Ward 1 by-election candidate Steven Soos. DON RICKERS

Perennial candidate Steven Soos looking for his debut electoral win

Last month, Pelham Town council voted to hold a by-election to fill the Ward 1 seat left vacant by the death of councillor Mike Ciolfi, in April. Only residents within the ward will be eligible to vote in the by-election, now tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, September 15. Candidates, however, are not required to live in the ward, as is true in any Pelham municipal election.

The first candidate to declare his intention to run is Steven Soos, a new resident of Pelham, but one who says he has a “family connection” to the town. Although he resides just outside the Ward 1 boundary, he doesn’t see this as an issue, “given that council deals with town-wide initiatives.”

Soos has been a development support worker and child and youth worker for five years. He has also worked as a residential counsellor in the not-for-profit sector, advocating for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Although still in his 20s, this is far from Soos’ first political campaign. When he was just 19, he ran for Ward 6 councillor in Welland, attracting 386 votes. While a student at Trent University in 2015 (he holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and Philosophy) he considered running as the NDP candidate in Peterborough that year. However, due to disagreements with the party, he changed his mind. Instead, he moved to Niagara Falls and was a candidate under the Green Party banner in the 2015 federal election. In 2017, he represented the Trillium Party of Ontario in the Niagara Centre riding. In May of 2018, Soos split from the Trillium Party, opting to run as an independent for provincial parliament, earning 217 votes. In July of the same year, Soos was registered to run for a councillor position in the fall election in Welland, but at the last minute decided to up the ante and compete with incumbent Frank Campion for the mayor’s chair. Campion won in a landslide, taking almost 80% of the vote, while Soos finished second, garnering just over 11%.

At present, Soos has no political affiliation, and prefers it that way. He previously told the Peterborough Examiner that he likes municipal elections because of their non-partisan nature, noting that, “I get to be Steven Soos, rather than a candidate from a particular political party.”

Though he has never held elected office, Soos says he has years of experience authoring motions for all levels of government, on such issues as missing persons and education for preventable opiate abuse.

Soos has no fear of controversy. He took Welland City Council to task in December of 2019, when a closed-door meeting, two years previously, in which council appointments were discussed, came to his attention. He felt that the council had violated its procedural bylaws, and filed a Freedom of Information request. However, Soos was told that the records of the meeting no longer existed. He took the case to provincial Ombudsman Paul Dube, who reviewed the details and judged that the in-camera meeting was unlawful.

“When it comes to protecting procedure, when it comes to standing up for what’s right, I’m your guy,” said Soos.

In August 2019, he called on Niagara Regional Council to declare a state of emergency based on addiction, homelessness, and mental health concerns. In a conversation with the Voice, Soos said, “In Niagara, it’s nothing short of an epidemic.” He referenced the Province of Ontario’s Emergency Response Plan, in which municipalities are free to declare states of emergency in response to any situation or impending situation caused by the forces of nature, an accident, an intentional act, or otherwise that constitutes a danger of major proportions to life or property.

“In that situation, the province must respond with funding,” Soos said.

In an effort to engage the electorate of Niagara, Soos produces and directs a political dialogue web-based program, called True Politics. Viewable on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, the show has featured several Niagara mayors, councillors, and notable public figures. He recently had retired politician and former Conservative Party leadership-hopeful Tony Clement on the program, and on June 27 has former Prime Minister Kim Campbell scheduled.

Soos has compiled a list of ten election pledges he will make to the residents of Pelham, ranging from working with the province to assume greater local control of the cannabis industry, to a fairer share of Regional police and paramedic resources, to reducing the Town’s financial deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Soos said council would benefit from some “young blood,” and a “fresh face.”

Every option needs to be explored, said Soos, before he will support a financial carry-over baked into next year’s budget, which would result in a tax increase for Pelhamites. He would request that financial aid be made available to the Town through the provincial COVID-19 Protection and Support Act, and if that proved to be unsuccessful, would move to escalate the matter to the federal level.

“I will work with Town staff when it comes to local expense reduction, and the investigation of using reserves draw down through money available in the general account,” he said.

The recent attempt by three councillors to muzzle Mayor Marvin Junkin has Soos fuming.

“Mayor Junkin did nothing to deserve this treatment. It was an illegal motion of council. The Municipal Act is clear on this matter. As Mayor, Mr. Junkin is the Head of council, and has final say on matters. The media should go to Mr. Junkin, the chief executive officer of the Town.”

In a lightly-veiled shot at Pelham councillor Ron Kore for his absence from several council meetings this spring, Soos declared, “If a councillor has missed three successive meetings without a good reason, the seat can be declared vacant. It’s all laid out in the Municipal Act. I will enforce that.”

(For the first time since March 23, when he attended council chambers displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness that was later presumptively diagnosed as COVID-19 by Niagara Public Health, Kore attended a council meeting, participating along with the rest of council last Monday evening by video conference.)

Recent break-ins in Fenwick concern Soos.

“It’s like the criminals know that there’s limited police presence over there. If we don’t want it to become a hotspot for crime, we need to nip it in the bud.”

The closure of the RBC branch in Fenwick has Soos’ attention, and he vows to enter discussions with the bank in an effort to have the branch reactivated as a fully-staffed site. “Fenwick citizens, especially seniors, rely on that branch,” said Soos.

(In that the bank building was sold to a developer with plans to build a hotel, it’s not clear where RBC would reactivate its branch.)

Soos is supportive of farming in the region, and says he has discussed with Mayor Junkin about working with the province to cut red tape for farmers to prioritize grant money, so that it helps more of the growers. He also encourages cash cropping, which helps young farmers break into the industry.

“We have a healthy nursery and greenhouse industry in Pelham, and agriculture is the number one contributor to Niagara’s GDP,” said Soos. “I will continue to support that.”

When the Voice mentioned a plan which some councillors support, namely to increase the hours of the Fenwick library through customer self-serve access during non-staffed hours, Soos responded, “It does make sense. I love the idea because a good municipal councillor supports families. With school being out as long as it has, we want to encourage services for kids to learn. But I would also move books online such as Niagara on the Lake has done,” he said.

As for the Haist Street Arena development opportunity, Soos is all for it, provided “It is done properly, and doesn’t become another Meridian Centre debacle.”

He is blunt in his assessment of the previous Town leadership.

“The prior administration left us in a horrible spot. It’s unfortunate the price Pelham paid on that botched deal, without even a bylaw designating the reserve money for such a project, which of course is proper procedure.”

Asked to provide a report card for the current Pelham council, Soos responded that he thinks Junkin has done a “phenomenal job,” and he looks forward to being on his team.

“I think this council is learning…they’re trying to represent the people well,” said Soos. “But where they can improve is by following the Municipal Act. The province sets out legislation and it’s our duty to adhere to it. So when it’s not being followed, you can expect a ruckus from me,” he said.