Direct Election of the Regional Chair

During the campaign, I made the following promise:

“As the Municipal Act mandates that we are to undergo a governance review in this upcoming term of Council, I will work tirelessly toward us having a directly elected Regional Chair in the 2022 election.”

Now, grab yourself a coffee or cup of tea and kick back for a bit of a lengthy read…and bonus super nerd material at the end of this post.

Because Regional Council added a seat for West Lincoln in time for the 2018 election, Regional Council is not required to undertake any further governance review and after the 2026 election. Further, we heard the final report of the External Governance Review that was initiated during the last term of Council, which provided various options, but no clear direction. And, finally, the provincial government spent several months on a governance review for Niagara and several other jurisdictions, only to leave everything as it was and suggest that Niagara and the other jurisdictions undertake their own reviews.

In keeping with my campaign promise, I have the following motion coming to the February 20, 2020 Council meeting:

In accordance with the notice and submission deadline requirements of Sections 18.1(b) and 11.3, respectively, of Niagara Region’s Procedural By-law, the Regional Clerk received from Councillor Ip a motion to be brought forward for consideration at the February 20, 2020 Council meeting respecting Direct Election of the Regional Chair.
WHEREAS the Province has completed its governance review and decided to leave governance reform in the purview of each municipality;
WHEREAS section 218.2 of the Municipal Act, 2001, provides a municipality the power to change the method of selecting its head of Council under section 218 of the Act for any regular election after 2018;
WHEREAS the upper tier municipalities of Durham Region, Halton Region, and Region of Waterloo directly elect their Regional Chair;
WHEREAS upper tier and single-tier municipalities in Ontario with larger populations and/or larger geographic areas than Niagara have directly elected Heads of Council;
WHEREAS Niagara is a progressive municipality with diverse interests; and
WHEREAS all of the voting citizens of Niagara deserve to have a direct say in who shall represent them as Regional Chair.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:
1. That The Regional Municipality of Niagara EXERCISE its power and follow the necessary process under section 218 of the Municipal Act, 2001, to change the method of selecting the Head of Council so that beginning with the 2022 municipal election and for all future municipal elections the Regional Chair is elected by general vote by the voting citizens of all 12 local area municipalities in the Niagara region in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.

One of the most common arguments against having a Regional Chair elected by Niagara’s citizenry is that Niagara is too big. In population and geographic area.

According to the 2016 census, the population of Niagara is 447,888 people.

Region of Waterloo (535,154), Halton Region (548,435), and Durham Region (645,862) all have larger populations and all three regions have a directly-elected Regional Chair. Further, the cities of Hamilton (579,200), Ottawa (994,837), and Toronto (2,930,000) all have mayors that are, of course, directly elected by their respective citizenries.

When talking about Niagara being too large geographically, we’re looking at 1,854 km² in Niagara versus 2,523 km² in Durham Region and 2,790 km² in the City of Ottawa.

Having a directly-elected Regional Chair means Niagara would have a Chair who has a mandate from the public. People who put their names forward for this elected role will have to communicate a vision for Niagara and plans for how to achieve their vision (always recognizing that Regional Council works at a team and decisions require a majority vote, of course) to all of Niagara. This is – in my opinion – always going to be a better option than having a mere 31 people from different communities, elected for different reasons choose the Region’s Chair.

A directly-elected Regional Chair will also put an end to bargaining or trading that may have happened with previous Councils (I don’t think any of the three people who ran for Chair this time made any sorts of promises to any of the rest of us to vote for them. I have heard that it’s happened previously).

Another common argument against having a directly-elected Regional Chair is that it would leave the position open only to those who have money (or connections with money…and, therefore, beholden to those connections).

Let’s be honest here, though. Most (if not all) elected positions in Niagara are open only to those who have money (or the skills and confidence to get that money). For my own campaign for a seat on Regional Council, I raised approximately $13,000 through donations, with the average donation being approximately $100. I was also able to put in approximately $2,500 of my own money, because I’d started planning months out for another expense and then decided to run for Regional Council instead and use the money for that.

Was it easy? Nope.

Did I have to do things that were outside of my comfort zone (e.g., ask people for help, put up billboards, etc.)? Yep.

But with a well-articulated vision and plan, nearly everyone I asked was willing to contribute something.

A good team of people can absolutely get someone elected who is well-qualified and in whom they believe, but may not have the financial resources.

