Friday, October 24, 2014

Chasing your vote - Municipal Elections 2014

For politicians on any level truth becomes only a matter of convenience often measured on a scale of self-importance. As we head into another round of Municipal elections this fact needs to be broadcast loud and clear. In the real world of cities such as Toronto, Hamilton and others media exists to provide information on all the candidates. True, political bias and alliances are always evident in media yet somehow all the information finds its way to the people in the end. In St. Catharines, Ontario such a fantasy does not exist and the so called media is at the helm of pseudo Spielbergs creating illusion for sale to the local masses.

Politics itself has always had an air of smoke and mirrors about it, at least on a national level. After all a Prime Minister has to deal with such mundane issues as national security, possible wars, terrorism and more. Locally though it is hard to sell the need to have an ability or finesse at a good poker face. Who would you need to bluff? Homeowners who simply want decent roads so as not to lose their teeth on the way to work? Residents who want water rates at an affordable level and garbage collected?

Still politics is politics and its allure of power changes even the grassroots levels within its own sphere. Power in a big city is equally big power, power in a small town is still big power and its exhilarating effect impossible to ignore. Municipal politics remains the most closely associated level in the political landscape with the very people who elect their representatives. After all each resident has an opportunity to cast a vote for a neighbour as their representative on council.

As the neighbours hit the streets with signs big and small, with promises equally big and small, one most important point to remember in the final decision process is that once they're in, they're in. Lies, broken promises, even corruption doesn't matter, you can't pry them out. Toronto has proven that insanity is the norm in Canadian politics with the Ford farce.

St. Catharines faces decision day on October the 27th with five candidates for mayor elbowing and pushing for position. Debates in Canada are moderated to remove all openness of debating. Questions are sanitised and sterilised, and real truth non-existing. Media in St. Catharines with its entrenched censorship ensures that no facts are made public, no relevant or pertinent questions are asked, and only harps on the negativity raised by candidates. It seems in Canada candidates are only expected to say 'nice' things about each other.

Looking at the five mayoral candidates one soon realises that if this Canadian civility is lifted to face reality and media censorship smashed then the decision process is not an easy one. Borrowing horse racing jargon, candidates Jim Fannon and Mark Stevens are considered the less favourite with odds running against them for a serious vote.

Candidate Jim Fannon does not have a web page and no clear statement as to a platform or 'wish list' for St. Catharines. He appears to run his campaign through his Facebook and some of his statements make little sense, in particular the notion of term limits. Term limits can only be discussed at a provincial level and any decision making out of the hands of municipal politicians. Originally Fannon was part of the ra-ra team for the front runner candidate Jeff Burch and then decided to run against him. When something like this happens questions arise as to the real purpose of such a candidate.

Another candidate, Mark Stevens, also faces extreme odds to find serious voter numbers. Unlike Fannon, Mark Stevens has signs up all around the city trying to compete on the well travelled intersections littered with 'pick me' screams. Mark Stevens does have a web page, he tries to say that he is only an ordinary guy who has lived in St. Catharines for a long time and wants to make a difference. Listening to Mark Stevens comment on jobs and the future of St. Catharines proves that he is just a regular guy.

After leaving behind the two outsiders what's left are the three prima donnas elbowing for position and banging the drum of experience. Yet a resume claiming experience also demands questions of consequence. No such questions have been raised till now. If they are then the spectre of negative campaigning is immediately pronounced. We in Canada have to play nice and ignore the truth as it may be uncomfortable.

Jeff Burch, Peter Secord and Walter Sendzik each claim they have the answers to the issues St. Catharines faces. Burch and Secord both have sat on city council taking part in the decisions and responsible for inaction that has provided for a very uncomfortable future for this city and its people. Walter Sendzik has led the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and watched the decimation of the city core with no real answers as to any potential solutions. Now these three have found the light and are willing to sell their sideshow.

Walter Sendzik claims to want “transparency and accountability at city hall.” Each time there is an election, wannabe politicians pick up the same tired and useless words. Somehow desire for transparency and accountability only surfaces before they get elected; once in office the doors are shut. Being the leader of a Chamber of Commerce, it is no surprise that Sendzik also employs another tired and common slogan in his desire to “identify and remove barriers to business.” Yet he stayed silent when business owner Sam Demita, owner and operator of Sun Collision not only removed so called barriers but simply broke all the by-laws without consequence.

