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Niagara's battle has just begun

24 Sep 2018
Sep 24, 2018 by Damian Goulbourne Special to The St. Catharines Standard

If we don't work together to elect municipal leaders who are ready to tackle our governance issues Premier Doug Ford could with the snap of his fingers exercise his power as he did to the City of Toronto.

On Sept. 13, The St. Catharines Standard ran a story headlined "Niagara council cuts could be coming, says Oosterhoff," in which Niagara's sole PC MPP provided his insight into the premier's vision for the future.

The article states that when asked about the size of Niagara's 31-member council — which will grow to 32 after the Oct. 22 election with a seat added for West Lincoln — and its four-year history of marathon meetings and controversy, Oosterhoff said the size of regional government is "part of an ongoing municipal government review by the Tories."

If we in Niagara vote for municipal candidates who are focused on maintaining the status quo, I believe they will continue to fight among themselves, risking that Ford may determine our regional council is dysfunctional and needs to be cut down to size. Amalgamation?

With unchecked abilities, Ford snapped his fingers and cut Toronto city council almost in half from 47 to 25 seats as he envisioned.

As the City of Toronto's battle comes to an end, Niagara's may be on the horizon as our own friendly neighbourhood MPP Oosterhoff, who could be our best colleague in this battle, shared in the Sept. 13 article that "the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has begun to examine whether the size of regional governments also need to be cut."

It appears that change to Niagara's governance may be on the horizon, but do we want to influence the outcome or have our future imposed upon us?

On Oct. 22 consider the idea of voting for candidates who appreciate the fact that the job they are applying for as a municipal leader may be eliminated in 2022 due to a smaller governance model. Support those who are ready to fight for the best interests of citizens and work with Niagara's own heroes from all walks of life to build a made-in-Niagara solution.

If we consider the Ford doctrine on municipal governance as demonstrated by what's occurring in Toronto, the premier believes council wards should be aligned with the federal/provincial riding boundaries to ensure success. If Ford's doctrine was applied to Niagara it would result in one city with a mayor and four councillors aligned with our region's four ridings.

I have some advice for the next regional chair of Niagara. Lead the process and don't champion a model. Mr. or Ms. Regional Chair, here are three simple steps you could use to build consensus.

Step 1: Create a committee of citizens from all walks of life to recommend three to five new governance models for Niagara.

Step 2: Municipally elected leaders in Niagara select the top two models for the people of this region to consider.

Step 3: A referendum-style vote would be held through which residents of Niagara select from two choices the one governance model that is best for their region.

Ford's campaign slogan was "for the people." A recommendation in this form from the people of Niagara should carry the weight needed to influence his decision.

At the end of the day, Ford can snap his fingers again and amalgamate Niagara municipalities into any configuration he wishes — even one city, one mayor with four councillors aligned with our region's four ridings. Only time will tell if we the people exercise our right to determine our future and whether the Ford government will see the value of supporting the people of Niagara.

Abraham Lincoln is credited by some people for saying "the best way to predict your future is to create it." It still rings true today.

Former Welland mayor Damian Goulbourne is an associate dean in the school of business and tourism and was a 2018 candidate for regional chair of Niagara.
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