Thursday September 19, 2019
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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.

Leviathan Cannabis sues Town of Pelham

by Niagara Independent News Association

In a statement released Monday, Sept. 9, Leviathan Cannabis Group announced that through a subsidiary, Woodstock Biomed Inc., it has initiated legal proceedings against the Town of Pelham.
The move appears to be timed to influence Town Council’s decision, scheduled for late September, over whether to extend an Interim Control Bylaw that has delayed Leviathan’s construction of cannabis production facilities in Fenwick. The initial one-year bylaw period is set to expire on October 15. Members of Pelham’s Cannabis Control Committee have lobbied council for a one-year extension to the bylaw. The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake recently passed a similar extension.

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.

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.

Niagara College is calling it a beginning of a new era for research and innovation in region’s agri-food industry, with the opening of their latest addition to its Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.
Earlier this week, federal, provincial and regional representatives, community donors and industry partners joined staff and students to mark the official grand opening of the new Marotta Family Innovation Complex, which will not only enhance student learning opportunities, but will support the region’s agri-food and agri-business sector.

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.

St. Catharines awarded 2024 world rowing championships

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara is on a roll when it comes to securing high-end sport competition. On the heels of hosting the Women’s U18 World Hockey Championships, the Scotties national women’s curling championships, Pan Am Games events, the U18 Americas Basketball Championships and of course the upcoming 2021 Canada Summer Games, St. Catharines can also add the World Rowing Championships to the impressive list.
The FISA Congress, held annually after the World Rowing Championships, voted yesterday to decide what cities will host upcoming World Rowing Championships. Delegates at the FISA Congress voted overwhelmingly in support of the St. Catharines bid which was competing with Linz, Austria – which just completed hosting the 2019 World Rowing Championships this past week.

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.

There are plenty of things to see and do this long weekend in Niagara. While the Labour Day weekend use to signal the end of tourist season, the so-called “shoulder seasons” have become a thing of the past as tourist visit Niagara year-round. While those visiting Niagara from elsewhere will no doubt be taking in the sights and sounds of the more heavily marketed tourist attractions here are some unique events being held across the region that locals can enjoy.

St. Catharines—Niagara one of Canada’s safest metropolitan areas

by Niagara Independent Staff

Despite recent revelations of deep ties to biker gangs and a rare case of torture and abuse last year, St. Catharines—Niagara remains one of the safest urban areas to live in Canada, according to the latest data.

Last month, Statistics Canada released the results of its annual Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

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.

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.

UPDATED: “Exciting news” expected for Summer Games

by Niagara Independent Staff

Premier Doug Ford was in Niagara this afternoon making an announcement at a Home Hardware store in Pelham. While the announcement, a road improvement project, is no doubt important to local residents, it was Ford’s comments in response to a question by The Niagara Independent regarding Canada Summer Games funding that perked up many ears.

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.

Tourism businesses step up for soup kitchen

by Kevin Vallier

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.

Niagara game studio’s new release is out of this world

by Catherine Rice

Niagara-based game development studio, PixelNauts Games, recently released its new game Lost Orbit: Terminal Velocity on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 and Steam.

The game offers an exciting new take on the original game released in 2015.

“We had an enormous reaction from fans of the tale of Harrison and his robot sidekick, so when we decided to create the definitive edition of the game, we wanted to add new levels and enhance the original game,” says Alex Golebiowski, co-founder of PixelNauts.

Martin Danahay has led many classroom discussions in his career, but nothing quite like this.
The Brock University English professor will soon take his Life Writing course into a recently-completed online 3D space at the start of the winter term.
Students wearing virtual reality gear will gather in an experimental 3D classroom to discuss memoires, diaries and biographies, and interact with one another as their custom avatars.

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.

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 Town of Pelham has a new Chief Administrative Officer. David Cribbs started in the position this past Monday.
Originally from South Porcupine, northeastern Ontario, Cribbs served as CAO of Norfolk County, west of Cayuga on Lake Erie, from April 2017 until this past January, when his tenure came to an abrupt end. He has since worked on temporary contract as a solicitor for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario.

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.

Young fiddle player returns to roots

by Kevin Vallier

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 is a big part of the legacy of former Prime Minister John Napier Turner – he has helped grow her fortunes by attracting major international business while in private practice as a lawyer and in his public role as MP; he’s been a prominent voice for her cultural and agricultural attractions like the Shaw Festival and many, many wineries. More importantly John Turner has many friends and associates from Niagara. Most especially he is a stalwart champion for water – the most famous attraction in Canada being Niagara.

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.

Canada Day at the country’s most famous address

by Kevin Vallier

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.

An open process for publicly funded projects in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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.

Welland waterway in ‘revitalization’ mode

by Elena De Luigi

A revitalized waterway in the City of Welland is in the works. Home to the Welland International Flatwater Centre (WIFC), the Rose city’s canal runs through the heart of its downtown core.

According to the City of Welland, the multi-phased redevelopment blueprint is to enhance the waterfront experience for tourists and locals, equipping it with swimming docks, a kayak facility, some residential properties, and more.

Record enrolment numbers are being met at Brock University. The St. Catharines based post-secondary school said it received applications from over 19,000 full- and part-time students across its seven faculties last fall, reaching the highest number of applications to its first-year programs it has ever seen.

This year, the numbers are in, and indicators suggest that even more Ontario high school students are choosing to continue their studies at Brock. In fact, the increase in applicants to the university exceeds the average growth rate for Ontario universities.

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.

The Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Board of Directors has given the go-ahead on a plan that would address safety concerns and maintain limited surgical and obstetrical services at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH).

The plan is to ensure that the hospital is meeting the appropriate standards of care for their patients.

Dr. Michael Stacey, Executive Vice President Academic and Chief Medical Executive for HHS, said that his main concern about the renovation plan is the safety surrounding cesarean sections.

Curtains up at The Shaw

by Elena De Luigi

Dress rehearsals, cues and curtain calls are in full swing at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Productions such as C.S. Lewis’ classic The Horse and His Boy, Brigadoon, Getting Married, Rope and Victory have made it to the stage this season.

The non-profit theatre has just begun its 57 season, with 13 productions being performed in rotational repertory. That means that all of the plays are available every week, and they are staged daily in every theatre at the Shaw.

New worlds, lifeforms and all things alien made the long trip from space to Niagara. Ball’s Falls Conservation Area, known as the perfect storybook setting, hosted Star Trek: Discovery while they filmed parts of season two of the show.

The CBS television series chose the conservation area as their setting for a distant planet called ‘New Eden,’ which is a place inhabited by a colony of pre-warp humans peacefully living together.

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 […]

The annual 40 Under Forty Business Achievement Awards were presented to the winners in St. Catharines on Thursday.

According to Business Link Media Group, there were 119 nominees for the 2019 awards.

Established in Niagara in 2003, the recipients of the Achievement Award are 40 business people who are under the age of 40 that have excelled in the business industry, contributed to their community, and participated in charity work.

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.

Feds announce tourism strategy

by Elena De Luigi

MPs Vance Badawey and Chris Bittle visited Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery in St. Davids on Wednesday to announce a $58.5 million investment strategy to help grow Canada’s tourism industry.

Badawey and Bittle were at the winery on behalf of the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of tourism.

The federal government said that the two-year plan would create 54,000 new jobs and increase the tourism sector revenue by 25 per cent to $128 billion by 2025, bolstering growth and diversifying the already booming sector.

Pay it forward with BarterPay

by Elena De Luigi

BarterPay Inc. has helped Canadian business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals get what they need without using money for the last 22 years.

Headquartered in Stoney Creek, BarterPay exists to help business owners across Canada grow their business using barter. The company has a presence in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Physicians flock to Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

Physician recruitment in Niagara has come a long way. It wasn’t that long ago when Niagara residents read headline after headline about physician shortages throughout the region. Today however, those problems seem like a distant memory.

According to Niagara Health, there are over 500 doctors in Niagara, 34 of whom were recruited in the last year. In the last six years, Niagara Health said they recruited 150 physicians, resulting in more care that is closer to home for Niagara’s residents. However, like most communities across Ontario there is still a shortage of family physicians.

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.

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) hosted Progressive Conservative leader Andrew Scheer at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls on Friday.

Scheer gave a speech and participated in a Q&A session with CHBA chief executive officer Kevin Lee and Stefanie Coleman, the organization’s president; much like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did the previous day.

“There is no national Canadian housing market. We have many different markets in this country. And government policies need to be flexible and recognize that. Not only do we need a better plan, we need one that recognizes diversity in the Canadian housing market,” Scheer said in his speech addressing the crowd.

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.

Trudeau addresses home builders in Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) convention was held in Niagara Falls this week at the Scotiabank Convention Centre. The week-long event hosted many guest speakers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The prime minister did not take formal questions from the media, but he did participate in a Q&A session with CHBA CEO Kevin Lee and Stefanie Coleman, CHBA’s president.

Trudeau was asked about affordable housing, supply infrastructure and skilled trade.

The first of three phases to redevelop Table Rock Centre in Niagara Falls has been completed. The well-known tourist site reopened its doors to the public on May 1, welcoming guests to the newly renovated Table Rock restaurant and gift shop.

On Tuesday, the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) hosted an official preview event to showcase the renovations to the public. NPC Chair, Sandie Bellows, said she is proud of how the first phase of the redevelopment project has come together.

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.

Funny business

by Elena De Luigi

Oh Canada Eh? is celebrating 25 years in Niagara. Their 26th season is now underway at the Log Cabin Theatre in Niagara Falls.

What is Oh Canada Eh? do you ask? It is a two-hour production filled with Canadian music by a singing Mountie, a hockey player, and of course, Anne of Green Gables. Also, as you are enjoying the music, the same singing Mountie and Anne are serving you a five-course meal.

Lee Siegel, the production’s Artistic Director said it is all about honouring Canada every time they get on stage.

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.

A hearing was held on May 1 in Niagara’s Council Chambers to hear 13 registered presenters on the issue of Regional Government Review. Eleven of the 13 attended the presentations.

