Friday November 22, 2019
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“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. […]

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Craft beverage industry gets provincial support

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s craft wineries received some good news recently that will help stabilize the industry and allow wineries to plan for the upcoming year. Last week, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, was joined by MPP for Niagara West, Sam Oosterhoff to announce a one-year transition funding of over $15 million dollars. This investment will help small wineries, cideries and distilleries with key business decisions and planning while the government continues to conduct its review of the beverage alcohol sector.
While Ontario’s craft wineries, the vast majority of which are located throughout the Niagara region, continue to work with the government to try and eliminate what is essentially an import tax that is currently placed on wines produced in Ontario, this interim solution will help bridge the gap. The announcement gives the craft wine industry time and stability over the next year.

Ludzik Gala: Time to roast the host

by Kevin Vallier

For the past seven years former NHL player and coach Steve Ludzik has put coaches and teammates in the line of fire at his annual celebrity roast. It seems this year his hockey pals have decided it’s time for Ludzik to get a taste of his own medicine.
“I guess they want to see if I can take it,” said Ludzik who will be the centre of attention as NHL players, coaches and other celebs line up to take their best shots at the man they call Ludzy. “They just need to figure out what stories they want to tell or can tell,” he said with a laugh.

Chambers host binational business mixer

by Kevin Vallier

Ross Romano, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities was in Niagara this week holding a roundtable with local business owners. The Minister then attended the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce annual Niagara Networks Showcase. Minister Romano met with a select group of Niagara business owners to talk specifically about the labour shortage that Niagara businesses continue to wrestle with.
South Niagara Chamber CEO Dolores Fabiano said members and Chamber staff have been working on the issue for the better part of a year. “We’ve been working with the other Niagara Chambers and we’ve come up with some action items that we think will help and so we wanted to meet face-to-face with the Minister to share our thoughts and get his feedback.”

High school football kicks off

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a sure sign of fall. High school athletes are taking to the gridiron all across the region this week as high school football kicks off for another season.

The St. Paul Patriots look to repeat as Niagara Catholic Athletic Association (NCAA) senior boys champions while A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls looks to repeat as District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) champions.

New Niagara Falls hospital makes the list

by Kevin Vallier

While there have been doubts as to whether or not there will ever be a new south Niagara hospital built, a recent Infrastructure Ontario document titled P3 Market Update – Fall 2019 puts those doubts to rest.
The document lists a number of projects in the pre-procurement stage. Not surprisingly under the section titled “Hospitals and Other Social Facilities” the new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is listed. What came as a welcomed surprise to many was “Niagara Falls Hospital” also being listed in the document.

Police to get new command post

by Kevin Vallier

For the second year in a row Niagara Regional Police has received board approval to purchase a new vehicle that will assist in different emergency response situations. Last year the board approved the purchase of an armoured response vehicle. At last week’s Police Service’s board meeting, members approved the $4.15 million 2020 capital police budget that included $450,000 for a new mobile command centre.
Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale and Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson who sit on the police board voted against the purchase of the mobile command centre. That vote and the vote for the balance of the budget passed.

What it takes to be a Snowbird

by Kevin Vallier

As a young boy growing up in St. Catharines Blake McNaughton says he was fortunate to know exactly what he wanted to do as an adult. “I was very lucky in that at a very early age I knew I wanted to be a military pilot,” said Captain McNaughton.
He not only met that goal but flew right past it on his way to piloting Snowbird number 10 for one of the most famous military air demonstration teams in the world. After flying for the team for the past three years, McNaughton is now an instructor and while his colleagues were dazzling on-lookers over the Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake earlier this week, Captain McNaughton was back in Saskatchewan helping train the next crop of potential Snowbirds as the Flight Safety Officer.

A couple of weeks ago Caddle CEO and Niagara native Ransom Hawley received an email with some exciting news but he wasn’t allowed to share it until yesterday. Hawley was informed that his four-year old tech start-up was named by Canadian Business and Maclean’s to the 2019 Startup 50 ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies. Caddle was ranked 35th.
Caddle is like a 21st century focus group. It’s an app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. Essentially there are users on one side and brands on the other. The users take a few moments to watch a brand’s video, take a short survey or watch an ad. In return the user gets cash back and the brand gets critical market intelligence. “Almost everyone has a smartphone so it is a much faster and less expensive way for brands to collect market research data,” said Hawley.

Development charges: friend or foe

by Kevin Vallier

Depending on who you talk to it’s either a necessary charge applied fairly to cover growth related infrastructure costs or a form of tax on home buyers that has over time become completely out of whack with other economic indicators. Regardless, development charges are a hot topic.

There has always been misunderstanding, confusion and discussion about development charges (DCs) since they were enacted in the Development Charges Act of 1997.  Conversation has ramped up again with the province passing Bill 108 – More Homes, More Choice Act which addresses some of the issues with what some call the “housing tax”.

Feds pull through with summer games funds

by Kevin Vallier

The final piece of the funding puzzle has been put in place for the 2021 Canada Summer Games.
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; along with feral colleagues Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre and Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines; Doug Hamilton, Chairman of the 2021 Canada Games and a host of other politicians and dignitaries were at the Welland Flatwater Centre yesterday to announce funding for the construction of two new sports facilities, the rehabilitation of seven other sporting venues, and the purchase of new specialized sports equipment for two events, all of which will be used for the 2021 Canada Games.

The deadline for submission on a massive shipbuilding project – several new icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard – was Friday, Aug. 30 and while Shaun Padulo, president of Heddle Marine Services – which took over the Port Weller Dry Docks in Niagara in 2017 – was happy his company got his submission in, he’s still frustrated over the federal government’s procurement process.
Padulo, who became Heddle’s president last year, feels there are signs the process favours a Quebec shipyard over all others. He said he’s been watching the federal government’s procurement processes closely for a couple of years and there have been a few red flags that it may not be a fair process. One such red flag occurred when the industry was asked to bid on the construction of two new ferries. One of the ferries being replaced was originally built at Port Weller. The contract went to Davie shipyard in Quebec after the sizing of the vessel was changed at the last minute. The only shipyard that qualified after the size change was Davie.

Quirk cleared of any wrongdoing

by Kevin Vallier

Former regional councillor Tony Quirk has been completely cleared by auditors MNP of any wrongdoing when it comes to his campaign financial statements from the last municipal election. The exercise cost Niagara taxpayers about $11,000 according to sources.

Quirk’s finances were forced under the microscope when St. Catharines resident and executive director of A Better Niagara Ed Smith, filed a complaint to the Niagara compliance audit committee back in May. Smith alleged that Quirk’s auditor contributed more than is allowed by one individual to Quirk’s campaign. “Based on the analysis MNP concludes that the Candidate’s filing was appropriate and when specifically reviewing the issue related to the valuation of audit services, the value assumed by the Candidate was within a plausible range for the service,” reads MNP’s conclusion.

For the top minor midget AAA hockey players in Canada it’s a year like no other. Same goes for the head coaches of those teams. That’s because this is the year the kids have played their entire minor hockey careers for – their major junior draft year. For those playing in Ontario it’s their shot to take their hockey careers to the next level – the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
It’s a pressure packed year for the young players, parents and the coaching staff. Niagara North Stars’ minor midget AAA coach is no stranger to guiding young OHL and NHL hopefuls through their most important minor hockey season. Matt Miller has been there and done that. Miller, a Pickering native who now lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, played NCAA hockey before going behind the bench to pass along what he learned over the years as a player and from his former coaches.

From the locker room to the board room, Jessica Kemp and her younger brother Michael have had a tremendous amount of success. The siblings are extraordinary athletes, both attended U.S. colleges on athletic scholarships, Jessica for basketball and Michael for baseball (he would eventually transfer to Brock and play basketball for the Badgers). Both have followed in their parent’s footsteps off the court running a highly successful financial planning firm that bears the family name – Kemp Financial.
Jessica Kemp played basketball locally at A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls before heading across the river to continue her hoops on the hardwood at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She had a stellar career playing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) as a Purple Eagle. She excelled on the court and in the classroom earning an MBA along with her impressive on-court statistics. In fact, in recognition of her academic and athletic success at Niagara University her name will be added to the MAAC Honor Roll at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. on Sept. 14.

Regional Chair’s golf tournament another success

by Kevin Vallier

While Canada’s Brooke Henderson, one of the top female golfers in the world attempted to defend her Canadian Open title in Aurora, Ontario, weekend warriors were hoping to hit the odd fairway at the 22nd annual Niagara Regional Chair’s Charity Golf Tournament this past Friday at Niagara Parks’ Legends on the Niagara Golf Course in Niagara Falls. The tournament was another sellout and another huge success.
The tournament is an annual end of summer tradition on the charity golf circuit and over the two decades, it has raised about $2 million for a variety of local charities. This year proceeds from the tournament were principally directed to the Education Foundation and Hotel Dieu Shaver.

American visitors highest in over a decade

by Kevin Vallier

The number of American tourists coming to Canada is at the highest point in a little over a decade according to recent figures.

In a new study, Statistics Canada revealed that nearly 12.3 million trips were taken to Canada by Americans in the first six months of 2019. It’s the highest number of American trips that Canada has seen in the first half of a year since 2007. The study also found that two-thirds of the American travellers spent at least one night in Canada which is good news for everyone but particularly restaurants and hotels.

Dozens of Niagara’s municipal and regional politicians descended upon the nation’s capital earlier this week attending the annual Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference. It’s an opportunity for local political leaders and senior staff to shake hands and bend the ears of provincial and federal ministers, network with municipal colleagues and attend educational sessions on various topics from economics to policy development.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said that while the sessions are important and informative he finds the networking aspect a key to a productive conference. “The importance of networking and the exchanging of ideas is so important,” said Diodati. “You can roll up your sleeves, talk about important issues with no filters and have a very productive and useful conversation.”

Niagara’s housing market continues to heat up

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to pundits recent talk of a Canadian housing bubble about to burst or at least a coming large correction in the Canadian housing market, July home sales across Canada showed a substantial uptick. And according to the Niagara Association of Realtors, Niagara was a leader of this trend. Between July 2018 and July 2019 residential home sales across the peninsula jumped from 588 units to 715, an increase of 21.6 per cent.

Funding means go time for games

by Kevin Vallier

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod announces the province’s intent to fund the Canada Summer Games while board chair Doug Hamilton, board member Sandie Bellows and MPP Sam Oosterhoff look on. Let’s get started! That was the consistent message heard around Henley Island earlier today when Lisa MacLeod, the province’s Minister of Tourism, […]

Metrolinx announced yesterday that they will be expanding weekend GO train service in Niagara year-round. “Weekend Niagara GO train service is becoming a year-round thing, so people in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines have options 365 days a year. The schedules will be the same as they are today,” read the statement.
“More service options for commuters in Niagara will make taking the GO more reliable and give customers more choice when they plan their trips,” said Niagara’s only conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff.

All in the family

by Kevin Vallier

It was March 10, 1968. That’s when the Nitsopolous family moved to Toronto where they would begin a new life in Canada and a journey that would eventually take them to St. Catharines where they would become one of the most successful business families in the city’s history.
“In our third year in Toronto we bought a house and in our fourth year we bought a business,” explained Angelo Nitsopolous the third oldest of the five brothers that include from oldest to youngest; Chris, John, Jimmy and Peter. The business, as Angelo describes it, was a chicken burger joint. It would be a sign of things to come as the brothers would soon launch themselves into the restaurant and hotel industry in a city located down the QEW. It was a good start considering their father arrived with just $300 in his pocket.

Province to announce Summer Games funding tomorrow

by Kevin Vallier

Canada Summer games funding announcement expected tomorrow. It’s looking like it will be a happy Friday for those individuals leading the organizing of the 2021 Canada Summer Games to be held in Niagara. At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport is scheduled to make an announcement at the St. Catharines […]

Niagara Detention Centre to get specialized security team

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff was joined by Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in Throold this morning at the Niagara Detention Centre as they announced new Institutional Security Teams (ISTs). The specialized teams will be added at the Niagara Detention Centre and Toronto East Detention Centre.
“These new teams will keep our institutions and our frontline staff safe by gathering intelligence about criminal activity inside and outside our facilities,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Keeping gang activity, drugs and weapons out of our jails is critical to ensuring a safe work environment for the men and women who work on the front lines every day.”

Maclean’s magazine recently released their inaugural Canada’s Best Communities rankings and Grimsby finished second behind only Burlington. Niagara-on-the-Lake also made the top ten coming in at number eight.

First place finisher, Burlington, ranked in the top 25 per cent in six out of 10 categories Maclean’s measured. It was also selected as this year’s best place to raise a family.

Washuta never wasted an opportunity

by Kevin Vallier

What started out as a seasonal paving company has turned into one of the largest and most successful waste management companies in North America. Steve Washuta (who passed away in 2008) moved to Niagara from Saskatchewan in the middle of the twentieth century to join his family. There were four Washuta brothers in total (one of the brothers’ son Greg Washuta was a long-time St. Catharines city councillor) and Steve went to work for his older brothers at their sand and gravel operation. Then he rolled a company truck and his brothers promptly fired him.

“Bama Bound for Baseball

by Kevin Vallier

After having some time to reflect on one of the most stressful decisions any 17 year-old (he turns 18 this month) will have to make, Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati is all business and all baseball.
It was just last month when the strong power-hitting catcher had to decide between turning pro after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays or pursue his education while playing the game he loves. The Jays approached Diodati in the early rounds and made him an offer. The youngster had a number in mind and said the Jays weren’t far off which made the decision even tougher. “I had a number in my head. The Jays came really close to it and it made it a really tough choice but I want to go to school,” explained Diodati. He ended up still being drafted. “For the Jays to still draft me in the later rounds was pretty special. So much thought goes into draft day leading up to it and then I had about five minutes to make a life changing decision.”

