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Saturday, April 20, 2024
David Israelson: Consider the big picture when voting in this election
The new council will be inaugurated Tuesday night at the Court House Supplied

David Israelson
Special to The Lake Report

In looking at our Oct. 24 municipal election, it’s hard not to think of the line in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

OK, the context is different. But Shakespeare’s point is relevant to our impending vote. The problem is not necessarily with the candidates who are running — some are good, some not so much, but that always happens. 

The real question is about us — are Niagara-on-the-Lake’s voters focusing on the big, long-term questions that face our town or are we deeply stuck in the weeds? It’s important to know, because whomever we elect will need direction, not just complaining. 

It’s not completely easy to determine what NOTL’s voters want. Surveys indicate that people want better parking, they want more co-operation among members of town council, Niagara Region and the District School Board of Niagara, and they’d like all the people who get elected to these positions to “get things done.”

Some of the leading candidates in this election are actually running on platforms in which they say they want these things, too. They’re reflecting what they hear the voters say — and that’s exactly the problem.

What do these things mean? A platform to end bickering, do more stuff and do something about parking is not a political platform — it’s an echo, a repetition of the most vague, anodyne things that people say.

Like all echoes, if you call out in one direction, it comes back to you, goes out and comes back and just gets fainter. But does it really communicate anything?

It’s not good enough to say that our governments should be run more like a business either. That’s a platitude — a government and a business have similarities, but they’re not the same. It’s like saying you should run your kitchen like a bathroom — both use water, but the inputs and outputs are different. 

We can’t blame the candidates entirely for pandering to this noise — the voters are creating it. Rather than complain and contribute even more to the noise, let’s help the candidates focus. 

Others will have their own opinions, but I’m happy to start with what I really think our candidates — and we the voters — should be talking about in this election.

  1. Big Picture — What kind of town do we want Niagara-on-the-Lake to be? Our economy is based largely on tourism, high-end agriculture (wine and fruit) and services to residents and visitors. Yet we hear many residents complaining about the tourist crowds, our farmland across Niagara Region is threatened by rapacious provincial planning policies and many of the people who provide the vital services in NOTL can’t afford to live here. It’s going to take more than parking spaces and more hugs on council to come to terms with these issues.
  2. Planning — How is that that we don’t have an approved official plan so many years after we were supposed to have one? The holdup seems to have been with the regional government and ultimately with the province, which under Premier Doug Ford seems determined to pave everything and promote urban sprawl. What do the regional candidates — and those who have been on regional government — think we should do about our official plan and do they have a timeline?
  3. Parking — This is obviously an issue on many people’s minds, particularly in Old Town, but there needs to be more thinking about it as part of a larger transportation issue. A big ugly garage or parking lot isn’t going to fix things. Why is it that a car is so necessary in NOTL in the first place? And why, in an area that’s a magnet for cyclists, is the bicycle path network so pathetically inadequate? It’s too weak for a tourist area and not safe enough. 
  4. The Future — Do we want NOTL to be a postcard town, a geriatric Disneyland or more? Looking beautiful is great, but we need a mix of generations and families. That’s what keeps a town alive. Too bad the school trustees shut down our Old Town school and our high school. Maybe we should have more schools and do away with school boards. 

David Israelson is a writer and non-practising lawyer who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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