Of The Region’s Four Provincial Riding, Niagara West-Glanbrook May Be The Only Outlier – Remaining Blue for the PCs
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted June 6th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
I normally prefer to focus most of my commentary on the bigger picture when it comes to provincial and federal elections – as in which party should or shouldn’t form the next government for whatever reasons – but in this Ontario election, with the voting set to open first thing this Thursday, June 7th, morning, I find it not to comment on the local picture for at least one major reason.
The reason is this.
Those of you out there who have been following the news in Niagara over the past three and a half years know that there is a critical mass of people who are concerned about many of the decisions, the conduct and the make-up of the regional council and some of the local councils across the region.
There are also questions and concerns swirling around the recent restructuring of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and its role (or lack thereof) as a conserver and protector of our watersheds, around a proposal for urban development in the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, and around where public transit is or isn’t going in Niagara – just to name a few issues.
The fate of all of those things, including what happens in this coming October’s municipal elections, could very much hinge on which one of the two major parties – the NDP or the PCs (because the Liberals are, by Kathleen Wynne’s recent admission, toast) – forms the next government following this June 7th’s provincial election.
If the NDP win, there door could be very much open for significant change for the better at the municipal level. If the PCs win, it could mean four more years of the same ill winds we’ve had at the municipal level and possibly even worse.
Now I’ll offer my summary comments on each provincial riding in Niagara with one thing I feel I always have to say because there are always at least some people out there who want to take a stab at painting the reporter (in this case, me) as an NDP, a Liberal or a PC, and I’ve been accused of being all three, depending on who my commentary goes down, over the past 40 or so years.
I have always remained non-partisan and have never sought or owned a membership card for any political party, and to paraphrase a line (only half kiddingly) from the late, great Groucho Marx; ‘I would never belong to any party that would want a person like me to be a member.’
With that, let me begin my comments with the two ridings – Niagara Falls and Niagara Centre – that should be no brainers and are certainly not one where people are choosing, as some put it, ‘the lesser of however many evils’ or have to hold their nose when they go to vote.
In Niagara Falls, a riding that includes Fort Erie and Niagara-n-the-Lake, the only choice that makes sense in this election is the NDP incumbent Wayne Gates, who has been a strong voice in the party for fairness for everyday working people. Given his past record, including his years as a union leader for autoworkers in Niagara and his time on Niagara Falls city council, it is hard to see him lining up against the people and in favour of vested interests on controversial development proposals, etc.
In Niagara Centre (former known as the Welland Riding) which includes Port Colborne, Thorold and bit of Wainfleet and south St. Catharines, the one and only choice that makes sense is NDP candidate Jeff Burch, who is running in place of the retiring NDP representative Cindy Forster, who is retiring from provincial politics.
Jeff Burch has already proven to be a strong community leader in his roles as CEO of the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre and director of the Niagara Refugee Assistance Committee – speaking out against alleged outbursts of racism and discrimination in the community and at the regional government level.
A former member of St. Catharines council, Burch, has also supported outgoing MPP Cindy Forster and others in pressing for more openness and accountability from the NPCA, and there is no reason to believe he won’t do a good job of continuing the progressive work of Forster, and the late Mel Swart and Peter Kormos in the Niagara Centre (Welland) Riding.
Burch’s main opponent, PC candidate and Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs, is a member of the NPCA’s board of directors and has never openly or convincingly spoken out against the lawsuits the NPCA filed against St. Catharines citizen and former Canadian Armed Forces officer Ed Smith for questioning the Conservation Authority’s decision making with millions of dollars of our money, and against former NPCA employee Jocelyn Baker, who was sued last year for allegedly breaking a confidentially agreement she signed upon her dismissal after she raised concerns about alleged cases of harassment of employees by upper management at the agency.
Jeffs has had nothing to say publicly in defense of Jocelyn Baker, still facing a costly NPCA lawsuit for speaking out about harassment, even though this past January, when former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown was hit with sexual misconduct allegations, she circulated a message on Twitter saying, in part, that there should be “zero tolerance (for) harassment of any kind.”
The St. Catharines riding is a tougher won in my view – a provincial riding represented for some four decades now by Liberal incumbent Jim Bradley who has served in the cabinets of two Liberal governments going back to the mid-to-late 1980s.
Now, thanks to Kathleen Wynne, a leader and premier with historically low popularity ratings, this June 7th election could mark the end of an era for Bradley in what was one of the safest seats in Ontario for his party.
If that is so, it is sad to see Jim Bradley go out this way. He remains arguably the best environment minister this province and the country has ever had when he held that position in the 1980s with David Peterson as premier, and whether I agreed with him or not on a host of issues over the years, for me words like “intelligent,” “honest”, “principled”, “civil” and “hard-working” have always come to my mind during any encounter with him.
The two other main contenders in St. Catharines are NDP candidate Jennie Stevens and PC candidate Sandie Bellows – both city councillors and of the two, I have had sources say polls show the race either two close to call for Stevens with at least a slight lead.
I am hoping that if Jim Bradley loses, Stevens is the one who wins. As for Bellows, among other things, she was one of a number of individuals, including Niagara regional chair Al Caslin, Port Colborne regional councillor and NPCA corporate operations director David Barrick, Niagara Falls regional councillor and former Mike Harris PC government MPP Bart Maves and former federal Harper government MP for St. Catharines, Rick Dykstra – who signed a memo going after the local daily newspaper, The Standard, for its political coverage.
Bellows’ campaign also recently circulated a pamphlet to voters, headlined “The NDP have Built a Band of Radicals who; promote 9/11 conspiracies, oppose natural resource development and job creation, refuse to honour our veterans.”
The pamphlet goes on to feature a couple of provocative statements made by NDP candidates from elsewhere in the province about former U.S. president George W. Bush’s role in 9/11 and fake poppies.
Just for starters, there is no record of anything Jennie Stevens has ever done or said that would give anyone reason to believe she ‘refuses to honour or veterans.’
And whether Bellows knows it or not Stevens’ own son is serving in Canada’s Navy.
Bellows might also want to give a little thought to what so many of our veterans have fought and died for, and what those poppies stand for. They certainly don’t stand for enlisting in an army of local politicians in a war against the free press because they don’t happen to like the coverage they are getting.
That pamphlet represents the kind of slime politics her PC Party’s leader Doug Ford has a reputation for and that has all too often has snaked its way into our regional politics over the past three or four years. All the more reason to want to see Bellows lose this election and go on to have trouble holding her city council seat this coming October.
As for the Niagara West-Glanbrook riding, it has had a long history of going to the PCs, except for one term in the early 1990s when the NDP won it, and besides, the young PC incumbent in that riding, Sam Oosterhoff, has been doing a pretty good job. He has also shown an independent, bi-partisan streak, siding with the NDP’s Cindy Forster and the Liberal Jim Bradley a few times over the past couple of years in raising concerns about the way the NPCA is doing business.
Wow, this commentary is getting long and I hope you are still with me …. Just long enough to encourage you to get out and vote this June 7th – especially all of you younger people.
It is your future that is most at stake here. No political party will take you as seriously as they should unless you go out and vote in large enough numbers to make a difference in the final election results.
So for your sake and the sake of your future, do it!
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