Regional Chair’s ‘Shape Niagara’ Strategic Planning Pitch Carries The Stench Of An Election Year Stunt
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted updated to April 6th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
It was the last week of March – Wednesday, March 28th, 2018, to be precise – and I was returning from the luncheon the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce hosts each year for the “State of the Region” address.
The address was delivered by Niagara’s regional chair Al Caslin and even by his standards, it was one of the most anaemic speeches I have heard from an elected leader in my more than 35 years of covering these things.
What may have been intended as applause lines from Caslin’s address, including one about how Niagara Region was going to “rise above local politics, media headlines and deliver what residents want” were still lumbering around my mind, when I opened up my computer to a news release from Niagara’s regional government with a headline on it that read – “Have Your Say On The Niagara Regional Council’s 2019 – 2022 Strategic Plan.”
“To achieve Niagara’s true potential, we must forge the next phase of Niagara’s path together. As Niagara Region launches “Shape Niagara”, the largest strategic consultation effort in Niagara’s history, we must be bold,” Caslin was quoted saying in this release that .included the news that regional staff would be deployed to host public open houses across Niagara as soon as this May and June.
Wow, I thought. “The largest strategic consultation effort in Niagara’s history?” I think I do a pretty good job of following what regional council meetings. When did the council agree to this? Did I miss something here?
That is when I decided to call up a number of regional council and ask them about this, only to find out that they must have missed something too, because this March 28th media release was the first they heard of it too.
And there is nothing about this specific episode of other regional councillors finding themselves out of the loop that is breaking news, dear readers, because I have found this to be the case with a number of news releases that have featured pronouncements from Niagara regional chair Al Caslin before.
I can assure you that there was a time, back about a decade ago when I did a little communications work for Niagara’s regional government after leaving jobs as a reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, then Niagara This Week, that there was no damn way that I or anyone else in the communications section, would release news from then regional chair Peter Partington’s office or any other senior administrator’s office without circulating it to all members of regional council first.
In fact, we circulated it to regional councillors on an understanding that they may wish to suggest some changes before it was officially released to the public.
That, in my books, and apparently in the books of that Niagara regional chair, Peter Partington, and the Region’s then CAO Mike Trojan and other higher ups in the food chain, was the thing to do if you wanted to work with all elected members of the council as a team.
It is also what you do if you don’t want to see so many of these same regional councillors get caught flat footed when they get called at home by a reporter like me with a news release like the March 28th one about this so-called “largest strategic consultation effort in Niagara’s history” only to have those councillors say in response to the reporter’s questions something as embarrassing as – “What are we doing now? … “You are telling me this for the first time. … Do you mind forwarding me a copy of that news release?”
Except it isn’t so much an embarrassment for councillors anymore because they have come to expected it from this Caslin administration. It is something else, ranging from frustrating to angersome to things a few councillors say that I would rather not repeat here in case the kids have logged in.
So what do we make of this March 28th media release? And how should members of the public across the region respond to it?
Here is my take, and please feel free to share your views at the end, even if you disagree with some or all that I am about to say.
=The chair may have his “eyes on the road,” but he barely looks up has he reads on and on.Let me start with a reminder that here we now are, only six months away from this coming October’s municipal elections. And all of a sudden, right now Caslin and company are starting consultation process – the “largest” of its kind in the regional government’s almost 50 year history, no less – on a strategic plan for Niagara, for the next four years?
For a next four years that will hopefully see a regional council with fewer individuals who will never benefit from lessons in civility and civics, and one without Caslin, interrupting those he doesn’t want to hear with is ‘you’re out of order’ torpedoes, at the helm.
I don’t know if Caslin and his cronies have been putting a wet finger to the air to see which way the wind is blowing lately, but there seem to be quite a few people across this region who wants to see some significant changes in the makeup of regional council, come election time this fall.
Many of the same people have long lost confidence in this Caslin administration as an agent for progressive change that benefits all Niagara residents and the urban, rural and natural places we want to see protected and enhanced for present and future generations across this region, well into the 21st century.
The Caslin administration, with a ‘we’re open for business’ mantra that is code for deregulated, car dependent urban sprawl, with little more than a passing glance to public transit or protecting what is left of Niagara’s natural heritage, is stuck in the post-Second World War 1950s when a litre of gas cost nickels and dimes, and asphalt was poured as if the land underneath was unlimited.
It was only weeks ago that some of Caslin’s cronies stood up at a regional council meeting and took pokes at those who, during the last term of regional council when Gary Burroughs was still chair, sat on the Region’s police services board and decided, just shortly before the 2014 municipal elections, to extend the contract of now ex-Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeffrey McGuire for another two or three years.
Any decision like that should have waited until a new regional councillor and police services board was sworn in, some of Caslin’s pals on the current council said.
And that was a contract for one senior public servant that they were talking about.
What we are talking about here is nothing less than a strategic plan for shaping the future of our whole Niagara region for the next four years, and possibly well into the next two or three decades or more!
Given what little time is now left for this Caslin administration and given a citizens campaign that is now out there and is growing month by the month to accomplish significant change in the makeup of regional council for 2019 to 2023, that new council should be granted the opportunity to make a fresh start.
That start should include working in consultation with members of the public, and as many public and private stakeholders as possible, to develop and implement a plan that makes way for a health, prosperous future for all who live, play and do business in Niagara through the 21st century.
The Caslin cabal has already had more than enough shots and we don’t need any more public displays or other antics, paid for with our tax money, this late in the game in an election year.
There are a good number of us out here who have read, heard and watched enough of the dark and divisive antics of this bunch and are now counting the months and weeks and day until this October’s municipal election.
Enough is enough!
As soon as possible, others on regional council should demand to know where the idea of announcing this plan came from, how much all of the consultation, including the staff time, is going to cost and why the public should not view it as campaign advertising – paid for with our tax money.
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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders