Change must rise from the grassroots
The deadline for nominations for this fall’s municipal elections is fast approaching.
Anyone seeking municipal office in Ontario must file nomination papers by Friday, July 27. So far, many races remain open or sparsely filled across Niagara.
And in some ways, people’s reluctance to enter the minefield of municipal politics is understandable.
One need only look at what happened to Bill Hodgson, the longtime Lincoln representative at several levels, to recognize why some may have second thoughts about running.
Essentially Hodgson’s career in local governance is coming to an end, after 25 years of distinguished service, because he ran afoul of a clique of like-minded representatives who have banded together to quash anyone or anything that stands in the way of its agenda.
Hodgson has served as mayor of his community, served on local council and school board, and more recently as regional councillor and a board member of Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
Hodgson’s ordeal was detailed last week in two stories written by Standard reporters Grant LaFleche and Bill Sawchuk.
Make no mistake, politics at all levels can be a nasty, ruthless business.
But while he should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone toying with the idea of entering politics, Hodgson could also serve as a rallying cry for those seeking change.
There are many issues in Niagara that need addressing, at the school board level, lower-tier municipal level, all the way up to Region.
Throughout Niagara, there’s continued debate over development and its impact on sensitive wetlands; there’s debate over the way the current councils and boards at all levels operate, in terms of transparency and in other aspects; policing as always is a sore spot in Niagara, in terms of cost. There’s the impact of the opioid crisis and how it should be addressed locally; there’s poverty and social housing; public health; clean drinking water and other core services such as roads.
Niagara’s whole governance structure is often questioned with many ideas floating out there for reform.
The list of issues is frankly near endless and there are very different perspectives on each.
But here’s the rub.
We need strong-willed people, fully aware of the potential pitfalls and acrimonious nature of politics in Niagara as they are today, to step forward and be counted.
Because it doesn’t have to be this way and our leaders have the ability to effect real change.
Yes, there have always been heated debates and factions in municipal politics. But it hasn’t been this bad in the past in terms of personal animosities souring the process. The current atmosphere is poisonous but can be restored, if Niagara’s leaders have the will to do so.
Election 2018 offers a unique and historic opportunity to voters in Niagara.
This will be the first election since the Region was created in 1970 where individual voters will directly choose Niagara’s chair. We have credible candidates in this race already and more are likely to come forward.
But we also need more at the local level, in the mayoral races and council races.
There are grassroots movements out there, such as A Better Niagara and Niagara Women in Politics, who are working to find and encourage strong, publicminded candidates to step forward.
All this is to the good as we believe if change is to come, as it must, it will come from the bottom, from the people who form the bedrock of our communities.