Seniors are at the forefront of Greater Sudbury mayoral candidate Bob Johnston’s campaign, with the would-be politician making a number of pledges for them during Friday’s campaign launch
“I have a lot of senior friends, I know what they’re going through,” he told Sudbury.com following his campaign launch speech at the Northbury Hotel and Conference Centre.
“They’ve given so much after 70 years into our community that there’s no reason we can’t give back a little.”
Under a Johnston mayorship, he would advocate for seniors to get 50 per cent off their bus passes and a $500 rebate on their taxes, which would permanently freeze for them when they hit 70 years of age.
“Let’s let them breathe, let’s let them stay in their house as long as they can,” he said after clarifying he would make commitments as one voting member of city council instead of promises when it comes to campaign points.
Taking aim at city administrators, Johnston said, “eight to 10 upper management has to go.”
“I won’t use the word corruption, and I’ll leave it at that,” he added, which was one of a handful of times his remarks centered on innuendo.
A similar situation arose when Johnston criticized a city councillor who visited the North Bay Cascades Casino grand opening, where they espoused its virtues, to which Johnston countered it was its grand opening, so of course it was busy.
“I won’t say names,” he said, although the person in question was Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, who was quoted in local media for attending the event.
At another point, Johnston said, a city councilllor, “I won’t mention his name but he’s Ward 3, who’s fought and fought and fought for us, the Sudburians, to open our eyes and state that there was nothing in writing, there was nothing in stone, there was no hotel.”
This statement is in reference to Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier’s work last year to get the city to clarify there were no Kingsway Entertainment District build agreements among its partners.
On the KED front, Johnston said the project is “poison,” and urged council to “kill the KED” and allow whatever incarnation of city council is elected on Oct. 24 to figure out what to do with it.
There’s no rush, he said.
“You know what the hurry is? I won’t even say it. You guys can think yourself, but it’s not a pretty picture.”
This point of innuendo was less clear than the others.
When it comes to the KED, Johnston criticized Mayor Brian Bigger for flip-flopping in his support.
“I’m for it, I’m not, I’m for it, I’m not, which is it?” Johnston asked. “Our mayor flip-flopped again, two days ago, why? Because he has a plan.”
Although Johnston did not clarify what he believes this plan to be, Bigger explained in a written statement and in correspondence with Sudbury.com earlier this week why he intends to vote against the KED on Tuesday.
“I cannot support a total cost of $215 million,” Bigger said at the time. “I just can’t support the necessary increase to taxes when we already have a lot of pressure this year with inflation.”
To that point, Bigger has supported the project since The Kingsway location was voted on in 2017. He told Sudbury.com he did not know its projected cost had reached $215 million until a report by city administration was released to the city’s elected officials earlier this week.
Candidate Johnston is not excited about the project.
“Do we need another arena at this time? No,” Johnston said. “Do we need renovations to our beautiful arena downtown? Yes, there’s no denying.”
During his speech, Johnston also argued against “private closed meetings,” which city council hosts in keeping with Section 239 (2) of the Municipal Act to deal with things such as labour relations, litigation and advice subject to solicitor-client privilege.
“As taxpayers, do you guys not deserve a little bit of information?” Johnston asked, adding on a similar note that the city “also needs a total audit. Where did the money go? It’s ridiculous.”
The city has its consolidated financial statements audited on an annual basis, with last year’s audit by third-party KPMG, LLP, revealing an “unqualified audit opinion,” which means it was free of misstatements.
Johnston kicked off his speech by criticizing the “over $3.2 billion of debt and growing quickly” the city carries, despite its debt load currently estimated at $355 million.
Various figures have been ascribed to the city’s infrastructure deficit in recent months, but as city CAO Ed Archer clarified recently, deficits are different from debt, and the city’s current infrastructure deficit estimate is $1 billion.
“It’s not I, it’s we who can correct all this and move forward and bring our city back the way it was, with the love and care and beauty from one end to the other,” Johnston said, later adding that he would lead a city council “where the cops won’t be called on each other and the circus will end.”
Friday’s campaign launch follows Johnston’s unofficial launch in May, when he filed his nomination papers and put his “truth and facts” slogan to use.
Johnston’s next campaign event will take place on July 16, when he is hosting a car wash fundraiser at the PartSource Sudbury parking lot (1010 Lorne Street) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The civic election date is Oct. 24. In addition to Johnston, registered mayoral candidates also include Paul Lefebvre, Don Gravelle, Evelyn Dutrisac and Miranda Rocca-Circelli. Mayor Brian Bigger has announced his intention to seek a third term as mayor. Although he has yet to register, he has reaffirmed as recently as this week his intention to do so.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.