“Opponents suggest that the change will create … more full-time politicians (who would want “full-time wages”), attract partisans, and make local government less accountable and more out-of-touch from average citizens.” – from a commentary by Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn
A Commentary by Dave Augustyn, Mayor of the Town of Pelham in Niagara, Ontario
Posted January 23rd, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Do you think we should elect more full-time politicians in Niagara?
Should it be harder for people to represent the views of their neighbours? Or, should anyone be able to serve part-time on local Council and offer their experiences from a job or other activities?
People are asking these thoughtful questions about the “dual duty, ward Councillor” proposal for the City of St. Catharines and Niagara Regional Councils.
Currently, St. Catharines elects 12 part-time (Part T)ime City Councillors (two in each of six wards), and six part-time Regional Councillors (“at-large” across the City). City residents also elect a full-time (Full Time) Mayor who serves on both Councils. That’s 19 people (12 Part Time + 6 Part Time +1 Full Time = 18 Part Time & 1 Full Time) representing citizens on the two Councils.
The change would see St. Catharines represented by 13 people: the Mayor and six full-time politicians would serve on both City and Regional Councils; the other six part-time Councillors would serve only on City Council (6 Full Time + 6 Part Time + 1 Full Time = 6 Pull Time & 7 Full Time).
Proponents suggest that by reducing the number of local representatives “communication, cooperation, and accountability” would increase between the City and Region.
Opponents suggest that the change will create six more full-time politicians (who would want “full-time wages”), attract partisans, and make local government less accountable and more out-of-touch from average citizens. Others believe it would give more control to fewer people (like at the NPCA where 11 of the 12 Niagara reps were appointed by the same Regional Council on which they serve).
Interestingly, the majority from across Niagara – more than 58% according to a survey last Fall – do not want the change.
And while proponents say that the dual duty “modernizes” communication and coordination of local government, we know that other Regions made similar changes more than 25 years ago. That was before AOL email (21 years old), Google (18 years), and “web browsers” like Netscape (21 years). That was also before the widespread use of cell/smartphones and cheap long-distance calling. At that time, everything was paper-based and getting a fax felt like a novelty.
Now, we “live stream” and archive Committee and Council meetings, pre-publish complete electronic agenda packages, and use smartphones, cellular iPads, texts, social media, pictures, videos, and emails to communicate instantly with colleagues, staff, and citizens.
Further changes over the last decade include routine meetings between Regional and City / Town chief administrative officers, planners, treasures, engineers, clerks, and Mayors. In some Towns – like Pelham and Fort Erie – the Regional Councillor presents written updates to local Council and answers questions every three weeks.
Because we solved these communication and coordination issues long ago, and because it will concentrate power into the hands of fewer people and increase the number of full-time politicians, I voted against the dual duty proposal last Thursday at Regional Council.
Since it was approved by a 17 to 11 vote, each local Council will also consider the proposal; please let your City, Town or Township Councillor know your thoughts.
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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders