‘Only the people of Niagara know what’s best for Niagara’NEWS Aug 02, 2018 by Karena Walter
Wayne Gates charged the Ford government's plan to cancel Niagara's regional chair race is "disrespectful" to its residents, as opposition MPPs continued to slam the proposed election changes Thursday.
"The people of the Niagara region want to have a say in who will represent them for the next four years. The government would have known that if they had bothered to consult anyone before they decided they know what's best for Niagara," said Gates, the Niagara Falls NDP MPP, speaking in the legislature.
"Well, I have news for this government. Only the people of Niagara know what's best for Niagara, not a government who keeps cooking up secret backroom deals."
The NDP continued its push back against the government's Bill 5, which had its second reading Thursday and will scrap regional chair races in Niagara, Peel, York and Muskoka and cut Toronto city council in half.
A motion tabled by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that would have stopped the bill was lost 68-35 Thursday.
Niagara voters were set to elect a regional chair for the first time on Oct. 22 and candidates could register starting May 1. Ford's announcement that the government was putting a "pause" on the regional chair election was made Friday, five hours before nominations closed. Five candidates had signed up to run for the position.
Niagara Region will still have a regional chair, but the person will be appointed by elected regional councillors — a system in place before the Liberal government made changes to the Municipal Act in 2016.
"I want to be clear, I'm not from downtown Toronto," Gates said. "The anti-democratic action of this government is disrespectful to the people of Niagara. We deserve to have our say on who will represent us. We will not go unheard."
Gates asked Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark when and with whom the government consulted on its decision to cancel Niagara's regional chair elections.
"We consulted with tens of thousands of people during the election and we made it very clear, crystal clear, that one of the things we need to do is reduce size and cost of government," Clark responded.
The cancellation of the regional chair election does not reduce the size of Niagara's government.
Clark reiterated that the Liberals imposed the legislation for elected chair on the four regions in 2016 and what the PC government is doing with the proposed bill is pressing the pause button.
He told Gates that if he and his colleagues have feedback on what they feel has worked and hasn't worked in regional government, they can have a conversation with the ministry and partners at the upcoming Association of Municipalities Ontario convention Aug. 19-22 in Ottawa.
On Thursday, Gates also raised the issue of a referendum. The idea was forwarded to all four Niagara MPPs by St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms, who would like to see a question on the Oct. 22 ballot asking residents if they want an elected or appointed chair.
Because the deadline has passed to add referendum questions to the election ballot, special permission would have to be given.
Gates asked if the government will allow Niagara municipalities to pose the referendum question.
"I think we just came through a referendum where it was very clear that Ontarians embraced our words of trying to reduce the size and cost of government," Clark responded.
"I think it serves taxpayers very well when we have a system where we're providing a level of government, whether it be federal, provincial or municipal, in the most effective and the most efficient manner."
Timms said Thursday if the government can extend the deadline for Toronto nominations, it would be pretty simple to extend the deadline for the submission of ballot referendum questions.
"I do appreciate Wayne putting that question on the floor because it seems like a pretty simple solution for the government," Timms said.
"As I said, it's time to ask the people, and many have said the same thing."