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Nov. 14, 2018 | Wednesday
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Darte's community involvement to continue
Former lord mayor Pat Darte serves up some slices of giant cake on Canada Day. (Niagara Now)

Pat Darte began his career in the family funeral home, where his job entailed helping people in their grief, sometimes sharing what would be the worst time in their lives while they coped with tragedies most of us can only imagine.

It taught him the difference between what is trivial and what is important. He learned not to take each new day with loved ones for granted — a cliche, maybe, but not when you face daily those who have had that opportunity ripped out from under them — and to focus on the positive.

So losing an election is not going to knock him back.

Over the course of four years Darte became accustomed to being a politician and leading a municipality, although there were some of the more negative aspects of the political game he had no interest in mastering, and it will take him "about four days" to adjust to no longer being the lord mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, he says.

Darte is first and foremost a businessman, a go-getter who is used to making decisions and getting things done. He learned quickly in his role as lord mayor that it's an entirely different ball game to head a municipality, where process, process, process is always the key, where legislation dictates decisions, and the downside to process is it does not move quickly.

The day after the election he was back in his world, already juggling new ideas and projects in his head while taking a transmission apart on his garden tractor at the farm so he can get the lawn mowed.

When asked about his plans to fill the gap left by the time-consuming job of being lord mayor, spending time with his kids, grandchildren and lady friend are at the forefront. Working on the family horse farm is also on his list, catching up on the jobs that have fallen by the wayside and getting the farm ready for winter.

He has another business he hopes to expand, a hockey tournament that brings visitors to NOTL each winter, and some ideas for a couple of new businesses that are still in his head.

He has some fundraising duties coming up for the Niagara-on-the-Lake Fund, one the Niagara Community Foundation's municipal funds. 

Darte has also begun working on Growing Mental Wellness, a new initiative with Steffanie Bjorgan of Red Roof Retreat, focusing on young people. It's early days yet, he says, but they want to get moving quickly and plan to offer support and counselling for youth suffering from mental health problems. Suicide prevention will be one of the elements. The Lord Mayor's Youth Advisory Committee is also involved, but the wellness program is not a Town initiative, Darte says.

The services will be arranged by Red Roof and offered at its Concession 2 facility. The serious lack of such support services for youth in the Niagara area is a growing problem, says Darte, "and this is something that can't wait. These kids need help now."

He will continue to be interested in education, and he hopes to see more high school specialty courses such as the one on aviation he helped facilitate with the Catholic school board that will begin offering courses at the Niagara District Airport in January. He still sees that as a way to further offer educational opportunities locally, despite not having a local high school.

Reflecting on the last four years, Darte says of course he wishes it had ended differently. He gets that people saw what didn't get done, rather than the many accomplishments, but blames some of that on "misunderstandings," including the Randwood Estate issue. Council has to work within legislation, and the zoning amendment required for the John Street hotel proposal was only about a small difference in height — all the other details were ones that had already been approved. Yet councillors were blamed for not supporting heritage and for not stopping the development, although there was no way they could.

Another issue he says people misunderstood was the salary of the CAO, who was mentioned in attack ads during the campaign. Council voted unanimously to give her the position, so while they were still paying the previous CAO, Holly Dowd agreed to take on the challenge but did two jobs for the price of one. It didn't cost the Town more, it likely saved money, he says, and although she was new to that job, she had 37 years experience working for the Town, and has done what she was asked to do. Darte says staff morale was low. "Her first task was to get the place back on its feet, and she did that." One of his regrets, he says, is that the CAO and Town staff have been the victims of some of the nastiness that had no place in the election campaign.

Perhaps the best part of his four-year experience was that although he already knew NOTL was a great community, he got to see it first hand over and over. He saw families who needed help many times, most recently with the Virgil fire that took the home of a local family, and each time, the community jumped in to help. "It wasn't a surprise, I always knew that was the kind of community we live in, but it really touches you when you see it happening."

Which is why Darte plans to continue his involvement in the community, the part of the job he says he loved — without the politics. 

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