Budget drama deepens in St. Catharines
  Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario, photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Municipal Affairs

Budget drama deepens in St. Catharines

At a council meeting last week Mayor Mat Siscoe presented his budget, some aspects of which were widely panned by the public in attendance. Residents in the overfilled council chambers listened intently as experts and citizens rose in turn to speak against the mayor's vision for the city. His image of the future would have no in-house forestry service and would contract out for tree removal and pruning when needed.  

His lack of any explanation as to how the city would reach its goals of a healthy tree canopy without a forestry service and his use of what one critic called “fantasy math” to justify his decision, found no support in the chambers that night.

Regardless of the negative reception to his budget, under the powers bestowed on him by new provincial legislation, his budgetary vision would be automatically enacted if no councillors brought forward amendments by Jan 15.  They have, however, filed a total of seven amendments to Siscoe’s proposed financial plan and therefore the budget process continues Monday night to discuss requested changes.

Perhaps the two most contentious issues to be debated are the elimination of forestry services and efforts by councillors who opposed last year's 10.5 percent increase and are now calling for a zero increase in 2024.

Councillor Caleb Ratzlaff has submitted an amendment that would keep forestry services in house, preserve the status quo and reverse the mayor's plan to privatize the service, while Councillor Carlos Garcia has prepared three amendments that, if adopted, would result in a zero increase for 2024.

Ratzlaff’s amendment on forestry services is in direct opposition to the mayor's budget.  While the mayor claimed he would not resist any proposed changes, he did warn council that he had developed a list of six actions that, if any single one were breached, would result in him invoking his strong mayor powers to remove their amendments and force his budget into reality.  The mayor's list was broad, vague and subject to only his judgment, rendering it impossible to predict how he may react to this challenge from Ratzlaff. The mayor's veiled threat to invoke strong mayor powers in response to amendments underscores the high stakes of this budgetary debate.

Garcia’s amendments  to achieve a zero budget increase are also likely to spark a high degree of debate. Garcia, along with five other councillors, was strongly opposed to last year's 10.5 percent budget increase. The historic increase caused shock and anger in the community and mobilized citizens to fill city hall in an effort to address the issue. The same seven elected members of council that supported the increase also voted to not allow citizens to speak.

Since then the councillors opposed to last year's increase have been fighting to lessen the impact. The proposed amendments by Garcia would soften the compounding effect of last year's record tax increase while at the same time not cutting any services in the city. The fight for a zero increase will prove especially important for renters as the anticipated increases from the Region and the Boards of education total 3.43 percent and are perilously close to the 3.75 percent limit. Even the slightest increase from the city this year could trigger the removal of provincial rent control limits for the second year in a row. Last year council was caught unaware of all the repercussions of the 10.5 percent increase they approved. Staff had failed to inform them that anything over 3.75 percent would lift rent controls. Either staff was unaware of provincial regulations, or they purposefully withheld the information, one is only marginally better than the other.  

Siscoe offered a list of conditions that, if they could be applied to any proposed amendment by a councillor, would trigger him to invoke strong mayor veto powers under the new legislation; he said he would feel “compelled” to use his veto for:

  • Amendments that may harm residents or services they depend on;

  • Amendments that may harm the city;

  • Amendments not submitted under the appropriate deadlines;

  • Amendments that are contrary to previous council decisions;

  • Amendments that are too broad or vague;

  • Amendments that would raise the levy by an unacceptable amount.


No definitions were provided by him for what “may harm residents or services” means, or what “harm the city” entails and his notion of “unacceptable amount” appears to be up to him to determine using his own judgment. These vague determinations, which the mayor could make on his own, could be debated by councillors and members of the public who find his interpretation of the mayor’s powers is far too broad and anti-democratic. 

The 10.5 percent increase was brought forward by Councillors Ratzlaff and Robin McPherson and the vote ended in a tie. The mayor broke the tie by supporting the increase. Now, seven months later council is faced with another set of decisions that could result in the lifting of rent controls. Staff is opposed to Garcia’s efforts, on Monday night citizens will learn the will of Council. The table is set, but do taxpayers have a seat, or are they on the menu? 



Email: [email protected]

At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you

Submit a correction about this story