Cheers for a Majority of Niagara’s Regional Councillors for Showing Leadership on COVID Vaccination

Shame on a Minority – Niagara Regional Councillor and Mayor of West Lincoln Dave Bylsma, Welland Regional Leanna Villella, Grimsby Regional Councillor Wayne Fertich, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale, Pelham Regional Councillor and Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin, and Niagara-on-on-the-Lake Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa – Who Would Not

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted August 30th, 2021 on Niagara At Large

During times when our communities face a serious threat or crisis, I believe it more important than ever those politicians at all levels of government put aside any and all partisan agendas they have and demonstrate collective leadership to protect the communities they represent.

Niagara Region’s council chambers have remained virtually empty and void of a gallery for area citizens since the pademic set in more than a year and a half ago. Want to get vaccinated and help crush this virus or keep it this way?

Indeed, at times like the one we are suffering through now, with a highly infectious, killer virus on the loose that requires all citizens to take every responsible step we can for the safety of all, it is doubly important that our elected representatives lead by example.

In that spirit, was heartening to watch an overwhelming majority of our Niagara Regional Councillors, at an August 26th general meeting,  pass a motion tabled by St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit to mandate COVId-19 vaccination for both Regional staff and for councillors who wish to attend face-to-face meetings, and another motion, tabled by St. Catharines Regional Councillor George Darte, calling upon our provincial and federal governments to implement some form of vaccine certification or passport system.

Our elected representatives too often find their names mentioned in the media or contacted by constituents when they are tangled in some sort of controversy.

St. Catharines Regional Councillor tabled a motion, passed by a large majority, calling on the provincial and federal governments to implement some form of a vaccine certificate or passport system

When they do the right thing on behalf of the communities they serve they should receive mention for that too.

So here is the list of those regional councillors who voted in favour of a vaccine mandate for the Region’s staff and for members of the Region’s council. It is a long list, but please don’t cut out on this post before I get to the end of it because I am going to have a few things to say about the naysayers on the council too –

In alphabetical order, those who voted in favour of vaccine mandates for both regional council and the staff include: St. Catharines Regional Councillor Sandie Bellows, Port Colborne Regional Councillor Barbara Butters, Welland Regional Councillor and Welland Mayor Frank Campion, Welland Regional Councillor Pat Chiocchio, St.Catharines Regional Councillor George Darte, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Councilor and Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Betty Disero, Lincoln Regional Councillor and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Kelly Edgar, Lincoln Regional Councillor Robert Foster, West Lincoln Regional Councillor and West Lincoln Mayor Kevin Gibson, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Barbara Greenwood, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit, Pelham Regional Councillor Diana Huson, Fort Erie Regional Councillor Tom Insinna, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Laura Ip, Grimsby Regional Councillor and Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Peter Nicholson, Fort Erie Regional Councillor and Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Tim Rigby, St. Catharines Regional Councillor and St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, Port Colborne Regional Councillor and Port Colborne Mayor Bill Steele, Thorold Regional Councillor and Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini and Thorold Regional Councillor Tim Whelan. (West Lincoln Regional Councillor Albert Witteveen was absent for the meeting.)

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley is only required to vote on a motion to break a tie, which was obviously not necessary in this case, However, based on Bradley’s ongoing effort through this pandemic to strongly support proven health measures, I have no doubt whatsoever that that he supports this move.

In fact, Jim Bradley came out with a statement a few days ago that reads-

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley

“As Regional Council, we have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for our staff. This policy not only goes a long way to make our work sites a safer place to be, it also sets an example for other employers to follow in the hopes of increasing vaccination rates. Vaccines safe lives and help avoid economic lockdowns – the motions passed(this August 26th)  will help protect the health and safety of our community, while also playing a role in safeguarding Niagara’s economy”

We can all look at the list above and see names of politicians we have serious disagreements with on other issues. But let’s at least give them credit for backing vaccination mandates that – given the dire health threat we continue to face – are a “no brainer,” as at least one or more regional councillors chose to describe them.

And speaking of no brainers, let’s now get down to some of those who were the naysayers on this one.

I begin with West Lincoln Regional Councillor and West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma, and Welland Regional Councillor Leanna Villella, who, in the past, spoke out vigorously against the Region’s council decision to pass a mask-wearing bylaw for indoor places.

Yet of all the naysayers, at least Bylsma and Villella were consistent. They were the only two regional councillors who voted against both the vaccination for regional staff and for councillors. The rest seemed to be okay with one set of rules for staff and another for themselves.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa. Once again he seems to run into a little confusion when it comes to voting for something that should be a no-brainer.