The City of St. Catharines had their public meeting the day before to hear from residents and Council. Committee Chair Joe Kushner used the opportunity to comment on a draft recommendation for city council, “We don’t think bigger is better, we think the present system works quite well,” Kushner said.

The draft recommendation suggests a regional service provider for social services, policing and social housing to take advantage of economies of scale, and single tier cities within Niagara.

New shelter diversion program opens in Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

A new program for Niagara’s youth has recently opened up at the RAFT to help prevent people aged 16 to 24 from getting into the shelter system.

Executive Director of the RAFT, Michael Lethby, said the new program is called the ‘Shelter Diversion’ program, and it is the program model that was determined to be the most effective in helping young people find other options before they experience homelessness.

“Shelter Diversion isn’t about saying no, it’s about saying what else,” Lethby said. He also said that shelters are never their first solution for children. Their biggest priority is the safety of the person asking for help.

NPCA ‘headed in right direction’

by Elena De Luigi

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) received a Supplementary Application notice on Apr. 11 from A Better Niagara (ABN), a local advocacy group who sought a decision for the number of Board Members Niagara is allowed to have.

In a press release, NPCA Board Chair Dave Bylsma stated that the Board had made progress on addressing the appointment issues.

“While we realize the NPCA board makeup is a top priority to ABN, the governance issue is only one of the many important tasks that the Board and the CAO have been working on to put this important organization back on track.”

“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.

Governance Review – what Niagara is saying

by Bruce Timms

Two consultations and a telephone town hall hosted by MPP Sam Oosterhoff as well as a Brock University session on the subject, offered some ideas on governance options, some old, some new and one wild card; add Dunnville and Lowbanks to the Niagara Region. This was a suggestion made at the Beamsville consultation session by some Haldimand county residents.

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.

A balanced restructuring of Niagara

by Bruce Timms

One model of a restructured Niagara governance system that has been discussed for years goes something like this; two- tiers, five cities and double duty city councillors with a publicly elected Regional Chair.
The five cities would be divided up based on urban clusters. Each would manage their own water and waste water infrastructure.
There would be a total of 65 elected representatives (down from the current 126) and no Region-only councillors.

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.

Lacrosse will be part of Canada Summer Games

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, federal Minister of Science and Sport was in St. Catharines yesterday to announce the inclusion of Lacrosse as part of the upcoming 2021 Canada Games which will take place in Niagara. While there was some hope, given the federal government was sending a cabinet minister to Niagara, the announcement would include the feds portion for infrastructure funding for the Games it nonetheless was good news for sport and in particular the lacrosse community. The federal government is kicking in $1.7 million in order to add lacrosse as a sport to the Games.
With the Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a backdrop, Minister Duncan said that the lacrosse competition, a pilot project for the 2021 Games, will be box lacrosse format, and will feature both male and female teams. Lacrosse last participated in the Canada Summer Games in 1985. Lacrosse was named Canada’s National Game by Parliament in 1859. In 1994 Parliament passed the National Sports of Canada Act which declared lacrosse to be “Canada’s National Summer Sport” and hockey became the nation’s national winter sport.

A three city Niagara could bridge North south divide

by Bruce Timms

The Berkley report on Regional governance recommends a single tier model that would in theory be more effective and cheaper with fewer politicians, (elected representatives of the people).
The April 2000 report states, “Our conclusion is that a single tier, three or four-city model is the most appropriate longer-term governance model for Niagara.”
There would be no regional government, but the Canal City will act as the consolidated Municipal Services Manager.

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.

Is One City of Niagara the right solution?

by Bruce Timms

Governance review in Niagara has been a recurring topic since the Regional Municipality of Niagara was first formed 49 years ago.

The “Single City” model has been offered time and again as the magic bullet solution by many over the years. The Mike Harris Government was ready, by many reports, to do to the Niagara Region what they did to the Regional Municipality of Hamilton Wentworth in 1999 and that was to create one city of Hamilton. 

Is one Niagara, meaning total amalgamation, from 12 municipalities to one city, the right solution, right now for Niagara?

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.

United Way taps next generation Sherk for Campaign chair

by Kevin Vallier

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.

Under Review – What will Niagara look like?

by Bruce Timms

Premier Ford and Minister Steve Clark are looking at and consulting with a total of eight regional governments across the province, including Niagara. There is no question changes are coming. What those changes will look like remains a mystery.
Niagara has been discussing and debating its regional governance structure ever since it was created in 1970 by Premier Bill Davis and Minister Darcy McKeough.
That original effort to improve municipal governments in Niagara resulted in reducing the 29 existing local councils to 12 and creating one Regional Council.

Town of Pelham could be on the hook for millions

by Niagara Independent Staff

It’s not often that a company from one of Niagara’s quaint municipalities gets featured on a national
news program, but last week saw one of those inauspicious occasions.

Bloomberg’s “Business News Network”, Canada’s renowned 24-hour business news program, featured a Niagara company from Pelham last Monday. The network runs a one hour stock pickers program twice a day. A stockbroker, or other qualified guest, takes phone calls from the public and gives his or her informed opinion about the future of each stock.

