St. Catharines council rejects mayor’s attempt to remove forestry services
St. Catharines’ forestry service was saved from Mayor Mat Siscoe’s budget axe last week, but the reprieve may be short lived. He had intended to close the city’s forestry department in a cost saving move but a unanimous vote of the twelve city councillors to keep the services in house has left the mayor standing alone on the issue. The mayor was not taking part in that portion of the Monday evening meeting but watched from the public gallery.
The discussion followed the mayor’s budget presented by him on January 3. He had removed the nine person forestry service in his proposal and opted for contracting out for all tree care within the city. The reaction was strong and unequivocal; citizens overfilled the chambers at city hall at a meeting on January 10 and one after another nine speakers decried the mayor's intentions. The push by Siscoe and senior staff at City Hall to rid themselves of the forestry service seemed oddly out of step in the “Garden City” and council heard repeatedly from speakers across the spectrum for the need to strengthen forestry services, not eliminate them.
Following that public outcry an amendment was filed by Councillor Caleb Ratzlaff in an attempt to reverse the mayor’s move. Ratzlaff’s amendment was discussed at the budget meeting on Monday night and resulted in the unanimous vote that overturned the mayor. Not only was council united on the need to retain the forestry service, much of their discussion focussed on the need to increase the city’s capacity for nurturing the faltering urban canopy in St. Catharines.
When the vote was called and one after the other every councillor voted to support Ratzlaff’s motion, a feeling of victory spread throughout the public gallery. Handshakes, back slaps and smiles were shared by most in attendance.
St. Catharines Council debates the proposed 2024 budget Monday evening, when they moved to keep forestry services in-house, rejecting a proposal by Mayor Mat Siscoe to contract out tree care across the city.
(Ed Smith/The Pointer)
In a comment to The Pointer Rory Bourgeois, CUPE 150 secretary, remarked: “A unanimous vote means a lot to our workers. It seemed like council values our trees, and I got the sense that they may want to invest in that department.” While Bourgeois said he was feeling optimistic overall he did note that, “It will take time to rebuild trust and I hope management can commit to that.”
Pierre Parent, CUPE 150 president, echoed similar sentiments in his remarks to The Pointer. “Council voting to keep the forestry department public is a great first step but the union faces internal matters that need to be resolved to ensure a successfully maintained department to serve present and future taxpayers.”
Despite the outpouring of support from citizens and council, Mayor Siscoe still has the last word.
This was his budget, the first under new Strong Mayor Powers granted by the Province, and it was his decision to cut the forestry services. The strong mayor powers bestowed on him by Premier Ford allow the mayor to veto council’s decision.
While Siscoe has expressed his intention not to use his veto power on this issue, he also created a six-point list of conditions that, according to him, would compel him to take veto action. It is broad, vague and subject to interpretation by him alone, rendering it impossible to be certain of anything until the veto period expires. Under the new powers granted by the PC government the mayor must exercise his veto between February 2 and 11.
At the moment it appears forestry services will remain in the hands of City employees, but only after Feb 11 will residents know that for certain.
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