Thursday, January 15, 2015

Election of Regional Chair at Large Speaking Notes

Mr. Chair and fellow Councillors: I’m not going to make any bones about it. You know
it. I know it. Folks across Niagara know it: The way in which we appoint the Regional
Chair is antiquated and undemocratic.

In fact, it’s indicative of the things keeping Niagara back –- holding on to old ways of
doing things, not keeping up with the times, failing to innovate or improve.

But, this motion will help us to become more progressive, and jump ahead of York and
Peel Regions.

The foundation of our current process of appointing a sitting member of Council as
chair comes from the Baldwin Act of 1849, which established local County Councils.
The names of the annually appointed, former Wardens of Welland and of Lincoln
Counties are displayed on two plaques as you walk into this building.

When they first created Regional Governments in the 1970s, the Province also
appointed the first Regional Chairs. After our first Chair (Mr. Campbell) retired in
1985, Council appointed one of its own as Chair. But, this differed significantly from
County Councils – the new Chair gave up his seat and was appointed for the entire
three-year (now four-year) term.

The full-time Regional Chair sets the legislative and economic agendas for the Region,
presides over Council meetings, votes on every committee, and is the “face” of
Niagara with Provincial, National, and other governments.

So, while the person that fills this role serves as the face of the residents and
businesses in Niagara Region, he or she is only accountable to the majority of Regional

The Idea:
But, what if we could do it a different way?
What if the Chair could be accountable to all of Niagara?
What if we could overcome perception of this being some club?
What if we could show people that we can adapt to 21st Century, democratic
What if we could show people that THIS Council is different?

The idea is very simple:
We allow all Niagara citizens to democratically elect the person to represent them for
Regional Chair.

What would that look like?
Well. They would be elected like a Mayor but for the Region.

Interested people would nominate themselves, and put together a campaign.

Very important point is that these candidates would have to put together a vision for
all of Niagara so that they could appeal to all of Niagara.

This would be similar to the visions that Mayoral candidates present to the public --
but it would be for all in the peninsula.

I believe that this would actually work to unite Niagara. It would help pull the views
and hopes of our Region’s citizen’s together.

This may not be “one voice” for Niagara: one voice can degrade into a unison chant --
powerful yes, but boring and often the lowest common denominator.

Rather than “one voice”, I see this leader as presenting “one song” -- allowing
Niagara to "sing off the same song sheet", as it were, but in harmony -- so that our
distinct voices and those of our communities could be heard.

It could be a unifying force for our Region -- our Region that so desperately needs a

Why Do It?
Now, the question you are asking, why do it? And why make the move now to
democratically elect the Chair.

First, other Regions have either made the move -- like Waterloo, Halton, Durham -- or
are making the change -- like York and Peel. Niagara is the last one to move forward
on this.

Second, it will take some time. We need approval from the Minister then we need to
get support from the majority of Niagara’s Cities & Towns.

Third, we just appointed a Chair, and that process is still fresh in our mind.

Fourth, the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce asked for a commitment to
“governance modernization that includes a directly elected Regional Chair" during last
Fall’s election. They provided further support in a letter today. And, in December,
Niagara’s other eight local Chambers of Commerce, the local Sun Media newspapers,
and TV Cogeco shone a light on the appointment process by organizing a public
candidate debate. It’s clear that the business community is interested in reform -–
and they want that reform to start now.

Finally, this improvement is linked with our economic development agenda. The
Chambers and businesses in Niagara believe it important to move ahead and elect the
Chair at Large. And it sends a clear signal to business that this Council will take
actions that past-Councils dare not do. It actually sends the message that we are no
longer interested in competing among ourselves, but rather focused on competing
with other Regions and Cities.

It’s clear that the way in which we currently appoint our Regional Chair is antiquated,
undemocratic, and out-of-synch our society and with all other Regions in Ontario.

Would you want us to continue to act sheepishly and keep on doing what we’re doing
because that’s what we’ve always done?

Or, do we have the courage to take this step now?

It is time that Niagara stands-up, puts our small thinking aside, and democratically
elects our Regional Chair.

Mr. Chair and fellow Councillors, let's work together now to become more open,
accountable, and democratic on behalf of all of Niagara!

Thank you.


Made the motion, but deferred by Council for six months.