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Huson returned as chair of Region’s Planning and Development Committee

Second-term representative from Pelham expects a 'year of uncertainty' regarding the impact of Bill 23
Regional Councillor for Pelham Diana Huson.

Niagara Regional Council is composed of 32 members. One is the Regional Chair, 12 are the elected mayors from Niagara’s 12 municipalities, and 19 are elected representatives from Niagara’s area municipalities.

Nine are women. One is Pelham’s Diana Huson, who has earned a reputation over the past four years as being a voice of moderation and consensus. Indicative of the regard in which she is held by her colleagues is the recent move by council to return her to the helm of the Planning and Economic Development Committee for another term.

In addition, the Fenwick resident serves on the Region’s Public Works Committee, the Budget Review Committee of the Whole, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee, the Procedural Bylaw Review Committee, the Women’s Advisory Committee, and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

She is also the first-ever Niagara representative appointed to the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which meets quarterly to develop positions on federal policies that effect local government across the nation.

PelhamToday caught up with Huson at Regional headquarters last week, for a conversation about the work ahead.

“The Planning and Economic Development Committee is focused on how lands are used across Niagara, which is interconnected to our housing strategy,” said Huson. “It also feeds into infrastructure needs and development, so given the challenges in front of us, these are really important responsibilities. We are still trying to digest Bill 23, which limits planning control at the Regional level. We don’t yet have a clear idea of how it’s going to impact our budget, which in turn will have consequences for taxpayers, so there’s a lot of uncertainty this year.”

The Ford government’s Bill 23 — also known as the More Homes Built Faster Act of 2022 — will have economic, social, and environmental implications that cannot be ignored by municipalities. It permits residential building within the Greenbelt region, and proposes to exempt developers from paying development charges, parkland dedication fees, and community benefit charges. The cumulative impact of proposed changes to municipal fees and charges is significant, and contrary to the widely accepted concept that growth should pay for growth.

“Now that things are starting to open up again post-pandemic, we’re able to connect across borders again, so I think we’ll be ramping up foreign direct investment,” said Huson. “We approved a ten-year economic development strategy last term, and will be looking to do a deeper dive on that. Our primary sectors are manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism, and we’re going to delve into agriculture to focus on doing more to support that sector.”

The farming sector hasn’t traditionally gotten much front-page attention, said Huson, but is fundamental to our identity in Pelham and throughout Niagara.

“There are important issues to discuss, such as food security, an emphasis on locally-grown produce, and the inflationary pricing of our groceries,” she said.

Huson is cognizant of the anxiety in Pelham over the need for more housing which is not priced in the stratosphere, along with the desire on behalf of many residents to preserve the small-town vibe.

“There’s only so much we can do with taxpayer dollars, and I think there is an opportunity for non-profits,” she said. “I’ve talked about this before, partnering with a non-profit or develop programs that appeal to organizations that don’t have a mandate for maximizing profits. The goal is a social good, being able to provide low-income housing to people in need.”

If you are engaged in politics, you are in a very public role, and under a lot of scrutiny, said Huson. But the focus needs to be on issues, not personalities. And debate should always be cordial.

“Shouting and grandstanding are just not my style,” she said. “If I’m interacting with someone who is behaving aggressively or disrespectfully, I just remove myself from the situation. I think people are sick of the negative narrative around politics. They want to hear about progress, about solutions. I enjoy working behind the scenes, on ideas. I’m not working on my next dramatic moment I can create in a council meeting.”

Huson plans to keep up her habit of communicating frequently with constituents via opinion pieces and articles in the local press, along with emails and blog content.

“I view it as an integral part of my job,” she said.

The best part of her work at regional council?

“I love being able to help solve problems for my constituents,” she said. “For example, last term, our Regional garbage service contract was inadequate, and we had frequent breakdowns. I’d get calls from Pelham residents about problems with pick ups, and would connect them with Regional staff. Many would contact me later, simply to convey that the situation was remedied, and to say ‘thank you.’ That was rewarding. I think I’ve also had a meaningful impact with the Women’s Advisory Committee, leading conversations about the importance of women in leadership roles.”

The wall outside of the council chambers features photos of past Regional Chairs, including that of Debbie Zimmerman, who served in the role from 1997 to 2003. She is clearly an inspiration for Huson.

“On occasion I’ve reached out to her for advice, or we bump into each other at some event and have a conversation. She’s always been very encouraging, and someone I highly respect. Debbie’s been a trailblazer. If I can achieve even half of what Debbie Zimmerman has done, I think that will be a great accomplishment.”


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Don Rickers

About the Author: Don Rickers

A life-long Niagara resident, Don Rickers worked for 35 years in university and private school education. He segued into journalism in his retirement with the Voice of Pelham, and now PelhamToday
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