The Good They Have Done More Than Makes Up for the Bad Actors Out There
Doug Draper, reporter and publisher of Niagara At Large
Posted January 2nd, 2019 on Niagara At Large
The year 2018 may very well go down in the record books when it comes to the sheer number of bad acts and actors in public affairs in Niagara.
So much so that I often found friends and neighbours wondering where are the good people doing good things?
Certainly, Niagara had a bumper crop of what (for the purposes of keeping it clean) took to calling creeps doing some pretty damn creepy things in the name of whatever special interest they served. But as I hope Niagara At Large did it’s best to remind, there were – and still are – some very good people in politics and actively involved in our communities too.
In that spirit and before the time to post reviews on the people and events of the past year expires, I don’t want to leave 2018 behind before paying tribute to two women in particular, who exemplify, in this veteran news reporter’s view, some of the best of what a life in politics and community activism can do.
Those two women, in alphabetical order, are –
Cindy Forster, who retired from politics this past spring after serving seven years as MPP for Niagara Centre (formerly the Riding of Welland and after, years earlier, serving as mayor then a regional councillor for Welland, and who did as much, if not more than any other single politician at any level of government over the past year to champion the cause for openness and accountability in Niagara regional governance and at a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) that went rogue with millions of dollars of our tax money.
Forster spoke out openly and forcefully for former and current employees of the NPCA who were concerned about conditions in the workplace, the number of NPCA staff with a record of expertise and dedication in the conservation field who were being let go, and a mandate to conserve and protect watersheds and green spaces in our region that appeared to be going south under the clutches of those who had rose to positions of power at the Conservation Authority.
She was also among those leading the call for Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, to come in and do an independent audit of the NPCA’s operations, which the Auditor General finally did before releasing a report this past September, confirming many of the concerns raised by citizens and local councils across the region about questionable and improper hiring and contract procurement practices, and shifts away from efforts focused on conservation.
For her troubles, Forster at one point endured the insult of members of Niagara’s last regional council (many of whom were voted out in last October’s municipal elections or did not run again) trying to brand her as a racist for a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that a handful of people endorsed at a meeting of the NPD’s Welland Riding Association when she wasn’t even there.
Then, in an email fired out by Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale, Forster, along with St. Catharines community activist Ed Smith, were invited to “shut up” after both she and Smith had raised questions and concerns about the NPCA board’s move to censure then Lincoln regional councillor and board member Bill Hodgson after the board accused him of alleged wrong-doing in his call for an audit of the NPCA – allegations that were later found by Ontario’s Auditor General to be groundless.
But Forster, a former nurse who decided to retire from provincial politics to care for loved ones in her family, never showed any signs of signs of shutting up when it came to speaking out for justice during her storied political career. She has always done her predecessors in the Welland (now Niagara Centre) riding – the late Mel Swart and Peter Kormos – proud, and has set a pretty high bar for her successor, Jeff Burch.
Any time we find ourselves getting down on politicians in this region, we should remember how fortunate we have been to have had dedicated servants of the people like Mel Swart, Peter Kormos and Cindy Forster, and how fortunate we still are to have Jeff Burch, who is so far showing ever sign of following in their footsteps.
Here’s hoping Cindy Forster comes back and serves in some other role in our region. We should all be so lucky.
Finally, there is the bigger than life passion and dedication of Pamela Minns, who has volunteered so much of her time and intelligence to preserving what is left of the history and heritage that can be found in older buildings in our communities that might otherwise be destroyed.
A resident of Thorold, Pamela Minns finally decided last year to slow down a little after many years of working full tilt with Heritage Thorold LACAC (the city’s Local Architectural Advisory Committee), but not before the City of Thorold won the prestigious Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership for 2017.
That prize, which Minns rightfully likened to winning something equivalent to an Academy Award for heritage preservation, was so very much the culmination of all those years of hard work that she and others on the committee, in partnership with the city and private property owners, to preserve and restore for the interest and joy of present and future generations.
“The independent awards jury was unanimous in its decision to honour Thorold for its long standing commitment to heritage policies and programs that help preserve and celebrate its rich industrial history,” stated the jury that delivered the prize through the National Trust of Canada after its recommendation to honour Thorold was reviewed by Prince Charles personally.
