Author Archives: greg miller

About greg miller

"Who would start a political blog about an area where only 40% of residents can be bothered to vote?" Me, cause I'm an idiot. Follow along or on Twitter @niagaranext for my ramblings about all things Niagara, with an eye on the future in particular.

Port Tower: New Developer, Fortress Real, Named in Class-Action Lawsuit

The controversial Port Tower project in Port Dalhousie has dragged on for over a decade. Many greeted the announcement of a new developer and new site plan this past June with a sigh of relief. In St. Catharines, the feeling could be summed up as “we don’t care what it looks like, or what it is, just build the thing.” Years of empty lots and empty promises will do that. You could forgive people for wanting to simply move on to the next phase: a condominium project in the area once occupied by bars like Jailhouse, My Cottage and Rum Jungle. The community was done with the divisive controversies and ready to embrace a new vision of developer Fortress Real. A vision they call “Union Waterfront”. While the design received a communal thumbs up, it may not be all smooth sailing just yet.

Investors have launched a proposed class action against a high-profile Toronto-area condo development firm, with projects across Canada, that raises millions from mom-and-pop investors through risky pooled mortgage products—many of which are advertised as safe and “secure.”

The suit, filed earlier this month in Ontario Superior Court, claims $27.5 million in damages, as well as the return of any profits, in relation to a troubled condo project in Barrie, Ont., which was marketed to investors by Fortress Real Developments, Fortress Real Capital and their various affiliates. It also accuses the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) of failing to properly regulate the sector, dubbed by critics as a wild west of lending. “They were aware of the issues we’re complaining about in the suit for many years, but have done nothing to protect the public,” says Kevin Sherkin, the lawyer acting on behalf of two investors who hope to become representative plaintiffs if the suit is certified as a class action.

The allegations, which have yet to be proven in court, accuse Fortress and its principals—CEO Jawad Rathore and COO Vince Petrozza—of misleading investors by suggesting they were putting money into a relatively safe product, called a syndicated mortgage, that offered exposure to Canada’s booming condominium market and promised eight per cent annual returns, plus more if the projects performed well. The suit focuses on a condo project in Barrie called the Collier Centre that was forced into bankruptcy protection last year.

That, from an article from Maclean’s called “Lawsuit targets Ontario’s $4-billion syndicated mortgage industry” (http://www.macleans.ca/economy/angry-investors-seek-class-action-against-high-profile-seller-of-risky-syndicated-mortgages/).

More from that story:

Rathore and Petrozza founded Fortress in 2008, according to the suit, after previously working in the province’s securities market. In fact, the pair received a 15-year ban from the Ontario Securities Commission, or OSC, as part of a $3-million settlement agreement they signed in 2011. The agreement said the pair, along with another colleague, “engaged in conduct contrary to the public interest” when they sold shares of two companies later implicated in a B.C. stock scam to clients of their debt management business. However, the ban did not include “mortgage instruments,” which fall outside of the OSC’s jurisdiction.

Though sold like securities, syndicated mortgages are loans made by group of investors to a developer. They are typically used to fund the “soft costs” of condo projects—like building a sales centre or commissioning drawings. In exchange, investors are promised regular interest payments on their loan—generally around eight per cent annually—and may be entitled to receive more once the project is completed. In addition, the loans are secured against the property in the form of a mortgage, which is why the marketing for many syndicated mortgage products often touts them as safe or “secure.” (For more on the industry and Fortress, read Maclean’sstory from last April here).

In reality, however, such investments are quite risky. The loans made by syndicated mortgage investors are usually subordinate to a project’s main bank lenders, making the chance of getting one’s money back if something goes wrong—and there’s plenty that can go wrong in a large, complex commercial development—highly unlikely. Hence the attractive eight per cent interest rates offered.

It should be noted that Fortress adamantly denies the lawsuit’s claims and that, even if true, the implications for the Port Dalhousie development are not clear.

But, for Niagarans who have waited a decade for this project to come good, another shade of controversy will be an unwelcome sight. It’s safe to say that the developer, and the proposal, are now firmly under the microscope.

 

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niagara region transit bus service

Public Transit in Niagara – Region Seeks Consultant for Single System

Editor’s note: this post is the first of a few that will look at public transit in Niagara


Niagara has 8 public transit systems, or one for every 50,000 people. That’s too many public transit systems. Many believe having a single public transit system would be preferable, particularly for the user. Some believe improved public transit in Niagara is necessary to attract regular GO train service to Niagara.

