As I walk door to door, people ask me about my platform. I tell them that I want to improve the relationship city council has with residents, businesses, and community groups.
I tell them that I want to be their voice on city council. I talk about how I want to see a green, revitalized, business and pedestrian friendly Hartzel Road; coupled with, a sound plan to guide the redevelopment of the Queenston Street area after the hospital leaves its current location.
I talked at lengths about the need to have more community gardens in city parks. Parks that would provide access to healthy foods options and free-up some of the hard earned disposable incomes of city residents who participate. The maintenance and revitalization of Mountain Lock, Community, and Centennial Parks could be grouped into this category.
I explain how the preservation and historical designation of the old Welland Canal sites is something that I support and an issue that I know is important. I stress the importance of working with other councillors (city AND regional) to protect taxpayers' money in a fiscally responsible and sustainable way.
However, when I talk about my support for FULL regional and GO Transit services in the Niagara Region, they pause. When people read my profile on the city's website or the Standards' website, they see my quote"I want to bring the people in St.Catharines to jobs or the jobs to the people of St.Catharines" and they wonder what I mean. To explain why I support increased funding for regional transit, Angela Browns' March 10th, 2009 article "Niagara Region Spins its Wheels on Transit: Lack of Public Transit in Niagara is Leading to Loss of Talent " summarizes it the best - including why a strong, concerted team effort by regional AND municipal councillors within Niagara is required. The full article is available at: http://www.suite101.com/content/spinning-our-wheels-in-niagara-region-a101667.
In the article Brown state the following:
How young people and non-drivers are disadvantaged in the Niagara Region, and why the region cannot keep its young people. She states how older people are also finding it hard to live in the region as its manufacturing base continues to cut jobs with fewer jobs available that would replace the worker's previous salary.
Her argument is strengthened by the fact that despite the presence of two excellent post-secondary educational facilities (Brock U and Niagara College), Niagara Region still remains among those with the lowest number of permanent residents with a completed post-secondary education. She points to a meeting of St.Catharines City Council in September 2008 where substantial discussions about the problems of Niagara emerged. Stan Drobnich, Executive Director, of the Employment Help Centre, the region’s main generic “help” program for unemployed workers, cited that among 1,000 persons using his agency that year, only 70 (or seven percent) of them had both a driver’s license and a vehicle. Many people turn down jobs because they have no way to get to the job. Phil Madden, a manager with SITEL (a major city employer) stated his business has difficulty attracting people to work for them, as there is poor transit. Walter Sendzik, of the Chamber of Commerce, also reported many businesses have difficulty finding and keeping employees due to a lack of regional transportation (well outlined in the chamber’s “Supporting Prosperity Through Effective Government in Niagara” available at http://www.sctchamber.com/advocacy/). Brown talks about how newspapers in Niagara have editorially backed the need for a regional transit service (since the Niagara Region is the only incorporated regional municipality in Ontario that does not have a regional transit service).
Almost all jobs, regardless of industry, that pay much more than minimum wage, seek only candidates with a driver’s license and vehicle. Regardless of qualifications or education, some of the only jobs available in Niagara to non-drivers is unskilled, low-wage labour. While employers are ostensibly required to structure their jobs to accommodate people with disabilities, including those that cannot drive due to medical conditions or treatments, the tendency is to avoid this, possibly because of poor transportation alternatives in the area.
Brown states how if any of these people, as well as other non-drivers in Niagara, wish to travel from one municipality to another, the only option is to drive a car or take a taxi, in most cases, the cost for which is prohibitive. Depending on distance, taxis can set one back between $60 - $100 for ONE round trip. While politicians know this is a problem, neither the municipal or regional levels of government want to take responsibility.
Lastly, she states how after more then thirty years of community groups and the Region itself conducting study after study, the Region is once again embarking on a $75,000 study to be followed by a plan of sorts. Critics of the Region's handling of this file are hesitant to believe anything will come of this. With the cost of vehicle ownership exceeding $8,000 a year, it is not likely young persons graduating from post-secondary programs in the Region will be able to take on this cost, in addition to repaying hefty student loans. This is in part is why most young persons flee Niagara to "greener" pastures.
This IS the reason why I feel it is a municipal issue AND regional issue. An issue which requires both levels of governments (local and regional) to work together. This is what I mean when I say that I support bringing the residents of St.Catharines to jobs.
I know that the region has a pilot project in the works. The goal of the project is to improve and increase regional transit within Niagara -St.Catharines needs to increase their participation. Transportation is a major component of the city's new Official Plan. I will work with other city councillors to accomplish this.
GO Transit would be an extension of this issue -it would enable St.Catharines (and Niagara) residents the option to live locally while pursuing employment out of the region. This would help the region retain our educated youth who would otherwise leave the area -a common occurrence in recent years.
Having permanent GO transits could also help the city diversify the locally economy by bringing tourist from heavily populated areas like Toronto or Hamilton. These areas have access to the GO Transit infrastructure. Permanent GO Transit could entice businesses to locate or relocate to the area and take advantage of people who now reside locally. This is what I mean by bringing the jobs to people in St.Catharines.
As for funding for the GO Transit, there currently is funding available. The Federal Government's recent stimulus funding initiatives provides finances for municipalities to build GO bus stations within their cities. However, a suitable location for the station in St.Catharines has yet to be found. One site, which is not in St.Catharines but would benefit the city none-the-less, is located on Glendale - the old race grounds behind Leon's. I am unaware if there is any current plans for the area but I do know that the location is accessible to the QEW; is close to Niagara Falls, Thorold, St.Catharines, and is in Niagara-on-the-lake; lastly, the site is close to Niagara College and Brock University. This would be a great chance for the region's municipalities AND the region to work together; not to mention the environmental benefits of increased public transit AND a lessened local carbon footprint.
What do you think? Do you agree? Is there holes in my position? Please comment.
YOUR Merritton Ward Candidate.