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OPINION: Has Vic Fedeli’s time finally arrived?

Vic's fate is again in the hands of an improbable leader.
Michael Atkins, president, Northern Ontario Business

I've known Vic Fedeli for more than 30 years.

I started out hustling him for money in 1980. Vic owned a growing advertising agency in North Bay and I was launching Northern Ontario Business newspaper. Vic was supportive of anything about Northern Ontario, but he was pretty tight with a buck. I'm not sure if I got any money out of Vic, but I remember it was fun trying.

Vic has always marched to the beat of his own drummer.

In 1992, at the age of 35, he sold his agency and retired to travel the world and focus on community projects. In 1996, he helped establish the Airbase Property Corporation in North Bay to take over the Canadian Forces Base which was deemed surplus by the Canadian government. For a dollar a year, Vic worked almost full-time to establish it as a going concern. I remember at the time doing a column on economic development in North Bay and happened to speak to numerous citizens. The corporation was going through a rough patch and had lost a million dollars on a deal. As I spoke to people around town, not one person of any political stripe criticized Vic for this development. They knew how hard he had worked and that whatever transpired would be fixed under his watch. Sure enough, a few lawsuits later, Vic was vindicated and some $3 million in proceeds were spent fixing the airbase infrastructure. 

As a veteran of Northern politics and economic development, I know how fast people can turn on one another when there is trouble. This was a testament to Vic's reputation for integrity and the cohesiveness of the North Bay community.

Vic’s travel regimen was cut short by the SARS epidemic in 2003. Wife Patty said that's it for world travel. We are staying close to home. What to do? Run for mayor, of course. At the time, North Bay was in the doldrums. Little construction, population decreases and poor credit ratings. He went to work. By the time he was done seven years later, construction was up, debts were under control, and the industrial park had come alive with tens of millions of dollars of investment. What to do? Stand down.

“It was painful my last day before leaving city hall, but I believe in term limits. We need constant turnover with new people all the time.”

By the way, for that entire period, Vic turned over his annual salary to various charitable organizations and never collected a dime for his seven-year stint as mayor.

Not everything was hearts and roses. Vic's bête noire not an hour down the road was Rick Bartolucci, long-time minister of Northern Development and Mines who, not to put too fine a point on it, was a Sudbury nationalist. Rick had a lot to do with Vic's decision to enter provincial politics. Things were testy when he was mayor and all-out war when the Liberals decided to sell the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission while Vic was the provincial member for Nipissing. Suffice to say, the sale was stopped primarily as a result of Vic's intervention. He promises to reinstate passenger rail service to Northern Ontario if his party is elected government. More exciting but less probable is the promise to share resource revenues with Northern Ontario municipalities and Indigenous communities. Another goal is to vet new legislation against Northern Ontario reality before bringing it to the house. A tall but welcome order.

Vic is no shrinking violet. He ran for the Conservative leadership in 2014 and ran out of money and time. Sadly, he lost to Tim Hudak, another ex-minister of Northern Development and Mines who snatched defeat from sure victory by announcing he would lay off 100,000 civil servants. This year, after the implosion of Patrick Brown as leader of the Tories, the Conservative caucus turned unanimously to Vic for leadership. They wanted him to lead them into this election. It was not to be. There was too much chaos and Vic opted to put party over ambition.

Vic's fate is again in the hands of an improbable leader. If they make it to government, Vic will finally be a part of the provincial government: bloodied but influential and with Northern Ontario's needs always top of mind. If you live in Sudbury, be patient. He'll get over it, but not for a while.