Next June, don’t go buying a pig in a poke
Dear Fellow Niagara West municipalities, hey there, hello. It’s us, Pelham, your neighbour mostly to the east. (We see you down there, Wainfleet. S’up?) Listen, we have some friendly advice about someone we know all, all too well.
You probably know Pelham best for our ancient maple tree, the Comfort Maple, said to be one of Canada’s very oldest. Otherwise you know us as home to a once-scenic route, along Highway 20 en route to Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake, a roadway that is now so congested that you gave up on it a couple of years back. Why does Highway 20 so often seem to be in permanent gridlock? Oh dear. Where to begin.
Once upon a time, Pelham was home to fruit orchards and farms, a verdant paradise between industry to the north and south, and the world-infamous tourist mecca to the east.
Then along came modernity—worse, along came a politician determined to break modernity, saddle it up, and ride it hard for glory as far as he could take it, preferably to progressively higher elective office.
Back in the early days of the 21st century, the Town of Pelham wisely bought 32 acres of land on its eastern border. The intent was to protect it from rapacious real estate developers, eager to throw up slapdash, cookie-cutter houses without regard to anything other than the profit lining their pockets. We all know the type, right? Grimsby, are you paying attention? Stop looking at your phone.
Truth be told, not all of Pelham was on board with this protective instinct. It was too much to spend, said some. Let the free market decide, said others. (Again, Grimsby, you know where that leads.)
Enter one David Augustyn, a man who always seems to know which way the wind is blowing. Seizing on public discontent, he rode his steed into the mayor’s office. Yet, lo and behold, it wasn’t all that long before “Mayor Dave,” as he re-branded himself, was the champion of champions for an expensive new community centre ($36 million dollars underwritten by 6500 or so taxpayers), as well as for throwing open the corral gates to the development of strip malls, and to new housing developments that looked like they were airlifted straight out of Mississauga. Pelham paradise lost. There’s your Highway 20 gridlock.
Yet worse (if there is room for worse at this point), Mayor Dave and his council of obedient lieutenants authorized a development financing scheme so beyond the norm that a whistle-blowing developer compared it to “printing money in the basement.” This newspaper’s award-winning investigative reporting shined a light on what some observers likened to bonusing, in which companies are effectively bribed to set up shop in a given town. That’s illegal in Canada. In the end, Town Hall quietly reverted to selling off its green space and rural charm the old-fashioned way.
Then one of Mayor Dave’s lieutenants turned cranky, became annoyingly disobedient. In a humiliating rejection of Augustyn’s leadership, a councillor very publicly resigned in protest—like right during a council meeting. Neighbours, it was something to see!
We now call this councillor Mayor Marvin Junkin.
Niagara West, don’t get us wrong. David Augustyn has his attributes. As a professional fundraiser, he is evidently adept at acquiring other people’s money. Some might say that this makes the NDP his natural inclination, and that it was simply a matter of time before he acknowledged it. Parents (and taxpayers) always know.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Pelham voters handed Augustyn and his council arguably the worst defeat in any Ontario municipality in the 2018 election. Not a single councillor was re-elected. Augustyn himself came third in a four-way race for Regional councillor.
Let’s also not forget the Augustyn council’s wholesale embrace of industrial marijuana operations, the stench from which wafts to this day. But that’s not what’s given Pelham a lingering headache, still pounding three years after Mayor Dave’s meltdown at the ballot box. It’s our stratospheric debt. It’s our barely recovering reserves. (On a least one occasion there was the real possibility that the Town couldn’t make its payroll.)
We are absolutely not saying that David Augustyn is unskilled, unprincipled. A glad-hander who would otherwise be unemployable. This is for you to assess, neighbours, in a little over six months’ time.
Niagara West, take heed of the man and his steed. Don’t be trampled by a smile and a haircut who’s hoping that Pelham voters have short memories, and that our neighbours remain innocently clueless. ◆