Direct Election of the Regional Chair and Modernizing Niagara Politics

On February 20, 2020, I 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,” I brought the following motion to the Corporate Services Committee meeting of June 16, 2020, which incorporated much of what my 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 Regional Council?
  • How many Regional Councillors should represent each municipality?
  • If the number of Regional Councillors that represent each municipality is suggested to be different than it is currently, should the votes 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.

I disagree.

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 past term, 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 I am re-elected, I will continue to work to find ways to modernize Niagara’s elections and processes, and I will encourage Council to have the public provide their input…because it is the people we represent and what they think should be done that matters most.

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