Commentary & Letters, February 15 2017

COMMENTARY/OP-ED by Nick Saltarelli
MPP Oosterhoff accidentally provides insight

As I read Sam Oosterhoff’s online reaction [printed on this page] to Julie Mannell’s Column Six essay from last week, I had to wonder if he and I had read the same piece.

So I re-read it, enjoying it almost as thoroughly the second time as I did the first, but remaining perplexingly unable to detect the ill-will—to which Mr. Oosterhoff repeatedly refers — toward either the region or its residents.

On the contrary, it’s clear from her writing that Ms. Mannell harbours an abiding fondness and heartfelt appreciation toward Niagara and its people, citing in particular the generous outpouring of support and comfort from the townspeople of Pelham during an especially difficult time in her life. I detect no sneer in her words, no condemnation, no tossing of brickbats.

What on earth is young Sam going on about?

His response stands in clear contrast to the article it disparages. Fundamentally Ms. Mannell writes well, Mr. Oosterhoff does not. This is to be expected. Ms. Mannell is one of Canada’s foremost up-and-coming young authors. Mr. Oosterhoff’s modest literary merit is a reflection of his meager formal education and worldly inexperience.

Quality aside, the most conspicuous difference between the two is tone. The Mannell essay exudes warmth, nostalgia, pathos and a longing for better things. The Oosterhoff letter fairly oozes spite, personal pique, contempt, backsliding, division and diversion.

If Ms. Mannell’s writing seeks to elevate the reader’s awareness of an all-too-real political and social regressiveness creeping into our reality, Mr. Oosterhoff’s bids this Mannell woman to sit down and shut up. Our rookie MPP confuses arrogance with intelligence, while threads of arrogance spun within his own words weave a fabric of youthful hubris and disdain. There is much irony here.

Sam Oosterhoff has done us a service. Through his letter he provides formerly hidden insights to his character. His skin is thin. He is irked by criticism of his social conservatism and callowness, which he subsequently makes no attempt to defend. His want of humility is striking. He reflects not on how others perceive him, nor is he aware that he lacks the support and approval of elements within the constituency he professes to represent.

He fails to perceive, let alone acknowledge, that there are many who view his elevation to high office by a minority of the like-minded as a travesty, that expectations of what a naiive teenager can possibly do to benefit Niagara-West Glanbrook are low. Indeed, many worry what he and his ilk may do in an attempt to turn back the clock.

Mr. Oosterhoff attacks the messenger rather than the message. He is unable to see himself, blinded by an over-fed sense of self-esteem, and contempt for those who don’t share his worldview. He embodies the very regressiveness Ms. Mannell laments, and regrettably, and entirely, misses her point.


LETTERS

Pelham no regressive dystopia—Sam Oosterhoff

(EDITOR’S NOTE: MPP Oosterhoff submitted this statement late last week in reaction to Julie Mannell’s Column Six essay, The Comfort Maple myth [Feb. 8]. We appended the statement to the online version of the essay so that it might be given commensurate exposure. We print it here, along with Ms. Mannell’s response.)

I felt impelled to respond to the special column from Ms. Julie Mannell [The Comfort Maple myth, Feb. 8] in last week’s issue of The Voice. The unsubstantiated claims Ms. Mannell made about me and the residents, families, and voters of Pelham were not only in poor taste. They would be outright offensive if they were not so ridiculous and misinformed. I grasp the difficulty Ms. Mannell may have in understanding the fine people of Pelham, since she lives in Montreal. However, I find it remarkable that she so condescendingly reprimands the very place she grew up in. [Ed. Note: Mannell lives in Toronto.]

The picture she paints of a grimly intolerant, backwards, and discriminatory town bears no resemblance to the Pelham I know, or its people. I grew up in Lincoln, and often visited Pelham. During the campaign last fall, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with many of the residents, students, and business owners of Pelham. What I found was completely different than the regressive dystopia depicted by Ms. Mannell.

The people and town of Pelham are warm, welcoming, and inclusive.

They are neighborly, generous, and community-minded.

They are open to those of all backgrounds, and care deeply for the marginalized and persecuted.

[Responding to the Voice’s request for comment] I had the opportunity to congratulate Ron Kore for being honored as the Fonthill and District Kinsmen’s Pelham Citizen of the Year 2016. Ron’s deep commitment and love for his community, and all the people in it, serve as an inspiration to many of us. Ron characterizes the unique and wonderful nature of the people of Pelham. From his working with our senior citizens, to his involvement with the Special Olympics, and his fundraising for Nutrition Partners, Ron is a caring and compassionate man who wants what is best for his community and the people in it.

I have never met Ms. Mannell. Nor have I made any statements that support her claims. I was and remain disturbed that without basis she would write such blatantly false and arrogant prose about me and the town I love, and seek to serve.

I hope to meet her one day, when she comes back to Pelham.

If she would allow it, I would like to take her to the churches where members welcome refugees regardless of faith or background, and introduce her to people at the Legion and Community Care who dedicate themselves to helping those less fortunate. Perhaps we would run into Ron, or the thousands of people like him in this community. I hope that this would give her a deep appreciation for those who have spent their lives in this community, improving it, and making it a home for all who come here.

Ms. Mannell seems to fear there is something ugly about Pelham and its people.

I couldn’t disagree more. Pelham is beautiful.

MPP Sam Oosterhoff
Beamsville


In the same paragraph MPP Sam Oosterhoff accuses me of being misinformed and making unsubstantiated claims, he incorrectly states that I live in Montreal.

On the subject of Oosterhoff’s homophobia, on April 11, 2015, he posted a link on his Facebook page to a Christian evangelical website that promotes anti-gay sentiment through such articles as, “So-Called Same-Sex Marriage: Lamenting the New Calamity,” and, “Why Homosexuality is Not Like Other Sins.” He encouraged other Facebook users to share it.

Oosterhoff also has bragged online about working with the Association for Reformed Political Action. ARPA Canada is an organization that works to oppose abortion, multiculturalism, and same-sex marriage.

My issue is not with the town (which includes, by the way, LGBTQ people, women, and people of colour). It is with Oosterhoff serving as its representative.

The best way for Oosterhoff to support his constituents is to stop lying to them. His letter is a deliberate and pointed misreading of my writing. Oosterhoff is trying to pass off lies as truths—rather ironic, considering the central theme of the essay. The goal of his letter is to create a false mythology around the essay in order to curry voter approval. I did not say Pelham is ugly. I said intolerance is ugly.

Since Oosterhoff is interested in meeting me, I would like to invite him to participate in a one-on-one public debate. We will invite the audience to contribute pay-what-you-can donations to Pelham’s Special Olympics Day.

Then I will happily visit churches and organizations with him—especially if he will agree to go for a walk around St. John’s Conservation Area and hear my experiences working with at-risk youth, and in children’s AIDS wards, and about growing up as a young activist in Pelham.

Julie Mannell
Toronto

View from atop soapbox not clear enough

Julie Mannell is a gifted writer and I was drawn in by the title and beginning of The Comfort Maple myth.

Then it turns out Julie was just using the Comfort Maple as a hook (along with other local references to Mossimo’s and Niagara grapes) to draw us in to a “Social Justice Warrior”-scolding on what’s wrong with us people in Pelham.

How could we have elected Sam Oosterhoff?   I’m guessing the fair and free election, in a modern Western democracy, by an undeniable majority of people in this riding, of a very conservative figure is somehow wrong to her.

Apparently we are being lumped in with the people who voted for Donald Trump.  We made a mistake and we have to be gently (and not so-gently) admonished on our limited understanding of what’s really important in this world.

And so with the words, “Nice. We did that,” she gets to the real reason she is writing this article.

We are now an ugly community where something is awry.  We are failing to change, hurting people, lying to ourselves, unable to let go of “manufactured philosophies,” and we had better be sorry for what we did.

Perhaps the writer might get down off her soapbox and really ask herself why we voted for Oosterhoff.

We are not a community of racist, homophobic, backwards idiots just because we voted for a conservative.  The divide between the left and right will not be overcome by calling the other side names—it will be bridged through respect for where each side is coming from.

From what I see in this article, the writer is not interested in a dialogue but a diatribe against people she disagrees with politically.

Trish Greydanus
Fonthill

Assumptions no substitute for direct conversation

It is sad but interesting that writer Julie Mannell is compassionate to all except Sam Oosterhoff because she makes assumptions about his beliefs without actually talking to him. At least I will assume that she has not talked to him as she has him pegged by modern stereotypes, which are still stereotypes.

Why cannot Julie have compassion for one of the least accepted groups in our society, people who believe like Sam?

Is he anti-anything? How do we know? We only know from talking to an individual. I believe Sam might shock her as a very compassionate person. Just because someone may disagree with someone else does not make them wrong nor does it make them evil. And yet Julie has proclaimed him as such. Maybe taking a positive approach would be more compassionate. What is he for? Doesn’t he have any redeeming qualities?

Julie, it really is time that you are compassionate for all, even those you disagree with. Selective compassion is not compassion at all. It is just making choices in our beliefs as to who we should care about. Your choices are not any more correct than anyone else’s.

Assumptions we should realize lead to beliefs that are false and judgmental, not objective and true. The very heart of liberalism used to be an acceptance of all. I guess that day is past just like the Comfort Maple is passing as well.

Charles G. Pedley
Fonthill

 

Gratitude from gay teen

I am a student at E. L. Crossley. I play sports, and I am involved in many activities. But no one knows who I am, I mean they don’t know who I really am. My fingers feel numb just to type this but the truth is that I am gay.

