Friday, June 27, 2014

Greater Sudbury Election Notes, Part 4: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Timely

Candidates running for Council try to distinguish themselves throughout the campaign period by making proposals which, they hope, voters will buy into. Of course, once elected, selling one’s campaign idea to the rest of Council can be a difficult task, especially if those ideas are ones that no one else was talking about during their own campaigns. In 2011, Greater Sudbury Mayor ran on changing the City’s store hours by-law. When she brought her idea forward to council shortly after her election, there was no appetite on the part of Council to consider it.

Some ideas really do have merit – even Matichuk was ultimately able to resurrect the store hours by-law debate after a bit of a public outcry was made. Now, Sudburians will be deciding through a referendum whether we want to amend the by-law.

Some ideas, though, just never catch on with the public or with Council. Maybe they’re too parochial, or limited in application to just one or two wards. In Greater Sudbury, our inner-city / outer-city dynamic often comes into play on certain issues. Consideration of changing Official Plan policies to allow for more expensive-to-service rural residential development comes to mind.

It’s late June, and the municipal election campaign which began on January 2, is more than half over. Although a record number of candidates have thrown their names in the ring, we’ve seen very little in the way of policy proposals being brought forward. Now, it’s true that at least some candidates might have a lot of ideas to share with the City, but little way of communicating them. If you build a webpage, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will come.

Let’s look at four ideas which are being talked about in this election – all four of these proposals are ones which I believe we’re going to be hearing more about as time goes on.

The Good – Ward 1, Matt Alexander - Participatory Budgeting

First-time Ward 1 candidate Matt Alexander has offered up a real winning formula to deal with the City’s much-maligned Healthy Community Initiative (HCI) funds. You may be familiar with the HCI, or “slush” funds - $50,000 in spending a year which incumbent Councillors get to direct towards leisure/community improvement. The funding for community improvement isn’t really the problem – it’s the way that each local ward Councillor gets to dish it out to needy organizations in “their” wards. Some have suggested that the slush fund gives incumbents a $200,000 unfair advantage over other candidates.

Well, Alexander doesn’t have that problem in Ward 1 any longer, now that the voters have Sudbury have sent Joe Cimino off to Queens’ Park. Alexander proposed to keep the HCI funding, but change the way in which it is distributed. While other candidates want to throw out the baby with the bathwater (see: The Bad, below), Alexander wants ward citizens themselves to decide where the money gets spent through a process being used elsewhere in Ontario called “participatory budgeting”.

As Alexander outlined at his campaign launch last night, there no reinvention of the wheel required – something Sudbury voters should take solace in. They’ve been doing participatory budgeting in Hamilton and elsewhere for some time now. If the City believes it is a priority for community improvement funding to be spent equitably in each ward, then it only makes sense for the citizens themselves to make the specific decisions about where and how much.

And finally, unlike changing the store hours by-law, Alexander doesn’t need the buy-in of Council to make this change – at least, not in Ward 1. As long as Alexander adheres to the accountability section of the by-law, and those engaged in participatory budgeting processes follow the funding eligibility criteria, Alexander can lead by example by working with Ward 1 citizens to set up a participatory budgeting process for HCI funds.

For more information about Alexander’s participatory budgeting proposal, you can visit his website.

The Bad – Ward 9, Aaron Beaudry - Subsidizing Doctors

First-time candidate Aaron Beaudry is running in Ward 9. He’s got a completely different take on HCI funding, which, although it tries to address an important issue in the municipality, has got to fall into the “bad” category.

Beaudry’s platform indicates that 1 in 5 Greater Sudburians are currently without a family doctor. Access to timely, professional health care is a very real issue in our community, and it could very well be that the City ought to be doing more in the way of developing a workable strategy to attract and retain health care professionals.

Unfortunately, Beaudry has targeted the community-building HCI funds as his chief means of investing in attracting and retaining doctors. Rather than using those funds to create community infrastructure, like playgrounds, or investing in community organizations which seek to make our City more livable, Beaudry wants to take the entire lump sum and use it to help off-set the relocation costs of doctors and reward them for sticking around.

In short, Beaudry wants to reward rich doctors for making Sudbury their home at the expense of building the kind of community in which doctors, and everybody else, want to live in.

And that’s why the proposal is completely unacceptable. Kudos to Beaudry for recognizing the need to do something about our health care professional deficit, but here’s a failing grade to him for wanting to use $2.4 million (over four years) in money marked for community projects to subsidize wealthy doctors by helping them buy big houses. It’s a bad idea.

The Ugly: Mayor, Dan Melanson - Closing Down Community Arenas

Mean-spirited mayoralty candidate Dan Melanson is fast earning his “anti-family” moniker by promising to cut a slew of public services on which families have come to rely. Along with selling off Pioneer Manor, closing day care facilities and parks, Melanson has also been musing about closing down Greater Sudbury’s many arenas.

“I don’t see that as a core service, frankly – Sudbury Arena, and arenas in general” Melanson mused aloud at his campaign launch event (see: “Melanson opens mayoral bid in with call for leaner government”, the Northern Life, June 20 2014).