Our 8 systems don’t integrate particularly well, if it all. Which makes sense; each of the eight systems serve a different master. Even within single public transit systems there are plenty of issues. For example, a large system like Niagara Falls has routes with only one bus an hour. Frustration with status quo has been expressed by many. For a long time. Are improvements on the way?

On Friday, Niagara Region issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) from consultants. It’s titled “Niagara Transit Service Delivery and Governance” and is valued at $150,000. (It might be coincidental, but Friday is known as the day to “bury” news; though I’ll give the Region the benefit of the doubt because RFPs are not typically newsworthy.)

niagara region RFP

RFPgoal

The listed goal in Niagara Region’s public transit RFP


 

Where did this come from?

This RFP builds off the decision, last May, for the three largest Niagara municipalities (St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland) to work together to provide a single, inter-municipal transit system. That decision halted the Region’s initial plan: work with the 12 lower-tier municipalities to move towards a single transit system.

Niagara region halts public transit strategy

The reason behind halting that and allowing the three largest municipalities to take over is seen in this excerpt from The St. Catharines Standard:

SendzikKnowledge


 

So, if the three municipalities are the experts, why (nearly a year later) is the Region (not the three cities) funding a consultant?

The likely short answers are time and parochialism. It is true that each of the three municipalities have transit staff that feature experts in public transit. But those experts already have full-time jobs that don’t provide the sort of downtime necessary for planning and implementing a Niagara-wide transit system. And, secondly, those full-time jobs are explicitly to work on behalf of the citizens of one municipality.

Hence, the Region has remained part of the transit working group and that group determined a neutral party (consultant) is required to help plan the system. Except, this is what the Region was already offering to do before being halted last Spring. In fact, the Region used the same method to garner expertise as it is now: consultants’ reports.

Here are 4 from a recent five year period, all delivered to Niagara Region.

  1. Inter-Municipal Transit Work-Plan, Phase 1 – ENTRA, October 2009 [96 pages]
  2. Inter-Municipal Transit Work-Plan, Phase 2 – ENTRA, May 2010 [92 pages]
  3. Transit Governance Review – AECOM, 2013 [75 pages]
  4. 10 year inter-municipal transit service concept – Dillon Consulting, 2014 [75 pages]

1 and 2 from the list preceded the inter-municipal transit pilot project. The recommendations influenced the founding of Niagara Region Transit, but many key recommendations were ignored, including a $4.50 fare and half-hour service during peak times.

3 was an overview and comparison of governance models. It was largely ignored.

4 included a detailed plan of how to move inter-municipal transit forward over the next ten years. It included a  service map, and a high-demand and low-demand scenario for specific costs and ridership. On the surface, the report being requested now is asking for similar things.

niagara transit potential map

10-Year Plan Map from Dillon Report


 

So how does this new report differ? Will it change anything? What new can be said after nearly 350 pages of consultants reports, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, since 2009? How likely is it that we will finally see a united public transit system in Niagara?

Those questions and more in the next “Public Transit in Niagara” post.


 

St. Catharines Mayor Sendzik Responds to Petrowski’s Comments

I reached out to ask the Mayor’s office for comment regarding Councillor Petrowski’s views on refugees and Muslims from last week. Some see silence on this issue as condoning Petrowski’s views. St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle came out with a strong rebuke of Petrowski today.

As Mayor, not only does Sendzik represent the same constituents as Petrowski, he is also a colleague of Petrowski’s on Regional Council.

Here is how the Mayor’s Office responded:

Hi Greg,

Thanks for reaching out and the opportunity to respond.  I hope Mayor Sendzik’s position is clear as he has been vocal and active in supporting our community’s response to welcome Syrian families since earlier this fall when the Mayor’s Office and Folk Arts Centre co-hosted the first community meeting to organize the response to the refugee crisis. The Mayor’s Office is fully engaged in the Niagara Refugee Assistance Committee which includes a number of community agencies, volunteers, faith groups and the Folk Arts Multicultural Centre, working together to organize and coordinate our collective response to support refugees when they arrive in the new year.

Mayor Sendzik does not support or endorse the views expressed by Mr. Petrowski. Here’s a short statement he provided to the Standard today.