Henley opens as two-year countdown to summer games begins

by Kevin Vallier

It was a perfect night to kick-off one of the biggest and most renowned regattas in North America and celebrate the two year-out anniversary until the launch of the 2021 Canada Summer Games.

A who’s who of Niagara politicians, athletes and business professionals gathered under the grandstand in Port Dalhousie for the dual celebration. After 11 year-old Ella Lambert sang a beautiful rendition of Oh Canada, emcee Rod Mawhood kept things moving as dignitaries and local politicians brought greetings and congratulations to the athletes in attendance.

A special addition to the evening’s agenda was the induction of the late Neil Campbell to the Rowing Canada Hall of Fame. Campbell, who coached numerous high school, club and Olympic crews was fondly remembered by two former members of the 1984 Olympic Games crew that won gold for Canada. 

Gold to be hidden in Hamilton

by Kevin Vallier

A real life treasure hunt is coming to Hamilton and Niagara adventure seekers are welcomed to participate.
GoldHunt, has already captivated residents of Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, the popular challenge has become so successful that organizers have expanded east and Hamilton will be one of the stops.
It’s a unique type of lottery where people purchase a map and begin their hunt for the $100,000 of real treasure, consisting of gold and silver coins hidden in the city.

So many students, so little housing

by Kevin Vallier

In some ways, it’s a good problem to have. Enrollment keeps climbing but all those students need a place to live. While Brad Clarke, Brock University’s Director of Student Life and Community Experience, is quick to point out the school is not in a “housing crunch” they are definitely looking to those in the community to open their doors to students.
Brock is even asking empty-nesters — or anyone with a surplus room or two — to consider renting it out to students.

It’s a game changer. That’s how the proposed massive development at Prudhomme’s Landing on the north side of the QEW in Vineland is being described as the project continues to move forward achieving another milestone last week. Town of Lincoln Council approved a zoning amendment and draft plan of subdivision agreement.
The purpose of a draft plan of subdivision is to develop land in an orderly manner by making sure that the proper infrastructure and municipal services will be in place. The lots may be developed individually, or as a group, and for a range of uses.

Niagara Parks ready for busiest weekend of the year

by Kevin Vallier

There’s a little something for everyone.
That’s the message Niagara Parks’ Chief Executive Officer David Adames would like tourists and locals to know about the numerous activities and attractions being offered this August long weekend by the Parks. “It’s very important for us to offer a variety of activities,” said Adames. He noted that there are different types of activities from passive trail walks, to arts and culture to more adventurous outings.

Gales Gas Bars is the latest Niagara business to become a certified living wage employer. More than 20 companies throughout the region are now certified and the list will no doubt continue to grow. The living wage for Niagara comes in at $17.99 per hour which is slightly below the average for Ontario according to Anne Coleman, campaign manager for the Ontario Living Wage Network. Windsor has the lowest calculated living wage at $15.15 and not surprisingly Toronto comes in at the highest point with a $21.75 per hour living wage. All wages are for a family of four.
There are three categories of a certified living wage company; Supporter, Leader and Champion. Gales is considered a Supporter which means they will be paying their full time employees a living wage with a commitment to pay their part time employees that same wage in the future.

A successful hire wire act

by Kevin Vallier

“You’re faced with two paths in life. One is nicely manicured with nice grass and flowers and easy to travel. The other is rocky, covered in broken branches and pot holes and takes a lot more work to walk down. If you take the easy path early on in life then you have to navigate the difficult path later on when you’re older, weaker and have less money. If you take the more challenging route in your younger years then you usually end up walking down a much more pleasant path in your later years.”
That’s the philosophy that Niagara businessman Larry Vaughan shares with his kids, his young employees and something he eventually figured out at a young age himself. My father told me, “What you learn once you get out of school, that’s most important,” said Vaughan. “My first day working for him, I brought my college diplomas and asked him where I should hang them.” His dad was quick to reply, “in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.”

It’s a simple message printed in white on a bright red t-shirt: Be Nice. But it’s resonated with tourists in Niagara Falls and now across Canada.
Hugh Hockton, owner of the Niagara River Trading Company came up with the idea of putting the two words on a t-shirt while south of the border. “I was down in Florida and I saw something with ‘Be Nice” and I thought what a great simple message. It’s Just a nice thing to say and do.”

Two models rise to top for governance change

by Kevin Vallier

As the provincial government awaits the highly anticipated report from its advisors, Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn, on how best to move forward with governance change in a number of regions across Ontario, including Niagara, it appears that two locally developed models of governance are getting most of the attention. The One Niagara NOW model, primarily supported by a St. Catharines group, has published a document and hired a lobbyist to state their case locally and at Queen’s Park. A similar effort is being made by a group that is championing a four city model. They too have published a document and have submitted their case to the advisors.
The four cities model calls for the elimination of the region leaving behind four merged cities: 1) Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake), 2) Welland (Welland, Port Colborne, Thorold), 3) St. Catharines and 4) West Niagara (Wainfleet, Pelham Lincoln, West Lincoln and Grimsby).

Gale Wood has seen it all before. The CAO/Secretary Treasurer (the “acting” has been removed from her title) is no stranger to the politics and constant push and pull from special interest groups trying to influence their local conservation authority. The biggest challenge she said is getting the public to understand what exactly a conservation authority does and doesn’t do.
“Most of the confusion relates to our role with flood plain hazards and natural heritage and what we can comment on in terms of development,” said the seasoned conservation authority leader. “People believe we have a greater ability to protect natural heritage.” Wood said people in the public think the NPCA should be providing comment on everything when in fact there are really just three specific areas of responsibility for a conservation authority.

Shut it down CBC

by Kevin Vallier

Canada’s public broadcaster should be ashamed of itself.
Word got out recently that the CBC was exploring the idea of doing a series about the horrific and brutal 1991 and 1992 killings of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. The man charged with those murders also admitted to raping more than a dozen other women between 1987 and 1990. His wife at the time, who, by all accounts, played a very significant role in those murders, and the killing of her own sister, is now enjoying her freedom and has been for several years. He continues to serve a life sentence for abduction, sexual assault and murder.

Birds of a Featherstone

by Kevin Vallier

How do you go from owning a specialty food store in Guelph to owning one of the most successful craft wineries in the province? It’s not as much of a stretch as you might think. But like any successful business story the road is paved with hard work, a bit of luck and good timing. Such is the case for Louise Engel and David Johnson co-owners of Featherstone Winery located in Vineland.
At the age of 21 Louise and husband David started a specialty food store in the 1980s. At that time red meat was taboo. So the young couple specialized in selling poultry. “If it had feathers, we sold it,” said Engel. They both grew up on farms and David’s education is in agriculture. Engel’s is in business. “The more we got interested in food the more we got interested in wine.”

Major manufacturing investment for Niagara College

by Kevin Vallier

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, along with Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre, announced a FedDev Ontario contribution of $14 million to Niagara College to expand the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI). Badawey made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for FedDev Ontario.
The $14-million investment will allow the network to grow to 10 partners, enhance its reach into the manufacturing community and support over 550 jobs.

Exceeding expectations. That’s how Welland Jackfish President and CEO Ryan Harrison would describe his ball team’s inaugural season in the Rose City. Well into the second half of their 36 game regular season schedule the Jackfish are an impressive 14-11 and sit in third place, five games back of first place Barrie Baycats.
“Our goal was to be 18 and 18 this season and knock on wood we should be above that at the end of the year,” said Harrison. This past weekend the Jackfish won two and lost one. “We had a big win against Guelph on Saturday as they are right behind us in the standings.”

Pop-up beer garden becomes permanent

by Kevin Vallier

Shoppers at the Pen Centre in St. Catharines can now grab a cold craft brew or glass of local wine while perusing the stores.
What began as a temporary pop-up kiosk has turned into a permanent beer garden located between the Ricki’s and Aldo stores. Back in October, Lock Street Brewery founder Wolfgang Guembel had the idea to try and bring his brews to the shoppers at the Pen Centre during Oktoberfest. The Lock Street Beer Garden was born and it was a success. It returned for the Black Friday weekend and then again for another 10 days over Christmas. “December was slamming every day from 10 a.m. to closing,” said Guembel.

The rise of schoolyard hoops

by Kevin Vallier

Ever since the Toronto Raptors captivated Canadians with the country’s first ever NBA championship reports of kids flocking to community and schoolyard basketball courts have surfaced from city to city. A prime example is right here in Niagara where on any given summer night there can be up to 50 kids shooting hoops at the outdoor courts located at A.N. Myer high school. Both boys and girls of all ages are reenacting Kawhi Leonard’s now famous buzzer beater against the 76ers in the playoffs or driving to the hoop like Kyle Lowery.
Opened on Oct. 27 in 2016, the Phil Mazzone Sports Complex is home to four beautiful outdoor courts that were already used on a regular basis by local kids since they opened. It was the first public school in Niagara to have such a facility. However, since the Raptors playoff run the number of young NBA hopefuls has increased dramatically and that’s a good thing according to Vito DiMartino who at the time the idea of the complex was being discussed headed up the high schools physical education department. He was one of the driving forces behind the planning and building of the courts.

One of the biggest surprises leading up to this October’s federal election was the news that long-time and highly respected MP Rob Nicholson was not going to seek re-election. The 67 year old Nicholson has represented the Niagara Falls riding for 25 years in a federal capacity as well as serving his local constituents as a municipal politician in between his two stints in federal office.
Not surprisingly a number of people stepped forward to throw their hat in the ring and seek the nomination. In the end members of the Niagara Falls Conservative riding association selected Tony Baldinelli to represent them during the fall election.

The making of a business leader

by Kevin Vallier

Starting next week The Niagara Independent will be running a new series taking an in-depth look at Niagara’s most successful business leaders. In one-on-one interviews with the most successful entrepreneurs in the region we will go back in time and explore their stories from the very beginnings and map out their journey to success.

While Niagara may not be home to the global headquarters of Fortune 500 companies it is home to some of the most fascinating and inspiring business success stories in the country. Stories about people taking massive risks, working extremely hard, catching a few breaks and in the end providing good paying jobs and benefits to thousands of Niagara residents. They also contribute millions to local charities.

Alexander George is quickly becoming one of the best fiddle players in the country and this summer he has been given a chance to return home to Niagara where he will play in the musical comedy Oh Canada Eh in Niagara Falls.

The 18 year-old Humber College music student grew up in St. Catharines before moving to Ottawa to attend Cantebury high school which is home to a specialized arts program. He’s thrilled to be back in Niagara for the summer doing something he loves; and getting paid to do it. “My first fiddle teacher called me out of the blue in February or March and told me there was an opportunity with Oh Canada Eh,” said George. He auditioned and got the gig. “I got lucky because these gigs don’t come around often.”

Niagara doctor has the heart for healing

by Kevin Vallier

It doesn’t take long to understand that Dr. Melanie Senechal was born to care for people.

The New Brunswick native arrived in Niagara in 2012 to become an emergency department physician with Niagara Health. She primarily works out of the St. Catharines site but also spends time caring for patients in Fort Erie once a week and since 2016 she’s been the medical director for the sexual assault and domestic violence care team.

Thank those who serve whenever you can

by Kevin Vallier

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a great race in Niagara-on-the-Lake known as the Niagara Ultra. I highly recommend it for any of the runners out there. It’s well organized, has a great route down the Niagara Parkway and back and you can select from a number of distances including 10km, half and full marathon and even a 50km distance.

This year had an added special touch. Upon crossing the finish line runners were handed a water bottle and their finisher’s medal by members of our Canadian Armed Forces. There were at least six of them, maybe a couple more. They were young, wore the uniform with pride and very gracious and humble.

Even during her time as Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission, Janice Thomson didn’t believe in a “tourism season”. She still holds that belief in her new role as President and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism. “We have four seasons of tourism and summer is the busiest of the four but Niagara Falls has plenty to offer tourists all year around,” she said.

Niagara Falls and its tourism operators are ready and willing to entertain the hundreds of thousands of tourists that will descend on Canada’s most famous address during this country’s birthday weekend. “There’s always a great mood on Canada Day weekend,” said Thomson who will attend Artistry by the Lake this weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake before heading down to the Falls and Clifton Hill to interact with tourists. “I love watching the kids’ expressions as they see the Falls for the first time or when they arrive on Clifton Hill and see all the great attractions.”

What will guide Niagara’s budget process?

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara regional government’s budget meeting of June 20 signaled a significant change in regional financial policy.
While politicians and the public were preoccupied with the compensation and benefits of Niagara’s 31 regional councillors, there was very little attention given to the potential 3.3 per cent pay increase for 3,600 regional employees as a result of a staff recommendation to switch from using the Core Consumer Price Index (CPIX) to what is known as a Municipal Price Index (MPI) for guidance when preparing the Region’s 2020 budget.

Former Brock Badgers men’s basketball head coach Charles Kissi is now head assistant coach with Raptors 905. It was a view that will be etched into his memory for the rest of his life. In an interview with The Niagara Independent, former Brock Badgers men’s basketball coach Charles Kissi, who is now the head assistant […]

Niagara residents can rest assured that bidding on tax-payer funded capital projects being constructed by the Region, local municipalities, school boards, hospitals and post-secondary institutions are open to all qualified bidders both union and non-union. Not so in many other regions around the province until recently and still not the case in Toronto.
In a move that has enraged non-union smaller and medium sized contractors, Toronto City Council voted 20-4 yesterday to opt-out of legislation that would allow the city to accept bids for construction projects from non-union companies. Canada’s largest city is now poised to be the only municipality in Ontario to have publicly funded projects built exclusively by a select group of labour unions.

