“Judging by all the car honks and thumbs up (our) group got, I would say most folks support our position that Bill 23 (legislation assaulting Ontario’s natural heritage) needs to be repealed and Doug Ford needs to keep his promise to protect the Greenbelt.” – Liz Benneian, Chair of Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, a region-wide coalition of individuals and groups advocating for the protection of our natural heritage
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 15th, 2022 on Niagara At Large
So what if you heard that Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff – one of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s loyal soldiers – was going to meet with members of the local media at the Legion Hall in Pelham and you were an advocate for Niagara’s Greenbelt who wanted to confront him with your concerns there.
Then you and more than 40 other citizens from across the region scramble together this past Wednesday afternoon to encounter him and he fails to show up.
“What a coward,” said one of the citizens when it became obvious Oosterhoff was going to be a no show at the Legion Hall. “I’m calling him ‘Slipper Sam’,” said another.
As it turned out, Oosterhoff, an enthusiastic supporter of his Ford government’s controversial Bill 23 and its potential to sprawl onto Greenbelt lands, allegedly for the purpose of building more affordable housing, was at another meeting in the Fonthill area, meeting in an undisclosed location with what he described later, in a note to Niagara At Large, as “community leaders.”
“I was invited to meet with some local community leaders in Pelham, and I did so today (this December 14th),” the Niagara West MPP said in response to a note I sent to him, asking why he did not show up at the Legion Hall.
“This was not a media event,” Oosterhoff added in his note to NAL. “I will gladly meet with constituents who have issues they wish to discuss at my constituency office. Anyone who wishes to set up a meeting can contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set it up.”
This sounds like an open invitation from the MPP, at least for a meeting with citizens in his own Niagara West riding.
As for the “community leaders” he met with in the Fonthill/Pelham area, Oosterhoff also sent NAL a photo of that meeting, without identifying by name any of the participants.
This reporter would add that if some or all of the participants were locally elected municipal councillors, why are they gathering to have a secret or closed meeting with a provincial representative on issues, including the possible gutting of lands in the Greenbelt, that are of such obvious concern to the public?
Or is this just another recent example, along with the Ford government appointing who should be our Niagara regional chair, and this same government moving to give regional chairs and mayors “super powers” over our duly elected municipal councillors, of the steady erosion of public accountability and transparency and of open democracy in Ontario?
“As I stood in front of the Fonthill Legion with my “Doug Ford: Keep your Greenbelt Promise!” I thought about the bricks in the Legion’s front garden honouring my father, uncle, and grandfather,” said Elaine Anderson, one of the Niagara citizens who participated in the December 14th rally.
“They had fought in two world wars to uphold democracy. Could they have envisioned Bill 39 (Ford’s partner bill to the Greenbelt-gutting Bill 23), giving mayors veto power over elected officials and how the principle of majority rules no longer applies.” Anderson told Niagara At Large.
“Bill 39 props up Bill 23,” Anderson added, ” giving extraordinary powers to elected officials who intend to build subdivisions on our farmland and Greenbelt areas.”
“This is not the legacy my ancestors left for me. It is not the legacy I intend to leave to my children without protest.”
There was something uplifting that came out of the Legion Hall rally in Fonthill though.
The many cars and trucks driving back and forth on Highway 20 in front of the Hall, were continuously honking horns of support to Anderson and others holding up their picket signs that you could barely hear anything else.
That left Liz Benneian, chair of Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, a large coalition of individuals and citizen groups advocating for Niagara’s natural heritage preservation, saying this about the rally that she attended and helped assemble –
“We were sorry to hear MPP Oosterhoff cancelled a meeting at the Fonthill Legion,” she told Niagara At Large, “because with very short notice, we were able to get more than 40 people here to greet him and to tell him how we feel about the Ford government’s proposed Greenbelt land removals”
“However, our time was not wasted,” she added, “as we were able to connect with many passersby. Judging by all the car honks and thumbs up the group got, I would say most folks support our position that Bill 23 needs to be repealed and Doug Ford needs to keep his promise to protect the Greenbelt.”
No one is against growth,” stressed Benneian.” It’s all about where you build it and what you build. Ontario’s municipalities just went through an Official Plan update that accommodated projected growth to 2051. Ford’s own Housing Taskforce stated Greenbelt land wasn’t needed to meet projected housing needs, so you have to ask yourself, what this land grab is really about.”
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“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders