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West Niagara asks for fair share from Region to support hospital

by Kevin Vallier

It wasn’t that long ago when regional councillors representing St. Catharines were lobbying their colleagues from other parts of the region to support funding a significant share of the cost of the proposed new St. Catharines hospital. The vote passed with support from councillors from other Niagara municipalities and the billion dollar health care facility opened in March of 2013.

west lincoln hospital

Public will have chance to own Guinness World Record items

by Kevin Vallier

For more than four decades the iconic Clifton Hill tourist attraction, Guinness World Records Museum, entertained and mesmerized millions of visitors from all over the globe. While the popular Niagara Falls landmark has closed its doors permanently, members of the public can soon bid on some of the unique items that were once on display.

crowd gathered outside of the Guinness World Records museum

A crazy COVID week in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara region had a rollercoaster ride this week when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic and all that surrounds it. Emotions went from frustration to jubilation to disappointment and even anger.
The feeling of frustration could be felt throughout Niagara from public health officials to frontline healthcare workers to politicians and regular taxpaying citizens as residents watched the daily COVID-19 case numbers climb well into the hundreds with constant reporting from public health of more citizens dying due to the virus. Yesterday’s numbers were 136 new cases with 1,538 active cases across the region.

nurse getting the covid-19 vaccine

Gale continues to probe procurement at Region

by Kevin Vallier

It may be a new year but that isn’t stopping Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale from continuing his laser focus into Niagara Region’s procurement regime.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Public Works Committee, Gale probed specific portions of the Port Dalhousie wastewater treatment plant upgrade contract. The total contract was awarded by Regional Council in December at a value of $36.8 million despite concerns raised by the veteran councillor.

water treatment plant

YMCA Niagara Falls not financially fit to stay open

by Kevin Vallier

It’s no secret that YMCAs have struggled to adapt their business model in order to compete with the numerous fitness clubs that pop up on a regular basis in cities and towns across the country. Add to that the effects of the forced lockdowns due to COVID-19 and Niagara saw its first YMCA casualty this week with the announcement of the permanent closure of the Niagara Falls location.

YMCA gym

One man’s mission to clean up St. Catharines

by Kevin Vallier

Fred Bowering hasn’t had an easy ride. The 52-year-old St. Catharines resident has been through a lot to say the least. The things he’s been through would have been enough to bring any person to their knees but Bowering has soldiered on and faced his addictions and mental health demons head on. Instead of quitting he’s turned his attention to helping clean up the streets of St. Catharines.

sharps containers in park

Land restrictions drive up cost of housing

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara Region continues to work on its Official Plan, a document that the Region describes as “a long-range, policy planning document to shape Niagara’s physical, economic and social development.” Part of that document will contain policy on where new development, including housing, can take place and the environmental policy options being discussed thus far have caught the attention of many in the home building and development industry.

construction site

MPs battle of border opening

by Kevin Vallier

St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle is no stranger to sparking heated debate on social media. Not that long ago he did battle with a local business owner over the COVID-19 vaccine. Bittle went as far as to publicly post he would tell people not to shop at the place of business his social media combatant owns.

Tony Baldinelli MP

Niagara Region ups 2021 budgets for water and waste

by Kevin Vallier

For 2021, Regional Council approved a 2 per cent combined budget increase for Niagara’s water and wastewater services and an uptick of 4.5 per cent for its waste management program.
These increases follow 2020 increases of 5.15 per cent and 9.9 per cent respectively.

water treatment plant

Niagara – looking back, moving forward

by Kevin Vallier

There’s not much sense in spending a lot of keyboard strokes tapping out commentary on what dominated news headlines in 2020. Pretty much everything has been said about COVID-19. Unfortunately with COVID-19 distracting government officials and senior bureaucrats at all levels, not much else got accomplished in Niagara. It was a challenging year to be sure.

niagara falls fireworks

Man’s best friend – on and off the job

by Kevin Vallier

As a kid Tim Wiley didn’t just want to be a police officer. As someone who grew up with a family dog, Wiley’s ultimate goal was to join the K-9 unit. That dream recently came true as Wiley and his new partner Rudy graduated together from their training program.

Officer Tim Wiley with his partner Rudy

Niagara under siege with rising COVID cases

by Kevin Vallier

Given the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it probably isn’t much of a surprise that Niagara’s COVID-19 case count keeps rising, the death toll continues to climb and local outbreaks are declared far too frequently.

greater Niagara General hospital

Businesses facing massive insurance premium hikes

by Kevin Vallier

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has sounded the alarm bells that businesses of all sizes, but particularly small businesses, were being hit with yet another body blow during an already horrific year.

small business insurance

Boxing Day becomes Lockdown Day for Niagara and Ontario

by Kevin Vallier

Finding himself in a no-win situation Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford has put the province on notice that effective Boxing Day, Dec. 26, Ontario will be shut down for 28 days. The move was in response to COVID-19 cases continuing to climb not only in Ontario’s “hot spots” but also in parts of the province that up until recently were seeing very few cases.

Premier Ford and Minister Elliott

Region’s Burgoyne Bridge Forensic Audit Resurfaces; CAO Recruitment Begins

by Kevin Vallier

The last meeting of Regional Council in 2020 saw the resurfacing of the Burgoyne Bridge forensic audit conducted by the previous term of Regional Council.
Councillors will now have access to the 2018 forensic audit to review its findings in light of the recent KPMG non-competitive procurement audit and the January 2020 procurement audits conducted by the now defunct Department of Internal Controls and Organizational Performance (ICOPS).

niagara region council chambers

One door closes…

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a story that will resonate with too many Niagara residents during 2020. She had a job she loved working in a sector that she was passionate about and then the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to it all.
Joanna Gasparotto had built a solid career in tourism marketing but that sector, particularly in Niagara Falls, was essentially obliterated this past summer thanks to the global pandemic. Gasparotto, like so many others, suddenly found herself out of work. But as the old saying goes, one door closes…

Joanna Gasparotto

Enhanced program aims to get people back to work faster

by Kevin Vallier

The provincial government has enhanced a program that is designed to educate and train those who’ve lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton announced that an additional $77 million is being added to the program which will provide up to $28,000 for 2,750 people looking to develop new skills and enter a new career.

Minister McNaughton in a classroom

Niagara’s long-term care homes get massive funding boost

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government is investing an additional $761 million to build and renovate 74 long-term care homes across the province, including $38,205,194 across the Niagara region. The additional funding is part of the province’s new funding model that helps break down historic barriers and accelerates the construction of urgently needed long-term care projects, providing seniors with the quality care they deserve.

Jonathan Zwier, Director of Finance and Administration, Shalom Manor; John Peneycad, CEO, Shalom Manor; Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, and Carolyn Bilson, Architect with MMMC Architects.

Your Say: Readers say “No” to defunding police

by Kevin Vallier

Every year Niagara’s Police Services Board wrestles with the balancing act of public safety and affordability when reviewing the proposed annual budget submitted by its Chief. For the most part this fiscal dance goes largely unnoticed by the majority of the public. Most just want good response times if they or their family is in need of help from local law enforcement, safe communities, and officers to act kindly and professionally.

police car

Province gives permanent green light to the sale of alcohol with food takeout

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government has given a green light to the sale of alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders and has now made that service permanent.
“Ontario’s vibrant hospitality sector and its workers have been hard hit by COVID-19 in every community across our province,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “We’re building on the actions we took early in the pandemic to support local restaurants, bars and other businesses by providing permanent help to workers and small businesses as they face these ongoing challenges.”

take out booze

Audit Committee directs more study into Region’s purchasing woes

by Kevin Vallier

There’s clearly more work to be done was the takeaway after the Regional Audit Committee turned its collective head towards the KPMG audit report which revealed a number of issues around the Region’s non-competitive purchasing regime.
The report found that 67% of the non-competitive purchasing transactions at the Region, lacked clear justification for not having a competitive process.

a desktop with a laptop

St. Catharines MP calls local businessman “pro-death” over vaccine spat

by Kevin Vallier

A local business owner making a comment online about the COVID-19 vaccine drew the ire of St. Catharines Member of Parliament Chris Bittle who took part in a heated public exchange not often seen by an elected official.

store of Gibby's Electronics Supermarket

KPMG: Two thirds of Region’s non-competitive purchases lacking justification

by Kevin Vallier

After diving into the purchasing books at the Niagara Region, independent accounting firm KPMG found that 67% of the non-competitive purchasing transactions, “were without clear justification” for choosing a non-competitive route.
In raw numbers – that meant 163 cases out of the 245 samples that were reviewed. KPMG deemed the sample size of 245 to be “a statistically significant sample size”.

niagara region council chambers

UPDATED: Tourism Minister makes back-to-back funding announcements in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Parks is getting a financial boost as the Honourable Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries announced up to $12.81 million to help ensure the region remains one of the top tourism destinations in the world during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. The province is providing the one-time funding to help protect jobs, keep some attractions open, ensure compliance with public health protocols, and continue to keep visitors safe through policing and road maintenance activities.

“Our government is proud to support the Niagara Parks Commission, one of the most spectacular tourist areas that Ontario has to offer,” said MacLeod.

politicians in front of west lincoln town hall

The hidden fees that drive up housing costs

by Kevin Vallier

Earlier this month the C.D. Howe Institute released a report called Gimme Shelter: How High Municipal Housing Charges and Taxes Decrease Housing Supply.
While there has been much discussion amongst municipal politicians in cities and regions across the country about affordable housing, very few people understand the impact of the charges and taxes, as well as policies that restrict housing supply, on the cost of homes.

residential development land

Rotary TV auction is all in the family for these Rotarians

by Kevin Vallier

Living in Toronto and being in lockdown hasn’t stopped Niagara native Amy Graham from helping out with the annual Niagara Mega Rotary TV Auction. Being a part of Rotary is something Graham has in her blood. She’s been around it for more than two decades. Her mom, Sandy, is currently the president of the Welland Rotary Club while her dad, Hugh, is currently president of the Fonthill club.

Your Say: Niagara Region should re-introduce independent audit team

by Kevin Vallier

Results from a recent Niagara Independent reader’s survey will be profiled in a series of articles called “Your Say”. Responding to a recent survey conducted by The Niagara Independent, 96 per cent (499) of Niagara Independent subscribers who took part say the Niagara Region should “re-establish an independent audit team to oversee the Region’s financial […]

niagara region

Constant change: Life as a cancer doctor

by Kevin Vallier

If there is one thing Dr. Janice Giesbrecht has seen a lot of in her career as an oncologist, it would be change. Change in treatments, clinic size, survival rates and diagnostics just to name a few.
The Niagara-raised physician, who recently completed her second term as Chief of Oncology at Niagara Health and has handed the reigns over to her colleague Dr. Michael Levesque, has had a long and distinguished career navigating one of the busiest departments through numerous changes. But Dr. Giesbrecht didn’t always want to be a cancer doctor. It was essentially a summer job in Toronto that ignited an interest in caring for those with cancer.

dr giesbrecht at the walker cancer center

Niagara Region remains tight-lipped over biosolids contract

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Regional Council is staying tight-lipped over its decision to award its troubled biosolids program to Thomas Nutrient Solutions.
A motion moved by Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale that would have seen interim reports of the whistleblower investigation come forward and listings of the actual procurement scores and pricing be made public was considered Thursday.

council chambers

Regional Council calls for end to local restaurant restrictions

by Kevin Vallier

Regional Council unanimously called for the end to Niagara Region acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji’s Order restricting Niagara’s restaurant tables to ‘household only’.

