Premier Ford and the Regional Chair’s Appointment

Dave Augustyn’s column for week of November 4, 2018

And, so it begins…. We are hearing rumblings of at least one – Niagara Falls Councillor Bob Gale – testing the waters in an attempt to become the 2018-22 Regional Chair.

While the new term of Council officially begins until December 1, Regional Council cannot convene until the indirectly-elected Councillors – the 12 Mayors – are officially sworn in at the local Councils.

So, on Thursday, December 6 at 10:00 AM, the Regional Clerk will officially convene the inaugural meeting. She will first administer the “Declaration of Office” for the 19 directly and 12 indirectly elected members.

Then, the first and only order if business is the election of the Regional Chair.

Candidates from Council Only:

In the first phase of the election, the Regional Clerk will ask for nominations for candidates. Only newly-minted Regional Councillors can run as a candidate to become Chair. Following nominations, each candidate will have a chance to speak for five minutes.

While the Municipal Act does allow the election of any qualified elector from Niagara to be nominated and elected Chair, historic precedent, two Council resolutions (in 1991 and again in 2013), and confirmation from the Minister of Municipal Affairs, means that Council elects a Chair from the recently elected members of Council.

Run-Off Election & Secret Ballot:

If two or more candidates run for Chair, the Clerk will oversee the “run-off” election (like used in some political leadership contests). For example, if after the first ballot, no candidate receives a majority of the votes – 17 – then the candidate with the fewest votes “drops-off” the ballot, and Councillors will vote on the remaining candidates on another ballot. The voting continues until one candidate receives a majority.

Interestingly, while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council’s procedural bylaw stipulates that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Believe it or not, the new Council actually considers a motion to destroy the ballots… I voted against this last time; I hope this new Council will do the right thing and release the ballots publicly.

Filling the Vacancy:

Following their election as Chair, the Councillor must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Council. How is that seat filled? Regional Council follows the advice of the local City or Town Council. The options include a by-election, appointing the next candidate in the last general election, appointing another qualified elector. In the case of filling the Chair’s seat, precedent has been to appoint the next candidate in the most recent election – Tim Rigby after Peter Partington was acclaimed Chair in 2006; David Lepp after Gary Burroughs became Chair on a fourth-ballot victory in 2010, and Kelly Edgar after 18 voted to appoint Alan Caslin as Chair on the first ballot in 2014.\

Horse Trading:

Sadly, this appointment system has significant drawbacks. First, it’s anti-democratic. We should be able to elect the Regional Chair – who is like the Mayor for the Niagara Peninsula – from across the entire Peninsula. Other Regions – like Waterloo – have been doing this for more than 25 years… You and I were to have elected the Chair “at-large” across Niagara this time, but Premier Ford and the PC Majority at Queen’s Park negated that election on Friday, 27 July 2018.\

Second, the appointment system lends itself to “horse-trading.” We saw this in spades in 2014 when some Councillors traded their vote for Chair for something else. “If you vote for me, I will ensure that you get on the Police Board.” “I’ll support you if I can be chair of the Public Works committee.” Or, “I want to get on the Niagara Parks Commission. Can you guarantee that?” And, sadly, there was some bullyingly too: “We already have 22 votes for him. If you don’t support him as Chair, we will make sure your community doesn’t get any Regional investments.”

As you can see from the votes in 2014 – it was easy to figure out the single-ballot – this is where the so-called Cabal got their foundation. As nauseating as it is, some Councillors were actually given “who to vote for” cards so the Cabal could live-up to their Board appointment assurances.

Again, an election at large would help sanitize appointments and help to stop this kind of Cabal formulation.

Ford’s Wildcards:

Not many agree, but I think the Ford Government can still impact the Niagara’s Chair election. Here’s how.

First, they could insist that nominations for the Regional Chair must be open to any Niagara elector (and not just from Council). Why would they do this? If they don’t like the option(s) for Chair from Council – like odds-on favorite Jim Bradley, for instance – they could open it up for someone else to run. It would mean that someone on the sidelines could throw their hat into the ring. Ford would take this option if there is an element of success for a preferred “outside” candidate.

Second, the Ford Government could go one step further and actually appoint the next Regional Chair. Yes, it is possible. It falls under the “Municipalities are the children of the Province mantra” that we heard during the 47-seats to 25-seats chaos with the City of Toronto election. And, as most people forget, the Provincial Government appointed Niagara’s Regional Chair from 1970 to 1985 – namely the beloved John Campbell.

But, why would the Premier even entertain these options? It would allow the Province to dictate and oversee a governance review in Niagara. At the recent AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) conference, Municipal Affairs Minister Clark promised a “review” of Regional governments following this Fall’s elections. Appointing a Chair would ensure governance is dealt with this term. And, as a side benefit for the ruling Conservatives, it would stop Jim Bradley, life-long Liberal, from becoming the Chair. (The Tories could also use this step in Peel – where Brampton recently elected Patrick Brown as Mayor.)

Regardless of what happens in December, expect City / Town / Regional governance reform to be a top-priority for this 2018-22 term of Council. And, please call for a release of the ballots when the new Council appoints its Chair.

Dave Augustyn served as the Mayor of the Town of Pelham and a Niagara Regional Councillor from 2006 to 2018. You may provide your ideas and feedback to Dave at or check out his Dave Augustyn NOW columns at welcomes Dave Augustyn's on-going participation as a Community Advertising Partner and we look forward to sharing his observations about local politics and community matters via our myPelham community platform.