Tag Archives: petrowski

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.

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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.

Councillors disrespect business leader – is gender the reason?

Fact: Niagara Region Council is made up of 31 individuals. Only 4 are women.

My post last week about an elected Regional Chair featured this paragraph:

First: not only was the motion defeated; at the Corporate Services Committee, the CEO of the chamber, Mishka Balsom, was subjected to many patronizing remarks from Councillors; presumably for her transgression of taking the time to represent her organization’s well-founded hope for change with a good presentation on why an elected Chair is needed. One Councillor asked Ms. Balsom if she understood and could explain how Canadians elected our Prime Minister; another suggested she wasn’t running her organization or communicating with her members correctly. This brow-beating went on for over an hour. A clip (beginning around the 25 minute mark) can be found here. I remind you, this is the representative of the greater business community being told not “thanks, but no thanks” but instead “no, you ignorant incompetent” by our fair Regional Councillors.

I decided to look at Balsom’s presentation and the response from Councillors further. I watched it so you don’t have to, but if you’d like, you can see the video here.

The scene

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The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) represents 1,550 businesses throughout Niagara; those businesses employ 45,000 people.It is “the champion of business in Niagara.” Suffice it to say, it is an important organization.

Governance reform has been on the GNCC’s agenda for at least four years now. In a 2013 survey, 80% of the GNCC’s membership supported changing Niagara Region’s governance model to include an elected Regional Chair. In 2014 the GNCC actually asked candidates for Regional Council to commit to this governance reform.

On September 23rd, Niagara Region’s Corporate Services Committee had a motion on their agenda concerning moving towards an elected chair. So, seeing this item on the agenda, the GNCC’s CEO, Mishka Balsom, decided to ask to make a delegation to the Committee. This is common. Walter Sendzik (former CEO), Kithio Mwanzia (former policy director) and others have presented many times on behalf of the chamber at various local councils.

Balsom became CEO of the GNCC in April of this year. Prior to that she founded a successful consulting company and worked in the magazine business. She was chosen over 100 other candidates to be CEO. She’s a successful, qualified person. I’ve met her a few times; she’s a genuinely nice person and a good leader. This was her first time presenting on behalf of the GNCC to a Regional committee or council.

How’d it go?

Balsom presented a good case for why the GNCC wants to see reform, the benefits of an elected chair and how our current system is antiquated compared to other regions.

After a delegation, Councillors have an opportunity to ask questions of the presenters. This typically lasts anywhere from zero to twenty minutes. I recall in January that Kithio Mwanzia presented to St. Catharines Council on behalf of the Chamber on governance reform, which was at the time a ‘hot topic’ of some controversy in St. Catharines. His question period lasted twenty minutes. Balsom was questioned for an hour.

An hour? Why?

There was more to this story than just “Councillors make a bad decision.” Doug Herod wrote a good article in the Standard about Councillors poor reasoning for rejecting governance reform and I’ve covered that angle previously. It has happened in the past that question periods last an hour, but rarely at a Committee meeting, which often has less media presence and thus, less grandstanding, from Councillors.

The real issue, the real embarrassment, of what happened that day was the way Councillors treated Balsom. Four councillors (Quirk, Maloney, Annunziata and Heit) asked standard questions that could be expected. Some agreed with governance reform and some did not but they all asked pertinent questions and did so with a normal, respectful tone. Five Councillors asked insulting or frivolous questions in a patronizing tone.

Who said what?

Let’s keep in mind, this is essentially the “face” of the business community representing the wishes of the business community. She’s an intelligent, successful and respectful woman. She was not chastising Council or Councillors themselves and was not criticizing any of their work. [Some paraphrasing done for clarity below.]

selina_volpatti Councillor Selina Volpatti, Niagara Falls – “Ms. Balsom, I’m sure you’re aware of how we elect our Prime Minister. Could you describe to me how we do that?”

Off to a good start here. Balsom did well to deflect this insulting “question”: “You’re asking me how the political system works? I think we’re all aware of it.”

Volpatti finished by saying there was little interest in the topic, despite Balsom having just said 80% of their membership is very interested in it.

BobGaleCouncillor Bob Gale, Niagara Falls – This is where things really got going. I should point out that Councillor Gale is the Chair of two companies that are GNCC members. You would think this possible conflict would lead him to support Balsom and the GNCC. You would be wrong. Instead he used his political position to question the GNCC’s priorities, its website and its leadership:

  • “I’m looking at your website and there’s no transparency; it doesn’t say who’s on the committees. Is that standard?”
  • “When was the last time you [GNCC] made a presentation to Council?” And that would have been on what? This issue again? I’m going to suggest to you that this is not an issue in Niagara Falls. I would suggest that your Chamber, and I’ll be strong with what I say, keep your eyes on the prize. You’re in front of us on an issue here…I could stand in front of your members and see if they care about this. You’re here talking about a non-issue. I expect the chamber…” (here Gale was rightfully cut off since he was not asking questions, just telling the presenter how to run her organization.)
  • “Is this the most important item you think you should be making a presentation on?” [Balsom says “I saw it on your agenda today…] Gale interrupts: “I got no agenda please.”
  • “I support you standing up for what you think is right but I would suggest your members don’t agree with that.”

