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Mayors push for emergency meeting with the province

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has joined Ontario’s Big City Mayors in calling for an emergency meeting with the province to address the chronic homelessness, mental health, safety and addictions crises overwhelming our communities’
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Mayor Brian Bigger, seen speaking at the Walk to End ALS event on Saturday, has joined Ontario's Big City Mayors by calling on the province to participate in an emergency meeting to address various social emergencies.

Calling for an emergency meeting with the province, Ontario’s Big City Mayors are urging them to address various social emergencies that have converged in the wake of the pandemic. 

The chronic homelessness, mental health, safety and addictions crises are “overwhelming our communities,” the organization said in a media release issued by the organization.

“We’re aligned now and we have their voice,” Mayor Brian Bigger told Sudbury.com, affirming that the City of Greater Sudbury firmly supports the cause. 

“I’ve been voicing our concerns because of our challenges with addictions and homelessness, and really it’s poison drugs causing overdoses and deaths,” he said, adding that these issues largely fall under the province’s mandate.

“Municipalities need the province to dedicate additional resources to address these issues now, particularly in Northern Ontario where provincial support on a per capita basis has been lower.”

Although mental health and other medical services are the responsibility of the province, Greater Sudbury city council decided against waiting for provincial funding by approving two major projects in the city last year.

This includes the supervised consumption site in the city’s downtown core, which recently received the federal exemption it needed to operate, and a transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street to help ease the chronically homeless into permanent community housing. The housing complex has yet to break ground.

Bigger had strong words for the province’s lack of commitment to these projects last year, saying at the time that he felt “ghosted” by provincial officials in relation to the homelessness and opioid crises. 

“This is about the City of Greater Sudbury having the highest per-capita (opioid) death rate in the province … and not even getting the courtesy of a callback from the minister of health,” he told Sudbury.com at the time.

The province has remained mum on the subject ever since, and has yet to commit any funds for these centres’ medical staff, as requested by the city.

During the recently ended provincial election season, local candidates in all the leading parties affirmed that they would at least partially fund these centres. That is, except for the local Progressive Conservative candidates, who spend the election season declining every one of the numerous interview requests submitted to their political camps, as well as public debates.

Last year also saw the Ontario Medical Association come out in support of Northern Ontario’s push for greater medical services, including mental-health supports – a cause Bigger said has snowballed even more now that Ontario’s Big City Mayors are on board.

“We are at a breaking point,” said Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie, who is also chair of Ontario’s Big City Mayors, in a media release. “The solutions to this crisis are already known by the province. The Big City Mayors have joined a chorus of others for years on these solutions to be funded and implemented. We are the voice for the most vulnerable in our communities. They are not just falling through the cracks in our healthcare and housing systems, but many are now dying at an alarming rate.”

This unacceptable situation “must be addressed immediately,” Guthrie added.

In their media release, Ontario’s Big City Mayors also noted that they side with the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, whose executive director, Kay Matthews, said are also pushing for “a more robust social support system.”

Ontario’s Big City Mayors is an advocacy group that includes the mayors of 29 single and lower-tier cities with a population of 100,000 or greater. They represent almost 70 per cent of Ontario’s population.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.