Niagara business leaders to be honoured

by Kevin Vallier

Mishka Balsom, President & CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce at the 2018 Niagara Business Achievement Awards. Some very familiar names will be honoured at this year’s edition of the 16th Annual Niagara Business Achievement Awards put on by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. There are a number of successful small and […]

Paul Lemire and John Fillion aren’t going to give up on gathering 1,000 musicians together in one place to crank out some classic tunes.
Day of 1,000 Musicians returns to Niagara Falls for the second year on July 20, this time at the Gale Community Centre. Doors will open at 12 noon for the public and the concert is expected to wrap up around 7:30 p.m.

Niagara federal show down

by Kevin Vallier

Who will Niagara residents send to Ottawa in October? The four races are shaping up to be very interesting. The Liberal red wave of four years ago under Justin Trudeau that sent Chris Bittle and Vance Badawey to the nation’s capital has taken a significant hit while the Andrew Scheer led conservatives have surged in the polls, but Canadians have seen that gap close before as momentum swings are a weekly occurrence leading up to election day. The NDP continue to be a distant third but with Niagara going mostly orange in the provincial election; will that translate over federally?
The Niagara Independent takes a look at the four Niagara ridings and provides a preview of the candidates from the three main parties running in each.

Walking through the halls with outgoing Brock University vice president of administration Brian Hutchings two things quickly become clear. One is that people are shocked he’s leaving. The second is he will be missed.
From the cashier at the Tim Horton’s kiosk, to faculty and staff passing by in the halls, everyone commented on Brock’s recent announcement that Hutchings will be leaving the academic world and heading back to the sector from whence he came; the municipal world.

Oosterhoff reflects on one year in government

by Kevin Vallier

There’s no question west Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff has had an interesting first year as a member of the governing party. There have been some highlights and some controversial moments but overall he continues to have the same enthusiasm and passion for the job.
Oosterhoff pointed to seeing many of his local priorities moving forward as some of the accomplishments he’s most proud of. Number one is the announcement to build a new hospital in West Lincoln, something that was promised and cancelled a number of times by the previous Liberal government. “I was born at that hospital, so to stand next to the premier and make the announcement at West Lincoln was very meaningful to me personally,” said Oosterhoff. “The government has made this project a priority.”

It’s been a long time coming.
There were many people in St. Catharines who thought they’d never see the day when a condo sales office in Port Dalhousie would actually open for business, welcome potential customers and sell units. But this past weekend the development known as Harbour Club launched its sales centre, known as the “Sails Pavilion” with a frenzy of interest.
By all accounts it was a successful opening with 40 units sold (out of 120) at an average price of $827,000. According to spokesperson Kate Carnegie, the majority of people are buying the two bedroom plus den units that are between 900 and 1,150 square feet.

Trades strike province wide

by Kevin Vallier

Members of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association walked off the job earlier this month when contract negations with Ontario General Contractors Association broke down. This week bus loads of sheet metal union members made the trek to picket in Niagara as part of what the union is calling their “solidarity bus tour”. About 4,000 sheet metal workers are on strike across Ontario.
Also on strike province-wide are Ontario’s plumbers and pipefitters. It’s the first time in 30 years that the sector has walked off the job. They’ve been on strike for a week while the sheet metal workers walked off the job more than a month ago.

Just a few months ago the first Airbus H145 helicopter to be delivered in Canada arrived at the RCMP’s base at Langley airport in Metro Vancouver. Why is that news in Niagara? Well because the state-of-the-art helicopter that allows the RCMP to support day and night operations over land and water, and conduct fast roping and hoisting, medical evacuations and search and rescue operations was manufactured, assembled and painted in Fort Erie.
While Airbus is a global company with offices in almost every country around the world most people in Niagara don’t realize that the Canadian headquarters is located in Fort Erie, employs nearly 300 people and is celebrating 35 years of operations.

He was a man on a mission. Five years ago Steve Ludzik started what has become a trio of fundraisers to help those in Niagara who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. His celebrity roast is one of the must attend annual fundraisers in the region, a golf ball drop at Eagle Valley Golf Course was added to the mix and of course there is the annual Steve Ludzik Golf Tournament.
The tournament itself has raised more than $140,000 in just five years. Proceeds support the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehab.

High school track and field championships

by Kevin Vallier

The crack of the starter’s pistol is quickly followed by the thundering sound of high school track stars racing towards the finish line while family, teammates and coaches scream encouragement from the sidelines.
Yesterday and today more than 1,200 student athletes representing high schools from Brampton and Georgetown all the way around to Fort Erie descended on St. Catharines to compete in the South Region finals and a chance to represent themselves and their school in Guelph next week at the Ontario high school track and field championships.

It’s a disconnected, inconsistent and complicated system for patients and family members to navigate and understand. That is the reason the provincial government announced this week their intention to create a mental health and addictions centre of excellence for Ontario.
Called the Foundations for Promoting and Protecting Mental Health and Addictions Services Act, the legislation, if passed, will set up a provincial body that will coordinate mental health and addiction services, set care standards and deliver a better and more consistent patient experience.

Fort Erie live racing begins today

by Kevin Vallier

Flashy Margaritta with jockey Kirk Johnson won the first race of the 2018 season. Supplied photo/Michael Burns It’s just a matter of hours until the thunder of thoroughbred hoofs power through the dirt oval as Fort Erie Race Track kicks off its live racing season today with the first post time at 4:20 p.m. In […]

Niagara youth to design Summer Games mascot

by Kevin Vallier

They were loud, enthusiastic and united.
About 200 kids from five different Niagara elementary schools filled a conference room at White Oakes Resort and Spa yesterday morning to learn how they can potentially be the one who names and/or designs the mascot for the upcoming Canada Summer Games 2021 to be held in Niagara.
The information session quickly turned into a Summer Games pep rally with emcee Bawe Nsame whipping the crowed into a frenzy. Students and teachers alike chanted, clapped and cheered their way through the session.

Once, and for all – Canada Summer Games prep begins

by Kevin Vallier

Regional Chair Jim Bradley along with 2021 Canada Summer Games Host Society Chair Doug Hamilton provided an update to about 100 people including elected officials and key stakeholders on the status of the Games Niagara will host in two years.
The message was clear – work is well underway and there’s a lot to be done but everyone must work together.
While the Host Society anxiously awaits funding announcements from provincial and federal governments, Games’ organizers continue to make headway on a number of fronts including infrastructure opportunities, legacy venues, the massive volunteer program, the brand, advocacy, cultural events and opening and closing ceremonies.

There are two prevailing theories on which way the Ontario government is going to go with governance restructuring in Niagara – four cities or one mega city.
The one city option has been discussed on and off for decades and is once again being trumpeted by a primarily St. Catharines based business group called One Niagara Now.
The Niagara Independent reached out to all of Niagara’s mayors for comment on which, if any, of the two popular governance models they prefer. Opinions varied with the common theme of wanting to maintain their individual communities and identities. The vast majority of Niagara’s mayors said they are against a one city model.

Finance Minister speaks to South Niagara business leaders

by Kevin Vallier

It was a packed house at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse last night as many of Niagara’s business leaders and elected officials were on hand to hear provincial Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli discuss the province’s recent budget.

The event, organized by the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce, was, not surprisingly, very well attended as it’s not often business owners get to hear directly from the person in charge of the province’s finances.

Dogs for sale?

by Kevin Vallier

It’s been a tough 24 hours for the Niagara’s Ontario Hockey League franchise the Niagara IceDogs.

First, a Superior Court judge ordered a lawsuit unsealed that revealed a not-so-pretty picture of player recruitment and infighting amongst current ownership, former players and head coach. The lawsuit filed by former IceDogs player and Chicago native Zach Wilkie dealt with a secret side deal that Wilkie says was made prior to his agreeing to sign with the IceDogs. The deal would have provided money to cover his full university costs. The Icedogs ended up balking at the deal at the end of Wilkie’s OHL career telling him he had to take it up with the Sudbury Wolves, the team Wilkie was traded to from Niagara.

In addition to the legal mess and public embarrassment, word broke last night that a local group is making a pitch to buy Niagara’s OHL team from the current owners, Bill and Denise Burke.

Sticks to bricks

by Kevin Vallier

Signing a professional contract to play hockey in North America doesn’t necessarily mean huge pay cheques, fancy cars and massive mansions. In fact, for the majority of professional hockey players their entire careers are short lived and spent mostly in the minor leagues like the American Hockey League (AHL) or East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).

As a player’s time in professional hockey reaches the end of the line they are usually still young, somewhere in their late twenties or earl thirties. They need to think about transitioning into their next career and that can be stressful. After being a star on the team for many years and feeling very comfortable doing what they’ve always done, it can be humbling searching for a new job.

Two decades of providing power

by Kevin Vallier

They produce half of all the energy generated in Ontario. They have a significant footprint in Niagara and Ontario Power Generation (OPG), under the leadership of its new President and Chief Executive Officer, Ken Hartwick, now sets its sites on their next 20 years.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of OPG. The energy producer was established in April, 1999 under the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris as a precursor to deregulation of the province’s electricity market. While the production, distribution and cost of energy in Ontario has consistently generated attention, particularly around election time, OPG has quietly gone about its business expanding an innovating to provide the lowest cost energy in Ontario.

“We want to be seen as a valuable company in Ontario and we take a lot of pride in not only providing low cost energy but being good partners in the communities we operate in,” said Jessica Polak, OPG’s Vice-President of Operations for Niagara.

St. Catharines pursues world rowing championship

by Kevin Vallier

The dedicated group of rowing enthusiasts that year-after-year maintain the rowing course and facilities at Henley Island in St. Catharines, organize regattas and continuously promote the sport are once again aiming to host the rowing world.
While the initial target year to host a world event was 2020 the group now has their sights set on the World Rowing Championships of 2024. Regional councillor and long-time rowing volunteer Tim Rigby said the St. Catharines group that was working on the bid for the 2020 championships realized there were just too many roadblocks getting in the way of their bid submission. Rigby said the main hurdle was a strict financial piece that FISA (the governing body for world rowing) had in place at the time.

The future arrives today

by Kevin Vallier

It’s the most anticipated arrival of any Blue Jay in the team’s history.
After Wednesday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, Jays’ skipper Charlie Montoyo finally announced what Toronto baseball fans have been waiting to hear for a long time… their most prized prospect, the number one prospect in all of baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is being called up to the show.
It’s being called V-day. Ticket sales and media interest spiked both in Canada and south of the border when news broke of Vladdy’s call-up. Guerrero’s Buffalo Bisons teammate and highly ranked prospect in his own right, Bo Bichette, tweeted out Wednesday night, “You’ve become like a brother to me and I can’t wait to watch you play. Wayyyyyy overdue. Yo te amo.”

“We’re like the race horse chomping at the bit ready to get out of the gate.”
That’s how Hornblower Niagara Cruises vice president and general manager, Mory DiMaurizio describes how he and his team feel at this time of year. Eager to launch their world famous vessels and anxiously awaiting the ice to melt or move down river, Hornblower Niagara is excited about the upcoming tourism season. “Everyone just wants to get going,” said DiMaurizio.
Hornblower arrived in Niagara in 2014 and officially launched on May 15 following a change in operators after the Maid of the Mist boats cruised up and down the Niagara River for decades. Current regional councillor Bob Gale was on the Niagara Parks Commission Board at the time and questioned why the Maid of the Mist operation seemed to be automatically renewed as the service provider every year. Gale pushed for an open bidding process which Hornblower won. The transition ended up being very favourable to the Parks Commission saving them at least $300 million.

The economic transformation of Welland

by Kevin Vallier

They changed their approach and the results are impressive.
The City of Welland has undergone an economic transformation in the past few years. Once seen as an economically depressed and struggling community, the Rose City has pulled up its boot straps, changed its approach to business and is now a leader in economic activity.
“We’ve been fortunate to attract a lot of private sector investment,” said Welland’s Chief Administrative Officer Gary Long. The city had $9.2 million in land sales in 2018 for both industrial and residential development and Long says the demand is still high.

Krystina Waler and April Jeffs have been paying close attention to the SNC-Lavallin scandal that has consumed much of the Canadian media’s and public’s attention over the past few months. Both women are running for the Conservative Party of Canada in the upcoming federal election, Waler in St. Catharines and Jeffs in Niagara Centre. Both women don’t like what they’ve seen from the Prime Minister and are sympathetic to their female colleagues even though they carry the flag of a different political party.
Scandals, of varying degrees, in Ottawa certainly aren’t new and have involved every political party at one time or another. They also tend to fade fairly quickly like a cheap pair of blue jeans put through the wash machine one too many times. SNC-Lavallin however has the real potential of not going anywhere fast.

Niagara’s casinos will be on level playing field

by Kevin Vallier

The two casinos in Niagara Falls will soon be operated by an American company, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, and now thanks to a recent decision by the Ontario PC government, they will be able to do one thing their American casino counterparts have done for years, serve free alcohol to patrons.
“The cornerstone of putting people first is consumer choice and convenience,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said when presenting his government’s budget last week. “This is why our government is taking steps to modernize the way we sell, distribute and consume alcohol in Ontario.”
Part of the selling, distributing and consuming alcohol in Ontario mandate is to allow the province’s casinos to advertise free alcohol, something U.S. casinos have done for decades.

Nicholson says goodbye to politics

by Kevin Vallier

It’s one of the most impressive careers any Canadian has had in federal politics and now it’s time to step aside says Niagara Falls Conservative member of Parliament Rob Nicholson. After serving his constituents as their Ottawa representative for 24 years as well as serving all Canadians in his roles as a federal minister (including justice, defence and foreign affairs), Nicholson wants to spend more time with his family.
The father of three served under three prime ministers during his time as a conservative MP. He also spent six years as a Niagara regional councillor. “I’ve had a good run at it,” said Nicholson in an interview Wednesday with The Niagara Independent. “Serving over three decades in public office only works if you have the full support of your family as well as having a great staff,” explained the Conservative MP. “If you’re family doesn’t support you in this line of work, you won’t make it,” he said.

