It’s been an exciting first year of the new term. After being re-elected in October last year and sworn in for December, the real work really started in January where you find yourself with some new colleagues and some old, depending on how the election dust settled.
I was happy to receive continued support from colleagues to serve as the Chair of our Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee. This position is one of four key leadership roles available to councillors and I’m honoured to have the continued confidence of colleagues in this important role. This year I also joined our Public Works Standing Committee, recognizing that it has a significant budget including road improvements and waste management, but also manages most of the capital maintenance and upgrades across Niagara.
In 2024 we will see a major shift in how the blue box program is both collected and processed in Ontario as the province phases in a new producer responsibility model. This means that producers (the companies that design, create and market products and packaging) will be responsible for the blue box program with a goal of attaining greater waste diversion but potentially also better packaging design for enhanced recycling opportunities. The transition will start early in the year, and should all go smoothly, I’m hoping you won’t notice a difference with blue box pick up.
One of the most challenging parts of the year – and indeed this job! – has always been the budget. The Region’s budget is quite large and complex, however when cuts are made it always seem to impact those in our community who are most vulnerable. Only 3 percent of the budget is “discretionary” and most of this spending falls within social services (i.e., homelessness or childcare). We, like many other municipalities, are also struggling to maintain and update infrastructure that was built in the 1970s, with most of our infrastructure rated in poor or very poor condition. And with inflationary pressures continuing to affect our costs, I was happy to see the Region’s budget come in at a 3.72 percent increase for our regional departments and agencies, with an infrastructure top-up of 1.5 percent after a lengthy “budget battle.” There still remains a 1.8 percent budget pressure from Bill 23 changes made by the province which brought our cumulative increase to 7.02 percent.
What I wasn’t expecting this year was the community interest and outrage at automated speed enforcement. Concerns about speeding and how best to make our roads/communities safer was a top election concern. Council adopted the Vision Zero Safety initiatives last term and we’re finally seeing some of the initiatives rolled out with automated speed cameras into action this year and red-light cameras coming this January. And while a major criticism I receive is that the program is a “cash grab”, any revenues are committed to be invested right back into road safety initiatives. The fees will go directly towards improved road safety.
The most enjoyable and rewarding part of this job for me is interacting with the people in my community. Whether it’s handing out candy at a parade (I always choose this job!) or being stopped at the grocery store to talk about something that was in the news, or stopping in at a new shop that has just opened in our community, I love talking to my residents! Please reach out to me directly – whether email, a phone call or direct social media message and continue to share your experiences, your stories, and your ideas. I learn from your feedback, and it makes me better able to represent you as your Regional Councillor. As an FYI, I also post updates on my website at dianahuson.ca.
Above all, I wish you all the best this holiday season. May you and your loved ones have good health and happiness now and throughout the new year. Happy holidays, everyone!