Sault Ste. Marie mayoral hopefuls promise action on the environment and addictions
Mayor's seat is open with Christian Provenzano stepping aside after two terms
With less than two weeks until election day, the five people who want to be the next mayor of Sault Ste. Marie squared off on two of the top issues facing the northern Ontario city.
The debate at Algoma University Tuesday night focused on climate change and the opiod crisis and would-be mayor Ozzie Grandinetti sees both as examples of how the Sault has taken a turn for the worse.
"The city is falling apart and the leadership is standing by and watching," said the former city councillor.
He says he would lobby the provincial governments to put more funding into mental health and addictions services in the Sault, while pushing the city toward carbon neutrality by planting more trees and switching to more electric vehicles.
Those environmental initiatives are also on the platform for current two-term councillor Matthew Shoemaker, who says he is one of the only mayoral hopefuls to lay out their ideas in a detailed plan.
"And I'll do it all in a way that won't skyrocket your taxes," he said, adding that his opponents "owe you the specifics about what they plan to do if elected, but very few provide this."
His council colleague and now election rival Donna Hilsinger says as mayor pushing the provincial government for more addictions funding will be at the top of her to-do list.
"If elected I will take action on day one," she said.
"We know it's not working, people are dying. People are dying every day."
But political newcomer Robert Peace, who is also new to Sault Ste. Marie, says in his few years talking to people on the frontlines, more bureaucracy is not the prescription to the opiod crisis.
"We keep asking for more money to dump into a system that has shown no results," said Peace.
The film industry worker says he would instead focus on coordinating the efforts of volunteer agencies helping with those struggling with addiction and would like to see the city purchase old houses in the downtown core and fix them up for affordable housing.
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Tobin Kern says he was inspired to run for mayor of Sault Ste. Marie by the lack of action on climate change and would strive to make city operations emission free.
The candidates were also asked about whether the city can expand its traditional industry economy, while promoting nature-based tourism.
Most candidates focused on the proposed ferrochrome smelter, which would see minerals from the Ring of Fire processed in the Sault.
"Our city and our ecosystems have enough industrial pollutants to contend with already," said Kern.
"Unless we want to become a disaster tourism destination."
Peace and Grandinetti also say they're opposed to the smelter, while Hilsinger sees the example set by the electrification of the furnaces at Algoma Steel as a "opportunity to think differently" about the classic northern Ontario conflict between the economy and the environment.
Shoemaker agrees, although he thinks the sale of the chromite deposits to Wyloo Metals earlier this year could take this long-simmering debate off the local agenda.
"I don't think there's any chance that the ferrochrome processing facility will come to the Sault, because I don't think the company that now owns the mineral deposits has any interest. I frankly don't think the next council will have a decision to make on that," he said.
"I support the industry that's here and I support expanding the industry that's here."