With Welland City Council deadlocked, voters to decide who replaces Spinosa
Welland’s Ward 3 by-election has attracted six candidates, all eager to fill the seat left vacant by Lucas Spinosa, who resigned in February, asserting that he was the target of harassment and threats against him. Nancy Dmytrow Bilboe, Cathy Connor, Phill Gladman, John Mastroianni, Steven Soos, and Douglas Thomas have all filed nomination papers.
City Council initially planned to appoint a local citizen to fill the empty council seat, and 19 residents put their names forward for consideration. The list was whittled down to two, but an impasse occurred in trying to choose between Mastroianni and Thomas. A motion was passed to allow a vote-by-mail election due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Voting day is Monday, August 9, 2021, a bit over two weeks from now.
First to declare, and considered the front-runner by many, is long-time Ward 3 resident John Mastroianni, who has served terms previously on council, and has also been a Regional councillor for Welland. He is a proponent of investment in the downtown core, especially supporting those people with businesses who have suffered financially during the pandemic. He also wants to see significant development along the waterfront in the city, with the hope of providing some relief for Welland taxpayers.
Traffic issues in Ward 3 are also a concern for Mastroianni, not simply involving the volume of vehicles, which is increasing with the proliferation of housing developments, but also the enforcement of drivers exceeding the speed limit, who are jeopardizing public safety. He identified Colbeck Drive, Riverside Drive, Webber Road, Prince Charles Drive, and Clare Avenue as being plagued by cars racing along the roadways.
Suggesting that his past experience can help solve some of the divisiveness on council of late, Mastroianni underscored that politics involves compromise.
“As an elected official, you’ve got to be willing to listen to people. Every resident has in their mind a legitimate and honest complaint or opinion. We’ve got to sit at the table and work to find common ground, something that we can agree on.”
Douglas Thomas last ran for office to represent Ward 1, in 2014. He has practised law in Welland since 1987, and said that he maintains a good connection with the downtown.
An avid cyclist, Thomas said that he logs about 8000 kilometres annually around the region, and would like to see cycling routes better promoted and prioritized for sport tourism benefit to the city. He’d also like to see more waterfront events and development, especially those involving summer camps which engage children in aquatic activities.
Thomas is supportive of increasing mental health access in Welland, as well as careful oversight of major building projects in the city.
We need to work to attract more jobs with decent wages—it’s the only way that we can put young people into houses
“An overarching problem is the cost of housing,” said Thomas. “We need to work to attract more jobs with decent wages—it’s the only way that we can put young people into houses, if that’s even possible these days. We also need to preserve green space.”
Steven Soos, who is still in his 20s and a “proud Metis on the ballot,” competed for a spot in Welland’s Ward 6 when he was only 19, and in the 2018 municipal election lost the mayoral race in a landslide to Frank Campion. Born and raised in Welland, Soos cited his commitment to public service being motivated by the late political firebrand NDP MPP Peter Kormos, to whom Soos refers as “my hero.”
With a record of being a vocal advocate for social issues such as mental health, homelessness, addiction, and food security, Soos has a loyal following on his online talk show True Politics, and hopes to convert that grassroots appeal into victory on election day.
Soos proclaims a long list of political supporters, including Welland Regional Councillor Leanna Villella, Mayor Marvin Junkin of Pelham, Councillor Jim Handley of Thorold, Niagara Falls Councillor Wayne Campbell, former Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs, and Thorold Councillor Ken Sentence.
Other issues which have Soos’ attention include bringing back a community watch program, with an emphasis on crime prevention, finding solutions to the speeding problems in Ward 3, and more responsible development of large-scale building projects to ensure that adequate parking is part of the design.
Revitalization of the downtown core is a priority for the city, said Soos, noting that, “The mayor had promised downtown wi-fi when he ran in 2018, and it still hasn’t come to fruition.”
Soos views the technology as “something people want, that supports business growth in the downtown.”
Tradesman Phill Gladman has lived in Welland for the past 25 years, and has been a community volunteer for local food drives and the Rose Festival, as well as being the co-founder of Welland Floatfest. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Ward 4 in the 2018 election. In part, his motivation to run was spurred by Lucas Spinoza, “and the unfortunate trouble that he had to face as a young person and small business owner.”
Gladman is concerned about Welland’s long-term growth strategy.
“We’re seeing residential and commercial development and big changes happen in our community, and I’m not sure we’re planning with foresight, looking 50 years ahead,” he said, noting an influx of new residents is expected. Poverty, affordable housing, lack of food banks and food security, and mental health support systems are also issues on his radar, along with concerns about the economy and the environment.
“I work, live, and breathe Ward 3,” said Gladman, adding, “We’re in the middle of really making positive change downtown, and I feel that the cause needs to be championed just a bit more.”
Nancy Dmytrow Bilboe worked for 45 years as a professional nurse in Ontario, the U.S., and the Middle East, and has political experience, having served as a Ward Two councillor in 2000.
A self-described consensus builder, she said, “Right now we have a very divisive council. That’s why we’re having this election—they couldn’t decide between two candidates. So instead, it’s going to cost the taxpayer over $50,000.”
With Welland’s population projected to add 18,000 by 2030, Dmytrow Bilboe advocates for more development to provide rental and affordable housing for families, hotels, and jobs. She also stressed a need for greater opportunities for seniors in Welland, “who make up 19 percent of the local population.” Control of speeding traffic in the city is also on her short list.
Another issue that has Dmytrow Bilboe’s attention is governance. “We have too many politicians—more than 125 across Niagara Region, for a population of only 448,000. It’s too costly for taxpayers.”
Born and raised in Welland, Cathy Connor has served on a few boards within the city, including those of minor basketball and baseball organizations, and the Croatian National Home. She ran for council back in 2014, in Ward 3, finishing fourth.
“I’m really passionate about the city, and feel that Welland has a lot of untapped potential,” she said, noting that new families drawn to the city will expect more in the way of amenities. Connor wants to see greater development of recreational facilities along the city’s waterways, and a more vibrant downtown core. She noted that Welland residents pay high property taxes, and would like to find ways to “stabilize or reduce” this burden.
A lack of affordable housing is a big concern for Connor, who advocates for construction of smaller homes for young families and retirees.
“With the way real estate is right now,” she said, “as the mother of two 30-year-olds, I’m asking myself, ‘are they ever going to be able to own a home?’”
Starting last week, Welland Ward 3 residents started receiving Vote-By-Mail kits to cast their vote for the 2021 Ward 3 By-Election. The Vote-By-Mail kits include instructions for voters to cast their ballot. Additional resources for voting, including a video on how to complete the Vote-By-Mail kit, is available on the City’s website at www.welland.ca/Elections/ElectorsResources.asp
According to a City statement, ballot return locations are as follows: Drop-boxes at Civic Square, 60 East Main St.; the Welland Community Wellness Complex, 145 Lincoln St.; the Welland Library Main Branch, 50 The Boardwalk; Welland Library Seaway Mall Branch, 800 Niagara St.
Voter may contact the Clerk’s Office for further information by emailing [email protected] or calling 905-735-1700, ext. 2153.