In­tegrity top is­sue for Re­gional hope­fuls

There are 23 can­di­dates vy­ing for six seats on Re­gional coun­cil

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - Al­lan.Ben­ner@ni­a­garadailies.com 905-225-1629 | @aben­ner1 AL­LAN BEN­NER

The need for in­tegrity at re­gional coun­cil was a com­mon theme among can­di­dates hop­ing to rep­re­sent St. Catharines at Ni­a­gara Re­gion coun­cil.

While in­cum­bents told an au­di­ence of more than 150 that they stand by their records and hoped to con­tinue to work for con­stituents to bring pos­i­tive change to the re­gion, oth­ers said the lack of in­tegrity and hon­esty that has plagued the last term of coun­cil in­spired them to get in­volved.

Six­teen of the 23 can­di­dates vy­ing for the city’s six seats at re­gional coun­cil par­tic­i­pated in a de­bate Thurs­day night, or­ga­nized by the Com­mit­tee for an In­formed St. Catharines at the Uni­tar­ian Con­gre­ga­tion of Ni­a­gara church hall.

Ha­ley Bate­man, who promised to rep­re­sent con­stituents with “hu­mil­ity, trust, in­tegrity, in­no­va­tion, en­ergy and a work ethic that is un­matched,” also demon­strated her com­pas­sion with ac­tions rather than words dur­ing the de­bate.

When a woman stum­bled on the stairs and fell in the crowded room, Bate­man left her seat among the can­di­dates and rushed through the au­di­ence to help.

Sandie Bel­lows said she is proud of her record as a Gran­tham Ward coun­cil­lor, adding she made the hard de­ci­sions at city hall and plans to do the same at the re­gional level.

Bel­lows, who rep­re­sented the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives in the re­cent provin­cial elec­tion, said she will “sup­port in­vest­ing in pro­grams that ser­vice the needs of the most vul­ner­a­ble in our com­mu­nity – se­niors and those less for­tu­nate.”

Rob Depetris said he is run­ning for re­gional coun­cil “to bring back hon­esty, ac­count­abil­ity and com­mon sense to our re­gional coun­cil.”

“It’s time to clean house,” he said. “Ni­a­gara’s bud­get this year is $1.1bil­lion. We need to hire and ap­point qual­i­fied ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple to deal with this.”

In­cum­bent Kelly Edgar said the ac­com­plish­ments of the past term of coun­cil have been “over­shad­owed by the ques­tion­able de­ci­sions, bad coun­cil­lor be­hav­iour and ob­vi­ous di­vi­sive­ness of this coun­cil.”

Edgar used vot­ers to re­search can­di­dates “and find out who they re­ally are.”

“Do they have in­tegrity? Check out their vot­ing records. In­cum­bents should be proud of their records, and I know I’m cer­tainly very proud of mine,” Edgar said.

While also ac­knowl­edg­ing the need for in­tegrity among re­gional coun­cil­lors, Mark El­liott, who rep­re­sented St. Pa­trick’s Ward for the past three terms at city coun­cil, fo­cused on the need for affordable hous­ing.

“There’s a hous­ing cri­sis in this city,” he said, adding large-mas­sive homes are be­ing built in the city mar­keted to down­siz­ing GTA res­i­dents, rather than the peo­ple of Ni­a­gara.

In­cum­bent Brian Heit said his record “speaks for it­self,” while the next re­gional coun­cil will have a great deal of work to do restor­ing pub­lic trust, which could in­clude re­plac­ing some of the cur­rent staff, while also ap­point­ing qual­i­fied peo­ple to sit on re­gional boards and com­mis­sions.

Laura Ip said she never pre­vi­ously felt it nec­es­sary to cam­paign on bring­ing in­tegrity to lo­cal gov­ern­ment, be­cause she never felt it was nec­es­sary.

““With the mess we’re in at the Re­gion, po­lice ser­vices board and es­pe­cially the NPCA, we have un­for­tu­nately seen what hap­pens to lo­cal gov­ern­ment when many of the peo­ple at those ta­bles don’t have in­tegrity.