“Negative and divisive comments from public figures can impact a city’s reputation and I’m disappointed by Andy Petrowski’s public remarks. These types of incidents distract from the good work that so many people are doing to welcome Syrian refugees.

St. Catharines is an open, inclusive and welcoming community. We have a strong history of welcoming newcomers. In fact, my own family came to St. Catharines from Poland in the 1920s. The community’s interest and support in welcoming Syrian families has been overwhelmingly positive. From our first meeting at the Folk Arts Centre in September to now, many people are coming forward and offering to help with donations, clothing, housing and support.

These comments are not reflective of the city or the majority of the people that I see and work with every day. We will continue to work together to be a positive, warm and welcoming voice.” – Mayor Walter Sendzik

Sendzik did vote for Petrowski to be on the Police Board in January, but it is good to see him stepping up to condemn these comments.

Petrowski Must Be Removed from Police Board

I was listening to CKTB radio the other day. Tom McConnell dedicated a large portion of his show to discussing Donald Trump’s recent comments about banning Muslims from entering the United States. The merits of giving this “idea” airtime, let alone allowing people to call in to express support, are debatable. However, it is news and McConnell’s show covers news. Typically I would have turned off the program, but radio at 11 a.m. isn’t a cornucopia of great options. Luckily, I did not. Once I heard that “Andy” was calling in, I knew it was time to hit record.

Sure enough, Niagara Region Councillor Andy Petrowski took the opportunity to put his foot in his mouth. Which, sadly, is all he seems to excel at as a political representative. You can hear my recording of his call here: https://soundcloud.com/regiller/andy-petrowski-on-cktb-dec-9-15

It is important to note that Petrowski phoned in on his own accord to share his thoughts. Spouting the usual ignorant talking points he gets from far right Americans such as Trump and Breitbart, Councillor Petrowski heaped further embarrassment onto himself. He displayed his tenuous grasp of logic by comparing banning Muslims from America to destroying ISIS. He called for Barack Obama to be banned from Canada, for some reason. He stated that since Canada can’t know if even one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees it is admitting will commit a terrorist act, it is irresponsible to let any in (the logic tree on this claim, in particular, is quite brilliant. Since we can’t know anyone won’t do anything, maybe everyone in the world should be confined to their own individual jail cell just to be safe.)

Grant Lafleche wrote an excellent column about why Petrowski is wrong on this issue, which includes the following passage:

Petrowski’s hyperbole paints all refugees as potential terrorist threats. Such an attitude from a political leader is inaccurate, unhelpful and unfair.

For me, the issue isn’t that Andy embarrasses himself, that’s his decision. The issue isn’t that he is just a cranky old white guy and some cranky old white guys have a tendency to spout hateful nonsense. The issue isn’t even that he’s emblematic of a Regional Council that is 87% male and 100% white, with the majority over the age of 50. As a member of Regional Council, Petrowski has marginalized himself and this is reflected by his inability to accomplish much of anything in his five years on Council. The issue isn’t even that he’s wrong, as he is.

The issue is that Petrowski is the Vice-Chair of the Police Services Board. At a time when the relationship between police and minority groups in North America is “delicate”, having the Vice-Chair of the Board spouting Islamaphobic rhetoric is as dangerous as it is embarrassing. It should be noted that only five months ago Chief McGuire was forced by a different brand of Petrowski ignorance to assure the public that police serve the community in an unbiased manner. Now Petrowski’s at it again.

PetrowskiAllMuslims

That Petrowski gets his worldview from right-wing nuts in the States is not news. He has readily displayed this for a long time. So how was he allowed into a position of influence on the Police Board?

PetrowskiMuslimRape

Well, just like our problematic way of choosing our Regional Chair, he was chosen for the position by his fellow Regional Councillors. You can see how this system could result in back-room deals. For example: “I’ll scratch your back (vote for you for Regional Chair), you scratch mine (help me get elected to the police board.)”

To be fair, these backroom deals are nothing new. But never have they resulted in less competent politicians filling such prominent positions in Niagara. One look at the disastrous year both Regional Council and the Police Board have had will confirm that.

The Police Services Board is the civilian governing body of the Niagara Regional Police Service. It sets the police budget and works with the Chief on policing priorities.

The Region has three representatives on the Board; the Regional Chair and two Councillors, who are selected by vote by the other Regional Councillors. Because Chair Caslin decided to defer his position on the Board, three Councillors were required. Board membership, in addition to its duties and responsibilities, comes with an additional salary of around $7,000 (about 25% of the base Regional Councillor salary.)

