Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dual-Duty Councillors Across Niagara?

Photo Credit: St. Catharines Standard.
St. Catharines Council recently voted to ask Niagara Region to ask the Province to allow a change in the way the City elects their six Regional Councillors. Regional Council will consider their request this Thursday.

Currently, St. Catharines elects 12 City Councillors (two in each of six wards), and six Regional Councillors (“at-large” across the City). City residents also elect a Mayor who serves on both Councils. That’s 19 people (12+6+1) representing the City on the two Councils.

The request would see St. Catharines represented by 13 people: the Mayor and six Councillors would serve on both City and Regional Councils, while the other six would serve only on City Council (6+6+1).

Proponents suggest that the change will reduce the number of local representatives and increase the “communication, cooperation, and accountability” between the City and Region.

Opponents suggest that the change will turn six into full-time Councillors, make local government less accountable, give “more control to developers” and political parties, and allow fewer people to make decisions.

While this double role model might work well for St. Catharines, it doesn’t work as neatly across all Niagara’s Cities and Towns.

It could work in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Thorold because their local Councillors are elected at-large. Niagara on the Lake’s and Thorold’s at-large elections could elect one person to both the local and Regional Councils and seven to local Councils; the Niagara Falls election could elect three to the City and Regional Councils and five others to City Council only.

But, this dual role model doesn’t work for in other Cities / Towns with ward systems because the number of local ward seats do not neatly match the Regional seats:  Fort Erie (6 wards / 6 local councillors / 1 regional councillor), Grimsby (4w / 8lc / 1rc), Lincoln (4w / 8lc / 1rc), Pelham (3w / 6lc / 1rc), Port Colborne (4w / 8lc / 1rc), Welland (6w / 12lc / 2rc). (Only the Mayors of Wainfleet and West Lincoln serve on Regional Council.)

If the Region agrees to the proposal, the Province will ask for at least one public meeting and require approval by the Region, and by a majority of the Cities, Towns, and Township Councils representing a majority of Niagara’s population.

While I am might support this change for St. Catharines, this dual-role plan will not work across Niagara. Nor is it needed in Pelham because we receive a written and verbal report by Regional Councillor Baty at every Town Council meeting.

Finally, while we discuss improving governance, I will continue to advocate for directly electing the Chair of Regional Council “at large” across all of Niagara.