Chair acknowledges past successes

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s Regional Chair Jim Bradley highlighted numerous successes of the past Regional Council during his first state-of-the-region address last week, hosted by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and held at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. With decades of political experience under his belt, the former Liberal MPP knows when to be diplomatic and when to turn the page on the past. Instead of beating the proverbial dead horse of hiring practices and lawsuits that some councillors still want to drag out, Bradley chose to give credit where credit is due by acknowledging the work of past council during his remarks to Niagara’s business and public sector leaders in attendance.
Using terms like “teamwork”, “shared vision” and “spirit of cooperation” early in his speech was about as close as the Chairman would come to addressing the past council’s negative press. He then quickly moved on to praising Niagara’s business community for “providing the jobs and economic opportunities needed to keep the region both strong and vibrant.”

He’s witnessed first-hand the enormous impact an organ donation and successful transplantation can have on a family. As a kid Hari Vasan spent a lot of time in hospitals. His father was sick and urgently needed a new kidney. “My father was on dialysis for years,” said Vasan. He recalls his basement being full of dialysis supplies when his father was receiving peritoneal dialysis from home. “He was self employed as a lawyer so having to receive dialysis several times a week for a few hours a time made it very difficult to have a career and support a family.”
Then the phone rang. “I can still remember getting that call,” recalled Vasan. The phone call was to say they had found a donor and that the elder Vasan was going to receive a life-saving kidney that would give him a quality of life he hadn’t had in years. The kidney came from someone who had passed away and decided to donate their organs. “We will be forever grateful to that person.”

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce, consisting of Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie and Port Colborne, along with the west Niagara Chambers of Commerce and the Niagara Centre Board of Trade have recently released a survey on the topic of governance review. The group totals about 4,000 Niagara businesses. This is the latest in several surveys available for residents of Niagara to participate in, however, it’s the first survey primarily focused on what business owners would like to see as a result of a governance shake up. The province, Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) and various municipalities have all completed or have surveys currently available for the public to complete.
The GNCC survey results are in and are now posted on their website. Their findings indicate that overwhelmingly Niagara residents feel a strong desire for governance reform (76% in favour), fewer politicians and faster decision making. Although some have tried to make the argument that more elected officials is a good thing for democracy and provides greater access to elected representatives, those who take the GNCC survey clearly stated that access to their councilor was not a priority in the least.

Niagara Independent contributor, Mark Towhey, will be joining Postmedia and specifically Sun News as Editor-in-Chief. He’ll replace Jamie Wallace who left the role in January. From the inception of The Niagara Independent, Towhey has been a valuable contributor providing columns and commentary on social and political issues including: the Police Services Act, the Province’s sex-ed curriculum, the opioid crisis and gun control.
Former Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker has been added to The Niagara Independent roster of contributors to fill Towhey’s void. Ecker will be writing on provincial issues and brings a wealth of knowledge on the most important issues facing Ontario.

It’s called The Harbour Club and the Port Dalhousie condo development is now starting to set sail.

The sales pavilion won’t open for another few weeks but the interest in what was the Lincoln Fabrics building, but soon to be high-end condos, has grown consistently since the project was first announced. Now that the development has essentially received the blessings needed by city staff and council to move forward and get a shovel in the ground, those involved with The Harbour Club say that word is spreading beyond Niagara’s borders.

“Interest is coming in from around Ontario and in particular the greater Toronto area,” said Sheldon Rosen, President of The Harbour Club project. Rosen said that initially awareness of the project was limited to local residents but since receiving more media coverage and an increase in marketing, people well beyond Niagara are taking notice. “Word has spread that Port Dalhousie is back and interest is 50-50 from within Niagara and outside of the region,” said Rosen.

Province’s wine industry needs fair shake

by Kevin Vallier

In speaking with a number of wine industry leaders and combing through numerous studies, financial analyses and reports one thing is clear; Ontario’s craft wine industry is at a crossroads and the Ford government needs to make sure they choose the right road when making changes to legislation regarding alcohol sales in Ontario.
Simply putting booze in big box stores isn’t going to help. In fact it will do more harm than good when it comes to craft wineries. While many Ontarian’s, particularly in Niagara, fancy themselves sophisticated wine connoisseurs the fact of the matter is more often than not they will reach for $9.99 import bottle instead of the $14.99 VQA offering.

Some people are just born leaders. They don’t want anything handed to them and they earn every opportunity they get. Then, once they achieve some well earned early success, their first thought is, “how can I give back?” That’s Caroline Sherk and at age 24 she’s the youngest person ever to Chair a United Way campaign in Niagara. Add to that, the St. Catharines native and Brock graduate is the first to chair a campaign under the newly amalgamated United Way Niagara model that in 2018 saw St. Catharines, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls United Ways come together to operate as one organization under the leadership of Executive Director Frances Hallworth.

The Niagara Parks Commission, now lead by new Chair, Sandie Bellows, and vice-chair, April Jeffs can add CEO David Adames, to its leadership team. Adames becomes just the 12th CEO to serve in the Commission’s top administrative position since its inception in 1885.
The organization’s new leader is not new to the Niagara Parks however. He joined the organization in 2013, as Senior Director of Business Development. Adames then assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer in 2016 and Acting CEO in October 2018.

Wineries press for more retail options

by Kevin Vallier

With the current provincial government set to make significant changes on how alcohol is sold in Ontario, The Niagara Independent is examining the challenges and opportunities facing Ontario’s wine industry and what type of impact the potential changes could have on this province’s wine makers.
Ontario’s craft wineries are excited about the province’s promise to expand retail options for wine sales in Ontario. It seems like a natural win-win but depending on how the proposed expansion ends up being structured it could be boon or bust for Ontario’s small and medium sized wineries. For decades now the craft wineries in Niagara and across the province have advocated to expand wine retailing to privately owned and operated businesses.

Ian Hamilton, President and CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority was in Niagara Wednesday speaking to politicians from across the region about intermodal transportation and how the city of Hamilton has leveraged their port for the benefit of an entire municipality.
The event, entitled, Building Niagara, was born five years ago as a result of the realization that there really wasn’t a time when Niagara’s politicians at all levels of government got together to discuss issues of the day. “We would get feedback from our municipal politicians after they returned from the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) conference that they would say to each other how great it is to get together and so we thought why not have an annual event that allows that to happen right here in Niagara,” said Dolores Fabiano, Executive Director of the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce. The Chambers, along with lead sponsor, The Niagara Industrial Association hosted the event. About 65 politicians were in attendance for this year’s talk.

The provincial government has announced additional funding to help ensure long-term sustainability of Ontario’s horse racing industry.
The Ford government will provide $10 million a year to support programs for breeders and horsepeople through the Horse Improvement Program (HIP). This will support breeding and industry development for Ontario-bred horses and will be administered by Ontario Racing, replacing the Enhanced Horse Improvement Program previously administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Medical students want to learn in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

There was a time when trying to get a medical student to come to Niagara to receive clinical training was nearly impossible. Rundown and outdated hospitals, uncertain healthcare restructuring and no formal affiliation with any medical school made clinical teaching within the walls of a Niagara hospital seem like a pipe dream. Times have changed.
Today, the Niagara Health System averages just over 1,900 clinical and clinical support student placements a year and those students come from a whopping 96 different post-secondary institutions. More than sixty are Ontario schools, 18 are Canadian colleges and universities from outside of the province and 11 are American. Of the 1,900 students, 1,700 are clinical students with the remainder being students studying in support areas like bio-medical engineering, health information management, human resources or business. Nursing accounts for the highest number of clinical placements.

Taxing times for Ontario’s wine industry

by Kevin Vallier

They don’t want special treatment. They just want fair treatment.

That’s the message the Ontario Craft Wineries are hammering home to the Ford government as the province explores ways to expand the sale of alcohol across Ontario. Yes, the association that represents small and medium sized VQA wineries throughout the province have ideas and recommendations about alcohol sale expansion but the more pressing concern is the archaic tax system under which they are forced to operate. It’s a system that when explained to people outside of the industry it usually elicits a jaw dropping, eyes widening response of, “that’s ridiculous!”

Essentially there are two different models of taxation that Ontario wineries face; one for when they sell product into the U.S. market and one for Ontario sales. The U.S. system is a three-tier distribution system where Ontario wineries must use a U.S. importer at which point they face a 35% markup (tax), then the product goes through a U.S. distributor where the wine faces another 35% markup and finally it ends up in a retail space where it gets slapped with another 35% tax for a total of a 100% markup.

Building her career

by Kevin Vallier

Even in 2019 the construction industry is dominated by men but that isn’t stopping Jessica Garrett from pursuing her dream of one day having a very rewarding career in the field.
The Niagara College third-year Construction Engineering Technology student was recently awarded the College’s first Women in Construction Faculty Award. Established through the generosity of Welland resident Jan Erion, the award is a $500 donation toward a student’s tuition, designated specifically for a female student in one of the College’s construction programs.

Niagara-on-the-Lake leaders lauded

by Kevin Vallier

There’s probably only one thing that could top being awarded Citizen of the Year and that would be having your daughter follow your acceptance speech with her own heartfelt words of thanks, congratulations and gratitude for what you mean to her. That’s exactly what happened to local businessman Rainer Hummel recently as he was presented the prestigious annual award from Lord Mayor Betty Disero and then fought back tears as his daughter, Raiana Schwenker, a successful businesswoman in her own right, praised her dad.
Disero mentioned in her remarks how often Hummel has acted as a mentor for Niagara-on-the-Lake businesses. Hummel’s own path to business success has been paved with hard work, strong values and relentless pursuit of excellence.

Olympic hopefuls will be put to the test in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Young athletes from around the region who have aspirations of being an Olympian, will be put to the test this weekend as Brock University plays host to an Olympic combine talent search.
The first stop for RBC Training Ground in Ontario will be tomorrow at the university’s Sports Performance Centre.
Training Ground aims to provide amateur athletes a chance to compete in Canada’s Olympic pool. It’s the third time the combine will be held in Niagara.

There’s no doubt that most people in Niagara recognize that the tourism industry has an impact on the local economy but they probably don’t know the extent.
A new report from Niagara Economic Development has dug into the numbers and the numbers are big. In a first-of-it- kind report, titled Niagara Tourism Profile, it states that tourists visiting Niagara pumped $2.4 billion into the local economy. According to the region, the report, which uses data compiled in collaboration with Statistics Canada, is the first to provide a comprehensive understanding of the tourism industry’s contribution to Niagara’s economy.

The future of Ontario’s wine industry is at a crossroads. Changes are coming and depending on what those changes are, small and medium sized wineries in Ontario (the vast majority of which are in Niagara) could either flourish or potentially flounder.
The Niagara Independent will examine what’s at stake for the province’s wine industry over a series of articles that will examine the current tax structure on wine, location of product sales, the importing of foreign wines and comparing the regulatory burden on the wine industry versus the cannabis industry.
In the Niagara peninsula alone, the wine industry has a nearly $4 billion economic impact according to the latest studies. There are nearly 100 wineries just in Niagara and the number of wine related tourists that visit Niagara is over two million a year. Province-wide the wine industry is responsible for about 18,000 jobs totalling $870 million in wages. It’s big business.

The show must go on says Ludzik

by Kevin Vallier

Steve Ludzik is in yet another battle. The former NHL player and coach has been in as many battles off the ice as he as on it. It’s no secret that “Ludzy” as many affectionately know him, has battled health issues for decades. First it was Crohn’s disease which almost ended his hockey career while still playing junior. Then Ludzik was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease as an adult. Now he is in need of a liver transplant after being diagnosed two weeks ago with primary sclerosing cholangitis – the same disease that ultimately took the life of Walter “Sweetness” Payton, the legendary Chicago Bears running back.

Over the past few weeks there had been rumours about Ludzik’s health as it was apparent from his physical appearance something was wrong. “I don’t see why I should keep it a secret,” Ludzik told The Niagara Independent. “People start to guess; Is it cancer? Is alcoholism?”

Ontario embarks on new era of healthcare

by Kevin Vallier

In a much-anticipated announcement, Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, laid out the government’s plan to make some significant changes to how healthcare is run in this province.
The Ford government has said all along that it wants to “end hallway medicine” in Ontario but until this week they had not put forth a detailed plan on how they would go about that. In the absence of details, the NDP filled the airwaves with speculation about privatisation and cuts. What Minister Elliott announced in fact, was a plan to bolster the use of technology, reduce bureaucracy by winding down and eventually eliminating the Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN), and bringing several existing (Ontario currently has a large network of provincial and regional agencies, clinical oversight bodies and 1,800 health service provider organizations) provincial healthcare programs under one roof called Ontario Health. One of those existing agencies that the ministry looked at as a very successful model to emulate is Cancer Care Ontario. “It’s a great example of what is working. Cancer Care Ontario is world class,” said Elliott.

Hope for Port Dalhousie condo project

by Kevin Vallier

There is renewed optimism amongst many residents now that one of the most respected business owners and residents in Niagara, Tom Rankin, has purchased the site in Port Dalhousie that has failed to see a proposed condo development become a reality for well over a decade.
The original developers proposed a 20-storey glass tower condo in 2004. That proposal faced opposition from local residents and was eventually shot down by the city council of the day. Fortress Union Waterfront purchased the property in 2015 and proposed a mixed-use 14-storey building. St. Catharines city council was awaiting a staff recommendation on that proposal when it was announced that the project yet again came to a grinding halt as Fortress went into receivership last year.

