Integrity top issue for Regional hopefuls
There are 23 candidates vying for six seats on Regional council
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
More than 100 people attended a debate to hear from St. Catharines regional council candidates, Thursday evening.