Jan 10 Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy hearing , Jan 10, 2024, St.Catharines
Douglas Bruce Timms , P.Eng.( Retired)
I wish to present in person, my request to the committee for improvements to municipal governance structure in Niagara, to modernize Niagara.
Thank you for the opportunity to present a proposal for modest improvements to municipal governance in Niagara Region.
I served as a Niagara Regional Councillor elected from St. Catharines, from 1991 to 2018, and participated in several reviews over the years including adding a seat for the Town of Pelham and a seat for West Lincoln.
Personal experiences across Niagara have helped form my opinion. I was borne in Port Colborne Hospital where my mothers family had a local quarry business, R.E Law Crushed Stone, I grew up in Pelham, and worked in family business in Welland. Niagara Lumber and Planning Mill, and R .Timms Construction and Engineering Ltd. I have lived in St. Catharines since 1977, and operated a small business in Grimsby for several years.
Serving as a Regional Councillor for 27 Years gave me a fairly broad understanding of the municipalities of Niagara Region.
I recommend the following improvements to municipal government in Niagara.
1) Elect the Regional Chair by general Vote
2) Adopt the City / Regional Councillor Double duty directly elected model used by Durham Region, York Region and Halton Region
3) Local mergers based on Water and waste water infrastructure , and Urban clusters
I have promoted the Modernizing Niagara ideas on my personal website , www.Brucetimms.com and more recently on www.Modernizeniagara.ca
Niagara is a diverse Region, with urban centres and rural townships, Industrial centres, agricultural centres, Tourism centres and major transportation corridors with the St. Lawrence Seaway, The QEW, and international border crossings.
I believe the people of Niagara will be served best through improving our current model by catching up to the Durham Model and the Halton Region models with some local mergers.
They have a Regional Chair elected by general vote, Niagara’s Chair is elected by newly elected Regional Councillors, not the general public, 32 councillors including 12 mayors.
Electing the Regional Chair is more important than ever because of Bill 39, powers of the head of Council. The public need to hear the policies and direction of an elected Chair just like they do for and elected Mayor with the new strong mayor powers. There is broad public support for this , in the range of 75%, much like there was in the referendum on the question in Durham almost 12 years ago.
Secondly, Niagara Region’s share of the property tax bill is now larger than the city portion after the transfer of public transit budget from local tier to the Region.
The Double duty , directly elected city/regional Council model of Halton and Durham would be a significant improvement for Niagara.
Both Region’s have Regional Councillors that serve at both Region and local city or town council, Niagara Regional Council has 12 Mayors and 20 “Region only “ Councillors, who have no say and no seat and no vote at local tier councils. It becomes very easy and very tempting to pass the buck and point fingers at the other tier council for tax increases or inadequate services. The double duty model serves to connect Regional council services and budget to local tier councils, by making the councillors accountable for their positions at both levels. It also serves to connect local councillors to local councillors from their neighbouring communities. This structure facilitates a better understanding of each others local community interests at Regional Council. The Region becomes more of a team of municipalities and less of a second tier.
There has been a demonstrated interest in the double direct model from both St.Catharines and Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls City council voted unanimously in favour of this model and requested Regional council to allow it, just as Regional Council had granted the same request from St.Catharines in 2016.
Regional Council did not grant the Niagara Falls request in 2019. It is time for this change.
Local mergers would reduce the number of councils and municipalities , and create some efficiencies when small municipalities with common interest merge. The west Niagara towns of Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln are discussing this strategy. Local mergers offer much better return on investment than single city amalgamation, in terms of keeping reasonable level of representation, while achieving real administrative savings.
Niagara Region is unique in that it has neither and elected chair nor double Direct City/Regional Councillors . Waterloo region has an elected chair but only Mayors sit at both tiers. Other Regions have double duty councillors but Chairs are not elected by general vote.
There is much more information on www.modernizeniagara.com and www.brucetimms.com to support my position on improvements to municipal governance in Niagara.
These three points of improvement , Elected Regional Chair, Double Direct city/regional Councillors and local mergers represent an evolution of Niagara’s local governance. The first two changes are very simple governance changes requiring minimal staffing and administration changes, minimal disruption cost and can be implemented in time for the next municipal election.
This model improves local democracy through an elected Chair and improves political accountability for councillors responsible for both tiers.
Local mergers would take longer to achieve public support and west Niagara Municipalities are actively discussing the possibilities of working together more closely, because of the Provinces review and a long debated need to share staff and services.
Thank you , committee members for hearing this presentation. The debate over improving local municipal government has come up many times over the years since I was first elected in 1991.
The very minimum improvement would be the election of the Regional Chair by general vote.
I would be pleased to answer any questions.
Bruce Timms , P.Eng. (retired), Regional Councillor, 1991-2018