Brock University will be sending both its men’s and women’s curling teams east to the national championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick with impressive performances this past weekend at the Ontario finals.
“I’m very proud of our Varsity men and women for working so hard all year and achieving the goal of medalling at OUAs and reaching USport Nationals. Our entire curling program, from our developmental teams to our coaching staff and support people, share in our success,” said head coach Murray Etherington.

Niagara Falls Craft Distillers is banking on a very successful future. Part of that success is built on their recognition of the areas rich past. It’s a history the company ties into each product be it vodka, whiskey, rum or gin.
Established in 2017 under the leadership and vision of local businessman and Niagara native Chris Jeffries, the distillery has had some good success in a short time period. Niagara, once known solely for its wineries and vineyards, is now making a name for itself in the craft beer and spirits markets as well. Jeffries, who owns the Syndicate restaurant in Niagara Falls where he has been brewing craft beer for over a decade, decided to take the leap into the spirits market.

Crossing the line – councillors fed up with leaks

by Kevin Vallier

Many of Niagara’s regional councillors have had enough of confidential information being leaked to the public. The latest in a string of such code of conduct violations occurred this past summer. It was reported this week that someone secretly recorded the deliberations in a closed-session meeting last July then handed the recording to a local reporter, a clear violation of the council’s Code of Conduct (referenced at the bottom of this article).
Regional council members The Niagara Independent spoke with expressed frustration, anger and disappointment with the fact that one of their colleagues secretly recorded in-camera conversations.

Since opening its doors in 2011, the Scotiabank Convention Centre the 280,000 square foot facility continues to accomplish what it supporters hoped it would. The Centre, located across from the Fallsview Casino doesn’t receive a lot of publicity but that doesn’t mean things aren’t busy.
“Most of what happens inside these walls is business to business conventions and conferences and therefore they aren’t marketing to the public so people may have this impression that there isn’t much going on because they only hear about concerts or things like Comic Con,” said Noel Buckley, the Centre’s president and general manager. In fact about 70 per cent of the Centre’s revenue comes from the business to business conferences, conventions and trade-shows.

D’Angelo did not resign

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to news reports and memos from the Region last week, the Region’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo has not resigned.
D’Angelo, who was hired as the Region’s CAO in October of 2016, never did resign contrary to the numerous media reports and social media posts. D’Angelo’s hiring is a focus of a current provincial Ombudsman’s investigation which should wrap up later this month.

It was a busy end to the week as two high profile provincial cabinet ministers were in St. Catharines to make funding announcements. First, the province’s Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton joined St. Catharines federal MP Chris Bittle to announce up to $400,000 to fund the replacement of 12 diesel engines for the St. Catharines transit bus fleet.
McNaughton then hustled over to Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre where he joined his cabinet colleague and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott to reaffirm that their government will indeed follow through with a half million dollar planning grant that originally was a campaign promise made by the then governing Liberals leading up to the provincial election. The actual cash was welcome news as past Liberal campaign promises, like a new hospital in Niagara Falls, which was announced by the Liberals twice during the past two provincial campaigns but never came to fruition.

Brock transforms Goodman Business School

by Kevin Vallier

The Goodman School of Business at Brock University has been transformed. At a ribbon cutting on Friday, university officials, students and dignitaries gathered inside the bright, modern facility to officially open the new digs.
The Canadian business school market is highly competitive with many well established schools like Ivey at the University of Western Ontario, Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and York University’s Schulich School of Business to name just a few. Brock is hoping that the $24 million project, which includes 79,000 square feet of new and renovated space, will give Goodman the push it needs to compete nationally and internationally with the big business school players that have been around much longer.

Summer games leadership heads west

by Kevin Vallier

In just two weeks from today Red Deer, Alberta will kick-off the 2019 Canada Winter Games. At those games will be a contingent of Niagara representatives observing, asking questions and taking note of how to successfully run a national sporting event.
Doug Hamilton, chair of the 2021 Host Society Board of Directors, says there will be three groups heading to Red Deer at three different times. Ten Niagara representatives will be making the trip west in two weeks for the opening ceremonies while another group of similar numbers heads to Red Deer mid-games and the last group of 10 to 12 people will book their flight for the closing ceremonies.

While Niagara residents try and stay warm during this recent deep freeze, the Niagara River needs to keep its waters flowing in order to supply power to the province and electricity to homes and businesses. A frozen Niagara River can quickly cause a problem, from flooding to power failure. Enter the Niagara Queen II, an 85-tonne vessel, powered by two 1,720-horsepower diesel engines, the icebreaker smashes through the frozen waterway ensuring the rivers icy waters continue to flow.
First commissioned in 1992, the small, dependable icebreaker, owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), helps keep the water flowing to OPG’s Adam Beck hydroelectric stations, which generate more than 2,000 megawatts of power for the province.

The police budget balancing act

by Kevin Vallier

As Niagara’s Police Services Board works with Chief Bryan MacCulloch and his senior staff to finalize the 2019 budget, much has been made about recent reports of the services’ reserve funds being drained. The Niagara Regional Police (NRP), which has no-less than eight different reserve funds currently totalling $10 million, had a 2018 operating budget of $143 million. That was up 4.5% from 2017 and currently the board is dealing with an ask of a 6.5% increase for 2019.

In 2017, regional councillors directed the Region’s agencies, boards and commissions to present budgets with no more than a 1.5% increase. The police board however was forced to wrestle with an arbitration award that year which added $6.7 million in salary costs retroactive to 2016. Salaries and benefits make up more than 90 per cent of the NRP’s budget.

Game Changer: Thomson to tell tales of how Falls landed casino

by Kevin Vallier

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce will be kicking off a new series featuring conversations around initiatives that have changed the landscape of the Niagara Region.

On Thursday, January 31, former Niagara Falls Mayor Wayne Thomson will give audience members a behind the scenes look at how of one of the greatest economic investments the region has seen in the past 25 years unfolded. The fireside chat will reveal the vision, challenges and eventual success that lead to arguably Niagara’s biggest ever game changer.

Live auctions have a long history. In fact, reports suggest that history extends as far back as 500 B.C. The Roman Empire used auctions to liquidate property and estate goods. There’s also evidence of Buddhist monks in China using auctions to fund the creation of temples, as it became customary to auction off the property of deceased monks for this purpose. Early auction houses were created in the 18th century. Sotheby’s was created in 1744 and Christie’s was created in 1766.

Today, St. Catharines resident Mark Balanowski and business partner Frances Fripp have teamed up to launch a unique auction company that is changing the face of the industry.

Oosterhoff defends Bill 66 from fear mongering

by Kevin Vallier

“Let me be very clear; we are not touching the Greenbelt.” Those were the concise words of west Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff to regional councillors at last week’s council meeting during a discussion on the province’s Bill 66 entitled “Restoring Ontario’s Competiveness Act”.

Oosterhoff added that the proposed legislation “does not touch the Clean Water Act”. The MPP was forced to defend the bill at regional council after learning St. Catharines NDP MPP Jeff Burch would be making a presentation encouraging council to submit a response to the province opposing the Act.

An iron will to succeed

by Kevin Vallier

The fact that there are no quality standards in place for pet food manufacturing may surprise people and it’s a little scary for pet food owners. But a Niagara company is not only producing a top quality raw dog food but is doing so in a facility that meets the most stringent regulations for making human food.

Located in a nondescript building on the border of St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Iron Will Raw pet food is a Niagara business success story on many fronts. President and CEO Matt Bonanno, a Niagara Falls native, started his working career as a carpenter in the Toronto area. At the same time he was training dogs that would eventually join the K-9 units for police forces around the province. It was during that time that Bonanno noticed a big difference in the animals when they were eating quality raw food. He started experimenting with his own recipes to come up with a food that had the proper balance of proteins, vitamins and minerals for strong, active canines. Eventually he moved back to Niagara where he took over a very small raw dog food making business from a Welland woman who was moving to Alberta. Bonanno bought her home and continued serving the few clients she had.
ra where he took over a very small raw dog food making business from a Welland woman who was moving to Alberta. Bonanno bought her home and continued serving the few clients she had.

Safety Minister addresses police association

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Hon. Sylvia Jones, was in Niagara Falls yesterday to address the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) which is the official voice and representative body for Ontario’s front-line police personnel. The Association provides representation, resource and support for 53 police associations across the province with a membership of over 18,000 police and civilian members.

As a former Minister of Tourism, Minister Jones said she was thrilled to see the PAO holding their annual winter membership meeting in Niagara Falls. The falls will be lit in blue this evening to recognize the Police Association of Ontario and honour deceased members. There will also be a fireworks display. “It’s a very nice gesture to our fallen officers,” said Minister Jones.

Region looks to spend big

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s regional councillors are in budget mode and it appears a lot of money is going to be spent this term of council.

Helen Chamberlain, the Region’s Director of Financial Management and Planning provided a presentation to councillors at last Thursday’s Budget Review Committee of the Whole. In her presentation, Chamberlain informed councillors that capital spending would be increasing significantly from the $186.5 million spent in 2018 to $273.9 million this year. She broke the lump sum down into three areas: 1) Sustainability ($163.8 million), which makes up 60 per cent of the nearly $274 million; Strategic Investments ($53 million) such as regional transit is slated to make up 19 per cent; and Growth ($57 million) projects like the Martindale Road and QEW work in St. Catharines comes in at 21 per cent.

Chief makes mental health of members a priority

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Chief Coroner is launching a review of suicides by police officers in the province after learning that a total of nine officers took their own lives in 2018. Dr. Dirk Huyer said that the spike in the number of deaths from suicide by police officers was “greater than we typically see”. The plan is to form a diverse panel of experts to dig deeper into the sudden increase, gain a better understanding of the root cause and try and reduce future deaths. The committee is expected to meet this spring with a report being finalized sometime in the summer.

Province looks to increase housing options

by Kevin Vallier

The provincial government has begun an extensive consultation process called the Housing Supply Action Plan to explore the best ways to increase housing options for Ontario homebuyers. The consultation focuses on five areas: the length of time it takes to get development projects approved; the number of restrictions as to what type of housing can be built; development costs; renting; and innovative ways to increase housing supply.
Currently it takes years for a homebuilder to get the shovels in the ground on a housing project. Over the last 15 years a number of regulations and more red tape have been added to the process making it incredibly challenging to get a project off of the ground. The cost to home builders for navigating their way through the sea of red tape, public consultations and often times court battles with special interests groups, who are opposed to a project, can be in the millions. Add to that the various taxes (about 25 per cent of a cost of a new home is tax) and homes in Ontario quickly become unaffordable.

There’s no question basketball in this country has taken off like Michael Jordan launching from the free-throw line. Many Canadians would attribute that rise in popularity to the competitiveness of the Toronto Raptors and the influence of individual players in the past decade like Vince Carter, Steve Nash and the crop of young kids now playing in the NBA. But the foundation for basketball in Canada was laid by a select few, including Niagara Falls native and current lead Assistant Coach with the Charlotte Hornets, Jay Triano.
Triano recently released a book titled ‘Open Look’ in which he takes the reader on a highly entertaining and inspirational journey throughout his career. The stories he shares reveal an intimate behind the scenes look at what it was like to be one of the best basketball players in the country at a time when very few people paid much attention to a game invented by a Canadian. Triano spoke recently with The Niagara Independent about writing ‘Open Look’ and his time growing up in Niagara.

Not to be: Canada loses in World Junior Quarter Final

by Kevin Vallier

Canadian world junior teams have never failed to medal when the tournament was held in Canada, until now. Wednesday night in Vancouver, in a stunning and bizarre late turn of events, Canada was knocked out of this year’s tournament by Finland, losing 2-1 in overtime.
The game was a defensive struggle as both teams played things tight. Both goalies, Mikey DiPietro for Canada who made 32 stops and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for Finland who made 24, played brilliantly.
After a scoreless first period, Canada opened the scoring early in the second when Barrett Hayton carried the puck into the Finland zone dishing off to defenceman Ian Mitchell joining the rush. Mitchell shot a laser over the left glove hand of Luukkonen.

Just as Niagara residents were enjoying a break at the pumps with gas prices as low as they have been in years, the cost of fuel is set to jump as much as ten cents a litre in a couple of months as the Trudeau government’s carbon tax will take effect April 1.
Fuel industry expert and former Liberal MP, Dan McTeague, also known as Canada’s Gas Guru, said at one point the tax on fuel was to take effect Jan. 1 which actually would have been the smarter move for both the government and consumer. McTeague says implementing the increase in April is “dumber than a bag of hammers.” He said April 1 is when the industry shifts from winter to summer gas and that comes with a cost increase – about five cents per litre. Add onto that the expected increase from the carbon tax and the cost of fuel is expected to rise anywhere between 15 and 18 cents per litre in Niagara. “The government is not taking the consumer into consideration,” said McTeague. He also said that there is rampant speculation that if the current Liberal government is re-elected the tax on fuel will increase dramatically during their second term.

Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest kicks-off icewine season

by Kevin Vallier

Twenty Valley’s annual Winter WineFest will celebrate its 10th anniversary this coming weekend, Jan. 11-13 in Jordan. The unofficial launch to the icewine celebrations in Niagara has grown in both size and popularity over the last decade.

On average the event attracts around 10,000 people to Jordan and organizers are hoping, with some help from Mother Nature and more musical entertainment, that that number will be surpassed this year. “It’s the quintessential Canadian street party,” said Twenty Valley Tourism’s Erin Thomson.

