by Mike Keenan
St. Catharines Member of Parliament, Chris Bittle, is the kind of guy whom you would like to have as a neighbour. I know this for a fact because he was my neighbour decades ago when he was in high school. We were fortunate to live beside Chris, his brother Mike and Gary and Giulia, Chris’ wonderful parents. They are a solid Canadian-values family indeed.
Some time ago, another teacher and I founded a charitable non-profit corporation called The Council on World Affairs. For 20 years, our goal was to help make Niagara students aware of world issues and to empower them with critical thinking and provide them with the skills and opportunities to explore these significant concerns from a 360 degree perspective. A prime tool was to host an annual 3-day, hotel-based Model United Nations conference. Students were assigned countries and committees such as the Security Council, the International Court of Justice and many more. They had to learn their respective country’s foreign policy whether it be African, European, South American and such, and they competed through debate and discussion.
We enjoyed great success, hosting 500 delegates at a time from all over Niagara, the U.S. and even Mexico. Our students excelled given this opportunity, and Chris Bittle was one of them. During his University years (Honours B.A., Queen’s University, L.L.B., University of Windsor) and even when he was a busy, practicing lawyer in St. Catharines, he generously gave back, volunteering yearly to help staff each conference.
Chris excelled on our A-team, a group of talented debaters who could portray virtually any official from any country. We would parachute them into any committee at any time to stir things up, create emergency scenarios and help promote heated debate. Thus, with his talent and dedication, I’m not surprised that Chris is now an M.P., and I’m delighted that he represents St. Catharines.
At his constituency office on Geneva St., we caught up and I asked about his first year on the job. There were no big surprises because of his communal work in civil litigation here with Lancaster, Brooks and Welch LLP. Instructing at Niagara College in the Department of Continuing Education and leading a seminar at Brock University also helped as well as volunteering with Courts in the Classroom, an initiative to educate youth in the community about the justice system.
Chris is a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (his first choice) as well as the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure. He does not shy away from important issues, active in the debate on Medical Assistance in Dying and improving access to the justice system.
What did surprise him was completely open access to cabinet members after 10 years of one-man rule and the ability of ministers to run their own files. One way Chris tries to provide community input is through round-tables. For example, with the upcoming legalization of marijuana, he invited Bill Blair, former Toronto police chief, to a group discussion with community stakeholders. Adam Vaughn will soon address housing, a concern for Chris in St. Catharines as “low income families are being pushed out of affordable housing.” Another related concern is inter-municipal transit. The federal government is allocating $11.8 million to the former and $14 million to the latter to help address the problems.
Given Canadian concern with U.S. trade, energy and tourism under Donald Trump, I was pleased to learn that Chris and his committee members are encouraged to visit their counterparts in Washington and New York State as well as corporate leaders and Chamber of Commerce officials to engage in “quiet meetings” to develop camaraderie and rapport.
One may check out Chris’ website to find out more about his agenda and past actions on matters such as the Port Dalhousie Piers: http://cbittle.liberal.ca/ On his Facebook page, you can watch Chris in action making a speech in Parliament about the Canada Summer Games 2021, heading to Niagara with a significant impact on St. Catharines. On Facebook, simply type in ‒ Chris Bittle M.P.
Chris and his pediatrician wife, Charlene, are proud parents of nine-months old Ethan. How does he balance work and home? He is in Ottawa Monday morning and doesn’t get back to St. Catharines until midnight Thursday. With his staff they select the most important events, and of course, there’s the doting grandparents, Gary and Giulia!
If you have suggestions or comments concerning blog topics to help celebrate St. Catharines, contact me at ‒ firstname.lastname@example.org