Last Monday, an Edmonton caller asked guest Robert McWhirter, president of Selective Asset Management, about Leviathan (CSE: EPIC-CN), a local cannabis company currently endeavouring to begin construction on Foss Road in Pelham.

Niagara poised for industrial growth says Port Authority CEO

by Kevin Vallier

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.

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.

New study highlights tourism sector’s big impact on economy

by Kevin Vallier

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 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.

New radar detection system will keep boaters safer on Niagara River

by Niagara Independent Staff

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and New York Power Authority (NYPA) have launched a detection and alerting system that will help add a layer of safety for boaters around the vicinity of the International Niagara Control Works in Niagara Falls.
Boaters can at times fail to stay clear of marked exclusion zones and therefore end up exposing themselves to a real risk because of the high turbulence and very strong currents in the waters near the International Control Dam. “While this additional tool will help ensure the public’s safety, it’s important to remind boaters that they are responsible for their own navigation safety and must obey warning signs and buoys,” said Mike Martelli, OPG President, Renewable Generation.

Summer Games Society makes Wright choice for CEO

by Niagara Independent Staff

Doug Hamilton, Chair of the 2021 Canada Summer Games Host Society has announced a number of staff appointments as the organization begins to ramp up planning for the national amateur sporting event to be held in Niagara. Chief among the recent hiring’s is Brock University associate business professor Barry Wright as the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer. Wright will join the summer games organization as a secondment from the university.
In this role, Barry will oversee organization of the 2021 Games including human resources, volunteer programming, finance, and sport & athlete services. As the former Dean of the Goodman School, Barry brings a wealth of experience and research focused on leadership, planning, and organizational performance. Barry will join the 2021 Canada Games on May 1, 2019.

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.

Cannabis is just another crop

by Niagara Independent Staff

After new government regulations commercialized medical marijuana in 2013, federally licensed cannabis cultivators, processors, and sellers began cropping up all across Canada.

Prairie Plant Systems Inc. in Saskatoon led the way as the first certified producer. Tweed Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake followed closely behind.

Since that time, some 150 applicants have successfully received a federal license to grow, prepare, and/or sell cannabis.

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.

Questions Abound on D’Angelo Departure from Region

by Niagara Independent Staff

Regional CAO Carmelo D’Angelo’s Statement of Claim, filed in a Hamilton court, outlines a concerning timeline of events that add to the intrigue surrounding his wrongly assumed departure.  The statement claims that after a summer of leaks of his personal and confidential information and a multitude of media reports of this information, D’Angelo was advised by his physician on Dec. 11, 2018 to take a medical leave from work.  The claim states, “It was envisaged that Carmelo would return to work approximately eight (8) weeks later.” 

The claim continues that just three days later the “Region replaced the acting CAO that Carmelo had arranged to act in his place during his medical leave.”  And then, “On or about Dec. 14, 2018, the region cut off Carmelo’s access to his work email account, his work voicemail and his corporate credit card.”

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.

Bellows is new chair for Parks Commission

by Niagara Independent Staff

The province’s, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, has appointed St. Catharines resident Sandie Bellows as the new Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission. Bellows will begin her four-year term immediately.

Bellows is in her first term as a Regional Councilor, after representing Grantham Ward as a St. Catharines city councilor during the past four years (2014-18). “I am very excited and honoured to be appointed Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission,” said Bellows. “I am looking forward to working with my fellow board members and all the amazing staff at this great organization.”

A team of researchers led by Brock University adjunct professor Dr. Kimberly Monk was recently awarded more than $70,000 Insight Development Grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The funds will be used by Dr. Monk and her affiliates to excavate and document an abandoned 19th century shipyard along Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines.

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.

Busy shipping season on seaway

by Niagara Independent Staff

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) recently released its figures for the past year and it was a busy one. The total tonnage on the waterway during the 2018 navigation season was 40.9 million. That’s the highest result in more than a decade. The Corporation said much of the credit for the increase can be given to healthy movements of grain which was the best on record since the turn of the century. They also pointed to the continued marketing of the seaway as “Highway H2O” as helping to serve as a catalyst to spur increased movements of a broad range of cargoes including grain, road salt, stone, cement, gypsum and refined fuels.
“We are very pleased with the results recorded over the past year” said the SLSMC’s President and CEO, Terence Bowles. “After completing the first year with Hands Free Mooring installed at all of our high-lift locks, it is gratifying to see that our efforts to boost system efficiency and heighten our competitive position are bearing strong results. This new mooring technology eliminates the need for special vessel fittings, enabling the St. Lawrence Seaway to welcome a broader range of ships from the world fleet.”

Niagara icebreaker keeps the power on

by Kevin Vallier

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.

As part of a swift circuit around southern Ontario last week — which included tours and talks at women’s shelters, disability treatment centres, and community kitchens — the Hon. Lisa MacLeod sat down with local community leaders and employers from across Niagara to discuss getting more people into the workforce.

