Questions around growing the economy and supporting local businesses were front and centre during Thursday’s Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce mayoral debate at Collège Boréal.
Members originally voted to have mayoral candidates Evelyn Dutrisac, Paul Lefebvre, Miranda Rocca-Circelli, Mila Wong and Brian Bigger speak at the event, but Bigger was replaced with Don Gravelle after he dropped out of the race earlier this week.
Although they spoke to various issues, taxes, development charges and incentivizing business development were prevailing themes throughout the event.
One of the main challenges Greater Sudbury faces is finding employees, Lefebvre said.
“At the end of the day we need to promote Sudbury as a great place to live, which it is,” he said, adding that businesses can’t grow “because they can’t find people to fill those jobs.”
Industrial lands need to be better taken care of, Lefebvre said, pointing to the “embarrassing” status of Fielding Road as evidence they have not been prioritized.
“The industrial lands are an economic driver, and the city has to do more and take it more seriously.”
Although work on Fielding Road has made the city’s 2023 priority list, Lefebvre said some candidates’ pledge to freeze next year’s spending might push the project further down the line.
Rocca-Circelli said the city needs to create incentives for businesses and adopt a decentralized model to reallocate resources to amalgamated towns to provide them with greater autonomy.
In his remarks, Gravelle cited a need to cut “red tape.”
Dutrisac said the City of Greater Sudbury has to become a destination for a younger generation of workers and entrepreneurs, and pledged to put together a task force to see how the city can better retain youths who come to the city for university.
Wong questioned why a person building a single-family dwelling pays the same development charges as a big company, “with lots of money,” building the same thing. She also proposed a tax freeze for new businesses during their first year in operation.
Wong wasn’t the only one to bring up development charges, with Rocca-Circelli asserting that companies and organizations don’t build housing in Greater Sudbury because it’s not affordable and “red tape” is getting in their way.
“We have to better determine what is happening in terms of developmental fees and what is stopping these organizations from coming here and starting to develop housing and creating these opportunities,” she said.
Effective July 1, city council voted to increase development charges by 17.2 per cent – a jump in line with the non-residential building construction price index change for Ottawa. These charges follow a “growth pays for growth” approach to funding infrastructure.
The increase brought the per-unit cost for a new single-family dwelling build to $22,162. Semi-detached dwellings now cost $17,806 per unit, multiple-unit builds are $12,791 per unit, industrial charges are $3.70 per square foot and commercial/institutional builds increased to $5.56 per square foot. These numbers apply to fully-serviced properties, with those lacking water and/or wastewater receiving lower rates.
Despite this increase, Greater Sudbury’s development charges remain low compared to other Ontario municipalities. According to the latest BMA Management Consulting Inc. report comparing 114 Ontario municipalities, the average single detached family dwelling development charge was $40,217.
Some other notable highlights and points of clarity/context coming out of Thursday’s debate are:
- “I will freeze taxes and no new builds,” Wong said, despite the mayor holding one vote of 13 around council chambers. It’s also a difficult budget year, with city staff already tasked with shaving $17.7 million from the 2023 budget in order to hit a tax increase of 3.7 per cent.
- Gravelle pledged to put the Junction East Cultural Hub on pause because he’s afraid its final cost will “probably be closer to $200 million” when it finally goes to tender. City council approved an expense of $98.5 million for the project in June, at which time city Strategic Initiative, Communications and Citizen Services director Ian Wood said, “The Project Team is confident that this process will allow the project to be hard capped at $98.5 million and that this total project cost is adequate to deliver the project council has approved.” City council members would need to approve any additional expense.
- Asked about what actions she would take to support Laurentian University, Wong said she’d like to see them give degrees specific to artificial intelligence technologies and software, later adding to groans from the audience, “Get rid of those liberal arts.”
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce released a municipal election platform on June 26, in which they list eight priorities for candidates to consider:
- Municipal red tape
- Attraction of labour/talent
- Business development/Attracting new business
- Housing affordability
- Laurentian University
- Value for services/taxes
They reached out to all mayoral and city council candidates for their insights on these topics, and posted their responses on their website. They can be found by clicking here.
Most responses were in-depth, and the only candidate to not submit a response by their Sept. 9 deadline was Devin Labranche.
Bob Johnston’s response was the shortest, as he responded to the eight categories with a single statement: “Full audit. Clean up the core of management in Tom Davies square and yes we our open for business. We must build a team solid, all being team players. Not I, but we can do this. We are in serious trouble.”
David Popescu sent a response the chamber said did not address any of the businesses identified in the Municipal Elections Platform and “included inflammatory remarks that the chamber is not prepared to perpetuate.” Popescu is a convicted purveyor of hate speech.
Downtown Sudbury is hosting the next meeting with mayoral candidates, with theirs to be held Oct. 12 at the Durham Hall (82 Durham St.) from 5:30 - 8 p.m.
Opening remarks will begin at 6 p.m., followed by a question and answer period. The main focus will be on the city’s downtown core and candidates’ plans to address the challenges associated with it.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.