January 25, 2020

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O’Toole ramps up for possible leadership run

by Kevin Vallier

The race for the next leader of the Federal Conservative Party of Canada is on and someone many see as a front-runner for the position made a Niagara stop earlier this week.
Erin O’Toole, the veteran MP arrived at the Grantham House in St. Catharines for a meet and greet with about 60 Niagara conservatives. He wanted to hear their thoughts on the party, the recent federal election and what they are looking for in a leader. O’Toole, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, took the time to speak with those in attendance individually before addressing the crowed and providing his vision of what the next leader of the Conservative party needs to bring to the table in order to form the next government.

The Order of St. George of Canada and the Americas has a rich history dating back nearly 700 years. King Charles I, Duke of Anjou, founded the Order in Hungary in 1326 as the first royal and secular charitable military order of its kind. In Canada, the order was established in Niagara Falls in 2003 at Christ Church, where about 70 members of the Order gathered recently to select a new Grand Master, Colonel Andrew Nellestynin (Retd) of Ottawa.

Region’s CAO selection process begins soon

by Niagara Independent Staff

Last night before the Region’s monthly council meeting, a special meeting was held to discuss a few items, one of which was the selection of Niagara’s next Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). While many councillors were eager to get on with the process they also had many questions and suggestions for the CAO recruitment policy that was tabled for their review.
In the end council voted to send it back to staff stalling the search for the Region’s next CAO.

Purchasing problems plague Region

by Kevin Vallier

Less than a week after Niagara Region staff recommended a controversial sole sourced multi-million dollar contract, two bombshell audits were delivered to the audit committee outlining significant issues with its purchasing regime and sole sourcing.
When goods and services are required by Niagara Region’s various departments, they must work through a centralized purchasing department, known as procurement, to ensure proper processes are followed and fairness and accountability measures remain intact. For smaller purchases under $25,000, it is not required for Regional departments to engage with procurement staff; however, it is expected of departments to comply with the Regional policies overseeing these purchases.

Report left in limbo

by Kevin Vallier

Two audits covering significant issues in the Niagara Region’s purchasing regime, one of which was kept from elected officials for over a year, did not sit well with the Audit Committee or St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik Monday.
Sendzik, who is not a member of Audit Committee but was present to discuss the reports with the committee, left scathing words for Regional staff for their decision to withhold the audits from elected officials.

“Not interested in the past” says new NPCA Chair

by Kevin Vallier

“I’m not interested in the past folks.” And with that blunt statement Hamilton representative Brenda Johnson began her term Wednesday as the newly elected Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board Chair. Johnson went on to say, “We’ve dealt with the past. I’m more focused on today and what we’re going to do tomorrow. Let’s get to work.”
Johnson, who has served as a Hamilton city councillor since 2010, was elected Chair at the NPCA’s recent Annual General Meeting. Four individuals ran for the Chair’s seat; Rick Brady, David Bylsma, Ken Kawall and Johnson. Bylsma was seeking a second term but came under fire just days before the election for his views on climate change. He did not make it past the first ballot. There was a tie between Brady and Kawall. Eventually the vote came down to Johnson and Brady.

Fireworks were set off at Niagara Region’s public works committee meeting earlier this week over a staff recommendation to effectively sole source a multi-million dollar contract for liquid biosolids for a period of three years.
The contract, valued at $4.5 million in 2020 alone, was recommended by Niagara Region staff to be awarded to Thomas Nutrient Solutions of Hamilton for its Liquid Biosolids and Residuals Management Program. This program oversees the management of materials removed during the treatment of drinking water. Thomas Nutrient Solutions has held the contract since 2013 and has already received a three year renewal in 2017.

Kennedy is College’s new President

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara College has tapped one of its own to become just the sixth President since post secondary institution was founded in Welland more than half a century ago.
The College’s Board of Governors announced late last week the selection of Sean Kennedy as Niagara College’s new president after beginning its search back in July 2019.

Local music legend passes away at 67

by Niagara Independent Staff

When word got out last week that drumming legend Neil Peart passed away at age 67, fans across Canada — and indeed the world — were equally surprised and saddened.

Peart kept news of his terminal brain cancer under wraps for the better part of three and a half years. Most people had no idea he was even ill.

