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Martin Luther King and Canada

by Nicholas Tibollo

Monday marked the 35th annual observance of MLK Day in the United States. The federal holiday, celebrated on the third Monday of every January, commemorates the birth of Black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Russel Small, Rev. Martin Luther King, Rev. Theodore Boone, Walter Perry

A crazy COVID week in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

nurse getting the covid-19 vaccine

Gale continues to probe procurement at Region

by Kevin Vallier

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

water treatment plant

Niagara is ready for arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine

by The Niagara Independent

Niagara residents have been waiting for the arrival of the vaccine. That wait is supposed to end today.
Billed by Niagara Health and Niagara Public Health as a “turning point in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Niagara” the Pfizer vaccine will be administered shortly after arrival. “We expect delivery of the Pfizer vaccine in Niagara on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we are prepared to get doses into arms as soon as the shipment arrives,” said Niagara health officials in a statement released yesterday.

YMCA Niagara Falls not financially fit to stay open

by Kevin Vallier

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

YMCA gym

One man’s mission to clean up St. Catharines

by Kevin Vallier

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

sharps containers in park

Land restrictions drive up cost of housing

by Kevin Vallier

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

construction site

MPs battle of border opening

by Kevin Vallier

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

Tony Baldinelli MP

Niagara Region ups 2021 budgets for water and waste

by Kevin Vallier

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

water treatment plant

Niagara – looking back, moving forward

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara falls fireworks

Predictions and thoughts from TNI contributors on what 2021 might look like

by The Niagara Independent

There’s no doubt pretty much every human being living on this planet is anxious to put 2020 behind them and then quickly walk, no flat out sprint, through the door to 2021. We’ve asked our regular Niagara Independent contributors to tell us some of their predictions for what the New Year might bring.

crystal ball

Man’s best friend – on and off the job

by Kevin Vallier

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

Officer Tim Wiley with his partner Rudy

Niagara under siege with rising COVID cases

by Kevin Vallier

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

greater Niagara General hospital

Distracted from distraction by distraction

by Bishop Gerard Bergie

T.S. Elliot, the great poet and playwright, wrote in his poem “Burnt Norton” that we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” Although written more than 80 years ago, these words seem an apt description of what we are experiencing at this present moment. Right now COVID-19 is a huge distraction in our lives.

Most Reverend Gerard Bergie, D.D.

How Christmas lights came to be

by Nicholas Tibollo

The modern Christmas tradition in North America and much of Europe is a colourful amalgam of Christian scripture, pagan lore, Dickensian adaptation, and a touch of good old-fashioned consumerism.

From the evergreen tree to advent calendar, the symbols and ceremonies we now employ every holiday season have come to us from far and wide across time and place.

christmas lights

Boxing Day becomes Lockdown Day for Niagara and Ontario

by Kevin Vallier

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

Premier Ford and Minister Elliott

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region council chambers

One door closes…

by Kevin Vallier

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

Joanna Gasparotto

Enhanced program aims to get people back to work faster

by Kevin Vallier

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

Minister McNaughton in a classroom

Hamilton Auditor raises the bar for Niagara Region

by Don Rickers

Transparency and accountability are all the rage these days, a modern-day mantra of good government.

The City of Hamilton appears to have taken this contemporary business vernacular to a new level.

Hamilton city hall

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Your Say: Readers say “No” to defunding police

by Kevin Vallier

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

police car

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

take out booze

Audit Committee directs more study into Region’s purchasing woes

by Kevin Vallier

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

a desktop with a laptop

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

store of Gibby's Electronics Supermarket

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region council chambers

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

politicians in front of west lincoln town hall

The hidden fees that drive up housing costs

by Kevin Vallier

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

residential development land

Rotary TV auction is all in the family for these Rotarians

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

Niagara Region remains tight-lipped over biosolids contract

by Kevin Vallier

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

council chambers

Regional Council calls for end to local restaurant restrictions

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

an empty restaurant

Massive Christmas lights display arrives at Safari Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Christmas lights display

Sincere apology more than satisfies Integrity Commissioner

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

niagara region

Restaurant owners steaming over additional rules imposed by public health

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

mark wood

Costco move from St. Catharines to Niagara Falls complete

by The Niagara Independent

Today marks the latest chapter in Niagara Falls’ ever-expanding economic success story, with the grand opening of Costco Niagara Falls at 7500 Pin Oak Dr.

The new store, located on the former Niagara Square site, will bring 200 new jobs to the city and anchor adjacent businesses currently in operation or under redevelopment around the Montrose Rd. retail node.

costco storefront

On the front line of caring for COVID patients

by Kevin Vallier

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

dr ali

Majority of today’s COVID cases linked to Lincoln

by The Niagara Independent

While alarm bells sounded over the significant spike in Niagara’s daily COVID-19 case count hitting 63 today the Town of Lincoln has released a statement saying that the vast majority of those cases – 45 – are “related to a workplace outbreak on an agricultural operation in the Town of Lincoln.” Mayor Sandra Easton and […]

covid-19

What Biden could mean for Niagara

by Brock Dickinson

Unless you’ve been hiding in a bunker for the past week, you’ve probably been inundated with articles asking “What will a Biden presidency mean for Canada?” Poor Donald Trump… no one has been willing to tell him yet that he’s lost the election, and here we are, north of the border, already imagining that we’re in 2021.
In looking at the impacts of a Biden presidency, most people are thinking nationally. For example, Biden has famously said that he will cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project, slated to run from Alberta to Texas. But while we can debate the relative merits of pipeline projects, the truth is this kind of action will have only minimal impacts on Niagara. So what will a Biden presidency mean for this region?

