It’s time for Mayor Marianne Matichuk and the rest of city council to forgive one another and work for the best interests of taxpayers, says the first mayor in Greater Sudbury’s short history.
Jim Gordon, 75, was mayor of Greater Sudbury from 2000-2003, and was mayor of the former City of Sudbury in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. In between, he was a Progressive Conservative MPP and was briefly a cabinet minister.
He retired in 2003, but has remained a keen observer of city hall. Gordon said it’s clear the public is growing concerned the current city council isn’t working together. They have two years to change that perception before the next municipal election, he said.
“The public understands full well that a municipality works best, for their interests, when the mayor and council work together to achieve consensus,” Gordon said.
“In politics – whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal – it’s not necessary that the (politicians) like each other. But what you have to do is respect each other for the very fact that … the public has chosen you for the job.”
Since being elected in 2010, Matichuk has seen key planks of her election platform rebuffed at the city council table. The mayor hasn’t gotten her way on a host of issues, including extending store hours, recall legislation or a council-wide freeze on salaries.
A novice politician, when Matichuk came into office, she was critical of staff, accusing them of not being willing to come up with budget savings. She also criticized councillors who refused to support her.
More recently, Matichuk has said councillors who don’t want to follow her lead should resign, while councillors have accused her of being out of touch with what’s going on in the wards and failing to communicate with them.
The standoff at city hall is at least partially a result of Matichuk’s lack of political experience, Gordon said, describing it as going to school but, “skipping kindergarten to Grade 4.”
“I think when (you’re in) the mayor’s chair without having prior council experience, it’s a big handicap and it’s hard to get over it,” he said. “But if you surround yourself with people who are good civil servants and find yourself some good advisers, you can get ahead of that handicap. But some people don’t.”
Gordon chalks up Matichuk’s early public criticisms of staff and council to inexperience, and says it’s time for all involved to “turn the page.”
“Councillors who worked with me would say the same thing, as would some former mayors, that they may not have liked me, and I necessarily didn’t like them. The point is we always treated each other with respect,” he said.
“We didn’t tear each other down in public, or in private. Because everybody knows that in the workplace … you have to bite your tongue and be civil and get the job done.”
In politics – whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal – it’s not necessary that the (politicians) like each other. But what you have to do is respect each other for the very fact that … the public has chosen you for the job.
Former mayor of the City of Greater Sudbury
To get city councillors on board, Gordon says a mayor has to lobby each individually and do what they can to make them see why, for example, recall legislation is a good idea.
“Sometimes it’s quite easy, because both parties can see that it makes sense,” he said. “In other cases, it may take something of a leap of faith on the part of certain individuals … But they will come along with you if you treat them with respect.”
Having a thick skin is also important, because politicians take shots from all over, including from their colleagues at the council table.
“There are times that, as a person, you get really offended by something somebody said or did or because they voted a certain way,” Gordon said.
“There are all kinds of things that happen around that table. But as a mayor, you have to rise above that. You have to ignore that as if it never happened. It’s a new day.
“It’s very important when dealing with a council, that you don’t reprimand them individually or publicly. People don’t forget. People tend not to forget … This is elementary human interaction, really.”
In turn, Gordon said councillors have to recognize Matichuk was elected by all voters to lead the city, and therefore deserves a certain amount of respect.
“If the council ends up berating the mayor all the time, how does she work with them?” he said. “It’s time for them to put aside all this verbal rhetoric we’ve been listening to. They’re all good people. They didn’t seek this job because they wanted to be on bad terms with one another. They sought the job because they thought they could do good for the community. So they should get on with it.”
While funding from federal and provincial governments is scarce, Gordon said there is plenty of private-sector money coming into Sudbury, and councillors should be looking to leverage that money to support municipal projects.
“There are so many projects that you could be leading now,” he said. “You could take this city now and do some amazing things and really put us on the national stage. And at the same time, you could keep the taxes down. I mean, it’s all there.
“Now is the time to grab the opportunities that exist out there for Sudbury.”
To do that, however, Gordon said Matichuk, councillors and city staff have to make peace.
“I think the council right now has to forgive Marianne for dissing them at the beginning,” he said. “The staff, too, has to say, ‘OK, she made a mistake at the beginning by denigrating our efforts to get the budget down to what she expected.’ Fundamentally, that was a mistake.
“But they have to say, 'OK, Marianne, we’re going to set that aside, and we’re going to try and work with you and we want you to work with us.'
“I’d really like to see them take this opportunity right now and run with it ... If they could do that, it wouldn’t take long to start seeing the kind of stories that everybody likes to see in the news.”
When asked if he’s considering a comeback when the next municipal vote comes around, Gordon, who would be 77, was less direct. He said he’s never lost interest in what’s going on in the city, and said he’s frustrated more people don’t get into public life.
“So I’m interested,” he said.
When asked if he meant that he’s interested in what’s going on in the city, or interested in running for mayor again, he replied, “I’m interested. Let’s leave it at that.”