Store hours debate 'a boil that needs to be lanced'

Sudbury is moving ahead with its first referendum in 20 years.

Former mayor says he's happy question is going to referendum

Sudbury is moving ahead with its first referendum in 20 years.

But letting voters make the big municipal decisions used to be a lot more common.

Fluoride plebiscite?

Regulating store hours might not be the only question put to Sudbury voters in the 2014 election.

Mayor Marianne Matichuk said she may push for a referendum on putting fluoride in the city's drinking water.

She first brought up the issue two years ago in an effort to save the $100,000 the city spends on fluoride.

"That might be coming over," she said.

"There's a lot of talk about that. The more research I'm doing and the more information I'm getting, it's something I think the public needs to decide also."

However, Matichuk is against holding a referendum on store hours, and has said it's council's job to make that decision.

Many Canadian cities have held a referendum on fluoride and some have voted to remove it from the drinking water.

Sudburians have been drinking fluoridated water since 1952.

Former Sudbury Mayor Jim Gordon said he is happy to hear the question of store hours is going to a referendum after many divisive debates around the council table.

"Almost you might say it's a boil that needs to be lanced," he said.

Gordon was the mayor for the last Sudbury referendum in 1994 when voters were asked whether to build a new community centre in Bell Park or downtown.

He said there were vocal resident groups on both sides and council wasn't sure what to do — so the question was put to a plebiscite.

"So really it was to determine what [was] the view of the public, not just the council," Gordon said.

Back further in history, in the 50s and 60s, Sudbury voters were regularly handed a referendum ballot on everything from local liquor laws to whether the city should replace its streetcars with buses.

Brock University political scientist David Siegel said cities have moved away from referenda and instead engage voters at open houses, town hall meetings and on Facebook.

"And they might get better, richer comments from people than they could from people simple voting yes or no," Siegel said.

Sudburians could be asked more than one yes-or-no question in 2014, as Mayor Marianne Matichuk may push for a referendum on fluoride in the city’s drinking water. (See sidebar)