Serving country and community

by Kevin Vallier

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

Bruce Mair

Major investment shocks Ontario’s auto sector

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

GM Canada

Conservative bill hopes to score big with sports betting

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

sports bar

Veteran gives back to help other Vets

by Shawn McCart

For 26 years, Retired Sergeant Garrick Halinen would keep all of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to himself. It wasn’t until last year that his sister and her family came to his rescue and sought out the necessary help and medical treatment.

“I was overtaken” stated Halinen. Having to witness three friends and fellow Canadian soldiers dying in his arms during his time of service had finally taken its toll.

Sergeant Garrick Halinen with his son

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

biosolids

Six abandoned sites to get you in the Halloween spirit

by Nicholas Tibollo

Hushed, darkened, and decayed by the void of human life, relinquished to the ravenous elements: there’s something about an abandoned site, regardless of its prior life, that provokes a tandem sense of intrigue and apprehension.

Whether an insane asylum or an amusement park, once a place passes into ruin —disordered, useless, and obscure — it becomes alluringly eerie.

chair

Niagara’s head of Planning and Development leaves strong legacy

by Kevin Vallier

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

Rino Mostacci

Former female councillors address misogyny allegations

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara falls council chambers

Haldimand mayor feels undermined by St. Catharines “leftist agenda”

by Don Rickers

Renaissance polymath Leonardo de Vinci once aphorized “the greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the City of St. Catharines’ Anti-Racism Advisory Committee, and City Council. Perhaps their motive was simply to be instructively helpful to the citizens of Haldimand County, suggesting the fashion in which the Indigenous blockades at an urban development construction site in Caledonia should be handled. Communication, not confrontation. Talk, not tasers.

protestors at a housing development set tires on fire.

Local Rotarians pedal for polio

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

cyclists standing with their bikes

Annual ‘Sleep Cheap Charities Reap’ event returns

by The Niagara Independent

Though it may look different this year, Sleep Cheap will take place in 2020.
The annual fundraising event officially called Sleep Cheap Charities Reap, is now in its 17th year and has become a long standing community tradition. Since its inception in 2004 the event has raised over $2,150,000 for local charities.

hilton in niagara falls

Bridges now 16 weeks without a response from feds

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Regional Council’s senior statesman

by Don Rickers

If Alex Trebek’s Final Jeopardy answer was “the still-active grand old man of Niagara politics,” one might reasonably answer “who is Jim Bradley?,” a long-time Liberal first elected to Ontario’s Legislature in 1977, who currently sits as Regional Chair. But if chronological age is the measure, Bradley, at age 75, concedes top spot to political veteran and octogenarian Tim Rigby.

It all started in 1996, when Rigby was an insurance broker in St. Catharines. His major community focus at the time was rowing, as he was a driving force to bring the 1999 World Championships to the Henley Course (a feat he has repeated for the 2024 regatta).

Councillor Tim Rigby

And the winner is… Niagara’s musicians honoured at annual awards

by Shawn McCart

The 13th Niagara Music Awards, which were originally planned to take place at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, recently took place online. There were 26 awards handed out, with Port Colborne’s solo artist Gravely James taking home the most hardware with three wins (Blues, Folk, and Singer/Songwriter).

The 82 minute pre-recorded show featured several live off-the-floor recordings from Jukasa Studios.

Stephan Moccio

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

pipes

Riverfront Community development in Niagara Falls clears yet another hurdle

by Kevin Vallier

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

rendering of the proposed Paradise development in Niagara Falls

Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with household only

by Kevin Vallier

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

masks

Innovation leads to cleaner environment and economic boost for Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Personal support worker students receive surprise announcement from Minister

by Kevin Vallier

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

Minister McNaughton

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

Hospice Niagara

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

GFL garbage truck

Niagara Music Awards will be virtually possible

by Shawn McCart

Last year at this time, organizers of the Niagara Music Awards were getting ready to host the 12th annual awards ceremony at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls – a venue that is ideal for hosting live performances with outstanding sound, amazing lighting, and ample seating.

Fast forward to 2020, and organizers were faced with the decision of whether or not to have the Niagara Music Awards take place at all.

niagara music awards

A pair of high-ranking Niagara Region staff members may not be onstage performers, but their “acting” roles are getting noticed.