Reminder: the GNCC shouldn’t be on trial here.

AndyPCouncillor Andy Petrowski, St. Catharines – Petrowski begins by questioning Balsom and the GNCC’s organization, wondering why the decision to present to Council was made “at the last minute.” Early on Petrowski had to be reminded to keep questions to the presentation, instead of belittling the GNCC or Balsom.

  • “I just find it interesting, given our depressed economy, challenged jobs, challenged underemployment, our challenged private sector income, yet you’re in front of us today, you think this is even more burning than those issues and I would even suggest to you your internal issues of communicating with your own members, who’s on your committees and getting your website up to date. You find this to be the burning issue of that?”
  • “I was questioning your priorities.”

BartMavesCouncillor Bart Maves, Niagara Falls

  • “If we had an elected chair, would the candidate receiving the highest votes be the Chair?”
  • “I’m just curious to know what powers does the Regional Chair have now. Explain it to me.” [This is similar to Volpatti’s “how do we elect our PM” question. Balsom is forced to “prove” herself by answering simple questions. It is a childish tactic.]
  • Maves answers for her: “He doesn’t have any power.” This isn’t true. Maves is a veteran politician, who knows that the Regional Chair is very different than a Councillor, in that it’s a full-time position with dedicated staff support; the Chair also sets the legislative and financial agendas and acts as the “face” of the Region.
  • Maves brings up that a Chair could run on a platform that is different than a Councillor’s platform. So how could they work together? This happens literally every municipal election featuring a Mayor and city councillors. The sky has not, yet, fallen. Again, Maves knows this.
  • “So the GNCC hasn’t had a conversation about the number of Regional councillors?” This isn’t what’s up for discussion today, so it’s a strange criticism.
  • “Whenever this conversation comes up, because it seems instead of concentrating on the business of the Region and improving things so businesses can flourish and create jobs; we want to navel-gaze and focus on internal issues.”
  • “Inevitably also right now in municipal politics, there’s no party politics.” (I won’t blame you if your eyes just rolled out of head and across the floor.)
  • “If you’re Regional Chair and you’re raising money, inevitably the parties would get involved.” (Balsom: The GNCC is a non-partisan organization and this isn’t what we’re discussing today. This is true, this a detail that would be confronted in the process; Balsom is just asking that the process begins today.) Maves: “so your organization hasn’t had the conversation about the cost of this election, or the party’s being involved in this? It sounds like you haven’t addressed these issues.”

After ten minutes of untruths and spurious questioning, Maves is cut off by the Chair of the committee, David Barrick.

AlCaslinRegional Chair Al Caslin, St. Catharines – Chair Caslin starts off with a paternalistic “Hi Mishka. Tough room.” Ah, the proverbial arm around the shoulder. Then, in just about the most condescending tone possible: “Would it be OK with you if we stopped talking about ourselves and got on with our strategic plan and our focus on prosperity and creating jobs in Niagara?”

With that, Balsom’s hour of grilling comes to an end.

So what does this mean?

At best, this incident shows us that our Council, which is apparently “open for business“, is not even interested in hearing from the business community. If someone as prominent and important as the CEO of the GNCC has their delegation used as an excuse to put their organization and leadership on trial, why would any citizen feel confident sharing their own opinions?

I will leave it to you to decide if her gender played a role in her treatment. What I can say, again, is I have witnessed many occasions that Walter Sendzik, Kithio Mwanzia and other male Chamber representatives presented to local councils just like Balsom did. Rarely are they questioned for as long as Balsom was. They never had their own competency or their organization’s competency questioned. They were not insulted with childish questions.

Leaving aside that Balsom is a woman. Leaving aside she is the face of an important community in Niagara. Leaving aside she’s a successful person. Leaving aside she’s a smart person. Leaving aside she’s a nice person. She’s a person and she deserves dignity and respect from our elected representatives. She did not receive these.

If Niagara is going to progress we need to demand better of our elected representatives. We need diverse, thoughtful and intelligent representation.

We need a Council that respects its citizens, no matter their opinion, their sexual orientation or their gender identity. We are not receiving this.

But hey, at least they gave themselves a pay raise.

External links:

Doug Herod: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/09/25/herod-councillors-are-legends-in-their-own-minds-2

Niagara This Week: http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/5927386-regional-politicians-reject-idea-of-directly-elected-regional-chair/