SNIP almost snipped from Region’s budget

by Niagara Independent Staff

Despite almost being snipped from the budget by Niagara Regional Council, the Niagara Region’s Smarter Niagara Investment Program (SNIP) was maintained thanks to passionate please from regional councillors whose communities have benefited greatly from the incentive.
The Smarter Niagara Investment Program at its core supports local municipalities in offering incentives to local businesses in order to attract new development or significant improvements to existing buildings. Investments made into façade improvements in downtown communities for example have brought public benefit via improved streetscaping and rising property values. The program also helps entice new developments that in the long run increase tax revenues.

Niagara Health appoints new President

by Niagara Independent Staff

Tuesday, February 18 will be the first day on the job for Niagara Health’s new president Lynn Guerriero. Following a national search, Guerriero’s appointment was unanimous by the board that in a media release citied her, “unique set of skills, passion and vision for high-quality healthcare in Niagara” as making her the right choice.
Guerriero has more than three decades of leadership, management and clinical experience within a variety of healthcare settings, including multi-site acute care, rehabilitation and community care. She also has extensive senior leadership experience providing hands-on implementation and oversight of provincial programs, agencies and sectors of the health system.

Trekking through the Sahara for a cause

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara resident Michael Sommer says he’s never done what was expected of him. He took that motto a step further, several steps actually, as he trekked across the Sahara Dessert recently to raise money for Gillian’s Place a shelter for abused women and children.

The idea for the adventure of a lifetime started in 2018 when the local real estate agent was at a Royal LePage conference in Halifax. “Two years ago the trek was in Iceland and in 2018 they announced the 2019 trek would be through the Sahara Desert,” explained Sommer. He said as a corporation Royal LePage established its own foundation called the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation and it would have a bi-annual adventure to raise money.

Niagara Falls rings in New Year’s in style

by Kevin Vallier

An estimated 60,000 people jammed Queen Victoria Park and surrounding areas in Niagara Falls on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2020 with Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams. Billed as one of the best New Year’s Eve concerts the city has hosted the large crowed danced, clapped, smiled and sang the lyrics to iconic Adams’ hits right up until midnight. City and Parks Commission leaders couldn’t have been happier.

Niagara West Member of Federal Parliament Dean Allison is looking forward to a busy and productive 2020 with lots on the go both in his riding and the nation’s capital.

When looking back on 2019, not surprisingly, the first thing that the veteran MP mentions is the recent federal election campaign. “I’m grateful we did better in this last campaign but disappointed we didn’t win,” said Allison. One of the areas he feels the Conservatives could have made a better argument was climate change. “We didn’t do a good enough job talking about our environmental plan. The carbon tax is extremely punitive and hurts people on a fixed income.” Allison said a carbon tax is also out of touch with people in rural areas who have to drive to grocery stores and hockey arenas for example because they don’t have public transportation. He said the Liberals have no choice but to increase their carbon tax in a significant way if they want any hope of hitting the Parris Accord targets.

West Lincoln hospital moves to next step in new build

by Niagara Independent Staff

Good news over the holidays for the residents of west Niagara as the province has approved stage two functional program funding for the redevelopment of West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH) in Grimsby.
Local MPP Sam Oosterhoff announced the Ford government has issued approval for Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) to proceed to stage two of the Functional Program for the local West Niagara hospital.

Falls ready to rock New Years

by Niagara Independent Staff

With the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve and Christmas day now in the rear view mirror, the world’s most famous address gears up for its annual New Year ’s Eve bash.
Niagara Falls will once again countdown to the New Year at Queen Victoria Park in style as thousands are expected to fill the grounds in front of the large stage that will see Canadian rocker Bryan Adams headline with opening acts Juno Award winning, multi-platinum musical phenomenon Walk Off the Earth and rising pop-star, Niagara Falls’ own Valerie .

Unsung heroes receive Christmas cheer

by Kevin Vallier

A few years ago local business owner Wolfgang Guembel started to realize that there were a lot of people in Niagara that go above and beyond every day helping others in the community and receive little to no recognition. He wanted to change that.
After some discussions and initial planning with business associates and friends, a Christmas Wish was born. This was the third year for the event. People in Niagara can nominate someone that has made a significant positive impact to their community. Once the organizers read through the applications a handful are selected to be recognized in a day of first class treatment.

Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott was in Niagara earlier this week to announce a substantial funding boost to help local hospitals address infrastructure needs. Minister Elliott was joined by her colleague Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff and NDP MPP Jenny Stevens at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines site along with hospital executives, staff and board members who were all pleased to hear the minister say they would be receiving a little over $1.6 million for facility upgrades.

Niagara’s biggest tax hike in a decade

by Niagara Independent Staff

Residents in Niagara will see a sharp increase in the amount of taxes they will be paying next year as the Regional government passed its 2020 budget last Thursday night. The increases include a 5.92 per cent overall property tax increase, a 5.15 per cent hike on the water and waste water tax bill as well as a 9.9 per cent increase for waste management services despite a reduction in waste management services. It’s the largest tax increase in at least a decade.
For the average property assessed at $277,044, the Regional portion of the tax bill will increase by $86, totalling $1,602 in 2020 according to staff. This does not include local municipal taxes which will increase as well with the exception of Welland which is looking at a tax decrease for 2020.

After learning they’ll soon be hit with the highest tax increase in a decade from the Region, residents of the Rose City got welcome financial relief from their own municipality recently as Welland City Council has approved a tax rate decrease.
In fact, Welland council lead by Mayor Frank Campion has managed a decrease in city taxes while at the same time budgeting for a record $62 million in capital spending for 2020. Welland City Council approved the municipal 2020 tax-supported Capital and Operating Budgets on Dec. 10, 2019. The budget process took two-months and included budget deliberations and a public engagement campaign.

Region and municipal tax increases could impact renters

by Niagara Independent Staff

Those renting their apartments, condos or homes in Niagara could be in for a rude awakening given the sharp tax increase by the Region coupled with their local municipal tax increase (with the exception of Welland whose council passed a tax decrease this week). Region and municipal property tax increases should be a concern for renters because any tax increase more than 3.3 % allows the landlord to appeal for a rent increase above and beyond the 2.2% provincial guideline.
The Region has raised property taxes 5.85% on 44% of the tax bill, St. Catharines for example looks like its taxes will increase 3.65% on 44% of your tax bill (St. Catharines is set to vote on its budget Monday Dec. 16). The school boards make up the remaining 12%.

Waste Collection Woes

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara Region’s waste collection woes just keep getting worse.
Earlier this fall, the Region decided to reduce services to the public by moving to every other week garbage pickup, reducing some bag limits and discontinuing some services. Despite a reduction in service – under the guise of ‘cost-saving’ efforts – waste management costs are actually set to increase by 10% each year for the next three years.

Athletic drive leads to business success

by Kevin Vallier

It was recently announced that a local athletic apparel company was selected as the official merchandiser for the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games. It’s a big job, big responsibility and huge opportunity; Nothing new to RegattaSport.

The company’s founders and current owners Joe Camillo and Chris Cookson first thought of the idea of starting a company that sold rowing specific clothing more than three decades ago. The story dates back to 1987 when both Joe and Chris were rowing at the St. Catharines Rowing Club. That same year the pair tried out for Canada’s national rowing team and made it. They were actually in the same boat. It was at the world championships in Denmark where Joe first had the idea to start a company that would eventually turn into ReggaSport.

It’s sickening. It’s real. It’s happening in our own backyard.

Human trafficking is a huge problem in Canada, Ontario and right here in Niagara. In fact, Niagara Regional Police Chief MacCulloch has created a special task force to deal with the problem. “While this issue is not singular to Niagara, we recognize that being a border community, human trafficking is a concern that has a direct and unique impact in our Region.” The Chief went on to say, “As part of the 2019 operating budget, we created a Human Trafficking Unit to further strengthen the assistance and support our investigators are able to give to victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

The Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games announced yesterday that Ontario-based Aquicon Construction has been awarded the contract to build two of the key legacy projects for the Games – Canada Games Park and the Henley Rowing Centre. Construction will begin immediately for the Canada Games Park project that will host a number of different athletic events for the Games in 2021.
“This is yet another significant milestone in our preparation for the Games,” explained Doug Hamilton, Chair of the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games Host Society. “We look forward to working with Aquicon to develop facilities that will not only greatly enhance the 2021 Canada Games, but will also leave a critical legacy for many years after the Games.”

