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Time to Move Forward on Governance Reform

Time to Move Forward on Governance Reform

Appeared in Niagara This Week, Sept. 13, 2016

For the past two years I have been working with City Council to move our city forward in a positive and progressive way. We have made great strides and while there is still much work to do, I believe we are on the right path. We are always looking for ways to make our city a better place to live, work and do business, and one of the ways we can improve is by changing the structure of our local government.

Over the next few weeks, regional and city councils will be considering a significant change to the way we elect regional and city councillors for St. Catharines. With support from St. Catharines City Council and Regional Council, we have received approval from the Ontario government to implement a dual role councillor model – the same model that is used in other communities in the GTA. Now we are about to take the final steps towards modernizing governance in our city.

This very important change means six of the current 12 city councillors will become “double duty” representatives who will serve on both city and regional council. As we position St. Catharines to become a leading city in North America, this change will benefit our community in the following ways:

1)    The dual role councillor model will help improve communication between St. Catharines and Niagara Region. With six representatives serving on both city and regional council, there will be stronger connections and communication between both levels of government.

2)    The dual role councillor model will improve accountability to you – the citizens of our city. For taxpayers who contribute two-thirds of their property tax dollars for regional services, this approach will provide a direct line of contact with your local ward representative at both the city and the region – no passing the buck. Residents will know they can go to their local ward representative on any issue, whether it be a city service (like parks or snow removal) or a regional service (like garbage collection or public health).

3) As it stands, the double-duty councillor model will not cost any more or create any new positions – elected or administrative staff.

4) The dual councillor model will reduce the number of elected officials in the region by six. While this is not the primary goal, Niagara has one of the highest percentages of elected representation in Canada, and it has been acknowledged that this does create a more parochial approach to building strong cities and a strong regional economy.

5) The double-duty councillor model is a modernized form of governance that has been effective in similar sized cities like Burlington and Oakville. When I talk with mayors and councillors from these cities, they agree that the double-direct model is far more effective. When asked if they would not go back to the old system, it is a resounding no.

St. Catharines is a growing city and it’s time for us to move forward on governance reform – it’s long overdue. While this issue may sound complicated, it can be explained quite simply in a short informational video at www.niagararegion.ca/government/council/double-direct/.

The dual-role councillor model is simply about improved accountability and transparency, better communication and creating more effective local government. Our vision for St. Catharines is to be one of the most dynamic, livable, sustainable and innovative cities in North America, and the dual role model is one more way to help us achieve our goal.