Let’s Being The Process of Restoring Public Trust – No More Backrrom Deals. And No Appointments To The Chair’s Job From The Outside.
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted November 14th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
In one of Woody Allen’s earliest films ‘Sleeper’, his character wakes up after being in a deep-freeze coma for a number of years to surroundings that have completely changed save for one artefact that survived from his pre-coma days – a pair of MacDonald’s Golden Arches looming in the background.
In the film, we watch the character searching around anxiously for some of the old haunts he used to go to for lunch or to enjoy a coffee with old friends, but they were no longer there.
He is a person out of place and time with his current surroundings.
I thought of the character in that film, searching around for doorways to a place where everything from the people and furniture, right down to the carpeting on the floor have changed, after reading a report in the local media this November 13th – supporting rumours that have been circulating around now for week since the October 22nd municipal elections – t hat Damian Goulbourne still has his heart in a possible appointment to the position of Niagara regional chair if the Region’s new council, to be sworn in early this December, is willing to make that possible.
He is still “passionate about the job of being regional chair,” Goulbourne was quoted saying in one newspaper story. “Over the past three days, I’ve had some calls from people asking if I’m interested.”
Upon reading these words, I am thinking; ‘Who are these people, and how tone deaf can they and possibly Goulbourne be?’
Are they that disconnected from the growing concern, frustration and anger so many people across Niagara have felt around so much of the conduct and the backroom wheeling and dealing of the out-going regional council over the past four years?
Did they not get the clear message that Niagara voters delivered on October 22nd when an unprecedented number of those sitting on the outgoing council, right up to and including the chair, Al Caslin, were turfed out?
Do they not get it that voters sent out a message that they want a new regional council that operates in an open, accountable, democratic forum that restores public confidence?
This is not the first time Damian Goulbourne that has made a bid to be appointed Niagara regional chair as a citizen outside of the circle of individuals elected to the Region’s council.
In December of 2010, after serving seven years as Welland’s mayor, then losing to Cindy Forster and George Marshall in a Welland-wide race for one of two seats on the regional council, he decided to do anyway, what he had already declared he would do if he won one of those seats – put his name forward as a candidate for regional chair.
This reporter wrote a column at the time questioning why Goulbourne would not simply accept the verdict of Welland voters at the time and stand down.
“One is kind of tempted to pull Goulbourne aside and say; ‘Hey Damian can’t you take a hint?’” was the way I ended that column I posted in December of 2010 on the subject.
Goulbourne ultimately lost that bid (which I am sure had little or nothing to do with anything one lowly columnist like me wrote), and Peter Partington, who was elected to the regional council in St. Catharines that year, was appointed by his fellow councillors to the chair’s job.
But that wasn’t the end of the story for the determined Niagara College teacher and ex-mayor from Welland.
In 2012, when Cindy Forster ran and won a race to serve as a provincial member of parliament for the riding of Welland (now Niagara Centre), Goulbourne ran for her vacant regional council seat again in a by-election where he lost to Peter Kormos, who had retired from provincial politics and was encouraged by many Wellanders to serve as one of the city’s regional councillors.
Fast forward to June of this year, and there is Damian Goulbourne again, this time filing his papers to run in what was to be a region-wide election for Niagara regional chair – the first of its kind in 48 years of regional government that would allow the voters at large decide who the next chair will be.
Once again, I found myself asking , why? Why now?
Not that he didn’t have just as much right as anyone else to file his papers to run for the position? You or I could have done that too?
But seriously after four years of Al Caslin and his so-called cabal on the regional council, and all of the bad behaviour and insults and smears, and the lawsuits, in some cases, targeted at people who resisted or spoke out, where was Damian Goulbourne all of that time?
Sure he was writing some opinion pieces for The St. Catharines Standard from time to time on issues like job opportunities in Niagara for your people and the economic benefits of four-laning the Hwy. 406 to Welland.
But t where was he when others in the region, like Forster, or Jeff Burch, the current Niagara Centre MPP who was executive director of the Niagara Multicultural Centre at the time, or St. Catharines citizen Ed Smith, who battled a lawsuit filed against after raising concerns about the Region and NPCA, or another St. Catharines citizen, Haley Bateman, who was treated in a rude and ugly manner for speaking out on code of conduct issues, and all of the other people, including Brian Heit, Kelly Edgar, Bill Hodgson and other regional council members, who took pretty bad shots for speaking out over the past four years?
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” said Goulbourne last June after filing his papers to run for the chair’s job. He followed up with a statement which, among other things, outlined his desire to build “a strong and vibrant economy,” and to “help communities achieve their full potential” – all pledges that would probably have stood alone well a decade or so ago.
But if you are running for regional chair now, how could you not make some reference to all of the hell the Region has been through over the past four years, and what you are going to do to address it?
Already, Goulbourne’s candidacy had me thinking of the Woody Allen character in ‘Sleeper’ who seemed so out of synch with what has been going on around him.
It was only after Ontario’s Ombudsman, Paul Dube, released a report in mid-July, outlining serious allegations against the Region’s chair, Al Caslin, and others for unlawfully seizing a newspaper reporter’s computer and notes last year, and only after a week of many others across the region, province and country, condemning their actions, that Goulbourne issued a statement of condemnation himself.
Then days later, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made a sudden decision to cancel elections for regional chair and Goulbourne, unlike others like Dave Augustyn and Al Caslin, who had filed their papers to run for the position, he decided not to run in his municipality for a regional council seat.
Now here we are, a few weeks before a newly sworn in regional council has the all-important job of deciding who among them should serve for the next four years as the Region’s chair, and we’ve got news reports with Goulbourne suggesting that if the new council were to put aside a 2013 bylaw that prevents outsiders from putting their hat in the ring for the chair’s job, he might do just that.
Dave Augustyn, Pelham’s outgoing mayor who ran and lost his race for his town’s one and only regional council seat this October, but who might have won a region-wide race for chair or been appointed to the job had he won the seat, says any idea of someone coming in from the outside now, after all the controversy the Region has been going through, and bidding for the job is a bad idea.
“I think the house cleaning that occurred (in this October’s municipal elections) is a clear sign to regional council that they (voters) are sick and tired of the backroom deal making,” Augustyn was quoted saying in one media report this November 13th. “I don’t think the electorate would have an appetite for that.”
Indeed, if new regional councillors are sincere in their pledge to restore openness and accountability and public trust, they would be wise to embrace the idea of one of the incoming members among them, Laura Ip from St. Catharines, and conduct the whole appointment process for the chair’s position, including the voting, in full view of the public.
As for any passionate feelings Goulbourne may have for the job at this point, I would repeat what I wrote in that 2010 column; “Hey Damian, can’t you take a hint?”
After the message Niagara voters delivered this October 22nd, I would say to same to anyone else who thinks it is a good idea to appoint anyone who did not run and win a seat on the council in those elections.
To read a story posted this past June in Niagara At Large, on Damian Goulbourne announcing his candidacy for Niagara regional chair, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/06/26/former-welland-mayor-damian-goulbourne-enters-race-for-regional-chair/ .
To read a commentary Niagara At Large posted in 2010 when Damian Goulborne considered entering his name for an appointed to the chair’s job after losing in an election for a regional council seat, click on – https://voiceofniagara.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3754&action=edit .
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