There’s only one catch – Hijri’s Order supersedes the authority of Regional Council.

The Order was issued under section-22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act and was in effect beginning Nov. 14, 2020.  It is slated to expire January 1, 2021, at 11:59 pm.  Hirji’s Order came seemingly from nowhere without the Chair of the Region’s Public Health Committee, Pat Chiocchio, being informed nor the balance of Regional Council.

an empty restaurant

Massive Christmas lights display arrives at Safari Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Safari Niagara will be lit up this holiday season like never before. Glow Gardens has set up a three-kilometer, drive-thru Christmas lights display hosted in the outdoor park space at Safari Niagara in Stevensville.

The display officially opened earlier this week and will run until Jan. 2. Visitors will remain in their vehicles at all times on the 40-minute route, where they can tune into an exclusive holiday radio station, GLOW FM. Features include a towering three-storey light tree, an intricate Christmas castle, and 10-foot snowmen.

Christmas lights display

Feds set to change privacy laws

by Kevin Vallier

The federal government is set to introduce legislation shortly that will update Canada’s privacy regime for the first time in decades.
The bill, entitled “An Act to Enact the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts” appeared on the House of Commons notice paper last week.

minister bains

Sincere apology more than satisfies Integrity Commissioner

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Region’s Integrity Commissioner Edward McDermott has submitted his findings and decision regarding a complaint he received back in July of this year involving three members of regional council.

In a letter addressed to the Region’s Clerk Anne-Marie Norio, the Integrity Commissioner said no further action or discipline is necessary and that the decision and the entire report be shared in public at Council’s next meeting.

niagara region

Restaurant owners steaming over additional rules imposed by public health

by Kevin Vallier

Hundreds of Niagara’s restaurant owners are hotter than the soup of the day over Niagara’s public health department imposing more restrictions on top of the already increased restrictions the province applied after Niagara moved from yellow to orange on the provincial COVID-19 alert chart.

Seemingly out of nowhere the Region’s Acting Medial Officer of Health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, under Section 22 of the Public Health Act, added on numerous restrictions and regulations to Niagara’s food and drink premises which according to those in the sector will only serve to shut them down under a cloud of bankruptcy.

mark wood

On the front line of caring for COVID patients

by Kevin Vallier

Perhaps the only thing bigger than the title that follows his name is the immense responsibility he has during a global pandemic.
Dr. Karim Ali, Niagara Health Director, Division of Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Stewardship Program and Lead Physician for Emergency Preparedness is on the front line of caring for COVID-19 patients who end up in Niagara Health’s St. Catharines hospital. While he’s quick to point out that it is a team effort within the hospital walls, giving credit to fellow physicians, nurses and many others who play a role in caring for COVID patients, there’s no question that as an infectious disease expert Dr. Ali shoulders a lot of the responsibility.

dr ali

Niagara to benefit from Heddle Shipyards contract

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in Hamilton yesterday providing his daily updates. While the announcement was made in the Steel City there was a Garden City tie to the news.
Ontario-based Heddle Shipyards has entered into a new long-term agreement with Vancouver-based shipyard Seaspan to fabricate Ontario-made ship components under the National Shipbuilding Strategy. This will have a positive impact on Heddle’s St. Catharines shipyard at the Port Weller dry docks.

Serving country and community

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara resident Bruce Mair has served both his country and his community. Mair enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces back in 1987 while still a teenager. The now 51-year-old is currently a sergeant with Niagara Regional Police.
Serving primarily with the Lincoln-Welland Regiment in the army reserve, Mair has done tours in Namibia and Palestine.

Bruce Mair

Major investment shocks Ontario’s auto sector

by Kevin Vallier

It was an announcement that stunned the province yesterday. General Motors is pouring $1.3 billion into their Oshawa plant that was slated to close. The car manufacturer is also pumping another $109 million over three years into their St. Catharines plant on Glendale Avenue.

In terms of the St. Catharines plant, which currently employs more than 1,000 workers, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said it will mean additional transmissions to supply the Chevrolet Equinox and a new program to build transmissions for the Chevrolet Corvette as well as engines to complement the existing portfolio. “Introducing volume to prop up the existing portfolio,” Dias said.

GM Canada

Conservative bill hopes to score big with sports betting

by Kevin Vallier

A private member’s bill, Bill C-218, has been put forward by the federal Conservative party which aims to legalize single-game sports betting in Canada.

Earlier this week Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli spoke to the bill in the House during second reading saying he’s fully supportive. He also thanked his NDP colleague from Windsor-West Brian Masse for being “one of Parliament’s most vocal supporters for legalizing single-game sports betting.”

sports bar

Gale sounds alarm over Region’s award of multi-million dollar contract

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale is once again sounding the alarm over the Region’s recent awarding of a multi-year and multi-million dollar biosolids handling contract to Thomas Nutrient Solutions.
Gale, who presented a motion on the contract award for the next meeting of Regional Council, informed Niagara Falls City Council of potential problems during his regional update last Tuesday.

biosolids

Niagara’s head of Planning and Development leaves strong legacy

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Region will have yet another “Acting” senior manager as Commissioner of Planning and Development Services, Rino Mostacci retires from his post today leaving another important position to fulfill. Both the Region’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Chief Administrative Officer have been acting positions for well over a year.

Rino Mostacci

Former female councillors address misogyny allegations

by Kevin Vallier

In a letter signed by four female former politicians, whose service to public life spans decades, Niagara Falls City Council is being encouraged to refocus their attention on the important issues facing the city and to stop getting bogged down on personal attacks, false allegations and expensive integrity commissioner reports.

niagara falls council chambers

Local Rotarians pedal for polio

by Kevin Vallier

Rotary clubs around the world are known for the many good things they do for their local communities but one of the most recognized good deeds is their global effort to eradicate polio.

It began in 1979 when Rotary International set out to immunize all children with a polio vaccine. That effort was so successful that the ultimate goal of eradicating the disease was set. With hundreds of millions of children being vaccinated every year and the number of world-wide cases dramatically reduced and countries such as Africa being declared this year as polio free, the efforts of Rotarians are paying off big time.

cyclists standing with their bikes

Niagara residents create new board game during COVID downtime

by Kevin Vallier

Two Niagara residents have created a new board game that has quickly been catching on with anyone who has tried the prototype.

Blake Sherk and Ben Gigone, both in their mid-twenties, would often hang out with friends and family pre-COVID and have a games night with the goal of just bringing friends together and having a few laughs. Both men realized that out of those conversations some people didn’t know each other as well as they thought. That’s when, ‘You Don’t Know Me’ the board game, was born.

Blake Sherk and Ben Gigone

Bridges now 16 weeks without a response from feds

by Kevin Vallier

In a letter dated June 30 of this year from both the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC) and the Peace Bridge Authority (PBC) sent to four different federal ministers, the two organizations laid out their concerns about the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent closing of the international crossings on their operations.

That letter has yet to even be acknowledged by the federal government.

A second company takes issue with the Region’s biosolids contract

by Kevin Vallier

There has been yet another complaint by a second company in the ongoing saga of the Niagara Region’s attempt to award a contract to operate its Liquid Biosolids and Residuals Management Program.
Last Friday Wessuc Ltd. who bid on the contract, submitted a formal letter challenging the Region’s awarding of the biosolids contract to Thomas Nutrient Solutions which has held the contract since 2013 and had already received a three-year renewal in 2017.

pipes

Tourism sector weathers the COVID storm

by Kevin Vallier

It was a tourist season that won’t soon be forgotten by those operating in that sector.
Despite COVID-19 shattering any hope for a profitable summer, tourism operators in Canada’s number one tourist destination displayed remarkable resilience just to even partially open attractions and restaurants amidst a plethora of restrictions.

Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

Riverfront Community development in Niagara Falls clears yet another hurdle

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a process that began five years ago, has undergone name changes, countless studies, appeals, reviews and public meetings and now the Riverfront Community project has cleared another hurdle after Niagara Falls City Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a revised plan that incorporated several council-instructed changes to the original staff report from 2018.
GR (Can) Investment Co. Ltd., has been planning the $1.5 billion tourism and housing development that will include a mix of residential and retail south of Niagara Falls, near Dorchester Road, the hydro canal and Chippawa Parkway.

rendering of the proposed Paradise development in Niagara Falls

Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with household only

by Kevin Vallier

Medical experts are pleading with Ontario residents to keep the number of chairs around the Thanksgiving dinner table to a minimum this year.
Yesterday saw Ontario hit a new single day high of COVID-19 cases with a reported 797. There were four new deaths.

masks

Innovation leads to cleaner environment and economic boost for Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara will soon be home to a new renewable natural gas (RNG) facility, which will create local jobs and stimulate regional economic development, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Niagara Falls Renewable Natural Gas plant will be the largest of its kind in Ontario and will generate enough clean renewable energy from landfill waste to heat 8,750 homes across the country and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48,000 tonnes.

Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and Bill Walker, Associate Minister of Energy, joined representatives from Enbridge and Walker Industries

Personal support worker students receive surprise announcement from Minister

by Kevin Vallier

Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development gave nearly 100 personal support worker (PSW) students a huge surprise yesterday morning in St. Catharines. The Minister was at Lifetime Learning, the District School Board of Niagara adult education centre that is running the training program to announce a half-million dollar investment that will pay for the tuition fee the students would otherwise have to fund on their own.
“It was amazing to see the students today and the looks on their faces when they found out there training will be covered,” said Minister McNaughton. While the government has been criticised by some, ironically mostly conservatives, for spending too much money, McNaughton said the spending on training is specific and “laser focused” in order to educate people for the jobs that are available.

Minister McNaughton

Walker Industries has a long tradition of helping out community organizations, particularly those in the healthcare sector. The company has come through yet again.
Walker has pledged to donate $1.5 million to Hospice Niagara towards development of two new Hospice Palliative Care Centres of Excellence in Fort Erie and Welland. Each of the proposed centres will provide a home-like setting with 10 private rooms for people and their families to spend quality time during the final stages of life.

Hospice Niagara

October 19: Niagara to see more expensive bi-weekly garbage pickup

by Kevin Vallier

In just over two weeks residents of Niagara will be adjusting to a garbage collection regime that costs more and delivers less.
For residents of Fort Erie, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham, St. Catharines, Thorold, Wainfleet and West Lincoln, their garbage will be collected the week of October 19. The bi-weekly pickup schedule means the following week these residents will need to hang on to their garbage.

