What A Difference An Election Can Make!

“The darkest hour is always just before the dawn.”           – from a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash

A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted January 11th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

If you don’t think elections matter, you are wrong. They do.

Members of Niagara’s new Regional Council take the oath of office at their inaugural meeting this past December 6th.

All that it takes to remind myself of that is a visit to Niagara’s regional government headquarters where the comparison between the way things are in that building now and the way they were a year ago at this time, or even four or five months ago, when Al Caslin and his so-called “cabal” were still running the show, could not be more stark.

Among my nightmare images of the last Regional Council at work was this one, with poor Toto representing just about any member of the council or public who had the audacity to confront or question what certain others on the council were doing. Thanks to Niagara’s voters, most, if not all of the flying monkeys are gone.

You go in that regional headquarters now and the people workers there look happier and the atmosphere is so much warmer than it was over the past four years when what I took to calling the flying monkeys were around, squawking and barking at whoever they didn’t want around while they were doing their business.

No one who dared to question or raise concerns about what they were up to seemed immune from their bullying and insults. In my nightmares, it wasn’t hard to imagine them dragging poor Toto away.

Then came last October’s municipal elections and like the Good Witch in Oz Land who came to shoo the bad one and her monkey army away, the voters of Niagara had the presence of mind to throw a good number, if not all, of the bad actors out.

So here this reporter was, walking into Niagara’s regional headquarters this past week, for the first full week of committee meetings with the new Regional Council and while there were understandable differences of opinions between councillors, there was also (almost to a person) a renewed culture of respect, decency and civility that went out the door over the past four years.

I’ve been covering politics long enough to know that nothing in that realm of life is ever going to be perfect, far from it. And this new Regional Council still has some tough and difficult decisions to make around cleaning up the mess of the past four years, even as it begins work on the challenges and opportunities for our region that lay ahead.

A report, detailing the findings of an investigation into matters involving the hiring and contract extension of the Region’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo (now off on medical leave) will likely be completed and released early this year.

Within a matter of weeks, the new council will also find itself facing what will no doubt be a lengthy list of findings and recommendations coming out of an investigation, still underway by the Ontario’s Ombudsman’s Office, into the highly questionable circumstances surrounding the hiring more than two years ago and the more recent backroom dealings over the job contact of the Region’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo, who is now off site, reportedly on a medical leave.

How council members deal with those findings and recommendations will almost surely prove to be a true test of the pledge so many of them made last summer and fall to voters across Niagara to usher in a new era of openness, fairness and accountability at the regional level of government.

In the meantime though, and despite a few early episodes of what seemed like too much time spent behind closed doors talking about what to do about some human resource matters and the train wreck at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, what a difference an election has made to the overall climate and to the morale of people inside that regional headquarters.

The one thing I would do right now, though, is remove every last one of those signs that were bolted on the walls and on the front of the reception desk outside and inside the council chambers a year ago, while the flying monkeys were still there.

The sign reads; “Aggressive or intimidating behaviour, harassment or coarse language will not be tolerated.”

Like other members of the public, I automatically felt that the message on those signs was more evidence of a kind of Freudian-like projection some of the bullies on the old council resorted to. They were another way of attributing to others, conduct that was truer of them.

In the spirit of the new dawn we all hope will foster four years’ worth of warmer and sunnier days, I would treat those signs like relics left over from the Cold War and take them down as soon as possible.

And after all those signs are down, I would almost be tempted to mail one to each of the bad actors from the old council (I have my list of individuals I would mail one to and I’m sure some of you have your own), along with a little note suggesting that they hang it up on a wall in the their own home where it might do more good.

Then again, in this new dawn of civility, it might be better to just take those damn signs and throw them away.

Finally, if you have never attended a meeting of Niagara’s Regional Council or any of its committee meetings, or have never watched them, as you can, on your computer at home, I urge you to do it, and to become more engaged in what is going on at this level of government.

After all, our Regional Council is responsible for making decisions with our municipal tax dollars that have an important impact on our lives and on the health and welfare of our neighbourhoods and communities across Niagara.

For those who have been engaged and who voted in last October’s municipal elections, many of you can thank yourselves for the great change we see unfolding and that we hope to see continue unfolding at the regional government level.

Here is a better sign to put up on those walls.

“Change will never come if we wait for some other person or some other time,” the former U.S. president Barack Obama once said. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

In this New Year and this new dawn, in our Niagara region, let’s all make a pledge to get more involved.

If you want to find out more about what is happening at Niagara Region, and about upcoming council and committee meetings, click on the website for Regional Council and follow the t links at – https://www.niagararegion.ca/government/council/default.aspx?home_task=1 .

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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