Six Councillors put their names forward for election to the Board; Barrick, Bentley, Burroughs, D’Angela, Gale and Petrowski. Barrick, Gale and Petrowski all received a majority of votes on the first ballot. Here’s how the voting went

PoliceBoardVote.jpg

It would be fair to say that Barrick, Gale and Petrowski are all members of what’s been called the “conservative cabal” that includes our current Regional Chair and controls the balance of Regional Council decisions. Their other merits for selection to the important position of Police Board member are opaque.

Barrick is also chair of the Region’s budget committee and a large portion of the budget goes to the police, so perhaps that’s a good reason for inclusion. Gale was briefly a cop at one point in his life. Petrowski has come into conflict with the NRPS in the past.

Whatever the reason or scheme for having these three selected to the Board, they all became subject to its Code of Conduct upon joining. It is safe to say that Petrowski’s infamous homophobic comments and his recent Islamaphobic rhetoric cause him to be in violation of that Code.

PoliceBoardCode

7. Board members shall discharge their duties loyally, faithfully, impartially and according to the Act, any other Act and any regulation, rule or by-law, as provided in their oath or affirmation of office

8. Board members shall uphold the letter and spirit of the Code of Conduct set out in this regulation and shall discharge their duties in a manner that will inspire public confidence in the abilities and integrity of the board.

9. Board members shall discharge their duties in a manner that respects the dignity of individuals and in accordance with the Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada).

13. Board members shall refrain from engaging in conduct that would discredit or compromise the integrity of the board or the police force.

If the board determines that a board member has breached the Code of Conduct set out in this Regulation, the board shall record that determination in its minutes and may, (a) require the member to appear before the board and be reprimanded; (b) request that the Ministry of the Solicitor General conduct an investigation into the member’s conduct; or (c) request that the Commission conduct an investigation into the member’s conduct under Section 25 of the Act.

Section 25 of the Police Services Act states (emphasis mine):

Penalties, member of board

(5) If the Commission concludes, after a hearing, that a member of a board is guilty of misconduct or is not performing or is incapable of performing the duties of his or her position in a satisfactory manner, it may remove or suspend the member.  R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15, s. 25 (5).

The Commission in this case is the Police Services Board.

PoliceBoardMembers

This is not like people who say about refugees that we should “help our own vulnerable citizens first” (which is a position I also disagree with.) This is a political representative sowing fear and discord about the entirety of a minority population; members of which he already represents.

It is my opinion that Petrowski can’t be trusted to perform his duties in an unbiased manner. Further, his comments have the potential to negatively impact the relationship between police and the residents they serve.

Petrowski should resign from the police board after yet another compromising opinion of his has been made known. Knowing him, he will not resign.

The responsibility to have him removed, thus, falls to those who irresponsibly worked and voted to have him placed in that position in the first place. I am hopeful they will not abandon their responsibility and rectify their error.

Glen Ridge School – Presentation to the St. Catharines Heritage Committee

On November 12, the St. Catharines Heritage Commitee considered beginning the process of designating Glen Ridge School for conservation due to its “cultural heritage value or interest.” This followed City Council’s motion of support on November 2. I was able to speak on behalf of the Save Glen Ridge School group that Matt Harris started. Below is the text of my presentation.


Thank you to the St. Catharines Heritage Review Committee for your consideration of the Glen Ridge School building for a heritage designation. My name is Greg Miller and I have been working with many, many interested community members (570 and counting) on a project we are calling “Save Glen Ridge School”. In addition to this, I grew up in the Glen Ridge and attended Glen Ridge School way back when we were just Gophers, not the mightier Glen Ridge Grizzlies you know today. My experience then and since has confirmed that Glen Ridge is one of the most unique neighbourhood communities in St. Catharines, and the primary reason for that is the Glen Ridge School building.

A brief bit of history. One hundred years ago the Glenridge Bridge was opened over the old Welland Canal, now the 406, to provide access to the south portion St. Catharines. Though less famous than the Burgoyne Bridge, also built in 1915, the Glenridge Bridge had a historic effect on St. Catharines. Prior to 1915 the area that is now known as Old Glen Ridge, was primarily farm and park land, with few homes. By the 1920s, the population of this area had grown enough that a school in the neighbourhood was required. St. Catharines architectural firm A.E. Nicholson and Ian Macbeth designed Glen Ridge School, and it opened in 1929. The designs of Nicholson and Macbeth from this era are well-known in St. Catharines and well-regarded in the architectural community, including the Montebello Park band stand and the Old Grandstand at the Henley Regatta.

