logo logo

The Steve Ludzik Foundation held its fifth annual Ludzy’s Charity Golf Classic at Thundering Waters Golf Club in Niagara Falls on Thursday.

The tournament, along with Ludzy’s Charity Roast, helps sustain one of the few facilities in Canada dedicated to combating the physical effects of Parkinson’s Disease.

Former Chicago Blackhawks forward and Tampa Bay Lightening head coach Steve Ludzik, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000, has worked tirelessly over the last decade to raise funds and awareness for the disease. He established the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehab at the Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines.

Regional Council has sent staff back to sharpen their pencils when it comes to preparing the next budget.

At the Budget Review Committee of the Whole, staff presented, as per Council’s policy, a budget based on a two per cent increase. Although generally pleased with staff’s work, Councillor Bruce Timms of St. Catharines asked to see what the budget would look like with a 1.5 per cent increase.

Niagara’s only PC MPP has priorities set

by Kevin Vallier

Now that the post-provincial election dust has settled and Premier Ford has selected his cabinet and filled other positions in his provincial government, Progressive Conservative MPPs know their roles and can begin to focus on the future. With a large majority government that future will last four years.
Niagara’s only PC MPP, the soon-to-be 21 year old Sam Oosterhoff who represents Niagara West-Glanbrook (capturing nearly 53% of the vote), has his sights set on a number of priorities both locally and provincially. This will be Oosterhoff’s first time as a sitting government MPP. He spent the beginning of his political career in opposition after first being elected at the age of 19 in a November 2016 byelection. That election victory gave him the title of youngest Ontario MPP to ever be elected. The previous record was held by Reid Scott who was elected as a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation MPP in 1948 at the age of 21.

Augustyn Running for Chair’s Seat

by Niagara Independent Staff

And then there were four.

Joining Damian Goulbourne from Welland, John (Ringo) Beam of Niagara Falls and current Regional Chair Alan Caslin from St. Catharines, current Pelham Mayor, Dave Augustyn declared publicly yesterday that he too will join the race to seek the Region’s top political position.

Although he doesn’t officially begin his role as the new Director of Economic Development for the Niagara Region, Domenic Ursini is doing his homework and reaching out to partners so that he’s able to hit the ground running come his official start date of July 30.
“I’ve been holding conversations with local counterparts and members of my team,” said Ursni who brings with him a wealth of private sector experience including commercial banking, government relations and public accounting.

Over the past few years, small-batch breweries have taken the Niagara region by storm. What were once rare establishments are now present in every corner of the peninsula.

For craft beer producers looking to avoid an increasingly crowded Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, Niagara offers an attractive, spacious, and relatively affordable location to set up shop.

Prior to 2010, Niagara had only three commercial microbreweries: the Merchant Ale House, Taps Brewing Company, and Niagara’s Best Brewery.

Rumour, gossip, innuendo, hearsay, misinformation, speculation and conjecture; Those were the words used by Municipal Ombudsman, Marvin Huberman, an independent third-party investigator and a lawyer with ADR Chambers, to describe the allegations of impropriety that were made with regard to the 2016 hiring of Niagara Region’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Carmen D’Angelo.
In 2016 Regional Council struck a CAO Recruitment Committee to handle the search for and recommendation of a new CAO. They were assisted by The Phelps Group, an executive search firm with extensive experience in executive recruitment, particularly in government organizations. At a special Regional Council meeting held on October 21, 2016, Regional Council passed a motion that Carmen D’Angelo be appointed as the CAO for the Regional Municipality of Niagara. On October 31, 2016 Regional Chair Alan Caslin publicly announced the hiring of Carmen D’Angelo as the new CAO effective October 31, 2016.

Starbucks has announced it will eliminate plastic drinking straws from all its locations by 2020. The move comes on the heels of Seattle – Starbucks’ birthplace – banning plastic drinking straws and utensils. I remain hopeful that someday Starbucks will eliminate the burnt taste from its coffee as well.

Plastic straw bans have become the fidget spinners of 2018: suddenly everywhere, with everyone wondering where they came from. According to the CBC News website, they came from a 2015 video that showed rescuers removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose. That led to cities such as Fort Myers, Florida banning plastic straws, while other cities are considering similar bans.

OPG prepares for historic canal project

by Kevin Vallier

After nearly a century of reliable operation, Niagara’s Sir Adam Beck Power Canal is gradually showing signs of age. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is in the planning stages of addressing that issue as it prepares to undertake the biggest project on the canal since 1964/1965 – the one and only time the canal was completely drained and repaired under the watch of what was then known as the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario.
In 1981, some additional work was done to remove accumulated debris without dewatering the canal. That work was carried out using what is called ‘wet’ dredging. Since then, technology has moved at a rapid pace and has allowed OPG, and its partner companies on this project, to use many innovative technologies to perform condition assessments so they can better understand the potential size and extent of the work. Some of the technology applied was designed specifically for the canal project.

Barbecue smoke and the sound of live music filled the air above various events around Niagara as residents celebrated Canada Day this past weekend.

Despite the sultry weather, patriotic residents across the region ventured outside to enjoy concerts, craft shows, picnics, and parades.

Welland, Niagara Falls, and St. Catharines each hosted a series of concerts showcasing local talent and performers from around the province. Artists of note included: Basia Bulat, the Darcys, Vox Violins, and several entertaining cover bands.

On a sweltering hot Saturday, Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer found one of the cooler spots in Niagara to meet 300 supporters for a barbeque. Henley Island in St. Catharines provided the backdrop with a cool breeze off the water as the crowd of Tory supporters eagerly dined on burgers and Canada Day cake while lining up for pictures with their party leader.
The event was organized by St. Catharines Conservative Riding Association member and St. Catharines City Councillor Mike Britton along with the Niagara Falls Riding Association. Britton also was the evening’s emcee. “It was an honour to have Mr. Scheer here in Niagara and having such a large turnout with just a week’s notice is a testament to the support the Party has here in this Region,” said Britton.

The City of Welland has attracted almost 1.5 million sq. ft. of new industrial development since 2015 as a result of its “pro-development” approach and its financial incentive programs.

The Rose City has made a concerted effort to attract new industrial development by offering a variety of Community Improvement Plan (CIP) programs and financial incentives to attract investment through its Brownfield CIP; Downtown and Health and Wellness Cluster CIP; Gateway Economic Zone CIP; Development Charge Reduction Programs, and Tax Increment Grants (TIGs). Many of these programs are funded jointly by the City of Welland and the Region of Niagara.

Caslin seeking re-election as Regional Chair

by Niagara Independent Staff

Current Niagara Regional Chairman, Alan Caslin is officially seeking re-election.

Chair Caslin announced his intentions Thursday stating: “For the past four years, I have been honoured to lead a Niagara Regional Council that has repeatedly delivered for Niagara residents.” He cited the creation of 12,700 new jobs, billions of dollars in economic growth annually, the lowest unemployment rate in 18 years, and a low tax plan that included a tax freeze in 2016 as some of the accomplishments in the past four years under Caslin’s leadership.

“Canadians” dotted the shorelines along Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence long before July 1, 1867.

That is to say, when the first British North America Act came into effect 151 years ago, a collection of insufficiently dissimilar people were already assembled under an ambiguous, though identifiable banner.

With friends and family gathered at Eagle Valley Golf Course in Niagara Falls, Steve Ludzik began his remarks talking about his upcoming charity golf tournament and celebrity roast that raises money for the Parkinson’s rehab clinic named after him at Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre.
Ludzik thanked his committee and family for their support, invited a few of them to come up and say a few words and when he announced that Derek Sanderson will be the this year’s former NHLer being roasted many assumed that was the big announcement of the morning. But there was one more thing Ludzik announced. He’s running for city Council.

Lifelong Niagara resident and former Welland mayor Damian Goulbourne has officially thrown his political hat into the ring. The Niagara College employee and small business owner is seeking the Regional Chair’s seat as Niagara residents will, for the first time in its history, vote specifically for the Regional Chair in the upcoming municipal election.

A fourth European institution is joining the dual degree program that has become an international success story for Brock University’s Goodman School of Business.
The Goodman School has established a partnership with Reutlingen University’s ESB Business School in Germany for its Bachelor of Business Administration Co-op International Dual Degree program.

Welland City Council has approved phase one of a multi-phased canal redevelopment strategy focused on funding new initiatives and amenities that will enhance the city’s waterfront experience for families, individuals, and tourists. The phase one changes will be completed at the city’s Lincoln Street Docks over the next four to six weeks.

Former Chicago Blackhawk player and Tampa Bay Lightning coach turned philanthropist Steve Ludzik, is gearing up for his annual golf tournament and celebrity roast. The Steve Ludzik Foundation is hosting the 5th Annual Ludzy’s Charity Golf Classic on Thursday, July 12, at Thundering Waters Golf Club in Niagara Falls.

Ludzy’s Charity Golf Classic, combined with contributions from Ludzy’s Celebrity Roast and The Light of Day Concert, all support the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehab at the Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines. The Centre was opened in June of 2013.

Agreement on safe injection sites is impossible without a common definition of “opioid crisis.”
There are two distinct camps when it comes to how people feel about safe injection sites for opioid addicts. One camp believes safe injection sites are the best, most effective way to address the “opioid crisis” gripping North America. The other camp believes safe injection sites make the crisis even worse.

Traditionally frequented by dog walkers and weekend cyclists, Fireman’s Park will soon play host to an upcoming historic event.

On Saturday, July 21, 1 000 amateur and professional musicians of all ages will descend on the Niagara Falls recreation area to perform a synchronized set of six classic hits.

New Mental Health Program at NHS

by Kevin Vallier

A new program at Niagara Health is enhancing care and access to services for people with complex mental health needs.
The Wellness Recovery Integrated Comprehensive Care program helps people to fully understand their mental health needs and to identify and develop strategies to improve their mental wellness. A goal of the program is to reduce readmissions to hospital and visits to the Emergency Department for non-urgent mental health issues which typically represent between five and 10 per cent of emergency department visits annually.

The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce recognized outstanding business leaders recently at its 15th annual Business Achievement Awards ceremony.
Hosted by 610 CKTB’s Tim Dennis, the 400 people in attendance celebrated some of Niagara’s best in business, including a legend in the wine industry who was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

On Friday, June 15 public officials and relief agencies from across the region gathered to celebrate 10 successful years of the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI).

Established in 2008, the NPI administers $1.5 million in annual funding to a variety of local organizations maintaining missions to reduce and prevent poverty.

The event was moderated by Commissioner of Community Services Adrienne Jugley and featured statements from Regional Chair Alan Caslin, Township of West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner, and program director at Westview Centre4Women Jane LaVacca.

The Integrity Commissioner Office for the Niagara Region, ADR Chambers, has found Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn in violation of the Region’s Code of Conduct, specifically the Release of Confidential Information.

Regional Councillor David Barrick brought forth the complaint in January, alleging Councillor Augustyn violated the Code of Conduct when, on Dec. 21 of 2017 he circulated documents clearly marked privileged and confidential to the Office of the Ontario Ombudsmen.

100,000th Grad Crosses Brock’s Stage

by Austin Broad

Convocation is an important time for students and their families. Proud parents watch their child walk across the stage to receive their diploma and for most students, leave post-secondary life for good. Brock University concluded its spring convocation ceremonies this past week celebrating a big milestone in the school’s relatively young history.

On June, 8 21-year-old Rebecca Alcock crossed the stage as Brock University’s 100,000th graduate. Alcock received her Bachelor of Arts from Brock’s Faculty of Humanities, and told Brock that she was honoured and proud.

Province Goes Blue, Niagara Goes Orange

by Kevin Vallier

Local NDP candidates held onto ridings they were expected to win and some might say surprisingly stole one away from the longest serving MPP in the Province. Meanwhile Ontario voters handed the PC Party a convincing majority government winning 75 seats to the NDPs 39. The Conservatives even won the popular vote at 40.5%. For Niagara Conservatives it’s a bitter sweet election night.

NDP incumbent Wayne Gates kept control of his Niagara Falls riding defeating PC candidate Chuck McShane and Liberal candidate Dean Demizio. In a heated battle with accusations of NDP bullying tactics and tampering of lawn signs, Gates managed to keep his riding orange. When asked for his thoughts on the provincial outcome, McShane said: “I’m very happy for the people of Ontario for electing a majority progressive conservative government. So many things can now be fixed by Mr. Ford and his team that will put Ontario back on track.”

Although unsuccessful at his bid to become an MPP McShane said: “Locally, I am of course disappointed that neither April, Sandie or I were able to win a PC seat for Niagara but all three of us will continue to work hard for the betterment of this region regardless. That’s who we are and what we believe in.”

Diversity is key. tt’s a philosophy that has kept a Niagara manufacturing company going strong for the past two decades since its current CEO Bob Benner took over in 1998.

Hamill Machine, a Niagara Falls based small manufacturing facility, is currently expanding from 4,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet. In an era where cities are constantly looking at ways to move away from manufacturing to something sexier like the hi-tech sector, Benner says there is still plenty of work for manufacturing companies that are comfortable with going outside of the traditional sector space.

“We invested $30,000 into 3D software during the last recession so that we can be ahead of the curve when the recession ended,” explained Benner. He said 20 years ago he didn’t even have a computer at the shop. The company also made a conscious decision to stay away from the steel and auto market because, as Benner says, “it’s feast or famine”.

With just 48 hours until Ontario decides who will be the next leader of the province and closer to home, which Niagara candidates will be heading to Queen’s Park to represent their respective constituents, Niagara Falls riding PC candidate Chuck McShane gave one last pre-election day speech to his supporters.

At a news conference held at his Niagara Falls campaign headquarters, McShane took to the podium on Tuesday afternoon to remind his supporters and those in his riding of the importance of having a seat at the table in Toronto.

The high cost of housing has been a hot topic in Canada for a while now.  Most shows talk about the rapid escalation of real estate prices in Toronto and the GTA or Vancouver and increasingly Montreal – but even here in Niagara, everyone is well aware of the same phenomenon.  The Big City runaway home prices are clearly spilling over into surrounding smaller commuter communities.  Lots of GTA residents are cashing in and moving to Niagara.  This has escalated demand and with a restricted local supply has caused significant price escalations.  The 1,500 square foot wartime era homes, listed for half a million dollars are everywhere.

According to the Ontario Real Estate Association, between 2001 and 2014 house prices grew by 133 per cent while household income grew only 36 per cent. The average down payment on a home purchase in 2017 was $38,000.

One “solution” has been to put a tax on foreign home ownership.  Stop foreign ‘investment’ in real estate the story goes and you will dampen demand and therefore dampen prices.  But evidence suggests that foreign ownership represents only about five per cent of the purchases.  So what else is pushing up home prices? 

Ontario PC Party Leader Doug Ford was back in Niagara for the fourth time in this 2018 provincial election which tells many political pundits that the PCs are seeing numbers that suggest they can win what have historically been NDP and Liberal seats.
In contrast, the other main party Leaders Andrea Horwath (NDP) and Kathleen Wynne (Liberal) have been in Niagara only once and not at all respectively.

Clifton Hill’s world famous street of fun has a new attraction that has tourists all revved up and racing to get in line.

Canada’s first ever elevated go-kart race course is now open. Towering over forty-two feet high, the Niagara Speedway is the latest and most exciting addition to Clifton Hill’s Street of Fun in Niagara Falls.

The Speedway is a world-class attraction that combines the adrenaline inducing thrill of kart racing with the remarkable experience of a roller coaster ride. The course is spread out over four acres with over 2,000 linear feet of concrete racing surface, running through a four-story helical spiral followed by a two tiered coaster style ramp that runs into another spiral. Though riders may feel like they are flying over a cliff at certain points during the ride, extensive safety features were built into the Speedway attraction.

Three Niagara PC candidates are making a strong push to change the political colours of their respective ridings. Add the fact that PC Party Leader Doug Ford will be making yet another stop in Niagara today, his third this campaign and just 10 days after attending a rally in Niagara Falls for candidate Chuck McShane, and that tells you the party thinks they have a strong shot to turn Niagara blue.

Sandie Bellows is in a tight race in St. Catharines hoping to upset long-time MPP Jim Bradley and hold off NDP candidate Jennie Stevens. In Niagara Centre, a traditionally orange riding and one that includes Welland, Thorold, Port Colborne and parts of St. Catharines, April Jeffs is making a strong push to turn it blue. The Niagara Falls riding is also seeing a closer than expected race between McShane and NDP incumbent Wayne Gates.

The Region has moved the full day GO TRAIN transit file forward in a solid and meaningful way with the passing of all four secondary plans for the GO Train station areas.
Niagara Region, as part of its business case, committed to ensuring that the areas around the potential stations, the so-called Transit Hubs, would be fully planned and prepared in time for the beginning of GO Train service committed for 2023.

It’s come a long way since the days of combing through thick books of basic information or doing a simple Google search. Today, Niagara Region staff are using a highly advanced system combining various information technology applications to gather real time data on Niagara’s businesses.
Lead by John Docker from the Planning and Development department as well as Nicole Guglielmi from the IT Solutions department and with the help of post secondary students the Niagara Region is collecting a wealth of information that will help council make strategic decisions while providing vital information to a host of various departments from transportation to economic development to community services.

It’s a tough election year to be carrying the Liberal party flag but that hasn’t stopped Niagara Liberal candidates from soldiering on the campaign trail.
In St. Catharines veteran MPP Jim Bradley, first elected in 1977, attempts to extend his distinguished career while on the other end of the spectrum retired teacher Benoit Mercier takes his first run at provincial politics in the riding of Niagara Centre.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on sports gambling could have a major impact right here in Niagara. America’s top court struck down a longstanding federal law that had barred most state-authorized sports betting outside of Nevada. The recent ruling now makes sports betting possible nationwide south of the border. It will now be up to individual states to decide if they want to offer sports betting.  Currently there are 16 states that have expressed serious interest.

Experts believe that if American states move quickly to offer single-game bets, it will have an enormous impact on an industry that is already losing billions to offshore companies.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati continues to lobby for the same opportunity north of the U.S. border.

And their off!

In an odd twist to the Niagara Falls Riding’s provincial election race, a mayor and a race track CEO joined forces with the riding’s NDP candidate to criticize PC opponent Chuck McShane for vowing to improve the Fort Erie Race Track.

McShane made what Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop and race track CEO Jim Thibert called “inflammatory” comments while introducing PC Party Leader Doug Ford at a rally in Niagara Falls earlier this week. McShane pointed out that the track has been on life support since the province pulled the plug on the track’s slot machines.

Ford Talks Jobs on Niagara Tour

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario PC Party Leader Doug Ford spent yesterday making stops across Niagara during his campaign tour. Ford started his day in Niagara Falls where he was joined by Niagara Falls candidate Chuck McShane and West Niagara’s Sam Oosterhoff where the three held a photo-op next to an “Ontario is Open for Business” sign that overlooked the falls.
The setting shifted to a third floor terrace at the Marriott Hotel where the PC Leader took to the podium to discuss his plan to improve the Ontario economy and boost job creation.

Big Thinkers to Gather in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Inspired by one of the greatest marketing and advertising minds this country has known Innovate Niagara is hosting its second annual Big Thinkers: Innovation in Business event May 16 at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre.

Innovate’s CEO Jeff Chesebrough said it was through a lunch meeting with marketing legend and proud St. Catharines resident, Terry O’Malley, that the event was born. “Terry said to me that we in Niagara don’t celebrate our business success enough and we need a big event to do that and to let people know what Innovate Niagara is doing,” said Chesebrough.

Last year’s regional-municipal saga surrounding the $36 million borrowed by the Region on behalf of the Town of Pelham for Pelham’s new arena, reappeared in an Audit Committee meeting at the Region this week.  The loan request of the Region was first made in June of 2016 when the Town asked the Region to agree to grant it borrowing space of up to $36 million for aforementioned arena.  The Town stated they had no intention of borrowing the full amount, because they had a plan to fundraise and engage in land sales to cover at least $15 million of the cost.  Several Councillors balked at agreeing to have the Region borrow for the Town fearing the amount was far too much for a town of only 17,000 people, but were led to believe by previous Region staff that their non-approval would be a legal problem.  Loans like this by upper tier governments had come to be treated as ‘rubber stamps’.  After a deferral was narrowly defeated, the loan space was eventually approved, with only Councillors Bart Maves and Andy Petrowski standing their ground and voting against. 

The Town of Pelham and a few other municipalities began to pass motions at their respective Councils condemning perceived Regional government interference in municipal matters.  The Region argued that since they were liable for the debt, they had the right and the responsibility to ask for financial information from the Municipalities that would assure the Region that the municipality could actually afford the debt.

Candidates Host a Conversation About Women in Politics

by Niagara Independent Staff

All three are single parents. All three have raised boys. All three have gone through terrible physical or emotional experiences and have come out stronger on the other side.
Now, all three of these women are running to become progressive conservative MPPs in the upcoming Ontario election. And they want to get more women interested in participating in politics.
Christine Elliott joined Niagara MPP hopefuls Sandie Bellows and April Jeffs at Johnny Rocco’s in St. Catharines Friday evening for what was billed as “A Conversation with Women – Three Strong Leaders Talking Real Change”.

The Niagara Region and Brock University have formed a partnership to evaluate the impact of the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI) on Niagara’s communities. Now in its 10th year, the NPI provides $1.5 million annually to support poverty reduction and prevention activities throughout the region.
The evaluation project is supported by $470,000 in funding delivered through the Government of Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund (LPRF). The grant, administered by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, is helping Niagara Region to support those in need by identifying the effect of the NPI over the last decade.

An accident in early 2018 at Four Mile Creek Road and Line 3 in Niagara-on-the-Lake spurred regional public works transportation staff to try and find out why so many accidents were occurring at the intersection. Traffic counts don’t warrant four-way stops at the intersection and it is a relatively plain two-way stop from Line 3 onto Creek Road.
The Regions’ public works staff accelerated their processes after another accident in late April. This accident was followed by urgent requests for a four-way stop to be installed by Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Council.

Another Horse Track Fights to Stay Alive

by Kevin Vallier

n early March, Mayor Steve Parish of Ajax, received the same gut wrenching news about his community that Fort Erie received in 2002.  The Wynne Liberals informed Parrish that Ajax Downs, home of quarter horse racing, was losing its slots and the revenues and jobs that went along with it.

“We are still in the dark,” said Mayor Parish in an interview with The Niagara Independent. “It appears that the government has signed off on the relocation of the slots but there is a provincial election coming up and we will see what, if any, impact that has.”

Tomorrow marks the start of Overdose Awareness Week in Ontario, and Glenn Walker hopes residents will understand the serious impact of the opioid crisis in our community. The executive director of Street Works says Niagara is facing one of the highest rates of drug overdoses in Ontario and it’s not going away quickly. “We’ve had a dramatic increase in the need for services, supplies and training over the past 4 years,” says Walker. He points to the 1.6 million needles distributed in Niagara last year. “And we had a return of between 70 and 80 percent of the used needles,” he says, “which is one of the highest return rates in the province.” Over 460 Naloxone kits were distributed through the program. 

Statistics from Niagara Regional Public Health reveal 40 deaths, 297 opioid poisoning emergency department visits and 82 hospitalizations in 2016. Death data for 2017 is still considered to be preliminary.

The spotlight on the Burgoyne Bridge massive cost overrun has shifted to the City of St. Catharines. At issue is two years worth of city emails, 2011 and 2012, that can’t be retrieved. The 2011 email file is corrupted and the 2012 emails have completely vanished.

The committee trying to get to the bottom of the massive cost overruns was provided with an update from staff at this week’s meeting.

National Recognition for Brock Student Scientists

by Niagara Independent Staff

A Brock University student placed an impressive third overall in a national science research video contest, with two other Brock student videos among the contest’s top 15 finalists.
Science, Action! features student-produced, 60-second videos on research projects funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), one of Brock’s major research funders.

Niagara Falls Hotel Tax Put to Rest

by Kevin Vallier

After years of angry tourists, controversy, confusion and negative publicity regarding the Destination Marketing Fee (DMF), Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati knew something needed to be done to fix the problem. That something was a standardized $2 per room, per night fee that will begin Jan. 1 and apply to all accommodations in the city. It is estimated to generate around $5 million annually. City council passed staff’s recommendation of the fee at this week’s council meeting.

The fee will be in place for five years and will be reviewed after three years. Funds generated will support major events in Niagara Falls like the New Year’s Eve celebration, fireworks and concerts.  The newly formed Niagara Falls Hotel Association will distribute the funds.  There are currently 132 hotels/motels in Niagara Falls for a total of 13,500 rooms.

“Doug Ford is fully committed to bringing GO train to Niagara if he forms a government in June.” This was the reassurance given to Niagara Regional Chair, Alan Caslin, during a meeting with senior policy staff, Brock Vandrick, Director of Stakeholders and Shakir Chambers, Ford’s policy advisor in Toronto on Tuesday.

Concern arose following a comment made by Ford during a visit to Welland earlier this month. When asked for his position on GO for Niagara, Ford announced that he would need time to thoroughly review the plan drafted by the Liberal Government. This comment raised concern that he was not on board with the timetable set by Kathleen Wynne’s government. Although some reports stated Ford was not on board with supporting GO coming to Niagara, what he was actually asked was if he would commit to advancing the timeline from 2023 to 2021.

As another tourism season approaches the Niagara businesses that rely on the influx of visitors eagerly anticipate the busy months and cross their fingers for good weather. The Niagara tourism sector has evolved over the years with some amazing success stories but like any industry there are always challenges looming around the corner.

One of the big players in Niagara’s tourism sector is Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. Heading into their twenty-sixth season of operation their owner John Kinney can’t help but smile with some degree of satisfaction when he remembers people saying the business wouldn’t last long.

“When we first told people what we wanted to do they rolled their eyes and said it wouldn’t last three or four months,” said Kinney. “One boat became two, which became four which became eight.”

