Read The Lake Report hereRead The Lake Report here
The Weather Network
Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
Local News
Town voices opposition to Four Cities Niagara report
Chris Rigas, owner of The Old Firehall restaraunt, is one of the supporters of the report. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors want nothing to do with the controversial Four Cities Niagara report, which proposes eliminating Niagara Region and merging 12 municipalities into four single-tier cities.

NOTL has many unique qualities such as specialty croplands and the town’s significance in Canada’s history, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero, and the four-city model will not benefit the town in any way. 

“I would prefer the ongoing, two-tier model, but with some adjustments,” Disero said. “I don’t believe joining us up with Niagara Falls and Fort Erie is the answer for Niagara-on-the-Lake. We have the resources and enough quality of service here that we don’t need to get joined up.”

Local planning issues should stay local, she said, asking why would somebody from Wainfleet, for example, be interested in what’s going on in NOTL.

“There does need to be a collective view and vision of the region but I think local planning matters belong in local planning hands,” Disero told The Lake Report.

The Ontario government is in the midst of reviewing the province’s eight regional municipalities and Simcoe County – and most observers expect the process will lead to several amalgamations.

If a four-city model is adopted, NOTL representatives “will have no say in a bigger picture,” said Coun. Gary Burroughs, adding the town will be used as a way to earn income for bigger cities.

“I think we need to be talking about it. Now, it’s probably too late,” Burroughs said explaining the public consultation period closed in May.

“I’m very upset about it. Small communities, not just ours, but throughout the region are going to be hurt very badly by this,” Burroughs said in a phone interview.

The government has received several proposals, including one-city and multi-city models.

The Four Cities Niagara report was produced by Nicholas Tibollo with contributions from the so-called the Four Cities Niagara group consisting of business owners, government administrators and politicians. Among those who have endorsed the report are Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Joel Noden of HOCO Entertainment and Resorts, former regional councillor Bart Maves, the Old Firehall owner Chris Rigas and more.

The group is not a formal committee but just a “loose collection” of like-minded people, said Tibollo.

There is also a website and a Twitter account dedicated to promoting the report, which was submitted to the province in May.

The report, which was privately funded, is meant to “spark general discussion,” said Tibollo, who is a principal researcher at North Milestone Research and Communications and a former assistant on the campaign of Chuck McShane who ran for the Progressive Conservatives in the Niagara Falls riding in 2018.

“The report was not meant to be an exhaustive research paper,” Tibollo told The Lake Report. “It was just meant to be a suggestion to the province. They asked – we provided an answer.”

The report proposes ending the status quo by dissolving 12 lower-tier municipalities in Niagara Region and creating four cities – Niagara Falls, Welland, West Niagara and St. Catharines.

According to the report, Niagara Falls would consist of Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and NOTL.

Welland would be comprised of Port Colborne, Welland and Thorold.

West Niagara would include Wainfleet, Pelham, Lincoln, West Lincoln and Grimsby, while St. Catharines would remain whole.

If the proposed model is approved, the number of elected officials across the region would go to 30 full-time representatives from 126. Half of the current elected officials are part-time, the report said. Due to its population, NOTL would have only one elected official representing the town.

Coun. Clare Cameron said the report should have been released prior to May, during the consultation period, when the public had a chance to provide input.

“Right now, it’s more of a public relations exercise, I think, which also makes me challenge its value,” she told The Lake Report. She noted there’s also no mention of the word “agriculture” in relation to NOTL in the report.

“It also makes very, very large claims about the amount of millions of dollars they expect to save for public taxpayers. That’s a big promise to make,” Cameron said. “And I’m concerned they would be trying to garner goodwill from the public and would not have to be accountable for actually making those promises.”

Coun. Erwin Wiens said he supports lord mayor’s viewpoint and, as NOTL is “such a unique town,” the biggest concern he has is making sure NOTL has a voice at a council moving forward. 

When 11 area municipalities were merged to form one city of Ottawa in 2001, there were no cost savings, said Coun. Allan Bisback who lived in the city of Kanata at the time. 

“Our services deteriorated. We couldn’t get access to our councillor because the councillor was busy, had a larger territory, and you just couldn’t get a response,” he said.

He questioned the objective of the Four Cities report, saying if the goal is to save money, the report should look at the bigger expenditures, which are not local councillors but rather “sit in the huge budgets” such as water, sewage, policing and fire services.

The proposal is “a bad idea,” said Coun. Norm Arsenault, adding it will not save saving tax dollars nor will it help NOTL farmers. He said he’s not against “cleaning up some services” as there is a lot of “duplication” between the region and the municipalities but added the government is “better at the local level.”

“I don’t agree with these large cities. It just eliminates the hands-on at the local level,” he told The Lake Report. “It’s a little bit undemocratic.”

Coun. John Wiens said he hasn’t studied the report yet and Coun. Stuart McCormack declined to comment. Coun. Wendy Cheropita couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline.

The report didn’t come “out of the blue” and the group has no agenda, Rigas said.

“The agenda is good governance. Accomplishing the goals of the province because we know they want to do something,” he said. “We can accomplish that, satisfy their goals and still maintain control over that.”

He said the region is an “over-bloated bureaucracy.”

With one big city, officials won’t be accountable, Rigas said, adding he believes one NOTL councillor would be able to handle all the resident issues. 

“The councillors aren’t necessarily responsible for every single little issue. They’re there to make bigger decisions,” he said. 

With the four-city model, what will be somewhat beneficial to NOTL is that Niagara Falls would be sharing its revenue, much of which comes from the casino industry, with NOTL and Fort Erie, said Prof. David Siegel, a Brock University expert in municipal governance.

If there was a complete one-city amalgamation, Niagara Falls would have to share the money with 12 other municipalities in the region, Siegel said.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake would be the smallest of three municipalities so we’ll have less representation than the other two,” Siegel said in a phone interview.

Niagara Region provides major services, such as policing, water and sewage, social and public health services, Siegel said.

“I think the person who wrote this doesn’t understand the nature and operation of regional government,” he said in a phone interview. “Whoever wants to come up with the idea of abolishing the region has to come up with some other plan to deliver those major services. And I didn’t see a serious attempt to explain how those services are going to be delivered.”