Tuesday November 20, 2018
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With wintry weather abruptly afoot, many of the region’s community centres and soup kitchens are seeing an uptick in public need.

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

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

Taking Care of Business

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Blais would like to see Canadian military veterans thanked for their service more than one day a year. Blais is a veteran himself and the Niagara Falls resident says it’s important for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, or other mental illnesses as a result of their combat service, to receive a smile and a thank you from their fellow Canadians. “I always tell people to say thank you on more than one day a year. It takes two seconds to shake that man or woman’s hand and say thank you because it really does a make a difference,” he said.
Blais says it’s important for the community to know who their veterans are. He said this year in particular there is no excuse for people not to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony given that Nov. 11 falls on a Sunday.

3 Brothers, 3 Decades of Wine Making

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

Mobile Cancer Screening expands to Fort Erie and Port Colborne

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding out hope for West Niagara hospital

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The changing face of Regional Council

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

Is it time for online voting?

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Niagara Falls

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

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

Superheroes support Niagara Children’s Centre

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism industry gives back with Sleep Cheap

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

Interesting Candidates throughout Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

AG Report on NPCA released

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Campaign Trail Tidbits

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara High Schools on inflated marks list

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

Region’s Police Chief Earns National Recognition

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

Brock and Niagara College set enrolment records

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Soups on! The critical importance of a soup kitchen

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

In parallel with residents of Grimsby, Wainfleet, Port Colborne, and Pelham, Thorold voters will not have the option to re-install their sitting mayor when they hit the ballot box in less than two months.

The individual captaining the city at present, Ted Luciani, has decided to step aside as mayor and run for Thorold’s sole regional councillor position.

After eight years as mayor, a decade on city council, and having recently turned 70, it seems the incumbent simply wants one less plate to keep in motion.

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

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

Five Vacant Mayors’ Chairs: Pelham

by Nicholas Tibollo

Still intent on leading Niagara’s next Regional Council following the cancellation of the chair race, Dave Augustyn will not seek a fourth term as mayor of Pelham. Instead, the longtime politician will challenge highly respected retired school Principal Brian Baty and two other candidates for the town’s regional councillor position (in an effort to remain eligible to head Niagara’s municipal government). 

Augustyn’s ambitions have ensured Pelham will see a fresh face occupy the mayor’s chair for the first time since 2006. 

Three candidates have stepped forward, eager to fill the void and succeed Augustyn: Gary Accursi, Marvin Junkin, and Carla Baxter. 

Accursi, a retired dentist who has lived in Pelham for the last 45 years, is serving his second term on the town’s council. 

Five Vacant Mayors’ Chairs: Port Colborne

by Nicholas Tibollo

Back in March, John Maloney announced that he would not seek a second term as mayor of Port Colborne. 

The 73-year old attorney assured his constituents that his decision was not due to health concerns, but did not cite any particular reason for his retirement.

Before becoming mayor, the veteran politician served 15 years as a Liberal MP for the ridings of Erie, Erie-Lincoln, and Welland between 1993-2008. After consultation with his family, it seems Maloney simply determined that his time in public office had arrived at its natural end.

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

Five Vacant Mayors’ Chairs: Wainfleet

by Nicholas Tibollo

After serving as Wainfleet’s mayor for two terms and running a very successful provincial campaign as an Ontario PC Party candidate in an NDP stronghold, April Jeffs is moving on to federal politics.

The promising politician secured the Conservative Party Niagara Centre nomination a few weeks ago and will challenge for the seat in 2019.

Although shifting course, Jeffs has full confidence in her eventual successors.

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

A $100,000 donation by Homes by DeSantis to the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH) Foundation has sent another strong single that the residents of West Niagara haven’t forgotten about their need for a new, larger hospital to serve their communities.
The most recent donation will be added to the $14 million that has already been raised over several years in anticipation of construction of the new hospital. The former Liberal government never came through on its promise to build a new hospital for the ever-expanding west Niagara area, deciding instead to stall plans for cost cutting purposes.

Five Vacant Mayors’ Chairs: Grimsby

by Nicholas Tibollo

After serving his community for nearly a quarter-century, Bob Bentley has decided to step down as Mayor of Grimsby.

“Mayor Bob”, as he is affectionately known, began his political career back in 1994 as a town alderman, before moving on to be regional councillor in 1997, and then finally mayor in 2003.

In 2014, Bentley handedly defeated current Regional Council candidate Wayne Fertich and two others to secure his fourth term at the helm of Grimsby’s government.

The election before that he was acclaimed.

Five Vacant Mayors’ Chairs

by Nicholas Tibollo

Come autumn, a number of Niagara’s municipal governments will be headed by a fresh face: as five of the region’s 12 current mayors have chosen to relinquish their posts.

At the age of 73, longtime politician and incumbent Mayor of Port Colborne John Maloney will step aside in favour of retirement.

Maloney, who served as a Liberal MP from 1993-2008, made his intentions known in March after consulting with his family.

