In the years that I’ve been blogging, I have tried to make end-of-the-year predictions regarding what I think we here in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada can expect in the new year. Mostly, I do this because it’s fun – but it’s also become a bit of an ego-kill for me when I review my previous year’s predictions against the reality of the year in question. 2013 was no exception.
On the one hand, I might be able to forgive myself for missing some of the biggest stories of the year. I was certainly in good company for not predicting the Senate scandal and the attendant drop in the popularity of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. I was in excellent company in not predicting a majority government mandate for Christy Clark’s Liberals from the voters in British Columbia. And regarding Rob Ford? Well, I think we’re all still in a state of disbelief about that.
Although my track record left a lot to be desired, I’m nevertheless going to continue with my yearly predictions – although I will try to tone it down to fewer than six parts this year.
City of Greater Sudbury
With municipal elections scheduled for all of Ontario in October of 2014, let me first turn my attention to what I see shaping up here in Greater Sudbury, where it’s sure to be a really interesting municipal election, thanks to some very questionable decisions made by our municipal council over the past few years.
Voter Turn-Out & Store Hours Referendum
First, Greater Sudbury will buck the municipal trend of declining voter turn-out. I’m positive that a greater number of Sudburians will cast their ballots in 2014 than those that did in 2010, due to two factors: motivation to either save or dismiss current incumbents; and the store hours referendum which will appear on the ballot.
About that referendum. Greater Sudbury, I’m told, is the only city in all of Ontario which still requires businesses of a certain size to be closed on statutory holidays such as Boxing Day and Labour Day. Further, store operating hours are regulated by the City, and special permission is needed for stores to be open late or open early. Although the Mayor of Greater Sudbury, Marianne Matichuk, ran in 2010 on a platform to overturn the by-law, Council booted a decision on the by-law to a referendum question. I predict that Sudburians will vote by a two-thirds majority to overturn the by-law in 2014 – and in such numbers as to make the referendum legally binding (50% of voters are needed to do so).
While the focus of municipal elections is often on who occupies the Mayor’s chair, this election in Greater Sudbury is going to be different. That’s not to suggest that the race for Mayor will be a foregone conclusion (it will be anything but), but it is to suggest that ward council races are going to be just as heated – if not more – in 2014. Speculation throughout the City has been on which of the 12 ward councillors will vacate their seats – either to retire from municipal politics, or to take a run for the Mayor’s chair. I predict that most of our current municipal councillors will leave their wards open for a challenge in 2014. I predict (based on no knowledge – only on hunches) that only Councillors Belli (Ward 8), Landry-Altman (Ward 12), Barbeau (Ward 2), Rivet (Ward 6) and Berthiaume (Ward 3) will make a play for their wards in the next election – which leaves 7 wards vacant for new candidates.
I further predict that only Councillors Belli and Rivet will be returned – although if Councillors Kilgour (Ward 7), Dupuis (Ward 5) and Dutrisac (Ward 4) decide to run again, I predict that they will be returned. But I think that Kilgour and Dutrisac have likely had enough of municipal politics at this time, and will be stepping down, along with Councillors Caldarelli (Ward 10) and Craig (Ward 9). Councillor Cimino (Ward 1) will opt to focus his energies on provincial politics, whether a provincial election is held in 2014 or not. And Councillors Dupuis (Ward 5) and Kett (Ward 11) may take a run for the Mayor’s position.
The Campaign for Mayor
Look for a strong race for the Mayor’s chair in 2014. Our current Mayor ran a masterful come-from-behind campaign in 2010 to seize the position, seemingly out of nowhere. This time, Matichuk is the incumbent, and carries some of the baggage from the past four years. With the public perception being that the current Council has been a flop, Matichuk will have to try to make the case that the blame for a lack of success needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the other 12 members of Council, and not hers.
At the end of 2013, only one other known candidate for Mayor has stepped forward – in fact, former Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez had let it be known in the closing days of 2012 that he would be mounting a campaign to return to the Mayor’s chair in 2015.
We can probably expect one or two other high-profile campaigns – possibly from Councillors Dupuis and/or Kett. I think that Dupuis might be better positioned to mount a successful campaign, as he has weathered the anti-Council storm better than Kett, and his ward (comprised of both inner- and outer-City components) puts him in a better position to make a play for all voters, rather than a particular constituency.