In November, Minister MacLeod announced social assistance reforms that, over the next year and a half, will “restore dignity, encourage employment, and empower the province’s most vulnerable to break free from the poverty cycle”.

Some of the changes that her ministry plans to make include: streamlining administrative processes related to job-finding, changing the legal definition of “disability” to mirror the federal government’s description, and increasing the monthly amount qualified recipients can take home before affecting their social assistance.

Best Whiskey comes from Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

In a region known primarily for its wines, Niagara-made beverages such as craft beer and spirits are gaining national and international recognition. In fact, the best whisky in Canada is an all-rye whisky, distilled 22 years ago in Grimsby at Forty Creek Distillery.

Ten independent whisky experts blind taste tested more than 100 whiskies and declared Forty Creek 22-year-old Rye as Canadian Whisky of the Year in the ninth annual Canadian Whisky Awards recently held at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, BC. The Canadian Whisky Awards recognize the very best whiskies produced in Canada.

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.

Minister meets with Niagara tourism leaders

by Niagara Independent Staff

The province’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, was in Niagara yesterday meeting with Niagara’s tourism leaders to get their feedback on the government’s tourism strategy.
Minister Tibollo was seeking the advice and input on issues affecting the tourism industry. Some of the key points discussed were the role of government in the sector, the industry workforce challenges and regulatory burdens. Ontario’s tourism sector has an economic impact of about $34 billion.

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.

Niagara gas prices to jump in April

by Kevin Vallier

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.

Niagara curling tradition continues

by Niagara Independent Staff

For over forty years now, Niagara’s curling clubs have banded together to put on an annual Niagara Region bonspiel. For many years it was known as the Labatt’s Standard; then the Winmar but is now sponsored by Young’s Insurance and so aptly named, ‘The Youngs’.
In January teams from around the region enter the week-long bonspiel that lets curlers experience playing in the Niagara Falls Curling Club, the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, the Welland Curling Club and the St. Catharines Curling Club in Grantham.
While the spiel used to have 64 teams and a waiting list, attendance has suffered a bit in the last few years as it competes against other competitive curling events and club nights. But the event, which also used to require that each team have on it one new curler, is a great way for curlers all around the region to play in each other’s clubs and meet other curlers. Kelly Hopkins, an organizer, sponsor and participant said this year the numbers are up. “We are at full capacity with 48 teams and a waiting list so next year I think you will see us expand the number of teams.”

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

Brock’s Chancellor named to Order of Canada

by Niagara Independent Staff

It’s a Christmas she won’t soon forget. Brock University Chancellor Shirley Cheechoo, an award-winning actress, artist, playwright and filmmaker, has been awarded the Order of Canada. The announcement came on Boxing Day from Governor-General Julie Payette.
One of the country’s highest honours, the Order of Canada recognizes Canadians whose service shapes society, whose innovations ignite imaginations and whose compassion unites communities.
Cheechoo said she was shocked when she received the call notifying her she was to receive the honour. “I didn’t know what to say, it was a very moving moment,” she said earlier this week. “It’s absolutely a tremendous honour to be given the Order of Canada.”

Niagara Falls set to ring in the New Year

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Niagara Parks Commission and the City of Niagara Falls, along with its Niagara Falls New Year’s Eve event partners, will once again host Canada’s longest running New Year’s Eve festivities and concert series, taking place in Queen Victoria Park.
“New Year’s Eve in Niagara Falls is an amazing tradition. We are thrilled to offer an exciting show again this year and we want you to come and enjoy it with us,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati. “We look forward to celebrating the traditions of the season, like the Winter Festival of Lights, and the true Canadian experience of a New Year’s Eve outdoor concert, complete with outstanding entertainment and ringing in the New Year.”
This year’s concert features an all-star line-up of Canadian talent and will open with Niagara Falls-based band and winner of band of the year at the Niagara Music Awards, Avenue Inn. Avenue Inn has carved a unique space in the Canadian music scene since their formation in 2012 and have carefully crafted their own alternative rock approach, with their brand-new album “Tonight”.

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 […]

Since opening their doors in 2016, Georges Greek Village Restaurant in St. Catharines has been dedicated to bringing the highest quality and freshest authentic Greek cuisine to diners in the Niagara Region.
The journey for owner and chef George Kountourogiannis to this point has been a long but rewarding one. One full of uncompromising hard work, a passion for food passed down through his family and now the satisfaction of owning a successful restaurant that bears his namesake.
It all started in 1975 at the Pine Centre Restaurant in Thorold, where his mom and dad owned a family restaurant.

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.”

Bloody Monday at Regional Headquarters

by Kevin Vallier

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 receives early Christmas gift in regular GO train service

by Nicholas Tibollo

Standing before an audience of some 30 anxious onlookers inside the St. Catharines VIA Rail Station, the Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek announced that regular weekday GO train service would soon be coming to Niagara Falls and St. Catharines.

Flanked by his parliamentary assistant Kinga Surma and Niagara West PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff, Minister Yurek said that local residents can expect the first train to depart January 7, 2019.

“We are working with our railway partner, CN, to use the existing rail infrastructure to expand GO Transit service for people in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines four years sooner than promised,” said Yurek.

