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Prepare now to elect Chair in four years
Jan. 12, 2015
Dave Augustyn

A democratic election process would make the Regional Chair position more open and accountable for Niagara Region.

Since the Regional Chair holds an extremely important leadership role in Niagara, and now that we have appointed a Chair, I believe it’s time to start the process now so that all Niagara residents can elect the Regional Chair “at large” in 2018.

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

So, while serving as the face of the entire Niagara Region, ironically, the Regional Chair is only accountable to the majority of regional councillors.

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 County and Lincoln County are etched on two plaques at the Regional HQ (across from Brock University).

When they first created Regional Governments in the 1970s, the Province also appointed the first Regional Chairs. After Niagara’s first Chair (John Campbell) retired in 1985, Council appointed one of its own as Chair (Wilber Dick).

But, this appointment differs significantly from county councils days – the new Chair gives up his or her seat and is appointed for the entire four-year term of council.

All other Ontario Regional governments have already either adopted a more accountable and democratic process to directly elect their Regional Chair at large, or are in the process of doing so.

Waterloo Region (Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wilmot, Wellesley, Woolwich, and North Dumfries) began electing its Chair 17 years ago. Halton Region (Burlington, Oakville, Milton, and Halton Hills) has elected a Regional Chair since 2000. Durham Region (Pickering, Ajax, Uxbridge, Oshawa, Whitby, and Clarington) first elected its Regional Chair last fall.

A bill to elect the York Region (Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Whitchurch–Stouffville) Chair “at large” is currently before the Ontario Legislature.

Finally, in 2013, Peel Regional Council (Brampton, Mississauga, and Caledon) directed staff to report in 2015 on options to directly elect its Chair for 2018.

It’s clear that the way in which Niagara Region currently appoints our Regional Chair is antiquated, undemocratic, and out-of-sync with all other regions in Ontario.

That’s why I am making a motion at Regional Council Thursday to begin the process to change toward a directly elected Chair. If you agree this should be so, please contact your Regional Councillor.

Let's work together now to become more open, transparent, accountable, and democratic in Niagara.

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