As his second term as Sault Ste. Marie’s mayor winds down, Christian Provenzano fielded questions and shared thoughts on his time in office with the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce in a virtual Fireside Chat held Thursday.
Provenzano - who has repeatedly said he will not seek a third term as mayor - was asked by Chamber members if there are any outstanding issues that he feels the next mayor and council need to address.
“There are,” Provenzano replied without hesitation.
Though the Sault’s opioid crisis falls under healthcare and is therefore primarily a provincial responsibility to address in terms of funding infrastructure and programs to battle opioids, Provenzano said “one of the heaviest, most challenging parts of the mayoralty, to me, has been an inability to really move the yardsticks forward in a meaningful way on the opioid epidemic. Our community certainly needs more resources.”
Provenzano expressed appreciation for plans for a provincially funded 20 bed residential withdrawal management services site planned for the former Sault Star building, but said he prefers Sault Area Hospital’s original 2018 request for a 33-bed facility and hoped that proposal will be revisited.
SAH requested $11 million for construction of a facility with an additional ongoing request for $5.8 million for operational expenses.
The province announced $343,000 in operational costs for the facility at the old Sault Star building in 2021.
“Even if it isn’t in my jurisdictional realm, you need to convene people, you need to push and get things together and frankly when I consider we are still dealing with this significant challenge, we didn’t do enough. I’m part of that. That weighs on me. I think it’ll weigh on me for years and I’m hopeful the next council will be able to more effectively move the yardsticks in that respect with our provincial and federal partners than I was able to.”
On a positive note, Provenzano spoke of his enthusiasm for revitalization of the downtown core.
“I think we’ve got a great plan.”
“This is something that we set out to really focus on. One of the main things we did was that we really changed Bay Street. We have a streetscaping design currently underway for Queen Street. I was hoping Queen Street would be on the books and we’d start that this year but it doesn’t look like that will be the case. It looks like we’ll probably do it in 2023,” Provenzano said.
“We also have streetscaping plans in place for Spring Street. The boardwalk’s going to come around and go through the marina and when you walk up that boardwalk you’re essentially looking at Spring Street. We have a design for a street that can be closed so it’s just pedestrian traffic and that street is right beside our plaza project.”
Provenzano said the city wants to move Mill Market to the middle of the downtown core, confident that will help boost ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.
“The one thing that I want to make sure I see through is the completion of that project. With the timing of tenders and construction it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to see it through because we won’t be able to get to Queen Street and Spring Street for another couple years. I really hope the next council sees the value of the project.”
Localizing an international crisis, Provenzano said he attended a conference call earlier Thursday with Sault MP Terry Sheehan, Deputy CAO Tom Vair, the Chamber and others about the Sault receiving Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their country.
“If it comes to pass that the federal government wants us to participate in this process. If Ukrainian refugees want to move to Sault Ste. Marie, we’ll do everything we can to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and make them feel comfortable in our community and make sure that they have the infrastructure and resources they need to thrive here.”
The Chamber audience asked Provenzano to list what he feels are his top three successes as mayor.
“I think that’s for other people to judge,” he replied.
“I think council has worked well with staff and staff has worked well with council. It’s been an incredibly gratifying experience. As far as identifying what I think are my greatest successes…when you’re the mayor there’s no success that is your own. You can’t move anything forward without the support of council, so the successes that we’ve experienced over the last seven or eight years have been council’s successes, and nothing happens without staff.”
“I want to recognize all the city councillors that I’ve worked with and I want to recognize staff for their support and their collaborative approach to trying to get things done for the city,” Provenzano said.
The mayor was asked what’s next for him when he leaves office in late 2022.
Provenzano emphasized he will not be running for office in the next municipal election and, in a professional sense, will concentrate on his law practice.
“I’m really looking forward to focusing any extra time that I do have on my family.”