Life as a magician

by Kevin Vallier

The popularity of magic may be at an all time high. With the superstardom of people like David Blaine, Chris Angel and of course the legendary Penn and Tellar taking up residency in Las Vegas as well as numerous Netflix shows featuring magicians and illusionists, it’s big business that generates millions.
Niagara’s Alex Kazam was five years old when he first met a magician at his local library. It was an encounter that would set him on a career path that has been truly magical.
Kazam moved to Niagara when he was 12 years old and other than a couple of short-term stays in Toronto he has called this region his home the majority of his life. He got his first magic kit when he was six and growing up he was constantly reading magic books and watching VHS tapes of magicians. “The stop and rewind buttons were my friends,” said Kazam. He did his first show in grade five when his teacher, who noticed her student’s talents, asked him to perform in front of the class. His first paid gig was at the Chippewa

World Junior Hockey: Team Canada Preview

by Kevin Vallier

The holiday season brings Canadians the gift of what has become the country’s favourite annual sporting event: The World Juniors. The tournament this year will be played in Victoria and Vancouver. Canada is in Pool A with Denmark, Switzerland, Russia and the Czech Republic. As usual, Canada kicks off its tournament play on boxing day when they face off against Denmark at 8 pm eastern. That will be followed by an 8 pm game on the 27th against Switzerland and a game on the 29th against the Czech Republic. The New Years eve game will feature Canada vs. Russia.
Canada’s team is made up of nine players from the OHL, six players from the WHL, five from the QMJHL, and two from the NCAA. The team is coached by former Calgary Flame Tim Hunter.
The Canadian team features from the 2017 NHL draft, five first round picks, five second rounders, two third rounders and two fourth round picks. From the 2018 NHL draft the Canadian team carries five first round picks and one second round pick. The team is rounded out with a 2019 draft eligible player and a 2020 draft eligible player in 17-year old Alexis Lafreniere from the QMJHL.

Questions remain about mass firings at Region

by Kevin Vallier

Monday morning at Niagara Region headquarters saw sweeping changes at the senior management level as acting CAO Ron Tripp, just one day on the job, fired four directors and one communications staffer. Tripp has stated publicly that the decision to terminate the five employees was his and his alone and was not politically motivated in […]

For the first time in Niagara an all female hockey wall of fame will be permanently on display. On Saturday at 4 p.m. inside the Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre, the St. Catharines Female Hockey Association (SCFHA) will unveil the women’s hockey wall of fame at a special ceremony.

The event will be the highlight of what is being called “Jr. Badger Day”. The SFHA’s teams are known as the Jr. Badgers and have an affiliation with the Brock University women’s hockey team.

SCFHA board president, Sue Guarasci said Saturday will be an exciting day for everyone involved. “As the president of SCFHA Brock Jr. Badgers this is a very proud day for our organization as we recognize these elite athletes and their outstanding careers and accomplishments in women’s hockey.  It’s exciting that these players found their love for the game of hockey right here with our association and they were able to take that on to higher levels.”

As part of the first wave of direct mental health and addictions funding, Niagara Health System is receiving eight new mental health beds which will be added to the existing 80 beds. The province is investing in urgently-needed mental health and addiction services in the Niagara Region. They are also committed to engaging with health care leaders, front line staff and people with lived experiences to address the critical gaps in the province’s mental health care system.
“I have been asked over and over again from both constituents and stakeholders alike that we receive more mental health beds” said Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West. “I’m excited to announce that those voices have been heard.”
“We are committed to ensure that each dollar goes directly to services that will make a significant difference to patients. This immediate investment will help lower wait times for those in need of inpatient mental health and addictions treatment.”

Time for cross provincial alcohol sales say business leaders

by Kevin Vallier

Canada, and the Niagara Region in particular, is home to a burgeoning wine, beer and spirits industry, but Canadians can’t take full advantage of these products because of trade barriers that prevent the free-flow of beverage alcohol within Canada. The Canadian Global Cities Council (CGCC) and local Chambers of Commerce agree that it’s time to allow alcohol to travel across provincial borders, barrier free (particularly with growing online sales).
Earlier this month the Toronto Region Board of Trade raised the idea that federal and provincial First Ministers should sign an icebreaker deal on alcohol sales, allowing for e-commerce of any locally produced alcoholic beverage across any interprovincial border. The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and the CGCC, along with partners in the beverage alcohol sector, called on the First Ministers to discuss a more robust internal trade.

The blood-letting didn’t take long at Niagara Regional Headquarters, just one week before Christmas, as four senior staff and one communications specialist were all let go yesterday on what some have dubbed, “Bloody Monday”.

The official statement from the Region read: “Today Niagara Region has made a series of staff changes within our organization. These changes point our organization in the right direction and position us for success in 2019. Effective immediately Chris Carter, General Manager; Peter Wadsworth, Director of Human Resources; Jason Tamming, Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs; and Domenic Ursini, Director of Economic Development, are no longer with Niagara Region. We thank them for their service and wish them well in their future careers.”

Niagara Falls wrestles with cannabis sales

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls city council has decided not to rush into a decision on cannabis sales within its city limits. At this week’s meeting, many councillors still had too many questions and not enough answers to decide if the city is in or out. It’s a decision they will need to make by Jan. 22. Councillor Wayne Thomson made the motion to revisit the issue with public input at their Jan. 15 meeting. The motion passed with unanimous consent.

In the meantime city staff will do more research and consultation with the province as they make the case that Niagara Falls is not like most cities. Thomson asked staff to put together meaningful communication to the province stating that municipalities need more control over things like the number of cannabis stores and their locations. Thomson also presented a letter from Niagara Falls Tourism which asked for more involvement and control from municipalities.

Christmas project shines light on Niagara’s unsung hero

by Kevin Vallier

There are many people in Niagara who fit the bill as an “unsung hero” when it comes to giving back to their community and helping their fellow residents. Last year one local businessman figured it was about time those individuals were recognized.

Wolfgang Guembel, who owns Lock Street Brewery in Port Dalhousie, remembers seeing the first WestJet Christmas miracle video and being so impressed by the random and surprise nature of how the company fulfilled the Christmas wishes of their customers that he was moved to want to help in some way in his own community. “I thought if I was suddenly worth millions, I’d be doing something like that every Christmas. I believe in the good feeling you get when you give to someone else,” said Guembel.

But, like most of us, Guembel said he quickly realized he was light years away from being so wealthy that he could afford such a charitable gesture year after year. He did however start wondering what he could do with the means available to him. His first couple of ideas didn’t get off the ground. “My first thought was to get a city bus and provide a ride for our homeless residents to the brewery and provide them with dinner.” City staff, for a variety of reasons, told Guembel that idea wasn’t going to fly. “My next thought was to somehow get a list of single parent families who might be struggling to get by, but there were privacy and liability issues with that idea as well.”

With schools closing and the town’s population filling up with Toronto retirees, it’s impressive that Niagara-on-the-Lakes youth soccer program continues to hold steady with its registration numbers.  Last year close to 400 kids, 80 of them first time participants, signed up to play the beautiful game in the historic town. The number of participants has held steady for the better part of a decade according to club President, Ted Vanderkaay.

“It’s always a challenge for minor sports organizations to maintain participation numbers in a town that’s primarily a retirement community. There just aren’t a lot of kids,” said Vanderkaay. The organization, which has kids in all age groups from four year olds to 18, has a few things going for it that contributes positively to the stead enrollment numbers. One of them is there technical director Matt Hahn. “He’s a great resource for all of our coaches,” said Vanderkaay. Hahn, who also coaches the girls travel team, will also come out to other teams’ practices and observe and provide feedback to the coaches, many of whom are volunteers who may not have an extensive soccer background either as a player or a coach. He also runs coaching clinics throughout the year. “It helps us ensure that as best as possible the kids are receiving consistent coaching and learning the proper skills to improve their game,” explained Vanderkaay. “We strive for uniform development throughout our system.”

Welland, once seen as a run-down industrial wasteland, continues to make a comeback by attracting private investment. The city received headlines and a major economic shot in the arm when GE announced it would be locating an advanced manufacturing plant on highway 140. GE then sold the plant to Advent International for $3 billion. That plant is now up and running and providing quality, good paying jobs. Welland recently announced that it has once again attracted a private sector business to set up shop in its city limits providing more employment opportunities for Niagara residents.

Kanetix Ltd., Canada’s largest comparison website for insurance and financial products recently announced that it will be opening an office in the Rose City next month. The company says it expects that it will be creating about 100 jobs within a year.

MP tours Welland’s multicultural centre

by Kevin Vallier

2019 federal Conservative candidate April Jeffs joins Conservative MP Larry Maguire and Janet Madume, Executive Director of the Welland Heritage Council and Multicultural Centre Conservative MP Larry Maguire (Manitoba) who is a member of the federal Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, spent yesterday afternoon touring the Welland Heritage Council and Multicultural Centre. The tour […]

It took an hour and a half but after the three candidates standing for election to be Niagara’s next Regional Chair fielded a series of questions from their councillor colleagues, the result wasn’t close. Former Liberal MPP Jim Bradley walked away with 19 of a total of 31 votes to claim the Chair’s seat. Sixteen votes were needed to secure a win.
Niagara Falls Mayor and someone who will been seen as a leader of this council, Jim Diodati, said; “I congratulate Jim and now it is time for all camps to come together for the common good of Niagara. Our number one priority will be to ensure a good relationship with Queen’s Park and keeping GO transit on track.”
Bradley was nominated by St. Catharines Mayor, Walter Sendzik and that nomination was seconded by Barbara Greenwood of Niagara Falls. Running against the veteran politician were rookie regional councillors Leanna Villella of Welland and Rob Foster of Lincoln. Villella was nominated by Sandie Bellows of St. Catharines and seconded by Diodati. Foster who represents Lincoln was also nominated. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Gary Zalepa was his nominator and Tom Insinna of Fort Erie was the seconder. Villella captured seven votes while Foster had five supporters.

GO train service still on track for Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

The province is shifting gears with how it wants to proceed with planned GO train projects, including the one scheduled for Niagara.
It appears that Niagara residents eagerly awaiting the arrival of GO train services in the region may have to wait a little longer than the original timeline. In a letter from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster to Ontario municipalities expecting new GO services, the executive stated: “… the current delivery process for new GO stations, including Grimsby GO proposed with the Lakeshore West corridor extension to Niagara, will be stopped while we work with you and development partners to determine where there are opportunities for third party investment to deliver them.”
Metrolinx is a regional transportation agency created by the province in 2006 to improve transportation services across Ontario.

After all the door knocking, literature dropping and get-out-the-vote efforts, the newest iteration of regional council is set to be sworn in tomorrow. Among the rookie crop of councillors is an impressive list of women, eight in all; twice as many as 2014.
St. Catharines regional councillor-elect, Sandie Bellows, says she is excited to get on with the job. “Just being at orientation you could feel the positive energy from everyone.” Bellows said it is nice to see such a strong group of elected women. “The energy is so positive; everyone just wants to do the right thing. We always have to remember that if it wasn’t for the residents who voted for us, we wouldn’t be here,” said the former city councillor.
Bellows said the current new council needs to learn from the past, but not dwell on it. “Nobody is perfect, you might make mistakes but you learn from them and move forward.” She said she has learned a lot about regional services just from attending the orientation session. “We are all thirsty for information,” she said. As an example, Bellows said she went on a ride-along with regional transit and learned about accessibility, the different routes and challenges and success of the system. “It’s very interesting to see all of the services that the Region provides.”

Province wants private partnership with planned GO projects

by Kevin Vallier

The province is shifting gears with how it wants to proceed with planned GO train projects including the one scheduled for Niagara.
It appears that Niagara residents eagerly awaiting the arrival of GO train services in Niagara may have to wait a little longer than the original timeline. In a letter from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster to Ontario municipalities expecting new GO services, it states; “… the current delivery process for new GO stations, including Grimsby GO proposed with the Lakeshore West corridor extension to Niagara, will be stopped while we work with you and development partners to determine where there are opportunities for third party investment to deliver them.”
Metrolinx is a regional transportation agency created by the Province in 2006, to improve transportation services across the province.

Niagara Regional Council is set to select its next chair in the coming days. While the prevailing theory is that newly elected regional councillor and long-time Liberal MPP Jim Bradley will win easily, others are saying it may not be the cakewalk that has been predicted.
First, there has been a lot of discussion about municipalities from outside of St. Catharines not wanting another chair from the Garden City. Dating back to 2003, three of the council’s last four terms have been headed by a St. Catharines native.

The more obvious predicament with Bradley (longest serving Liberal MPP in history) as chair, however, is how he will move Niagara’s agenda forward with the province run by a political party he battled with for decades. Add to that, Niagara has three NDP MPPs to just one PC MPP and so many political pundits are left wondering if electing Bradley is the best strategic move. “I don’t think they need to elect a conservative, but I’m not sure electing a die-hard Liberal is the best move either,” said one local business leader who wanted to remain anonymous.

Help is finally here – Ford says West Lincoln will get new hospital

by Kevin Vallier

It seemed almost fitting that Premier Doug Ford announced his government would rebuild West Lincoln Memorial Hospital from the ground up while standing in the basement of the aging healthcare facility that is well past its best before date.
In a packed room in the bowels of the hospital, Premier Ford, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott, Minister of Infrastructure, Monte McNaughton and local MPP Sam Oosterhoff, announced the government will be moving immediately to start on major renovations and planning for a new hospital.
Those in attendance, including local mayors and hospital management, erupted in thunderous applause when the premier announced an immediate $500,000 grant to initiate the planning process for a new hospital and $8.5 million for immediate upgrades to basic infrastructure at WLMH – including modernizing outdated emergency generators, air handling units and elevators.

Leadership change doesn’t slow down Summer Games group

by Kevin Vallier

Despite the recent departure of former Canada Summer Games 2021 CEO Wayne Parrish, the organization’s board chair, Doug Hamilton, said it’s full steam ahead with planning and preparation.

While the CEO is an important part of the team, explained Hamilton, it is only one of many positions. Existing senior staff and board members plan to push on with the task of planning a world class athletic competition in 2021.

