A Better Niagara looks to its future
A Better Niagara was a voice and watchdog for Niagara residents in the municipal elections last year, but what its future holds is up to the citizens of the region, says Liz Benneian.
Benneian and other directors of the community group, including executive director Ed Smith, Dennis Edell, Ken Kawall and Haley Bateman, were at Welland city hall Sunday afternoon for the group’s first community feedback session.
“We want to touch base with citizens around the region as we prepare to plan for the next four years,” said Benneian.
With nearly 30 people from the community present, including Welland regional and municipal councillors, Benneian and Kawall gave a brief presentation on A Better Niagara and its activity up to last year’s municipal election.
“We supported 93 candidates and targeted some regional candidates we wanted to be unseated. Of the 11 regional candidates we campaigned against, nine were unseated,” said Benneian.
Of the 93 candidates the group supported and endorsed, 47 were elected. The group had more success getting endorsed candidates elected in the north half of Niagara than it did in the south.
“I think we had a pretty profound impact on what was discussed during the election. Transparency, accountability and integrity were our focus and it really changed the conversation during the election.”
While there wasn’t a huge jump in the percentage of people who turned out to vote, Benneian said the group believes what was seen was a more educated electorate. Voters knew more about the issues surrounding the elections.
“Today, we want to hear from the community and what it thinks we should be doing to try and get better governance in Niagara,” she said, adding the direction taken will depend on community feedback.
The group itself had no set ideas but said it will keep on eye on all councils, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and the Niagara Regional Police board.
After talking about the group’s past, people were broken out Sunday into groups with a director to talk about questions A Better Niagara had put forward.
Some of those questions included: should A Better Niagara work to identify common issues throughout Niagara; should it pursue/advocate for policy issues; should it advocate for a regional sustainable development committee; should local community groups be established in each municipality to monitor local councils; should there be whistleblower policies in each municipalities, among others.
Benneian said there are plans to meet with residents across Niagara. The next community meeting will be in St. Catharines. She didn’t have a date or location for the meeting.
A Better Niagara executive director Ed Smith talks during a community meeting in Welland Sunday. The community watchdog group was seeking public input on what it should plan for the next four years.