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State of the City: Accentuating the positive

Sudburians getting a clearer picture of their local government

Annual State of the City addresses by Greater Sudbury mayors tend to be predictable events, all about accentuating the positive and downplaying the negative. 

And Brian Bigger, a career accountant who is still a relative newcomer to politics, is not a natural orator. When he speaks, he still tends to sound like he's updating you about your tax return.  

With the city struggling with high unemployment, nickel prices stubbornly low, the housing market slumping and kilometre after kilometre of bumpy roads and aging infrastructure, he also inherited a challenging situation.

Not to mention the fact city managers are locked in tough negotiations with unionized staff that could end up with some form of job action.

But the mayor also has a number of things going for his administration, and they were all on display during his speech Thursday at the Holiday Inn.

First, his council supports him. In recent years, the mayor has had maybe two or three city councillors at the speeches, a sign of the problems that have plagued city government.

But Bigger had eight of the 12 ward councillors there, a reflection of how well they have functioned. Together, they have repealed the store hours bylaw, taken the word “slush funds” out of the local lexicon and approved the Maley Drive extension, a dream of councillors going back to Tom Davies.

Another factor working in his favour is the presence of two federal and one provincial  members from the area in government. One, Glenn Thibeault, was recently named the province's energy minister. And both levels of government are committed to major infrastructure spending. 

That's music to the ears of a city looking to rebuild roads and complete a host of big projects. And, as Bigger pointed out, mining may be slumping but there are other sectors actively investing. 

“Commercially, year to date in 2016, the value of building permits issued is up $15 million, with almost 100 more permits being issued this year,” the mayor said. 

He said the area with perhaps the most impressive growth has been the hotel industry.

“Sudbury has also undergone a major hotel renovation and modernization boom over the past two years, with over $15 million invested to improve these facilities” he said.

“Greater Sudbury will also be getting a boost this year with a new Microtel, adding approximately 100 rooms, located within a new complex of retail and dining on The Kingsway, and a six-storey 119-room Hilton Garden Inn.”

As for the jobs issue, Bigger pointed out projects like Maley Drive will create upwards of 800 jobs by the time it's completed in 2019 – and with any luck, metal prices will have improved by then.

And then he used his accounting skills in a way that would impress any seasoned politician. The city's jobless rate last month was 8.7 per cent, with 500 fewer jobs compared to April and more than 3,000 less than at this time in 2015.

This is how Bigger expressed it:

“According to the Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada, since January of this year, the number of people employed in our city has increased from 78,700 to 80,100.  Most of these jobs have come from the goods-producing sector, including mining, construction, and manufacturing.”

Talk about accentuating the positive. 

A year-and-a-half in, residents are getting a clearer picture of the people they elected to run their local government. Bigger and city council have a process they use to make decisions and they stick to it.

There may not be much flash, but the substance and vision is there.