Ron Tripp, formerly the Commissioner of Public Works, assumed the CAO’s duties in December 2018, and has been in an “acting” capacity ever since. His predecessor, Carmen D’Angelo, had gone on medical leave, and formally left the Region’s employment in February 2019. One of Tripp’s first acts was to fire four key managers linked to controversial events and the CAO selection process at the Region. A restructuring of staff and departments followed soon thereafter.

niagara region

Tradition continues with Thanksgiving Festival

by Kevin Vallier

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

thanksgiving festival welcome sign

Niagara Parks declines Ramsar designation

by The Niagara Independent

The Niagara Parks Commission did their due diligence on a proposal to affix a Ramsar designation to the Niagara River and in the end withdrew as a potential nominator of the designation.

A Ramsar designation is acquired when advocates are successful at having property owners, agencies, and local and provincial governments agree to designate a wetland, lake, river, bog or some other water-based ecosystem as a Ramsar site. The proposed sites only need to meet one of nine defining criteria. The name and regime behind the designation stem from the Ramsar Convention signed by number of countries in Ramsar, Iran in 1971.

the niagara river

Region awards large contract despite open investigation

by Kevin Vallier

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

biosolids

Regional Council considers decriminalizing and legalizing all drugs

by Kevin Vallier

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

handcuffs, syringes, and a gavel

Wayne Olson wins big in Pelham by-election

by Don Rickers

The suspense only lasted 15 minutes.

Last Tuesday night’s election polls closed at 8 pm in Pelham’s Ward 1. A quarter-hour later, the Town’s website transmitted the unofficial results, which proclaimed retired executive Wayne Olson the winner by a wide margin, garnering more than twice as many votes as his closest competitor.

mayor junkin and wayne olson

Canada Summer Games delayed one year

by Kevin Vallier

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

canada games construction

Niagara Falls councillor Ioannoni disciplined… again

by The Niagara Independent

“It’s unreal. It’s unacceptable. The money, what you could do with a quarter million dollars – you could build a homeless shelter on city property right now for that.”
That’s what Niagara Falls Councillor Mike Strange had to say when presented with a report outlining the fact that nine integrity commissioner complaints and two workplace harassment investigations since 2015 have cost the city $273,000.

niagara falls council chambers

How a chance encounter and a fatal plane crash brought Fleet to Fort Erie

by The Niagara Independent

Located only a stone’s throw west of the town’s famous horse racing track, Fort Erie’s Fleet — in one corporate incarnation or another — has been manufacturing aerospace structures and components along Gilmore Rd. for the better part of a century.

From its humble beginnings at the outset of the Great Depression up to the present day, Fleet has employed thousands of Niagara residents and done a great deal to help buttress the local economy. Throughout the years, the company has weathered numerous labour strikes, changes in ownership, and out-and-out closure.

Fleet Aircraft in Fort Erie

Region to debate extending mask bylaw

by Kevin Vallier

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

couple wearing masks

Region asked for its share of new West Niagara hospital funding

by Kevin Vallier

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

West Lincoln Memorial Hospital

Niagara Falls MP part of O’Toole shadow cabinet

by Kevin Vallier

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

Tony Baldinelli MP

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

chair Del Rollo and vice-chair Wendy Wing

Lincoln celebrates a half century

by Kevin Vallier

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

mayor sandra easton

COVID-19 roundup: what to expect when schools open

by The Niagara Independent

From elementary schools to high schools, Niagara College to Brock University, Niagara’s students are gearing up to return to the classroom next week amidst significant COVID-19 related changes.
The District School Board of Niagara announced on Tuesday its decision to allocate an additional 1%, or $4.5 million, to hire 60 to 70 additional teachers so that elementary school class sizes can be reduced for the upcoming school year.

classroom

Port Colborne’s little-known National Historic Site

by The Niagara Independent

Labour Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer for most Canadians. While this year may be a little different, many will still pack up the family vehicle and head out for some late-season fun in the sun.

Naturally, some trips will necessitate a stop at the gas station: today, a fairly banal experience at an undistinguished row of pumps.

Shickluna Service Station’

Niagara musicians not singing the blues during pandemic

by Shawn McCart

Rehearsing, recording, and performing are the usual routines for musicians.
Over the past six months, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are not as routine as they used to be for area music artists.

musicians

The nasty world of politics and social media

by The Niagara Independent

Online bullying, particularly against local elected officials, has been in the news recently as politicians at all levels, including many here in Niagara, continue to be personally attacked on social media. Several are speaking out now, citing a number of negative, insulting and sexist messages they have received during their time in office.

Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati even released a brief video expressing his frustration over the same issue and declaring he has established a social media “neutral zone” that will be home to respectful dialogue.

Ecker, Swift, Moulton

United Way continues backpacks for kids

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Erin O'Toole MP

Region told residents can afford higher taxes

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

OPP busts “significant” illegal cannabis network

by The Niagara Independent

Dried and packaged cannabis at an undisclosed location. OPP PHOTO A large-scale illegal cannabis production and distribution network has been shut down by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and partners after a 12-month investigation. Several residents of the Niagara Region and GTA are facing numerous charges, according to an OPP statement released Friday, August 21. […]

packaged cannibis

Local MPs react to prorogued parliament

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

parliament hill

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

amo on zoom

Another Regional sole source questioned by council

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

Police Chief praised for progress

by Kevin Vallier

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

Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch

Brock research could be a game-changer for goalies

by The Niagara Independent

The position of hockey goalie has changed dramatically over the years from the modernization of the equipment making it lighter and sleeker, to the physical style of play. Now, thanks to research conducted at Brock University, hockey goaltenders could have another new competitive advantage in stopping the puck thanks.

