” Bigger dismissed Lefebvre’s criticism as inaccurate.
“This is Paul thinking he’s politicking and I’m not sure how he thinks this is helpful in any way,” Bigger said. “When he was MP, he was taking credit for the announcements, and now that he’s running for mayor he’s saying there was money on the table.”
In 2019, Lefebvre launched a re-election campaign by highlighting his achievements in securing $403 million in federal investments during his first term as an MP, half of which he wrote were “for vital, long-term infrastructure projects adding up to $234 million.”
The city doesn’t always receive the funding it applies for because programs are often over-subscribed, Bigger said, adding that the federal government strives to fairly distribute funds throughout the country.
“We’ve been receiving significant amounts of funding through (Sudbury Liberal MP) Viviane (Lapointe) and we have a good working relationship with the federal government and federal MPs.”
By pointing a finger at city council for not getting the federal funding they should have, Bigger said Lefebvre is pointing more back at himself.
With various projects funded by the federal government in recent years, including during Lefebvre’s time in Parliament, Bigger contends the city was successful in securing funds.
Last year, the city secured $7.4 million from the federal government for a transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street, and in 2020 secured $556,400 for the acquisition of land for a 14-unit affordable housing complex on Sparks Street.
Various federal grants were also awarded, for other large projects, including $26.7 million in the Maley Drive extension project.
As for Lefebvre’s push for more shovel-ready projects, the transitional housing complex’s Lorraine Street location was selected quickly by city council last year and without public consultation due to a fast-approach application deadline.
Lorraine Street topped what city administration called a short list of city-owned properties available to host the project and was the only ideal location.
In response to issues such as this, Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland introduced proposed changes to the city’s Official Plan to free up institutional zone properties and for the city to review municipally owned properties for potential housing projects.
“This would allow us to be more agile, where we’d be able to put community housing developments on municipally owned lands and be able to move more quickly when there are these funding opportunities,” McCausland said last year when discussing his proposal.
Sudbury.com reached out to the 12-member city council for response to Lefebvre’s comments and only received one response, from Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier.
The councillor said the federal funding opportunity that comes to mind are green renovation grants for existing buildings which the city did not pursue for the Sudbury Community Arena.
“We were so bent and determined to build that arena out there (the Kingsway Entertainment District), that was it, and other municipalities have taken advantage of it to renovate or to modernize,” he said, adding it could have been applied to other aging city facilities.
At the time, pursuing a renovation of the Sudbury Community Arena would have gone against the direction of city council of the day, which was for the city to proceed with a new arena on The Kingsway. The project has since been cancelled due to its ballooning budget.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.