Updated: Ombudsman Report on region hiring released

by Niagara Independent Staff

The long awaited report into the hiring of former Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo was released late last week by the Ontario Ombudsman, Paul Dube. The 74-page report provides detailed information on the Ombudsman’s investigative process, background information and 16 recommendations to council moving forward.
“The Regional Municipality of Niagara’s 2016 CAO hiring process was an inside job, tainted by the improper disclosure of confidential information to a candidate – a candidate who was ultimately successful and became the region’s most senior administrator,” said Mr. Dubé in his report.

Niagara tourism heats up in winter months

by Kevin Vallier

Long gone are the days when Niagara tourist operators would roll up the carpets, turn the store signs to close, switch off the lights and come back in April to get ready for the next wave of summertime tourists. Today, and over the past number of years, tourists flock to Niagara by the millions even in the cold and snowy months. It’s something that local politicians and tourism sector leaders have been chipping away at for years.

College president’s career celebrated

by Kevin Vallier

You know you’ve left a positive impression well beyond the walls of your workplace when staff, students, alumni, family, friends and community leaders fill a performing arts centre to say thank you.
Hundreds of well-wishers gathered inside Partridge Hall at the St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre Friday night to wish soon-to-be-retired Niagara College president Dr. Dan Patterson a fond farewell and to thank him for his quarter century of service to not only the post-secondary institution he lead but also for his massive impact on the Niagara community in general.

“Iconic” hotel to be added to Falls skyline

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls residents and city councillors got a detailed look at what is being called an “iconic and architecturally significant” hotel being proposed for the tourist city. The massive 72-storey building, which will also be home to residential units and commercial space, is slated to stand at 6609 Stanley Avenue near the Fallsview Casino area. The site is currently surrounded by other hotels, restaurants and shops.

About a year and a half ago Bob Benner, CEO of Niagara manufacturing company Hamill Machine Company Inc. was faced with a challenge. Business was going well but certainly could’ve been better. Benner’s company was always looking at ways to diversify and change with the times to stay relevant. A grocer had asked Benner if he had a machine that could cut the tops off of leafy greens and micro greens. No such product existed so Benner and his team invented one. It was a risky but wise move.

Local company gets merchandise contract for Summer Games

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games has announced that local athletic wear company RegattaSport, will be the official licensed merchandising partner. Founded in 1988 and located in St. Catharines, RegattaSport is well known to the local rowing community for providing athletic wear and regatta merchandise.

In a statement, Games’ Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Steve Katzman said, “The RFP process canvassed previous Games’ suppliers, in addition to suppliers from across Canada and Niagara. In the end, the proposal from RegattaSport embodied the logistics as well as the spirit we were looking for; they checked all the boxes. RegattaSport has an outstanding reputation for providing quality athletic merchandise, as evidenced by the fact that their founders are former world class rowers; and so they have a clear understanding of the importance of athletics and what these Games will mean to Niagara.”

Niagara Falls development still moving forward

by Niagara Independent Staff

The billion dollar development project planned for south Niagara Falls that has faced tiresome opposition from a loud handful of environmentalists, is still moving forward said that city’s mayor Jim Diodati.

Niagara College tops list in research report

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara College (NC) is celebrating two decades of applied research activity this year. To add to the milestone celebrations a recent report put the college atop a list of 50 other colleges across Canada when it comes to research.
In its annual report “Top 50 Research Colleges,” Research Infosource Inc. announced that Niagara College has secured the number one ranking in the country, based on total research funding numbers for 2018. In fact, this represents the fifth year in a row the College has made the Top 10.

Summer Games mascot unveiled on national stage

by Niagara Independent Staff

With any national or international sporting event one of the highlights leading up to the opening ceremonies and competition is the unveiling of the event’s mascot. This past Sunday the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games had a national stage to show the country who will be the fun face of the Games. Meet Shelly.

