A week ago Sunday, a terrible incident at Vale’s Copper Cliff smelter took a father, Paul Rochette, away from his young children and left a young millwright — not even 30 — with critical injuries.
And this past weekend, the city lost Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli, who died suddenly while vacationing in Florida with his family, leaving behind his wife and two young children. Belli was the first incumbent to announce his intention to seek re-election and was excited to get out on the campaign trail.
Yes, it has been a week of profound and surprising losses for our city, and we at Northern Life are as shocked and saddened as many of you.
When it comes to the accident at the smelter, as anyone can tell you, the number of mining deaths this city has seen has declined dramatically over the decades.
Gone are the days of slapdash construction. Gone are the days when untrained men, some little more than boys, are sent underground. Gone are the days when workers are treated as an expendable and inexhaustible resource.
The rise of the union movement and an industry-wide commitment to safety and higher working standards changed mining for the better.
No more will we accept the loose approach to safety and the callous treatment of workers that used to be the order of the day — and that is a good thing. We are all better for it. It’s a reflection of how society has moved — slightly, but surely — beyond the class system that used to play such a prominent role in our culture.
And while they might not happen as often, this is the fourth miner who has died in fewer than three years. Paul Rochette’s death demonstrates that, while safety has certainly improved, we can’t rest on our laurels — there must always be a drive for continual improvement.
Rochette’s tragic passing highlights why the mining review currently being conducted by the province is so important: four lives lost in fewer than three years in Sudbury alone is four lives too many.
That yet another life was lost even as that review is occurring is concrete proof that it is necessary.
Coun. Belli’s passing is equally shocking. At 37, Belli was a young man with a great deal left to accomplish. For me, his death is all the more personal, as I knew the man and enjoyed talking city politics with him.
We are around the same age, both with young families, both in the prime of our careers.
The last time I had lunch with Fabio was in January. He was still recovering from the stroke he suffered before Christmas, but he was highly motivated to improve his health. He spoke about his fear that ill-health would take him too soon from his wife and children, but he also said he wanted to continue to serve his constituents in Ward 8.
As a public figure, Fabio opened himself to — and faced — criticism, as all public figures do, but the dearth of opponents to his incumbency is a testament, I think, to the opinion New Sudbury residents had to the job he was doing on their behalf.
Whether you agreed with some of the decisions he made, Fabio was a man who cared deeply for his family, his constituents and his community.
Life is a fragile and delicate thing, and the tragedies of the past week illustrate just how fragile and delicate.
As a community, we will soldier on, but as we do, let’s do so with the memories of Paul Rochette and Fabio Belli held high. Their passing should remind us to continue to fight for and work on behalf of the industry our economy rests upon and the community we share.
Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Northern Life and NorthernLife.ca.