Colin Dunne as he performs a goaltending move as part of a kinesiology research study.

Phase One funding flows to Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

nrps police cruiser

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

wine of the shelf at the LCBO

Now hear this! Outcry over NOTL noise bylaw

by Kevin Vallier

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

Jackson Triggs amphitheatre

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

biosolids

Beamsville manufacturing company gets funding boost from Province

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

St. Catharines Council Endorses Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

by Kevin Vallier

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

handcuffs, drugs and a gavel

Conservatives set membership sales record

by Kevin Vallier

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

toole-mackay

A monument on the move?

by Kevin Vallier

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

The Watson monument

GO gets going again

by Kevin Vallier

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

Minister MacLeod at the Go Train announcement

A September back to school for Niagara students

by Kevin Vallier

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

west lane secondary school

Pelham first in Niagara to file financials with province

by John Chick

The Town of Pelham became the first Niagara municipality to have its 2019 Financial Information Return (FIR) approved by the Government of Ontario this month; something CAO David Cribbs said is proof that Pelham is making progress at getting its financial house in order.
“[This is] the direct result of hard work by the entire corporate services team,” Cribbs said.

pelham town hall

$4 Billion to Support Municipalities and Transit

by The Niagara Independent

The lobbying and threat of closures and reduced services by many of Ontario’s municipal politicians has paid off – to the tune of $4 billion.
The funding includes $777 million from the federal government and $1.22 billion from the province in support for municipalities.

premoer ford and ministers

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

niagara region council chambers

MP Chris Bittle berates journalist at committee investigating WE scandal

by Kevin Vallier

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

Chris bittle MP

Not much changes for Stage 3 in tourism sector

by Kevin Vallier

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

a tourist standing at the falls

Niagara to enter Stage 3 on Friday

by Kevin Vallier

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

Clifton Hill tourist area

NPCA properties a hot spot for large gatherings

by Kevin Vallier

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

Binbrook entrance

Casinos ready to roll the dice on opening

by Kevin Vallier

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

slots reel, triple 7s

A tale of two cities: Mandatory masks

by Kevin Vallier

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

mayor sendzik and dr hiirji

Politicizing the mask debate

by Kevin Vallier

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

Liberal MP Catherine McKenna

Innovation key to running efficient ambulance service

by Kevin Vallier

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

EMS dispatch room

The transformation of Niagara’s ambulance service Part I

by Kevin Vallier

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

EMS dispatchers

Regional council split on mask issue

by Kevin Vallier

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

zoom screenshot with councillor villellla speaking

Business community, councillors disappointed with dismissal of presentation

by Kevin Vallier

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

a binder, eye glasses, some paperwork and a calculator

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

two people in a park wearing masking

Former Regional Chair and staff file defence statement

by Kevin Vallier

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

the scales of justice

Bisons’ season shut down

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara’s virtual Canada Day celebration

by Kevin Vallier

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

Canadian flag at Niagara Falls

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

spencer fox

Feds and Province announce major funds for Niagara transit projects

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

The federal and provincial Governments announced a significant invest in Niagara’s public and active transportation infrastructure yesterday. As a result Niagara’s public transport will be revamped as well as transportation throughout the region. The money will be used to make transport more accessible to residents all around the area. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, politicians from the region were unable to meet in person and held a zoom conference call to make the funding announcement.

transit pass

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

Whirlpool Jet Boats and Hornblower Niagara Cruises boats

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

Minister Macleod and Mayor Jim Diodati

Gap in CERB funding concern to constituents say MPs

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli on the phone

Building up through COVID crisis

by Kevin Vallier

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

77 yates construction

Keeping it clean – Niagara readies itself for tourists

by Kevin Vallier

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

NPCA phases in opening of nature areas

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is preparing to re-open its parks to the public. Although the Niagara region will remain in phase one until this Friday, campgrounds and conservation areas were allowed to re-open earlier. After yesterday’s announcement by the government, locals can not only continue going on hikes and participate in passive recreation but will soon be able to experience more of what the NPCA properties have to offer. The NPCA operates a total 41 properties including some well known conservation areas like Balls Falls, Long Beach and Chippawa Creek.

npca wetland

Exclusive: Recommendation made for Niagara to enter Stage 2

by The Niagara Independent

The Niagara Independent has learned that the Region’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji has recommended to the Provincial Medial Officer of Health Dr. David Williams that Niagara proceed to Stage 2 reopening.