Shelly took the stage of Rogers Hometown Hockey with boundless energy and was greeted by smiles and thunderous applause. The giant green turtle decked out in white Games athletic wear immediately began to energize the crowd.

A life of service: Dinner honours Rob Nicholson

by Niagara Independent Staff

Rob Nicholson has served as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Niagara Falls for nearly a quarter of a century. Nicholson decided to retire this year and did not seek re-election paving the way for his former aide Tony Baldnelli to run in the riding which now encompasses Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. Baldinelli held onto the seat for the Conservatives and was one of many speakers at a retirement dinner held last Saturday to honour Nicholson’s long and distinguished career in federal politics.

Niagara veteran urges residents to say “thank you”

by Kevin Vallier

Michael Blais would like to see Canadian military veterans thanked for their service more than one day a year. Blais is a veteran himself and the Niagara Falls resident says it’s important for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, or other mental illnesses as a result of their combat service, to receive a smile and a thank you from their fellow Canadians. “I always tell people to say thank you on more than one day a year. It takes two seconds to shake that man or woman’s hand and say thank you because it really does a make a difference,” he said.

After a passionate debate at St. Catharines city council earlier this week on whether or not to pass a reconsideration motion moved by councillor Karrie Porter that simply asked to reopen discussion on the subject of Community Improvement Plan incentives, particularly as it applied to the Harbour Club, a Port Dalhousie condo development, council ended up very divided on the issue.

In the end, council voted 8-5 in favour of Porter’s motion. However, the motion needed two-thirds majority, or 9 votes, in order to pass. Thus it was defeated.

The Niagara region is becoming a regular stop on Rogers Hometown Hockey as hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone arrive this weekend in Welland to share the Rose City’s numerous hockey stories with hockey fans from across the country. Hometown Hockey has made previous stops in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Welland is one of 25 selected communities across the nation to host the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour and is the sixth stop on the tour, which began Oct. 5, 2019, in Halton Hills and will wrap up in March in Edmonton.

Pratt to be recognized with Lifetime Achievement Award

by Niagara Independent Staff

Debi Pratt started keeping a scrapbook during her first days with Inniskillin Wines, then Vincor and Constellation Brands. It will come in handy as reference material for when Pratt writes her acceptance speech, one she will deliver this Friday night when she is presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for her four decades of leading public relations and marketing not only for the winery that employed her but Niagara’s wine industry as a whole.

Severe weather wrecks havoc on south Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

The high winds that battered Niagara communities did some significant damage over the weekend. In fact, at time of publication there were still about 30 homes without power in south Niagara. Port Colborne and Fort Erie were hardest hit by the storm and many properties suffered significant damage.
Larry Vaughan, president of Ground Aerial Maintenance Services Ltd. said his crews have been working around the clock with other utility companies to restore power as fast as possible. Vaughan’s team were first called out around 10 p.m. Thursday night. He said there were a large number of uprooted trees, broken hydro lines and hydro poles snapped in half. Between the various crews there have been about 80 workers running around the clock. By law, in an emergency situation crews can only work a maximum of 16 hours in a row before having to take eight hours off.

Mr. D gets honorary diploma

by Kevin Vallier

Vince DiCosimo receives his honorary diploma from Niagara College president Dan Patterson at last week’s convocation. Supplied photo. Vince DiCosimo, or “Mr. D” as he’s known to many, has spent the vast majority of his career helping build Niagara’s tourism sector. His most iconic achievement, the Hilton Fallsview, stands tall and proud overlooking Niagara Falls. […]

In an attempt to clarify a mountain of misinformation and misunderstanding with regard to how a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant actually works, St. Catharines city councillor Karrie Porter will be bringing a motion forward to Monday night’s council meeting that would ask her colleagues to have further discussion on the Harbour Club development condo project taking place in Port Dalhousie where the former Lincoln Fabrics building exists.

It’s status quo for Niagara governance… again

by Kevin Vallier

After months of repeating his frustration with the number of municipal politicians in Niagara premier Doug Ford has decided to change nothing when it comes to how the region of Niagara and the way its individual municipalities are governed.
During the summer months there were essentially two camps that surfaced when it came to a favoured new governance structure: a one-city model and a four-city model. Turns out neither group will get their way.

