Category Archives: government

The trouble with confederation

Jeffrey Simpson’s argument that Queens Park is the most important government in the country these days makes me a little sad. Not because I don’t think the Ontario government is competent, but the federal government and the other provinces are, to put it kindly, not being helpful.

One of the weaknesses in Canadian confederation is out-sized power and undersized capacity of the smaller provinces to govern. The small provinces don’t have the capacity to provide services without federal (read: Ontario and Alberta) help, but the big provinces don’t get the support they need from the nation to create wealth in a global economy.


“Flaherty’s budget is a limp noodle”

John Ibbitson is absolutely right that we are missing a tremendous opportunity being so out of synch, politically, with the Americans.

If politics is a car, Stephen Harper knows the Canadian public will not put up with any backwards motion, but by God, he’s got his hands on the emergency brake and he’s not letting up.

Obama or no Obama, there will be very little in the way of progressive politics for Canada until we get a new PM – maybe even a new government.

Budget Pessimism

It seems to be generally agreed that next week’s budget isn’t going to be pretty.

Harper playing games with budget leaks: Ignatieff – National Post

Ontario’s back to the wall – Globe and Mail

Gird for the worst as MPs gather for Budget, Round 2 – Toronto Star

When you load a shotgun with $34-billion dollars, a few billion are bound to be spent right, but that hardly makes for a good budget.

(I am tempted to make a joke about getting Cheneyed by Harper’s stimulus shotgun, but will resist.)

Part of the trouble is that even $34-billion can be spread too thinly trying to buy votes across the country with spending (“$1.5-million to refurbish a horse racetrack in Summerside, P. E. I.”) and tax cuts. Harper might please nobody while trying to please everybody. On the other hand – or in addition – he might pull some kind of political trick again to screw the opposition.

In either case, the country will suffer for it.

First-world ignorance

Here is something loosely related to the historic election of Obama to the US Presidency.

Did you know Peru has a Japanese-Peruvian president for most of the 1990s? He is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for abuse of power.

This seems like the sort of thing I should have heard about before.

Amalgamation aprehension

A letter writer from Port Colborne does not trust us Northies to govern responsibly with our population majority:

To formalize the institution as a single elected body, with a majority based in communities in the north of Niagara, whilst condemning those communities in the south to a perpetual minority and with no say as recognizable and different individual communities can only lead to those already seen to be without proper representation losing even that marginalized representation.

In all honesty, I can’t imagine what pressing issues face Port Colborne which aren’t faced by other stagnating, Southern-tier municipalities. It doesn’t seem to me like a very high-maintenance community to govern, but maybe that opinion is indictment enough in the eyes of people from Port Colborne.

The reality is that any marginally democratic arrangement of this new (and so far, hypothetical) City of Niagara would leave Port Colborne in the minority. There just aren’t enough people living in it – or Fort Erie, or Thorold, or any other smallish city – to throw much weight around at council.

To the writer’s claim that north Niagara would be able to use its dastardly majority to crush Port Colborne, it really depends where you draw the line between “north” and “south.” From my point of view in St Catharines, the escarpment is a natural place to divide Niagara, but if that is the case the north is actually slightly outnumbered, 45 to 55.

What should really worry the people of Port Colborne is if the big three – St Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland – are able to stop bickering over hospitals and police headquarters long enough to implement mutally beneficial big-city policies. They really do have a majority, and although cooperation seems far-fetched today, it is the only way Niagara is going to get ahead in the new economy.

The future of this region – the focus of growth, activity, and challenges – will not, for most people, be in Port Colborne or any other small centre. This should be reflected in the structure of a City of Niagara.

Let us unite against a common enemy

Look out, Texas Triangle, we’ve got our eye on your jobs. Putting the “unity” back in Community Editorial Board:

If we want to start making this region better, we need to stop fighting amongst ourselves and start devoting our energies to competing against other regions. We are in the age of globalization and we need to start putting Niagara in the same sentences as Kitchener/Waterloo and the Greater Toronto Area provincially, and next to Greater Paris and the Texas Triangle globally.

I take no issue with the call for Regional cooperation, but we shouldn’t throw out small-r regional cooperation at the same time. Whether it’s St Catharines versus Niagara Falls or Niagara versus Waterloo, the competition shouldn’t be destructive.

Realistically, we’re all part of a larger Toronto-centred region anyway.

One Niagara

An article in The Standard about this Facebook group got me wondering about the makeup of a single-tier City of Niagara.

For the sake of argument, let’s use the same councillor-to-citizen ratio as Hamilton, about 30 thousand people. I fiddled with the exact ratio a bit to come up with a round total, but that’s not really important. Thirteen councillors may seem like a lot of politicians, but it is a considerable improvement on thirty.*

Municipality Councillors
Fort Erie 0.91
Grimsby 0.73
Lincoln 0.66
Niagara Falls 2.51
N-O-T-L 0.44
Pelham 0.49
Port Colborne 0.57
St Catharines 4.02
Thorold 0.56
Wainfleet 0.2
Welland 1.53
West Lincoln 0.4
Total 13.03

I think it would be prudent to do away with the old municipal boundaries in favour of wards (again, like Hamilton). First, Port Colborne cannot be represented by a half councillor. Second, it could help us get past the old parochialism is a councillor represents Ward 7, for example, rather than Thorold.

The reality today is that no municipality in Niagara exists in isolation of any other (except maybe Niagara-on-the-Lake; it’s more of an amusement park than a town). The beggar-thy-neighbour approach to local politics has to stop. When Niagara Falls gains at the expense of St Catharines (as in wranglings over NRP headquarters) the region is poorer for it.

Having said that, I do have misgivings about amalgamation, especially with regards to St Catharines. Being a designated urban growth centre and without green-fields to develop, the city faces challenges unique to the region. With a fairly progressive city council in place and the re-urbanization of St Catharines getting under way, I’m reluctant to give up any influence to people who are predisposed to ignore or be hostile to large cities. We get enough of that from the federal government.

(photo credit)

*2006 population statistics found here.