Once again each of the candidates is on the GO Train election ride and promises to rebuild Port Dalhousie. Reality rarely joins in the lists of promises and empty words. In his “vision for St. Catharines,” Walter wishes to “focus on returning St. Catharines as a leader in Ontario.” To “focus on returning” would insinuate that St. Catharines once lead the province in some area, he does not make that clear though.

St. Catharines downtown core is barely limping. All the promises of good times to come with the massive building of two facilities are yet to eventuate. Bringing in residential space opens the doors to questions of services for the basic needs such as some sort of supermarket. The core has plenty of bars, a fancy, new and elaborate tattoo parlour and a hamburger joint that sends the Big Mac packing. But no one can lay claim to the illusion that 'the core' is residence friendly. Oh and that has not been a secret over the last four years.

Poverty and struggle for survival in St. Catharines is a daily routine. Our job market is non-existent. Those who are fortunate to have jobs find themselves in the minimum wage or barely above bracket, unable to provide the bare basics for their families. Young people who were born here have no reason to stay and if it continues, that in itself will forecast a loss of identity and credibility.

Walter makes empty promises and then when pressured on issues as head of the chamber he blames the board for its decisions. One could take Sendzik's “vision” and pull it to pieces for saying nothing built in reality but that would be considered as pessimistic by Canadian standards. Yet Sendzik himself admits to horrific figures for unemployment, for youth unemployment and how low St. Catharines was rated by the Conference Board of Canada Report of 2014. The report titled City Magnets III: Benchmarking the Attractiveness of 50 Canadian Cities, analyses and benchmarks the features that make Canadian cities attractive to newcomer populations. Cities are compared on indicators grouped into seven categories: Society, Health, Economy, Environment, Education, Innovation, and Housing. Data for this analysis is based on the 2011 Census and National Household Survey. No one can ignore these realities.

In an interview with The Standard (Walter Sendzik says city's future is in jobs. Karena Walter, October 9, 2014) Sendzik said; “the next 10 years has to be about attracting private sector investments in the community. That's where my background provides a lot of expertise in getting the private sector spending in the community, investing in the community.” So the man who led the Chamber of Commerce, a man who now lays claim to a background and expertise in getting things done within the private sector saw no reason to do any of this until he declared his political intentions. Where did Walter Sendzik hide his expertise whilst head of the Chamber of Commerce? Why is it only now in an election campaign that Sendzik brags about his expertise, maybe his salary as the head of the chamber wasn't enough motivation to attract private sector spending.

Sprinting from the Sendzik vision one crashes into Peter Secord and his ideal of 'Back to Basics'. Peter Secord claims that he is ready to be mayor after years of serving on city council. As a councillor Secord has been present for all that has happened in St. Catharines. He claims, “After significant citizen-led investment in our community, St. Catharines must ensure its finances are in order and in line with our community's new priorities.” Our community's new priorities? Unemployment, poverty, our young leaving, taxes, lubricious spending by Church Street, simple honesty and integrity in office, are these to be considered “new priorities”?

According to Peter Secord's great stride into the future he wants to “get back to the basics of representing the taxpayer. Our community needs someone who not only understands the issues but has lived through them as well.” What is Secord's version of back to basics? Peter Secord sat on city council as fellow councillor Jeff Burch lied to council. Secord knew that Councillor Jeff Burch lied, he also was provided with the Integrity Commissioner's report where Suzanne Craig clearly stated that she had not cleared Burch of the very serious allegations. Maybe honesty, integrity or accountability do not rate high in Peter Secord's back to basics.

What does rate as back to basics to Peter Secord? As he was aware of Councillor Jeff Burch's lies, as a fellow member of council he was also aware of a small business owner Sam Demita, owner and operator of Sun Collision, who had broken local laws for some 5 years. Secord is also aware that after the city 'fixed' the law for Sam Demita, and after an OMB hearing cleared the path, the same Sam Demita has broken the new laws that the city had fixed for him.

