A look at Niagara Region’s Standing Committee system, where most of the substantive decision making takes place
Photo Illustration by Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer

A look at Niagara Region’s Standing Committee system, where most of the substantive decision making takes place

Niagara Democracy Watch is The Pointer’s weekly feature aimed at increasing the public’s awareness and political involvement across Niagara Region by highlighting key agenda items, motions and decisions. 



While Niagara Regional Council has monthly Council meetings, much of the debate and substantive decision making occurs two weeks prior when the various standing committees meet. The Standing Committees, which consist of a smaller subset of council members ranging from 15 to 21 of the 32 Regional Councillors, review matters within their particular mandate in order to make recommendations to be considered by Regional Council. 

This week a look at items on the Standing Committee agendas. 

The approved recommendations from the Standing Committees will be considered by Regional Council members at their meeting on June 27th.

Public Works Committee

Date: June 11 - 9:30 a.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


Public Works Committee to Consider Increase Costs on GO-related Infrastructure Projects

The Public Works Committee, which deals with matters related to development, transportation, water and wastewater and waste management, will consider a contract increase and budget adjustment on two major capital infrastructure projects.

Staff is recommending a doubling of the original contract award to Associated Engineering (AE), who were chosen as the highest ranked proponent to complete detailed design and contract administration on the reconstruction of Casablanca Boulevard in Grimsby. The Request for Proposal issued in 2020 lead to a contract awarded in the amount of  $739,430 (including 13 percent HST), the request on Tuesday’s agenda would see the contract award revised to $1,476,724 (including 13 percent HST).

Staff’s rationale for the increase is that original pricing was based on an anticipated construction start of 2021 and, therefore, the rates no longer reflect market value. In addition, staff note that there has been a need to provide “multiple iterations of the detailed design”, to the approval authority, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The increased contract award will include AE providing additional contract inspection services and facilitating “one final presentation” for MTO staff. Regional staff argue that “doing nothing” is not an option, as their personnel lack the capacity or resources in obtaining the necessary MTO permits.

Despite the increase in the contract award, staff indicate that there are sufficient funds allocated to the project, which is estimated at $35,830,000. The road reconstruction will support the proposed Grimsby GO Station and anticipated future mixed-use development. Although construction could commence this year, the related report also identifies a possible 2025 start date.

GO Transit expansion in Niagara is also the context for a budget adjustment reflecting the contribution from the City of St. Catharines to the St. Paul Street West CNR Bridge Replacement project.

In addition to the replacement of the bridge structure that was originally constructed in 1922, the project now also includes the reconstruction of Ridley Road, the construction of a new access road to the new GO station and other infrastructure upgrades. The estimated value of the project is $35,406,879.68, which will be cost shared between the Region (45 percent), the City of St. Catharines (23 percent) and CN Rail (32 percent).

The budget adjustment is reflecting the increase of the City of St. Catharines contribution of $6,805,204, for a total of $8,088,454. The Region has allocated $27,850,000 in their capital budget for the project. The final cost will be based on actual tendered construction values and the parties will enter into a cost sharing agreement.

St. Paul Street West CNR Bridge Replacement project has met with some delay. A tender for the bridge demolition was released on March 8th but was canceled six days later due to delays with Bell Canada utility relocations. With that tender canceled, the Region changed tack, sending out a Request for Pre-Qualifications for bidders to respond to all aspects of the project: the demolition and replacement of the bridge, the reconstruction of Ridley Road and the new access road. Rankin Construction, Dagmar Construction and Ellis Don were selected, bids will close on July 10th, with a Council approval anticipated for August with works to begin in September.        

At a special meeting on May 23rd, Regional Council unanimously reaffirmed “its explicit commitment to securing all-day, two-way GO train service between Niagara Falls and Union Station, with stops in St. Catharines, Grimsby, and Lincoln” as a top priority and directed the Regional Chair’s office to lead an advocacy campaign in partnership with the twelve local area municipalities.


The report on the contract increase on the Casablanca Boulevard reconstruction can be read here.

The report on the St. Paul Street West CNR Bridge Replacement can be read here


Public Health and Social Services Committee

Date: June 11 - 1:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


Region Looks to Combat NIMBYism in Homeless Shelter Site Selection

The Public Health and Social Services Committee oversees the Region’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan, which includes the provision of homeless shelters. At its upcoming meeting, the committee will be receiving an information report from the Manager of Homelessness Services on selection criteria to be used when the Region considers sites for future emergency homeless shelters.

In 2023, the Region had a review of shelter capacity done by a consultant, OrgCode. It was recommended that the immediate priority be replacing 95 seasonal beds available in the two largest Niagara municipalities, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, with year-round beds. The report also recommended that a further increase to the number of shelter beds occur over the subsequent three years in response to the anticipated increase in homelessness due to the continued lack of affordable housing in Niagara.  

Within the last year, the former Coronation Centre for Seniors on Summer Street in Niagara Falls was converted into a shelter, while modular components were assembled at a location on Riordon Street for a temporary facility in St. Catharines. 