GFL garbage truck

Second wave of COVID-19 has arrived says Province

by Kevin Vallier

While the number of COVID-19 daily reported cases in Niagara dropped significantly from 24 on Sunday to 12 on Monday, the provincial numbers continue to rise sharply with a reported 700 new cases yesterday. However, about 85 per cent of all cases are in Toronto and Ottawa. The Ontario Hospital Association has asked the government to put those two regions back to Stage 2.

At his daily news conference Premier Ford said, “We are now in the second wave of COVID-19. We know this wave will be more complicated, more complex, it will be worse than the first wave we faced earlier this year.”

covid-19

Tradition continues with Thanksgiving Festival

by Kevin Vallier

What a difference a year makes.
After coming off of one of the best years in terms of attendance in the more than four decades of hosting its annual Ball’s Falls Thanksgiving Festival, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), will be hosting a virtual festival this Fall.

thanksgiving festival welcome sign

Believing in Truebelieve

by Kevin Vallier

Tuesday Sept. 29 will see the running of the 85th Prince of Wales Stakes in Fort Erie.
The race is the second jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown and this year’s running will have some local flavour as Truebelieve, owned by Centennial Farms (Niagara), will be in the starting gate.

Truebelieve racing horse

Region awards large contract despite open investigation

by Kevin Vallier

At a special meeting of council Thursday, Regional Council awarded a multi-year and multi-million dollar contract to Thomas Nutrient Solutions to run its biosolids program.
The meeting proved to be contentious after Niagara Falls Regional councillor Bob Gale began fervently speaking against awarding the contract to Thomas due to an open whistleblower investigation and indications that Thomas was not the lowest cost option.

biosolids

Regional Council considers decriminalizing and legalizing all drugs

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Regional Council turned their attention to the issue of decriminalization and legal regulation of all drugs in Canada following a recent St. Catharines City Council endorsement of a report issued by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
The report noted that evidence suggests that “decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use.” It also included a recognition that the criminal justice system “could be enhanced using health care diversion approaches proven to be effective.”

handcuffs, syringes, and a gavel

Canada Summer Games delayed one year

by Kevin Vallier

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed yet another large event. This time it’s the Canada Summer Games originally scheduled to take place in Niagara, August of 2021. That’s not happening.
Games’ organizers issued a media release Wednesday afternoon stating the Games will be delayed for one year. An exact date for the 2022 Games has not yet been announced.

canada games construction

New Niagara business talk show hopes to inspire

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls resident Sheila DeLuca has teamed up with Business Link Media Group and Spark Niagara to produce a new series of one-on-one interviews with local business leaders that will air monthly on Business Link’s YouTube channel.
Inspired by seeing how Niagara businesses pivoted their roles during the pandemic to help their communities, DeLuca, founder of DeLuca Leadership, wanted to shine a spotlight on community leaders who have stepped up to help others not only during the pandemic but throughout their careers. Guests will come from a variety of backgrounds like private business, healthcare, education and technology.

Sheila DeLuca, host of The Atrium, interviews Victor Pietrangelo

Region to debate extending mask bylaw

by Kevin Vallier

With a slight increase over the past few days in the number of Niagara residents testing positive for COVID-19, Niagara’s regional councillors will be discussing whether or not to extend its region-wide mask bylaw which is set to expire Oct. 1. The current by-law has been in place since July.
Monday saw seven new Niagara cases while there were five reported on Sunday and two cases reported Saturday. All seven of yesterday’s cases were in St. Catharines and it was reported that at least six of those were people who had returned from international travel.

couple wearing masks

Region asked for its share of new West Niagara hospital funding

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Regional Council’s corporate services committee was asked this week to pony up $14 million for the new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, a project that has been in the planning stages since the early 2000s. The current hospital is nearly 80 years old.
In a presentation to the committee, West Lincoln Memorial Hospital Foundation board chair Kevin Antonides outlined the financial breakdown and what services the new hospital will provide for Niagara.

West Lincoln Memorial Hospital

Niagara Falls MP part of O’Toole shadow cabinet

by Kevin Vallier

Newly elected leader of the federal Conservative Party of Canada Erin O’Toole announced his shadow cabinet earlier this week and Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli was among the 43 names on the list.
“I am proud to present the Conservative government in waiting that will defeat Justin Trudeau’s corrupt Liberal government in the next election,” O’Toole said in the release.

Tony Baldinelli MP

Amazon lands in Hamilton: 1,500 full-time jobs

by Kevin Vallier

Hamilton has landed the big one.
Earlier this week, Amazon Canada announced their intent to create a fulfilment centre and delivery station in Hamilton. It will be one of the largest local investments in terms of square footage in the City’s history and is expected to bring over 1,500 new jobs when the facilities are scheduled to open in 2021.

amazon

Catch 22: Rick Vaive to release new book

by Kevin Vallier

With all the great hockey players who donned the famous blue and white jersey throughout the team’s storied history, no player had ever scored 50 goals until 1981-82 when Rick Vaive scored 54 times. In fact, he did it three years in a row scoring 51 and 52 the following two seasons. Then, just a few seasons later, he had the captain’s C taken off his jersey and was callously shipped out of town.

Rick Vaive book cover

Del Rollo, vice president of industry and government relations for Arterra Wines Canada, is the new chair of Niagara College’s Board of Governors and Wendy Wing, senior vice-president of finance and administration for Rankin Construction Inc. and Port Colborne Quarries Inc., and president of Rankin Renewable Power Inc., is the new vice-chair.
The pair officially began their board leadership roles Sept. 1.

chair Del Rollo and vice-chair Wendy Wing

Lincoln celebrates a half century

by Kevin Vallier

The Town of Lincoln (population 24,000) as it is known today is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary and while a lot has changed, a lot has remained the same.
The Niagara Independent sat down with the town’s mayor Sandra Easton just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak to chat about where the town has come from and where the Mayor Easton sees it going.

mayor sandra easton

United Way continues backpacks for kids

by Kevin Vallier

While many parents and children alike are excited to finally be back to school in a matter of days there is still some worry around infection prevention and control. School will look different and one thing that will change is the sharing of school supplies between classmates.

Due to COVID-19, the need for students to have their own school supplies is more important than ever and United Way wanted to make sure every student has the tools for successful learning online or at school.

New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole fared well in Niagara voting results

by Kevin Vallier

Erin O’Toole won a third ballot victory over initial frontrunner Peter MacKay in the race to become the new federal Conservative Party of Canada leader.

On the final vote, after Derek Sloan and third place finisher Leslyn Lewis dropped off the ballots, O’Toole finished with 57% of the votes cast to MacKay’s 43%. In all, 174,404 votes were cast in the largest leadership election in Canadian history.

Erin O'Toole MP

Region told residents can afford higher taxes

by Kevin Vallier

Last Thursday, Niagara Regional councillors were told that Niagara residents are able to pay higher taxes. According to a KPMG sustainability report received by Council, despite a lower level of household income than other Ontario municipalities, the average regional residential taxes per household is among the lowest.  Oscar Poloni of KPMG was on-hand to provide […]

niagara region

Local MPs react to prorogued parliament

by Kevin Vallier

The shutting down of Canada’s parliament during a national economic crisis and a global health crisis isn’t sitting well with Niagara’s two Conservative MPs.

Just when more and more questions about the WE charity scandal are being asked, Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigns and heavily redacted documents are being and were about to be released, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued parliament.

parliament hill

St. Catharines hospitality leaders hoping to bounce back

by Kevin Vallier

The Nitsopoulos family has been in the hospitality business for decades. Owning the majority of St. Catharines’ hotels as well as a number of restaurants over the years, they’ve seen ups and downs in the business cycle but nothing could have prepared them for the crushing financial blow that COVID-19 has delivered the family business over the past six months.

holiday inn and parkway social resturant

Local minor hockey organizations hope to score a season

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s minor hockey players and parents have been eagerly awaiting news from their respective associations as to what this year’s season will look like. While normally this time of year tryouts for Niagara’s boys and girls travel teams would be ramping up in most rinks around the region, they remain fairly quiet for now. St. Catharines isn’t even putting their ice in until tomorrow – one of the last cities in the province to do so.

jack gatecliff arena

Local politicians try to make their pitch to province on-line

by Kevin Vallier

The Nitsopoulos family has been in the hospitality business for decades. Owning the majority of St. Catharines’ hotels as well as a number of restaurants over the years, they’ve seen ups and downs in the business cycle but nothing could have prepared them for the crushing financial blow that COVID-19 has delivered the family business over the past six months.

amo on zoom

Morneau out as Finance Minister

by Kevin Vallier

Just a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had “full confidence” in his Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the man responsible for the country’s budget is out.

bill morneau

Another Regional sole source questioned by council

by Kevin Vallier

Regional Council received another staff recommendation to sole source a large purchase, this time for its Niagara Recycling facility – a facility the Niagara Region may end up selling.
The recommendation was for $450,000 of public funds to purchase new equipment that would assist the facility in removing recyclable materials from transparent plastic bags.

niagara region

Police Chief praised for progress

by Kevin Vallier

In a marathon meeting lasting, in total about six hours, Niagara Regional Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch answered questions, provided context and educated regional councillors to the many improvements the force has made to better serve its community.
In the end, council approved a motion moved by St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, to essentially forward a St. Catharines City Council motion on to the province. The St. Catharines motion passed last week, had a list of recommendations St. Catharines councillors want to see implemented to improve race relations between the NRP and Niagara’s minority citizens.

Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch

Phase One funding flows to Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

The first round of cash to support Niagara’s municipalities and its regional government through the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived. Not surprisingly Niagara’s two largest municipalities – St. Catharines and Niagara Falls received the most funding; $7,473,509 and $4,263,658 respectively. The Region received $12,794,293. In total Niagara received more than $28 million.
The provincial and federal governments are providing up to $4 billion in one-time assistance to Ontario’s 444 municipalities. Municipalities will be provided with up to $1.6 billion as part of the first round of emergency funding under the Safe Restart Agreement. The funding is designated to help municipalities deliver critical public services.

niagara region

St. Catharines Council calls for “De-Funding” of local police

by Kevin Vallier

Earlier this week St. Catharines City Council opted to call on the Niagara Region and the Police Services Board – the civilian body that oversees the Niagara Regional Police – to “re-assess ‘adequate policing” requirements.

nrps police cruiser

Loss of tax exemption could put most Niagara wineries out of business

by Kevin Vallier

As if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cripple Niagara’s wineries enough but add to that the archaic provincial tax system that punishes Ontario’s craft wineries financially and now a deal with Australia that will add 50 cents per bottle tax to Ontario wine producers, the vast majority already operating on razor thin profit margins.

wine of the shelf at the LCBO

Now hear this! Outcry over NOTL noise bylaw

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara-on- the-Lake Town Council dealt with an updated draft noise bylaw last night that would have quieted the Town to almost a whisper.
The draft changes to the existing bylaw proposed to outlaw any noise above 55dB between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm while cutting that threshold to 50dB between 11:00pm and 7:00am. During last night’s meeting councillors were confused as to where the 50dB number came from.

