As a (relative) newcomer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, I was surprised by the handling of the April 24 public/council meeting dealing with precious heritage issues of the Rand Estate.
I am not, however, a newcomer to public meetings, council meetings or special meetings – both as a resident/observer and as a reporter.
It was clearly known that a large number of residents would attend, yet the doors to the meeting room remained closed and barred as the foyer of the community centre filled up to capacity, and the temperature both inside and outside began to drop.
When the doors finally opened at several minutes before 5 p.m., the room was clearly already set up and empty. This is a familiar control strategy too often used to establish hierarchy.
The immediate departure of the lord mayor was followed by the deputy lord mayor taking control of the meeting. I don’t think anyone in the room was accustomed to a lecture on manners, behaviour or demeanour at the very start of a meeting of citizens.
The lecture was quite startling and seemed to immediately set an antagonistic and combative tone – to what end, I wondered.
The heritage preservation presentation was among the best I have ever witnessed: factual, evidence-based and clearly well-researched.
This seemed the essence of what Niagara-on-the-Lake is – a historical and beautiful town, (mostly) beautifully preserved and thriving. Many other such towns have been completely taken over by oppositional forces that in essence have destroyed them.
The examples are too numerous to detail; a rather large recent example is Toronto paving over the site of the first Parliament in the city core and the destruction of part of Osgoode Hall grounds.
The immediate “shushing” of the citizens during the meeting itself was also something of a shock. Whether a formal council meeting or not, respect for citizens is the hallmark of good governance, often determined by the presence and conduct of the chair.
By the time the deputy lord mayor called for a recess – two hours into the meeting? – the temperature in the room where the air conditioning seemed to be running full-on, became too uncomfortable for me and several others. That too is another strategy to “thin the crowds,” as it were.
Fortunately it did not seem to work all that well.
While I was not present for the end result, the media provided the news that preservation – not demolition – ruled the day.
One may only fervently hope that the inevitable appeal to Premier Doug Ford’s revamped and powered-up Ontario Land Tribunal does not turn into yet another rubber-stamped provincial approval overriding what is, in Niagara-on-the-Lake and so many other special Ontario places, a national treasure.
On a related note, one wonders how on earth a Dairy Queen ended up on the main heritage street of NOTL. I hope that – and the tribunal’s decision – is not an indication of the town’s future.