“This award re-defines a community; in Thorold it has permanently moved us from our reputation as an “industrial town”, to a heritage destination,” wrote Minns in a column she shared with Niagara At Large for posting in October of 2017.
The year before, in 2016, historic buildings in Thorold’s downtown area were featured in a national magazine entitled ‘Heritage’ and Minns was honoured by the Women in Niagara (WIN) council and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce as that years recipient of the International Women’s Day Award for her leadership in preserving historical sites in Thorold and other parts of the region.
“Examples of Minns’ dedication and leadership shine throughout her volunteer career with Heritage Thorold, coupled with her roots here in the Niagara region, make her story of achievement one that is an ideal fit for our International Women’s Day celebration,” stated Ruth Unrau, WIN’s Chair, in a media release announcing the award.
Over the decades leading up to these honours, Pamela Minns was also often there to support other heritage activists across the region in their efforts to save historic places from the wrecking ball.
While I was still working as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard in the 1990s, I discovered a book called ‘The Geography of Nowhere’ by American journalist turned urban planning critic James Howard Kunstler that chronicled how, over the past half century or more, the people-friendly character of so many neighbourhoods and communities across the continent have been replaced with “dead zones” of box-shaped buildings and asphalt parking lots.
‘The Geography of Nowhere’ became one of my bibles and forever shaped my environmental reporting. It inspired me to pay more attention to the efforts of citizens in Niagara like Pamela Minns who, when I met her, already embodied all of the insights in that book and more.
What I find most admirable about Minns, aside from her knowledge in the heritage field, has been her drive to keep fighting for all those years despite so many big players that she and her allies have so often been up against in their efforts to keep places that have been part of the character and history of a community from being damaged or destroyed.
Along with the wins, there have unfortunately been a lot of losses over the years, and the fights at one site or another across our region go on.
A year ago this past December, at a public meeting the City of St. Catharines held to discuss plans for new development that includes a multi-storey condo in the historic community of Port Dalhousie, a 22-year-old resident of the community named Alexa Plato got up and said this; “Thorold is currently being placed on the map with several prestigious awards for historical preservation. Meanwhile the city of St. Catharines has sat back and let pure greed ruin our beautiful and historic Port Dalhousie. …
“People come to visit our town (Port Dalhousie) because of its historical charm, which will all be lost in the unappealing and intrusive condo development,” Plato continued. “It is simple greed by not only the developers, but the City of St. Catharines. … .
“Port Dalhousie is my home, and it will be a home for future generations,” she said. “So I ask of you – please take into consideration the joy, memories and history you will be taking away from future generations all because you decided greed was more important than the heritage and culture that make up our little town of Port Dalhousie.”
As I listened to Alexa Plato, I immediately thought of Pamela Minns and how pleased she would no doubt be if she were there that evening, listening to her too. Here a new generation carrying on the fight. The gauntlet has been passed on.
By the way, Minns hasn’t completely retired from her work with Heritage Thorold. This past year, she had a hand in a beautifully produced, multi-page brochure for Thorold called “Our Proud Heritage – A Selection of Heritage Buildings & Sites.”
So for those of us out there who have been feeling down about the bad actors among us, here is just a little bit about two of the many good people who have been working to make our Niagara region better.
They deserve far more attention than they are getting and their efforts should be an inspiration to us all.
To read a media release the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce circulated in 2016 on plans to honour Pamela Minns for her heritage work, click on – https://gncc.ca/pamela-minns-named-as-recipient-of-2016-international-womens-day-award/? .
To read a Statement Ontario’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath released last year on Cindy Forster’s decision not to run for another term as an MPP in Niagara, click on – https://www.ontariondp.ca/news/statement-andrea-horwath-cindy-forster
To read one of the quest columns from Pamela Minns, posted in Niagara At Large in October, 2017, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/10/18/city-of-thorold-wins-national-recognition-with-prestigious-prince-of-wales-prize-for-municipal-heritage-leadership-2017/ .
To read a tribute Niagara At Large posted two years ago this January to St. Catharines/Niagara community activist Ed Smith, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/01/07/ed-smith-niagara-at-larges-person-of-the-year-for-2016/ .
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