Written by: David Siegel
My previous posts focussed on the major problems in the Region of Niagara. My point was the council needed a new broom, and I’m pleased to report that that happened. Of the 31 members of the council elected on October 22 (including the 12 mayors), eight were returning members plus one member who had served on council previously. Only one member of what was called the ‘Conservative cabal’ was returned. Unfortunately, some good members of the previous council were caught up in the sweep, but that’s what sometimes happens in these situations. This should give the council a new start and will allow to begin to rebuild trust with the people of Niagara.
Another positive result of the elections is that there will be nine women on the new council compared to four previously. My eyeball analysis suggests that there are more women on the councils of the area municipalities as well, but there are so many local councillors that I lost the energy to count.
With a sweep like this, there is a danger that the new council will suffer from inexperience. That will be leavened somewhat in this case by the presence of people with political experience in other realms such as a long-serving MPP who got caught up in the anti-Liberal fervour of the provincial election, one member who had served on regional council in 2006-10, and several who have served on local councils.
However, Niagara is a sprawling, deconcentrated region meaning that many of the neophytes simply don’t know one another. This is a problem because the first task of the new council will be the selection of a regional chair for the next four years. This election would have been the first time that Niagarans would have elected their regional chair, but the provincial government’s last-minute intervention put the kibosh on that. Instead, the council will select a chair at its first meeting. Council can select anyone in Niagara, but there is a long-standing tradition that the chair should be chosen from among elected members.
Support seems to be coalescing around Jim Bradley, the aforementioned Liberal MPP and cabinet minister with over 40 years experience at Queen’s Park. He is a very well-respected, competent, low-key guy. These qualities are exactly what the region needs now.
After selection of the regional chair, the council will then have to take on some very difficult issues. The Provincial Ombudsman is currently investigating allegations that the Chief Administrative Officer was appointed in an irregular manner, and the Provincial Auditor is investigating administrative issues in the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. There is also an application for a huge development in Niagara Falls that allegedly encroaches on wetlands.
In previous posts, I expressed major concerns about the reputation of the Region of Niagara. This new council opens the door to a major improvement in that reputation. However, this council is facing a significant challenge. Much depends of how these councillors react to that challenge.