While the new crop of Niagara regional councillors jumped into the NPCA debate with both feet at their inaugural meeting last week, passing a motion to appoint 12 regional councillors to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) Board, their counterparts in Hamilton and Haldimand have said not so fast.
Haldimand passed a motion on Tuesday stating they would be appointing two members to the NPCA Board. Current NPCA board member Rob Shirton was reappointed. He will be joined by Bernie Corbert. Their neighbouring counterparts in Hamilton stated they will be appointing four members – two councillors and two citizens. Hamilton selected city Councillors Brenda Johnson and former MPP Brad Clark. Hamilton council will ratify that recommendation at their Dec. 19 meeting.
Johnson told Hamilton media after she was recommended for appointment at committee meeting; “If anything else there will be some sort of equalization in voting,” said Johnson. “Any time they (Niagara) wanted to approve something, against the City of Hamilton, there were 12 voters saying too bad to be you.”

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.

For the third consecutive year, Parks Canada, in partnership with Vintage Hotels, will maintain an outdoor skating rink at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake all winter long.

The rink, which opened on December 5, is located in the site’s parking area, near the Agora venue space.

Public access to the ice is free.

A variety of special events will take place at the rink and adjacent fort throughout the holidays and into the New Year, including appearances by Santa and the 41st Regiment Fife and Drum Corps.

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.”

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.

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.

Local police and community members volunteer to help the hungry

by Nicholas Tibollo

With wintry weather abruptly afoot, many of the region’s community centres and soup kitchens are seeing an uptick in public need.

From high school students to retirees, legions of selfless Niagarans from every walk of life are coming together — like they do every year — to accommodate the growing demand.

On Monday, Niagara Regional Police joined re-elected regional councillor Bob Gale and a small army of volunteers at Niagara Falls Community Outreach’s soup kitchen to pitch-in and do their part.

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.

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.

One of the least talked-about success stories in the Niagara Region over the last few years or so has been the revitalization of Welland.

The city, once viewed by some as Niagara’s trouble child, has made great strides to clean up its image and improve quality of life for its residents.

By being forward-thinking, open to change, and inviting to investment, Welland has made itself one of Niagara’s top places to live and work.

Sunday marks the centenary anniversary of the armistice that effectively ended the First World War.

Roughly 61,000 Canadians were killed serving overseas during the four-year conflict; with 172,000 more reporting injuries and ailments.

All told, depending on one’s sources, the First World War took the lives of over 16 million civilians and military personnel, and left another 22 million wounded.

For many, such a colossal loss of life is so unfathomable and difficult to put into perspective that the numbers are rendered meaningless.

The sterile succession of digits hardly invokes anything of consequence, outside of magnitude: the fear, the pain, the cold, the courage, the individuals.

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.

White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa recently played host to the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Niagara Economic Summit.

The annual forum brings together academics, economists, government officials, and business leaders to reflect upon, celebrate, and sketch the current and future state of Niagara’s economy.

Friday’s conference saw several high-profile economic authorities from around the province address a diverse audience of 350 students, business owners, local politicians, and professionals of every stripe.

Mobile Cancer Screening expands to Fort Erie and Port Colborne

by Niagara Independent Staff

Starting this month, the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Regional Mobile Cancer Screening Coach will begin offering free, regular cancer screening services at Bridges Community Health Centre locations in Fort Erie and Port Colborne.
The Coach has been providing cancer screening services in St. Catharines since July 2017. Expansion to Fort Erie and Port Colborne is part of the Regional Cancer Program’s efforts to increase cancer screening rates among Niagara residents who face barriers to screening.
The Coach will bring state-of-the-art breast, cervical and colon cancer screening to Fort Erie and Port Colborne for a full day each month, beginning on November 7 in Port Colborne and November 13 in Fort Erie. Going forward, the Coach will visit Port Colborne the first Wednesday of each month and Fort Erie the second Tuesday of each month.

It started with the 2017 Scotties, the women’s national curling championship that were held in St Catharines. For the first time, St Catharines was able to host a championship of that size because we have the Meridian Centre with 5,000 seats and all the infrastructure that you need to run an event and telecast it coast to coast.

The Scotties got everyone’s attention. Downtown restaurants had to bring in extra staff. City parking garages were packed. All the hotels were booked solid. And the local politicians trooped in for the closing ceremonies shaking their heads at the magnitude of the event and soaking up the excitement.

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.

One has to wonder what kind of attention John Chayka would receive if he was working in a larger market, or for a team that’s been around for longer than 22 years.
Many think Toronto Maple Leafs’ 32-year old General Manager Kyle Dubas is the youngest GM in the National Hockey League.
Raise your hand if you knew the youngest general manager in the history of the NHL works for the Arizona Coyotes, and more importantly hails from Jordan, Ontario.

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.

Niagara College campus turns 20

by Nicholas Tibollo

Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus celebrated its 20th anniversary on Monday.

Alongside the ceremonial cake cutting and requisite blue and white balloons, a handful of dignitaries and school officials addressed a crowd of listeners to commemorate the occasion.