Now, for Niagara to have a directly-elected Regional Chair come 2022, we have to go through the process to put that position on the ballot.

And it’s not a quick process.

Regional Council cannot make this decision on its own.

We have to seek triple majority support, which means that we must have a majority of votes at Regional Council; a majority of votes at the local area municipalities (so, a municipality or two may not pass this motion, but a majority of all of the councillors in Niagara’s local area municipalities have); and those local area municipalities that do pass the motion must represent a majority of the population of voting citizens in all of Niagara (so, losing in St. Catharines or Niagara Falls, for instance, could put the motion in serious jeopardy if not quash it entirely).

We are also required to have at least one public meeting on the matter and there are, of course, notice provisions that go along with holding public meetings.

Then, the local area clerks need approximately 12 to 18 months notice to ensure they have the materials, equipment, etc. to run the election with this position added to the ballot.

If we want to see this position added to the ballot, we can’t kick this can too far down the road, lest we run out of time to have it added.

In my own personal opinion, I firmly believe that Regional Council would be wisest to pass the motion in an effort to garner the wider public input of the local area municipalities and the public. I think it’s more than a bit problematic to have just 31 people choose who will lead the Niagara Region…or even if that’s what we want (to have just 31 people make the decision).

This is a question that is more than worthy of public input.

If the motion fails at the local area municipalities and through the public meeting, then we will have at least sought that input.

And maybe it will begin a larger and separate (I think it’s important that it be separate) conversation about political representation throughout Niagara.

~~~

Now, for the super nerds among us…

Section 218 of the Muncipal Act, 2001, referenced in the motion above can be found here and is copied below:

218 (1) Without limiting sections 9, 10 and 11, those sections authorize an upper-tier municipality to change the composition of its council subject to the following rules:

1. There shall be a minimum of five members, one of whom shall be the head of council.

2. The head of council shall be elected by general vote, in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, or shall be appointed by the members of council.

2.1 Repealed: 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 1 (2).

3. The members of council, except the head of council, shall be elected in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 to the upper-tier council or to the council of one of its lower-tier municipalities.

4. The head of council shall be qualified to be elected as a member of council of the upper-tier municipality.

5. If the members of council are directly elected to the upper-tier council and not to the council of a lower-tier municipality, the members shall be elected by general vote or wards or by any combination of general vote and wards.

6. Each lower-tier municipality shall be represented on the upper-tier council.  2001, c. 25, s. 218 (1); 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 93 (1); 2016, c. 37, Sched. 15, s. 1; 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 1.

Types of changes

(2) Without limiting sections 9, 10 and 11, the power to change the composition of council includes the power to,

(a) change the number of members of its council that represent one or more of its lower-tier municipalities;

(b) change the method of selecting members of the council, including having members directly elected to the upper-tier council and not to the council of a lower-tier municipality, members elected to serve on both the upper-tier and lower-tier councils or members elected to the lower-tier councils and appointed to the upper-tier council by the lower-tier municipalities, or a combination of methods of election;

(c) have a member representing more than one lower-tier municipality;

(d) require that if a member of council is appointed by the members of council as the head of the upper-tier council, the member is no longer entitled to hold office on the council of a lower-tier municipality or any other office on the council of the upper-tier municipality or both; and

(e) require that if a member of council is appointed by the members of council as the head of the upper-tier council, the appointed member must hold office on the council of a lower-tier municipality.  2001, c. 25, s. 218 (2); 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 93 (2); 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (1).

Number of votes

(3) Without limiting sections 9, 10 and 11, those sections authorize an upper-tier municipality to change the number of votes given to any member but each member shall have at least one vote.  2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 93 (3).

Term of office

(4) Without limiting sections 9, 10 and 11, those sections authorize an upper-tier municipality to change the term of office of an appointed head of council so long as the new term does not extend beyond the term of council.  2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 93 (3).

Term unaffected

(5) Except as provided in subsection (4), nothing in this section authorizes an upper-tier municipality to change the term of office of a member of council. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

Reviews by regional municipalities

(6) Following the regular election in 2018 and following every second regular election after that, a regional municipality shall review, for each of its lower-tier municipalities, the number of members of its council that represent the lower-tier municipality. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

Regulations

(7) The Minister may make a regulation changing the composition of a council of a regional municipality if the regional municipality does not, in the period of time that starts on the day the new council is organized following a regular election referred to in subsection (6) and ends on the day two years after that day, either,

(a) pass a by-law to change, for one or more of its lower-tier municipalities, the number of the members of its council that represent the lower-tier municipality; or

(b) pass a resolution to affirm, for each of its lower-tier municipalities, the number of the members of its council that represent the lower-tier municipality. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

When regulation may be made

(8) The Minister may make a regulation under subsection (7) only after the period of time referred to in that subsection but before the year of the next regular election after which the regional municipality has a duty to conduct a review under subsection (6). 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

What regulation may include

(9) A regulation made under subsection (7) may include anything that could be included in a by-law of the upper-tier municipality under subsections (1) to (5) and is subject to the limitations set out in those subsections. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

What Minister shall have regard to

(10) When considering whether to make a regulation under subsection (7), the Minister shall, in addition to anything else the Minister wishes to consider, have regard to the principle of representation by population. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

Transition

(11) Until after the regular election in 2026, subsections (6) and (7) do not apply to a regional municipality that, during the period between the regular election in 2014 and the regular election in 2018, passes a by-law to change, for one or more of its lower-tier municipalities, the number of members of its council that represent the lower-tier municipality. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 14 (2).

Head of regional council

Appointment

218.1 (1) On the day the new council is organized following the regular election in 2018, the head of council of the following regional municipalities shall be appointed by the members of council:

1. The District Municipality of Muskoka.

2. The Regional Municipality of Niagara.

3. The Regional Municipality of Peel.

4. The Regional Municipality of York. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

General vote

(2) On the day the new council is organized following the regular election in 2018, the head of council of the following regional municipalities shall be elected by general vote in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996:

1. The Regional Municipality of Durham.

2. The Regional Municipality of Halton.

3. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

Conduct of 2018 regular election

(3) The regular election in 2018 shall be conducted as if the method of selecting the head of council described in subsection (1) or (2), as applicable, was already in effect. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

Regulations

(4) The Minister may make regulations that, in the opinion of the Minister, are advisable or necessary for implementing the purposes of this section and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the Minister may make regulations,

(a) varying the operation of any provision of this Act for those purposes;

(b) governing transitional matters that arise out of the implementation of this section. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

Retroactivity

(5) A regulation made under subsection (4) is, if it so provides, effective with reference to a period before it was filed. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

Conflict

(6) In the event of a conflict between a regulation made under subsection (4) and a provision of this Act or of any other Act or regulation, the regulation made under subsection (4) prevails. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

Power to change method for selecting head of council

218.2 Nothing in section 218.1 limits the power of a municipality referred to in subsection 218.1 (1) or (2) to change the method of selecting its head of council under section 218 for any regular election after 2018. 2018, c. 11, Sched. 2, s. 2.