Port Dalhousie Condo Projects Await their Fate

by Niagara Independent Staff

While the ‘Port Tower’ project still hasn’t gotten off the ground in the Port Dalhousie area of St. Catharines, two new condo projects are winding their way through city bureaucracy and the court of public opinion hoping to have more success at becoming a reality than their languishing cousin down the street.

The two projects are essentially located side by side. The Port Dalhousie Harbour Club Inc. is looking to redevelop the former Lincoln Fabrics building while Royal Canadian Legion Branch 350 and Rankin Construction are planning on redeveloping the Port Dalhousie Legion building.  Somewhat similar to the port tower saga, there are both proponents and naysayers to both projects. One of the main concerns from those opposing the projects is the height of the buildings.

The St. Catharines provincial election contest is beginning to fill out its dance card. Last week the Tories selected St. Catharines City Councillor Sandie Bellows as their candidate. Shortly thereafter the NDP selected Bellows’ councillor colleague Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens as their candidate.

Stevens is employed at Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre. She is married with two children and one grandchild.

Two things may surprise a lot of people in Niagara. One is that sixty per cent of Ontario’s power is nuclear. The second is that one of the biggest players in helping to provide that power is a Niagara company that started out as a small plumbing and heating shop more than eight decades ago.

E.S. Fox Ltd., the Niagara based contracting company and one of the largest third generation companies in Canada, is playing an important role in the refurbishment of this province’s nuclear generating stations.  In fact, the company has being doing nuclear work for over 40 years. Currently nearly half of the company’s tradespeople are working in nuclear.

In his ascent to the top spot in the Niagara Regional Police Service, 54-year-old Bryan MacCulloch is rising to meet the challenges that come with being Chief. After serving in various roles over his 30-plus-year career, he recognizes that his view now is much more encompassing.
Now in his seventh month at the helm, MacCulloch is seeing things up close. “We have 12 municipalities, 12 mayors, and a regional layer,” he points out; “a lot of people have a vested interest in wanting to see that policing is done right. It’s hard at times, serving all the masters, while staying focused on our function to deliver the highest quality of policing that we can, within a limited budget.”

In a disturbing trend that seems to have developed over the past couple of years in Niagara, a municipal/regional council meeting was hijacked by a special interest group (in this case a group called SORE – Save Our Randwood Estate) displayed what those in attendance and local media described as rude, ignorant and disrespectful behaviour during a Niagara-on-the-Lake meeting Monday night.

In addition, councillor Jamie King described the actions of the SORE group as “not civil, not constructive and not healthy”.

The issue at hand is a planned development in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town known for its not-in-my-backyard stance on practically every development proposal that comes forward. In this instance, Two Sisters Resort Corp., lead by developer Benny Marotta, has a proposal before the town for a hotel and conference centre on the Randwood Estate property located on John Street. Marotta purchased the property, which is zoned commercial, for $8 million.

Niagara PC Women Get Ready for Provincial Campaign

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Progressive Conservatives are hoping two strong hard-working women will end up as MPPs at Queen’s Park after the June provincial election. Sandy Bellows, who recently received the nomination for St. Catharines and April Jeffs, who this past weekend opened her campaign office in Welland, are looking forward to the long hours and tough demands of a provincial campaign.
Both women say they are hearing the same message from voters in their respective ridings – it’s time for change. That was the message Jeffs heard at the opening of her campaign office at the Fitch Street Plaza in Welland. “The energy in this room today shows me that people are motivated and eager for a new government – a government that works for them – not against them,” Jeffs said.

Regional Councillor’s voted at last week’s meeting in favour of beginning an investigation into the allegations reported in local media regarding the hiring of CAO Carmen D’Angelo. While many observers of regional politics were anticipating a knock down drag ‘em out heated debate on this issue, councillors kept their comments respectful and constructive throughout the discussion.

By the end of the debate council ended up approving the hiring of Toronto firm, ADR Chambers, to conduct the investigation. The firm already acts as the council’s integrity commissioner.

Niagara’s Economy Better Than Ever

by Kevin Vallier

Despite calls for “a better Niagara” from some political hopefuls in the Region it appears one sector that is doing just fine is the regional economy. Blake Landry, Manager of Economic Research and Analysis, along with Regional Chair Alan Caslin, walked through the latest economic findings with reporters this week.

It’s the first time in the Region’s history that such detailed economic statistics have been researched, compiled and analyzed. The results are impressive. Landry, who worked in Economic Development through the recession of 2008-2009, said he’s never seen this level of job creation in Niagara. Landry said the unemployment rate in Niagara in those dark economic years hovered around 11 to 12 percent. Now it is just over five per cent.

While much of the focus regarding the province’s Bill 148 – Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which contains a slew of items that has created huge cost increases to employers, has been focused on private businesses there is an entirely different sector that has been hit just as hard if not harder – the not for profit sector. A November 22, 2017 story in The Financial Post called the legislation “both a massive boon and possible job-killer for Canada’s most populous province.”

The legislation called for implementation of a significant raise in the minimum wage, an almost immediate increase from $11.60 to $14 an hour as of January 1, 2018 (less than two months after passage), and then up again to $15 an hour as of January 1, 2019.

It’s Not About GO or No GO

by Kevin Vallier

After last week’s stop in Welland and St. Catharines, Doug Ford left a flurry of transit controversy in his wake. It was being reported that the PC Party Leader was not on-side with GO train service coming to the Region after Ford made a comment in Welland at M.T. Bellies that he would need to review the plan. As one might expect, social media was on fire with politicians and residents weighing in on what this means for the future of GO train service in Niagara.