Concern mounts over distracted drivers passing stopped school buses

by Niagara Independent Staff

Distracted drivers speeding past stopped school buses is becoming an increasing concern for parents of school-aged children across Niagara and cameras attached to the stop sign arm on the bus is what they recommend.

The Ontario School Bus Association estimates approximately 18,000 school buses travel two million kilometers in Ontario every school day.

The more things change…

by Niagara Independent Staff

There were some shocking upsets of long-time MPs in last night’s federal election, like Conservative Lisa Raitt and Liberal Ralph Goodale but here in Niagara nothing changed.

While there is a new face in the riding of Niagara Falls (includes Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie) in Conservative Tony Baldinelli who ran and won in place of retired MP Rob Nicholson, the rest of the federal faces stayed the same. Liberals Chris Bittle and Vance Badawey will return to Ottawa along with Conservative Dean Allison. For those keeping score Niagara is split with two Liberals and two Conservatives representing the region on parliament hill.

It’s the start of another busy day of campaigning and the Honorable Rob Nicholson, the Member of Parliament who has served the Niagara Falls riding for over 24 years is having coffee and reminiscing with Tony Baldinelli, the Conservative candidate who is hoping to succeed his former boss to become the riding’s next MP.

“It’s really a full circle story,” said Nicholson. “When I was first elected in 1984, over 30 years ago, Tony supported me and volunteered on my campaigns, and even worked for me in Ottawa beginning in 1988; now here I am volunteering on his campaign all these years later.”

Developer blind-sided by council decision

by Kevin Vallier

To say the recent decision by St. Catharines City Council to not approve a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant to the development company breathing new life into the old Lincoln Fabrics building in Port Dalhousie was a surprise, is an understatement. “We were completely blindsided,” said Sheldon Rosen, President of Port Dalhousie Harbour Club.

Rosen said since day one the team behind the project has worked well with city staff and have “checked all the boxes” when it comes to what was asked of them by the city. “We’ve spent a great deal of time and funds working with the city,” explained Rosen. He acknowledged that city staff has been great to work with but the recent council vote to not approve the CIP funds, despite a staff recommendation to allow it, has him and the team very frustrated. Last Monday council voted 7-5 against providing the funding, which would amount to about $3 million, despite the fact that the project met all of the criteria to receive the grant.

West Lincoln hospital getting upgrades

by Niagara Independent Staff

Earlier this week the province announced an additional investment of up to $2 million to support Hamilton Health Sciences with upgrades and renovations at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Grimsby so that all services can return to full capacity as quickly as possible. This investment is in addition to the $8.5 million in provincial funding provided to the hospital in November of last year. The government says it is committed to the redevelopment of the west Niagara hospital.
“This is a very important day for patients and families in the West Niagara region,” said Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West. “Once renovations are completed, West Lincoln Memorial Hospital will have greater capacity to provide patients and families with access to care in a space that can better meet the needs of a growing community, until the new hospital is built.”

She’s knocked on more than 40,000 doors trying to convince the residents of St. Catharines riding that she should be their next federal member of parliament. If that happens, Conservative candidate Krystina Waler would become the riding’s first federally elected female since the riding was formed in 1966.
“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Waler when asked about the potential of a groundbreaking victory on election night. She’s in a tight race with Liberal incumbent Chris Bittle.

Thanksgiving tradition continues at Ball’s Falls

by Niagara Independent Staff

More than 170 unique artisans, crafters, local farmers, and talented musicians from across the country will once again descend upon Ball’s Falls Conservation Area this long weekend, for the 45th Annual Ball’s Falls Thanksgiving Festival.
“We are thrilled to offer this family tradition for the 45th year in a row, where guests can experience culture, history, and fall harvest fun all in one unique place,” says Alicia Powell, Acting Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. “The Festival has something for everyone; from live entertainment and local craft beer and wine, to family-friendly activities, historical tours, a farmers market, and unique craft vendors with one-of-a-kind products.”

