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Sudbury's newest mayor pushes for regional power.

Over the next four to five years Greater Sudbury is going to have one of the most exciting and dynamic economies the city has ever seen, Mayor John Rodriguez says.

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"Our role is to ask how we can position ourselves beyond the next four years when maybe the global demands for our resources isn't as high. We have to develop protocols and put structures in place so we can develop other strengths."

Building on existing pillars in the local medical community and establishing new strengths in the arts are certainly two areas of focus. However, these projects cannot be realized on the backs of the local taxpayers, he says

Given the elevated nickel prices, the municipality must start earning its share from the massive revenues seen by the various mining companies dotted throughout the Greater Sudbury landscape, he says.

"Never before have we seen nickel prices so high, and yet we get so little in return. The workers do very well, and that's good because they get a nickel bonus. The province is doing very well, because they're getting provincial corporate taxes, they're getting royalties on the ores. The feds are doing fantastically because they're getting federal corporate tax, but what does the municipality get out of it?"

Arriving to Ontario from Guyana in 1956, Rodriguez worked as a Coniston teacher in 1962. In 1972, he was first elected as the riding's NDP MP, a position he was elected to four more times across 20 years.

Rodriguez also takes issue with the current system regarding the provincial portion of property taxes, known as the education tax. In recent months, this has stood as an issue for numerous businesses across Ontario, especially given the disparity between commercial and residential rates.

He says the taxation should instead be tied to a business or homeowner's income, and that both should be charged only for services they receive, such as sewage, water services as well as garbage and snow removal.

As an alternative, Rodriguez says businesses and homeowners should be allowed to use the education tax on their property as a deduction to their provincial income tax, and suggests he may work with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to discuss pushing the issue.

In order to make these kinds of meaningful changes, he says the province needs to create some sort of regional government in which Northern Ontario can dictate its own power and transportation costs. In so doing, it may become viable to build a rolling mill or stainless steel plant in the Sudbury area, which has ample materials but prohibitive energy pricing.

As he further discusses the need for regional control over energy, his low-key demeanor turns to roaring defiance as he sits forward, his eyes lighting up and his voice suddenly swelling to fill the room.

"That's what's holding us back from taking advantage of our resources and making finished products here," he says. "We gotta change that. No longer are you going to use Northern Ontario as the resource base for developing the southern Ontario economy."

The message of forcing the province to listen to the city's problems was one repeated throughout his mayoral campaign. However, following the completion of Ontario municipal elections, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that new mayors should not to turn to the province for the funding to solve their problems.

As this cuts to the heart of many of the issues Rodriguez holds dear, he admits it is an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

"Of course all the mayors and councils would be flocking down to Queen's Park, and he would have to tell them to flock off. I know this because I'm not a rookie, and that's the advantage of having me here. I've got the experience and I've heard that tune, and I'm not afraid of going back."

By NICK STEWART

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2007 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:SUDBURY
Author:Stewart, Nick
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:644
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