Can We Get Rid Of Niagara’s Regional Council?

Let’s Have The Fate of Regional Government in Niagara put to a ballot in the 2018 Municipal Elections

A Commentary by Doug Draper, journalist/publisher, Niagara At Large

Posted October 30th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Let me ask you something.

How many of you – and I’m  putting this to all of you who are living and doing business  in one of the 12 local municipalities across Niagara, Ontario right now –would like to get rid of Niagara’s regional council?

How many out there would join in possibly the largest street party this region has ever seen if that happened?

The current edition of Niagara regional council with some senior regional staff in the mix here, holding signs urging us to ‘stop bullying’.

If somehow a question could be put on next year’s municipal election ballots, asking if you would be in favour of completely scrapping the regional level of government in Niagara and keeping the 12 local councils and run Niagara-wide services like policing, waste management, water and wastewater treatment, roads, transit, public health, long-term care and affordable housing – all as public utilities with the mayors or an alternate from  each of the 12 councils sitting on public utility boards – would you support that?

Based on what I’ve hears over a great many years – and particularly over the last two or three years – from a great many people across this region, I would bet my house on at  least seven out of 10 voters voting yes to getting rid of regional council in Niagara as soon as possible.

As someone who, over the last two or three years, has recovered from my many years of supporting the idea of regional government in Niagara – a position that always managed to draw a good deal of flak from anti-regional government readers, by the way, when I advanced it in a column here or at any one of a number of other media outlets where I worked – I would no longer think twice about joining what I am sure would be many tens-of-thousands of you in voting to scrap it for reasons that would take days to discuss here

So let me allude to a few and we can roll them out in more detail, along with some of the telling video clips of the regional council in action, as we count down the months to the October 2018 municipal elections.

Niagara area developer Rainer Hummel holds up $50,000 cheque at Niagara Region’s September 18th Audit Committee meeting as a contribution toward the cost of an audit on Town of Pelham. This is the very first time this veteran report saw a spectacle like this at a municipal council meeting, and no councilor at this committee meeting stood up and said there might be something a little outside the guard rails about this, so one can’t fault the developer for doing it.

Over the past half a year alone there has been all of the slapping of forensic audit demands on one of the local municipalities, in this case, the Town of Pelham, replete with a private sector member of the Niagara development industry holding up a cheque for $50,000 in the council chambers to pay for it and not one councillor there standing up and suggesting  such a gesture might be out of order; there was the tarring up of an NDP association in MPP Cindy Forster’s Welland riding with involving itself in an issue some of Forster’s strongest political adversaries on the regional council insisted was anti-Semitic; there was the rude way a number of people, including a young, pregnant woman wanting to discuss code of conduct rules at the regional level, and a couple of Brock University students who came with some  suggestions for replacing and planting trees in Niagara, were treated when they appeared before the council or one of the region’s committees as delegations; there were all were all of the hours – hours that could have been used discussing affordable housing, transit or other matters more important – taken up on code of conduct nonsense involving St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski and others; there was councillors’ travel expenses, and on and on, and on and on!

The tipping point on posting a this commentary came for me this October 20th when I reached in to my mail box at home and there, rolled up inside it, was a copy of the Niagara This Week newspaper or shopper, or whatever it is, and wrapped around the front and back pages was another one of those self-serving advertisement from the mother of all special interests in Niagara – ‘Regional Chair Alan Caslin and Niagara Regional Council’.

This advertisement  – about the third like it over the past year or so to come wrapped around an edition of this weekly paper (you might know as The Town Crier or The Leader or whatever they may call it in your part of the region) listed four “latest successes from Niagara Regional Council.” – all of which have already received some coverage in one local media or another.

But the part that got me steaming the most was a message that appeared under a photo of a poppy field glowing in the sunset with the Regional Council’s crest stamped below.

A session of regional council, this one closed to the public. Maybe we would be better off if the whole regional government was closed down and we moved forward with Niagara’s 12 local councils.

The message reads; “Regional Chair Alan Caslin and Niagara Regional Council Thank Niagara’s Veterans & Commemorate The Lives Lost For Our Freedoms.”

Does that include Ed Smith, a Niagara resident and 25-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who was slapped with a lawsuit earlier this year for allegedly circulating some defamatory information in questions and concerns he raised about the way the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA)– a body that is funded each year with millions of our municipal tax dollars – goes about doing business with all that money?

There are veterans in our Niagara communities who have openly expressed support for Ed Smith in fighting that lawsuit.

I’ve actually heard some regional councillors say that Ed Smith is only putting himself out to in this battle for more public accountability because he considering running for public office and wants to make a name for himself.

In all my dealings as a journalist with Ed Smith I’ve never heard him or anyone else working with him to get some answers out of the NPCA and regional government say they are planning to run for elected office.

But what if they are? What if they have a “political agenda” or are taking “political shots,” as some of the councillors are charging?

Don’t we live in a democracy where we all have the freedom to run for political office, should we choose?  Isn’t that what our veterans from past wars fought and lost their lives for?

Actually, I hope there are a lot of people like Ed Smith out there who run for office in the next municipal elections against a good number of those we have in office now.

It would be great if they do and even better if there are enough people out there who are paying attention enough to what is going on to vote them in.

That is by no means a certainty though, given the pathetic turnouts of voters in municipal elections gone by, which brings me back to wondering if there might be some way we could force a question on the ballots, asking voters if they want to get rid of regional government.

I could see a record turnout at the polls in Niagara if people are given an opportunity to vote on that.

One of the more outrageous episodes of a whole bunch of them over the past six months alone. Niagara regional councilor walks in to his last NPCA board meeting this spring, where he gets slammed with a censure motion by a board dominated by politicians appointed by the regional government, for allegedly committing some irregularity the public still hasn’t been told about while he was pushing for an independent forensic audit of the NPCA.

Just as one end note, I would be more than remiss if I did not point out that there are some people on that regional council I could certainly vote for with a confidence that they would not engage in the off-putting kind of garbage I alluded to above.

They are councillors Brian Heit, Kelly Edgar and Tim Rigby from St. Catharines, Bill Hodgson from Lincoln, Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley, Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councillor Gary Burroughs, Welland regional councillor George Marshall, Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, and Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani and a regional councillor from Thorold, Henry D’Angela, and that is about it.

But here is the bad news. They hold fewer than have the seats on the regional council and, as it stands, it is simply not enough.

If – come October 2018 – and this is where all of you come in, we don’t get a majority of people like that on this council, and then anyone who leads a campaign to abolish regional government in Niagara can certainly count on this citizen and columnist to work with them as an ally.

Here are just a couple – the latest in a long series of examples – of related stories on the regional government circus published in The St. Catharines Standard this October 20th, 2017 ALONE!

To read them, click onhttp://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/10/19/region-denies-request-for-expense-records .

Then click onhttp://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/10/19/closeup-accusations-flying-in-pelhams-political-donnybrook .

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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2 responses to “Can We Get Rid Of Niagara’s Regional Council?

  1. Lets just not mix the staff up with council. I’d hope that if that government was disbanded the staff would be divided up between the municipalities. BTW I like my Mayor (Redekop) too.

    Like

  2. Mayor Dave nailed the debate! It is about ‘payback’. Whether a lawsuit or insult you had better watch out, better not cry because some Regional insect will bite you. Basically debate is a carpet on the floor.
    Getting rid of Regional Council is not feasible; is wasteful too.
    I think the leader must go…that is Caslin.

    Like

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