That being said, money really is the biggest factor which will help determine who eventually throws their hat in the ring for Mayor. If Kett or Dupuis (or even Rodriguez for that matter) feel that they can’t raise $100,000, there might not be any point for them to step forward to challenge for that position. Despite the baggage now carried by Matichuk, I believe that most voters will be sympathetic and opt to give her another mandate.
Will another high-profile candidate step forward? It’s possible, I suppose. Prominent citizen Gerry Lougheed’s name keeps coming up – as does former PC candidate Gerry Labelle’s. Either could conceivably raise the $100,000 plus needed to make a run for the Council Chair, but I think that both will opt to sit this one out – the situation is just too volatile – unless Councillors Dupuis and Kett make clear indications that they will not run for Mayor in 2014. At this time, both have been very coy about their future plans.
Money and Winning
There will also be a number of others making the run for the Mayor’s Chair. Although many will offer bold and compelling visions for the City, as with all elections, messaging won’t count – and money does. I know that sounds very cynical (heck, it IS very cynical), but that does appear to be our electoral reality. To those who think that this might be a good election to at least get out there and have themselves and their issues get noticed by running for Mayor, I strongly believe that the opposite will be true. Ink will not be spilt on any campaign which raises less than $50,000 – and that means that your messages, ideas, and you yourself will be lost in the media – written off as “also rans” even before the race really gets underway.
Instead of pursuing the Mayor’s chair, why not make a bid at becoming a municipal councillor, where spending limits are considerably lower (about $15,000) and playing fields therefore more levelled. Of course, exposure for candidates running for Council is usually a lot lower than normal – nevertheless, this election might offer some creative opportunities, given the heat which is sure to be on in ward races. Social media, grassroots media, and even earned media from the mainstream media outlets are certainly routes for candidates to exploit.
Party Politics at the Municipal Level
Those ward races might be dominated by so-called “independents”, but the reality will be anything but. It’s been no secret that both the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association (which is really just the Conservative Party at the municipal level) and the NDP have both been active in recruiting candidates whom will run well-financed campaigns for ward councils. I predict that many of them will be successful, but a couple of truly independent-minded councillors might also be elected. Wards 9 and 11 and 12 (and maybe 1) will be the wards to really watch this time around (as Wards 8 and 11 were in 2010).
Who Will Occupy the Mayor’s Chair?
I predict that Marianne Matichuk will be returned as Mayor in 2014 – and she will be joined by a majority of new councillors – many of whom will be firmly affixed to either the right or the left side of the political spectrum. While the balance between left and right will almost assuredly be different in 2014 than it is today, I predict that Council will, if anything, become more polarized along political lines than ever before. This polarization (and the rise of political party involvement at the municipal level) is a direct result of extending the municipal mandate to four years. Party politics is already playing havoc with municipal councils in larger cities (such as Toronto, London and Ottawa) – smaller centres like Greater Sudbury have started to feel the impacts, but they’ve largely been tempered by more independent-minded incumbents. As those incumbents retire or are removed, partisans are sure to take their place in increasing numbers. We’ll see that happen here in Greater Sudbury.
I won’t spend much time on this – suffice it to say that the only question about Toronto which is on the top of mind for Ontarians (and all Canadians, for that matter) is whether Rob Ford will be returned as Mayor. With several other credible campaigns expected (not least of which from the NDP’s Olivia Chow), it seems unlikely that Ford can hold on to his Chair (or what’s left it now that Council has stripped him of so many of his duties). John Tory continues to dither about whether he’ll run. Karen Stintz and David Socknacki, both sitting Councillors who occupy the right-side of the political spectrum, have already announced their intention to run – and maybe that’s why Tory continues to dither.
Expect a few more high-profile individuals to contemplate a run. They will be centrists or right-wingers, however, as Chow’s entrance in the race will almost certainly keep all other left-wingers at bay. I predict that with Chow’s ability to consolidate the left-wing vote throughout the City, she will become Toronto’s next Mayor in 2014.
Some other key municipal races to watch include the City of Mississauga (where forever-Mayor Hazel McCallion will, at the age of 92, finally surrender the Mayor’s chair in 2014 – she’s already vowed not to run again); the scandal-plagued City of London (where Mayor Joe Fontana and his partisan gang on Council have brought national disrepute to London through their continual flaunting of the Municipal Act, along with the Mayor’s fraud charges); the City of Ottawa (which always offers has lively political offerings on tap) and my hometown: the City of Brampton (where Mayor Susan Fennell really should opt not to run again after spending and charity-related scandals – but she probably will run – and go down in defeat).
(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)