After the school opened, the community grew organically around it. It is, and I don’t use this word lightly, literally the centre of the community. For 85 years, Glen Ridge School has been more than just a school; it has been a community hub. The building and its surrounding green space is where children meet their first friends and play their first game of soccer, where parents take their kids to play after dinner and where the neighbourhood dogs get to know eachother. I shouldn’t say it’s a community hub, it’s THE community hub. The community of Glen Ridge could not be more closely-tied with Glen Ridge School. Without this community asset, the neighbourhood would not be what it has been and what it is today; that is one of St. Catharines’ most unique and identifiable communities. I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that one day this Committee will be discussing a Part Five designation to mark Glen Ridge as a Heritage Conservation District. Buildings and neighbourhoods are simply not constructed and planned that way anymore and it is as important as ever to preserve this unique heritage, with Glen Ridge School being the most prominent part.

I will close by repeating that the Glen Ridge community would not be what it is without Glen Ridge School. Glen Ridge will never be the same if the school is allowed to be torn down. If this particular community is allowed to recede and disappear, what does that signal about St. Catharines? What is our identity going to be when we allow our history and our culture to fade away? A city should be defined by its community, not its budget. It is time for this city to stand up for its communities. That is why it is absolutely necessary for this Committee to recommend Glen Ridge School as a property of value and interest for its cultural heritage.


The Committee did pass the following motion:

“That the SCHAC prepare the background information necessary to consider the designation of Glen Ridge school and lands under the Ontario Heritage Act in accordance with Council’s direction of November 2, 2015, and that the Owner (DSBN) and community be invited to future meeting(s) of the SCHAC when this matter is to be discussed”

Women in Politics – Facts and Figures

So after I mentioned that only 20% of Niagara’s current municipal politicians were women, someone inquired whether that figure had gone up or down since the last election. Also, in my interviews with Debbie Zimmerman and Laura Ip, both mentioned the need for more women to run as candidates in municipal elections. (As I have more time for further research, I will be updating this page.)

First up, St. Catharines Councillors and Candidates by gender for the past five elections. The downward trend in the number of woman Councillors is an obvious concern, though other than 2010, the number of candidates remains relatively the same. (It should be noted that the 2010 Council finished with 3 women and 9 men, as Laura Ip replaced Greg Washuta.)

In five elections, a woman’s name was on the ballot 39 times compared to the 124 times a man’s name was on the ballot. This is an obvious problem when 50% of the population makes up only 24% of the candidates.

StCatharinesCouncilMaleWoman

I also looked at the past two elections for Regional Council positions. I did not include Mayors, even though they do serve as Regional Councillors. Thus, these figures are for the 19 Regional Council positions (whoever is elected Regional Chair is replaced by the next highest vote-getter from their municipality.) Further thus, though 4 of 31 Council members are women, as I’ve stated before, only 2 of 19 of those elected as Regional Councillors are women.

Only 8 and 7 women candidates in the whole of Niagara is pretty sad.

NiagaraRegionCouncilMaleWoman

There are many reasons why there are not enough woman candidates and many challenges to being a candidate and a politician as a woman; however, it is plainly obvious we need to do what we can to attract more women candidates.

Thoughtful, brave and engaging women: Niagara needs you!

Women in Politics – Interviews with Laura Ip and Debbie Zimmerman

Following my post about Mishka Balsom’s treatment by Regional Councillors, I received a lot of shock both at the decorum of Regional Councillors and the lack of women on Regional Council (only 4 women out of 31 positions.) Many, myself include, believe there’s a connection between these two issues.

The United Nations and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have set a target of at least 30% of elected government positions being held by women. Anything less, they say, and a government does not represent women’s concerns. Women in Ontario currently hold 27% of Councillors positions, and only 17% of Mayors are women. In Niagara, those numbers drop to 20% and 15%. According to the UN and FCM, we are not representing women’s concerns in Niagara. A breakdown by municipality below. (I found no evidence of an elected Niagara official currently identifying as a gender besides “man” and “woman”.)

gender breakdown

Recently, I asked two women who have been politicians in Niagara and remain very involved in the community for their perspective of women in politics in Niagara.