Jackson Triggs amphitheatre

Exclusive: Region Staff Ignored Whistleblowers on $14M Biosolids Contract

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara Independent has learned that a number of whistleblower complaints involving the troubled bio-solids contract worth $14 million were submitted under the Niagara Region’s first ever whistleblower policy and went unaddressed by senior staff for months.

Multiple sources at the Niagara Region confirmed that Regional Council discussed the troubling matter during a special meeting of Council held on July 30.  Citing the need to maintain confidentiality due to an open tendering process, sources did not disclose the substance of the complaints, what actions Regional Council opted to take, who was responsible for overseeing the investigation and why no action had been taken to date.   

biosolids

Beamsville manufacturing company gets funding boost from Province

by Kevin Vallier

It’s the kind of partnership, innovation and forward thinking that the provincial government has been hoping to see happen since they took office.

Earlier this week Premier Doug Ford was in west Niagara to announce a $2million investment into Beamsville manufacturers Clean Works Medical and Pure Life Machinery. The cash injection is expected to create 19 more jobs. The Premier was joined by Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Niagara West MP Sam Oosterhoff, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton and Mark VanderVeen, president of Clean Works. 

St. Catharines Council Endorses Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

by Kevin Vallier

Last week St. Catharines City Council endorsed a recent call by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for the decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs.
Jennifer Johnston, co-founder of ‘Niagara Area Moms Ending Stigma, or NAMES voiced her support for the motion. NAMES was formed four years ago after a number of individuals banded together to support each other having lost a child to substance abuse.

handcuffs, drugs and a gavel

Conservatives set membership sales record

by Kevin Vallier

Flying under the radar of the daily news cycle in this country is the upcoming Federal Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership election. With a global pandemic, WE scandal rocking the governing Liberal party, back-to-school plans announced and a myriad of other national and global events taking place, the leadership contest has primarily gone unnoticed to many Canadians.

toole-mackay

A monument on the move?

by Kevin Vallier

Monday saw St. Catharines City Council deal with a motion that would kick off a consultation process over a proposal to relocate the Watson monument off of City Hall property.
Council received four delegations regarding the motion to move the Watson monument due to its association with the North-West Rebellion of 1885, a hallmark of anti-Metis and Indigenous sentiment and policy by the federal government at the time.

The Watson monument

GO gets going again

by Kevin Vallier

Weekend GO train service to the Niagara region will begin to roll once again starting on August 1. New schedules with four trips to and from Niagara Falls and St. Catharines each Saturday, Sunday and holiday will provide more service than in previous years and enable day or overnight trips, either in Niagara or Toronto.

Minister MacLeod at the Go Train announcement

A September back to school for Niagara students

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government announced today that it will be back to school for children across Ontario come September and not surprisingly teachers and their unions weren’t happy.
Education minister Stephen Lecce unveiled a plan that has increased health and safety measures, and provides school boards with “unprecedented” resources and flexibility, while accommodating regional differences in trends of key public health indicators.

west lane secondary school

With an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, regional finances bursting at the seams and a recent decision to not hear from local employers representing over 2,000 employees, Niagara Regional Council spent 44 minutes of its 167 minute meeting dealing with complaints put forward by local left-leaning political activist group A Better Niagara and dealing with councillors insulting and apologizing to their fellow councillors as well as being bogged down on numerous procedural issues.

niagara region council chambers

MP Chris Bittle berates journalist at committee investigating WE scandal

by Kevin Vallier

A journalist who has spent five years researching and reporting on the WE Organization was attacked by St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle Wednesday during a committee meeting studying the WE Charity scandal currently rocking the Trudeau Liberal government.
“I found it unusual that I saw a reporter was agreeing to testify at a committee,” Bittle told Jesse Brown, publisher of the online news outlet Canadaland. “What expertise are you bringing to the table beyond what you’ve reported based on other people’s stories?”

Chris bittle MP

Simpson honoured with United Way award

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara-one-the-Lake pharmacist and business owner Sean Simpson said receiving the Anita Robertson Legacy Award is “bitter-sweet”. Both Simpson and Robertson spent countless hours volunteering with the United Way as well as many other boards and charities throughout the Region and knew each other well. Sadly, in a tragic accident, Anita, along with her husband Joe and their daughter Laura died in July 2018 after their plane crashed in rural Maine.

Sean Simpson holding an award

Not much changes for Stage 3 in tourism sector

by Kevin Vallier

According to many of the largest tourist operators in Niagara Falls, heading into Stage 3 today really doesn’t change much. With the exception of being able to add additional seating inside restaurants, not much else will be different.
One thing that will change for all Niagara residents is having to wear a mask. Last night the Regional council voted to enact a mandatory mask by-law which comes into effect July 31.

a tourist standing at the falls

Niagara to enter Stage 3 on Friday

by Kevin Vallier

Yesterday, Premier Doug Ford announced that Niagara would be entering Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan beginning at 12:01am Friday morning.
Along with Niagara, Ford announced that Durham, Haldimand-Norfolk, Halton, Hamilton, Lambton, and York regions will also be entering Stage 3 Friday.

Clifton Hill tourist area

NPCA properties a hot spot for large gatherings

by Kevin Vallier

It’s not much of a surprise that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has seen a significant increase to their properties over the past few weeks given Ontarians have been locked down in their own homes with limited access to the great outdoors. But now that things have slowly started to open up the NPCA says visitors to their green spaces still need to follow the regulations and guidelines to ensure public safety.

Binbrook entrance

Casinos ready to roll the dice on opening

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s two casinos are beginning preparations to welcome back customers as the region inches towards entering Stage 3 of the provinces economic reopening. Not a die has been thrown nor a card dealt since the Fallsview Casino and Casino Niagara closed their doors back in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

slots reel, triple 7s

A tale of two cities: Mandatory masks

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s two largest cities have taken wildly different approaches to the controversial issue of implementing a mandatory mask bylaw due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Niagara Falls City Council on Tuesday delayed discussion of the item to allow the Niagara Region, which is responsible for public health initiatives in Niagara, to determine whether a Region-wide order is necessary.

mayor sendzik and dr hiirji

Welland to be home to innovative home manufacturer

by Kevin Vallier

An Alberta home building company is set to begin manufacturing its unique homes in Welland creating an initial 100 jobs with that number projected to increase to about 600. Management will arrive on site in the coming weeks with production scheduled to begin in mid-August.

home made from shipping containers

Politicizing the mask debate

by Kevin Vallier

It’s been a hotly debated topic for the past several weeks; to wear a mask or not to wear a mask? While public health experts initially flipped-flopped on whether or not wearing a mask actually did much to prevent the spread of COVID-19, most have now landed on the general consensus that indeed wearing a mask is beneficial, especially in closed areas where proper social distancing is tough to do. If one needed further proof, even U.S. President Donald Trump was seen wearing a mask late last week.

Liberal MP Catherine McKenna

Innovation key to running efficient ambulance service

by Kevin Vallier

It was around 2011 that Niagara EMS noticed a significant rise in call volume. Up until that time they were seeing the standard 2-3% increase but into 2011 that number started to climb to 5 -6% and even 8%. It was cause for concern for those responsible for delivering Niagara’s land ambulance service.

EMS dispatch room

The transformation of Niagara’s ambulance service Part I

by Kevin Vallier

It was 15 years ago that Niagara Emergency Medical Services (EMS) first launched a pilot project, with the blessing of the provincial government, to operate its own dispatch system. At that time dispatch for land ambulance services was run out of a central Hamilton location which had some advantages but also proved to have many disadvantages as well. Over the years, the pilot project has proved to be a major success and has lead to system improvements that weren’t even originally on the radar.

EMS dispatchers

Regional council split on mask issue

by Kevin Vallier

The only thing that became clear after almost five hours of discussion at Wednesday’s special meeting of Regional Council, was that elected officials are deeply divided on the issue of implementing mandatory masks in Niagara to limit the spread of COVID-19.
When the issue came to a vote, Regional Council was divided 15-15 between implementing the bylaw or taking more time for study.

zoom screenshot with councillor villellla speaking

Business community, councillors disappointed with dismissal of presentation

by Kevin Vallier

There has been a significant reaction to the abrupt dismissal of a presentation last week to Regional Council by E.S. Fox president Spencer Fox. A number of residents and business owners took to social media to condemn the way council referred the presentation to a budget committee meeting that wasn’t even scheduled. In a close […]

a binder, eye glasses, some paperwork and a calculator

Yesterday, St. Catharines City Council directed staff to prepare a by-law requiring individuals over the age of two to wear masks or face coverings while in enclosed spaces due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

two people in a park wearing masking

Niagara employers and employees among the hardest hit in Ontario

by Kevin Vallier

According to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO), St. Catharines – Niagara’s employment fell by 15.2% between February and May and represents the second hardest hit area in the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Windsor experienced an employment drop of 19.1% in the same period.

closed due to coronavirus sign

Former Regional Chair and staff file defence statement

by Kevin Vallier

Now going on nearly two years the continuing saga of the hiring of former Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo has taken a couple of important steps forward. Earlier this week the OPP stated that they have closed the books on any criminal wrong doing. There have also been two Ombudsman’s investigations into the matter.
Recently, the defendants – Alan Caslin, Robert D’Amboise and Jason Tamming – have filed their statement of defence with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

the scales of justice

Bisons’ season shut down

by Kevin Vallier

While Major League Baseball continues to try and salvage some form of a season, Minor League Baseball announced earlier this week that the 2020 season for all of its clubs, including the Buffalo Bisons, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Niagara’s virtual Canada Day celebration

by Kevin Vallier

Canada Day will certainly be different this year. There will be no parades, concerts or celebrations in parks as precautions are still being taken to avoid the spread of COVID-19. This year Niagara residents will have to go online to enjoy their Canada Day entertainment as the 12 local municipalities, the Niagara Region and Niagara Parks Commission have banded together to offer Canada Day, The Niagara Way.

Canadian flag at Niagara Falls

Region says employers in survival mode “Not on our Agenda”

by Kevin Vallier

After a series of Niagara job creators called on the Niagara Region and local mayors to do their part and cut costs in order to blunt future COVID-19 tax increases, Regional Council referred the issue to the Region’s budget committee without any discussion.
Except that according to the Niagara Region website, no meeting of the Region’s budget committee is currently scheduled.

spencer fox

Welcome aboard: Niagara’s beloved boating attractions launch July 1

by Kevin Vallier

It was shaping up to be one of the best seasons yet for both Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours and Hornblower Niagara Cruises. Now, both businesses are hoping to do, at best, 50 per cent of what they normally would do.
But both of the iconic nautical tourist attractions are full steam ahead to make the best of a difficult situation. It all starts Canada Day, July 1.