In his letter Dr. Hirji says, “I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to speak with you and understand the data and process with which the province is using to make evidence-informed decisions on moving public health regions to Stage 2 of reopening, as well as the opportunity to provide my contextual, local perspective. In follow up to those conversations, I’d like to restate the local data and context, and articulate why I believe it indicates that Niagara is ready to proceed to Stage 2.”

covid-19

Niagara tourism gets funding boost

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara speedway

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara falls hotels

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

nrps EMT vehicle

Niagara stuck in stage one

by Kevin Vallier

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

closed sign on a door

Roller coaster real estate ride

by Kevin Vallier

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

home for sale

St. Catharines Councillor calls for body cameras to be worn by Niagara’s Police

by The Niagara Independent

St. Catharines City Councillor Mat Siscoe introduced a motion at its Wednesday Council meeting calling on the Niagara Region and the Police Services Board to immediately begin implementing body cameras for Niagara’s front line police officers.

police body cam

Brock appoints next Chancellor

by The Niagara Independent

Hilary Pearson, a recognized Canadian leader in philanthropy and community engagement, will become Brock University’s new Chancellor this fall the University announced yesterday.
University President and Vice-Chancellor Gervan Fearon, said Pearson accepted the invitation to serve a three-year term after her nomination was unanimously endorsed by Brock’s Senate, following a comprehensive nominating process.

Hilary Pearson

Feds float cash to Falls for tourism

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted tourism in Niagara Falls. Restaurants, hotels, entertainment attractions and other tourist activities remain closed or are continuing to run at low capacity. Niagara is a city that thrives on travelers coming to visit and spend their money. Businesses have faced drastic negative impacts from the forced shutdown. Niagara Falls has always been a top-of-mind destination for tourists. People from around the globe come to experience everything Niagara has to offer. With the recent restrictions on travel and social gatherings, Niagara tourism has suffered, missing out on what could have been a busy summer season.

niagara falls hotels

While Niagara Slowly Reopens, New COVID-19 Outbreak Emerges

by The Niagara Independent

While Niagara and the rest of Ontario look to return to normal, signs that the general public must continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19 remain apparent.
On Monday, Niagara Region’s Public Health department confirmed a COVID-19 workplace outbreak at Pioneer Flower Farms in St. Catharines. 20 employees are confirmed to have the novel coronavirus and like other outbreaks discovered in Niagara, the Public Health department is facilitating testing of other employees who have symptoms or are at increased risk. It is unknown where the original employee was infected. The greenhouse was devastated back in August 2019 by a fire that ripped through the facility.

Pioneer Farms

Region makes ask for cash to help with COVID costs

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

An abrupt end

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

The first year of university is perhaps one of the most important years of a student’s academic experience. Whether moving away from home or taking the first steps towards reaching career goals, the first year of University is where it all begins.

Brock University students holding signs

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

niagara region hq sign

Business has Bean good for local clothing store

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

There’s no question that the global pandemic has hammered business owners but thankfully some have managed to not just survive but thrive. The popularity of online shopping continues to rise while the bricks and mortar retail shops were closed to patrons. Shoppers, now more than ever, are searching the internet for clothes and other items from online stores. While some Niagara businesses have resorted to curbside pickup, others are using their online presence to market their items and sell their products using home delivery.

inside of a store

Niagarans get a seat at the table

by Kevin Vallier

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

board room table

Niagara craft breweries try and stay ahead

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

Craft beer has gained popularity over the last few years. Many consumers love to indulge in finely crafted beer produced by microbreweries. Breweries, located in the Niagara region, were obtaining a larger share of the beer market. Locals could enjoy brewers such as Decew Falls Brewing Company, Lock street, and Bench. These companies are expanding their business to grocery and liquor stores across Ontario. However, amid a global pandemic, businesses have been negatively affected by economic restrictions, and the brewery business is no exception.

a pint of beer

Province Reopens More Businesses, Niagara Eyes Public Testing Facility

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

open sign on a door

Canadian scholar, academic leader to be Brock’s next Provost

by The Niagara Independent

Lynn Wells, an accomplished scholar and academic leader, will be Brock University’s new Provost and Vice-President Academic, effective July 1, 2020.
Brock President Gervan Fearon made the announcement Monday, May 11, welcoming the scholar and researcher to Niagara. Wells is currently the Associate Vice-President, Students and Teaching at MacEwan University in Edmonton, and previously served as the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, and Acting President at the First Nations University of Canada, in Regina. She has many years experience as a professor, teacher and researcher in the Department of English, including scholarly work in contemporary British fiction.

Lynn Wells

Snowbirds make spirits soar

by Kevin Vallier

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

snowbirds flying over a group of firefighters

Club Italia Safely Serving Meals to the Niagara Community

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

During these unprecedented times, it is essential to support regional businesses and remain connected to the Niagara community. With the new social distancing measures resulting in events cancelling or postponing to a later date, Niagara’s leading hospitality and event centre, Club Italia Centre is currently offering curbside take out every Wednesday and Friday. This has provided an opportunity for Club Italia to modify their business during this time, to continue to serve meals and bring positive experiences to locals around the Niagara region in a convenient and safe environment.

