ONNtv hosted a series of debates for those running for city council, in partnership with the Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers. If you missed it – no worries. Here are the highlights.
Those not in attendance were Kemal Martinovic, Sandra Hollingsworth, Lou Turco, Sam Cistaro and Judy Hupponen.
Key election issues that candidates talked about were– as always – taxes, transit, quality of life for seniors, opportunities for youth and economic diversification. It is only logical that anyone running for a place on council will say that they will do their best to improve those aspects within Sault Ste. Marie. We’ve all heard where candidates stand on these commonly discussed topics. (If not, you can click here and watch Civic Affairs to learn more).
So, let’s highlight some specific answers that came to light in ONNtv’s debate.
A question raised consistently throughout this election by the Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers was whether or not candidates would support a line-by-line audit of city spending every four years when a new council is elected. Those who have said that they would support such an audit through and through are mayoral candidates Ted Johnston and Rory Ring, ward one candidates Michele McCleave-Kennedy and Derek Pearce, ward two candidates Ted Hallin and D.J Thyne, ward three candidate Winona Hutchinson, ward four candidates Tim Marsh and Marchy Bruni, and ward five candidate Ozzie Grandinetti and incumbent Frank Fata.
Ward one candidate Don Mitchell would support a line by line but not every year. Ward three candidate Donna Hilsinger supports a line by line, but not necessarily by a third party. Ward four candidate Sara McCleary believes it is only worth doing if the benefits outweigh the cost. Ward three candidate John Bruno wouldn’t say yes or no without further information on the reasoning behind the audit.
Ward two candidates Lisa Vezeau-Allen, Luke Dufour and Jason Young, as well as Ward three incumbent Matthew Shoemaker do not believe a line-by-line third party audit is necessary to ensure financial statements are balanced.
Ward five candidates Matthew Scott and Corey Gardi both suggested that they would be supportive of a line by line audit of city spending if council overwhelmingly voted in favour, however they noted that costs have to be at the forefront of consideration.
Ward one incumbent Paul Christian and ward four incumbent Rick Niro both said they would consider a line by line if they knew specifically what the goal was. Both raised the significant point, as summarized by Christian “43% percent of the budget is non-negotiable. If I knock on 20 different doors I will get 20 different answers on what an inefficiency is.” In other words, people have different beliefs in what a core service is and what services are worth paying for.
Mayor Christian Provenzano stated that the budget needs work but the Sault’s “great credit rating” and the fact that “we offer more services than essential core services that we are mandated to” suggests that we do not need a line-by-line by an external party.
Mayoral candidate Ted Johnston said it isn’t up to council to decide what a core service is – it is up to the citizens to tell the municipal government what they expect. Ring stated taxes are way too high and we need to find ways to offer the services in cheaper and more efficient ways – thus endorsing a line by line audit.
The different outlooks from council and mayoral candidates prove the dynamic balance city staff and leadership will need to acquire in the transitionary period following elections – as with every dollar spent a service is provided. Is the service in question discretionary or essential? Well that depends on who you ask.
And while the importance and priority of some services can be argued, our emergency services are detrimental to the safety and well-being of our citizens. The question that can be debated, however, is to what extend they are funded and how much control the city takes.
When asked whether or not the realignment of the fire services, a process which began in 2015, was good stewardship, ward one candidates had a mix of responses. Christian stated that council had a strict budget and they did what they could, but that the plan in place now is much more efficient. McCleave-Kennedy argued that the city did what it needed to do, but that the mental health and safety of the firefighters needs to be at the forefront moving forward. Mitchell and Pearce both described it as bad stewardship that cost a ton in overtime and was unsafe.
Mayoral candidates weighed in on this controversial topic as well. Johnston described the realignment as “a disaster” and “a stain on council.”
