A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted February 6th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – This Monday, February 6th at 6:30 p.m., the council for the City of St. Catharines will hold what may be one last public meeting on the contentious issue of ‘dual-duty representation’ before ending the evening with a yes-or-no vote on making dual-duty the way St. Catharines is represented at both the city and regional levels of government in the future.
It is a change, by the way, that could also have unforeseen consequences for the other 11 municipalities across Niagara in terms of who pays for what, in effect, will be six more full-time politicians in Niagara, and how much these full-time position could tip the balance of power in St. Catharines’ favour at the regional government level.\.
If this push by St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and however many other members of his city’s council and regional council to introduce dual-duty representation to municipal governance in Niagara succeeds, it will begin with the run-up to the October, 2018 municipal elections with voters from the six wards in St. Catharines electing two councillors for each ward – one that will represent them on the city council only (as they do now) and one that will represent them in a dual-duty capacity, at both the city and regional council levels.
In exchange for these six dual-duty representatives, St. Catharines would no longer have six part-time regional councillors that are elected at large across the municipality.
In a column published in a local newspaper last year, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik declared that the time has come for dual-duty councillors in Niagara.
“I believe the real benefits of the dual-duty councillor model will be improved communication and decision making between the city and Region,” said Sendzik in the column.
“For taxpayers,” the mayor went on in his pitch to his St. Catharines constituents, “remember two-thirds of your tax bill in St. Catharines is for regional services. …This improved model will give you a direct line of contact with a local ward representative at both the city and Region. The new system will improve accountability to residents who will know who to go to with an issue.”
Dual-Duty representation will improve contact and accountability? Really?
Pardon me Mr. Mayor, but I’m sure a pretty strong case could be made that access and accountability have more to do with the quality of the people elected and their dedication to public service than it does with whether they serve on one council or another, or both.
Let me take two examples of now departed councillors from the mayor’s municipality – the late Mike Collins, who served as a regional councillor for St. Catharines for several terms, and Roy Adams who served as the city’s mayor before serving as a directly elected regional councillor.
I’m sure that I could get thousands of people across the City of St. Catharines and elsewhere across the Niagara region to vouch for their decency and dedication to public service, and who know that you could not ask for two politicians who were more available to their constituents, more accountable, and more knowledgeable of what was going on at the local, regional and the provincial levels.
Why? Because they cared enough and made it their business to address their questions and concerns of their constituents and keep informed on matters at all levels of government that may affect the welfare of residents and businesses in their community.
On the other hand, we have people elected to municipal office in this Niagara region right now – and I won’t mention any names this time – who serve the people, and I mean all the people, with as much dedication to public service as Mike Collins and Roy Adams did if they were elected to a dual-duty role and were paid a million dollars a year.
We don’t need dual-duty representatives in Niagara as much as we need the following –
What we need more of is representatives who truly recognize the responsibility they have to address the questions and concerns of the people they serve to the very best of their ability.
We need more politicians, for example, who understand why tax payers may want to know what contracts they awarded to private businesses with their money, and how much those contracts cost and what work they are for.
We need more politicians who treat those who come before the regional council to make a presentation -whether they be the CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, the director of the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre or an everyday citizen wanting answers to questions and concerns – to be treated with courtesy and respect, and not in ways that have at least some people saying they have no desire to appear before the council.
We need more councillors that have the will and imagination to grow our Niagara region in ways that create jobs and prosperity and at the same time preserves what is left of our natural heritage.
And one thing we don’t need is politicians who vote to sue a Niagara citizen who is attempting, by might and main, to get answers to how millions of our tax dollars are being spent.
We only have one year and nine months left as a people across Niagara to seek out good people to run for municipal office and make sure they get voted in.
Therein lays the key to responsible, accountable governments in Niagara with a vision to a healthier, more prosperous future for all.
Niagara At Large will post any decision St. Catharines council reaches on dual-duty representation this February 6th. NAL will also continue to follow this issue as it goes before one local council across Niagara after another for approval since it needs “triple majority approval” from Niagara’s regional council and from a majority of local municipalities that represent the majority of citizens across the region to be implemented by any municipality, including St. Catharines.
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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders