Incumbent Regional Councillor Diana Huson is running for reelection in Pelham. DON RICKERS

Diana Huson aims for another term on Niagara Regional Council

DIANA HUSON QUICK FACTS

Running for: Reelection as Pelham’s non-mayoral representative on Niagara Regional Council, vs. challengers Wally Braun and Fred Sarvis

Age: 46

Occupation: Director of Marketing and Communications, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

Resides: 13 years in Fenwick

Family: Spouse Todd, daughter Natasha

In 2018, 21 women ran for the 31 Regional Council seats, and seven were elected. One was Diana Huson of Pelham, who racked up 2800 votes to defeat longtime incumbent Brian Baty, and two other challengers, including Pelham ex-mayor David Augustyn.

Huson, the first woman to hold a Pelham Regional Council seat, feels that she has racked up her share of successes over the past four years, and is hopeful that voters will agree, and cast ballots in her favour on October 24.

“I love the job,” she said, “and find it very intellectually stimulating. There’s a lot of learning. I’m working hard to respond to issues that have gotten attention because they were a bit controversial, and have sought feedback from residents. I communicate through social media a great deal, and maintain my website with a lot of current information of interest to constituents.”

Huson is not the only politician in her family. Her aunt, Dianne Cunningham, served as an MPP for London for 15 years, and was the Minister of Colleges and Universities in PC Premier Mike Harris’s cabinet.

“When I was growing up, every provincial election we would drive down to London to help with her campaign,” said Huson. “Dianne is my mom’s twin sister. The experience got me familiar with politics at an early age.”

It was the negative attention focused on the 2014-2018 Regional Council that was the impetus for Huson’s interest in municipal politics.

“There was a lot of strife on that council,” she said. ”They didn’t cooperate with the local press, and there were abuses of the expense policy, and problems at the NPCA [Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority]. It really got me upset. I just thought that it was time for a fresh perspective, and decided, ‘I’m going to give it a shot.’”

The tone at council meetings has improved over the course of the term, said Huson.

“We’ll never agree on everything, but there’s a respect for a difference of opinion,” she said. “There’s a real interest in collaborating and working together, so I do think there has been a renewed perspective, which has fostered a more collegial environment on Regional Council.”

The workload of a regional councillor would be daunting for many people, even for academically minded types who are voracious readers such as Huson.

“It’s not uncommon for a meeting agenda package to be 1000 pages,” she said. “But there are things you can do in advance of meetings to make it more manageable. All of our standing committee meetings have content that is on the Regional agenda to be ratified, so if you’re paying attention to the standing committees and reading that content on a regular basis, you’ve already done a lot of the work.”

Huson is proud of the personal accomplishments in her first term.

“I created the Region’s first Women’s Advisory Committee, only the fifth one in Canada. Over 60 people applied to be on that committee,” she said. “I was the only councillor to participate in the Youth Advisory Committee, and am now on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee. I truly believe that more voices lead to informed policy and better services.”

I was the only councillor to participate in the Youth Advisory Committee, and am now on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee

Huson was also the first Niagara Regional Councillor to be voted onto the board for Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

“That’s been an amazing experience,” she said. “I collaborate with councillors from across Canada, examining and discussing advocacy issues, on behalf of municipalities, with the federal government. It makes me realize that the problems in our community maybe aren’t so unique, because a lot of municipalities are actually experiencing similar issues.”

Huson lists a number of Regional Council’s achievements over the past four years, including the adoption of a new Regional Official Plan, resolved issues with garbage collection, and the attainment of a unified regional transit system.

“Pelham will be directly impacted by the Region’s new official plan, because the Town will now have to pass a secondary plan that conforms to that,” said Huson. “Growth and infrastructure in Pelham is impacted by the new plan. I recognize the tension over the need for more housing, as well as the desire to preserve our small-town feel. There is no longer a lot of affordable housing in Pelham, if you go by the generally-accepted definition [30 percent or less of personal income towards housing costs]. But we still want our seniors to be able to age-in-place, so we need more downsizing options, and housing that allows new families to enter the market. I think that’s going to be probably a real focus for the next term on council.”

The transit piece is an interesting one, said Huson, because it’s an expensive undertaking, and will challenge the limits of the budget.

Not everyone in Niagara was pleased with the move to trash pickup every second week, but Huson said that it was a cost mitigation issue, allowing the Region to help control an escalation of property taxes.

“We successfully diverted 12,000 tons of garbage from landfill sites, and increased green bin usage by 24 percent,” she said.

Huson also underscored the healthcare crisis Ontarians are experiencing, with provincial decisions trickling down to the municipalities.

“The Province wants to get people out of the hospitals and into long term care homes, and that could stress our facilities in Niagara, especially given a lack of staffing. EMS [Emergency Medical Service] crews have had to sit and wait for offloading of patients to occur at hospitals, which has hurt their response times in emergencies. So healthcare will likely have another renewed focus on council.”

Huson is a champion of entrepreneurship and small business, and an advocate for job creation and growth of the local economy.

“If you look at my record, I’ve promoted shopping local since I was elected,” she said.” I was also the Regional Councillor who put forward the motion about developing a ‘shop local’ campaign during the pandemic, encouraging support for local businesses.”

She noted that, where possible, she likes to connect with Pelham Town Council members on local issues, so that she can be fully informed and support their efforts.

“I connect with them, so that if I’m going to put a motion forward at Regional Council, it will complement what they’re doing, so that we’re all moving in the same direction. It’s sensible for Pelham politicians to be represented as a team, where there’s an opportunity.”

Huson worked to extend existing EarlyON services in Pelham prior to a restructuring of the program’s delivery, and has supported the expansion of affordable childcare for families. Another Huson project was the “Seat at the Table” program, meant to encourage more women and racialized voices in entering the political arena.

Her busy schedule leaves fleeting time for recreation.

“I love being outside,” said Huson. “I’ve actually hiked the entire Bruce Trail in Niagara, and enjoy taking my Shetland Sheepdog, Sylvie, to the dog park on Centre Street. I’m very close with my family, and look forward to weekends when we can get away, maybe go to the cottage. Between my job with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and my Regional Councillor responsibilities, there isn’t much time for a lot else.”

Huson has always had a heavy schedule. She did her undergraduate degree part-time, going on to complete both her MA and MBA at Brock. In addition, she had a small consulting business before being elected to council.

Going door-to-door on the election trail, Huson said that she’s been receiving a lot of positive feedback.

“I think that people are receptive to my style of getting things done,” she said. “I view an election as a job application. I’ve worked hard to win the trust of my constituents.”

What of ambitions to politics at a loftier level?

“I’m taking it one term at a time, but I think I would definitely consider a higher office,” said Huson. “Right now I’m focused on the Region because that’s the job that I love, but I certainly would consider other opportunities down the road.”

For more details on Huson’s political platform, see huson4pelham.ca