Change must rise from the grass­roots

The Niagara Falls Review - - Opinion -

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.

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