Monday, December 8, 2014

Ending the “Old Boys Club”

Courtesy: SunMedia
A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about the upcoming vote – on Thursday, December 11 – to appoint the Regional Chair for the 2014-18 term.

The Regional Chair holds an extremely important role in Niagara. Not only does she or he set the legislative and economic agenda and preside over Regional Council, the Chair also advocates for all of Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other Governments.

I wrote then that Niagara Region continues to elect our Chair from the 30 recently elected members of Regional Council – Niagara’s 12 Mayors and the 18 directly elected Councillors.

We use a “run-off” style election – like used in some political leadership elections – where the candidates with the least votes keep “dropping” and balloting (voting) continues until one candidate receives a majority – more than 16 votes.

While the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Following their election as Chair, the person must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Regional Council. We then accept the advice of the local City or Town Council on who to appoint – like the next candidate or a member of that local Council – or whether to hold a by-election.

Recent Chamber of Commerce Debate:
Despite these policies and precedents that prevent a direct election for Regional Chair, I believe that the process should be as open and transparent as possible.

That’s why I applaud Niagara’s eight local Chambers of Commerce, the local Sun Media newspapers, and TV Cogeco for organizing a public debate of candidates for Chair on December 3. (To view the debate, please see:

I commend the four candidates – Bruce Timms (St. Catharines), Henry D’Angela (Thorold), Bill Hodgson (Lincoln), and Gary Burroughs (Niagara-on-the-Lake) – for embracing the debate and providing their views on how they could serve in this very important leadership role.

By having the courage to answer questions from the business community and the media, they tried to end the “old boys club” approach and make the process more open and transparent.

Let’s Open-Up the Chair’s Election:
I am disappointed and concerned, however, that one or two Councillors who are actively working the “back room” chose to ignore the request of the business community and the media. In fact, I see this issue as a clear indication of the difference in leadership styles between the four open and transparent candidates and the other candidate(s).

I recently used some strong language to express this view – saying that those who chose not to debate were “acting cowardly.” While I apologized to those offended by my language, I will never apologize for promoting leadership that is open, transparent, and willing to work together with the business community and the media to advance the interests of all of Niagara.

Release of Donor Information:
In the continued spirit of opening up the process of choosing the Regional Chair, Gary Burroughs publicly released the list of individuals and business who donated to his election campaign. He also called on all Councillors seeking the Chair’s job to do the same.

Chair Burroughs wrote: “The release of donors is no longer uncommon in elections for a municipality’s highest office. In the most recent municipal election, mayoral candidates in London, Sudbury, Windsor and Toronto, all made public the names of those who donated to their campaigns before the election.

“While all this information will be made public [next March], that is far too late to help inform this decision, and I hope that all Councillors interested in the office of Regional Chair will also make public their financial supporters well ahead of the December 11th vote.”

I applaud Gary for taking a leadership role in further opening up the process!

I also believe it important that since all Councillors will be voting for candidates for Chair, we too need to publicly release our list of donors to our recent election campaigns. Not only will it make the process more transparent, it will also end the nasty rumours that some candidates for Chair and their potential supporters are connected by the same campaign donors.

I have released my donor list here. I encourage all other Regional Councillors to release their list of donors by Wednesday, December 10 and (therefore) in advance of the vote for Regional Chair.

Release the Ballots:
I wrote above that while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote. This rule, however, can be overturned by a vote of two-thirds of the Councillors.

In a final effort to make the election of Chair as open and transparent as possible, I will make a motion immediately after the vote for the Chair to publicly release the ballots. I would hope this could be attained with unanimous support by all other Councillors.

Speak to Your Representatives:
If you agree that this vote and decision should be more open and transparent, I encourage you to contact your Mayor and Councillor(s) and ask them to release their campaign donor list and support my motion to publicly release the ballots.

If you watched the debate, and have thoughts about which of the four candidates should be elected Chair, please also contact your Mayor and Regional Councillor(s).

Let's work together now to open up the decision of who gets elected Niagara's next Regional Chair.

CORRECTION re: "Release the Ballots" -- December 10, 2014:
Following a question from another Regional Councillor, I realized that I made an error above regarding the "Releasing of the Ballots."

I assumed -- and I keep getting reminded of what happens when I assume -- that the ballots for the election of the Regional Chair would be marked with our names on them; I assumed that because when we have voted to appoint Council colleagues to committees or Boards or Commissions in the past, the ballots have had our names on them.  But, those votes must be public votes.

But, because of the rules of our procedural bylaw, this must be a "secret ballot." Even if Council were willing to change that vote to an open vote, unfortunately there is no mechanism to change it before the vote tomorrow.

I apologize for the incorrect information and for any inconvenience caused.

In the future, I will ask Council to consider reviewing this practice for any future occasions. I will also triple check my facts.

Thanks for your understanding. Yours, Dave