Op-Ed: The Plaza Must NOT Be Funded


Funding this Downtown Plaza at this time in our history is irresponsible.

You are putting the cart before the horse in attempting to build the Downtown Plaza at this time.

Taken from the project rationale, as prepared by Tom Vair, for Monday’s City Council meeting:

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the health of a community’s downtown is…one of the most important factors…. use(d) to assess the health of a community.”

Downtown areas play a central role in defining the character of our city.

It is common knowledge that the outward symptoms of our addiction/mental health/homeless crises are obvious in the downtown area. These symptoms are not going to magically disappear just because millions of dollars of infrastructure is built there.

Common sense says that there is a logical order of events.

Unless and until the underlying causes of these crises have been addressed, then the Downtown Plaza plans must be put on the shelf.

  • Other projects must take priority because they involve saving lives.
  • Families and tourists will not feel comfortable in even visiting the Downtown area no
    matter what activities are there.
  • Any infrastructure that is built would be a target for vandalism.
  • Businesses are not going to open there because of vandalism and the reluctance of customers to go there.

Several times already, city staff has come to council with an overrun. History says that there will be more overruns in order to complete the project.  Is this an indication of a lack of attention to detail in the plan or a deliberate attempt to get buy-in because of a lower price, counting on acceptance for further expenses because of the initial investment? Either way, we lose.

Since the inception of the Downtown Plaza, the city staff has been adamant that all the planned elements are vital to achieving the desired outcomes. That is probably true. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. They have learned from mistakes made previously. Over the years, the City would have experienced significant financial benefits from the proposed Olympic-sized swimming pool with provisions for spectators. At the time, in order to further cut building costs for the pool, the planned insolation material was replaced by a different material only to result in major expenses shortly after because the original material was chosen for its particular, necessary qualities. The downsized waterfront fountain became an embarrassment as it was smaller than the fountain in a considerably smaller nearby locality. When compromises are made, especially on a short timeline, mistakes result.

The go-to political response is that funds from some sources can’t be used for other different types of projects.

There are solutions to our problems that will require funding. We can’ be overextended. It is vital that we position ourselves so that we are open, ready, and able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Some funding opportunities are contingent on having funds available as a prerequisite to applying.

It is reasonable to assume that the reputation of the entity asking for money as a grant or loan from various levels of government or lending institutions, is taken into consideration. Money sources look at how much you owe and where your spending priorities have been. Since our drug problems have been the focus of a national television report and our statistics for opioid use, addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, and suicide rates are all higher than the provincial averages, prioritizing spending money on another wading pool, another outdoor performance stage (we have 2 others), another outdoor skating rink (we have many) and a high-performance sound system, would seem to be misguided to most observers.

Taken from the project rationale, as prepared by Tom Vair, for Monday’s City Council meeting:

“The plaza project is a critical component of the downtown revitalization strategy.”

Even if that were true, it is NOT the first step that is required in this process.

Sault Ste. Marie is experiencing several crises and we must demand they are treated as such.

Mature decision-making considers prioritizing needs before wants.

The unprecedented situations Sault Ste. Marie faces with regards to the opioid use crisis, addiction crisis, mental health crisis, homelessness crisis, climate crisis, suicide rate, and food insecurity demands that we be concerned and totally focused on needs not wants.

The Downtown Plaza MUST NOT be funded at this time!



HOMELESSNESS: Homelessness is up over 250% in Sault Ste. Marie in three years. A report to the District of Sault Ste. Marie Administration Board in Nov/21, stated there are 244 individuals who identify as homeless in our community. That is an increase of 262 percent.

OPIOID CRISIS: According to Algoma Public Health, Opioid-related mortality in Algoma is higher than the average for Ontario.

Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson, speaking with members of the Police Services Board:

“The use of the naloxone and the increase thereof that you’ve seen, as well as the crimes of robbery and violence in our community, are…related to a public health issue, and that is long-term drug usage …— and we just have to do more.”

“People who are dependent on opioids and other substances have a health problem – often described as an addiction. Addiction is not a crime. It is not a moral failing. It is a health problem. According to Dr. Jane Philpott, former Minister of Health, the drivers of problematic substance use are well known. They include stigma and discrimination, poverty and the absence of social supports, isolation, rejection, abandonment, abuse, conflict, and mental illness.”

MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS: The Sault & Area Drug Strategy 2019 states, “…The death by suicide rate as well as the mental health and addictions hospitalization rate (in Sault Ste. Marie) surpasses provincial rates.” Since then, it has gotten worse.

FOOD INSECURITY: Poverty is very real in our community and families and individuals are making impossible choices like whether to put food on the table, pay the rent or pay for medication.

More than 11,000 people in Sault Ste. Marie struggle with food insecurity and poverty, creating a serious impact on the physical and mental health of our community. Jane McGoldrick reports that Harvest Algoma is actually doing about 1,700 meals each week.

CLIMATE CRISIS: With a global pandemic, wildfires, increases in the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons, expanding drought, flooding, dangerous air quality, and individual extreme events from tornadoes to heatwaves, people have gotten the message that the climate crisis is an emergency here and now.

It is a scientific fact that the critical time to address Climate Change is 2030 -only 8 years away. The climate crisis presents an imminent fight for our lives. Decisive, committed action must be started now to implement the changes that are required.
There is no time for excuses.

The time to act was twenty years ago. But now that the abyss is within sight, the last thing we need to do is keep marching towards it.

What MUST be done?

These crises can be separated into 2 parts.

Part A – addiction, mental health, homelessness
Part B – climate crisis and food insecurity


Addiction, mental health, and homelessness are a collection of complex, overlapping crises. With that in mind, The District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) has been extremely prudent in starting the construction of one building that will house the various agencies/supports needed to address the causes of the problems. This is a huge step forward, as it will allow each client to have a treatment plan geared to their particular needs and their barriers to success addressed in the same building.

Counselors would create and manage an individual treatment plan for each client. The counselors would have direct access to the network of 42 agencies already established by The Algoma Leadership Table and the Social Equity Action Team in its Municipal Community Safety and Well Being Plan 2021-2026.

At the same time, The District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) has been extremely prudent in preparing a building that will house those who are homeless or vulnerably housed. The DSSMSSAB knows it is vital to have trained counselors at this location 24/7. These counselors would work in close liaison with The Algoma Leadership Table’s 42 agencies. This housing would offer clients individualized support rooted in harm reduction and skill building with an overarching goal of social and community integration.

This results in a totally client-centered approach, which has been proven to be the most effective for client success and allows the most efficient, effective use of the total system of resources.

Even though solutions are forthcoming because the effects of addiction, mental health, and homelessness have become so pervasive in Sault Ste. Marie, resolution of these issues will need time.

To manage the current situation, Sault Ste. Marie NEEDS more police officers. We need all our police officers trained in the Mental Health First Aid Course set up by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and racial profiling. We need mental health workers to travel with officers for domestic violence/mental health concern calls. (More in the attachment listed alphabetically under Mental Health First Aid Course) The joint responsibility of initiation and regular review of the Municipal Community Safety and Well Being Plan 2021-2026 will be primarily led by the Sault Ste. Marie Police Services with the support of the City of Sault Ste. Marie. The Police Department needs more funds.


When the City Council assumes the leadership role, it serves as a motivator for city staff, citizens, funders, and local media to buy in and help build the momentum needed to create a paradigm shift that will fuel the completion of action items.

I am sure if the same level of dogged determination, enthusiasm, level of commitment, and creative bookkeeping was applied to the climate crisis and food insecurity solutions by the city staff, the vital action plans would be initiated quite quickly.

There are many very talented citizens in Sault Ste. Marie that have the expertise, skill
sets and experience necessary to do a remarkable job. Grassroots power can and is doing incredible things around the world. Working together towards common, positive goals, and building a team spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm will promote improved mental health. That is what Sault Ste. Marie citizens need especially at this time when issues around the virus, addiction, mental health, homelessness, and food insecurity have downed our spirits.

If asked and given the opportunity, the citizens will become very creative. As they see the Community improving, it will be an incentive for more participation in more action items.


  • We NEED to plant trees using Miyawaki forests theory
    • The trees in a Miyawaki forest absorb 30 times as much carbon as a normal forest.
      (More in the Attachment -Miyawaki forests)
    • Little Forests Kingston has provided city residents with aids to use this technique in
      town. They are using parks, and strips of neglected public land.
  • We NEED to plant pollinator gardens.
    • In many Dutch cities, you can now find things like ‘bee hotels,’ ‘bee stops,’ and ‘honey
      highways.’ These are vital initiatives that are keeping urban bee populations from dying
      off! (More in the Attachment under Bees)

Emily Cormier could organize a committee to make these happen:

  • Travis Reid -Parks Division
  • Head of Forestry & Horticulture Division
  • A representative from FutureSSM- mandate: a holistic four-pillar approach to
    supporting community resilience that includes Cultural Vitality, Economic Growth &
    Diversity, Environmental Sustainability, and Social Equity
  • Erik Emilson -Natural Resources, Environmental Sustainability Committee member
  • Pedro -Plant & Soil Ecology, Algoma University, Environmental Sustainability
    Committee member
  • Representatives from Clean North and the Sault Naturalists -community involvement
    and resources to rally community volunteers
  • A representative from Invasive Species Centre -a source of the types of bees here &
    their preferred flowers


  • We NEED a community retrofit fund for S.S.M. (Better Homes)
  • We NEED to build net-zero and sustainable design buildings (More in the Attachment under Sudbury is building a net-zero and sustainable design building.)