With the need for a permanent facility in St. Catharines and expansion or alternate shelter sites considered for Niagara Falls and Welland, the report indicates that the staff undertook a review of practices in other jurisdictions, with a goal of developing a criteria that “should be transparent, principle-based, and conform to applicable legislation pertaining to land use and the human right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”  The approach seems to be different from what transpired in Niagara Falls. 

At an April City Council meeting, the gallery was packed with residents from the Summer Street neighbourhood.  Resident Amanda Jellema, chosen as the neighbourhood spokesperson, prefaced her comments by recognizing the essential service provided by the homeless shelter, but questioned the lack of public consultation and the neglect from officials in providing information on how the facility came to be. 

She outlined a litany of concerns, including safety and security of both commercial and residential properties, fights, trespass, break and enters, open drug use and increased litter, especially drug-related paraphernalia. Jellema concluded her remarks by submitting a petition with more than one hundred signatures from neighbourhood residents opposing the site, which has been termed by some as “temporary”, from becoming permanent.

The Public Health and Social Services Committee report does not specifically speak to the Summer Street shelter but does outline a preference for “purpose built” shelters and the need to reduce the chance of NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard) in future site selection.

On the former matter, the report notes that, to date, shelter facilities have been provided by partner agencies to the Region but because they have been pre-existing buildings, even with retrofits, there have been barriers to access and other challenges such as limited privacy, inability to accommodate couples and a difficulty in providing adequate safety and security for individuals and belongings. With purpose built shelters, there is more flexibility in design and configuration “reducing barriers to access, enhancing dignity and safety, and supporting positive transitions to permanent housing.”

The report also addresses ideal numbers:

“[S]helters are not economically viable unless they have at least 25 to 40 beds, and that keeping to less than 100 people at a shelter per night gets better engagement and service outcomes while allowing for economies of scale.” 

On the issue of NIMBYism, the report uses a definition from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, describing it as “protectionist attitudes and exclusionary/oppositional tactics used by community groups facing an unwelcome development in their neighbourhood.”

The report further explains that upon hearing an announcement of a shelter, or even an affordable housing project, the community will often rally to protest the development raising concerns of crime, noise and theft and lower property values. The report concludes that while “these are very real concerns, they are not strongly aligned with evidence.” In addition, it is noted that the Ontario Human Rights Commision has stated that “people do not have a right to choose their neighbours” and ruled that there is no legal basis for municipalities to make zoning or planning decisions based on “discriminatory attitudes toward people experiencing homelessness, mental health and addictions.” 

With that context, Regional staff undertook a review of best practices in other jurisdictions throughout Canada, however, while many municipalities have selection criteria for community housing “there was limited evidence of shelter specific criteria.”

Nonetheless, a list has been developed of “considerations” for future shelter site selection, including site details, land use considerations, permit requirements, servicing, local zoning permissions, impact on neighbouring uses, and distance to amenities such as transit, healthcare, support services and food banks.

The report cautions that the list is not intended to be a rigid criteria that will “pass or fail” future site considerations but “an aggregate picture of the constraints and suitability.” Staff also note, while they could “simply” select sites based on applicable zoning, that would ignore “the very real struggles faced by local area municipalities.” 

Interestingly, the issue of zoning was raised at the Niagara Falls City Council meeting in April. Jellema noted that the former Coronation Centre property was zoned General Commercial and permitted a community hall, yet the definition of the latter in the City’s zoning by-law precluded an overnight accommodation, such as a shelter.

When questioned why a zoning amendment application did not occur, with the requisite notification to the neighbours as per the Planning Act, Niagara Falls Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Jason Burgess explained that such an amendment was not necessary when the “government is using the property for the community good.” 

In addition to the criteria considerations list, the report from staff does offer some practical advice for the development future shelters, which may have, in hindsight, helped the Summer Street residents: 

“[A] critical success factor for any shelter, like any good neighbour, is a commitment to positively engage with other neighbours through communication and a willingness to work together to address any legitimate issues in the neighbourhood. A suggested practice is to develop a community liaison committee that has members of the community included with service providers, municipal staff and people with lived experience.”


The report on the Considerations for New Homeless Shelter Site Selection can be read here.


Corporate Services Committee

Date: June 12 - 9:30 a.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


Not Surprisingly, Staff Recommends Elimination of National Flag Raisings

In a move that had been previously telegraphed by various Council members, Regional staff is recommending the removal of flying national flags from the Region’s Flag Raising and Sign Lighting Policy. Amendments to the policy will be dealt with at the Region’s next Corporate Services Committee, which oversees matters of corporate administration. 

The current Corporate Policy was approved in June 2022, when the Region’s International Plaza was able to accommodate flag raisings and the lighting of the Niagara Region sign in a variety of colours. The policy recognized that “flags are important symbols of honour and pride”. Noting that the lowering or half-masting of flags was an appropriate symbol of mourning and commemoration, the raising of flags and lighting of the Regional sign allowed a way to “celebrate together the strength of Niagara Region’s diversity and inclusion”, while enhancing awareness and knowledge of special occasions and activities.

The policy came under scrutiny and criticism when requests, earlier this year, from the local Palestinian community for a flag raising and sign lighting were denied by Regional staff. 

