A few weeks ago, after the cancellation of our ability to directly elect our Regional Chair, I released this podcast about Governance Review:
*The transcript is at the end of this blog entry
In a nutshell, we are now mandated to undertake our own governance review within two years after every second election (so, 2018, then 2026, and so on).
Now, with there being more talk about our provincial government looking at making changes to local government, I wanted to share a few thoughts.
This is a topic that has come up in every campaign I’ve run in, but the matter has some urgency now, given the changes that have already been made in Toronto and the indication that there are more to come across the province.
Currently, this is what the political landscape looks like across Niagara, in terms of representation:
Given that we are mandated to undertake a governance review of our own within two years after every second election, we might hope that the Province will allow us to work together to come up with a solution that achieves Ford’s goal of fewer politicians (which doesn’t necessarily translate to better or more efficient government, but it seems to be his primary focus).
We can see right away that there is little consistency throughout Niagara with respect to the size of town or city councils in relation to their respective populations. For instance, Welland has less than half the population of St. Catharines and the same number of councillors. Grimsby, Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Port Colborne, and Thorold all have more councillors for fewer citizens than does Fort Erie.
If it is the number of politicians alone that is the current provincial government’s concern, maybe we can look at bringing some consistency between municipalities to those numbers of councillors. The same consistency should be applied to the number of regional councillors for each municipality. Based on the numbers above, and if they were to stay that way, St. Catharines should probably lose a regional councillor.
As a candidate who is running and has always run without any ties to provincial or federal parties, I do not relish the idea of having four municipalities divided along provincial/federal riding lines. That’s a shockingly large amount of ground to cover when a significant amount of the population still expects you to knock on their door.
Provincial and federal candidates can do it, because they have party machines behind them. Independent candidates at this level of government would really struggle. It’s more challenging both to raise money (in part because there’s no tax credit for contributions) and to drum up volunteer support, as most of one’s friends and family are busy with their own employment or business, and it’s unlikely that an independent candidate would be able to raise so much money they could pay staff to help them.
Over the years, I’ve been party to many conversations about eliminating a level of government altogether. Often, it’s suggested that we should eliminate the Region (although the Region is almost 50 years old, they’re the new kid on the block). Sometimes, it’s that we should be one Niagara.
I don’t know that Niagara necessarily should be 12 municipalities, but I also don’t know that one Niagara is the answer.
Eliminating Regional government in Niagara would result in an enormous burden on the individual municipalities, one that many of the smaller ones could not bear, in terms of paying for policing, land ambulance services, waste management, public health, water treatment, etc., etc., especially considering that some of the smaller municipalities don’t even have their own fire departments.
If we had to remove a layer of politicians altogether, as Ford seems to want, given his (faulty) rationale for cancelling the direct election of our Regional Chair, an idea I’ve floated is to remove the Regional level of politicians. But that’s not to say that I would eliminate the Region as an entity.
We could eliminate the 19 (soon to be 20) regional council positions and have the Region serve a program/service delivery function. Policing, land ambulance services, waste management, public health, water treatment, etc., etc., and you might even add fire and emergency services, could all be centralized at the Region. The organization could be governed by the 12 mayors and maybe 12 other individuals who would all serve as a volunteer board of directors (the 12 mayors would not be paid extra to sit on this board of directors, it would just be part of their job as mayor of their respective town or city).
The 12 municipalities could either continue to exist as they do or a few might merge. They could continue to exist with the number of councillors they have or they could choose to make some changes to ensure consistent representation from one town or city to the next.
Regardless of which model we choose for ourselves or which one is imposed upon us, Niagara needs city/town and regional councillors who are skilled and knowledgeable to see Niagara and its municipalities through whatever change lies ahead.
Being prepared and adept at working through challenges in a way that is in the best interests of the citizens of Niagara is another way we Reset the Region.
Transcript of podcast episode:
Welcome to Podcasting to Reset the Region. I’m Laura Ip, and I’m running to represent the people of St. Catharines at Niagara Regional Council.
Today’s exciting topic is governance review. Before you listen more, go grab yourself a cup of tea, maybe a snack, settle in and have a listen.
Governance review was passed by our previous provincial government, and you may know it as Bill 68 or by the very exciting title of Modernization of the Municipal Act. This is the Act that brought back our Integrity Commissioner that this term of Regional Council removed probably during their very first meeting [correction: it was February 26, 2014…one of their very first meetings].
One of the things that’s included in this Act is the review of the composition of Council. You’ll recall that a couple of weeks ago, within hours of the nomination deadline, the Premier cancelled the election of the Regional Chair. Now, initially, I thought that this review of the composition of Council would permit us to go back – after this election in 2018 – and include that we would like our Chair to be directly elected. It doesn’t seem to do that from my interpretation. So, if we want to have a directly elected Chair for our 2022 municipal election, we are going to have to have a Regional Council that understands how disappointed citizens across the Niagara region were when that election was cancelled. You are going to need to choose Regional Council candidates who will advocate for the direct election of your Regional Chair.
We’ve talked about what this Act doesn’t do. Now, let’s talk about what this Act does.
Every eight years, the requirement is that within two years after every other municipal election, so two years after the 2018 municipal election; two years after the 2026 municipal election and so on, it gives Regional Council the opportunity to review the number of councillors in council chambers. Currently, because we just added one in West Lincoln, there are 32 regional councillors [there will be after this 2018 election]. Is that too many? Is it too few? That’s a matter of opinion. There are arguments in favour and against from a number of different angles, but it now mandates us to look at those numbers and, so, when we have a municipal election, if you believe that there are too many or too few, you can ask what your Regional Council candidates think and vote for people based, in part at least, on that, because hopefully we’re not voting on single issues. It is a question that you can ask, and there is a direct requirement now for that review.
Now, if you’re not sufficiently bored by discussing governance, there’s one more piece of Bill 68 that’s relevant here, and it has come up for discussion in this current term of Regional Council, and that is around the Code of Conduct. So, if you’ve been following regional politics closely, you will know that a few months ago, a new Code of Conduct was written by our Integrity Commissioner, and it was a much more robust Code of Conduct. It was holding Regional Councillors or it would have been holding Regional Councillors to a much higher standard than they are currently held. It would have also addressed a number of the concerns that we’ve had as far as the Integrity Commissioner complaints that have been made to date.
I think we need to go back to that Code of Conduct that was written [by John Mascarin; before being edited by Councillors Quirk and Volpatti], so I’m not asking us to spend more money, I’m asking us to go back to work that has already been done, and review that Code of Conduct. It’s possible that there are some things that need to be tweaked, but certainly the Code of Conduct as it was written is, again, much more robust and holds Regional Councillors to a higher standard.
By this term of Regional Council not accepting that Code of Conduct, they’re essentially saying, “we want to be held to the lowest bar possible.” To me, that’s not acceptable.
Now, because I am afraid that maybe I’ve lost you; maybe that cup of tea put you to sleep with this governance review conversation, I’ll end it here. I will just encourage you to visit my website: lauraip.ca; seek me out on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram by searching Laura Ip for Regional Council; or send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And on Monday, October 22, 2018, please vote to Reset the Region. Vote for me – Laura Ip – for Regional Council.