LauraIpLaura Ip was appointed to and served on St. Catharines City Council in 2014 following a vacancy on Council (Ip placed third in the affected ward in 2010 municipal election.) She also ran in the 2006 and 2014 municipal elections. During her year on Council, Ip championed both adopting a Living Wage for St. Catharines and inititiating an open data program for St. Catharines. She also worked hard to respond to all her constituents’ needs and requests. Since leaving politics, Ip has continued to be a freelance consultant and facilitator, and a research and teaching assistant at Brock University. She was recently hired to be the Resource Development Coordinator at YWCA Niagara. Ip is a board member of Cowork Niagara, the Vice-Chair of the Niagara Workforce Planning Board and actively involved with the Pearl Gloves Charity Boxing Match for the MS Society of Niagara.

Debbie ZimmermanDebbie Zimmerman spent 36 consecutive years in local politics from 1978-2014. She began as a local alderman (councillor) in Grimsby, before being elected to Regional Council in 1989, a position she held until deciding not to seek reelection in 2014. During this time, Zimmerman was the first female Regional Chair from 1997-2003, where her many accomplishments include bringing Early Years Centres to Niagara (the first community in Ontario to do so) and the creation of the Niagara Community Foundation. She also ran for MP in the Federal riding of Niagara West in 2004. Currently, she is the CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario and sits on a number of local boards, including Pathstone Mental Health and YMCA. She also recently spoke at the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

Suffice it to say, there are not many women in Niagara who have a better understanding of the Niagara community and what it is like to be a woman candidate and politician. Below are my questions followed by their answers.

When you ran for office, did you consider the lack of woman representation? Do you think that lack of representation motivated you or discouraged you?

Laura Ip: All three times that I ran for City Council, I spoke to the need for balance on our municipal councils, and I always framed it as needing balance in age, gender, and ethnicity/race, among other things. I think the lack of female representation both motivated and discouraged me. I was motivated to become one of the women at the table in an effort to achieve that balance, but discouraged, because I knew some of the challenges I would face at the door as a female candidate, particularly one with young children.

Debbie Zimmerman: I did not really think about the lack of women on Council or at the Region but I did think that women could bring a different perspective to the Chambers.

Regarding the incident with Mishka Balsom, do you think any of Niagara’s current local councils have a gender problem, or was her treatment unrelated to her gender, or not an issue at all? Do you think this is an example of treatment that may discourage women from entering politics?

Ip: I can’t speak to individual motivations for the way that Balsom was spoken to by Regional Councillors, but I can’t imagine that anyone who spoke to her they way they did would have dreamed of speaking to her predecessor [Walter Sendzik] that way. I can say that I’ve had one-on-one interactions with some of the politicians in that particular incident, as well as several other male politicians in Niagara, and the challenge to be taken seriously and treated with respect is very real. That is in no way to suggest that all male politicians behave in this manner, because they do not. That any of them do, though, can be extremely difficult to deal with, and I know a couple of women who have considered running but have been discouraged by such behaviour.

Zimmerman: What is clear to me is that the view being expressed by Balsom was one the Chair didn’t want to hear. His lack of tolerance of someone else’s opinion in a democratic society was just wrong.  I think the treatment of the CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce was unacceptable and others failing to act when anyone is poorly treated at a Council or committee meeting is unacceptable.

What has your experience as a woman candidate been?

Ip: Being a candidate is really an experience like no other. You don’t get a lot of policy questions when knocking on doors. What I did get, though, that my male counterparts did not, was asked routinely about my family status; what my husband did (people assumed I was married, as I never made mention of my husband in my election materials, either before or after we separated); if my husband would tolerate me sitting on City Council and not being home with the children at night; if, as a mother, I had time to be getting involved in politics, etc. While I did have many people say they would vote for me because I was the only woman running in the ward (2010, 2014), I also received quite a number of comments about my physical appearance, both in person and on social media. The comments ranged from tame (though still inappropriate) to downright vulgar. That can be extremely difficult to deal with. Following the 2014 election, a candidate against whom I ran attacked me via his Facebook page with a number of not only inaccurate but also extremely sexist remarks.

