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Plenty of punches thrown Bigger's way in final mayoral debate

Mayor taken to task over debt financing, tax increases and not returning phone calls

The last debate between Sudbury's mayoral candidates Thursday was a chaotic and sometimes nasty affair.

In all, 10 of the 11 hopefuls gathered at the Parkside Centre downtown – Brian Bigger, Cody Cacciotti, Troy Crowder, Bill Crumplin, Jeff Huska, Dan Melanson, Patricia Mills, Rodney Newton, David Popescu and Bill Sanders – for a debate sponsored by the Sudbury chapter of CARP.

Melanson accused Bigger of not fulfilling his campaign promises from 2014 and of changing his opinion on some big issues.

"Debt financing will burden our grandchildren with unnecessary debt," Melanson said, quoting Bigger from his 2014 election campaign. "He also said he knew where millions of dollars in savings could be found. He made a great many promises, none of which he has kept."

Where in 2014 Bigger said it made no sense to debt-finance roads projects, he now supports debt financing for widening MR35, which will cost $35 million, Melanson said.

He said Bigger claimed he knew where the savings were, but he only found $250,000 and paid for the tax freeze in 2015 by raiding reserve funds.

"He can't be trusted to live up to his word," Melanson said. 

Mills said Bigger was leaving the city with a “legacy of debt” and promised she would keep tax increases to the rate of inflation.

"We have to stop the madness," she said.

A line-by-line review of city budget will produce savings, Mills said, and with a $564 million budget, she's sure she can do it.

She also for the first time said she opposed Gateway Casino's plans to build a large casino alongside the arena and hotel in the Kingsway Entertainment District.

"I am not in favour of extended gambling in Greater Sudbury," she said.

In his defence, Bigger said this city council over the last four years kept tax hikes lower than any previous administration in Greater Sudbury. 

“We have delivered the lowest tax increases of any council since amalgamation,” he said. “All other councils were higher."

As far as MR35, he said safety is a major concern on the road, and it has been the city's second highest roads priority for the last 30 years.

"It's finally getting done,” Bigger said. “Lorne Street was neglected. It's finally getting done. These are roads projects ... that are main arteries with high traffic volumes."

He also said 62 per cent of residents wanted an expanded casino, according to figures provided by CARP.

Crumplin spoke passionately about why he's running, saying as a LU professor, he's tired of seeing educated young people move away.

"Every graduation day, I'm seeing my brightest students graduate and leave this town,” he said. “It breaks my heart. I'm trying to walk the walk for them."

Huska said everyone in the city needs to understand that we can't fix the roads and spend hundreds of millions on the big project and still hold the line on taxes.

"We need to understand the difference between wants and needs," Huska said. "It's vitally important we distinguish between them.

"The city is biting off more than it can chew with the cost of these large projects. When does the spending stop?"

Cacciotti said he grew up in the West End, and has been working at the Northern Ontario Railway Museum in Capreol for several years.

That has given him a different perspective on the challenges communities across Greater Sudbury face.

"Different areas of this city need and want different things," he said.

As mayor, he would ensure residents in all communities feel their needs are being addressed. The key to keeping taxes low, he said, is to attract more jobs.

Other takeaways from Thursday's debate:

-- Bigger was stung by a question from the audience. A woman said she talked to Bigger about setting up a better system for long-term care during the 2014 campaign. He seemed interested and she donated to his campaign – then he wouldn't take her call after the election. Bigger tried to explain it was a provincial issue as other candidates shouted, “but why didn't you call her back?”

-- After Mills said she opposed expanding the city's casino, Melanson said  he doesn't think the casino will be a major  economic driver, but he also doesn't think it's going to be a destructive economically or morally. 

-- Huska revealed he's taking care of his ailing mother, an experience that has given him new insight into the challenges older people face. That's why it's so important to build more long-term care homes in the communities where people live.

-- Crumplin proposed a plan to allow seniors to avoid tax increases on their homes, allowing the increase to be deferred until the property is sold.

-- Crowder went full negative in his comments, saying corruption is widespread at Tom Davies Square and that city staff “godfathers” had turned away almost $1 billion in investment because “they decided so.” He also said there's nothing to draw tourists here other than Science North and Bell Park. "If you come from out of town ... there isn't a thing you could recommend somebody do or go see or experience in this city."
Watch the full debate here.


Darren MacDonald

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