Re-electing Laura Ip on Monday, October 24, 2022, to continue to represent the people of St. Catharines at Regional Council for another four years is a good decision. Here’s why:
Integrity and Transparency
As a Councillor, Laura has communicated openly and honestly at all times about issues and decisions that have come before Council. She not only commits to continuing to do so, but also to continue to hold her colleagues accountable for their communication about Regional issues and in their roles as Councillors.
Working with integrity and transparency is why Laura brought forward, among other things, the need to tighten up the Expense Policy for Regional Councillors and staff, as well as the implementation of a Lobbyist Registry.
In addition to having been a Regional Councillor since 2018 and a City Councillor in 2014, Laura has worked in government relations (serving the Region and several municipalities), for the City of Welland, and is certified by the AMCTO in Municipal Administration. She knows full well how important transparency and integrity are to the effective management of a municipal government.
Niagara Poverty Reduction Strategy
When Laura campaigned in 2018, she promised to work on a Niagara-specific Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The idea of developing a poverty reduction strategy for Niagara was not, initially, well-received, so Laura focused on issues around the Housing and Homelessness Action Plan, investing in affordable housing projects, advocating for Niagara’s fair share of Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative funding, and the Niagara Prosperity Initiative grant program.
Meanwhile, over the course of the 2018 term, Brock University conducted an evaluation of the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (you can read the report here), and ended up recommending the development of a Niagara Poverty Reduction Strategy. The work has only just started on this, and Laura would like to help work on its development in 2022 and 2023.
It’s imperative that we continue to find ways to increase our stock of affordable housing in Niagara, and this past term of Council did make some headway.
KPMG found that Niagara Region contributes more local dollars to housing and homelessness than any other region in Ontario, which is – in part – due to inconsistencies in funding from the province, and also a demonstration of how serious we are about resolving this issue to the best of our ability. This term alone, Council invested just shy of $20 million in affordable housing projects. When combined with contributions from provincial and federal governments, that $20 million has attracted more than $49 million in investment into affordable housing for Niagara.
The Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis presented to Council that resolving Niagara’s affordable housing crisis would cost $60 billion. If Laura is re-elected to Regional Council, she will continue to advocate – on Council and especially to the provincial and federal governments – for more investment in affordable housing.
After more than 20 years of political and community advocacy work, Niagara has finally agreed to integrate and amalgamate transit throughout Niagara.
An efficient, reliable, integrated transit system has been a long time coming in Niagara, and while we’re making headway, it has taken us far too long, and we’re still developing a system that makes it possible for people to rely on transit.
We need a robust transit system that gets people around the Niagara region in an efficient manner. Buses need to run frequently and regularly throughout the day, evening, and on weekends. We need transit that is effective at getting people to work, school, medical appointments, shopping, or wherever they want to go without having to plan excessive additional time to get to and from their destinations.
Laura commits to continuing to work to make transit more accessible throughout the Niagara region.
Direct Election of the Regional Chair and Modernizing Niagara Politics
On February 20, 2020, Laura brought a motion to Council for the Regional Chair to be directly elected by Niagara’s electorate. Following a great deal of criticism from colleagues, including that the motion “doesn’t go far enough,” Laura brought the following motion to June’s Corporate Services Committee, which incorporated much of what her colleagues raised as issues that needed to be addressed and also endeavoured to increase engagement and diversity:
1. That the Office of the Regional Clerk BE DIRECTED to form a citizen committee of 15 people, as representative as possible of the local area municipalities, and engage in a public consultation process;
2. That the citizen committee and public consultation process ADDRESS the following questions:
- Should the Regional Chair be directly elected by the citizens of Niagara or appointed by the Regional Chair?
- How many Regional Councillors should represent each municipality?
- If the number of Regional Councillors that represents each municipality is suggested to be different than it is currently, should the vote of Regional Councillors be weighted? If so, how should they be weighted?
- By which method should Regional Councillors be elected?
- What strategies are recommended to increase citizen engagement for and following elections?
- What strategies are recommended to get more people to consider running for elected office?
- What can be done to have Council be more reflective of the demographic make up of the Niagara region, e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, income status, etc.
- Examine options for dual duty councillors (friendly amendment)
3. That the citizen committee, with the results from the public consultation process, REPORT back to Corporate Services Committee by April 2021; and
4. That staff PREPARE a Report providing additional information respecting a public consultation process including a draft terms of reference and membership considerations for the citizen committee for the Corporate Services Committee meeting being held on August 5, 2020
Sadly, Corporate Services Committee voted down the motion 11-2 and indicated that the electorate should not be making these decisions; Council should be.
The motion does not indicate what are the right answers to how the Regional Chair, Council, and Councillors should be elected. It calls on Council to engage in a community consultation process. It calls on Council to listen to and learn from the electorate. It calls on Council to permit the community to engage in a process that answers the questions in the motion, poses additional questions and answers them, and provides suggestions to Council about how to proceed.
Council has made clear, over numerous terms, including this one, that they do not possess the political will to meaningfully engage with the electorate on the direct election of the Regional Chair, how and how many Councillors are elected, or how to increase engagement and diversity.
If Laura is re-elected, she will continue to work to find ways to modernize Niagara’s elections and processes.
Within months of the 2018 elections of the provincial and municipal/regional governments in Ontario, the provincial government was announcing cuts to local public health programs and services and plans to reduce the number of local public health units. Laura brought a motion to Council in June 2019 to call on the province to delay changes to funding and to leave the number of local public health units unchanged.
In the wake of the pandemic, the value of our local public health units is indisputable. It is local medical officers of health and their teams who provided advice to the provincial government and to the general public; it is the actions and decisions of local medical officers of health and their teams that kept so many in our community safe and healthy; and it is – in large part – due to the actions and decisions of our local medical officers of health and their teams that so many vaccinations have been administered.
To respond to the pandemic, local public health units have had to divert an average of 78% of all available resources to the COVID-19 response, which has resulted in an increase in the use of substances and mental health needs, as well as the widening of health inequities.
It is imperative that local public health units be protected and that they are funded appropriately. Whilst this is – by and large – the responsibility of the provincial government, Laura commits to continuing to advocate for appropriate levels of investment in local public health capacity.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
In 2018, one of Laura’s campaign promises was to work on getting Niagara Region to join the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities. Laura accomplished that and advocated for the work to be properly resourced with a staff person and an advisory committee, rather than just being a feel-good publicity stunt.
This work has only just begun, with the work to develop an Anti-Racism Advisory Committee and a 2SLGBTQQIA+ advisory committee still to be done. Additionally, whilst there is an Accessibility Advisory Committee that Laura has chaired for the duration of the 2018 term, it is imperative that all work around diversity, equity, and inclusion also takes accessibility into consideration.
Niagara Regional Police Services Board
Certainly, the Niagara Regional Police Services Board is on a better track than it was prior to the 2018 term. In Laura’s opinion, though, it still needs someone on the board who will advocate for alternatives to policing and who will keep the Region’s overall budget in mind when developing and reviewing the police budget.
If Laura is re-elected, she will – again – put her name forward to sit on the Niagara Regional Police Services Board. If she is not one of the Councillors selected by her colleagues, she will continue to hold the board and the service to account for their budget requests.