~~~

The section of the Ontario Municipal Councillors’ Guide, 2018 that speaks to Regional Council composition can be found here and is copied below:

There are provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001 under which a municipality – by local initiative and subject to certain rules – can alter the composition of its council. This includes changes to the size of council, members’ titles and certain methods of election or selection of members. The provisions apply, with some differences, to all single-tier, lower-tier, and upper-tier municipalities. An upper-tier by-law making changes to its council composition must receive certain support, sometimes known as triple majority support, to come into force.

Triple majority support consists of:

  • a majority of all votes on upper-tier council
  • a majority of all the lower-tier councils have passed resolutions consenting to the by-law
  • the total number of electors in the lower-tier municipalities that have passed resolutions consenting to the by-law form a majority of the electors in the upper-tier municipality

Regular reviews of regional council composition

A key principle of fair representation is ensuring that local representation at the regional level keeps up with changing demographics over time. To ensure council that composition continues to reflect local and demographic needs, the Act requires all regional municipalities to review their regional council composition. This requirement starts after the 2018 municipal election, and must be done within two years after every second regular municipal election.

Regional municipalities can either change or affirm their regional council composition. However, if the regional municipality does not receive triple majority support for either decision during this time period, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the authority to make a regulation to change that regional municipality’s council composition.

Regional municipalities that have passed a by-law between the 2014 and 2018 regular municipal elections to change the number of members of council that represent at least one of its lower-tier municipalities would be required to undertake their first review after the 2026 regular municipal election rather than after the 2018 election.

One thought on “Direct Election of the Regional Chair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s