“Niagara is more than the sum of its parts, and it is because of our spirit of cooperation and team work that we will always find a way to move beyond our limits. … We should all believe that Niagara’s future is bright and has no limits.” – from Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley’s ‘State of the Region’ address, delivered this April 3rd, 2019 at a luncheon gala hosted by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted April 4th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
A year ago this spring, when the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual “State of the Region” address in a sprawling banquet room of the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls where the event, the person who was Niagara’s Regional Chair at the time entered the room wearing the chain of office – one of those gaudy metal livery collars often worn by royals and autocrats as a mark of fealty.
He burst in to the room to the noise of some ‘We Are the Champions’-like or Rocky-like theme music blaring from loud speakers, sprinting through the audience on his way to the podium as if he was Bruce Springsteen taking the stage for a big show.
But this was certainly not ‘The Boss’ about the break in to a rousing performance of ‘Born To Run’ or ‘Thunder Road’. Not even close.
This was Al Caslin who, thanks to the voters of St. Catharines, was buried in a field of more than 20 candidates vying for six regional council seats in that Niagara municipality in last October’s municipal elections and who was a player in a hiring and contract extension controversy around a former CAO at the Region that is still the subject of an Ontario Ombudsman’s Office investigation.
The person that rose to the podium to deliver the State of the Region address this April 3rd did not enter the room to blaring music or wearing a chain of office.
He was Jim Bradley, a former St. Catharines MPP and 41-year veteran of provincial politics, who topped the polls for a Regional Council seat in last October’s municipal elections and was sworn in as the 8th Chair of Niagara’s 49-year-old Region this past December 6th.
“Good afternoon,” he began in a room of more than 500 members of Niagara’s business community and others. “I am looking forward to sharing some insights into council’s top priorities now, and for the rest of our four-year term.”
And so he began to outline some of the priorities for this still relatively new term of Regional Council in a way, with none of the flare that his predecessor grasped for.
It was, to those who have followed his many years at Queen’s Park,, in and out of opposition, and more than a few time holding environment, transportation and other cabinet posts, vintage Jim Bradley, offering up some plans for the future without soaring rhetoric – a guy who, as much ease as he displays as he speaks, would rather spend more time working on plans than talking about them.
And it seemed to work nicely with members of this big audience who rose from their seats at the end of Bradley’s address to give him a warm round of applause. The response of the audience seemed in synch with what at least a few who attended the address said later ‘Oh, what a nice change this is.’
Here a few of the highlights from Bradley’s State of the Region address, starting with one on public transit that won a good round of applause from the audience –
“For the past several years, the Niagara Region and the area municipalities have been making significant strides and investment in terms of improvements to our public transportation infrastructure,” Bradley said.
“We know that providing our residents with a reliable and affordable way to travel within their communities, and between neighbouring municipalities, is not only a critical component for the quality of life for those who live in Niagara, but also a major draw for businesses looking to locate in an area.”
“To this end,” he added, “I am proud to announce that Regional council has made the unprecedented investment of nearly $14 million dollars in the 2019 budget to support the expansion Regional transit services across Niagara.”
“In addition to purchasing 13 new busses, this investment will help ensure seamless connections and transfers between local transit partners and the Region. This investment will also expand service to include earlier and later hours, Sunday service and service into all 12 of Niagara’s municipalities.”
“Ultimately, these investments are all designed to help move transit forward across Niagara, and ensure effective connections to current and future GO train service.”
On urban development, here is some of what Bradley had s to say –
“Residential construction continues to be robust as Niagara is discovered by more individuals looking to take advantage of our quality of life, unique location and cost of living. Last year alone, Niagara saw over $1 billion dollars invested in new residential construction.”
“It is important to point out that as Niagara grows we are taking steps to ensure that development maintains what makes Niagara special,” he said.
“Local and regional planners work diligently in partnership with builders and developers to balance the demand for growth with the local culture, character and style of our neighbourhoods.”
“We will continue to maintain this balance as Niagara reaches its Provincial population targets. We will all need to work as a team to ensure that we are able to take advantage of this growth while not losing the unique characteristics and features that makes our region such a special place.”
On Affordable Housing, Bradley said –
“Although we are making incredible improvements to our region we must also not forget those vulnerable members of our community. One of the most vital goals we as a Region must strive for is to ensure that every resident has a place they are happy to call their home.”
“For example, Niagara, like most of Ontario, has seen an increase in those staying overnight in shelters and more importantly a difficulty in moving residents out of the shelter system.”
“Further to this, the availability of rental properties has decreased significantly over the past several years and the average market rent has increased across the board. Niagara Regional Housing has over 5,300 households waiting to be housed, and wait times can be anywhere between two and 16 years depending on the type of unit and location.”
“We all need to work together by fostering our partnerships across the Region and encouraging new housing developments that are affordable and support all of our residents.”
Bradley also informed the audience that starting this April 4th, Niagara’s Regional Council “will formally take our first steps in the creation of our next strategic plan.” –
“This plan provides Niagara Region with direction regarding council’s priorities and goals. I am looking forward to getting to work on this process with all of my colleagues in council chambers.”
This is also an opportunity for individuals and groups across Niagara to participate in putting together a plan that will hopefully focus on a future that embraces health communities and protecting and preserving what is left of our precious waters and green spaces.
It is up to all of us to show an interest and have our say in the planning and the work that follows, and Niagara At Large will have much more to report and say about this strategic planning exercise in the weeks and months ahead.
In his address, Bradley also discussed a number of other key issues, including agriculture, tourism, cross-border trade, and infrastructure and managing the impacts of climate change, and more.
Niagara At Large will continue to follow what Bradley and the Regional Council do to address those and other issues in the months ahead, as well.
In the meantime, you can click on the screen below to hear and watch this April 3rd’s State of the Region address in its entirety –
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