Locals sleep cheap and charities reap

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara’s hoteliers and tourism operators are once again giving back to the community as reservations for the always hotly anticipated annual Sleep Cheap Charities Reap event can be made starting tomorrow, Oct. 9 beginning at 8:00 a.m.
Sleep Cheap will once again run for five nights this year beginning Sunday Nov. 10 running up to and including Thursday Nov. 14, 2019. Many of Niagara’s finest hotels will offer rooms only to Niagara residents during the event. Minimum donations for rooms remain the same as last year: $35 per night for a standard room, $45 for a Fallsview room, $65 for a whirlpool room, and $85 for a room with access to a waterpark. The new Municipal Accommodation Tax of $2 per night will apply. 2019 Sleep Cheap hotels are listed online at sleepcheapcharitiesreap.com.

Hockey Canada heading to Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara Falls will host the nation’s hockey leaders next summer.
The Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf is heading to the most famous address in the world to host the 17th edition of the annual event, June 15-16, 2020 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre and Legends on the Niagara golf course. Doug Goss, chair of the Hockey Canada Foundation, announced the organization’s single largest annual fundraiser was returning to Ontario at a news conference Tuesday at Fallsview Casino Resort.

Funding for festival of lights

by Niagara Independent Staff

It’s a sure sign that the holiday season is fast approaching. During a visit to Niagara Parks yesterday, the Honourable Lisa MacLeod, the province’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport announced $250,000 in funding for the OPG Winter Festival of Lights through the Celebrate Ontario program administered by the Government of Ontario.
The announcement was made overlooking the Canadian Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Parks’ Table Rock Centre and featured remarks by Niagara Parks Chair Sandie Bellows, Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff and Minister MacLeod.

Wine festival weekend turns tragic in St. Catharines

by Niagara Independent Staff

What was supposed to be the wrap up to another festival celebrating Niagara’s grape growing and wine making industry turned tragic as six people, four males and two females were shot in downtown St. Catharines early Sunday morning. All six were transported to a local hospital. Two of the victims sustained more serious injuries and were later transported to an out of town trauma centre.
The incident has rocked the downtown core as police try and get answers to numerous questions. Niagara Regional Police (NRP) believe that the violence occurred following an argument between the two suspects outside of Karma Lounge located at 55 St. Paul Street at William Street.

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

Ludzik Gala: Time to roast the host

by Kevin Vallier

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

Party leaders visit Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

Clearly both Liberal and Conservative party strategists think Niagara’s seats are in play at least at this point of the 2019 federal election campaign. Both parties sent their respective Leaders Justin Trudeau for the Liberals and Andrew Scheer for the Conservatives to Niagara ridings yesterday. The response from supporters however was drastically different.

In St. Catharines, Scheer visited supporters at the Cat’s Caboose restaurant at the bottom of Glendridge Avenue.  It’s the second time that the party leader has been in St. Catharines to support local candidate Krystina Waler, a clear sign that the Conservatives have marked the St. Catharines riding as winnable. The riding is currently held by Liberal MP Chris Bittle. While many Liberal candidates have tried to distance themselves from Trudeau, Bittle has been a staunch supporter of his Leader.

NPCA board says no to fishing expedition

by Dave Burket - Niagara Independent News Association

Board member Ed Smith’s attempt to access any and all legal and corporate documents ran into a brick wall at this month’s Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board meeting, held Wednesday, September 18, at Balls Falls Conservation Area, in Lincoln.
A number of Smith’s board colleagues found the request inappropriate, and concurred with staff’s report that board members need to abide by and respect privacy laws.

The City of Welland, population 52,000, recently opened its fifth Industrial Park.  It is located in the north end of the city on River Road and Downs Drive and has quick and easy access to Highways 406 and 140.  In 2018, Welland City Council declared the 38 acres of property as surplus land, had it rezoned to fall under the Gateway Economic Zone and Centre Community Improvement Plan, and began servicing the land to make it shovel-ready for investors.

In order to attract more development and help boost the local economy, Welland staff have created a more efficient development process by streamlining and expediting planning approvals. The city claims that this more efficient process is building successful relationships between the city’s Economic Development team and current investors and developers.

