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St. Catharines election reform gets Region's thumb's up

By Bill Sawchuk, St. Catharines Standard
Friday, January 20, 2017 1:47:37 EST AM

Regional council has given St. Catharines the green light to move forward in its plan to change the way it elects its regional councillors.

“We have to move beyond the status quo,” St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik said Thursday night.

“If this is one small step, then it is a step worth taking.”

Regional council voted 17 to 11 to allow St. Catharines to go ahead and decide how it wants its regional representatives chosen. A negative vote would have killed the plan in its tracks.

The proposed model would see six of St. Catharines’ 12 city councillors also sit on regional council. Each St. Catharines ward would have one councillor representing them at the city level and one councillor representing them at both the city and regional level. The new model would reduce the number of politicians in St. Catharines to 12 from 18.

“We have all these tools to communicate,” Sendzik said. “But we need to connect with the residents at the front door. The ward system is the best moving forward.”

St. Catharines asked the region in July 2015 to apply to the province for a change to its governance model.

St. Catharines received the OK from the province in June. The motion was then sent back to the region.

Thursday’s vote was the first step on the road to “triple-majority” needed for the change. St. Catharines needs approval from regional council, as well as the majority of the region’s 12 municipal councils.

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Brian Heit didn’t support the idea. He thought having one politician serving on both councils will take too much time.

“What we will end up with is having all retirees here, or political hacks that want to be full-time politicians,” he said.

Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop also didn’t support the motion.

“I don’t want six councillors here whose primary allegiance isn’t to regional council,” he said.

Two St. Catharines councillors are in favour of the idea. Tim Ribgy said Thursday’s vote was about regional council allowing St. Catharines to decide for itself how it wants to be governed.

St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms said he has long supported the idea of dual-direct councillors.

A resident doesn’t care which level of government needs to fix the pothole, Timms said. He or she just wants it fixed.

“It will provide more accountable direct service to the constituents,” he said.

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn said the dual-direct concept is from a bygone era of politics. With modern technology and social media, the communications concerns dual direct addresses no longer exist.

“It’s an idea that is out of date and undemocratic,” he said.

Sendzik said it’s the opposite and will open up the political process for people who are interested.

“When you are running as a (regional) councillor at large, it can cost $30,000 to run or $50,000 to run," Sendzik said. "In a ward, you can get away with running for $5,000 to $10,000. It makes it more affordable for anyone who wants to run. It will allow them to play a central role in the ward and at the Region.”

Sendzik said the current system is broken.

“It excludes people that work full-time during the day. (The new way) won’t exclude people. It will include people. I am looking forward to that,” he said.
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