At its “Better Newspapers Competition” awards gala, held in Toronto on Friday, April 20, the Ontario Community Newspapers Association (OCNA) awarded the Voice second place for Best Investigative News Story, 2017.

OCNA received some 1700 entries across numerous categories for the 2017 competition. The finalist short list was announced in February, with the winners of first, second, and third places revealed on April 20.

The Voice won for a series of articles that ran in July and September 2017, laying out the Town of Pelham’s land-for-credits scheme related to its development activities in East Fonthill.

The controversial use of some $3 million dollars worth of credits, which the Town of Pelham variously described as “municipal” and “development charge” credits, and their subsequent buy-back by the Town, raised questions over the Town’s East Fonthill financial planning.

The series also examined the extraordinary price the Town agreed to pay a GTA-based developer for roughly three acres of land in East Fonthill, a transaction that appeared to resemble “bonusing,” a form of bribery illegal in Ontario. (No charges have been brought, nor has any wrongdoing been proven in court.)

First place in the Investigative category was won by the Guelph Mercury Tribune, for its comprehensive look at Ontario’s opioid crisis and how it would likely affect the city’s emergency services in coming years. The third place award went to the Halliburton Highlander, for its coverage of questionable management practices and financial problems at an 800-acre resort near Algonquin Park.

Voice publisher Dave Burket credited former writer Nate Smelle for his contributions to the winning work.

“Nate covered the politics around the allegations and I looked into the business aspects. It was a team effort, and one that stands out for me as a highlight of his time at the Voice.”

Burket said he looked forward to the award plaque arriving by Canada Post. The Voice did not attend the awards gala.

“When we found out that tables cost over a thousand dollars, it was the easiest decision to make all year. That’s the equivalent of twenty-five Voice memberships, and I was not about to tell twenty-five new members that their cash went straight to a dinner in the GTA!”

The Voice has been an OCNA member since the paper’s founding 21 years ago. The Association represents weekly newspapers across the province.