Editor’s note: The Voice has invited each Ward 1 by-election candidate to submit an opinion-editorial on the theme of their choice. Find those of other candidates here.
Young blood and experienced veterans the ideal mix
I want to begin by thanking my opponents for entering their names on the ballot to represent Pelham’s Ward 1. As someone who has been involved in politics for the last seven years in Niagara Region, I know firsthand the sacrifices we are all making in service to our community. No matter who you are going to vote for on Election Day, all of these candidates deserve our thanks for putting themselves out there and presenting their vision in hopes of moving Pelham and Ward 1 forward.
I hear the word experience a lot on the campaign trail and in the press; everyone’s perception of experience is different.
My particular experience in municipal politics includes proposing a partnership with the Niagara Region and local-area school boards and post-secondary institutions to deliver preventative education to our young people on the dangers of opioids, calling on Niagara Regional Council to declare a state of emergency on mental health, homelessness, and addiction, and organizing and hosting Niagara south’s first-ever Town Hall on mental health, homelessness and addictions during the last federal election.
I have spent the last five years as a Support Worker helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and as a Child and Youth Worker supporting children/youth who are Crown wards or are on a protection order. I am the host of True Politics, a Niagara-based web show (available on Facebook, You Tube, Instagram, Twitter) which seeks to inform the residents on local, provincial, national, and international political topics. The goal is to highlight Niagara’s social and political issues in a unique and positive light. Finally, I hold a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Development Studies from Trent University with courses in farming, urbanization, the world food system, and the global political economy. I am also a proud Indigenous person.
I look at being a councillor as being an advocate. Recently, I made the pledge that if elected, I would donate 100% of this term’s salary back to the community through local not-for-profit organizations and service clubs. It goes back to what my great-grandfather, who was an elected official in the former Township of Crowland, said, “Service is always about them, it is never about you.”
Since announcing my candidacy, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people in Fenwick, North Pelham, and Ridgeville. I can remember a time that if you were a young person running for a political position, there was no chance it was going to happen. However, the landscape has changed. We don’t have to look any further than Sam Oosterhoff (Niagara West MPP), Clare Cameron (Deputy Lord Mayor Niagara on the Lake), Ian Bingham (former Liberal Candidate Niagara West), Dave Sharpe (Grimsby councillor), or Adam Moote (Welland councillor)—all politicians in their 20s or 30s who are working tirelessly to bring positive changes, fresh voices, and new ideas to the communities they serve. This is the very reason I made the decision to enter the Pelham Ward 1 race. Many residents that I have spoken with would like to see a healthy mix of “young blood” and “experienced veterans” working together in the council chambers.
Back to my great-grandfather’s wise words about service, I would like to touch on some of the concerns brought forward to me by Ward 1 residents while on the campaign trail.
Cannabis is one of the biggest issues in Ward 1. Residents consistently tell me how overwhelming odour and light pollution are interfering with enjoyment of the property that they pay for with their hard-earned money. I often compare cannabis to the wind turbines forced onto the municipalities from the upper-tier government without a plan. I want to state that I fully support the work of the Cannabis Control Committee and their terms of reference. It is essential that we reduce adverse land impact from cannabis production, implement light mitigation plans, ensure mechanisms are in place to control the odour, and protect agricultural lands. When it comes to the cannabis issue, zoning must always respect people first and allegedly unlawful cannabis growers like the Leviathan Cannabis Group need to be held accountable. A “free for all” when it comes to cannabis operations is the last thing that we want in Ward 1 and in the Town in Pelham. Simply put, residents are tired of having their lives disrupted by the public nuisances caused by disorderly cannabis operators who believe that they are above the bylaws and regulations governing cannabis in the Town of Pelham.
Another hot-button topic that I am hearing about at the doors is the proposal to build a “hotel” at the former RBC branch in Fenwick. I was stunned when the Committee of Adjustment granted the developer’s minor variance and relief from the restricted Zoning Bylaw (1136). Under Section 45(1) of Ontario’s Planning Act, 1990, there are four tests a minor variance must meet: Is the application minor; Is the application desirable for the appropriate development of the lands in question; Does the application conform to the general intent of the Zoning Bylaw; and does the application conform to the general intent of the Official Plan.
The developer is asking for a maximum gross floor area of 191%, whereas the allowable maximum gross floor area in Pelham is 50%. This is a 146% differential and certainly not minor in nature. The developer also asked for a zero parking allotment, whereas our bylaws state that there must be three stalls for every eight hotel suites.
