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Niagara Falls
Friday, March 31, 2023
Editorial: A new NOTL, wards and all
Richard Harley’s editorial “Short-term rentals: Part 2: Too much industry influence,” won first place for best local editorial in all of Canada in 2021. Harley was awarded second place in the Outstanding Reporter Initiative category for 2020, for his series of stories on how COVID-19 travel restrictions affected farms and seasonal workers. File

It’s time for some big changes on Niagara-on-the-Lake town council.

We’re not talking about “throw the bums out” sort of change because that is neither necessary nor desirable.

Some continuity and institutional knowledge is useful and desirable. After all, council is losing some dedicated, experienced people this election, with Norm Arsenault, Clare Cameron and John Wiens not running.

A number of capable people – 11 as of Wednesday evening – have stepped up to contest council’s eight seats, but we hope even more opt to throw their hat in the ring (but not 25 as happened in 2018; that’s just too much of a good thing).

And the mayor’s race just got more interesting, with the addition of Vaughn Goettler as a candidate.

Looking ahead, it’s time for council to continue its slow shift toward a more modern, professional approach to matters. This is not the small town it was 10, 25 or 40 years ago. We need not only vision but action, and need to get over the rear-view mirror laments about “how great things used to be.”

One way to inject fresh ideas and energy is for younger, newer residents to step up. With time and population growth, it is inevitable that the younger generation will eventually test the electoral waters.

But it would add much-needed alternative viewpoints to the debate if more younger residents were to add their voices to the debate for this campaign.

COVID aside, it’s been a tough four years for council. Occasional in-fighting, some poor preparation and a reluctance to make some tough decisions that would benefit the majority bogged down the outgoing council too often.

Decisions and near-immediate reversals (think the eventually approved accommodation tax) were embarrassing. NOTL’s marathon council meetings, among the longest of any Niagara municipality, where it seems everyone feels they have to speak to the “folks at home,” are a real turn-off.

We want to see council decisively deal with pressing issues (tourism, short-term rentals, contextual neighbourhood zoning, heritage preservation, design guidelines, for starters) and taking some innovative steps to spark renewal, interest and trust.

And, above all, let this be the final election in NOTL in which councillors are elected “at large” across the municipality.

It is past time for our town to have a ward system in place. Staff experts can figure out the details and exact boundary lines, but wards with two councillors each are essential for Old Town, Virgil, Queenston-St. Davids-Glendale, and perhaps the rural zone.

People with greater expertise than us can figure out the best way to divvy up the NOTL pie.

Virgil, St. Davids and, especially, Glendale are growing. They all will have growing pains and face different issues than Old Town or rural NOTL. So in order to fairly and equitably ensure all areas of town are represented, we must move to wards.

Let’s be practical, productive and positive in how we approach our politics.

We recognize it is really easy to pontificate from this perch – or from the lofty heights of social media where people whine and complain about the incumbents doing this or that wrong and slagging people’s reputations over often petty grievances.

And, please, enough with all the “Toronto people” complaints. It’s really tiresome and uncalled for.

We’ll have more to say about NOTL politics as the fall campaign unfolds, but there is one more area we’d like to see dealt with: the salaries councillors are paid.

For the hours of work, daily demands and the high expectations of residents, the $15,520 annual salary for councillors is an embarrassing pittance.

We can crow about “serving” the community and doing the job as a public service. But the reality is we need good, dedicated people who are fairly compensated for the job we ask of them.

The first step toward ensuring NOTL’s future is to attract a wide range of competent council candidates. The filing deadline is 2 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 19. Here’s hoping we’ll see some new names with fresh ideas.

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