Whirlpool Jet Boats and Hornblower Niagara Cruises boats

Back in business – Niagara gets its first weekend of Stage 2 under its belt

by Kevin Vallier

With the snip of a blue ribbon by Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries reopened – in part – Niagara’s economy. The minister and the mayor were joined by Sandie Bellows, Chair of Niagara Parks Commission, Joel Noden, Chair of Niagara Falls Tourism and Rebecca Mackenzie, President and CEO of Culinary Tourism Alliance, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially welcome people back to the Niagara Region as part of Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan.

Minister Macleod and Mayor Jim Diodati

Gap in CERB funding concern to constituents say MPs

by Kevin Vallier

While the federal Liberal government has rolled out a long list of funding subsidies for businesses and individuals negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara’s MPs say they are still getting numerous calls on a daily basis from constituents struggling or confused by how to access funding or gravely concerned that their existing funding is about to run out and they aren’t back to work yet.

Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli on the phone

Building up through COVID crisis

by Kevin Vallier

Developers know that not everything is going to go perfectly during a construction project. There will inevitably be change orders, cost overruns and a few unforeseen hiccups. But when Sally McGarr and development partner Rainer Hummel joined forces with FirstOntario Credit Union to put a shovel in the ground back in September 2018 to develop a property McGarr’s been wanting to build something special on for years, nobody predicted a global pandemic. That isn’t just a hiccup.

77 yates construction

Keeping it clean – Niagara readies itself for tourists

by Kevin Vallier

It’s not what you would call a “grand opening” but for Niagara’s business owners, particularly those in the tourism capital of Niagara Falls, they’ll take what they can get.
Today marks the first day of Niagara moving into Stage 2 of the province’s economic reopening plan. This means stores, patios, hair salons and more can open their doors for business. It also means that tourism operators can finally call staff back to work and welcome tourists back to Niagara.

Back to business as Niagara set for Stage 2

by Kevin Vallier

“Our team crunched the numbers. Our command table reviewed the data and provided the recommendation. On their advice I’m excited to announce today (yesterday) that as of this Friday the following Regions will be able to enter Stage 2…Niagara.” With those words from Premier Doug Ford business owners and employees from across Niagara who’ve been out of work for months felt hope and optimism for the first time in a long while.

premier ford and cabinet ministers

Niagara tourism gets funding boost

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s tourism sector got a much-needed boost this week when the province’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Lisa MacLeod announced via a Zoom news conference that her Ministry will be providing one million dollars to help market the region’s attractions and destinations.

niagara speedway

Niagara’s frustration of Second Stage Re-opening denial heats up

by Kevin Vallier

On Monday, the province announced the list of Region’s allowed to move to Stage 2 reopening. While 24 regions were on the list to reopen, 10 were denied. Among the 10 was Niagara.

niagara falls hotels

“It’s not a tank” – Misconceptions around NRP rescue vehicle

by Kevin Vallier

Police forces around the globe are under the microscope now more than ever and many citizens have taken to social media criticizing everything from the size of police budgets to the equipment they use. Some citizens have even sated police forces are no longer needed and that the public can police themselves.

nrps EMT vehicle

Niagara stuck in stage one

by Kevin Vallier

You could practically hear the frustration from Niagara’s business leaders when they realized the words “Niagara Region” weren’t on the province’s list of areas that can proceed to stage two of reopening the economy.

closed sign on a door

Roller coaster real estate ride

by Kevin Vallier

Home prices in Niagara have gone up. That may shock some people as the common sentiment is that the real estate sector, like practically every other one, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. In some ways that holds true particularly this past April which saw a nose dive in sales and listings but prices have continued to creep up in Niagara.

home for sale

Region makes ask for cash to help with COVID costs

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara Region is taking the lead on asking the provincial and federal governments to pony up some cash to help the Region and its 12 municipalities offset the costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

niagara region

After some Resistance, Niagara Region COVID-19 Municipal Data Released

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Region’s acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji released municipal specific COVID-19 data Thursday after being ordered to do so by Regional politicians.

The data shows Welland, Pelham and Niagara Falls experienced the most COVID-19 cases per 10,000 population in the Niagara Region, although each municipality has experienced those cases differently.  Welland has the highest rate at 37.5 cases per 10,000 population with roughly 74% being attributed to health care facility outbreaks.  Pelham is experiencing 18.3 cases per 10,000 but unlike Welland and Niagara Falls, 85% of the cases were found in the general public.  Niagara Falls sits at 17.3 cases per 10,000 population with 60% of them due to health care facility outbreaks.

niagara region hq sign

Niagarans get a seat at the table

by Kevin Vallier

Three prominent Niagara residents have recently been appointed to key provincial boards. Jessica Friesen, CEO of Gales Fuels was appointed to the Niagara Parks Commission Board while recently retired Niagara MP Rob Nicholson is now Chair of the Niagara Escarpment Commission and Niagara businessman Dragan Matovic has a seat on the Board of the LCBO.

board room table

Province Reopens More Businesses, Niagara Eyes Public Testing Facility

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government announced yesterday that more businesses will be able to reopen in the next week provided the overall provincial health indicators continue to trend positively.

These businesses must comply with strict health and workplace safety measures to be permitted to reopen.

open sign on a door

Life after hockey

by Kevin Vallier

It’s not always easy for professional athletes to make a successful transition from playing the sport they love to a completely different career – one that probably won’t come with nice hotels, travel, being asked for an autograph and the thrill of scoring a goal or winning a championship in front of thousands of fans. But for most athletes the reality is there will be, has to be, a life after sport.

Even McGrath on the ice

Snowbirds make spirits soar

by Kevin Vallier

There were a lot of Niagara residents looking skyward on Sunday. They weren’t looking for the sun although you couldn’t blame them for wondering where it went after making a brief glorious appearance nearly a week ago. No, tens of thousands of Niagara residents stood on their driveways, sidewalks, back decks or in the middle of the road hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the most popular military flight demonstration teams in the world – Canada’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron; Otherwise known simply as the Snowbirds.

snowbirds flying over a group of firefighters

Local wineries adapting to new normal

by Kevin Vallier

Like many businesses around the province and across the country Niagara’s wineries have had to adapt, pivot and get creative to simply maintain a certain level of business. And while business would certainly be better in a non-pandemic environment, hard work and determination is keeping Niagara’s wine sector in a glass-half-full kind of state.

wine glass and barrels

Sweet home Alabama

by Kevin Vallier

It was starting out to be a great season of Division 1 college baseball for Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati. He had a spectacular debut with the Alabama Crimson Tide where Diodati plays left field and is a designated hitter in his sophomore year. Then, like everywhere else in the world, the season came to an abrupt halt with the onset of a global pandemic. While most people are self isolating with family in their homes, the young Canadian is stuck in Alabama away from his parents and living with a teammate’s family.

Owen Diodati

Reopening business, slowly

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government has opened the door a tiny crack to slowly getting the provincial economy back on track by allowing some businesses to reopen. Premier Ford announced Friday that a select few businesses sectors will be allowed to open providing they follow strict public health guidelines. The Premier was quick to caution the public however that a continued trend downwards of the number of new COVID-19 cases will need to happen before the door is swung fully open.

Open for business sign in a door

Keeping it clean

by Kevin Vallier

They are truly the unsung heroes of healthcare. Rarely in the spotlight, quietly going about their job with a smile and friendly hello to patients and other staff, these essential workers have a very important job; stop the spread.

Jocelyn Malangis

Residents not pleased with Region’s response to help homeless

by Kevin Vallier

It was Easter long weekend when Niagara Falls resident Tiffany Aello had heard that those who had no place to call home found themselves in even more of a tough spot. With arenas, libraries, coffee shops and other facilities closed, the homeless had nowhere to go to warm up or clean up. “I got a phone call asking if I had any tents,” said Aello explaining how she got involved with a project that now consumes her life seven days a week. “I thought it was for one person, I didn’t realize there were 15,” she said.

sleeping bag and teddy bear inside of a tent

Coping with mental side of COVID

by Kevin Vallier

There has been a lot written and a lot discussed about the impact of social isolation on people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. From elite athletes to business leaders to stay-at-home parents who aren’t used to their significant other working from home, the new normal is wreaking havoc on motivation levels, focus and overall mood.

man on couch wearing mask

Niagara MPs want back in the House

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara MPs Dean Allison and Tony Baldinelli are, like the rest of Canadians, trying to get accustomed to what has become the new normal. It’s a pretty big adjustment when you are used to spending most of the day in a large room with 337 other people, in constant communication, travelling back and forth from Niagara to Ottawa, attending grand openings, business roundtables and the many other events Members of Federal Parliament attend on a daily basis. Throw in the fact that you are part of the official opposition trying to hold a minority government to account during a national crisis and things are anything but normal.

Dean Allison MP and Dean Baldinelli MP

The Shaw must go on

by Kevin Vallier

As far as anyone can remember it’s the first time in the Shaw Festival’s history that the entire slate of season opening performances has been cancelled. To date the Shaw has had to cancel more than 180 shows in total. The first production was set to hit the stage on April 2. “We were days away from Charley’s Aunt being on stage,” said Shaw’s Executive Director Tim Jennings.

Zoom Rehearsal for the cast of Charley's Aunt

Possible pandemic peak in province

by Kevin Vallier

The COVID-19 pandemic may have peaked in Ontario according to the Ontario Government’s health experts.
Yesterday, the Government of Ontario released updated COVID-19 modelling, which shows that the enhanced public health measures, including staying home and physically distancing from each other, are working to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve.

covid-19

McMaster team developing home COVID-19 test kit

by Kevin Vallier

A team of scientists just down the QEW at McMaster University in Hamilton have developed a COVID-19 testing kit that is similar to taking a home pregnancy test. A person will be able to swab their mouth, put the swab in a tube and wait no more than 30 minutes for a result. Essentially, if there is one line on the test stick the person is negative. If there is a double line the person is positive for the virus.

Yingfu Li

Ford the ‘Friendly General’ demands more COVID-19 testing

by Kevin Vallier

Throughout the dramatic last month of the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontarians have become accustomed to daily briefings given by Ontario Premier Ford. Most often he has been joined by his Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott. Other Ministers rotate in, including Minister of Finance Rod Philipps, Ministers of Economic Development and Small Business, Vic Fedeli and Prabmeet Sarkaria, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Also quite often, six to 10 feet from the Premier’s side, are his Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, Peter Donnelly head of Public Health Ontario and/or CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson.