Zimmerman:  I survived many years in politics, I think, by focusing on the issues and not my gender, and working hard to keep issues the focus. It isn’t easy, but eventually your experience and knowledge will be acknowledged over your gender.

What has your experience as a woman politician been?

Ip: I loved being on City Council and I’m proud of the work that I did during my short time serving in that role. I met some really great people in the community and I helped citizens address challenges they were having with various areas of municipal government. Most of the experience was extremely positive. Having said that, moving from being a candidate to being on Council, you have to have a much thicker skin. I took a great deal of criticism in the traditional media (by way of anonymous comments on the local paper’s website) and through social media (both publicly and through private messages people sent to me). While I will concede that criticism of our politicians is to be expected, it was the tone of the criticism and the way in which it was delivered that I found to be different than when my male counterparts were criticized. Adjectives were used to describe me that would not have been used if I was not a woman. If I attempted to challenge this style of criticism I was, in effect, shouted down for being “too sensitive” or something similar.

Zimmerman: It was a terrific experience meeting other great women who came before me and many no longer with us. I had great mentors both women and men who recognized my desire to be good at what I was elected to do.

If you could single out one issue for why women are so underrepresented in political positions in Niagara, what would it be? 

Ip: There is data that shows that people in minority groups (remembering that “minority” is not used to indicate number, but to indicate a group that has historically been considered to be subordinate to the dominant group, so women, racial/ethnic groups, people living with disabilities, etc.) do not typically aspire to roles in which they do not see themselves represented. If one does not see themselves represented in leadership positions, they are likely to write those positions off as not being open to them. So, yes, representation is absolutely an issue with respect to women in politics and leadership roles, but I think one of the biggest symptoms of that problem is what I’ve discussed above: that women are not expected to seek out roles in politics and leadership. We are still expected to carry the majority of the family and household responsibility and, if we have anyone else do it, not only are we somehow less than, but so are those who do it for us. Men who stay home with their children whilst their female partners work are considered to be “whipped,” for instance. I was repeatedly asked “as a mother, do you have time for this,” and when my answer was, “I don’t see how it’s any different than it is for any of the fathers who are on City Council,” I often met further resistance or was asked if I was suggesting that the question was sexist (which, yes, it is, if you’re not also asking it of my male counterparts). Until women can anticipate being accepted in political and leadership roles, it will be difficult to get enough of them to challenge the status quo.

Zimmerman: Many women carry a heavy load with family and work. Thinking about running for a part-time council job that takes many long nights away from family is tough. We don’t make it easy for women to get involved, especially if they have families .

What would you do or change in Niagara to ensure our representation reflects our demographics?

Ip: I don’t think there’s anything that can be done that wouldn’t be illegal or otherwise discriminatory (such as a “quota”.) I have never thought that women should be elected simply because they run. We have good and not as good candidates in both men and women. Having more women run would increase the chances of equal representation, but there’s no guarantee. A lot of the challenges really have to do with perception and attitude about women and their capabilities in these arenas.

Zimmerman: Not an easy answer as the whole system must change to give women a chance to get involved. Just one example might be requiring good child care support where they work. I see so many bright young women struggling to find that life-work balance yet wanting to be involved.

Any other thoughts on women in politics?

Ip: Nothing more than that I would like to see more women run and that I strongly believe in the importance of mentoring. Like other women I have met and know well who have been involved in politics, I am happy to speak to any woman who is considering running and give her a sense of what to expect, how to handle it, and answer any other questions she may have.

Zimmerman: I can only say from my perspective that one of the most rewarding things I have ever done is represent my community on council. You need to be passionate about whatever you do in life, and politics is no exception but democracy is worth it!


Two great, unique perspectives from two very impressive women. It is obvious that the issue of women representation in politics is part of a larger gender issue. As pointed out by both above, there is no one solution for having our political representation balanced or matching our population’s demographics. It would be naive to think any small or large changes in Niagara will alter the ultimate problem of gender inequality. However, both Zimmerman and Ip have pointed out some of the issues women face and noted the need for more women candidates in municipal elections. The UN and FCM have set a very modest goal of 30%. A council accurately reflecting the concerns of 50.4% of its constituents is the absolute bare minimum that should be expected.

Niagara is receiving less than the bare minimum. It is time for that change.

I want to thank both women for participating. The Niagara Next Blog will remain committed to examining and addressing the issue of women representation in Niagara politics. Next time we’ll examine some more facts and figures.

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