On hand were the school’s 1998 Student Council president Don Woodruff, college president Dan Patterson, associate vice-president of Academic and Learner Services Dave Taylor, and former Ontario PC MPP and Niagara Falls regional councillor Bart Maves.

Entire Pelham council turfed, an upset in Fort Erie, and other election happenings

by Niagara Independent Staff

Pelham While it was a night of change in several spots across the region, nowhere was this more apparent than in Pelham. Voters there, fed up with a huge debt, tax hikes, strange land deals and a tone-deaf council, took the opportunity to throw the whole lot out. Mayor Dave Augustyn, with dreams of becoming […]

The changing face of Regional Council

by Niagara Independent Staff

While a lot of voters stayed home once again this municipal election, especially in St. Catharines and Welland where turnout was a paltry 33%, those that did make it to the polls had an appetite for change.

With 8 members of the 2014 Niagara Regional Council deciding not to run in the 2018 elections, a revamped Council was assured from the get go.  Mayors Bentley (Grimsby), Maloney (Port Colborne), Augustyn (Pelham) and Jeffs (Wainfleet) all declined to seek another term as Mayor’s in their communities.  Councillors Hodgson (Lincoln), Maves (Niagara Falls), Burroughs (NOTL), Barrick (Port Colborne) and Petrowksi (St. Catharines) all also decided not to run this time around.  With a new regional councillor added for West Lincoln, 10 new faces were guaranteed.

In addition, in the politically tumultuous St. Catharines, new well-known candidates such as Jim Bradley, George Darte and Sandie Bellows all decided to run for a regional council seat.  If those three were successful, that left only three spots for incumbents Tim Rigby, Bruce Timms, Kelly Edgar, Brian Heit, the embattled Alan Caslin and the quiet Debbie MacGregor.

Walter Sendzik will return to the Mayor’s office in St. Catharines with an overwhelming victory that saw the incumbent mayor win just over 70 per cent of the vote. Sendzik’s vote total of 21,574 was more than three times that of second place finisher Richard Stephens who grabbed 5,834 total votes. Of all the Mayor’s races across the Region this one was as close to a sure bet as one could find. Despite some significant challenges with projects that never came to fruition, like the General Motors factory site cleanup, the Port Dalhousie tower still at a standstill and the compassionate city slogan that has been tarnished with multiple acts of violence, Sendzik never really faced any credible opposition during the campaign and cruised to an easy victory.

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.

As the dust begins to settle on the Fort-Erie-Race-Track-declining-slots-fiasco, residents continue to reel from the situation.

Although some are questioning the sincerity of the deal, the Ford government remains adamant that the offer presented was equitable and made in good faith.

Sam Oosterhoff, Niagara’s only Ontario PC Party representative at Queen’s Park, said he understands the disappointment of Fort Erie residents.

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

With just three days to go until municipal Election Day there have been some interesting developments as candidates make one last push to convince voters they are the right choice to represent their respective municipalities.

Niagara Falls

Some very positive news out of Niagara Falls earlier this week when incumbent Mayor, Jim Diodati, released a statement saying his oncologist gave him very good news regarding his battle with Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Diodati, who is well on his way to completing his treatments, says he is feeling good and looking forward to Election Day. “I have a great team of volunteers and we will be focused on getting out the vote.  Signs, advertising, flyers, none of it matters if your supporters don’t actually vote,” he said.

Also in Niagara Falls, former NHL player and coach, Steve Ludzik, is back in the race for a Niagara Falls city council seat. Ludzik said he was going to step aside early in the campaign but is now back in the race. Ludzik established the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehabilitation at Hotel Dieu Shaver and has done yeomen’s work to raise money and awareness for the Centre and the disease.

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.

When Doug Ford travelled through Niagara on the campaign trail in May, the Ontario PC Party leader was asked if he planned to return slot machines back to the Fort Erie Race Track upon his election.

Ford replied to the query with an emphatic: “absolutely”.

The Ontario Liberal Party removed the slots from Fort Erie in 2012. The controversial decision put 200 full-time employees out of work.

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.

Interesting Candidates throughout Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

With hundreds of candidates running across Niagara in municipal, regional and school board elections – there are some interesting stories about many of the candidates. We profile a few below.

Flyboy is back in Welland
In the 2014 municipal election, Wellanders had to look up to see one candidate’s ‘lawn signs’. Graham Speck, a businessman – owner of Speck Industries, a communitarian and a Rotarian – had a unique way of getting voters’ attention for his 2014 campaign – he hand-glided above the city with his sign visible from the ground trailing behind. In the 2018 campaign, ‘flyboy’ is back, this time running for Welland City Council in Ward 5.

All in the family – Nicholson follows father’s footsteps

by Kevin Vallier

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.

Niagara College welcomed their first batch of students into their Artisan Distilling (Graduate Certificate) program, a first-of-its-kind program in Canada.
The 2,500 square-foot state-of-the-art Teaching Distillery, housed at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, is directly adjacent to the college’s unique Wine Visitor + Education Centre, and is based on the college’s successful teaching winery and teaching brewery – also Canadian firsts. The fully operational distillery houses five stills, four mash tuns and ten fermenters that allow for on-site production of a wide variety of distilled products, including vodka, gin, whisky, brandy, rum and more.