Hamilton said one of the things they learned from watching and talking with other boards of previous Canada Summer Games is that they don’t operate like a traditional board that focuses solely on governance issues. “It’s not a normal policy and governance approach when it comes to operating a board like this,” he explained. Hamilton said this will serve them well while they recruit for a new CEO.

Sanderson ready to be roasted

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls’ own Derek Sanderson will have a target on his back Friday night, as the former Boston Bruin great will be on the hot seat taking shots from his former NHL colleagues at the Ludzy’s Celebrity Roast.
Set to take place at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, the annual event – now in its seventh year – has raised more than $850,000 for the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehab at Hotel Dieu Shaver in St. Catharines. The Centre first opened in June of 2013.
Ludzik himself was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 39 while coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning. While it was a shock to his family, they decided to keep the news quiet for some time, until Ludzik was ready to acknowledge it publicly.

Bringing wellness to the workplace

by Kevin Vallier

There’s no shortage of excuses one can come up with to avoid exercise. One of the most common is life is just too busy, particularly after work. There’s the kid’s sports activities, volunteer board meetings, yard work, and the fact you’re just too tired from a long day at the office. Well, two Niagara women have started a business that takes those excuses away, while helping to increase productivity and focus in the workplace.
Vanessa Groeneveld and Catherine Beler first met while taking their yoga training program together. One evening after class they decided to have dinner and it was while breaking bread that the idea of a mobile yoga studio first came to light. Groeneveld says her job at the time was very stressful and both women realized they didn’t want to work for someone else any longer.

“We talked about how we enjoyed travelling and we both wanted more free time,” said Groeneveld. They talked about how stress in the workplace causes a decrease in productivity and hurts the bottom line. “One in five people call in sick every week due to stress,” Groeneveld explained. So the two wellness professionals turned entrepreneurs decided to ditch the bricks and mortar traditional yoga studio and set out to take wellness to the workplace. Bodhi YogaWellness was born.

The Saint Paul Patriots high school football team from Niagara Falls is headed to Ottawa next Monday for a one game championship showdown with the Lorne Park Spartans from Mississauga.
After a somewhat surprising playoff run that saw them defeat A.N. Myer and then Hamilton Westmount, the Patriots find themselves in a position to win the Golden Horseshoe Bowl in the nation’s capital Tuesday morning. Head coach Rick Oreskovich said the key to the team’s success is not looking too far ahead. “We’re the kind of team that does it play by play and handles the challenge in front of us.”
The Patriots, who lost to the Spartans in an exhibition game back in mid-September, know they will have to be better this time around. “The team we’re playing is one of the top teams in the province and when we played them in that exhibition game, they handled us,” said Oreskovich. But he added: “They were ready and we weren’t.” Oreskovich said the Spartans’ quarterback is: “a big, strong kid and he’ll be a handful.”

China trade trip a success

by Kevin Vallier

The trip that almost didn’t happen ended up being a great success, according to organizers and attendees. After some regional councillors turned the recent trade mission trip to China by Niagara business leaders into a political football, arguing that the Region’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo shouldn’t be allowed to attend, those who did go said it was very much worth the time and effort.
A total of 12 Niagara companies from a variety of sectors, including wineries, craft breweries, food producers, skin care manufacturers, and immigration consultants, all attended the China International Import Expo.
The trip was spearheaded by Larry Vaughan and Kevin Jacobi from Canada BW Logistics: a full service, custom bonded warehouse in Niagara Falls. A total of 160 countries participated in the 10 day event which ran from Nov. 2 to the 11. Canada was one of only 12 countries to have a pavilion. Others included New Zealand, Japan, Austria, and a handful Latin American countries. Canada was the only nation present without a formal trade agreement with China. The United States did not participate.

Taking Care of Business

by Kevin Vallier

Not that long ago a push was made by what was then known as the St. Catharines and Thorold Chamber of Commerce to amalgamate all of Niagara’s chambers into one. Many local chambers got their backs up against the wall, seeing this move as a forced amalgamation and didn’t buy into the concept. In the end, what is now known as the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) is essentially still very much St. Catharines focused. Thorold, once a part of the GNCC, has gone on their own and are now the Niagara Centre Board of Trade.

While the St. Catharines-led amalgamation didn’t work out, what has organically happened is the coming together of numerous southern-tier chambers. In fact, Port Colborne-Wainfleet, Niagara Falls and Welland-Pelham have all merged to form a strong business voice for southern Niagara.

Running one of the top AAA hockey organizations in the province can be like a full-time job, but for Niagara North Stars President Paul Allan the success on and off the ice is worth every minute.

The organization recently hosted its first tournament, sponsored by Front Row Sports, for Atom and Peewee divisions. It’s been a long time since St. Catharines has hosted a AAA (the highest level in minor hockey) tournament, so Allan and his board decided to explore the idea of hosting one a couple of years ago.

“The big thing was finding that sweet spot where it was on a weekend with less tournament competition and then working with the city to get enough ice time,” explained Allan. “In order to have enough time to market the tournament properly to other teams, we needed to secure the ice well in advance which meant putting a proposal together and presenting it to city council.” The plan was approved and the result was a very successful first year tournament with 32 teams and over 500 families.

Feds create advisory council to maximize tourism potential

by Kevin Vallier

What better place to kick-off a cross-Canada tour to discuss ways to bolster the nation’s tourism sector than in one of the most famous tourist spots in the world: Niagara Falls.
Canada’s visitor economy is a fast-growing sector that provides economic benefits and good middle-class jobs in every region of the country. That was the message delivered yesterday morning by the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, standing in front of the famous falls, as she began her tour to speak with tourism and travel experts.
The main announcement by the minister was the creation of the Advisory Council on Jobs and the Visitor Economy. The Council is composed of business owners, entrepreneurs, and tourism operators and professionals who recognize the economic importance of the tourism sector. Former Premier of New Brunswick Frank McKenna, who was also in attendance yesterday morning, will chair the committee.

Petition Presented to save hospital services

by Kevin Vallier

Don’t mess with west Niagara’s hospital. That’s the message coming out of the communities that surround West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH) after a Hamilton Health Sciences board decision to temporarily pull a number of services from the community hospital and relocate them to Hamilton, blindsided medical staff a couple of weeks ago.
In just under a week, the WLMH Community Action Group, had more than 18,000 signatures on a petition opposing the proposed changes. Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, tabled a petition last Wednesday that called on the Government of Ontario to engage in community consultations with respect to hospital service delivery in the Niagara West region, and to expedite the process of rebuilding the WLMH.

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.
Blais says it’s important for the community to know who their veterans are. He said this year in particular there is no excuse for people not to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony given that Nov. 11 falls on a Sunday.

3 Brothers, 3 Decades of Wine Making

by Kevin Vallier

Paul, Matthew and Daniel Speck have been the faces of Henry of Pelham wine for three decades now. This year marks the 30th anniversary of what is one of the Region’s greatest success stories in the wine industry – and it all started because their father, in 1982, purchased a piece of land for sentimental reasons.
Paul Speck recalls the time when his dad, Paul Speck Sr., called him two years after he purchased that land, across the street from where the current winery sits, and told him to come home and help his brothers plant grapes. Paul was in Toronto delivering pizzas for Pizza Pizza at the time. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Paul says with a laugh.

Region CAO may be headed to China

by Kevin Vallier

At last night’s regional council meeting, the last for many councillors who chose not to seek re-election or were not re-elected, regional chairman Alan Caslin was forced into casting a tie breaking vote on whether or not to send CAO Carmen D’Angelo to China as part of a trade mission. D’Angelo told council when providing an update on the mission that he had informed the organizers (private sector businesses) that he would not attend for fear of being a distraction to their good work. D’Angelo would be going in place of the Director of Economic Development who was already committed to attend the H2O conference and the Manager of Trade and Investment, whom D’Angelo recommended should attend, will also be out of the country at that time.

It was made clear that D’Angelo did not ask to attend but in fact was invited to attend as the most senior staff person at the Region.

Councillor Bart Maves spoke in support of allowing the CAO to attend, stating that the private sector led trade mission was in jeopardy at one point and that organizers said it may not have happened if not for the quick actions of D’Angelo and the Economic Development staff.  He scolded council for letting petty politics interfere with one of the most important trade missions the Region has ever had the opportunity to participate in.

Last week the PC government made public their omnibus legislation titled, Making Ontario Open for Business Act. The bill makes changes to several employment standards that were modified by the previous Liberal government. One of the more significant changes is the closure of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT).
OCOT opened its doors on April 8, 2013 and is the regulatory body that took over the governance of skilled trades in Ontario. Its activities are mandated by the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009.
Four years ago, during the last provincial election, the PCs, lead at the time by Tim Hudak, also promised to abolish OCOT. Unions aggressively fought back against the idea, claiming worker safety was at risk and that getting rid of the college of trades would open the door for cheaper labour. Debate has raged back and forth on the importance of the college ever since.

Holding out hope for West Niagara hospital

by Kevin Vallier

It’s been a struggle that has lasted more than two decades. It’s been full of false hope and promises by former governments and now residents and medical staff in West Niagara that rely on their West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH) feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them.
Last week, in a surprise move, Hamilton Health Sciences, with which WLMH is affiliated, announced they would be temporarily moving several services and clinics to Hamilton. These services include endoscopy, obstetrics and some surgical services. The problem is that the aging facility wasn’t up to code and so HHS says they were left with no choice but to put patient safety first and relocate the clinical services that the community and surrounding municipalities rely so heavily on.

The new Intercounty Baseball League team that will call Welland home for the upcoming season officially has a new name and look. The Welland Baseball Club announced the Jackfish as the new name for the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) team. The name represents the city of Welland fishing past time along with the river that is home to the northern pike, also called jackfish.
Team officials also unveiled the colors and uniforms during a news conference at Welland Stadium, which will serve as home field for the new team. Officials on hand for the team announcement included Welland Jackfish Majority Owner and CEO, Ryan Harrison, local Welland Owners Brent Coulombe and Mike Konderka and Intercounty Baseball League Commissioner John Kastner.

The President of the Province’s Treasury Board, the Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy, was in Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday speaking to about 90 business leaders at the Royal Niagara Golf Club. Minister Bethlenfalvy was joined by the Hon. Jim Wilson, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade along with Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education.
Organized by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, the gathering was a chance to hear about the state of Ontario’s finances and how the current government plans to deal with the massive debt they assumed when they took over from the former Liberal government.

Ham returns to IceDogs lineup

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara IceDogs goalie Stephen Dhillon keeps an eye on the play while wearing his superhero jersey Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd versus the Windsor Spitfires. Not even a stretch of home cooked meals or an arena full of superheroes could help the IceDogs secure the maximum number of points over a rare, […]

Is it time for online voting?

by Kevin Vallier

In Niagara, only the towns of Grimsby and Lincoln have taken the leap to online voting for this year’s municipal election but a Brock University professor says the increasing participation in advance election polls is an indication that perhaps we are ready for online voting.

Although overall voter turnout is declining or staying low, particularly in municipal elections, Political Science Assistant Professor Nicole Goodman says the public’s desire is for more flexibility when it comes to voting.

This year 194 Ontario cities and towns are expected to use online voting, a significant increase over 2014 when just 97 of the province’s 444 municipalities tried a more technologically advanced way of casting a ballot. The hope is to increase voter turnout which for municipal elections lags around 30 to 40%.

While more and more municipalities are offering online voting as an option, federally and provincially, there has been less of a desire to move towards an electronic ballot. Elections Canada takes its marching orders from Parliament when it comes to running elections.

Superheroes support Niagara Children’s Centre

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s superheroes of ages gathered at Brock University’s campus on Sunday to raise money for the Niagara Children’s Centre. Hundreds of supporters arrived wearing their favourite superhero costume and ready to walk or run either a one or five kilometre route.

The Niagara Children’s Centre, located across the street from Brock, is Niagara’s provider of rehabilitation and support services to children and youth with physical, developmental and communicative delays and disabilities. Core services offered at the centre include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language services, augmentative and alternative communication, family services and therapeutic recreation.

Last week Brock University released a policy brief outlining the economic impact, about a half a billion dollars, the post-secondary school has on Niagara. The document was developed by Niagara Community Observatory and the numbers were impressive. While Brock is often top-of-mind, and deservedly so, for the contributions it makes to Niagara, the tourism sector is often overlooked or not seen in the same positive light as a post-secondary institution. This is despite the fact that its economic impact is staggering. It’s also a business sector built by business people and entrepreneurs investing their own money to help grow the local economy.

Niagara Falls restaurant and hotel owner, Rick Dritsacos, points out that Niagara has an interesting advantage with having a university, college and a sector that employs thousands of people that are high school and post-secondary ages. “The highest unemployment rate in Canada is that age range of 18 to 24; those kids who are trying to earn money to pay for schooling,” Dritsacos explained. “In Niagara, the hospitality and tourism sector provides hundreds of jobs that give students the opportunity to pay for their tuition and meal plans so they can attend great places to learn like Brock and Niagara College.”

Tourism industry gives back with Sleep Cheap

by Kevin Vallier

The City of Niagara Falls has announced the dates for its annual Sleep Cheap fundraiser. The popular annual event has become much anticipated amongst locals who can stay at some of the most prestigious hotels in the honeymoon city. But the event is much more than a great deal on a hotel room in the most famous address in the world.
The idea originated in 2004 when then city councillor and now Mayor, Jim Diodati, came up with the idea to celebrate the city’s 100th birthday as well as promote goodwill between the tourism industry and residents. “The following year I had both hotel owners and residents asking if we could continue Sleep Cheap,” explained Diodati. “People really loved the concept of being able to stay in these world-class hotels for a fraction of the normal cost and having 100 per cent of the profits go to local charities.” To date, the event has raised approximately $1.8 million for local charities.