Staff and volunteers at Club Italia

A Cautious Light at the End of the COVID-19 Tunnel

by The Niagara Independent

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that all retail stores with a street entrance will be permitted to provide curbside pickup and delivery, as well as in-store payment and purchases at garden centres, nurseries, hardware stores and safety supply stores.

garden centre

Local wineries adapting to new normal

by Kevin Vallier

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

wine glass and barrels

Reopening business, slowly

by Kevin Vallier

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

Open for business sign in a door

Keeping it clean

by Kevin Vallier

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

Jocelyn Malangis

Niagara Taking the Fight to COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

On Wednesday and in response to an emergency order issued by the provincial government, Niagara Health is taking new action to further support Niagara’s long-term care and retirement homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New measures include clinical consultation, supporting retirement and long-term care home staffing needs and assistance in managing outbreaks to help stabilize care and the environment for residents and staff.

covid-19

Residents not pleased with Region’s response to help homeless

by Kevin Vallier

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

sleeping bag and teddy bear inside of a tent

Province to Use Data Driven Approach to Staged Re-Opening of Economy

by The Niagara Independent

Instead of a hard date many had expected, Premier Ford along with several key ministers outlined criteria that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts will use as a basis to begin a staged reopening of Ontario.

Premier Ford and ministers

Coping with mental side of COVID

by Kevin Vallier

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

man on couch wearing mask

Niagara MPs want back in the House

by Kevin Vallier

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

Dean Allison MP and Dean Baldinelli MP

The Shaw must go on

by Kevin Vallier

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

Zoom Rehearsal for the cast of Charley's Aunt

Possible pandemic peak in province

by Kevin Vallier

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

covid-19

McMaster team developing home COVID-19 test kit

by Kevin Vallier

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

Yingfu Li

COVID-19: Outbreak Declared in St. Catharines Inpatient Unit 4A

by The Niagara Independent

Niagara Health declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on inpatient Unit 4A at the St. Catharines Hospital Site on Tuesday after one of their healthcare workers tested positive for the virus.
The outbreak, which is on the unit that is dedicated for caring for COVID-19 patients, was declared after an investigation determined the case was healthcare-associated. The involved staff member is at home and currently self-isolating. Niagara Health along with Niagara Regional Public Health has said they will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust their measures as required to ensure everyone’s safety.

covid-19

Pelham Councillor Mike Ciolfi dies

by Samuel Piccolo

Pelham Ward One Councillor Mike Ciolfi has died. Ciolfi, who had been feeling ill for weeks, received confirmation early last week that he had the COVID-19 virus, telling the Voice that he was too ill to participate in last Monday’s Pelham Town Council meeting, even by teleconference.

Mike Ciolfi

Easter message from Bishop Bergie

by Most Reverend Gerard Bergie, D.D. Bishop of St. Catharines

Easter is one of the most significant celebrations of the year for Christians as we commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year will be very different from anything that we have experienced in the past because of Covid-19. We will not be able to gather in our churches to celebrate as a worshiping community. Traditional gatherings with family and friends will not be happening this year. This is extremely unfortunate; however, the sacrifices we make today will benefit many people tomorrow and for weeks to come. We will help to limit the spread of the coronavirus.  

bishop Gerard Bergie

COVID-19 and Niagara

by The Niagara Independent

The Niagara region continues to try and flatten the curve of the rising number of cases of COVID-19. As of last night there were a total of 189 cases in Niagara with 10 new cases reported on Thursday and 18 new cases reported on Wednesday. A total of 66 cases have been resolved and 10 people have died in Niagara as a result of the virus according to Niagara’s Public Health Department. There are more than 5,200 cases across Ontario and 174 deaths.

covid-19

Making masks makes money… for charity

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Jennifer Armstrong, owner of Ecolove clothing manufacturer

Bit of local history goes viral

by The Niagara Independent

At the end of last month, a Twitter thread about a locally invented snack went viral.

The series of tweets, posted by former Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon staff writer Sage Boggs, revealed the fascinating history of the word “Triscuit”.

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

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

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

Minister for Small Business holds soft launch of province-wide consultation in Niagara

by The Niagara Independent

In early March, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Prabmeet Sarkaria, formally announced the launch of a province-wide consultation to determine how the government can best help small businesses thrive and compete, both now and into the future.

Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria

Niagara and COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect residents in Hamilton and Niagara, the Niagara Independent is committing to sharing up to date local information.

As of midnight Monday there were a total of 149 confirmed cases in Niagara with 33 of those cases being resolved and six deaths. Niagara Health has tested more than 2,200 people for the COVID-19 virus.  There were 13 new cases on Monday.

covid-19

Local sportswear company shifts to mask making

by Kevin Vallier

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

sewing

Niagara and COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

Niagara continues to wrestle with escalating cases of COVID-19 including outbreaks being declared at four Niagara long-term care homes. As of midnight yesterday, there were 21 new cases reported bringing the total number of infected Niagara residents to 82 (67 active cases). Four Niagara residents have died as a result of the virus.

covid-19

While the City of St. Catharines tops Niagara’s list of highest paid chief administrative officers, the 2019 Ontario Sunshine List no longer includes its former CAO, Dan Carnegie who had continued to be paid despite his retirement in June of 2017.
The 2017 Ontario Sunshine List shows Carnegie collected $239,388 that year and $214,978 in 2018. Both the 2017 and 2018 records indicate that Carnegie was employed by St. Catharines as its chief administrative officer.

