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TIMMS: Regional council staying on track with progress

It was a good year for progress on a number of fronts in Niagara; the glass is more than half-full.

A provincial court ruling elsewhere in the province prompted regional council to take a progressive step in confirming the tradition known as the separation of church and state by removing reference to God in the opening invocation for council meetings.

I must admit, my first reaction was, “Oh, my God, is no tradition sacred?” But upon reflection, the irony in that reaction was obvious. The first principal of good governance in my mind is the separation of church, or temple or mosque or synagogue from the state, region or city or province. That principal should remain sacred in the world of government where all people should be treated equally.

Second bit of progress for Niagara was the common front presented by all the mayors and their respective municipalities on the GO rail mission.

I have seen the new stations being built in Hamilton and the car storage yard just west of Niagara’s Grimsby boundary. The three city transit commissions are working together on a system to provide seamless bus service within Niagara, and there is a commitment from the Niagara council to continue the existing inter-city service. That also is progress.

Thirdly, on a related issue, crossing the Welland Canal at Lock 4 on a reliable schedule is crucial to GO rail service to Niagara Falls.

Niagara Region has engaged the federal minister of transportation on the issue of a better deal for Niagara municipalities in the new seaway management contract coming in 2018.

Niagara has come to understand Niagara’s Welland Canal is owned by the Government of Canada and managed by St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. under a contract that expires in 2018. Niagara has requested an opportunity advise the minister of our interests in the terms of the new management contract. Deal with the owner to achieve progress.

Fourth item of progress is the agreement and support of Niagara Region for the request to the province from the City of St. Catharines for the opportunity to implement the double-duty directly elected city/regional council model. Council was clear that it had no issue with St. Catharines using the new model without any obligation for any other city to do the same. That is a small but significant step towards streamlined and more efficient municipal government, and progress achieved in 2015.

Fifth measure of progress was the setting of a zero tax-increase guideline in June of 2015 for the 2016 budget. This strategy allowed regional staff time to find efficiencies and savings and to provide recommendations in November that allowed council to achieve a freeze on regional property taxes for 2016. That, too, is progress.

Sixth area of progress was the establishment of the corporate labour relations strategy committee to give council an opportunity to look more closely at the labour relations issues. The provincewide municipal frustration with the arbitration system as it applies to all the first responders is on the agenda.

This issue needs attention if we are going to protect the taxpayer and all the other services the Region offers from an unbalanced demand on taxpayer dollars as a result of the current arbitration system.

I expect 2016 will bring more progress, especially with GO rail so close.

Bruce Timms is a regional councillor for St. Catharines.
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