It’s hard to believe another year is almost over! I think all of us were hopeful that 2021 would leave COVID far behind in the hopes of getting back to normal. Instead, we had a roller coaster ride of emerging waves and new variants, coupled with vaccination rollouts and a revolving door of pandemic rules that seemed to change on a regular basis. The holidays are a welcome reprieve from yet another challenging year to focus on family, good will and the spirit of giving! It’s one of my favourite times of the year.
The Region played a central role in Niagara’s pandemic response with our Public Health department administering 275,000 vaccine doses. Together with our local hospitals, family doctors and pharmacies, nearly 750,000 doses have been administered to Niagara’s residents. The Region has also handled a whopping 125,000 phone calls, emails and live chats from residents and businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. This support is in addition to the extra demands placed on our paramedics, long-term care staff, police and other vital first responders and health care workers.
Pandemic aside, there has been a tremendous number of regional accomplishments worthy of note. From an infrastructure and service perspective, this term of Council has invested more than $260 million in its 770km of roads and 130 bridges. These investments will be important to ensuring we not only sustain our existing infrastructure, but also reduce a significant infrastructure gap. We’ve also successfully secured impactful investments in broadband infrastructure connecting more than 5,600 homes and businesses in west Niagara with further plans to bring service to more than 50,000 households and businesses by 2024. The Province recently announced further funding that will connect another 4,800 homes, farms and business by December of 2022 (https://www.pelham.ca/en/news/ontario-bringing-high-speed-internet-to-niagara.aspx).
We also took a giant leap forward for transportation by endorsing a harmonized regional transit model. A harmonized service will operate under a single Governance Board delivering an enhancement of servicing across municipal boundaries and better connecting our rural areas. Moving towards a regional model promises many benefits including an increase in access to education, healthcare, and employment. Pelham will consider this in a Town Council meeting in January, however the required triple majority has already been attained to make this a reality (https://www.chch.com/niagara-regional-transit-system-a-go-after-unanimous-vote-in-thorold/).
You may also recall garbage collection woes earlier in the term that facilitated a review of our waste collection contract. This resulted in splitting Niagara into two separate service areas with two new service providers. It also came with a service shift to every other week garbage pick-up, in addition to maintaining weekly organic and recycling collection. Since implemented the changes in October 2020, I’m proud to report minimal service interruptions, but also diversion of 12,000 tonnes of garbage away from our landfills and an overall increase of 24 percent in organic collection. This should help preserve the longevity of our landfills while ensuring organic matter can be more efficiently handled.
Another important milestone is the progress we’ve made in our planning and environmental policies. The official plan is under a comprehensive review for the first time in nearly 50 years, which is vital in addressing our housing shortages. This document also defines where and how Niagara will grow in consideration of significant population growth pressures. Just this past month Council approved the natural heritage component of the plan that will protect 70,000 hectares of our natural features. It’s a significant environmental accomplishment in addition to an earlier approval of a greening strategy and an updated tree by-law that will further protect and build upon our woodlands. I was also successful in initiating a funding opportunity that resulted in nearly 7,400 seedlings being planted on regional property and expanding our tree canopy. We will be reviewing our climate change policies in the upcoming year, and you will also see the Region hosting a climate summit by the end of the second quarter of next year.
I continue to advocate for more diversive, inclusive and equitable voices to inform our governance policies. I currently serve as Chair of the Region’s Women’s Advisory Committee, where I’ve gathered support for a grant application to develop a mentorship program aimed at increasing women’s participation in politics, with an emphasis on racialized women. We will learn if the grant is approved early in the new year. I was also successful in being appointed to the Regional Chair’s new Youth Advisory Committee. It has a representative from each of our twelve municipalities. This committee will fill an important gap in addressing an aspect of our population that is not often engaged in municipal government. They have already expressed an interest in policy pertaining to mental health, the environment and diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m looking forward to seeing how this promising new Committee can help contribute to better policymaking at the Region (https://thevoiceofpelham.ca/2021/12/11/pelham-student-named-to-niagara-regional-youth-council/).
This past June I was also successfully elected to the Ontario Caucus of the Federation of Canadian municipalities. The organization advocates on behalf of municipal issues and funding with the federal government. It’s the first time Niagara has had a voting member on this body, and I’ll have the opportunity to add Niagara’s voice to those discussions, but also help bring attention to advances in policy or funding opportunities that Niagara may benefit from. It’s an exciting opportunity to learn and grow, but also to network with colleagues from across Canada who are all just trying to better their communities (https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/local-welland/news/2021/06/07/pelham-regional-coun-diana-huson-elected-to-federation-of-canadian-municipalities-board-of-directors.html).
The dawn of a new year is always a natural time for reflection. And in reflecting on my role as your Regional Councillor, I feel quite proud of the accomplishments we’ve made to date. As a Council, we have not always agreed on outcomes but have always maintained respect for the process and for one another. It’s been an honour to serve my community and I have always felt it is a great privilege to represent Pelham at the Region.
I wish all of you a safe and happy holidays! Here’s to a year filled with many happy memories and opportunities for a prosperous future.
As always, please reach out with your comments, concerns or questions. I am always available to help where I can.