Peter Secord has a 1, 2, 3 step plan for his back to basics: First is, “A plan for financial accountability,” then the Second is, “Local solutions for local jobs,” and finally the Third, “Commitment to the taxpayer.” Reading these steps or points little is found that is constructive or realistic. In his first installment Secord speaks of a tax freeze, he actually promises one. If he was to win the job as mayor, Peter Secord will be only one vote and he has heard loudly from council that the majority are against such folly.

In his second installment Secord is surprised that “the same team who is responsible for business support also oversee the Santa Claus Parade and Canada Day events.” Where has Secord been for his years of service on council? This is news to him? Maybe it was Santa Claus who 'fixed' things for Demita?

In the 2010 election Brian McMullan said no tax dollars should be spent on the hockey palace. Peter Secord sat on council and approved the exact opposite. Now it is the same Secord who promises a tax freeze. A little too little and a little too late. Yet at a council meeting when his plans for a tax freeze were openly objected, Peter Secord said that nothing was set in stone. Secord finished off with this in relation to his motion on freezing taxes, “The motion is just that staff works in that direction, towards zero, it's setting the bar, so that they go in that direction.” (Doug Herod,, October 1 2014, 'HEROD: Hamming it up on council stage').

Has the proverbial bar been set or will the final candidate in the 2014 Municipal elections find a new level for himself? Jeff Burch, like Peter Secord, has sat on city council for years, and like Peter Secord has only now found the answers. Unlike Secord, Jeff Burch points to 5 Priorities for Prosperity and welcomes people to the “new St. Catharines” on his billboards whilst the old St. Catharines has not been buried in the aftermath of the election stampede.

Burch's five priorities for prosperity in fact do not really sound any different from Secord or Sendzik. Jobs, or the frightening lack of, are on the minds of all residents in St. Catharines. Tax dollars have never left the minds of St. Catharines residents as each year it is becoming harder and harder to budget for the inevitable increases. Whether it is Burch and his five or Secord with desires of going back to basics, or Sendzik's vision, Port Dalhousie is a hot topic. The Go Train is on everyone's wish list even if there are no real riders for it and our downtown still waiting for solutions.

Reading Jeff Burch's press releases or his website, nothing new is found. On October 1st a press release on Port Dalhousie finds Jeff Burch quoted as saying “I have the experience to lead revitalization efforts that respect and include residents.” From here the bar is lowered dramatically and the similarities between Burch and the other two main candidates cease.

Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig came to investigate Councillor Jeff Burch and his lies to City Council and the people of St. Catharines. Integrity Commissioner Craig was shocked that no one from The Standard or the free Niagara this Week made any reference to the investigation. Councillor Jeff Burch lied to protect Sam Demita, owner and operator of Sun Collision. In the end Integrity Commissioner Craig submitted her report and stated that she had not cleared Councillor Jeff Burch of the very serious allegations. All of this was censored.

This was not all that Councillor Burch has never answered for. As residents in Merritton found flooding damage in their homes, Councillor Burch issued a warning to one of the residents that was chilling. To keep things quiet Councillor Burch in the 2010 election campaign used Niagara Regional Police to harass and intimidate me so as to stop any questions being raised. Everything here has been documented and it's only the censorship by The Standard in particular that has kept this from the people of St. Catharines. Now ex-reporter from The Standard Marlene Bergsma has publicly endorsed Burch.

Residents all over will struggle to make a decision as to who they should vote for. In St. Catharines there are extremely serious issues and the political game surrounding all the candidates continues. The Conference Board of Canada released its report in Ottawa September 18th 2014, and rated St. Catharines in the 'D' Cities – Struggling to Attract. One of the main criteria for consideration according to Alan Arcand of the Centre for Municipal Studies is, “cities that fail to attract new people will struggle to stay prosperous and vibrant.” St. Catharines found itself in the “D” class where 9 of the 13 cities had showed little population growth between 2006 and 2011, and two cities saw their population decline. (News Release 15-27 Six Canadians Cities out of 50 Receive Top Marks for Attracting Newcomers).

According to Statistics Canada, St. Catharines' population in 2006 was 131,989 and in 2011 it dropped to 131,400. Both Jeff Burch and Peter Secord have sat on city council since 2006. “Now is not the time for campaign stunts”, these are Jeff Burch's own words. Now is the time to make a very hard decision and live with it for the next four years.

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