This development will cause unwanted traffic congestion in downtown Fenwick. It will affect emergency vehicle access, it will create difficulty for delivery trucks that access the roads on a daily basis. The developer needs to fully clarify the intended use, as many residents fear that it will simply become another Airbnb, something that Ward 1 is already facing challenges with. When it comes to Airbnbs, I support strict enforcement of the bylaws limiting short-term rentals.
Residents also fear that this development could negatively impact the neighbouring businesses. I would like to see the old RBC branch utilized in some way, but not as a three-storey hotel. So yes, this development is not minor, and it is not appropriate for the lands in question; therefore, it should have never been passed through the Committee of Adjustment and should have been a matter that was decided by council as a whole. I want to make it clear that I am not against this specific developer, or development for that matter. However, it needs to be appropriate development that serves the needs of the residents, but does not burden them.
Farming, small businesses and COVID-19
I fully support the creation of an ad-hoc committee at Town Hall to address farmers’ concerns. COVID-19 has been challenging for all and it has had devastating effects on the small-scale family farmers. Farmers rely on markets to sell their goods and to feed their families, but markets have been shut-down for months and even now are operating at reduced capacity. The workload has also increased for our small-scale family farmers due to increased safety and sanitation measures as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Another big issue for our farmers is the need for access to rural high speed internet, especially as it pertains to examining market trends, research, and weather conditions.
Recently, it was announced that Niagara was one of three participants for the SWIFT partnership (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology), which seeks to deliver high-speed broadband internet services to under-serviced rural municipalities. An RFP (Request for Proposal) was put out to multiple internet service providers to deliver rural high speed internet. Fort Erie, Port Colborne, and Wainfleet, and “the region’s west end,” are eligible participants for the $13.3 million dollars designated for the project. It is essential that Pelham be a strong partner in this project. This could indeed be a game-changer for our small businesses and farmers, especially since we are in the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. A partnership like this is also important for families. We are relying on technology more than ever due to the pandemic and social distancing protocols. Access to the internet will also be essential for those working at home and for children and youth who are taking courses online as parents and students now have the option for online schooling). If Pelham hopes to be a partner in the SWIFT project, it will be necessary to work with all levels of government to see the project come to fruition. Working with all levels of government is essential as a Town councillor. For example, Pelham would not have had transit without a grant from the provincial government. It goes back to the old saying, “It takes a village.” We all want to see small businesses revitalized throughout Fenwick, North Pelham, and Ridgeville. One of the ways that this will be achieved is for these voices to be a part of a strong COVID-19 recovery task force. Another tool that will be useful as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery will be zero-based budgeting, something that the majority of small businesses and private sector enterprises have adopted. It involves building a budget from scratch (no carry-over from previous years), where every dollar must be justified and accounted for. Essentially, every dollar is spent from the first dollar. This is another simple and effective cost-saving measure that we in the Town of Pelham can implement.
Settling perceived issues
This one is the elephant in the room, but I will address it anyway. A few months ago, Mayor Marvin Junkin received a 45-day pay suspension due to a frivolous complaint from another councillor, stating Mayor Junkin tried to broker a “backroom” deal on a potential donation regarding fundraising for the Fonthill Bandshell Committee. The cost to the Town for this complaint was $18,430. This stunt was a waste of public money and a slap in the face of the people of the Town Pelham. The Integrity Commissioner found Mayor Junkin did not do anything nefarious or for personal gain. The Ombudsman felt this was a totally minor issue that did not have to be escalated. This was nothing more than attempted political sabotage of Mayor Junkin. There was also the illegal motion to not allow Mayor Junkin to be the spokesperson for the Town. However, as the Head of Council outlined in the Municipal Act (and as Chief Executive Officer of the Town of Pelham), final say on matters of the press is Mayor Junkin’s jurisdiction. Like every Canadian, Mayor Junkin is guaranteed the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I find these continued attacks against Mayor Junkin as nothing more than petty attempts at political sabotage and distraction politics. In my opinion, Mayor Junkin goes to work and earns the money the Town pays him. Mayor Junkin is one of the most transparent politicians in this entire Region. We’re talking about the guy who saw the Pelham taxpayers being mistreated by the previous administration and refused to go along with it! We are lucky to have him. Bring something to the table instead of attacking Mayor Junkin, someone trying to do right for the people of Pelham. As a municipal councillor, I would never use the Code of Conduct, the Integrity Commissioner, or the Ontario Ombudsman as a weapon against another councillor or mayor to settle perceived issues.
As this campaign rolls on, my main focus will be on your priorities, values, and concerns. It is a councillor’s job to work with the residents to find solutions to problems, from speeding on rural roads, to nepotism at Town Hall, to fiscal responsibility, or whatever issues arise.
I will be your advocate! On September 15th, I hope you will place your trust in me and help me deliver a bright future for Pelham and Ward 1. ◆