Travis Anderson and Dave Ellis have been doing research on these issues.

  • We NEED electric vehicles charging stations.

ENERGY – Solar Panel Parking Lots

Corporate campuses, hotels, malls, schools, and sports arena parking lots are some of the places that have added solar panels to their parking lots. The solar panels generate cheaper power for the buildings. The canopies increase vehicle fuel efficiency as they stay cooler underneath the shade, reducing the need for air conditioning, and saving energy and expenses. Electric vehicles can be charged in plug-in ports. The asphalt and concrete that compose the parking lot absorb the sun’s energy and retain heat which is one reason cities remain so hot.
(More in the Attachment under Solar Options for Municipality-Owned Parking Facilities)


  • We NEED to purchase only vehicles that are highly efficient and run on zero-carbon
    and renewable energy fuels.
  • We NEED to develop and maintain bike friendly infrastructure (e.g., bike lanes, trails
    and racks)
  • We NEED electric vehicles charging stations.

Vancouver’s battery-electric buses charge in just five minutes. These zero-emission buses were made by Canadian e-bus manufacturers and will cut pollution, fuel costs, noise, and exhaust. Each bus is expected to cut 100 tonnes of emissions and save $40,000 in fuel costs per year compared to a conventional diesel bus.


South Korea recycles 95% of food waste. Waste collected is squeezed at the processing plant to remove moisture, which is used to create biogas and bio-oil. Dry waste is turned into fertiliser that is helping to grow the country’s urban farm industry or animal feed. The number of urban farms or community gardens in the capital city has increased sixfold in the last seven years. Recycling food waste saves the country up to $600,000 dollars that would otherwise have been used to process it in a landfill or sewage plant. ( More in the Attachment under Waste)

We must prioritize. We must be pragmatic. We must collaborate to make a game plan of action items. Then we work together to make it happen. TEAM.

(Together Everyone Accomplishes More)

BUILDING CODES AND ZERO – Emissions New Buildings

We need to make sure future buildings do not produce carbon emissions. We need building codes or municipal standards that mandate all new buildings to be net-zero emissions within the next few years and specific policies for moving away from using fossil fuels such as natural gas in buildings.


We need to move to zero-emission vehicles (including transit and school bus fleets) as quickly as possible. Many cities and provinces in Canada already have mandates for 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales, some by as early as 2030. Municipalities can install charging infrastructure and require new buildings to be electric-vehicle-ready.


To meet our climate goals, all new energy must be renewable and free of carbon emissions. Solutions like rooftop solar, energy storage, and community- or Indigenous-owned renewable energy projects can play an important role in your local plan, particularly in provinces with a significant amount of coal- or gas-fired electricity.

It’s time for concrete, specific language. We need to heat the air inside our homes and buildings using electricity, not oil or gas. We need to invest in heat pumps, proper insulation and solar power. We need to move goods and people using electric motors, not gasoline or diesel. We need to invest in bike racks and electric vehicle charging stations.

It is imperative that we invest our money and labour resources in ways that will address the current crises we face.

Decisions to make purchases must be made with the focus on whether it contributes to addressing the climate crisis problem or not. At this point, any purchases that don’t contribute to the solution are part of the problem and we can’t afford it. That includes designating spending of potential money that will come to us from any source in the future.

The Downtown Plaza MUST NOT be funded at this time!

~ David


  1. The mayor has referred to the city today as “A flourishing and prosperous city”
    However, you would immediately think that he is talking about some other city as this one is currently no such place, it has a serious drug epidemic, rampant ongoing crime, a mental health care crisis and lack of affordable housing, not to mention the pitiful and embarrassing falling apart condition of almost all of the roads, yet, an unneeded downtown plaza somehow supersedes all of the other far more important issues and these issues get pushed to the wayside again to build an unneeded downtown plaza because it’s what the mayor wants and demands. There is no good reason on earth why this should go forward, but obviously it will. WE’RE SICK OF THE CORRUPTION AT CITY HALL.

  2. Once again a well written article. How many citizens have spoken up against this waste of tax payer money. City councillors should all be sent for a hearing test in my opinion!

  3. Hey David, you know this and we know this but the bottom line is that this is the mayor’s pet project and it is being shoved down our throats, like it or not. He can hardly be accountable for it now as he is on his way out. All of the Councillors going along with him on this are completely another matter.

  4. They are on the wrong side of history with this silly plaza. Shame on them all. What a legacy they will all have down the road when this becomes another waste of big money at a time of crisis.

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