“We are already working together as Team Niagara to be open for business and attract investment, jobs, and economic development.” – from a Statement released this February 4th from Niagara, Ontario’s 12 mayors
A News Commentary by Niagara at Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 5th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
The mayors of Niagara’s 12 local municipalities released a statement this February 4th about the Ontario Ford government’s recently announced review of municipal governance in Niagara and several other regions of the province – a statement that seems more interesting for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.
The Niagara mayors’ statement – posted immediately below in full – expresses support for the Ford government’s call for “improved governance” and they pledge to work together with the provincial government to find “improvement in the way Niagara works.”
They go on to talk about “working together as Team Niagara” to attract more “investment, jobs and economic growth.”
It is hard to imagine any of us who live and work in Niagara not wanting to encourage more investment, jobs and economic growth across this region, for the sake of ourselves and for our families, friends and neigbhours, including young people who need some promise of a secure and prosperous future to stay here.
But then the mayors also parrot a phrase that has become a mantra for Ford’s so-called “Government for the People” and for other more right wing parties that embrace a kind of a no-holes-barred, free-for-all form of economic growth over and at a cost to any policy or program that is protective of the common good.
That phrase is “open for business” and for decades for certain parties, and at least going back to the 1990s in Ontario with the government of Mike Harris (a close friend and mentor of the province’s current premier, Doug Ford), it has been code for cutting and gutting environmental protection regulations, planning and land protection rules, labour safety and employee protection laws, cutting taxes and spending, which usually leads to cuts to health care, education and other social services, and on and on.
All of this “open for business” cutting and gutting of policies, programs and rules, and cuts to taxes and spending on a promise that it is going to lead to a surge of economic growth and create all kinds of jobs, which has hardly ever been the case wherever this slash and burn approach has been tried.
So it is troubling to see Niagara’s mayors ape the phrase “open for business” in their statement without so much of a token mention of growth that is smarter or more people or pedestrian or transit, friendly, or growth that is environmentally sustainable, let alone economically sustainable (which can be one hell of a lot different than growth that is beneficial to only certain sectors of the economy).
There is also no clear reference in the statement to this “Team Niagara” of mayors working together through this governance review with Niagara’s regional government or the Region’s Chair Jim Bradley, who name does not appear with those of the 12 mayors below the statement, even though at the end of it all, Ford and company may decide most if not all of Niagara’s local municipalities, leaving us with possibly one regional government that will, thereafter, be called a city.
Between the two or three references to the mayors working together on something no less important than how Niagara residents will be governed at the municipal level in the future, there is also no reference to public consultation which, even if the mayors were to say, upon being asked, that they intend to consult with the public and they favour growth that is environmentally sustainable, and on and on, their statement belies a certain degree of tone deafness here.
After all, we just went through municipal elections where tens of thousands of Niagara residents went to the polls last October and voted for change because they felt that their municipal representatives were making too many decisions behind closed doors or that did not include input from them.
Many residents also made it clear that as much as they want jobs and economic growth, they don’t want at the expense of carving up, cutting down and paving over more of our food-growing lands, our wetlands, woodlands and grand old trees that grace our communities.
They were tired of politicians without the imagination or courage or ties to the greediest, most short sighted sort of land speculators and developers who, time after time, offer little more than a false choice between economic growth and a healthy environment to live in – all while using these straw dog terms on anti-development or anti-growth, or special interest or tree huger on individuals and groups who speak up for what is left of our natural heritage.
Our elected representatives have often been able to carry on the business of government in the past on an assumption that, for the most part, the decisions they make in concert with select groups of “partners” or “stakeholders” or (to use one of the misleading and deceptive monikers of all) “job creators,” will not raise much of a hackle because there is an apathy out there that has most people paying little or no attention.
The last four years has been a real wake up call for residents across this region however, and I would suggest that any politician who thinks that, with the municipal elections over, they can now get back to business with the usual suspects making self-serving claims and peddling false choices will be in for a rude awakening.
Believe it or not, more than three months have already passed since the last municipal election and the next municipal elections are now less than three years and nine months away.
This time out, people are going to expect far more than the same old words and phrases that Niagara’s mayors have offered up in the statement posted below.
And here it is –
A Statement from Niagara Mayors, February 4, 2019
Niagara’s Mayors are united in support for improving governance, transparency and accountability in local government.
It has been nearly 50 years since Niagara Region was formed and our communities, economy and the populations we serve have changed significantly in that time.
With change comes opportunity, and we agree with the provincial government that there is room for improvement in the way Niagara works.
We share the same goals in this review: to make it easier to access services, create more efficient local government, reduce duplication and be open for business. We also agree that there are a number of ways to achieve these goals and we expect that local voices and local solutions will truly be considered.
We are already working together as Team Niagara to be open for business and attract investment, jobs, and economic development.
Many local agencies and municipal services are already working together to find efficiencies and reduce duplication. We are working together to build an integrated transit system that works for all of Niagara. And we know we can do more.
As Mayors, we will work together to ensure that Niagara is given an opportunity to present made-in-Niagara solutions through this regional governance review.
Dave Bylsma, Mayor of West Lincoln; Jeff Jordan, Mayor of Grimsby; Frank Campion, Mayor of Welland; Marvin Junkin, Mayor of Pelham; Jim Diodati, Mayor of Niagara Falls; Wayne Redekop, Mayor of Fort Erie; Betty Disero, Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake; Walter Sendzik, Mayor of St. Catharines; Sandra Easton, Mayor of Lincoln; Bill Steele, Mayor of Port Colborne; Kevin Gibson, Mayor of Wainfleet; Terry Ugulini, Mayor of Thorold
To read news posted on Niagara At Large this past January on the Ontario Ford Government’s plans to reform municipal governance in Niagara and other regions across the province, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/01/16/niagara-is-one-of-eight-ontario-regional-municipalities-being-reviewed-for-possible-amalgamation/ .
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