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Hockey and the art of croquet.

Notwithstanding our international milquetoast image, Canadian politics is more like hockey than croquet.

What other country has both national political parties trying to kill off their leaders within six months of an election?

Of course, Northerners are no strangers to political intrigue. In Sault Ste. Marie we've seen Joe Fratesi, the ex-mayor, fight off a bitter conflict of interest investigation about his hasty and seamless segway from mayor to chief administrative officer of the city. In' Thunder Bay it was war for years between the old boroughs of Fort William' and Port Arthur;

Although the issues change, the fight is always about control. Sometimes its ideology, sometimes it is religion. (hospitals and schools) and sometimes it's about language, but mostly it is about style, strategy, personality and goodies. We live in a land of scarce resources and competition is fierce.

There is an important dust up in Sudbury between mayor Jim Gordon and the chamber of commerce which is important to note.

It is driven by competing personalities and by a huge philosophical divide.

At issue are the management, mission and. control of the Greater Sudbury Utilities Inc. (GSU).

On one side is a group of ex directors (four of them), including the new ex-chairman of the GSU who recently resigned en mass alleging a variety of infractions by the mayor who represented the city on the board. They seem. .to have the full support of the chamber of commerce, which has called for an inquiry into the whole matter. The four directors were hand picked by George Lund and his transition team, which oversaw the amalgamation of the region into one city last year.

The transition board's view of the GSU is that although there was merit in the city continuing to own the utility, it should stick to its knitting and be run more like an independent business, not an economic development experiment.

The last time Jim and George faced off in public was nearly 20 years ago when I they were both seeking' the" Tory nomination for the old provincial Sudbury riding. As I recall at the time, the mayor bused in a goodly number of folks from around the riding at the last-minute on a wintry Sudbury Saturday night and walked away with the nomination much to George's surprise and chagrin.

Suffice to say there is always more than meets the eye to these stories. Anyone who thought the mayor of all the people was going "to let George's appointees run his baby - the Sudbury Hydro Commission and now the Greater Sudbury Utilities Inc.-, Which was the cornerstone of his fibre optics vision for Sudbury was in serious need of a program. The only question was when and how he reasserted his control, not if.

That said, what's at stake?

The chamber wants a well-run, transparent, efficient utility that lowers the unit cost of energy to the people of Sudbury.

Jim Gordon wants an economic panzer division, and he's prepared to take extraordinary political risks to make it happen.

I must side with the mayor. A well-run utility with better overhead allocation will make no difference whatsoever to Sudbury's future.

A radical, risk-taking trailblazer might make a difference.

The utility has laid the fibre, it has launched a cogeneration plant to lower the cost of heat in the central downtown core, it had the audacity to take on the gas company when its franchise ran out, it sponsored a groundbreaking political conference some years ago, (entitled Transforming our Communities) to highlight understanding of what the Internet could mean to the community (one of our divisions was paid to help organize the conference) and the utility still delivers energy cheaper than Ontario Hydro and competitively with other jurisdictions.

Northern Ontario is being hammered by government cutbacks, the capitalization of the mining and forestry sectors, the consolidation of everything from grocery stores to radio stations, supply chain management on the Net where local suppliers to northern resource companies. must compete with requests for proposals open to suppliers from around the world, the loss of local business and local profits for reinvestment in the local economy and the disappearance of an entire generation (25 to 40 year olds) from the demographic wealth-creating map.

What is being lost is not just money. It is sovereignty. The ability to act.

A municipality in Northern Ontario, in this day of challenge, must take risks that were unthinkable only a few years' ago. We are at an historic turning point.

At the end of the day there are only two kinds of economic development import substitution and export development.

If you can supply your own energy it is called import substitution. If you can supply cheaper energy to companies which export it through value added products it is called export development. If you can use the utility to build. a knowledge infrastructure, you might get to play in the big leagues.

Sudbury is lucky to have control of its utility. I say take risks and put it to work. It would take decades to spill the amount of money we have wasted on highways in the Sudbury region, and it might be money well wasted.

Not everyone agrees, and so there is a cost.

What the mayor gains with his enlightened vision he loses by alienating people he needs to help him.

When the dust settles, the mayor and the chamber need to make 'up quickly because Sudbury is more important than either of them.

It's time for a little croquet.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 2001
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