Ford wasn’t asked if he would support GO coming to Niagara. He was asked if he could speed up the process and deliver GO by 2021. The actual scheduled timeline for the arrival of the green-and-white double-decker trains is 2023. Regional council has been lobbying the government to get that date pushed up to 2021 to have the transportation service ready for the Canada Summer Games.

Niagara IceDogs team pastor, Moe Gillard, did a lot of reflecting over the weekend in the wake of the horrific bus crash that claimed the lives of 15 players, coaches and staff of the Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team in Saskatchewan.

While watching the Sunday evening’s service, one of the comments that the Bronco’s team chaplain made resonated with Pastor Moe, as he’s affectionately known by the IceDogs’ players and staff. “Their chaplain, Sean Brandow, said that while the players play for the name on the front of their hockey jersey, he prays for the name on the back,” said Pastor Gillard.

Niagara College (NC) officially opened its Green Automotive Technology Lab this week. The college says students in its Automotive Service Technician Apprenticeship, Motive Power Technician, and Motive Power Techniques programs will have a competitive advantage over students in similar programs thanks to new technology and facilities now available in the lab.

As the future of the automotive industry enters a time of ever changing technology, the lab will be critical in preparing students in NC’s Motive Power programs for the rapidly evolving automotive sector by giving them access to the technology and tools that are driving that change.

With Rocky theme song Eye of the Tiger pumping out of the ballroom speakers, Ontario PC Party leader Doug Ford took to the stage to a thunderous applause Wednesday night from more than 400 supporters. The entrance fit Ford’s boisterous and man-of-the-people personality. A rousing standing ovation greeted the former Toronto City councillor turned Ontario premier hopeful. He wasted no time firing up the party faithful.

Ford was at M.T. Bellies in Welland earlier in the afternoon and met with local business leaders at the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce prior to his arrival at the Holiday Inn on Ontario Street in St. Catharines. He was introduced to the enthusiastic crowd by Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP, Sam Oosterhoff.

Niagara News Briefs

by Niagara Independent Staff

Researchers at Brock University are going to be “all-in” to help fight against disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Brock University Professor of Biological Sciences, Fiona Hunter, and her co-investigator, Modesto Cruz, will work with additional researchers and students from the Dominican to conduct field research which involves identifying and collecting mosquitoes from sites across the country. Their project is titled “Zika Virus: Factors Influencing Vector Competence in the Dominican Republic.”

They received a $250,000 (U.S.) grant from the Dominican Republic government for a mosquito surveillance research project.

The United Way of St. Catharines and District has wrapped up its final campaign, under its current governance structure, in record-setting fashion raising an unprecedented 3.8 million dollars. This marks the most successful year in the organization’s 64-year history.

The money raised will fund more than 70 programs and special initiatives helping nearly 100,000 people in Niagara, including the most vulnerable citizens; at-risk youth, adults with disabilities, and people living in poverty.

Province Releases Pre-Election Budget

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa has presented the Liberal Government’s last budget before the June election. Although filled with a number of interesting proposals and big-spending initiatives in a variety of areas, the question remains how will it be paid for?

Not surprisingly, local reaction by sitting MPPs, as well as candidates for the upcoming election, has been mixed. Long-time St. Catharines Liberal MPP Jim Bradley praised the budget for the number of progressive policies including a significant investment in mental health and addiction services, a provincial drug and dental program, free child-care for kids two and half years old (up to the time they start kindergarten,) and a significant investment of 822 million dollars for hospitals. “It’s a budget that reflects what we heard from people during the consultation phase,” said Bradley.

Significant job creation, an active construction industry and the largest community consultation process the Region has ever held were three highlights of the State-of-the-Region address this past Wednesday. Regional Chair Alan Caslin delivered updates on these and other topics in his annual speech to business and community leaders held at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

Something new for this year was the addition of municipal leader colleagues Hamilton Mayor, Fred Eisenberger, and Waterloo Regional Chairman, Ken Seiling.  Eisenberger, Seiling and Caslin participated in a roundtable discussion moderated by Niagara Workforce Planning Board CEO, Mario De Divitiis.

Niagara College Celebrates Achieving Dreams Campaign

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara College has 11 million reasons to thank those who have generously supported students through the recently completed Achieving Dreams fundraising campaign. The Achieving Dreams campaigned far surpassed its goal of $7 million, raising a total of $11,450,791. 

The campaign was launched in April 2015, with a goal of supporting student success through campus redevelopment projects; equipment and learning resources; and scholarships, bursaries, study-work abroad and student leadership development opportunities.

Thanks to donors’ generous support, 788 new student scholarships and bursaries were created, and $1.6 million of new instructional equipment was purchased to help provide students with the up-to-date equipment and support they need to excel in their studies.

Fort Erie Town Council has come full circle with their approval of Harbourtown Village subdivision.

The Wynne Liberal government, continued their post-throne speech tour across Ontario ahead of the formal provincial budget to be held March 28th.  On Friday they made a multi-year funding announcement for the Ontario horse-racing industry.  They have pledged over 100 million dollars per year for 19 years, conveniently starting in 2019 after the next election.  Not surprisingly, many are seeing this as a cynical attempt to buy votes by putting yet another bauble in the window. 