In Maloney’s absence, four candidates have stepped up to run for Port Colborne’s top spot: Wayne Elliott, Betty Konc, Ron St. Jean, and Bill Steele.

What is going on at the Region?

That’s a question many residents have been asking themselves, their neighbours and their Regional Councillors for a few months. There’s no doubt the questions are focused on the hiring process around the Region’s CAO, Carmen D’Angelo who began his tenure at the Region in November of 2016. Most of the discussion takes place in-camera and only part of the information has been leaked so the general public has never heard the full story. In fact, Councillors feel they haven’t heard the full story. They hope to have their questions answered at a meeting this Thursday. In the meantime the business of the Region must go on.

Waste collection

by Niagara Independent Staff

In the worst weather last winter, and again this past summer during the heatwave, many Niagara residents were frustrated by not having their garbage or recycling picked up on the appointed day.
The Region re-tendered garbage and recycling collection several years ago, and current operator Emterra Environmental won the bid. In fact, their contract saves the Region’s taxpayers over $4 million per year.
Bart Maves, Chair of the Public Works Committee at the Region explains, “Emterra has actually done a spectacular job over most of the life of their contract with the Region. It is only over the last year that they have had some issues. The core of the problem has been aging trucks that they are trying to refurbish while maintaining service, some staff turnover, and other staff issues like people calling in sick on the hottest or coldest days of the year.”

In previous articles The Niagara Independent looked at the extraordinary generosity of Niagara’s business community when it comes to supporting local charities. Businesses of all sizes, and in particular their owners, are asked over and over to make a financial contributions to charities large and small. And they always answer the call.

For decades business leaders in Niagara have provided philanthropic support to charities in another way as well. Niagara is home to some very successful, active and generous family foundations that have for many years been key players in helping make buildings rise, programs grow and services expand.

Three of the most well known in Niagara are the Leonard B. Herzog Foundation, Fowler Family Foundation and Branscombe Foundation.

Region Needs a Plumber

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara Region is in need of a good plumber.

The OPP, Auditor General, Ontario Ombudsman and the Integrity Commissioner have all commented to one extent or another about the constant leaks of confidential information. Several confidential documents have found their way to the public and local media along with numerous confidential conversations that have taken place behind closed doors as part of in-camera meetings. This, despite every councillor having to sign a confidentiality agreement after being elected.

Most recently, Regional Councillor Bob Gale was clearly frustrated at yesterday’s special meeting dealing with the hiring process of the Region’s CAO, as he asked: “Why do we go in-camera at all if we are just going to leak everything?”

Jeffs Seeks Federal Seat

by Kevin Vallier

After eight years as Mayor of Wainfleet and a Regional Councillor, April Jeffs was recently acclaimed as the Conservative candidate for the riding of Niagara Centre. The riding is currently held by Liberal MP Vance Badawey.
Jeffs recently ran for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in the recent provincial election. Although ultimately unsuccessful she had a very strong showing getting well over 18,000 votes and finishing a close second to eventual winner, NDP Jeff Burch. In a traditionally very orange riding, the large support Jeffs received was impressive. She said that’s what got her thinking about running in the 2019 federal election.

New Falls Theatre Rises up at Hilton

by Kevin Vallier

Many tourists and local residents have probably been wondering what’s being constructed at the Hilton Fallsview Hotel in Niagara Falls. Most will likely assume that it’s an addition of more rooms or conference space. They would be wrong.

In fact, the hotel owners and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) have partnered to build a state-of-the-art 5,000 seat theatre that’s expected to attract A-level entertainment acts, the likes of which Niagara has never hosted before.

When Tony Quirk decided to run for Regional Council in 2014, he knew it would be an uphill battle. Long time Councillor and former Regional Chair, Debbie Zimmerman, had not made her intentions known and rumours were that, if she chose not to run, former Mayor and well-liked Nick Anderychuk would be running.
“It was always going to be a long shot,” said Quirk, “but I knew that I wanted to find a new way to serve the people of Grimsby, and if I wasn’t successful, at least people would know I was interested in the role next time around.”

On Sunday, August 5 Parks Canada will offer free admission to Niagara’s premier historic site: Fort George. According to the government agency, the one day complimentary access “is a special thank you to the millions of Canadians who celebrated Canada 150 with Parks Canada in 2017”. Last year, 27.3 million people took advantage of year-long […]

Niagara’s tourism season: so far, so good

by Kevin Vallier

The serious number crunching won’t take place until September but tourism leaders in Niagara are feeling pretty good about the season thus far.
There’s an old saying in the tourism industry when it comes to outdoor attractions according to John Kinney, owner of Whirpool jet boat tours in Niagara-on-the-Lake; “When the weather is great you’re a marketing genius, when it’s not you’re a marketing buffoon.” So far, thanks in part to Mother Nature, Niagara’s tourism operators are indeed looking like marketing geniuses.