In the ward five debates, candidates highlighted a necessity to focus on reaching an agreement with paramedics. Fata stated that their pay needs to be line with police and fire services. Scott explained that, from a cost-benefit perspective, we lose more money as a city by reducing staff because of overtime pay. Gardi argued that the city did the best it could and now we need to follow the new Fire Master Plan.
In terms of where money is being spent, the use of consultants by mayor and council is something that has raised some concern amongst citizens and current council members alike. The mayoral candidates spent some time weighing in on the need for consultants, with Provenzano standing by his view that the city has only ever used consultants when they have needed their expertise. Ring said, if elected, he would enact a stricter process for the use of consultants, stating “You’d have to prove to council the benefit of the consultant and the need for it.” Johnston said there is no need whatsoever for hiring consultants. Looking to the crowd, he stated “YOU are the consultants.”
Another hot topic both during and prior to this election period has been whether or not to extend Sackville Road. Candidates in wards three and four were put in the hot seat about it. Hilsinger, McCleary and Marsh have said they would not support it and would prefer to support healthier and more environmentally friendly choices for getting place to place. Shoemaker and Hutchinson would both support the extension citing matters of public safety. Bruno, Bruni and Niro all said it would have to be weighed out by further recommendation and study by city staff in terms of cost versus benefit.
Ward two candidates were asked about two key issues that have been points of contention within their boundaries, both in this election and over the course of the last four years. The first being the city funding the beautification of Bay street, which is supported by Dufour, who stated it will end up saving money on structural work in the long-term, as well as by Young and Hallin. Thyne stated more consideration needs to be taken, and Vezeau-Allen said the money could be used better. The second issue is the methadone clinic on Queen Street. Young said while he sympathizes with those who need methadone, the “conga line” outside cause an optics problem for surrounding businesses. Hallin, Thyne, Vezeau-Allen and Dufour all support it staying in a central location. All candidates agreed that work needs to be done in order to better serve those suffering with addictions issues in our community. Dufour raised an important and often overlooked fact – the methadone clinics are privately owned and there is no legal vehicle to make them move.
Ward five candidates were asked about the industrial tax rates in Sault Ste. Marie, whether they see them as problematic or fair, considering that Sault Ste. Marie has the highest small and large class industrial tax rates out of 102 cities surveyed in the 2017 BMA study. Grandinetti, Fata and Scott all expressed a need to commit to changing the tax rates for those groups in order to diversify the economy and drive jobs to the Sault. Gardi said we need to take a balanced approach because the cuts to this class cannot be at the expense of services – for example, vital services or the residential tax rates.
In regards to diversifying the local economy, Many Saultites are greatly anticipating the legalization of cannabis across Canada, and wondering what the implications are in terms of business opportunity. Ward three and four candidates were asked about whether they believe the city should be proactive in getting involved.
Candidates in ward three all supported getting on board with the blossoming pot industry, so long as the proper policies are in place, with Hilsinger stating “we are in an enviable position to grow the economy with our central location. We should capitalize on the tourism elements of being near so many U.S states.” Hutchinson raised the point, “we should be growing it, as it could help with our opioid crisis as a means of waning off harder drugs.”
Bruni said the city should have some control over the sites and we should “go with it.” Niro seconded this, adding though that we should not be marketing it as a product or attraction until it is fully marketable. Marsh supports bringing it to the community as well. McCleary however believes we should take a ‘wait and see’ approach, opting out and analyzing how other cities succeed before delving into the pot industry ourselves. The issue with that, however, is that the option for municipalities to opt out is a one-time offer, not necessarily something that can be revisited as specified by the provincial government.
While we at SaultOnline have done our best to summarize the critical issues, concerns, topics and promises debated and made throughout the 2018 municipal elections, our words can’t fully encompass the ideas that came to the surface and the promises that were made by candidates – so we encourage you, before election day on Monday October 22nd, to click here and watch the debate for your ward!
Remember – knowledge is power!
Tune into SaultOnline/ONNtv for more election coverage.