Seriously? Melanson, the former head and founder of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association, is a known hard-right ideologue – but his desire to close down municipal arenas because they aren’t, in his opinion, “core services” dives into territory which even former PC leader Tim Hudak wouldn’t have dared to venture.

Look, arenas are part of the fabric of our community. They are places where children and families recreate. They are part of what makes our community – and any community, for that matter, a better, richer place to live one’s life.

Melanson might eventually temper his stance somewhat – maybe he’ll only advocate that the arenas be sold, rather than simply closed down – but the fact of the matter is that our arenas are not money-making enterprises. They are subsidized by taxes for the common good of our citizens. Private sector owners will not be breaking down the doors to pick up these assets – and even if one or two do get snapped up, rest assured that user fees will go through the roof – and only Melanson and his rich buddies will be able to afford the price of admission.

What’s next for “Grumpy Dan” the ideologue? Will transit and libraries also be on the chopping block, because he deems them not be “core services” and because they don’t make money? Apparently, not making money doesn’t matter so much, as Melanson also wants to end the City’s relationship with our municipal energy and water service provider, Greater Sudbury Utilities. If Melanson gets his way, it’ll be years of non-stop chop at City Hall.

Yet, if you visit his promotional website, you won’t see any of Melanson’s choice items for cutting listed, save for Pioneer Manor, which he obviously has a special hate-on for, given that it is staffed by unionized employees receiving living wages. Thank goodness Melanson likes to blab to the media, else we might never have discovered his anti-arena stance. Let’s wait to see if he speaks out against the Farmer’s Market, dog parks, splash pads and public beaches, too. I hope the media starts asking some of these questions, because it’s clear that Melanson is trying to pull a fast one on the electorate.

Melanson’s putting our community arenas on the chopping block will lead to a colder, diminished Sudbury. It’s a very ugly idea.

The Timely – Ward 10, John Antonioni - Flouride

Ward 10 candidate John Antonioni (who needs to up his online presence if he truly wants to have the chance to make Greater Sudbury a more “livable, affordable and progressive community”) recently tweeted, “MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN Sudbury rate payers pay apprx $200k to add FLOURIDE to water. But less than 5% of that supply is ingested. Is that OK?”

Now, since this was the first that I had heard any candidate muse about wanting to take fluoride out of our drinking water, I questioned Mr. Antonioni back in a twee, asking him if he were going to make this an election issue. The response was clear: it’s his intention to do so. Antonioni cited a number of reasons which motivate him to want to take fluoride out of drinking water, including fiscal reasons related to our infrastructure deficit, and the notion that silicofluoride is a pollutant.

In November, 2011, Mayor Matichuk mused that it was time to have a serious discussion about fluoridation. After revealing that adding fluoride to our drinking water (something that Sudbury has been doing since 1952) cost between $95,000 and $115,000 annually, and that upgrades costing $2.2 million would be needed to continue the practice, Matichuk expressed reservations. “It’s very costly to have fluoride in our system, but there is also potential risk factors to our employees who have to handle the chemical in its pure form. The amount in our water is very minute, but people need to take it upon themselves to be educated on fluoride.” (see: “It’s time to discuss water fluoridation: Matichuk”, the Northern Life, November 28, 2011). Despite Matichuk’s assertion that it was time to have this discussion, she quickly fell silent on the issue and no discussion has ever occurred.

Fast forward three years, and to Ward 10 council candidate Antonioni’s twitter musings. With cities such as Kirkland Lake, Orillia, Windsor and Calgary all voting to remove fluoride from drinking water, the time probably has come for Greater Sudbury to have an adult conversation about fluoride being added to our water. There remains significant debate around the issue of whether fluoride really does provide the public benefit to dental care that has long been claimed. With many unflouridated jurisdictions reporting no statistical difference in rates of tooth decay, Antonioni and others, like Mayor Matichuk before, are on the right track to question whether taxpayer’s money should continue to fund the addition of fluoride to our drinking water. I sincerely hope that other candidates weigh in on this timely issue, because it’s a debate and discussion whose time has come.

Antonioni might face some backlash for bringing this subject up. Certainly, it’s never an easy idea for politicians to champion – especially unelected ones. Kudos to Antonioni, though, for having the courage to bring it up, despite the potential for criticism. That’s what leadership is about.

Now if only he had a website which he could direct the public to for more information on this topic. Pssst! John – and all of you other candidates without a website: get a website. Now. It’s one of those “must have” tools for election. LinkedIn and Twitter just aren’t enough!

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)


Vince Potter said...

It makes me wonder why Mayor Matichuk never continued the Fluoride debate here in Sudbury, I am sure there is more to the story.

I for one am happy to here that John Antonioni is bringing it back to the table, hopefully this time it will get the just attention it deserves. I have included a link for further information on the health risks, not benefits of Fluoride in our water.

Brenda Rantala-Sykes said...

It just doesn't make sense!! Who is making this decision to keep fluoride in our water? It's the poor people who can't afford water filters who are getting the brunt ...and the children at schools. Please educate this council and see if any SENSE!! can be brought to their attention!!

Vince Potter said...