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City Council 2015 - What Will Be The Major Issues?

Saturday, January 03, 2015   by: Mac Headrick

What better way to start off my first column of 2015 than to discuss what lies ahead in local city politics? I wonder what will be the significant issues. Of course my opinion might be very different from your priorities. That is fine as life would be very boring if we all agreed, especially when it involves local politics.

Newly elected Mayor Christian Provenzano stated during October 2014 election his desire to sit on the PUC board. I am not opposed to this but I don’t believe water quality (hopefully) is going to be as important an issue in the future. Sure, there were significant problems the last three years. I live in Ward One and have experienced the unpleasant smell, brown water etc. The PUC has made it a priority to communicate with the public and improvements have been made. The heavy lifting politically has already been done by the two Ward One representatives.

There was some talk during the election about fixed contracts for future senior administration at City Hall. Frankly these discussions were laughable. Look, if the concept of introducing “new blood” on a regular basis is a good idea, why not have term limits for our elected politicians? Can you see any long term Councillors interested in this concept? It is true there are three newly elected faces at the Council table but that was the result of retirements.

Sudbury Council made the decision before Christmas to allow stores to open Boxing Day. I do not believe this issue will be revisited locally.

The employment prospects and future of the OLG is a very important issue and will be a priority of Council this year. Sault Ste Marie has a member of the governing party (sitting at the Cabinet table). I am sure Mayor Provenzano will be in close contact with David Orazietti. The question is do you trust the Liberal Party in Toronto to look after Sault Ste Marie? I personally am cautiously optimistic.

Local taxes were a non-issue during the last election as I knew it would be. Keep the yearly increases to around two percent and there will be no problems for Ward representatives. Ward Two Councilor Susan Myers, after the election, publicly announced that Council should seek the taxpayers input into what they feel should be spending priorities of city hall. This is an excellent idea. What better option can you have as a politician than by seeking direction from the people that elected you? My prediction is the response Council will get is that Sault Ste Marie residents want all the services they presently enjoy.

In the near future City Council will deal with the issue of running daycares. Now, there is a reason that few municipalities provide this service as it is expensive. To the parents who depend on this service, it is a priority. To me snowplowing and street maintenance is important. My point is that as a politician if you make cutting taxes a priority, you will never see a seat at the council table. Fix a pot hole and /or a culvert for someone and you will have their vote forever.

There is a war coming very quickly to the province of Ontario between the ruling Liberal Party and organized labour. The Liberals were forgiven for all their financial miscues during the October 2014 election. Their majority victory didn’t mean Ontario’s financial woes would disappear. The Liberals need to address the provincial deficit. Option number one is to hold the line on public sector wages and benefits. Does the Liberal Party have the resolve to fight the major unions and hold the line on wage increases and some program cuts? If they don’t, then where will the Liberals find the necessary money to battle the deficit?

What does this have to do with local politics? Another way to balance a provincial budget is to reduce funding to all the municipalities. Above I mentioned holding tax increases to 2%. That may be a challenge if the provincial government decides that downloading (remember Mike Harris) is preferable to fighting.

For the past decade City Council has preferred the following method of development in our city. A developer comes forward with a plan. The relevant professionals at City Hall approve it. Someone objects to the development. Our elected Councillors duck under their desks and pass on the issue to the OMB. I wonder if this trend will continue. We have three new councillors. During the October 2014 election Mayor Provenzano referred to the fact that our youth is leaving Sault Ste Marie due to lack of opportunity here. Perhaps some day local politicians may realize part of the problem is they spend a lot of time representing those who oppose something. Nothing wrong with that as it is part of their job. Hopefully our new Mayor can convince Council that they should also support local citizens who are interested in building something.

As I see it, a new year always brings different challenges to any local government. I wish City Council and Mayor Provenzano all the best.

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