The city’s seventh of eight mayoral candidates to register thus far only decided a few days ago she wanted to put her name forward to lead the City of Greater Sudbury.
“I’ve had enough of dysfunctional city council,” Mila Wong told Sudbury.com during an interview at Bell Park on Friday, the day after she filed her nomination paperwork with the city.
Wong was followed by Mayor Brian Bigger, who filed his paperwork the following day.
“There’s so much squabbling and egos that are just bent on insulting each other, there’s just no dignity to the position,” she said.
“When things are bogged down by sweating the small stuff you forget the reason why you were elected and what’s beneficial to the city.”
A turning point was Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini’s response to a deputy fire chief who declined to let him use fire department equipment for a longtime volunteer’s funeral.
On Tuesday, city council voted to dock Vagnini 40 days’ pay for employing what city integrity commissioner Robert Swayze described as “vulgar and disrespectful” language in dealing with the deputy fire chief’s denial. Tuesday’s council meeting broke out in shouting matches which forced a temporary recess, including Vagnini yelling accusations at Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc.
“That is so petty,” Wong said. “I think we should worry more now about the opportunities. We are on the cusp of a great, great opportunity. Mining is going to boom with the need for lithium and cobalt as those battery components, now is the time to be proactive.”
Wong was a regional councillor between 1991 and 1994, and ran unsuccessfully for Ward 5 in 2000, and Ward 10 in 2014. She also registered in Ward 10 in 2010, but withdrew from the race.
Her political aspirations also led her to run provincially for the Progressive Conservatives in 1999 and 2003, coming in second to Liberal candidate Rick Bartolucci in both elections.
She was born and raised in The Philippines, and immigrated to Canada in 1966 upon getting a job in Winnipeg. She’d initially been offered a job in Philadelphia, but said she looked at a map three weeks prior to departure and better appreciated how centrally Winnipeg was situated.
She relocated to Sudbury in 1977.
“I just loved the vibe of the city, and people were kind and it’s a mixture of different cultures, which is attractive to me,” she said. “The people and multicultural component of Sudbury, and it’s one of the city’s I felt at home.”
Wong is a registered nurse, former human rights officer and qualified arbitrator and mediator. Her latest role prior to retirement less than two years ago was as a long-term CEO for a social service agency helping people with developmental disabilities.
As mayor, Wong said she’d aspire to transform the city into a so-called Smart City, which adopts the latest technology to collect data to help manage assets and various areas of efficiency.
This, she said, will also help provide residents with a wealth of information to help in transparency.
She’d also hold up the city’s Code of Conduct as something sacred city councillors must follow.
“If the leadership is there to say we demand these things because it’s embedded in a policy, you don’t hear one person smearing a senior staff member,” she said in reference to the allegations Vagnini recently faced. “Let’s get out of that. Let’s just work to make it better, and the ego should go down.”
Wong chose Bell Park as the place to meet with Sudbury.com because it was an integral part of her ward when she was on city council in the early 90s, which was a transformative time for the park.
Although she’s often mistaken as being related to former mayor Peter Wong, whom she considered a good friend and ran in the same circles as, Mila Wong is of no relation.
That said, Wong commends the past mayor for doing ”very progressive things for the city” and for leading with a degree of professionalism and respect she pledges to aspire to match.
Wong’s campaign is going to be “minimalist,” and will not include lawn signs.
“Whoever has the biggest sign doesn’t mean they are better than the one who can only afford a small sign, so there will be no signs for me,” she said.
The key thrust of her campaign, she said, will be: “Accountable Smart City government that I will dream and aspire this city into.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.