The rationale for the refusal was that the Federal Department of Global Affairs does not recognize Palestine as a nation, and, therefore, the request did not meet the requirements of the policy. While correct, the position of the Federal government is arguably more nuanced, recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination, while supporting “the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement.”

In March, the Corporate Services Committee and, subsequently, Regional Council did entertain five delegations from local Niagara Palestinians on the issue. The speakers made the argument that the policy “lacked consistency” and it was pointed out that nation status was not explicitly a requirement for lighting of the Niagara Region sign, though Regional staff had denied the lighting request, as well, on that basis.

The Corporate Services Committee referred the matter back to staff to review the policy and provide suggestions for possible amendments, though it was clear what the opinion was of some Council members.

In introducing the referral motion, Councillor Peter Secord (St. Catharines) felt that the Region should not be involved in international matters. At a subsequent meeting of Regional Council, Councillor Joyce Morocco (Niagara Falls) echoed the opinion stating that Council should “stay in our lane” and that the raising of flags and sign lighting should be limited to the Canadian and Indigenous flags and “some community flags”.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that staff is recommending the removal of “nation flags”, other than the Canadian flag, from the policy, though a national flag could be raised and displayed on “the occasion of an official visit from a delegation representing a foreign nation”, as a sign of respect during the period of their visit.

Staff does not explicitly indicate why nation flags should be removed from the policy and admits that such requests were infrequent. The report does indicate that a scan of policies from both the local area municipalities and approximately 15 other municipalities have resulted in the proposed amendments, which also include limiting requests to community groups from within the Niagara, clarifying that the criteria for deciding flag raisings and lighting requests are the same and adding the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th as a day for half-masting the flags. 


The report on the Proposed Flag Raising and Sign Lighting Policy Amendments can be read here.

Past reporting:


Planning and Economic Development Committee

Date: June 12 - 1:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


DEI Staff Recommend Against Expanded Scope of the Committee

The fourth of the Region’s Standing Committees meeting the week of June 10th is the Planning and Economic Development Committee, which oversees Planning items such as development applications, land use planning and infrastructure engineering and from economic perspective is responsible for business development, trade and investment, expediting services and supporting the economic activities of the lower area municipalities.

The Region’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee (DEIAC) reports to the Planning and Economic Development Committee. In the report that established the Terms of Reference for the DEIAC committee, it noted that the committee was in keeping with Regional Council’s Strategic Priority of supporting business and economic Growth, as “research indicates that culturally diverse regions are more innovative and economically prosperous.”

A recommendation to remove three words from the DEIAC’s purpose statements goes before the Planning and Economic Development Committee but the Manager, who is the staff liaison to the DEIAC, is recommending that the request be denied as it will expand the scope of the committee “beyond the mandate and jurisdiction of the Region” and could set a precedent.

At the DEIAC’s April 30th meeting, Vice Chair Ken Kawall introduced the proposed Terms of Reference changes.  Currently, the DEIAC is to provide “input and feedback as requested on Regional issues relating to diversity, equity and inclusion.” Vice Chair Kawall wanted to see the removal of the words “as requested”, offering that it would allow the committee to bring issues forward without being limited to what is requested of them by staff or Regional Council.  

Another purpose statement of the committee is to “provide advice to advance the internal action items of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan.” Vice Chair Kawall called for the elimination of the word “internal”. 

At the April 30th meeting, Cassie Ogunniyi, the staff Manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Indigenous Relations, reminded the DEIAC that the committee’s guiding document, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan, has 22 internal action items and 21 external ones, however, the committee’s current mandate “restricts us to looking at just the internal actions.” 

In defending his proposed changes Vice Chair Kawall argued that DEI committees in other municipalities have a dual focus of internal and external issues. 

While not all of the DEIAC committee members were supportive of the changes, member Ather Shabba made the point that the committee members are the ones who are going to hear about “what’s really going on at the ground level” and should be able to alert and inform Regional Council on such DEI issues.  

Regional staff continue to be of the opinion that the DEIAC should maintain the current terms of reference to keep the committee focused and that most of the external actions are outside of the mandate of the Region. 

Staff does concede that the external actions are important matters and that the Action Plan contemplated the Region having a “facilitation or partnership role” in dealing with such items. Nonetheless, staff feel that changing the DEIAC’s mandate may result in similar requests for changes to other Regional Advisory Committees and “cause tension between community advocacy groups and local area municipalities who may be undertaking similar work”, despite also noting “gaps” in the community in dealing with external matters.    

A more practical explanation for not changing the terms of reference is the fact, detailed in the report, that the DEI staff complement is a modest 1.5 full-time equivalents, plus an intern, and that there is not the capacity for staff to take on additional “external facing DEI work.”

The DEAIC request will not receive support of one of the Councillors on the committee. Councillor Diana Huson (Pelham) was clear at the April 30th meeting that she did not support the changes and doubted the standing committee would either. Regional Councillor Laura Ip (St. Catharines) maintained impartiality, as per her role as the DEAIC Chair. 

As of late Friday, six individuals have requested to speak to the report, including Ken Kawall. 


The report on the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee Terms of Reference can be read here.

Past reporting:



Email: [email protected]

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