Start getting informed and engaged now, people. It’s our region and future at stake here!
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted July 7th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” – from Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem Inferno
I too often find these words – intended by Dante to greet any and all unfortunates passing through the gates of hell -– crossing my mind when I dare to enter Niagara Region’s headquarters for another meeting of regional council or begin to watch a live stream of the meeting on a screen.
And I say this as someone who, for most of the 47 years we have had regional government in Niagara, Ontario, has been a strong supporter of transitioning from local municipalities to one ‘City of Niagara’ as possibly the best way of providing all Niagara residents, urban and rural, with equal access to water, waste management, public transit and other services we need.
Well I haven’t got a dying breath left in me to support a regional system of government in our Niagara any more – not with what I, along with many other residents from all corners of Niagara – have witnessed of this current edition of regional council under the chairmanship of Al Caslin.
Depressing, dispiriting, disturbing … these are just a few of the politer words that come to this reporter’s mind at far too many of the committee and council meetings Caslin and his pals have chaired over the going on three years since the last municipal elections and the end of Gary Burrough’s four-year tenure as regional chair.
Think I’m being over the top?
If you have a computer, go on the regional government’s website at http://www.niagararegion.ca/ and navigate your way to the video links for council and committee meetings and start clicking on and watching these meetings at random. If you have been brought up with manners or have a reasonably good idea what constitutes civil behaviour, I can assure you that you won’t have to sit very long through too many of these sessions before you find yourself saying words to the effect of; ‘Oh my God, look at the way they are treating this or that member of council, or this or that member of the public who came to make a presentation’.
In fact, you need look back no further than this past Thursday, July 6th special meeting of regional council where, ironically enough, one of the main issues dominating the agenda again was “code of conduct” rules for councillors.
Click on the following link to the meeting – https://www.youtube.com/embed/-iSILxUJU08?rel=0&autoplay=1 – and when you do and the video of the meeting gets underway, put your curser on the red ball at the bottom of the screen and drag it from left to right until you get to about 49 minutes into the meeting where you can watch Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale ask questions of a Niagara resident named Haley Bateman, who came to the meeting, as a citizen, to make a presentation on what shape she feels the code of conduct rules should take.
I ask you to continue watching this segment of the meeting at least up to about minute 54 where Bateman can be seen and heard responding to Gale’s questions and remarks by saying; “I tried to show respect to this council,” before adding that she felt Gale’s line of questioning was “unfair commentary and it is an attempt to intimidate me, and I can tell you, the longer I am gained, the harder I will work to make sure this behaviour stops because I find it disgusting.”
Note that through all of Gale’s interrogation of Bateman as to whether she has ever posted praise for efforts of the regional council on her Facebook, Caslin never once moved, in his capacity as chair, to call Gale out of order.
Sadly, this episode is all too typical at council and committee meetings under this current administration and I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t far more people, including leaders of Niagara’s business community, speaking out publicly about this kind of conduct.
I can’t imagine too many executives of a major corporation in Canada, the United States or some other country tuning in to some of these council and committee sessions and deciding that this is a good bunch to do business with. If it were me, I’d be packing off to Waterloo or Kingston or some other region of the province to see about making my investment there.
I applaud citizens like Bateman and others who have dared to stand before this regional council and make a case for a stronger code of conduct they hope will address bad behaviour.
But I don’t think we need a code of conduct or an integrity commissioner to tell us that too much of what we have been witnessing at regional council and committee meetings over the past two to three years – and not just from a few on the council – has been, to say the least, depressing, dispiriting and disturbing, and casts a negative light on a Niagara region I believe many of us want to be proud of.
I’ve given up believing that a code of conduct or integrity commissioner is going to do any good with what we have at hand now.
What we need is an electorate in Niagara – each and every person of voting age in this region – becoming more engaged in what is going on at the regional and local levels of government and taking advantage of the next municipal elections, scheduled for the fall of next year, to vote in council representatives who will do us proud.
To be fair, we do have some good people sitting on the current regional council, but there are not enough of them to outnumber those that act up or who are willing enablers of those who act up.
Here is my list (with no regard to any mayor or councillor’s possible polticial or partisan affiliations) of good ones who should, if they choose to run again, be re-elected in next year’s municipal elections. They are (keep in mind that in Niagara, mayors of local municipalities have a seat on the regional council) Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson, Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councillor Gary Burroughs, Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, St. Catharines regional councillors Brian Heit, Tim Rigby, Debbie MacGregor and Kelly Edgar, Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani, Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela and Welland regional councillor George Marshall.
Please feel free to amend the list above with your own names and any reasons you may have for adding or eliminating one or more of them in the comment space below.
Niagara At Large will be posting much more on the toxic mess in Niagara regional council in the 12 months leading up to next year’s municipal elections.
Stay tuned and, for your own sake as someone who lives in this region, inform yourselves and get engaged in what is going on in our region – now!
If the link to the July 6th special meeting of Niagara regional council didn’t work for you above, here is the screen for the meeting here, with a reminder to scroll the red dot at the bottom of the screen to about 49 minutes in to the meeting for the relevant segment. Or just watch the whole meeting, if you dare –
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