As We See It

Barely a month into his tenure, Ontario Premier Doug Ford continues to launch rockets from his perch at Queen’s Park. The biggest bombshell landed last Friday, when Ford announced that his government would downsize Toronto City Council—in the midst of an election campaign. Ford also announced that the planned direct election of Regional chairs in some parts of the province would be annulled, and that these chairs would be selected as they had been previously, by members of each of the Regional Councils themselves

One of these regions, it was revealed, is Niagara, where four candidates for Regional Chair had already begun campaigning. Among the candidates was Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, who, in a stroke of irony, had welcomed Ford to town during his surprise visit to Summerfest just six days earlier.

Looking now at the photo of their handshake—a full-on, double-handed, politician-style grapple—it’s impossible not to picture the cogs turning in Ford’s head, the thought-bubble floating above: “Just wait a week, Mr. Mayor.”

And indeed, this past Saturday the Mayor’s considerably less cheerful face occupied almost the entirety of the Welland Tribune’s front page, his path to Regional victory suddenly preempted by a very wide, very deep, sinkhole.

Augustyn had long been rumoured to be eyeing Chair Alan Caslin’s seat. After Caslin’s election by Regional Council in 2014 Augustyn was a strong advocate for the direct election of the position. Last Friday, presumably after screaming long and hard into a pillow, Augustyn denounced Ford’s move as “a dark day for democracy.”

This is bunk.

Moving to direct election of the chair was not a decision made by referendum or by any vote among the residents of Niagara.

Instead, it was unilaterally imposed by the Ontario Liberals when they were in power. Ford’s reversal of the Liberals’ policy may be poorly timed, but undemocratic it is not. Canada is a Westminster democracy. We don’t vote for our Prime Minister or Premier directly, and there is no reason to think that the Regional Chair should necessarily be any different.

But one can imagine why Augustyn is upset. Direct election of Regional Chair meant that he had a path to elected office that didn’t require winning in Pelham, the town where he has ruled for 12 years and accumulated substantial baggage along the way—great steamer trunks of controversy and ill-will.

Augustyn was hoping, no doubt, to pick up the bulk of his votes in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland, big cities where residents are less familiar with the reality of his record as a small-town mayor.

So much for that strategy.

At the last minute on Friday, Augustyn filed papers to run as Pelham’s Regional Councillor against incumbent Brian Baty. The Mayor was reportedly seen hustling down Pelham Street, clipboard in hand, scrambling to get the 25 signatures required before the 2 PM deadline.

Winning Pelham would mean knocking off Baty, who has sat for 15 years at Regional Council and is widely respected among his colleagues and beloved by his constituents. Our Mayor has been a politician for nearly half of his adult life, and there is little doubt that he intends to do whatever is necessary to stay in the arena.

But to do that, he’ll have to win in the town where he is known the best. We don’t envy him the challenge.