New Niagara Falls hospital makes the list

by Kevin Vallier

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

Police to get new command post

by Kevin Vallier

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

Leviathan Cannabis sues Town of Pelham

by Niagara Independent News Association

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

What it takes to be a Snowbird

by Kevin Vallier

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

Development charges: friend or foe

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Feds pull through with summer games funds

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

St. Catharines awarded 2024 world rowing championships

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Quirk cleared of any wrongdoing

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

American visitors highest in over a decade

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

Niagara’s housing market continues to heat up

by Kevin Vallier

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

Funding means go time for games

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Province to announce Summer Games funding tomorrow

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara Detention Centre to get specialized security team

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

UPDATED: “Exciting news” expected for Summer Games

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Henley opens as two-year countdown to summer games begins

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

Gold to be hidden in Hamilton

by Kevin Vallier

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

So many students, so little housing

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Niagara Parks ready for busiest weekend of the year

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Tourism businesses step up for soup kitchen

by Kevin Vallier

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

Two models rise to top for governance change

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

by Catherine Rice

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

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

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

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

Major manufacturing investment for Niagara College

by Kevin Vallier

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

Pop-up beer garden becomes permanent

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

The rise of schoolyard hoops

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Young fiddle player returns to roots

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Day at the country’s most famous address

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

What will guide Niagara’s budget process?

by Kevin Vallier

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

An open process for publicly funded projects in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara business leaders to be honoured

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Niagara federal show down

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Oosterhoff reflects on one year in government

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Welland waterway in ‘revitalization’ mode

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curtains up at The Shaw

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

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

Fort Erie live racing begins today

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

Niagara youth to design Summer Games mascot

by Kevin Vallier

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

Feds announce tourism strategy

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

Pay it forward with BarterPay

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

Physicians flock to Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

Once, and for all – Canada Summer Games prep begins

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

Trudeau addresses home builders in Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

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

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

Dogs for sale?

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

Sticks to bricks

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Funny business

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

Two decades of providing power

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

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

New shelter diversion program opens in Niagara

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

NPCA ‘headed in right direction’

by Elena De Luigi

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

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

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

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

Governance Review – what Niagara is saying

by Bruce Timms

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

The economic transformation of Welland

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

A balanced restructuring of Niagara

by Bruce Timms

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

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

Nicholson says goodbye to politics

by Kevin Vallier

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

Lacrosse will be part of Canada Summer Games

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

A three city Niagara could bridge North south divide

by Bruce Timms

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

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

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

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

Is One City of Niagara the right solution?

by Bruce Timms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Way taps next generation Sherk for Campaign chair

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Under Review – What will Niagara look like?

by Bruce Timms

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

Town of Pelham could be on the hook for millions

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

Niagara poised for industrial growth says Port Authority CEO

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Medical students want to learn in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

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

Building her career

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara-on-the-Lake leaders lauded

by Kevin Vallier

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

New study highlights tourism sector’s big impact on economy

by Kevin Vallier

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

The show must go on says Ludzik

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Ontario embarks on new era of healthcare

by Kevin Vallier

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

New radar detection system will keep boaters safer on Niagara River

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Summer Games Society makes Wright choice for CEO

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

Cannabis is just another crop

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

Crossing the line – councillors fed up with leaks

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Questions Abound on D’Angelo Departure from Region

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

D’Angelo did not resign

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Bellows is new chair for Parks Commission

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

Brock transforms Goodman Business School

by Kevin Vallier

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

Busy shipping season on seaway

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Niagara icebreaker keeps the power on

by Kevin Vallier

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

The police budget balancing act

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

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

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

Best Whiskey comes from Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oosterhoff defends Bill 66 from fear mongering

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

An iron will to succeed

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Safety Minister addresses police association

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Region looks to spend big

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Chief makes mental health of members a priority

by Kevin Vallier

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

Minister meets with Niagara tourism leaders

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Province looks to increase housing options

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Niagara gas prices to jump in April

by Kevin Vallier

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

Niagara curling tradition continues

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest kicks-off icewine season

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Life as a magician

by Kevin Vallier

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

Brock’s Chancellor named to Order of Canada

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Niagara Falls set to ring in the New Year

by Niagara Independent Staff

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

Questions remain about mass firings at Region

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

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

Bloody Monday at Regional Headquarters

by Kevin Vallier

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

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

Niagara receives early Christmas gift in regular GO train service

by Nicholas Tibollo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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