On that front, let’s start with Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa, who was quoted in an August 28th report in The St. Catharines Standard saying he is vaccinated and prefers to see other councillors vaccinated too.

“I want to make that clear,” said Zalepa to a Standard reporter. “Vaccination is probably the key to avoiding a harsher fourth wave.”

That being said, Zalepa seemed to run into a bit of confusion when it came to the motion on the floor, which may not be that surprising if you recall that earlier this year, this same regional councillor seemed to have problems wrapping his mind around the idea of celebrating our Niagara River as a ‘wetland of international importance’ under a decade-old, multi-nation Ramsar agreement too.

Voting in favour of such a worthy designation for this great waterbody , which a majority of Zalepa’s fellow regional councillors ultimately did, should have been a no brainer for him too.

Getting back to the part of the motion on the vaccine for regional councillors, “I didn’t see (it) until it went on the screen,”Zalepa reportedly told The Standard reporter. “That’s problematic and a whole other issue.”

Oh is it now?

Excuse me Councillor Zalepa, but I’d be willing to bet that almost anyone watching the August 26th meeting online watched the vast majority of your fellow councillors catch the wording of the motion clearly enough to vote in favour of it. Following the motion along kind of a no-brainer, and if you sit on the council, it is your job.

West Lincoln Regional Councillor and Mayor for West Lincoln, Dave Bylsma. Why would you want a vaccine mandate for an individual like this, who asks a female Niagara citizen personal questions about her monthly period and how taking the vaccine might be impacting on her cycle on social media?

Meanwhile, the regional councillor and mayor for Pelham, Marvin Junkin, told The Standard he “thought (the part of the motion asking for councillors to get fully vaccinated) was more or less aimed at Mayor Bylsma (the anti-mask, anti-vaxxer character from West Lincoln). I didn’t think we should stop someone from doing their job (as a regional councillor) because they aren’t vaccinated.”

But what about others on the council, and what about the rest of us, who are vaccinated and want to avoid risking our lives around those who are not? If members of the tax-paying public are ever allowed back in Niagara’s Regional Headquarters again to attend face-to-face meetings, I bet we will be asked to show some proof that we have been vaccinated.

And which part of what Bylsma may think is his job as an elected councillor does Junkin have in mind? The part where Bylsma spoke in front of a large crowd in St. Catharines early this year, stirring them up against COVID lockdowns and taking a vaccine described during the event as a form of ‘bio-warfare”? Or was it the part more recently where Bylsma went on social media to ask a Niagara citizen about the possible impact a COVID vaccine had on her menstrual cycle?

Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale, who can go on sme kind of  tear when he challenges those at a council meeting he disagrees with, appears to have grown quite the  soft heart for anyone on the council who choses not to get vaccinated.

Finally, there was Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale, who is threatening to run as a Conservative candidate for the Doug Ford camp in next year’s provincial election, and who appeared to take a position similar as that of Junkin.

“I agree that everybody should be vaccinated,” Gale was quoted saying in The Standard. “I don’t have a problem with that, but I thought the motion was against a particular councillor they are going after, and I wasn’t happy about that.”

What a magnanimous gesture of sensitivity toward another on Gale’s part. All of a sudden, Gale is coming across like Mr. Warmth.

I’m sure at least some of us recall how much Gale  grace showeed  over the past five or six years toward others, including St. Catharines resident Haley Bateman, who came to address the regional council on code of conduct concerns, and Mishka Balsom, CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, who once came to the council to discuss her chamber members’ interested in a Niagara-wide election for the job of Regional Chair.

For the moment, at least, I will spare you video footage of the amount of grace Gale showed those individuals. Suffice to say, it left the slack he was apparently willing to cut for an individual this time a little gut-wrenching.

St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit tabled the motion for a vaccine mandate for regional staff and councillors

When Niagara At Large asked St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit if he had any one or more individuals in mind, or if he had any kind of hidden or partisan agenda, when he tabled the motion for a vaccine mandate for both regional staff and members of council, this was his response to why he put that motion forward –  

“We must lead by example and be treated in the same manner as we impose upon our staff,” said Heit. “I was not attacking any specific councillor, but trying to show leadership from council.

“Having a mandatory vaccination policy doesn’t only protect us, it also protect anyone we come in contact with.”

Amen to that.

Showing leadership in ways that protects members of the larger community is should be what it is all about.

Those in government, who are not willing to demonstrate that kind of leadership on behalf of the common good should –  come election time- be removed from office.

Fortunately, we have municipal elections in Niagara in the fall of 2022 – elections that couldn’t come soon enough.

  • Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

To read another piece Niagara At Large recently posted on this issue, click on – 

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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