In Niagara, it is reminiscent of the 2014 election promise to build a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital in south Niagara Falls, a promise that came complete with billboard and on-site press conference.  The billboard is still there, but no hospital. 

A Decade of Innovating Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

It was nearly a decade ago, April 8, 2008, that Jeff Chesebrough walked into One St. Paul Street with his own personal laptop, no staff, no board, no policies and no money. He couldn’t have been more excited. It was the start of a bold new initiative for Niagara. It was the start of trying to shift the mindset of a traditionally blue-collar industrial region into a high-tech, start-up, job-creating machine.

From market intelligence-research companies, to video-game developers, Innovate Niagara and its network of incubators: iHub, The Generator at One, BioLinc (Brock University), Vineland Research Station and Research & Innovation (Niagara College) have spawned one success story after another. The hip office space is abuzz with activity. You can feel the energy as you walk through the halls watching bright young minds turn concepts into reality.

Niagara residents crossing the Peace Bridge for a Sabres game, or a pound of wings, will have noticed some significant construction taking place on the international crossing.

A 186-million-dollar, three-year rehabilitation project to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie is two-thirds of the way complete, and according to officials things are moving along nicely.  After a somewhat rocky beginning in which original plans called for an actual twinning of the bridge, the capital project has moved along relatively smoothly. Improvements include a rebuild of the U.S. customs plaza, a widening of the bridge approach on the U.S. side, and a complete restructuring of the bridge-deck including widening of the sidewalk for pedestrian and bike traffic, a new overlook, railings and lighting.

The project is fully self-financed. There are no tax dollars involved.

As Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati prepares for his annual state of the city address there is one area of concern that he won’t let go without a fight. Despite well articulated arguments by local politicians at all levels and from all parties, as well as experts from the gaming industry, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation continues to move forward with its request for proposal (RFP) on new operators for Niagara’s two casinos.

The process made headlines several months ago when it was speculated that the current RFP, as it is written, could potentially result in the loss of 14 hundred jobs. Some argued it was fear-mongering, but as the process played out and Diodati and others dug deeper into the numbers, it appears the job losses could very well be a reality.

Local MPPs Mum on Hamilton NDP Constituency Offices in Turmoil

by Niagara Independent Staff

Ontario’s New Democratic Party, known for its anti-harassment and anti-bullying stance has come under fire for exactly those allegations. All three Hamilton-area NDP members of provincial parliament – Paul Millier – Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, Monique Taylor – Hamilton Mountain and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Hamilton Centre have allegedly had no less than 11 workers fired, quit or bought out after filing grievances. Most constituency offices only employ a couple of employees each. The NDP constituency offices are the only ones unionized.

The story first appeared in The Bay Observer, a Hamilton- Burlington news publication, who spoke with several former staff from all three constituency offices. They all described their working environments as toxic where the MPPs sometimes intimidated and bullied them as well as demanded personal loyalty above qualifications.

A century after it first opened its doors at a ferry landing in Fort Erie, customs brokerage and logistics company, Willson International, is celebrating its 100th anniversary helping clients navigate cross-border trade between Canada and the United States.

While the fourth-generation, family-owned and operated business has grown and diversified its services significantly over the decades, its primary goal remains the same today as it did when it began in 1918 — helping companies across North America manage their supply chains so they can focus on the day-to-day challenges of running their businesses.

Eight Niagara municipalities received funding from both the provincial and federal governments yesterday to the tune of $149 million. It’s being called the single largest transit investment in Niagara’s history.

MPs Vance Badawey and Chris Bittle were on hand at Niagara Regional headquarters to announce the federal portion of the funding which totalled $82.1 million. St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley was also on hand to announce the provincial share of $67 million. The funding is a ten year commitment and it will be up to the individual municipalities to decide which transit priorities they will spend the cash on.

Niagara Falls Ontario Liberals set to Nominate Dean Demizio

by Niagara Independent Staff

Dean Demizio of Fort Erie will be acclaimed Thursday night as the Ontario Provincial Liberal candidate in the riding of Niagara Falls for the 2018 provincial election to be held in June. Demizio was born and raised in Niagara Falls.  Along with his wife Peggy, he moved to Fort Erie in 1994 and opened a […]

Local PC Candidates Ready to Roll with Ford as Leader

by Niagara Independent Staff

Doug Ford shocked everyone, including himself, when he won the leadership of the PC Party on the third ballot on the weekend.   

“Today isn’t only about defeating Kathleen Wynne. Today is about rebuilding Ontario to be the economic powerhouse of the country. It’s about bringing new jobs, and new opportunities. It’s about showing the province, the country, and the world, what happens when a strong, united, Progressive Conservative Party focuses on a single goal,” Ford told supporters.

Police Chief Buyout – Why the High Cost?

by Kevin Vallier

Former Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeff Maguire and the current Police Services Board agreed to part ways in June of 2017. It wasn’t until early this year that the cost of that “buyout” was made public causing the typical social media firestorm anytime public money is used in a manner in which armchair politicians deem inappropriate.

What hasn’t been discussed however is how the Chief ended up with a three-year contract extension by the previous Police Services Board, seemingly going unnoticed, just before they turned things over to the incoming Board. McGuire became Niagara’s top cop in 2012 when he arrived from Toronto and his contract was to run to 2017.