Niagara Region’s Council Squandered Chance to Affirm Stand Against Racism

It Appears that for  Many Regional Councillors, “Ignorance” is Bliss, Says Niagara-wide citizens watchdog group

A News Commentary from a Better Niagara, a region-wide citizens watchdog group on government affairs

Posted August 4th, 2020 on Niagara At Large (originally posted July 24th on A Better Niagara’s Facebook page

In June, West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma managed to score a hat-trick of bigoted comments during a radio interview that offended members of Niagara’s black, indigenous and LGBTQ communities, not to mention the majority of Niagara’s citizens who believe in an inclusive, welcoming Region.

Niagara’s Regional Council could have used the opportunity at its July 23rd  meeting to affirm that racism has no place in our community. They could have assured the public that they will work proactively to ensure that all community members feel safe, respected and welcome. Instead, they squandered the opportunity.

Despite the fact that:

  • • wide publicity was given to Bylsma’s remarks in the local media (the story even reached as far as Ottawa and the UK);
  • • A Better Niagara wrote official correspondence to Council on the matter on June 18th;
  • • the matter was raised at their last Council meeting (they deferred it too yesterday’s meeting);
  • • and delegations were made to the July 23rd Council meeting on the subject;
  • many members of Council seemed completely unaware of the issue that sent 150 people out to protest at West Lincoln Town Hall and that had people saying they were made to feel unsafe living in their own community.

Truly “ignorance” is bliss for many of our Regional Council members. (Please see the list of news stories that ran about this issue at the bottom of this post.)

West Lincoln Mayor and Niagara Regional Councillor David Bylsma. His musings this spring on a Niagara, Ontario area talk show about “identity politics”, Pride flags, Black Livers Matter and related subjects triggered controversy.

Niagara Region’s Code of Conduct States under “Respect, Truth, Honesty and Integrity” “2. Members of Council shall not impose their personal, moral or religious standards on others as every person is an individual with specific rights, values, beliefs and personality traits to be respected at all times.”

We understand Mayor Bylsma (who also holds a seat on Niagara Regional Council) is the National President of the Christian Heritage Party and has beliefs based on his faith, but according to the Region’s Code of Conduct he needs to be careful about how they may conflict with his role as an elected official.

A Better Niagara would like to thank St. Catharines Regional Councillor Kelly Edgar who tried to bring a motion forward that would have been a reprimand to Mayor Bylsma.

Thank you to Port Colborne Regional Councillor Barbara Butters who said the Region should walk the talk of inclusiveness.

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley

Thanks also to Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley who responded quickly to ABN’s June letter to Council. In his response he noted that among other things at the June 4 meeting of Regional Council, he offered a public statement in support of diversity, inclusive policies and denouncing racism and on June 12, he made public statements in the media denouncing Mayor Bylsma’s comments.

As well, Chair Bradley has arranged “an education session with the help of a third-party consultant to provide councillors with training to underscore the importance of diversity and the identification of personal biases.” The training is voluntary, and unfortunately, those most in need of it will be least likely to avail themselves of it.

It should also be noted that although 10 months ago the Region unanimously agreed to participate in the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, the document has yet to be signed.

Sigh.

The only recourse now is to file a complaint with the integrity commissioner. It is worth noting that the last version of council also refused to hold itself accountable. Integrity Commissioner investigations cost taxpayer money and time. We had hoped for better from this council.

To read some of the news reports that were already out on this matter before the Regional Council met on July 23rd, click on the links below –

Newstalk 610, June 11 2020 “ . . .WHAT ARE THEY STILL FIGHTING FOR?” https://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/news/what-are-they-still-fighting-for-1.12662432

You can read the news story about the interview as well as listen to the full interview from this site. Newstalk 610, June 11 2020 WEST LINCOLN MAYORS’ COMMENTS DESCRIBED AS ‘JAW DROPPING’ BY PRIDE NIAGARA, BYLSMA CALLED A ‘BIGOT’ https://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/news/west-lincoln-mayors-comments-described-as-jaw-dropping-by-pride-niagara-bylsma-called-a-bigot-1.12665720

St. Catharines Standard, June 11 2020, West Lincoln mayor under fire for remarks about LGBTQ, Indigenous and Black communities https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news/niagara-region/2020/06/11/west-lincoln-mayor-under-fire-for-remarks-about-lgbtq-indigenous-and-black-communities.html

St. Catharines Standard, June 12 2020, Bylsma’s on-air comments panned by LGBTQ , Indigenous leaders https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news/niagara-region/2020/06/12/bylsma-s-on-air-comments-panned-by-lgbtq-indigenous-leaders.html

Niagara This Week, June 12 2020, ‘It’s not West Lincoln’: councillors respond to Pride flag controversy. Special meeting called to discuss lack of Pride flag at township hall https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/10021917–it-s-not-west-lincoln-councillors-respond-to-pride-flag-controversy/

Newstalk 610, June 12 2020, We are taking several step to Be Inclusive in Niagara: Regional Chair https://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/news/we-are-taking-several-steps-to-be-inclusive-in-niagara-regional-chair-1.12678019

Niagara At Large, June 15th, What is West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma Thinking? https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/06/15/what-is-west-lincoln-mayor-david-bylsma-thinking/

St. Catharines Standard, June 16 2020, Pride protest draws 150 people to West Lincoln township hall, No apologies from mayor, as council votes to raise Pride flag for remainder of the month https://www.insideottawavalley.com/news-story/10034615-pride-protest-draws-150-people-to-west-lincoln-township-hall/

About A Better Niagara – A Better Niagara is a non-partisan organization that believes municipal politics should be about neighbours helping neighbours to solve local problems. The group sees transparency, accountability and integrity as foundational to good governance and the keys to building trust between the public and their elected officials.

For more from A Better Niagara, visit the group’s Facebook page by clicking on – https://www.facebook.com/betterniagara/

If you would like to watch the part of Niagara Regional Council’s July 23rd, 2020 meeting where this matter was discussed, click on the link for a Youtube version below and move the red ball at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to 1:27 – https://www.youtube.com/embed/bOu8B_4U0m4?rel=0&autoplay=1

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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