Former Welland mayor seeks Regional government’s top job
BY DON RICKERS
Special to the VOICE
Damian Goulbourne ran for mayor of Welland in 2003 at 33 years of age, and was 34 when he took the job. He was re-elected in 2007, then took a stab at Regional Council in 2010, and suffered his first political defeat.
Fast-forward eight years. He has decided to enter the fray once again, this time vying for Regional Chair, the top political post in Niagara.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Goulbourne said. “Why me, and why now?”
At age 48, he says he is “in a good place.”
His wife Nancy is established in her career, and their three children — daughters Samantha and Hunter, and son Alexander — are entrenched in their studies, sports, and customary teenage pastimes. Goulbourne has been serving as acting dean in the School of Hospitality, Tourism, and Sport at Niagara College since August 2016, while the dean has been in Saudi Arabia opening the college’s new international campus. Goulbourne has been 22 years at the College, and a full-time professor since 1999, teaching human resources and strategic leadership management.
“I’ve had the space these past eight years to pause and reflect,” he said.
“You get fresh eyes when you’re out of politics for awhile. You come to better understand the challenges that average people are facing. As an educator, volunteer, parent, entrepreneur, and politician, I understand what it takes to make a community thrive. I’m not affiliated with any political party. I’m smack dab in the middle of the political spectrum.”
Goulbourn said that from a family perspective, it is a good time to run.
“Niagara has been good to me. The main driver for me is enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of the region.”
Born in St. Catharines, as a boy Goulbourne moved to a farm in Thorold with his parents. He attended Denis Morris High School, and upon graduation enrolled at Brock as an economics major.
He floundered academically in the early stages, until his communications course professor, John Lye (who was head of the English language and literature department) took him under his wing.
“John rescued me at Brock. He understood my strengths, and convinced me to switch majors. I graduated in 1993 in business communications. I will always remember Dr. Lye’s guidance and kindness. I try to apply the same approach to my own students.”
Goulbourne is a big Brock booster. He and his wife are both Brock grads, and his oldest daughter is a current Badger.
Of the economic climate in Welland during his tenure as mayor, Goulbourne said, “We were the same as any city that existed in the Canadian-American rust belt. Our main product was steel, and globalization was bringing cheap offshore metals that really impacted the city. But we had a core group of small and medium-size businesses that were rooted in the community, which stabilized Welland. We lost the big, iconic factories, but the local citizens who owned small businesses and manufacturing operations stepped up and sustained the community.”
He said that matters improved in his second term of office.
“I think we really started to understand the assets that we had in Welland, and what we needed to do to move forward. I speak a lot about being values-based. I learned that through working with non-profit corporations, and in my consulting work. The values that helped us rise up were respect, integrity, and cooperation. We created a wonderful initiative called ‘Made in Welland,’ in which we started showcasing successful people who were leaders in the community or were from Welland, products made in the city, and communicated what we felt the future held for us. We went through a period of transition from a traditional manufacturing base to a ‘knowledge economy.’”
Goulbourne says he abhors political partisanship.
“It doesn’t belong in municipal government. In Niagara, the majority of MPPs today are NDP, the provincial government is PC, the federal government is Liberal. We have to find a way to work together.”
He says that NDP stalwart Peter Kormos taught him how to work across party lines.
“Peter was my MPP when I was Welland’s mayor. We had a Liberal provincial government. Peter was a fantastic ally. We got the 406 extension built because of the support from regional chair Peter Partington, who had PC affiliations. And Liberal Jim Bradley also had a big hand in making it happen.”
Goulbourne is quick to heap praise on local politicians of all stripes.
“Jim Bradley—41 years in politics. He did great things for Welland, arranged key meetings for us. He was a fantastic partner.”
Goulbourne says he also had solid rapport with Pelham mayors Ron Leavens and Dave Augustyn.
“We sometimes had different opinions, but still got along well. A fellow councillor once told me that it’s important to ‘Leave it on the ice,’ meaning hold no grudges which could impair future issues. We all accepted that philosophy.”
If elected, Goulbourne’s priorities in the first six months will be to focus on council and his senior management team, and to talk with business and community leaders.
“I need to invest in my team. Council’s job is policy direction, staff’s job is to come back with quality reports, giving us recommendations and options on how to move an issue forward. I have a very good relationship with regional CAO Carmen D’Angelo. We sat together at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority meetings for four years. I got to know him well. We took on a few issues together. Running Regional Council is not a dictatorship. You work together as a team, council and staff. And I always look for the middle path.”
Goulbourne said he’s looking forward to the candidates’ debates.
“It’s a 17-week municipal campaign, which is a long time. Most provincial and federal campaigns are four or five weeks. Over the summer we’ll get out to the community, have some leisurely conversations, and listen to what’s on their minds. Then we’ll roll out the pieces of our plan.”
His campaign manager is Liz Palmieri, former executive director of the Niagara Community Association.
“She has been a mentor to me for years. Liz has never run a campaign, and that’s why I want her. She is like me, total non-partisan.”
The other announced candidates for Chair are John (Ringo) Beam, of Niagara Falls, and incumbent Regional Chair Alan Caslin, of St. Catharines.
Nominations close July 27. The election is October 22.