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Bradley and Gillis offer differing visions of Sarnia’s future

Cathy Dobson The tension was unmistakable when Mike Bradley and Anne Marie Gillis faced off in debate for the first time this municipal election campaign.
Mayoral candidates Anne Marie Gillis and Mike Bradley found little common ground during a debate hosted by the Rotary Club of Sarnia last week. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

The tension was unmistakable when Mike Bradley and Anne Marie Gillis faced off in debate for the first time this municipal election campaign.

Bradley seemed barely able to check his anger as he described his frustration with the past term of council.

“What’s happened in the last four years is a complete unbalance in the system,” Bradley charged. “I can’t point to one decision of Sarnia city council that wasn’t an endorsement of a staff report.”

The past term was dominated by animosity between the mayor and a majority of city councillors, including Gillis, who twice voted to dock Bradley’s pay for harassing and bullying senior staff.

Bradley was also directed not to communicate directly with the CAO, clerk and other employees. Gillis was appointed the intermediary between mayor and staff.

Sarnia’s two other mayoral candidates, Kip Cuthbert and Fred Ingham, did not attend the debate hosted by the Rotary Club of Sarnia.

Bradley complained that he and Coun. David Boushy were “shut down” when they raised questions, and taxpayers who wanted to come to council were told they couldn’t.

“I want to take away the fortress mentality at City Hall. I want to take down the wall … that has disenfranchised the taxpayers,” he said, referring to a wall built to separate him from City Hall staff.

“I would make the case to you that the administration is running the city and the political people are not doing their job as it relates to bringing that balance of political accountability and staff accountability,” he said.

Neither candidate dominated or delivered knockout punches, but both strongly opposed the others leadership style.

“Clearly, my colleague has a completely different interpretation of what has gone on the past four years,” said Gillis, a 15-year council veteran.

“The mayor is not better than council,” she said. “Council is a decision-making body. We listen and we understand what the staff is telling us, but we are the final decision makers.

“Councillors work together to make a decision. The mayor is the person that promotes that decision. The mayor is not the person who takes away everything from council so that they are basically trained seals.

“That is not good governance,” she said.

Bradley and Gillis each took credit for initiating the city’s debt-reduction program after the debt soared to $95 million in 2003.

It has since been reduced to about $15 million, but Bradley said he is upset council took on new debt in 2017 and increased the city budget by $20 million over the past term.

“We need fiscal accountability at City Hall,” he said. “I was elected last time on a platform of eliminating the debt, continuing to decrease our staff, continuing services and not overspending. All of those things have fallen by the wayside,” Bradley said.

Gillis said debt reduction is one of council’s biggest achievements of the past 15 years.

“Now it’s time to refocus and readjust our financial plan so our assets throughout the city don’t deteriorate,” she said.

She wants the city to spend more in infrastructure, but that’s a challenge because Sarnia has had no growth in 30 years, Gillis said.

On the recommendation of staff, council did spend some money on recreational facilities but not nearly enough, she said.

“That is not good management. That is not good leadership. We have to expand and grow.”

Gillis blamed Bradley for Sarnia’s inability to grow and have the resources to maintain its infrastructure. For his part, Bradley suggested it was the city’s bad management that saw the closure of numerous assets.

“It’s an embarrassment,” he said. “We lost the Showmobile, Germain Park Arena, Kinsmen Centre and Jackson pool.

“Those are services that should have been renewed and they weren’t renewed. They were simply shut down.”

One of the few things Gillis and Bradley agreed on was this election could be a game changer.

Gillis said it’s an opportunity to unseat a longtime mayor and “create a new roadmap for the future of our children and grandchildren. As mayor, I will be approachable and work with council,” she said.

Bradley said returning him to the mayor’s office will be a chance to “take back City Hall” and “reset” the future.

“What I always need, though, is a co-operative council,” he said.

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