With a population of 430,000, the Region of Niagara has roughly 100,000 fewer residents than Hamilton. Yet when the councils of its 12 municipalities are taken into account along with its 31-member regional council, there are approximately 124 elected municipal representatives in Niagara compared with Hamilton’s 16.
On election night, energized Niagara voters decimated roughly half of the Regional Council and kicked out 30 local councillors. Another 30 local councillors opted not to run again. Four Mayors went down to defeat, either in running for re-election or running for a seat on regional council. These included the Mayors of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham, Thorold and West Lincoln. Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley opted to not run as did Mayor John Maloney in Port Colborne. For its part, the town of Pelham threw out the mayor and the entire council seeking re-election; apparently outraged over the debt incurred to build a $36 Million dollar arena-community centre to serve a municipality of only 19,000 souls.
With Regional Council, the voter dissatisfaction centred around a group of councillors referred to as “the Cabal,” led by the Regional Chair Alan Caslin. This group had been the subject of intense criticism over a variety of controversial decisions that have resulted in both Caslin and Regional CAO Carmen D’Angelo being subjects in an ongoing Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation.
The Ombudsman is investigating the tainted 2016 CAO selection process which resulted in D’Angelo’s hiring as well as his contract extension – both of which involve Caslin and his staff. The St Catharines Standard broke the story that before and during the 2016 CAO selection process, D’Angelo was given access to at least six documents about the position, including confidential information about other CAO candidates and interview questions and answers. Those documents were created by Caslin’s policy director Robert D’Amboise and his then communications director Jason Tamming. After D’Angelo was hired Tamming was promoted to regional communications director reporting to CAO D’Angelo.
Then in July, Caslin told council he extended D’Angelo’s contract without their knowledge in 2017, giving the CAO a golden parachute of a year’s salary, and a termination clause giving him three years pay if he is fired with, or without, cause and a year’s pay if council doesn’t renew the deal in 2022.
Adding to an overall sense that Niagara Council was riddled with cronyism and self-dealing, Council’s first major decision in 2014 was to fire the integrity commissioner and allow Chair Caslin to manage the process. The position was restored a year later when Caslin could not manage the number of complaints filed against councillors. Along with a string of integrity related issues, councillors also faced criticism over their expenses and got into a row with The Standard, seizing a reporter’s computer and notes. Councillors were also involved in questionable activity at Niagara Regional Police services board – including the nearly million-dollar buyout of former police chief Jeff McGuire’s contract – and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, including the agency’s failed attempt to sue a member of the public for defamation.
There were three Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation during this term of council, including the ongoing probe of the CAO hiring, and an Auditor General’s probe of the NPCA, a body currently controlled by the members of regional council on its board of directors.
In a bizarre denouement, the lame-duck council met for its final meeting last month. The Cabal members, all but one defeated a week earlier, staged their final act of defiance, voting to allow D’Angelo to take part in a trade mission to China, even though a number of regional mayors had protested that, given the controversy swirling around the embattled CAO, he should not be representing the region. Caslin, who with only 1.5% of the vote finished 20th in a bid to remain on council , cast the deciding vote to allow D’Angelo to take part in the China junket.

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