Canadian twenty dollars bills

Brock and Niagara College step up in fight against COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

As the number of Niagara residents testing positive for COVID-19 continues to rise (as of last night there were 34 cases in Niagara with six resolved) local businesses and organizations have been stepping up to help in the fight of flattening the curve of transmissions. While on-campus classes have shut down at Niagara’s two post-secondary institutions, Brock and Niagara College, have joined others in refocusing their efforts to make critically needed supplies and help in other aspects as well.
Brock has made available supplies of gloves, masks and chemicals to Niagara Public Health, and researchers are also discussing ways to use the University’s Level 3 containment laboratory (CL3).

Brock University Makerspace Co-ordinator Tabitha Lewis

The $100k+ Club: Niagara’s Police, Fire and EMS Services

by The Niagara Independent

Both leaders and front-line workers employed in Niagara’s emergency services sector were well represented on this year’s Ontario Sunshine list.
The Niagara Independent would like to give a heart-felt thank you to all those serving in Niagara’s emergency services. The Independent recognizes your heroic contributions to the Niagara community in keeping our communities safe, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

fire station

Niagara’s $100k+ Club: Education, Health, Parks and Escarpment

by The Niagara Independent

Despite the dark times in Ontario, the province’s Sunshine List was recently released. The annual list of public sector employees making more than $100,000 per year is normally a topic of interest.
The top five earners in Niagara were all from Niagara’s post-secondary institutions and Niagara Health collectively earning $1,748,194.65.

Canadian twenty dollars bills

Further Local Action Taken to Address COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, so does the actions taken by local health agencies and organizations across Niagara and Hamilton.
Niagara Health has indicated they will no longer be accepting patient visitors as part of their ongoing efforts to maintain a safe environment. To assist the public’s ability to keep in contact with loved ones, Niagara Health has provided all patients with free Wi-Fi, telephone and television service. Though case-by-case exceptions may be made, Niagara Health expects these restrictions to be in place for the next several weeks.

covid-19

Changes to services in Niagara Municipalities

by The Niagara Independent

A number of municipalities across Niagara have closed public facilities and/or limiting or stopping services. This information will be updated regularly.
The City of Niagara Falls has made the decision to activate a full closure of all City facilities to the public, including City Hall. Effective at 4:30 pm yesterday, all City buildings are closed and remain closed to the public until further notice. The city said it anticipates the closures to last for at least two weeks.

service disruption

COVID-19 and the impact on Niagara

by The Niagara Independent

Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services are investigating a third confirmed case of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. A 47-year-old male with a travel history to Europe tested positive yesterday.
According to Niagara’s Public Health Department, the patient is recovering at home in self-isolation and has interacted only with his immediate family during the time he may have been contagious, and has not exposed anyone in the community. Officials said all protocols were followed by health care providers resulting in no exposure of themselves nor other patients.

niagara region

Local Health and Community Agencies Respond to Emerging COVID-19 Situation

by The Niagara Independent

The last several days has seen a flurry of activity with local health and community agencies responding to the developing COVID-19 situation.
Niagara Health announced Monday that they are postponing elective procedures as part of that response. To protect patient safety and to increase capacity for healthcare workers, the Ontario government has requested that all hospitals ramp down elective surgeries and other non-emergent clinical activity.

st catharines hospital

A Worrisome Deadline Looms

by Catherine Swift

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about in these days of uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19 on our lives, the ongoing labour dispute between the City of Toronto and the city’s insider workers, CUPE local 79, is looking more and more ominous. Workers could be off the job as early as this Saturday if no agreement is reached, which would mean the loss of a number of important services. Most concerning is that Toronto Public Health employees are included in the mix, including nurses who are currently involved in testing for COVID-19, staffing call centres fielding questions about the virus and other related services.

toronto public health

UPDATED: Niagara Health prepared for COVID-19

by The Niagara Independent

While there’s no doubt things are changing around the world at a rapid pace as a result of the continuing spread of COVID-19 things remain business as usual at Niagara’s hospitals.
In an interview with The Niagara Independent Dr. Johan Viljoen Niagara Health’s Chief of Staff said they’ve been meeting and planning around the infectious disease since January. “We started in mid-to-late January when it was obvious it was going to be a when and not if situation,” explained Dr. Viljoen.

st catharines hospital

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

worker picking up recycling

Open Your Wallets: Niagara’s Large 2020 Tax Grab

by The Niagara Independent

With few exceptions, Niagara homeowners didn’t fare that well in 2020 when it came to property tax increases.
As a benchmark, the rate of inflation over the past year was approximately 2.2%.

tax increase

Province releases plan to combat human trafficking

by Kevin Vallier

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

General Sylvia Jones and Premier Doug Ford

Hornblower planning for early launch

by Kevin Vallier

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

hornblower niagara in the river

After Raucous Start, Grimsby Council Approves Double Digit Tax Hike at 13.4%

by The Niagara Independent

Grimsby’s final 2020 budget is set after Town Council approved a 13.4% tax increase for Grimsby homeowners on Monday, after being reduced from a proposed 16.7%.
The increase will result in an additional $137 in local taxes and when combined with the regional and education levies, an average Grimsby home valued at $443,686 will see an increase of $317.

