PETER CONRADi/Bullet News
It was vintage Jim Diodati, full of energy and optimism and enthusiasm.
Of course, that comes from having good news to spread. And there was no shortage of that in the Niagara Falls mayor’s State of the City speech Friday afternoon. Diodati, as mayors do on these occasions, had a shopping list of accomplishments and dreams for his beloved city.
He trotted out a new marketing plan – the BE NF campaign, complete with a jazzy new logo and $20 T-shirts aimed at instilling pride in a community which continues to cope with budget problems and the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs that we all know are never coming back.
This is a tourism town, always has been, but never more than now. It’s the bread-and-butter, and we better find a way to keep it vibrant and profitable. Diodati knows it, devoting much of his address to the industry that keeps the people working.
There was a tip of the cap to the likes of Nik Wallenda, Jay Cochrane and Red Bull Crashed Ice, blockbuster events from 2012 designed to accomplish one thing: fill hotel rooms, restaurants and attractions.
He paid homage to the two casinos that employ 4,500 people, but vigourously attacked Ontario Lottery and Gaming for gaining property tax cuts for both facilities and refunds retroactive to 2004. It will mean millions of dollars less in the city hall coffers and has contributed significantly to the local budget woes.
“We’re fighting this,” he vowed. “We’re fighting it for the taxpayers.”
He came armed with a few surprises, too. He saved the big one for last, announcing a 30-acre donation of land by a Toronto developer that will become the site of the new south-end hospital. It was a remarkable achievement for the mayor and staff, who remain undeterred by doubters.
“The big concern is that it’s not going to get built. I don’t believe that. I believe it will get built. It has to get built. It only makes sense. The government has five hospitals that it will have to spend a billion dollars on to fix. They can close them all down and build one super, high-tech place. It’s a no-brainer.”
It may be true, but no brains and government often go hand in hand. So Diodati isn’t about to sit around and let Queen’s Park decide to do nothing. The Liberal government still hasn’t accepted the recommendation from its own supervisor that a new hospital is the way to go. They haven’t said no, but they haven’t said yes, either. In fact, new Premier Kathleen Wynne has done her best to pour cold water on the topic.
So what does Diodati do? He hands her land. Free land. It’s like he’s daring her to keep saying no, banking on the idea that continued positive pressure will eventually get him what he wants. He hauled his whole council on stage for the hospital announcement. It was pretty contrived, but the message was clear and directed straight at the provincial government: You want consensus among the political leaders down here? Here’s your consensus. Just try to deny us.
Same thing with permanent GO trains into the city. There are so many indications that the Province doesn’t want to do this. Diodati’s not buying it. He’s not being openly critical, either. He’s killing them with kindness, one positive suggestion after another. His latest ploy is the get Queen’s Park to do a pilot project during the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto: Think of all those athletes and visitors to Canada who will want to see Niagara Falls. What a better and easier way than to run them down here on the GO?
Much more is on his radar: A downtown business start-up incubator scheduled to open in two months, a post-secondary hub, again downtown if he can manage it, making something happen from two business missions to China and Dubai, the long-awaited extension of Thorold Stone Road into the Gale Centre.
Diodati enjoys an element of intrigue around this event. Most mayors use these occasions to provide an inventory of concrete poured over the previous 12 months. Diodati came to office as an ideas guy, and likes to share his thoughts and vision.
“People say to me, ‘Why tell people what you want to do? Then they know when you fail.’ For me, it’s what drives me to achieve the goals. I belive in the power of intention. You throw ideas out there and sometimes they gain momentum. I always did that. I threw out the idea of a statue of Nik Wallenda, and now we have people raising money for it. You just never know.”