In­cum­bent Deb­bie MacGre­gor said her im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity if re-elected is to work to re­store the “con­fi­dence and trust” in the Re­gion, that has been “eroded sig­nif­i­cantly over the last four years.”

McGre­gor said she also hopes to find “work­able eco­nomic so­lu­tions for is­sues in­clud­ing men­tal health, home­less­ness, affordable hous­ing, sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment, while at­tract­ing in­dus­try.”

Mary Mar­garet Mur­phy said a liv­ing wage in Ni­a­gara is $17.57 an hour, pro­vid­ing enough money for a fam­ily of four to pay for ne­ces­si­ties.

She sug­gested find­ing a way to help off­set the cost to al­low Ni­a­gara busi­nesses to of­fer a liv­ing wage to work­ers.

In­cum­bent Tim Rigby said he wasn’t in­tend­ing to run for re-elec­tion this year.

Af­ter decades in mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing serv­ing as St. Catharines mayor and as a re­gional coun­cil­lor, Rigby said he felt Ni­a­gara was on the right track.

“Very soon it be­came very ev­i­dent that things were not right and we were be­ing dis­re­garded as a coun­cil,” he said.

Frank Rup­cic said Ni­a­gara’s rep­u­ta­tion has been dam­aged, too much money has been wasted in too many ways and trust in re­gional politi­cians is at an all-time low.”

“It’s time to turn the page to a bet­ter fu­ture,” he said. “Re­gional coun­cil­lors need rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence, sound judge­ment and in­tegrity to do this job.”

Emily Beth Span­ton said she has been con­cerned about the ac­tions of the cur­rent re­gional coun­cil, while “fight­ing for ac­count­abil­ity at the NPCA.”

“I’ve been en­gaged for over two years. I’ve been ask­ing these ques­tions,” she said, adding she reg­is­tered as a can­di­date to “put my money where my mouth is.”

Len Stack said one of his big­gest con­cerns is health care, es­pe­cially men­tal and ad­dic­tions.

Al­though he said he un­der­stands that health care is a provin­cial is­sue, “as a re­gional coun­cil we must lobby the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to con­tinue to in­crease in­vest­ment in our health care.”

In­cum­bent Bruce Timms said the past four years have “been a dif­fi­cult term and a hum­bling term, and rec­og­niz­ing what the au­di­tor gen­eral had to say about the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity,” re­fer­ring to a scathing re­port pub­lished by Bon­nie Lysyk on Sept. 27.

“I un­der­stand there are im­prove­ments to be made,” he said, adding his fo­cus will con­tinue to be the restruc­tur­ing of the Ni­a­gara Re­gion.

Jim Bradley, St. Catharines for­mer Lib­eral MPP, said “there’s a “cri­sis of con­fi­dence in the Re­gion.”

“We must have trust re­stored. It sounds trite to say it, but we need open­ness,” he said. “For those who say that we have peo­ple leak­ing things to the news me­dia, well we wouldn’t have to leak it if ev­ery­one was trans­par­ent.”

He said the NPCA was es­tab­lished to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, but “in­stead we had a new regime take over at the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity where they fired the en­vi­ron­men­tal peo­ple out the door, hired PR peo­ple and other peo­ple who were pro-devel­op­ment.”

Mike Brit­ton said his pri­or­ity is keep­ing prop­erty taxes as low as pos­si­ble.

Brit­ton, who cur­rently rep­re­sents St. Ge­orge's Ward on city coun­cil, said he also plans to fo­cus on im­prov­ing every­day ser­vices like garbage pickup, affordable hous­ing, child care and po­lice ser­vices.

“The job of a politi­cian is to rep­re­sent all of you, to make sure that your voice is heard. I will con­tinue to run monthly ward meet­ings as I have done for the last three years, and con­tinue to be at the many events to en­gage with all of you on a day-to-day ba­sis.”

The full de­bate can be viewed on­line at https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=XTju-09k7Cw

AL­LAN BEN­NER THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

More than 100 peo­ple at­tended a de­bate to hear from St. Catharines re­gional coun­cil can­di­dates, Thurs­day even­ing.

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