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

Current Regional Chairman, Alan Caslin, released a statement following his appearance on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken, saying he is in favour of less government for Niagara; particularly when it comes to municipal politicians. Caslin pointed out that Hamilton has about 100,000 more people than Niagara but has just 16 politicians. By comparison, Niagara has 125 politicians.

Caslin said in his statement: “Not surprisingly, most politicians are tone deaf to residents’ shock when they are told Niagara has 125 politicians. Reducing the number of politicians in Niagara will reduce the cost of government. While this decision may not be popular with the political class or media establishment, it is the right thing to do.”

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.

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.

A recent Brock study may have just put an end to the doom and gloom scenario often painted about the Region’s manufacturing sector. Turns out there isn’t a need to plan a manufacturing funeral just yet. In fact, according to Sean Calcott and Charles Conteh there’s actually some good news.
Conteh, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brock University and Director of the Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) admits the sector doesn’t look like it once did and it has gone through some challenging times. “But the general trend is that manufacturing has been very resilient, has stayed in the region and, in fact, has seen an upswing since 2012, so there’s a bit of a wind in our sails.”

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

Things have heated up in Pelham as the election date gets closer. The town’s new arena, the Meridian Community Centre, recently had a not-so-smooth opening. The development of the facility was pushed hard over the years by Mayor Augustyn and seen as a legacy project for the Town’s Mayor. There was much discussion as to the actual cost of the celebratory grand opening pomp-and-circumstance as well as how the tickets were sold (or not sold) for a hockey game. Just three months ago the projected cost for the celebrations were pegged at $85,000. Since that time the estimated cost has gone from the original $85,000 to $70,000 to $48,000.

Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc McDonald was asked by the Town’s local newspaper, The Voice, to clarify the actual cost. MacDonald’s explanation was; “The net cost of the event is expected to be $48,225.”

Local residents living adjacent to the Habourtown at Erie Beach Development area, south of Dominion Rd. between Bardol Ave. and Basset Ave. in Fort Erie, awoke to an unseemly sight last Friday morning.

Crudely spray-painted in large black letters across the developer’s advertising signs and the Town’s own public notice postings were the words “WE ARE THE LORAX” and “WE SPEAK FOR THE TREES”.

The phrases refer to a children’s book (later turned into a TV special and movie) by Dr. Seuss. In the story, the Lorax is a personification of nature who advocates against environmental degradation. The Lorax proclaims: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues”.

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.

Niagara High Schools on inflated marks list

by Niagara Independent Staff

It’s one list that Niagara’s high schools would prefer not to be on.
Global News reporter, Patrick Cain, recently broke a story on how for years, the University of Waterloo has been comparing the marks of high school graduates with their marks in the University’s engineering program. Some matched and some didn’t. What Waterloo have been finding is that marks from students coming out of three different schools aren’t reliable indicators on how those students will fair in their post-secondary studies. Some students were getting really good grades in high school and continued to do so in university while others had their marks drop as much as 30 per cent.

The distinguishing red and white underbellies and signature smoke trails of Canada’s premier air show flight demonstration team will fill the skies over Fort Erie this Wednesday, September 19.

Travelling up to almost half the speed of sound whilst executing awe-inspiring aerobatics, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds squadron is expected to draw large crowds as it performs its fifth-to-last public production of the year over Lake Erie.

The famed flight team was previously scheduled to showcase its talent above south Niagara in May last year. Unfortunately, the spring 2017 appearance was cancelled following a close-call incident and a subsequent need for “more practice”.

Region’s Police Chief Earns National Recognition

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara’s Chief of Police will soon don a new insignia atop his black Eisenhower jacket.

Bryan MacCulloch, who has been at the helm of the Niagara Regional Police Service for just under one year, has been awarded the Order of Merit of the Police Forces for 2017/ 2018.

The accolade is one of the top honours any police officer can receive in Canada and is only conferred upon those who illustrate “exceptional merit” and produce career-long “contributions to policing and community development”.

Regional Planning Committee unanimously endorsed Phase 1 of the Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines Glendale District Plan this week. After several public meetings, workshops, charrettes, a social media campaign and consultations, renowned planning consultants, “The Planning Partnership”, presented the results – a visioning and conceptual development plan.
The Glendale Niagara area, is the confluence between the southern boundary of St. Catharines and the west boundary of Niagara on the Lake. It is the area that currently encompasses Niagara College, the Outlet Collection mall, White Oaks and the Seaway on the west side of the QEW and two hotels, commercial and industrial employment zones, and the QEW roadside rest area.

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.

  Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati at his recent campaign launch.   Supporters of the incumbent mayor of Niagara Falls painted the corner of Thorold Stone and Dorchester red and white this past Saturday. Waving signs soliciting onlookers to “re-elect” and sporting shirts inscribed with “I’m stepping up for Jim Diodati”, hundreds of community members […]

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.

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