A recently formed non-partisan political activist group, A Better Niagara, has been making some noise in the political community by hosting events across the region to help educate those interested in running in the 2018 municipal elections just what it takes.
ABN President Sean Polden said the group started as a call for people to demand better governance of the Niagara Region and its associated organizations such as the NPCA.
Part of what caused him and other members to create the group, Polden said, was controversy surrounding the Thundering Waters development in Niagara Falls and a conflict involving the NPCA and local political activist Ed Smith.
He said ABN thinks the decisions being made around (Thundering Waters) are not only inconsistent with the wishes of the community, but also with the mandate of the NPCA.
Polden said ABN is a non-partisan organization and just wants to see new candidates in the upcoming elections.
“If you look across the region at many of the problems the communities are facing … a lot of them have the same central figures attached.”
“We’ve seen scandal after scandal … and I think people in the region have not only said that they’ve had enough of it, they’ve said, ‘you know what? We’ve had enough of it to the point where we’re going to go out there and run and we’re going to make the change our communities that we want,’” said Polden.
“We looked at the state of local politics and the need for better candidates. We thought, ‘how do support the leaders in our community in their efforts to actually make that positive change?’”
Polden did interviews with previous municipal election candidates before a steering committee was formed for the group, to find out what he could do to help potential candidates decide to run.
“One of the gaps we found when we conducted our research and did our focus group studies is that people who were qualified to run didn’t neccessarily know the ins-and-outs of election campaigns, so they couldn’t properly prepare for them.”
Polden said that’s why ABN is holding information sessions across the region — to fill that gap and educate interested candidates on how to run, as well as make sure they know the amount of work required.
The first event, How You Can Build A Better Niagara: Running For Municipal Office, was held in St. Catharines on Thursday and drew about 40 people, including local politicians. Polden said about 50 people registered for the event, which featured guest speakers Debbie Zimmerman, former Niagara Region chairwoman and former Regional Coun. Eleanor Lancaster.
“There’s a lot that goes into it — an election campaign … You know, where do you learn these things?” said Polden. “These aren’t skills that are taught in school.”
He said the first event was “a bit of a reality check” for people who are thinking of running.
“It’s a lot of work and it requires a lot of the candidate’s individual time. And of course while the candidate is out getting themselves known in the public, there’s other things that need to take place — stuff like dropping off flyers, coordinating who is going to be dropping off those flyers, and coordinating what’s the content that’s going to be on those flyers,” Polden said.
“So I think the real value to the person who attended in listening to Debbie and Eleanor is yes, that can be done, but it takes a lot of hard work. Once you’re elected it’s still a lot of hard work because not only do you have to continue your day-to-day responsibilities, but you have to now take on these extra responsibilities in addition to that.”
The ABN committee is composed of people from across the political spectrum.
“We did that purposely,” said Polden. “This is beyond party politics. We wanted to restore good governance to the region.”
The Niagara Falls meeting will be held Wednesday (Jan. 31) at the McBain Community Centre, 7150 Montrose Rd.
A third meeting will be held at the Welland Community Wellness Complex on Feb. 3.
Those interested in attending must register beforehand.
More information on registration at, facebook.com/events/179571165968902/.