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BLOG (John Lindsay): Will the Mayor face reality in difficult times in his Chamber address?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Facing Reality in Difficult Times – Will this be part of Mayor Brian Bigger’s State of the City address to the Chamber of Commerce Address June 23rd?   An Old Adult Pre-Speech history and present day consideration.  

Most politicians are the victims of circumstance, and Mr. Brian Bigger, our Mayor, is no different from any other elected representative now facing difficult economic times, a situation that he most likely did not anticipate before taking office, but which he now acknowledges. What will he have to say with respect to this situation when he speaks to the Chamber of Commerce this week on the occasion of his annual “State of the City Address” with just over two years remaining in his mandate?  Hopefully, it will be a realistic appraisal and not merely exhortations about grand plans for the future without consideration of costs to the average taxpayer.

We cannot envy the position of any of our elected representatives.  They have inherited an “elephant in the room” known as amalgamation, the creation of the City of Greater Sudbury which turned out to be less "great" than its parts, which were the quite functional, and in most instances financially responsible towns of Nickel Centre, Capreol, Walden, Onaping Falls, Rayside-Balfour, and the cities of Sudbury and Valley East.  The negative effects of this forced provincial grouping was soon realized and resulted in the creation of the Constellation Report which attempted to put a band-aid on the situation with various but largely ineffective solutions such as area Community Action Networks which, with no political representation, were largely ignored by elected representatives and while effecting some cosmetic changes were basically ineffective in creating a sense of local citizen involvement. 

What we do have now is the worst of all arranged worlds with not one single former town or city happy with the current situation.  Costs which were to have gone down with amalgamation have risen as well as the city work force.  The number of politicians has been reduced, but as only part time representatives, they have little time to become educated about important matters and instead rely on often self-serving information from city bureaucrats who realize councillors are only elected for an uncertain number of terms whereas the bureaucrats have tenure until pensions kick in or a generous severance is provided to leave. 

The solution?  As the "horse is already out of the barn", it will be difficult but not impossible to go back to some form of Regional Government that actually worked quite well.    

Is anybody happy?  Not really - Most councillors represent some constituents in the former city of Sudbury and some in the outside area, something akin to serving two masters.  It is unfair to them and to the citizens of both areas.  Staff seems to be focused on the core and the outlining areas more or less fend for themselves, complaining with some justification that services and amenities are not the same as they were before amalgamation.  When those in the old city complain, they are told it is not possible to provide as before due to the fact that the whole "greater" city needs attention as well. 

Now, like a perfect storm we are faced with difficult economic times which have occurred in the past; however, this time, regardless of what some might say, it is different.  No longer do we supply the amount of extracted mineral product we once did, and even Vale, our largest producer, suggests that the current level of operation will hopefully remain for the next twenty years, not the many decades going forward that was once forecast.  New mines will open while others will close, and technological improvements will mean fewer workers required. Eventually the resource will no longer be there or economically viable to extract as has been the case with every mining “camp” ever developed.   Development of the “The Ring of Fire” is likely decades in the future with uncertain benefits to our area.

What are the prospects for growth in other areas? It is generally thought that we have maxed out our potential with respect to sectors in which we previously were able to generate growth in other economic downturns.  These specifically are education, health, retail & wholesale, housing and tourism.  There is some limited potential in mining services and in arts and culture. Efforts of the Economic Development Corporation appear focused on maintaining employment in those areas to which they are already committed such as NORCAT.  With respect to new employment, only 12.5 permanent new jobs and 23 part time or temporary positions were created according to their latest yearly report.  This contrasts with over 400 jobs lost just last month and over 4000 since the current economic downturn as our unemployment rate continues to climb and is now the highest in Ontario. We are not attractive for most manufacturing enterprises for a variety of reasons, but most notability our location.  Those activities such as IT are not as dependent on place and offer some potential as do areas of research and development but not significant job growth.  Establishment of more provincial and federal government services outside of Toronto and Ottawa offers some growth opportunities for higher paying jobs of a more permanent nature; however, technological change threatens job creation and sustained employment in this area as well as all forms of employment and must be taken into consideration with respect to any future planning – no industrial sector is immune.  The Greater Sudbury Corporate Strategic Plan like the “From the Ground Up to 2025” Plan are ambitious documents but largely promote development that in most instances impacts on the taxpaying public while giving less importance to the maintenance of existing infrastructure.  Emphasis should be placed on maintaining and creating sustainability wherever possible in these changing economic circumstances.   

As suggested in our submission to the Official Plan, we have to envision a no growth or negative growth scenario as well as predictions of growth for the future.  If we do not experience growth, how are we going to react to this quite possible eventuality based on our past history?  How are we to provide the same level of service and amenities with a lower population and still keep taxes at a level to encourage present residents, especially retired seniors, of which we have a larger percentage than any other municipality in Ontario, to stay and to encourage others to settle in our area?  A recent report on the best places for retirees to live in Canada listed a number of factors, the most important being affordability, primarily cost of housing and taxation, access to health care and other amenities, cultural and leisure activities and weather.  Also those present and current retirees who move to be closer to children and grandchildren in other parts of Canada will impact our population levels, plus the inevitable reduction due to the death of those who stay and as stated currently make up a considerable portion of our community.  Our challenge is how to focus on attracting those retirees from elsewhere who may appreciate our multi-season recreational opportunities while keeping or enhancing other attractive livability elements in order to maintain population levels in this demographic.

It is of course impossible to predict the future and the effects of quite possibly reduced assessment and lower revenues from sources other than local taxation, which must be taken into consideration.  We recognize the temptation of all politicians to create a favorable legacy. What form this may take is the question, and at what cost? This is the challenge. While we expect the Mayor to express optimism, we trust he will acknowledge the economic alternatives that could impact our community and that he will speak to these realities in his address to the Chamber of Commerce event on June 23rd.


John Lindsay, Chair, Friendly to Seniors – Sudbury Former Labour Market Analyst and Human Resource Specialist – Employment and Immigration – Canada in Sudbury from 1996 to 1993.

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About the Sudbury Working Group

The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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