Premier Ford at his desk making phone calls

Former St. Catharines Teepee Pat ‘Whitey’ Stapleton dies

by Kevin Vallier

He wasn’t very big in stature. In fact, by today’s standards he’d be considered a very small NHL defenseman. But what he lacked in height he more than made up with his huge heart and infectious smile. Pat Stapleton, listed at 5’8”, who patrolled the blue line for the St. Catharines Teepees before landing in the windy city to become a Chicago Blackhawk, passed away last week. He was 79 years old.

Pat Stapleton on the ice

Making masks makes money… for charity

by Kevin Vallier

A few years ago St. Catharines resident Jennifer Armstrong was working for a fashion design company when she was given a choice; move to Montreal with the company or stay and be out of a job. She decided to stay in Niagara to open her own boutique clothing manufacturing company called Ecolove and hasn’t looked back.

While sales climbed over the past few years, Ecolove like so many businesses in Niagara came to an abrupt stop with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like her former employer Calhoun, Jennifer has turned her attention to making masks to help Niagara residents stay safe. She’s also donating proceeds to the Niagara Health Foundation.

Jennifer Armstrong, owner of Ecolove clothing manufacturer

Niagara businesses continue to be financially hammered from the COVID-19 pandemic but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to step up to the plate and help their community fight back against the virus.

Frontline healthcare workers are not only putting their lives on the line caring for the sick but in many cases are also forced to be separated from their families to protect their loved ones. When John Petrie, owner of Niagara Trailers, heard about this he knew there was something his company could do; lend out RV’s so that those on the frontlines could come “home” and yet still be isolated.

Niagara RV owner John Petrie and his wife Anna beside one of the trailers

Local sportswear company shifts to mask making

by Kevin Vallier

Marty Myers started what many know today as Calhoun Sportswear (now called Calhoun) 47 years ago as a young graduate from Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines. His initial business came from printing rock concert t-shirts for bands touring through the Toronto area and hiring his high school buddies as his first employees. The business grew with the help of his wife, Michelle, to a 40,000 square foot factory with sales all over North America. That’s all changed for now.

sewing

Unsung Heroes

by Kevin Vallier

When praising emergency services workers, typically firefighters, police and paramedics – people often use the description ‘they are running into a burning building while the rest of us are running out’ as a way of explaining their heroism.

grocery store worker

Elliott: “We will make it through”

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott says if all Ontarians do their part the Province will come out of the COVID-19 global pandemic and life can return to normal.
In an interview today with The Niagara Independent the Minister said she along with her cabinet colleagues and medical experts are working around the clock, seven days a week receiving and analyzing the latest information so that the province can try and get ahead of the outbreak and flatten the curve as soon as possible.

christine elliott

Local Chambers championing business during tough times

by Kevin Vallier

Both the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) are doing what they can to help local businesses try and survive the massive negative impact the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on Niagara’s small and medium sized businesses.

“We’re making calls to all 2,000 of our members,” said Dolores Fabiano, executive director of the South Niagara Chambers. She said while there’s no doubt her members are feeling the tight squeeze of little to no revenue they are trying to stay positive. “If you’re a business owner you’re resilient.”

Staff at the Welland Chamber of Commerce Office making calls

Niagara’s AAA minor midget teams were headed to OHL Cup

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara North Stars and Southern Tier Admirals were supposed to be heading to Toronto next week to participate in the OHL Cup. Like many sporting events and tournaments the OHL Cup has been cancelled. It’s a big tournament from a team perspective but as individual players, it’s also one of the most important tournaments of the year as it’s the last time scouts will see the players in game situations prior to the Ontario Hockey League draft which takes place April 4.
In a statement organizers said, “Since the start of the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19, the OHL and GTHL have closely monitored the rapidly evolving situation with a view to the health and safety of players and their families, team and league staff, on and off ice officials, fans and the general public.”

north stars hockey team

New nuclear technology is a game changer

by Kevin Vallier

They’re called SMRs, they will soon be a game changer for the world’s energy sector and Canada is at the forefront of their development.
SMRs or Small Nuclear Reactors have been around for a while, originally designed and built for naval use, but now they are coming online as part of the world’s power generating options. And they bring with them a lot of advantages.

small modular nuclear reactor on a truck

The Region’s public works committee signed off on a proposal put forward by Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati to have the Niagara Region hire consultants to review current garbage collection practices and to determine how the system can be more cost effective to the taxpayer.
The proposal also called for the development of a plan to address the potential illegal dumping and public health problems “that could arise as a result of moving to bi-weekly pickup”. The City of Niagara Falls had previously expressed concern that the Niagara Region “did not adequately address concerns related to garbage and recycling collection methods”.

worker picking up recycling

Leaders Under Fire: New book looks at crisis communications

by Kevin Vallier

It will happen. That moment in time when something goes wrong, a tragedy occurs and the spotlight is shining brightly on a corporation for all the wrong reasons. How best to handle crisis communications in the corporate world in the twenty-first century? Two of the most experienced leaders in this space have put pen to paper and compiled their experiences and lessons learned over decades into a new book called Leaders Under Fire – The CEO’s Survival Guide to Navigating Corporate Crisis.

: Jeff Chatterton and Conway Fraser

Province releases plan to combat human trafficking

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in St. Catharines Friday along with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues to announce funding and strategy to combat the human trafficking problem Ontario is facing.
According to the province, human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of police-reported human trafficking violations in Canada occur in Ontario with the average age of recruitment into sex trafficking at 13 years old.

General Sylvia Jones and Premier Doug Ford

Hornblower planning for early launch

by Kevin Vallier

What a difference a year can make.
This time last year Mory DiMaurizio and his team at Hornblower Niagara Cruises were wondering if they would ever get their iconic boats launched to take eager tourists on the famous voyage that gets visitors up close and personal with the world famous Niagara Falls. Eventually the boats were launched – 45 days later than scheduled.

hornblower niagara in the river

Uncertainty and low confidence shakes markets

by Kevin Vallier

There’s a lot going on in the world and the impact on the stock markets has been disastrous. From the potential of the Democrats south of the border electing a socialist leader in Bernie Sanders to take on current US president Donald Trump, to the Covid-19 virus that continues to spread across the globe to right here in Canada where protestors disrupted the national economy and tried to shut down Canada’s natural resource sector, markets around the globe are taking a serious hit.

a man with a tablet and chart

Playing catch-up with Long-Term Care

by Kevin Vallier

The term “hallway medicine” is thrown around a lot these days and while the latest catch phrase to describe backlogs in local acute care hospitals is fairly new the problem is decades old. Despite healthcare spending eating nearly half of the entire provincial budget emergency department backlogs, crowded hallways and long wait times continue to plague the system. Niagara is no different. Despite the best efforts by management and staff and a number of funding announcements by the province, the frustration remains.

Merrilee Fullerton at the podium

Grimsby residents face nearly 17% tax hike

by Kevin Vallier

The Town of Grimsby’s budget committee approved a whopping 16.7% increase for homeowners’ property taxes.

“It’s really been a team effort,” the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer Harry Schlange said of the creation of the proposed budget.  “Everybody has really contributed to this.”

Harry Schlange speaking at council budget meeting

Niagara Falls should go it alone with waste collection says expert

by Kevin Vallier

A local resident with extensive knowledge in waste collection isn’t happy with what he’s been seeing and reading when it comes to the Region’s new plans for garbage and recycling collection – and he fully supports Niagara Falls City Council for wanting to go it alone.

Dean Rosiana has been an accountant for more than 30 years and is the former deputy director of finance with the Town of Fort Erie. He’s also been involved at the senior management level of waste management companies since 1996. “I’m retired and have no skin in the game with this particular contract but I’ve been through this process many times and as a resident and tax payer I have a problem with it.”

worker picking up recycling

McNaughton meets with business leaders while in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

While much focus was placed on the weekend protests by various unions towards the Ford government, many of the MPPs and in particular cabinet ministers were meeting key stakeholders in Niagara on important issues like health, business, the economy and the skilled trades.
Monte McNaughton, the province’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development was one such MPP who took the time to meet with business owners and those working in the construction sector to discuss key issues like the province-wide labour shortage, skilled trades and new government initiatives at a roundtable discussion.

mcnauaghton walking in the labour day parade

After years of consultation, council says more consultation needed for elected chair

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Regional Council decided last Thursday to look into the formation of a governance committee and to consult Niagara’s 12 chief administrative officers after considering St. Catharines Councillor Laura Ip’s motion for a citizen elected Regional Chair.
“I think it’s long past time to hear directly from the citizens of Niagara as to what they want,” Ip told Council.

niagara region

Welland shows no sign of slowing down

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to some municipalities in Niagara, Welland’s mayor, council and staff aren’t afraid of the ‘D’-word. Development in the Rose City set records in 2019 and there’s no sign it will slow down in 2020.
Whether it’s new home construction, redeveloping old industrial land or attracting new manufacturing businesses Welland has not shied away from growing it’s one time stagnate, in fact declining, city. Mayor Frank Campion, who recently delivered his annual state of the city address, told The Niagara Independent that job growth and prosperity are keys to growing his community.

frank campion speaking at an event

Diodati belts three homers in ‘Bama debut

by Kevin Vallier

It wasn’t that long ago that Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati had a tough decision to make; One that most teenagers or adults will never have to make in a lifetime. Sign with a professional baseball team and bank a cool million bucks or go to college to play ball. Diodati turned down the money and a chance to become a Toronto Blue Jay and instead head to Alabama and play for the Crimson Tide.
This past weekend reaffirmed his decision. Not that there was much doubt.

owen diodati at bat

More Questions, Few Answers around Region’s attempted $14 million Biosolids deal

by Kevin Vallier

Despite Niagara Region’s Public Works Committee requesting specific information from Regional staff concerning past contracts with Thomas Nutrient Solutions (TNS), the Niagara Region’s contractor to manage its biosolids program, the information was not provided.
Last month, committee rejected a staff recommendation to extend – for the second time since 2013 – a $14 million contract to TNS for the management of the Region’s biosolids program and instead opted for a competitive process. The program oversees the management of materials removed during the treatment of drinking water.

peter nicholson in council chambers

Niagara’s Angel network helping entrepreneurs spread their wings

by Kevin Vallier

A little over a decade ago 14 local business leaders came together all with the same mission – to establish a private sector investment group that would help local entrepreneurs launch their businesses. The Niagara Angel Network soon took flight and its current executive director Terry Kadwell has been there since the beginning; although that wasn’t necessarily his intention. “I got involved 11 years ago to help get it off the ground and seven years ago I became full time,” explained Kadwell.
While not much is known about the group and who is involved, Kadwell said that’s starting to change. “Originally we protected the anonymity of the angels but we realized lately that we are getting more traction by letting people know who’s in the group.”