Creating a microscopic robot that has the potential to identify drug resistance to tuberculosis faster than conventional tests is something most Niagara residents would assume happens at post-secondary institutions like University of Toronto or Queen’s University or even McMaster University down the QEW in Hamilton. However, this type of game-changing scientific research and development is happening here in St. Catharines at Niagara’s own Brock University.
The Brock team’s latest technology builds on an earlier version of the microscopic robot — called the three-dimensional DNA nanomachine — they created in 2016 to detect diseases in a blood sample within 30 minutes.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

by Niagara Independent Staff

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said there will be no general election of Regional Chairs in the upcoming municipal election, reversing a decision by the former Wynne Liberals. This news has sent Niagara politicians whirling in the last 24-hours.

In advance of what is expected to be one of the most hotly contested series of municipal elections in recent memory, the Niagara Independent examines a few of the most notable candidates registered to run (or not run) in 2018.

You can certainly tell a municipal election is around the corner. Throw a couple of Ombudsman’s reports into the mix and you’ve got yourself a powder keg ready to blow. The focus of both reports is Carmen D’Angelo, the Niagara Region’s Chief Administrative Officer.
First, a municipal Ombudsman investigated the hiring process of the CAO position that took place in 2016. Local media reports suggested shenanigans were afoot and so council called in Marvin Huberman, the integrity commissioner and independent lawyer, to investigate. Mr. Huberman noted a few recommendations but at the end of the day, after reviewing more than 200,000 documents and interviewing 16 people, he came to the conclusion that the complaints were based on “rumour, gossip, innuendo, hearsay of doubtful veracity or accuracy, misinformation (seen as simply false) or disinformation (seen as deliberately false). Based on the report, Council passed a motion to apologize to the CAO, accept the report and consider the matter closed.

Ontario’s youngest MPP is taking it upon himself to improve palliative care services and access in this province, something most people associate with the elderly.
Oosterhoff once again tabled his first Private Member’s Bill, the Compassionate Care Act. Bill 3, as it is now known, last week. The bill would establish a hospice palliative care framework for the province of Ontario.

Prudhommes development enthusiastic reviews

by Kevin Vallier

This week, members of Niagara Region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, Chaired by Councillor Selina Volpatti, got a look at what the proposed development on the old Prudhommes land will look like on Wednesday and it was met with overwhelming support.

Presented by John Ariens of project consultants, IBI Group, the planned development is to be diverse and walkable with a mixed use waterfront. Councillor after councillor praised all those involved in the project. Niagara Falls Councillor Bart Maves said; “To have this many groups of people arrive at a generally agreed upon plan in this day and age in Ontario is almost a miracle.”

Lord Mayor Darte Seeks Re-Election

by Niagara Independent Staff

A lot of good things have been accomplished during the past few years in Canada’s “friendliest town” but Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Lord Mayor, Pat Darte, announced this week he’d like at least four more years to build on those achievements.

Introduced by his campaign manager, Joe Pillitteri, in front of a crowd of family and supporters, Darte said he has been recently reflecting on his first term as Lord Mayor and believes the Town is moving in the right direction. “We are expanding to meet demands while retaining the unique elements of Niagara-on-the-Lake,” he said. He stated that over a half a billion dollars of new construction has taken place and gave examples of new wineries, craft breweries, additional retail space as well as new housing development.

At the tail end of the 18th century, the first capital of Upper Canada was established in what is today Niagara-on-the-Lake.

For five years, the area drew in top officials from across the colony and served as the provincial seat of government.

However, soon after its installation, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe decided to move the legislature to York (Toronto). So close to the American border, the initial location was far too vulnerable to attack.

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara’s only PC MPP has priorities set

by Kevin Vallier

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

Augustyn Running for Chair’s Seat

by Niagara Independent Staff

And then there were four.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPG prepares for historic canal project

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caslin seeking re-election as Regional Chair

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Mental Health Program at NHS

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100,000th Grad Crosses Brock’s Stage

by Austin Broad

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

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

Province Goes Blue, Niagara Goes Orange

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And their off!

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

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

Ford Talks Jobs on Niagara Tour

by Kevin Vallier

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

Big Thinkers to Gather in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

Candidates Host a Conversation About Women in Politics

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

Another Horse Track Fights to Stay Alive

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Recognition for Brock Student Scientists

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Niagara Falls Hotel Tax Put to Rest

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port Dalhousie Condo Projects Await their Fate

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara PC Women Get Ready for Provincial Campaign

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

Niagara’s Economy Better Than Ever

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

It’s Not About GO or No GO

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara News Briefs

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

Province Releases Pre-Election Budget

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

Niagara College Celebrates Achieving Dreams Campaign

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Decade of Innovating Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local MPPs Mum on Hamilton NDP Constituency Offices in Turmoil

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niagara Falls Ontario Liberals set to Nominate Dean Demizio

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Local PC Candidates Ready to Roll with Ford as Leader

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

Police Chief Buyout – Why the High Cost?

by Kevin Vallier

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

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