grimsby council

Playing catch-up with Long-Term Care

by Kevin Vallier

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

Merrilee Fullerton at the podium

Grimsby residents face nearly 17% tax hike

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Harry Schlange speaking at council budget meeting

Niagara Falls should go it alone with waste collection says expert

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

worker picking up recycling

McNaughton meets with business leaders while in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

mcnauaghton walking in the labour day parade

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

niagara region

Welland shows no sign of slowing down

by Kevin Vallier

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

frank campion speaking at an event

Harm reduction motion passes in Niagara

by Jenica Hrysko

At their meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Niagara Falls City Council voted unanimously to make the city “naloxone-ready,” by having naloxone available at city facilities.
Naloxone is a medication used to treat the symptoms of opioid overdose, and is known also by the brand name Narcan.
Take-home kits containing a nasal spray or an injectable version of naloxone have been made freely available throughout Niagara at participating pharmacies, community-based organizations, and shelters, in an effort to allow members of the public, as well as first responders, administer the drug to an overdosed user before paramedics arrive.
Not everyone has been on board with the initiative. The Niagara Falls Fire Department recommended the city not install naloxone kits on fire trucks.

injectable version of naloxone

Ioannoni Wants Apology after Breaking Code of Conduct, Losing Positions and Pay

by The Niagara Independent

It has been a turbulent two weeks or so for Niagara Falls City Councillor Carolynn Ioannoni.

City Council has stripped Ioannoni of 90 days pay and she’s been removed from the boards and committees for the duration of this term after the City’s Integrity Commissioner had found she had broken the confidentiality provisions of the Councillor Code of Conduct.  This is the maximum penalty a Council is permitted to place on a Councillor.

Ioannoni now wants a public apology from City Council and a reversal of punishment. 

carolynn ioanoni

Unknown allegations against CAO leaves Grimsby council divided

by The Niagara Independent

The past week has highlighted a significant divide on Grimsby’s Town Council over their support of their CAO, Harry Schlange. Schlange has been with the Town for just 5 months.
Last week, Mayor Jeff Jordan placed Schlange on administrative leave and scheduled a special council meeting to deal with the matter. A majority of councillors did not attend the meeting despite confirming their availability earlier that day. It is not known what prompted the Mayor to place Schlange on leave.

grimsby council chambers

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

peter nicholson in council chambers

Feds & Province Announce $2 million to support Ontario Grape Growers

by The Niagara Independent

On Monday, the provincial and federal governments announced $2.0 million for the new Marketing and Vineyard Improvement Program (MVIP) that will help vineyards across Ontario face new and emerging industry challenges. The announcement was made by Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Sam Oosterhoff, Member of Provincial Parliament for Niagara West and Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines.
The program, which will begin accepting applications on March 5, 2020 and delivered through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, will provide industry support to grape growers by helping vineyards in Ontario adapt to ongoing and emerging growing challenges. Through a cost-sharing funding, the program will assist vineyards in implementing new technologies to supply high-quality grapes to Ontario’s wine producers.

Wine industry leaders and politicians at Pelham Estates Winery

Conservative leadership contender could make history

by Kevin Vallier

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

Ms Lewis

Falls wants to throw out garbage contract

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

worker picking up recycling

NDP long term care claims don’t add up

by The Niagara Independent

At the end of last month, Niagara’s NDP MPPs held a press conference in Niagara Falls to address the shortage of long-term care beds in the city and region at large.

According to The Standard, “…the Ontario NDP reported no new long-term care beds were created in Niagara Falls from 2014 through 2019.” While accurate, the irony of the statement seemingly escaped the representative from Niagara Falls: Wayne Gates.

a room with a bed and a walker

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

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Jay Triano

St. Catharines residents fed up with GM site

by The Niagara Independent

Bayshore Groups arrived in St. Catharines in 2014 to great fanfare. They purchased the former General Motors plant on Ontario Street for $12.5 million. Residents and local politicians at the time were thrilled thinking the plant would finally be demolished, cleaned up and sold to a developer who would bring the property back to life. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
At this week’s St. Catharines city council meeting, Coun. Karrie Porter brought forward a motion to take action on cleaning up the site after residents told council loud and clear that they’ve had enough of the eyesore and safety hazard.

general motors plant

Prettiest town gets pretty big tax hike

by The Niagara Independent

The Monday, January 20 meeting of Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Council saw an increase in municipal taxes of 8.62% representing $92 more for the average NOTL urban homeowner.
According to the Town, the significant increase was largely due to legal fees, staff salaries, a transfer to the capital reserve and flood mitigation. Council opted to transfer $650,000 from the parking reserve to the operating expenses on a one-time basis to mitigate the increase in taxes. This transfer is not expected to continue in future years and will need to be accommodated for in next year’s budget.

niagara on the lake town hall sign

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