Niagara’s municipal election is now just 10 days away and there’s no doubt the online rhetoric will reach a feverish pitch in what’s left of the campaign. One group in particular, A Better Niagara, has been aggressively pushing a message of change through their website and social media channels.  The group has been politically active for months, holding seminars on how to run a proper campaign, recruiting candidates that will agree with what A Better Niagara espouses, and attacking certain current councillors (conservative) while promoting others (usually NDP affiliated) that suit their ideology.

Recently, a website, abetterniagara.ca has surfaced which exposes the left-wing connections behind A Better Niagara. Using photos, documents and social media posts – the site picks apart A Better Niagara’s claim to be non-partisan, exposing the group as a left-wing NDP front who are simply trying to get as many of their endorsed candidates elected as possible. In exchange for their endorsement, A Better Niagara goes so far as to make candidates sign a pledge to the group to uphold their values and agree to justify their actions if required.

The City of Welland recently announced a three-year contract that will bring an elite minor league baseball team to Welland. The new franchise, yet to be named, will play in the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) beginning in the 2019 season.
For the first time in Niagara, an IBL team will play at the city’s 2,500 seat Welland Stadium and showcase Minor League Baseball. The official announcement was made last week by Welland Baseball’s Chief Executive Officer, Ryan Harrison who explained that the league’s Burlington team is relocating to the Rose City and calling the Welland Stadium home.

The governing PC Party of Ontario announced it is expanding access to long-term care, reducing the strain on the health care system in advance of the upcoming flu season and working with front line health care professionals and other experts to transform the province’s health care system.
Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announced that Ontario is moving forward with building 6,000 new long-term care beds across Ontario, representing the first wave of more than 15,000 new long-term care beds that the government has committed to build over the next five years.

Raised in Grimsby, Mary Hays left the west Niagara community and became a teacher in the GTA. Her career lead her into the workforce placement sector where she worked with digital education platforms and decided what she was doing in education could be brought into the business world and potentially help solve the skills gap.
Hays developed a platform called Workbay which helps connect employers and employees but also provides a lot more tools to both. A customized version has been developed for Niagara, called Opportunity Niagara. A cross section of employers and academics got a firsthand look at what the platform’s capabilities are this week at SPARK Niagara, a local tech incubator. Those in attendance included representatives from Niagara College, Brock University, the tourism industry as well as economic development officers from the Region and Niagara Falls.

Across the globe female hockey players, coaches, referees and volunteers are celebrating World Girls Hockey Weekend. The female game continues to grow both among young girls as well as adults who are playing the game they love longer along with women who are picking up the game for the first time. Hockey Canada is celebrating girl’s hockey across the country this weekend and here in Niagara, local organizations are as well. Locally, the St. Catharines Female Hockey Association, known as the Jr. Badgers, had several teams represented at last night’s Niagara IceDogs game.

The growth and respect of the female game can be seen on a number of fronts. While most international competitions still come down to a gold medal showdown between Canada and the United States, the round robin games against other nations are far more competitive than they used to be. Added to that are the number of former Canadian national team members who are now respected commentators in the media as well as the recent hiring of the top player in women’s hockey history, Haley Wickenheiser, by the Toronto Maple Leafs as their new assistant director of player development.

He was just two years old when his father was first elected as the Member of Parliament representing Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. Since that 1984 election win, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor candidate Peter Nicholson has grown up surrounded by politics of the highest level and took a keen interest in politics watching and learning from his father, Rob, a highly respected MP now serving as the Conservative’s Shadow Minister for Procurement and Public Affairs. Throughout his career the elder Nicholson also held the positions of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Peter has two siblings, an older brother and younger sister. Although they are very supportive of his political ambitions he says: “they’ve left the politics to me”. The 35-year-old Nicholson said his parents were proud of him when he first informed them of his intentions to run for Regional Council in the upcoming election. “My dad was very encouraging and told me to always listen to people and work hard,” he said.

Sun Sets on Green Energy Act

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a piece of legislation that had a nice title; The Green Energy Act; but the reality was it was shrouded in controversy from the start. Gigantic wind turbines filled the horizon and divided communities. Energy costs soared and many argued that the province vastly overpaid for energy production it didn’t need.

The Conservatives didn’t waste any time cancelling over 700 hundred renewable energy contracts once they secured their majority government. This was followed by cancelling the Green Energy Act altogether. Premier Ford promised he would repeal the legislation during his campaign. The Act was originally introduced in 2009 by the previous Liberal government.

Friday Football has all the makings of a classic

by Kevin Vallier

Football fans in Niagara Falls will be treated to what is expected to be a competitive and entertaining high school gridiron battle this afternoon between Westlane-Stamford and A.N. Myer. The game will be played at Stamford and is the first football game played there since their football program merged with Westlane. The Junior teams play at 1 p.m. while the Senior squads kickoff at 3 p.m.

While still favored to come out with a victory, Myer knows they are going into a hornet’s nest at the smaller confines of Stamford High.

AG Report on NPCA released

by Kevin Vallier

The province’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, released her much anticipated report on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) yesterday.
For years now there has been mounting pressure from special interest groups, lead by its new union OPSEU, to investigate the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Environmentalists felt the Board and staff were too cozy with developers; the developers felt the NPCA were a bunch of tree huggers; and private landowners felt the NPCA had no business telling them what they could or could not do on their own properties.
And then it got political.

One of Niagara’s most recognized and successful homebuilders, Mountainview Homes, was named Outstanding Corporation by the Association of Fundraising Professionals for their philanthropic endeavors. This award is presented annually to a company that has demonstrated outstanding financial support, community involvement and motivation of others to take leadership roles.

Never an organization to rest on its laurels, Mountainview celebrated their award by continuing their giving ways. This week they made a lead gift of $450,000 to Pathstone Foundation in support of their Natural Playground and Healing Garden, a 10,000 square foot outdoor space that will be built at the Branscombe Mental Health Centre in St. Catharines.

Those in charge of running Niagara’s transit options have found themselves stuck in a good-news bad-news situation. It came to the attention of regional Council this week that the Niagara Specialized Transit (NST) program continues to be very popular and the demand from users has continued to grow, largely since the enhanced service reduced its fares to $6 roundtrip anywhere in Niagara. Increased utilization is the good news. The skyrocketing budget is the bad news.

To deal with the issue, the Region explored some service delivery changes to NST in an effort to address serious funding shortfalls in the budget.  These changes, although heavily communicated by staff in a variety of ways, including directly to every individual user, caused some confusion and concern.

Since the Region lowered the fare for NST to be equal to the fares offered by Niagara Region Transit (provincial legislation requires specialized transit to be the same fare as conventional transit), along with convenient door-to-door service, the demand for Niagara Specialized Transit service has dramatically increased.

Life of a Leaf Captain

by Kevin Vallier

As the Toronto Maple Leafs wrapped up their training camp in Niagara Falls and begin the exhibition season and then finally onto the games that matter, Niagara resident and former Leafs captain Rick Vaive reflects on the past and eagerly awaits the future. It’s a roster full of talented young guns with Leafs nation having high expectations.
Vaive took part in the alumni game Saturday night at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls. The game was sold out and the crowd was a sea of blue and white Leafs jerseys. Fans came to see their favourite players from years past including the likes of; Vaive, Darcy Tucker, Brad May, Darryl Sittler, Dan Daoust, Al Iafrate, Nik Antropov and of course Doug Gilmour.

Vaive reflects on training camps now and then

by Kevin Vallier

This is the first in a two-part series discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs with former captian Rick Vaive as the Leafs begin training camp in Niagara Falls this weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs begin their training camp in Niagara Falls today at the Gale Centre and according to one former Leaf great, training camps aren’t what they use to be.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and Niagara resident, Rick Vaive says the way training camps are run today is different in many ways then when played but also similar in others. When asked about the often heard comment about players showed up to camp 30 years ago to get into shape whereas today they show up to camp already in shape, Vaive, now 59, says there is some truth to that, but camps were structured differently. “We had two full weeks of two-a-day practices before we played an exhibition game,” said the three-time NHL 50 goal scorer. “Now, guys are playing in exhibition games three days into camp so if you’re not in shape when you arrive, you might get hurt or cut from the team.”

Brock and Niagara College set enrolment records

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s post-secondary institutions are at the top of the class when it comes to enrollment numbers.
Brock University is starting the new school year with its largest incoming class in a decade, and it’s largest-ever enrolment. Not to be outdone, Niagara College saw their enrollment numbers hit the record books as well.

In what is being hailed as a win for Niagara’s casinos, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has selected Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) as the service provider for the Niagara Gaming Bundle, following a competitive procurement process.

The Niagara Gaming Bundle includes Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara. MGE will also operate the future 5,000-seat Niagara Falls Entertainment Centre being built at the Hilton Fallsview, located adjacent to the Fallsview Casino.

OLG expects MGE will take over day-to-day operations in the summer of 2019. The agreement is for 21 years.

Heading into its fourth year, the Empire United Niagara soccer program has made a lot of local soccer stakeholders sit up and take notice.
There are four teams, two boys’ teams and two girls’ teams, featuring Canadian kids and Canadian coaches, practicing in Canada but playing their home games in the United States – Buffalo and Rochester. Oh, and the director of the Empire United Niagara is Italian.

Soups on! The critical importance of a soup kitchen

by Kevin Vallier

The name is a bit misleading. They serve a lot more than soup.

The Niagara Falls Community Outreach centre, affectionately known as “the soup kitchen” served more than 42,000 meals last year. They serve anywhere between 100 and 130 meals per day to Niagara Falls residents who are in need of a healthy meal and simply can’t afford one.

The backgrounds of the more than 300 volunteers that help prepare and serve the meals as well as clean up afterwards are as varied as the clientele, including retirees, students, former clients and the city’s own CAO as well as other business leaders. The organization is operated by a volunteer board of 12 members and one paid staff person.

The Niagara Catholic Athletic Association’s 2018 high school football season is shaping up to be a highly competitive one. St. Paul Patriot’s head coach Rick Oreskovich has a feeling the 2018 season will feature a lot of parity. “I think all teams will be competitive this year. St. Michael’s will be good, they will be an exciting team to watch; Notre Dame is always good and Blessed Trinity will have a good team,” predicts the veteran coach. “If you take any team lightly it will come back to bite you.”
One thing that has helped with creating good competition throughout the league is good coaching. “There are good coaches all around,” said Oreskovich.

When it comes to attracting investment to Niagara, one of things that the Region has going for it is its geographical location. Niagara is within a one day’s drive of 130 million people. That’s a lot of people to ship product to. It’s also home to five border crossings, a canal system, two international rail crossings, four 400 series highways and is within 100 kilometers of six international airports. Needless to say, these are all things that the Region highly touts when courting potential investors.

“Entrepreneurs and business executives certainly see that as valuable,” said the Region’s Economic Development Director, Domenic Ursini when asked about the advantages of having a wealth of transportation options in and around Niagara. He also pointed out that discussions with the Province are on-going with regards to developing a trade corridor, which has been discussed for several years. Essentially it would be a new highway that would run from the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie to the Hamilton International Airport. “The province has been receptive in having those conversations,” he said.

Meal-kits are eating up market share

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a relatively new industry but it’s one that continues to grow and shows no signs of being simply a trend. With many households in Canada having two working parents or, with the high divorce rate, single parent homes where that parent is also working full time, there’s no wonder the meal-kit industry is on the rise.

Meal-kit usage is growing at an explosive rate in Canada. According to a recent report by The NPD Group, the meal-kit business is among the fastest growing food segments in the Canadian marketplace. Data shows that the industry has roughly doubled since 2014, and is expected to exceed $400 million over the next year.

High School Football Season Ready to Kick Off

by Kevin Vallier

A.N. Myer football coach Dave Buchanan knows there will be some stiff competition in this year’s top high school football league, and he’s looking forward to it.

“There’s some good parity this season. Teams like Fort Erie, Grimsby and Stanford/Westlane have strong programs and good coaches,” said Buchanan after putting his troops through the paces Thursday afternoon.

Each team will play five games and then head into the playoffs. The championship team coming out of the public board will then play the championship team from the Niagara Catholic board. The winner of that game goes on to compete at the Southern Ontario (SOSSA) championship and potentially the provincial final (OFSSA).

While many people in Niagara are generally aware of the fact that the region produces quality fruit like grapes and peaches as well as being home to several green houses, most have no clue as to the massive economic impact the agri-business has on Niagara’s economy.
In fact, Niagara produces 80 per cent of the country’s grapes and wine. But the agri-business here in Niagara extends far beyond the wineries and the local fruit stands. The region has always offered some of North America’s best growing conditions, but today, with the help of advances in technology, research and new approaches, the face of farming is changing in a most profitable way.

It has read your license plate and determined if you are a wanted criminal, if your license plate sticker has expired or if you have a suspended driver’s license, in a matter of seconds. It’s a black SUV with three cameras affixed to the roof and they are known as Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) vehicles or “plate readers”.
In July 2017 the Niagara Regional Police (NRP) began using their first ALPR and has recently added a second.
Each morning the database of information is updated and provided to the officer assigned to driving the ALPR with the most up-to-date information on Ontario residents who’s license plate stickers haven’t been renewed, who’s license is suspended due to impaired driving or other such charge, or who’s wanted for a more serious crime.

Waler secures Conservative nomination for St. Catharines

by Kevin Vallier

A large crowd gathered at Henry of Pelham Winery last night to meet the province’s Attorney General, Caroline Mulroney, along with the woman who will be carrying the Conservative Party flag in the 2019 federal election, Krystina Waler.
In addition to Mulroney and Waler, there was a host of prominent Conservative politicians including; Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson, Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement, federal candidate April Jeffs and former MPP Bart Maves.

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