A delegation of Niagara politicians, including Pelham’s Regional Councillor Diana Huson, descended on Queen’s Park in Toronto from May 15 to 17 to discuss key priorities with the Doug Ford government. Branded with the theme of “Growing Better, Together,” the group had conversations with cabinet ministers and senior provincial staff, hoping to cultivate provincial support for key initiatives that will benefit Niagara Region.
Niagara’s priorities during the discussions were focused on addressing the need for more home construction, and responding to the demand for additional municipal services that are necessary in lock-step with population growth. Joint funding for the $400 million South Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant was on the agenda, along with reimbursement of $1.7 million for local property tax dollars that have been used to mitigate ambulance offload delays at Niagara hospitals, and the need for more primary care. Additionally, an injection of financial support to accelerate shared service and modernization initiatives between Niagara’s municipalities was on the table.
Similar “Niagara Week” efforts in past years have proven successful, reflected in funding for such projects as regular GO Train service to Niagara, the Niagara-on-the-Lake water/wastewater treatment plant, the Burgoyne Bridge replacement, and highway redevelopment and construction along Highway 406.
The Region’s official plan for Niagara includes a prediction of population growth extending to almost 700,000 by 2051.
"By working with upper levels of government, we benefit from identifying common goals and establishing a clear understanding of Regional priorities,” said Regional Chair Jim Bradley of the lobbying effort. “As we prepare for significant growth in Niagara, gaining support from the upper levels of government will be essential for many of our growth-related projects and initiatives.”
Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff was on hand to welcome the delegates, including Bradley, Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini, Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, and Regional Councillors Huson and Rob Foster. Regional CAO Ron Tripp was also involved in discussions.
In addition to Premier Ford, the Niagara delegates met with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa, and Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra.
Huson was pleased to have a face-to-face with Charmaine Williams, Minister for Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity.
“We talked about challenges facing women in a number of sectors, as well as childcare issues, staffing, and how many kids are waiting on the childcare list,” said Huson. “Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson, and Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport Neil Lumsden were also present at meetings. The trip was really instrumental for building relationships. Of course, we also need funding from the federal government as well, so it's important for us to channel that message. There used to be a funding arrangement where the province, the federal government, and the municipality would each put up a third of the funding, and we're hoping that can get started again.”
The initial meeting with the Premier was set to last 30 minutes, said Huson, but the session went well over 45 minutes.
“Premier Ford repeated a comment he has made in the past, that there are too many politicians in Niagara,” she said. “It will be interesting to see what develops as a result of that. The government did a review last term, and nothing has come of it so far, so it’s hard to know exactly how committed he is to changing the current governance structure here in Niagara. Our regional government came into existence in 1969, so it’s been over 50 years. I suppose change is inevitable.”
Huson said that she found the Premier to be “a very down-to-earth and likable person. He actually started the meeting by saying to me, ‘Hey, I understand your aunt used to work with my dad,’ a reference to my aunt Dianne Cunningham, who was a cabinet minister in a couple previous Conservative governments, working with the Premier’s father, Doug Ford Sr., who was a Toronto MPP. I wasn't expecting that. It was kind of a thoughtful, personal way to start the meeting.”
A vote of thanks was offered to MPP Oosterhoff by the Niagara delegation.
“Sam and his staff were very much involved in making the whole thing happen for us,” said Huson. “He plays an important role in terms of opening doors and building relationships that are key to our long-term goals and strategy. He’s very available, and responds quickly to our inquiries. I think he's a great representative for us.”