Terry Kadwell speaking at an event

Conservative leadership contender could make history

by Kevin Vallier

While much of the attention in the federal Conservative Party leadership race has been focused on Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole a third contender is hoping to make history. Leslyn Lewis has entered the race and if she could pull off the upset would become the first black woman to lead a major Canadian political party. The current Conservative health and science critic Marilyn Gladu is also running.
Lewis was in Niagara Falls on the weekend at that riding’s annual general meeting where she had the chance to speak to members. Krystle Caputo who attended the meeting said, “It was awesome to have CPC leadership candidate Ms. Lewis come to Niagara Falls and share her vision for Canada. We’ve also recently hosted Mr. O’Toole in Niagara and I understand Mr. MacKay is coming this way soon as well.” Caputo said there is a strong Conservative base and members are eager to engage with the leadership candidates.

Ms Lewis

Falls wants to throw out garbage contract

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls wants out of the waste management contract it is currently a part of after the Region signed a deal with a new service provider that essentially sees taxpayers paying a lot more for a lot less.

“We’ve put a request into the Region to go it alone,” said Niagara Falls city councillor Victor Pietrangelo, who has been dead-set against the current agreement from the start.

worker picking up recycling

Exclusive: Niagara’s Jay Triano shares memories of time with Kobe

by Kevin Vallier

It was 2008 when Niagara’s Jay Triano, NBA and Canadian national team coach, was in Las Vegas for the USA men’s Olympic basketball training camp. Even though he is a Canadian, Triano was one of the few NBA coaches with international experience and so American head coach Mike Krzyzewski tapped Triano to be one of his assistants. The “redeem team” was loaded with talent featuring the likes of LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh and Kobe Bryant.

In an exclusive interview from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Triano now serves as the head assistant coach for that city’s NBA franchise, the Charlotte Hornets, Triano recalls some of the encounters he had with Bryant throughout his many years as an NBA coach.

Jay Triano

O’Toole ramps up for possible leadership run

by Kevin Vallier

The race for the next leader of the Federal Conservative Party of Canada is on and someone many see as a front-runner for the position made a Niagara stop earlier this week.
Erin O’Toole, the veteran MP arrived at the Grantham House in St. Catharines for a meet and greet with about 60 Niagara conservatives. He wanted to hear their thoughts on the party, the recent federal election and what they are looking for in a leader. O’Toole, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, took the time to speak with those in attendance individually before addressing the crowed and providing his vision of what the next leader of the Conservative party needs to bring to the table in order to form the next government.

A rich history of supporting military personnel

by Kevin Vallier

The Order of St. George of Canada and the Americas has a rich history dating back nearly 700 years. King Charles I, Duke of Anjou, founded the Order in Hungary in 1326 as the first royal and secular charitable military order of its kind. In Canada, the order was established in Niagara Falls in 2003 at Christ Church, where about 70 members of the Order gathered recently to select a new Grand Master, Colonel Andrew Nellestynin (Retd) of Ottawa.

Colonel Andrew Nellestynin and Paul Cane sitting in pews

Purchasing problems plague Region

by Kevin Vallier

Less than a week after Niagara Region staff recommended a controversial sole sourced multi-million dollar contract, two bombshell audits were delivered to the audit committee outlining significant issues with its purchasing regime and sole sourcing.
When goods and services are required by Niagara Region’s various departments, they must work through a centralized purchasing department, known as procurement, to ensure proper processes are followed and fairness and accountability measures remain intact. For smaller purchases under $25,000, it is not required for Regional departments to engage with procurement staff; however, it is expected of departments to comply with the Regional policies overseeing these purchases.

niagara region

Report left in limbo

by Kevin Vallier

Two audits covering significant issues in the Niagara Region’s purchasing regime, one of which was kept from elected officials for over a year, did not sit well with the Audit Committee or St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik Monday.
Sendzik, who is not a member of Audit Committee but was present to discuss the reports with the committee, left scathing words for Regional staff for their decision to withhold the audits from elected officials.

Bob Gale

“Not interested in the past” says new NPCA Chair

by Kevin Vallier

“I’m not interested in the past folks.” And with that blunt statement Hamilton representative Brenda Johnson began her term Wednesday as the newly elected Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board Chair. Johnson went on to say, “We’ve dealt with the past. I’m more focused on today and what we’re going to do tomorrow. Let’s get to work.”
Johnson, who has served as a Hamilton city councillor since 2010, was elected Chair at the NPCA’s recent Annual General Meeting. Four individuals ran for the Chair’s seat; Rick Brady, David Bylsma, Ken Kawall and Johnson. Bylsma was seeking a second term but came under fire just days before the election for his views on climate change. He did not make it past the first ballot. There was a tie between Brady and Kawall. Eventually the vote came down to Johnson and Brady.

Chandra Sharma and Brenda Johnson

“Faulty and Unfair Process”: Vendor Slams Niagara Region Sole Sourcing

by Kevin Vallier

Fireworks were set off at Niagara Region’s public works committee meeting earlier this week over a staff recommendation to effectively sole source a multi-million dollar contract for liquid biosolids for a period of three years.
The contract, valued at $4.5 million in 2020 alone, was recommended by Niagara Region staff to be awarded to Thomas Nutrient Solutions of Hamilton for its Liquid Biosolids and Residuals Management Program. This program oversees the management of materials removed during the treatment of drinking water. Thomas Nutrient Solutions has held the contract since 2013 and has already received a three year renewal in 2017.

Representatives from TerraPure Environmental Solutions in council chambers

“Showrooming” and its impact on locally owned retailers

by Kevin Vallier

The negative impact of the massive popularity of online shopping on the bricks and mortar retailers is well known and been a topic of conversation for a few years now. But the local impact, particularly on family owned businesses in Niagara runs deeper than just their bottom lines.
The trend and its negative effect on communities of “showrooming” or “showroom shopping” was recently pointed out in a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report. The term refers to shoppers going into local retailers, having staff provide them with product information and suggestions or try on clothing items and then the customer leaves without making a purchase, goes home and orders the product online.

a person on their computer

Trekking through the Sahara for a cause

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara resident Michael Sommer says he’s never done what was expected of him. He took that motto a step further, several steps actually, as he trekked across the Sahara Dessert recently to raise money for Gillian’s Place a shelter for abused women and children.

The idea for the adventure of a lifetime started in 2018 when the local real estate agent was at a Royal LePage conference in Halifax. “Two years ago the trek was in Iceland and in 2018 they announced the 2019 trek would be through the Sahara Desert,” explained Sommer. He said as a corporation Royal LePage established its own foundation called the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation and it would have a bi-annual adventure to raise money.

Michael Sommer walking in the desert

IceDog scores golden goal

by Kevin Vallier

He didn’t see nearly as much ice time as he would with his club team the Niagara IceDogs but Akil Thomas sure made the most of it.
Thomas, a fourth line forward for the Canadian junior team that captured gold this past weekend in a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Russia, scored the game winning goal late in the third period on a partial breakaway that required quick thinking and lots of skill.

Akil Thomas scores

Province gives tax break to small businesses

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s small business owners received some welcomed news from the province to start their new year as the Ford government will be cutting their tax rate 8.7 per cent reducing the rate to 3.2 per cent. The change came into effect on January 1. The reduction, said the government, is part of its plan to attract investment and enable entrepreneurs and risk takers to grow their businesses and create high-paying, good quality jobs.
“Ontario has tremendous opportunity and potential, and we are working to create the conditions for job creators to grow and succeed. An important part of our plan is to reduce the tax rate for small businesses, as they play a vital role in the economy,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance in a media release.

small business owners

Niagara Falls rings in New Year’s in style

by Kevin Vallier

An estimated 60,000 people jammed Queen Victoria Park and surrounding areas in Niagara Falls on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2020 with Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams. Billed as one of the best New Year’s Eve concerts the city has hosted the large crowed danced, clapped, smiled and sang the lyrics to iconic Adams’ hits right up until midnight. City and Parks Commission leaders couldn’t have been happier.

Bryan Adams on stage

IceDogs’ Thomas celebrates birthday with world win

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara IceDogs’ forward and Los Angeles Kings second round draft pick Akil Thomas celebrated his birthday in fine style yesterday turning in a solid effort helping his Canadian teammates secure a never-in-doubt 6-1 quarter-final victory over Slovakia.

Thomas has seen more ice time as the tournament has progressed and sources tell The Niagara Independent that the skilled forward is a highly regarded by bench boss Dale Hunter. The Canadian kids will now head to the semi-finals (Saturday at 1 p.m.) where they will face a much stiffer challenge in the Fins who knocked off the Americans 1-0 in their quarter final game. The other semi-final will feature a classic showdown between Russia and Sweden.

Canada’s national junior team

Niagara West MP looks back and forward

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara West Member of Federal Parliament Dean Allison is looking forward to a busy and productive 2020 with lots on the go both in his riding and the nation’s capital.

When looking back on 2019, not surprisingly, the first thing that the veteran MP mentions is the recent federal election campaign. “I’m grateful we did better in this last campaign but disappointed we didn’t win,” said Allison. One of the areas he feels the Conservatives could have made a better argument was climate change. “We didn’t do a good enough job talking about our environmental plan. The carbon tax is extremely punitive and hurts people on a fixed income.” Allison said a carbon tax is also out of touch with people in rural areas who have to drive to grocery stores and hockey arenas for example because they don’t have public transportation. He said the Liberals have no choice but to increase their carbon tax in a significant way if they want any hope of hitting the Parris Accord targets.

Dean Allison

Unsung heroes receive Christmas cheer

by Kevin Vallier

A few years ago local business owner Wolfgang Guembel started to realize that there were a lot of people in Niagara that go above and beyond every day helping others in the community and receive little to no recognition. He wanted to change that.
After some discussions and initial planning with business associates and friends, a Christmas Wish was born. This was the third year for the event. People in Niagara can nominate someone that has made a significant positive impact to their community. Once the organizers read through the applications a handful are selected to be recognized in a day of first class treatment.

Christmas Wish gather

Niagara hospitals get cash injection

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott was in Niagara earlier this week to announce a substantial funding boost to help local hospitals address infrastructure needs. Minister Elliott was joined by her colleague Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff and NDP MPP Jenny Stevens at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines site along with hospital executives, staff and board members who were all pleased to hear the minister say they would be receiving a little over $1.6 million for facility upgrades.

Sam Oosterhoff and Christine Elliott

Discipline helping Niagara North Stars win games

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s two minor midget AAA hockey clubs are having themselves solid seasons. Currently both are in the top three of the standings with the Southern Tier Admirals sitting comfortably in first place while the Niagara North Stars are in third. It’s an important year for the 15 year-olds as they hope to catch the eye of the scouts and get drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Both teams are now past the half way point in their respective seasons and for Niagara North’s head coach Matt Miller things have gone pretty much according to plan. “We’re right where I expected us to be. We’ve been playing extremely well,” said Miller.

tai york

Athletic drive leads to business success

by Kevin Vallier

It was recently announced that a local athletic apparel company was selected as the official merchandiser for the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games. It’s a big job, big responsibility and huge opportunity; Nothing new to RegattaSport.

