What We Need Now Is A New Regional Council
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted August 21st, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Is it possible that one of our Niagara regional councillors – Paul Grenier, who was gifted to us in the 2014 municipal elections by the voters of Welland – is trying his hand at writing political satire?
If so, he better keep his day job or find one if he has to because if a column he wrote and had published in Niagara’s daily newspapers this past Saturday, August 18th is any example, he’ll never get past the gatekeepers at Frank or MAD Magazine.
Then again, maybe Grenier’s column, dressed up with a headline that read; “Debate needed on core functions of Niagara Region,”, was not meant to be funny, in which case I have to wonder what regional council Grenier has been sitting on for the past four years because it sure isn’t the one I’ve been covering.
In his column, Grenier lists some of the challenges communities across Niagara continue to face. Those challenges include the need for more affordable housing for growing lines of people who need it, the need for more long-term care facilities for a growing seniors population, and more investments in roads and water and other infrastructure, and in transit services that better connect our communities.
Then here is one of the lines in Grenier’s column that makes this watchdog want to holler when I read it; “A debate on how we can come together as a Region to address the challenges before us is needed now more than ever.”
“Now more than ever,” Councillor Grenier?
How about three ago when, instead of showing a little more respect for Mishka Balsom, the CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce who approached the Region’s Corporate Services Committee with a call from many in the business community for Niagara-wide elections for regional chair, she was subjected to a disrespectful display of condescension and insults from a number councillors with David Barrick, the Port Colborne’s regional councillor who, as the committee’s chair, had some role he could have played in keeping things civil, looking on.
Ironically, the Chamber’s call for Niagara-wide elections of the regional chair was later approved by the former Ontario Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne before it was cancelled this July by the province’s new premier, Doug Ford. And it was Ford’s move to cancel the election for regional chair that had Grenier, in his column, pressing for a “much-needed debate of the role, purpose and benefits of regional government” now.
Yet I don’t recall joining Mishka Balsom in leading the charge for electing Niagara’s regional chair three years ago, and I don’t remember him doing very much over the past almost four years to stop the mud fights between councillors or between councillors and members of the public who come before the Region’s council as a delegation to discuss one issue or another.
I have long lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in the regional council chambers, not only as a reporter, but as a tax-paying citizen and father of a daughter in her 20s who, along with many of her friends and former classmates, need a better transit system and some affordable place to live while they search for opportunities to build a decent future here.
And yet, month after month, these issues that matter to them, to seniors, and to many people in between get parked to the side while the mud fights ensue.
This spring and summer, it’s been much to do about the integrity of the process used two years ago to hire the Region’s CAO, Carmen D’Angelo.
Indeed, there were questions and concerns raised two years ago about D’Angelo and his record as CAO at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) before a majority on the Region’s council, including Grenier, voted to hire him in the fall of 2016.
And here we are now, more than four months after an story in The St. Catharines Standard raised serious concerns about D’Angelo’s hiring that have not gone away, with a majority on the council is still playing around with various episodes of D’Angelo’s own staff involved in an investigation of his hiring rather do what the council should have done four months ago – demonstrate a real interest in clearing the air by calling the province’s Ombudsman in to do an independent investigation.
So after months of this Keystone Cop farce on top of all of the other disturbing, dysfunctional, divisive nonsense that has gone on over the past four years, we are now going to see this council – less than 10 weeks before this October’s municipal elections– get together and positively address the challenges we face in this region?
In all due respect to a handful of regional council members I believe have tried to get past the mud fights and make things work, expecting this council to straighten up and fly right now is about as stupid as expecting a bunch of bulls that have been breaking china over the past four years to now put together a plan to stop bulls from breaking china.
What we need now is an October election that results in a significant change in the make-up of Niagara’s regional council, and then we will hopefully have a council that gets back to the important business of working with residents across this region to address the challenges our communities and all of us who live in them face.
By the way, Welland has only two seats for directly elected councillors at the regional council level and the city’s voters, to their credit, got it at least half right in 2014 by re-electing George Marshall – one of a handful on the Region’s council who has more often stood up to Caslin and his crowd and who is running for another term on the council this year.
Let’s hope that the voters of Welland get it all right this coming October 22nd and replace Grenier too.
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