Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Learning about Local Government

Over the last couple of weeks, I really enjoyed the times that staff and I visited some of Pelham’s grade schools and EL Crossley to talk about the importance of Local Government.

You see, the “new” curriculum for grades 5 and 10 includes a focus on “civics.” And, the provincial government encourages Towns and Cities to get more involved in schools during “Local Government Week.”

In the past, the Town Clerk and I visited several grade 5 classes and the grade 10 classes at Crossley. Because of the municipal election last fall, we took a year hiatus.

Well, we reinvigorated the visits this year with a presentation developed by the Clerk’s department. Trying to make it as dynamic as possible, the lesion includes a slideshow complemented by props like an old water meter (complete with the “curb stop”), a copy of the 3-inch-thick Ontario Municipal Act, and a game. For the game, we distribute a picture to each student about a government service – like public swimming, or recycling collection, or the Canadian mint, or health care. Then, we ask the student to identify whether the local, Provincial, or Federal government provides the service.

Most students appear surprised about the number of services provided by local government.

We try to clarify why we have three different types of police – Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, and Niagara Regional Police.

We also try to explain why we have four types of roads – Trans-Canada Highway, 400-Series Highways, Regional Roads (like Regional Road #20), and local roads.

Most classes contain a mix of students from urban and rural homes. While many receive Town water, others know that their water comes from a well or is “trucked-in.”

In addition, Mayor April Jeffs and I encouraged Crossley’s grade 10 students to think about local government and encouraged the four candidates to become “Mayor for the Day” in Wainfleet and in Pelham. With the help of several students, the Clerk’s Offices ran an election – which included speeches, a voters list, a secret ballot, and ballot boxes.

Then, it was my pleasure to host Jacob Mantler as Pelham’s Mayor for the Day on Monday. Jacob toured Town Hall, spoke to staff about their responsibilities, visited Pelham Cares with me, and helped judge the 2011 Pelham Christmas Card contest; he also stated our regular Council meeting.

Thanks to the teachers and students for your warm welcome and for helping to spread the word about all the great services provided by local governments!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Region Decides Vacancy on Thursday

Regional Council is poised to decide how to fill a vacancy during our November 17 meeting.

You will recall that since Cindy Forster was elected as the Welland MPP on October 6, she resigned from Regional Council. On October 27, Regional Council formally accepted her resignation and officially declared her seat vacant.

The Municipal Act provides two options to fill the vacancy:

First, Regional Council may appoint an “eligible” person within 60 days of declaring a seat vacant. An eligible person includes someone who consents to the appointment, and is a Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years old and resides in Niagara.

Second, Council may hold a by-election. An eligible candidate would have to fulfill the same criteria as above.

Following past practice and in a “spirit of collegiality”, Regional Council asked Welland City Council to consider the matter and offer a recommendation.

After a long debate on a couple of different motions at their November 1 meeting, Welland City Council recommended that the Region fill the seat by holding a by-election.

I understand that this is the first time since the Region was established in 1970 that a City or Town Council has recommended a by-election. Further, I understand that Regional Council has always respected the recommendation of a Town or City Council when filling a vacancy.

If Regional Council supports that recommendation, Welland staff will organize the by-election, but the Region will pay for the election’s “reasonable costs.” The City’s Clerk estimates that a by-election could cost as much as $100,000; Regional staff recommends that the unallocated 2011 surplus – expected to be $1.2 million – could cover those costs.

Last month I wrote that I was most interested in feedback from Welland residents before making up my mind on the matter. I am pleased that I did receive significant feedback by email, phone, and in person. (In fact, more people contacted me now than when Pelham Council faced a vacancy in March 2011!)

Of those Welland residents that provided their opinion, 59% wanted a by-election, 26% preferred the appointment of the third-placed candidate, and 21% wanted another individual to be appointed – either a sitting Welland City Councillor, or a former Welland Mayoral candidate. (The percentages equal more than 100% because 7% suggested two methods.)

I recognize that these results cannot be projected like a “representative sample”, but I sincerely appreciate each person that provided their feedback and opinion.

I look forward to an interesting debate about the vacancy on Thursday.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Make Time to Remember

Sunday morning began a week of Remembrance in the Town.

The warm and glorious weather made the commemorations the best ever for the annual Sunday-before Remembrance Day tributes. The beautifully coloured leaves still on the trees reminded us of our season.

The idyllic autumn morning felt peaceful and serene. It felt like the perfect example of freedom, of promise, and of individual choice.

The weather made it feel so far from the ravages of war. It felt so far from oppression and from tyranny. The twin-prop airplane we heard overhead in Ridgeville was for recreation, not a vehicle of war or destruction.

And yet, Pelham residents took time to gather with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Ladies Auxiliary, the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, and others at the Cenotaphs at Centennial Park, Old Town Hall, and Peace Park to commemorate and remember the sacrifices of Pelham’s Veterans.

As we approach Remembrance Day on Friday, it is right to remember those brave men and women who have served, and who continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict, and peace.

We honour them for their courage, their commitment, and their devotion to Canada.

They served our country and gave their lives so that future generations might have democracy; so that each of us might enjoy safety and security. They sacrificed – and those in active service continue to sacrifice – so that our society upholds justice and the rule of law.

The freedoms that so many of us might take for granted – to express ourselves, to participate in cultural, religious, and political activities, to come and go as we please, to pursue a safe and happy life – are all due to the sacrifices of Veterans and those who follow in their footsteps today.

They sacrificed their futures so that our future might be one of peace and of happiness.

The men and women of the Canadian Forces are fighting still, for these same principles today. Indeed, it is right to remember their sacrifice and determination on Remembrance Day too.

The names and the sacrifices of some of those from Pelham that were killed in service and in battle are engraved on the cenotaphs throughout our Town and at Veteran’s Park; may they also be engraved in our minds and on our hearts.

This Friday, on Remembrance Day 2011, let us take a moment at 11:00 AM to be grateful and to rededicate ourselves to peace. And let us never forget.