The company’s founders and current owners Joe Camillo and Chris Cookson first thought of the idea of starting a company that sold rowing specific clothing more than three decades ago. The story dates back to 1987 when both Joe and Chris were rowing at the St. Catharines Rowing Club. That same year the pair tried out for Canada’s national rowing team and made it. They were actually in the same boat. It was at the world championships in Denmark where Joe first had the idea to start a company that would eventually turn into ReggaSport.

Joe Camillo and Chris Cookson

Sir Winston brings home cross country gold

by Kevin Vallier

There were nearly 300 high school student athletes braving the cold wind and the slippery snow covered trails in Sudbury at the recent Ontario high school (OFSAA) cross country championships. In the end, it was St. Cathairnes’ own Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs that captured the novice boys gold medal and the overall boys title while also showing a very strong performance on the girls side. The Bulldogs finished just one point away from the combined championship taking home silver.

novice boys champions

The human trafficking nightmare

by Kevin Vallier

It’s sickening. It’s real. It’s happening in our own backyard.

Human trafficking is a huge problem in Canada, Ontario and right here in Niagara. In fact, Niagara Regional Police Chief MacCulloch has created a special task force to deal with the problem. “While this issue is not singular to Niagara, we recognize that being a border community, human trafficking is a concern that has a direct and unique impact in our Region.” The Chief went on to say, “As part of the 2019 operating budget, we created a Human Trafficking Unit to further strengthen the assistance and support our investigators are able to give to victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

child with hand over their mouth

Niagara tourism heats up in winter months

by Kevin Vallier

Long gone are the days when Niagara tourist operators would roll up the carpets, turn the store signs to close, switch off the lights and come back in April to get ready for the next wave of summertime tourists. Today, and over the past number of years, tourists flock to Niagara by the millions even in the cold and snowy months. It’s something that local politicians and tourism sector leaders have been chipping away at for years.

festival of lights

College president’s career celebrated

by Kevin Vallier

You know you’ve left a positive impression well beyond the walls of your workplace when staff, students, alumni, family, friends and community leaders fill a performing arts centre to say thank you.
Hundreds of well-wishers gathered inside Partridge Hall at the St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre Friday night to wish soon-to-be-retired Niagara College president Dr. Dan Patterson a fond farewell and to thank him for his quarter century of service to not only the post-secondary institution he lead but also for his massive impact on the Niagara community in general.

Dan Patterson and the Niagara College Board of Governors

“Iconic” hotel to be added to Falls skyline

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls residents and city councillors got a detailed look at what is being called an “iconic and architecturally significant” hotel being proposed for the tourist city. The massive 72-storey building, which will also be home to residential units and commercial space, is slated to stand at 6609 Stanley Avenue near the Fallsview Casino area. The site is currently surrounded by other hotels, restaurants and shops.

niagara falls hotel rendering

Niagara manufacturer going global

by Kevin Vallier

About a year and a half ago Bob Benner, CEO of Niagara manufacturing company Hamill Machine Company Inc. was faced with a challenge. Business was going well but certainly could’ve been better. Benner’s company was always looking at ways to diversify and change with the times to stay relevant. A grocer had asked Benner if he had a machine that could cut the tops off of leafy greens and micro greens. No such product existed so Benner and his team invented one. It was a risky but wise move.

leafy greens and micro greens

Determined Marauders to battle fighting Irish for football title

by Kevin Vallier

Despite the lopsided score of the District School Board of Niagara’s senior boys’ championship football game Friday night, it wasn’t an easy win. It was a victory months in the making according to A.N. Myer head coach Dave Buchanan. “I don’t think it was anything Sir Winston did wrong, it’s just this group of players we have are completely motivated and focused,” Buchanan explained a couple of days after his Marauders beat the Bulldogs 52-0 in the final.

A.N. Myer senior boys’ football team

Niagara veteran urges residents to say “thank you”

by Kevin Vallier

Michael Blais would like to see Canadian military veterans thanked for their service more than one day a year. Blais is a veteran himself and the Niagara Falls resident says it’s important for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, or other mental illnesses as a result of their combat service, to receive a smile and a thank you from their fellow Canadians. “I always tell people to say thank you on more than one day a year. It takes two seconds to shake that man or woman’s hand and say thank you because it really does a make a difference,” he said.

Michael Blais

St. Catharines council slams door on business

by Kevin Vallier

After a passionate debate at St. Catharines city council earlier this week on whether or not to pass a reconsideration motion moved by councillor Karrie Porter that simply asked to reopen discussion on the subject of Community Improvement Plan incentives, particularly as it applied to the Harbour Club, a Port Dalhousie condo development, council ended up very divided on the issue.

In the end, council voted 8-5 in favour of Porter’s motion. However, the motion needed two-thirds majority, or 9 votes, in order to pass. Thus it was defeated.

st catharines council

Rogers Hometown Hockey skates into Welland

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara region is becoming a regular stop on Rogers Hometown Hockey as hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone arrive this weekend in Welland to share the Rose City’s numerous hockey stories with hockey fans from across the country. Hometown Hockey has made previous stops in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Welland is one of 25 selected communities across the nation to host the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour and is the sixth stop on the tour, which began Oct. 5, 2019, in Halton Hills and will wrap up in March in Edmonton.

Slone and Maclean

Mr. D gets honorary diploma

by Kevin Vallier

Vince DiCosimo receives his honorary diploma from Niagara College president Dan Patterson at last week’s convocation. Supplied photo. Vince DiCosimo, or “Mr. D” as he’s known to many, has spent the vast majority of his career helping build Niagara’s tourism sector. His most iconic achievement, the Hilton Fallsview, stands tall and proud overlooking Niagara Falls. […]

Vince DiCosimo

Is St. Catharines council biting the hand that feeds them?

by Kevin Vallier

In an attempt to clarify a mountain of misinformation and misunderstanding with regard to how a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant actually works, St. Catharines city councillor Karrie Porter will be bringing a motion forward to Monday night’s council meeting that would ask her colleagues to have further discussion on the Harbour Club development condo project taking place in Port Dalhousie where the former Lincoln Fabrics building exists.

harbour club

It’s status quo for Niagara governance… again

by Kevin Vallier

After months of repeating his frustration with the number of municipal politicians in Niagara premier Doug Ford has decided to change nothing when it comes to how the region of Niagara and the way its individual municipalities are governed.
During the summer months there were essentially two camps that surfaced when it came to a favoured new governance structure: a one-city model and a four-city model. Turns out neither group will get their way.

region map

It’s the economy…

by Kevin Vallier

Trevin Stratton, Chief Economist for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce will be in Niagara this Friday speaking to those in attendance at the annual Niagara Economic Summit. The Niagara Independent columnist will be discussing the state of the nation’s economy including some of the key challenges and opportunities.

bay street towers

Welland Canal was a game changer

by Kevin Vallier

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce is hosting their second annual Game Changers event and there’s no question this year’s topic truly was a game changer for Niagara – the Welland Canal.
A panel of experts will discuss the history and economic impact of the canal as well as its future on Oct. 29 at Taris on the Water in Welland. Known as an engineering marvel construction on the first canal, which began at Port Dalhousie and ran along the Twelve Mile Creek to Port Robinson, started in November of 1824.

canal lock 9

The rise of Chateau des Charmes

by Kevin Vallier

Paul Bosc Sr. arrived in Canada from France in the early 1960s. He settled in Montreal and took a job with the liquor board. A fifth-generation French winegrower, Bosc knew a thing or two about wines and it quickly became apparent that Canada did not produce good wine. “Canada didn’t really have professional winemakers,” said Bosc. Not even 30 years old at the time, Bosc was often giving advice on winemaking. “I was lucky they had problems because I could fix them. They thought I was a genius, I wasn’t,” he said with a laugh.

Paul Bosc Jr. with his father Paul Sr.

Becoming a Leafs captain

by Kevin Vallier

There was a lot of hype a few weeks ago as to who would be the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It consumed Toronto media and “Leafs Nation”. Eventually most hockey pundits were right in their prediction it would be veteran forward and former Islanders captain John Tavares who would skate onto the ice for the team’s home opener with the ‘C’ on his jersey.

Following Tavares’ first game as captain, a video showing the Leafs’ star forward walking into an office with GM Kyle Dubas was made public. They were met by team president Brendan Shanahan and Tavares’ wife and baby. It was a nice moment for Tavares, his family, the team and their fans and it was certainly different from how the captain was named in the past.

rick vaive on the ice

Role reversal – Volunteer to candidate and candidate to volunteer

by Kevin Vallier

It’s the start of another busy day of campaigning and the Honorable Rob Nicholson, the Member of Parliament who has served the Niagara Falls riding for over 24 years is having coffee and reminiscing with Tony Baldinelli, the Conservative candidate who is hoping to succeed his former boss to become the riding’s next MP.

“It’s really a full circle story,” said Nicholson. “When I was first elected in 1984, over 30 years ago, Tony supported me and volunteered on my campaigns, and even worked for me in Ottawa beginning in 1988; now here I am volunteering on his campaign all these years later.”

nicholson and baldinelli

Developer blind-sided by council decision

by Kevin Vallier

To say the recent decision by St. Catharines City Council to not approve a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant to the development company breathing new life into the old Lincoln Fabrics building in Port Dalhousie was a surprise, is an understatement. “We were completely blindsided,” said Sheldon Rosen, President of Port Dalhousie Harbour Club.

Rosen said since day one the team behind the project has worked well with city staff and have “checked all the boxes” when it comes to what was asked of them by the city. “We’ve spent a great deal of time and funds working with the city,” explained Rosen. He acknowledged that city staff has been great to work with but the recent council vote to not approve the CIP funds, despite a staff recommendation to allow it, has him and the team very frustrated. Last Monday council voted 7-5 against providing the funding, which would amount to about $3 million, despite the fact that the project met all of the criteria to receive the grant.

harbour club

Will St. Catharines elect first female MP?

by Kevin Vallier

She’s knocked on more than 40,000 doors trying to convince the residents of St. Catharines riding that she should be their next federal member of parliament. If that happens, Conservative candidate Krystina Waler would become the riding’s first federally elected female since the riding was formed in 1966.
“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Waler when asked about the potential of a groundbreaking victory on election night. She’s in a tight race with Liberal incumbent Chris Bittle.

Krystina Waler and Team

Two out of three stars ain’t bad

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara IceDogs lit the lamp eight times in front of a loud crowd at the Meridian Centre Friday night. The offensive explosion was lead by Philip Tomasino and Kyen Sopa who combined for a total of 11 points in an 8-4 victory. The IceDogs now sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2-1-1 record good enough for eight points.
Not only did Tomasino and Sopa earn post-game star honours but they were both recognized by the Ontario Hockey League for their offensive efforts with Tomasino earring the league’s first star of the week and Sopa earning second star.

Icedogs Sopa and Tomasino

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