Pelham Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt dug in further on his refusal to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination during council’s Oct. 18 regular meeting, saying that he cannot be fired and will not resign his seat. This came as council passed an amendment to its own code of conduct that will require local elected officials to show proof of vaccination before being able to meet in person again.
Hildebrandt first voiced his opposition to the requirement at council’s previous meeting on Oct. 4. While stressing that he was not an antivaxxer, Hildebrandt suggested that such rules set a “dangerous precedent,” while referencing his parents fleeing Europe.
During last Monday’s vote, Hildebrandt was abandoned by political allies Ron Kore and Lisa Haun, who voted in favour of elected officials showing proof of vaccination. His only support came from fellow bloc member Marianne Stewart, who seconded his motion to defer the matter back to staff until, “Ontario courts have had a chance to review all legalities.”
Ward 2 Councillor John Wink shot down Hildebrandt’s idea.
“For this to go through the Ontario courts, this could be months [or] years,” Wink said. “Quite frankly, once we get into having meetings face-to-face, I don’t want to be sitting next to someone who is not vaccinated.”
Kore agreed, stating that he had recently faxed proof of his second vaccination dose to the Town clerk. “I know it’s a tough decision, but I think we need to move forward and everyone should be safe,” he said.
Yet while Kore didn’t support Hildebrandt, the Ward 2 councillor questioned whether Mayor Marvin Junkin had voted against a mandatory vaccination policy at Regional Council.
“I believe you are wrong on that,” the Mayor replied.
Hildebrandt came to Junkin’s defence, saying that the minutes of the meeting indicate that Junkin voted in support of the policy.
Hildebrandt then gave a lengthy speech trying to further explain his position.
“I didn’t make this amendment easily,” he said, citing taking a law course in university and working as an engineering manager. “I’ve signed over thousands of drawings. I’ve got signatures all over the world. My signature and my liability as a manager never goes away.”
Hildebrandt added that many of his possessions are in his wife’s name to hedge against potential liability issues.
He then thanked constituents who, he said, had emailed him in support.
“As we work together to navigate this rapidly-evolving Covid situation, I believe these ethical and legal principles remain constant in a free and democratic society. First and foremost, the right and responsibility of adults to make their own decisions about their health and to be accorded respect for questioning mandates that have far-reaching social implications. It’s crucial we remain open to listening to each other.”
He then defiantly said he could not be fired and would not resign.
“I am an elected official, and I cannot be terminated. The only way I can be terminated is through an election process. I am not resigning my seat no matter what the result of this motion. Even our own Prime Minister could not terminate his justice minister who refused to change her testimony,” he added, referring to Justin Trudeau removing former federal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus in 2019.
Hildebrandt then made reference to an experience during his professional career, which he didn’t fully elaborate on.
“I’ve been down this road before when it comes to disclosure of medical information as related to perform my senior-level job. At that time, I was 30 years old,” Hildebrandt said. “I was a professional and plant manager. It was amazing how when you become a young plant manager, it can be challenged through a vehicle I would have never expected. I can tell you I was successful in defending my position and I received an insurance claim through that process. I can tell you tonight, it almost seems the same to me.”
The proof-of-vaccine motion passed 5-2. Town staff are already required to demonstrate proof of vaccination.
Elsewhere on the vaccination front, council voted to continue allowing the Region to use the MCC — specifically the Accursi Room — for vaccinations into 2022. It is expected that doses for children will be approved soon. Pelham had zero active cases of Covid-19 as of Oct. 18.
Mayor, councillors not invited to Ciolfi tribute event
Wink asked staff about status of the dedication project for the late councillor Mike Ciolfi, the renaming the servery area at the community centre in his honour.
Director of Recreation and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay said that the “project is coming along wonderfully,” with an event planned for the end of this month.
“Will council and the Mayor be invited to that?” Wink asked.
“At this point it is a reception to show appreciation to those people who have donated,” Ward 3 Councillor Lisa Haun, who sits on the tribute committee, said. “So, at this stage, no.”
Haun explained that the $5,000 earmarked in the budget for the project wasn’t needed thanks to private donors.
Wink wondered aloud that with the MCC being public property, if it was appropriate that members of council attend.
Haun said the matter would “go back to committee.”
Later in the week, an email went out to council, inviting them to the event.
Traffic and transit
Staff heard a presentation on the Region’s five-year transportation capital budget outlook, highlighted by the long-awaited plan to fill in the missing link of Merritt Road between Rice and Cataract east of the Pelham boundary. Doing so will create another link to Highway 406. An environmental assessment is ongoing, and the project is currently in the Region’s three-to-five year forecast. Regional representatives said that both traffic lights and roundabouts are being considered for the intersection of Merritt and Rice, with a similar decision to be made just south at the corner of Rice and Quaker. Another intersection on the other end of town — Canboro at Victoria Ave. — is also being looked at for either a traffic light or a roundabout.
In a different traffic matter, a municipal staff report determined that the corner of Pelham Street and Shorthills Place does not meet the criteria for a three-way stop. The corner has engendered neighbourhood concern over speeding in the area.
Interestingly, council was also asked in a separate matter to endorse a City of St. Catharines motion asking the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to reduce maximum speed limits on roads in urban or built-up areas from 50 kilometres per hour to 40.
“It seems like a huge reduction,” Hildebrandt opined. “Forty is really slow as far as I’m concerned.”
Mayor Junkin conceded that the motion constituted “quite a drop.”
On the transit file, council received a memo from the Region which essentially stated that improvements were being made to service in Pelham. Hildebrandt had threatened to undermine the Town’s participation in the transit system at a previous meeting, and had asked the memo be provided.
Nitpicking on the matter once again, Hildebrandt took issue with the system’s ride-booking service, and the fact that vehicles can no longer park overnight at the MCC — which in turn affects the time they can get on the road in the morning.
“Don’t we have a couple of spots in town?” Hildebrandt asked.
Junkin agreed, saying it was “kind of beyond comprehension.”
The Niagara Regional Transit memo stated that Pelham ride requests for on-demand service make up just 10 percent of total requests, the lowest among West Niagara municipalities partnering in the project.
Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson asked about the feasibility of staff looking into asking Niagara Regional Transit to provide reduced fares for Pelham residents in financial distress.
“There are people living on nine to 12 dollars a day after rent,” Olson said. “It’s becoming a pandemic on its own, the cost of living for many people in our community.”
CAO David Cribbs said the Region would best provide the answer, and said the Town could likely only get involved with such an initiative in partnership with a charity such as Pelham Cares, given the Town does not have a social services division.
Stewart presented a motion to commence an annual Pelham gardening competition, with 2022 being named as “Year of the Garden.” Haun had championed a similar competition last year, something she said she thought was supposed to become a yearly event.
However, Cribbs said he thought the contest was classified as a pilot, which in his view was not successful.
“We certainly thought the motions last year were for a one-off trial pilot project, as far as the community gardening goes, and that was not a successful pilot project,” said the CAO. “At any rate, when it came time to do the planting and gardening, we were in a very hard lockdown.”
Haun pushed back on the assertion.
“We had I think seven groups that took on a garden, I’m just wondering, nobody could’ve banked [on the pandemic], how do you decide whether it was successful or not successful, considering the Scouts or Beavers would probably argue with you on that point?”
The 3rd Fonthill Scouting Group won last year’s competition.
Cribbs said uptake on the competition was only 50 percent, and said the project cost more than was saved — essentially by turning over work historically done by Town staff to volunteers.
As such, Cribbs pointed out that any future contest still must deal with applicable collective bargaining agreements. He did say, however, that a new project was doable.
“This time around, this report will include various concepts, and I think we’ll get to something better.”
Tabulating machines good to go
Council heard a staff report that the tabulating machines used in municipal elections are still fully functional and can be used for next year’s vote. Hildebrandt then provided a lengthy anecdote about working during elections, and lauded the machines, while criticizing Elections Canada for still using a different system during federal elections.
Against a backdrop of baseless allegations of rigged elections in the United States, Junkin joked to Hildebrandt that, “it seems like you’re suggesting the Green Party might have won the last federal election,” to a mixture of smirks and blank faces.