No one knows this at ALL, they would never guess in a million years. I have a girlfriend but since my family is very religious it has been okay for me to say no sex before marriage so all we do is kiss and [it] is not nice at all.

I can’t wait to leave this place. People talk like it is easy now to come out of the closet but my parents would lose it, my friends would be totally shocked, I would probably lose everything. I heard about [The Comfort Maple myth] that my parents were talking about it like it was the work of the devil so I read it later.

Everything about my family’s life is decided by our church and it is horrible. Of course they were happy when Sam Oosterhoff was elected and said they couldn’t believe it really happened and now things were going to change with the gays and the abortions and there would be no more sex ed for kids because they are too young (but every kid starts talking about sex non stop anyway in Grade 5).

When I was 13 I did think about killing myself but then found some other guys online to talk to and they convinced me to stay alive and keep going until I could be on my own.

So I just want to say to the writer of this article that she is 1000% right about people like me getting no respect and not even the right to live by the way so many people especially in the country think. I say keep up telling the truth.

But I think the Comfort Maple is very very appealing to me because it’s like no matter what happens it keeps surviving so you could also look at it that way. Thank you.

Name withheld
Pelham

 

Niagara’s regressive tendencies need addressing

Julie Mannell has been a friend of mine since we went to high school together in Welland and is, in my somewhat biased opinion, one of the most wonderful people to ever blossom from the Niagara’s verdant fields.

Julie is someone who left Niagara physically yet who returns often, and remains deeply concerned with the growth and development of the region. She has written eloquently about it both within Niagara-based media, as well as in external media, bringing much-needed attention to a region whose residents do not have the same access to resources or to mythologies and narratives about themselves that residents of large Ontario cities like Toronto enjoy in greater abundance.

At this volatile juncture in North America’s political history, it is also especially timely to address the regressive tendencies prevalent in the Niagara region.

We cannot pretend that the same political tensions that animate America are wholly unexpressed in Canada, or in the very streets we grew up on.

Julie’s essay was both literal and symbolic—a way of speaking about the whole of a thing by speaking about one part.

Living in a small town can often make a person feel that they are living in a very small world, in a closed ecosystem. It is essential to have media that forces us to reflect on how our personal lives do contribute daily to the political world.

I look forward to further articles like this that showcase the serious and important potential of local news and that challenge our notions of what Niagara is and what it can become.

Jade Wallace
Toronto

 

Stuck within the nostalgia of the past

I read Julie Mannell’s article about Sam Oosterhoff and his election and the insularity of the region. I would like to share with you that I completely agree with the main points of her piece and believe that this region in general is stuck within the nostalgia of the past, which is stunting our overall progress.

The fact that a 19-year-old kid, who grew up within the confines of a highly religious and limited home-schooled worldview is now an elected leader of our community, and has such strong opinions about reproductive, women’s and LGBT rights is quite troubling to myself and many members of our community. All-in-all, my main objective is to share with you that I stand in solidarity with Julie Mannell and many residents and former residents would like to promote a culture of progress, inclusivity and tolerance within this community.

Avalon Ressler
St. Catharines

 

Live and let live with open minds

I think you have done a great service by publishing The Comfort Maple myth. Canadians, rural or urban, are very diverse, and are actually pretty accepting people as long as no one tries to shame them out of their natural tolerance.

My great uncle Cephus was sustained through one terrible winter out west by neighbours who were what he called “Galatians” and would now more likely be called Jews.

I remember when two fellows bought a good farm in Hastings County.

“Why yes, they’re queer,” I remember someone saying, “But they’re good farmers.”

Local farmers supported a lot of Dutch immigrants when they arrived in Hastings County and the general Belleville area just after World War II, and learned to say something that sounded like “Hoya Morgan” when greeting the new arrivals in the forenoon.

I hope the famed Dutch tolerance for what’s a little different and the rural practicality of assessment on the basis of ability, will be part of this conversation Mannell has started, and that your readers will respond with the same generosity that I think of as part of rural Canada.

We always left the keys in our vehicles, because they might be needed by some neighbour with an emergency. We should keep our minds open, in the same way, out of concern for our neighbours.

Helen Brown
Toronto

 

Unchristian Christianity no inspiration

I was so pleased to see Julie Mannell’s article in the Voice of Pelham this week. Sam Oosterhoff’s election was disheartening for me, as his distinctly unchristian “Christian” values mirror a certain American autocrat’s.

Right now it is so important for Canada, and the Canadian government, to champion generosity over fear and to support those who need support more than ever. Reminding residents of Pelham of the myths that surround our pleasant existence here is a sobering memorandum that “pleasant” is not always so for everyone. Who is being excluded from this narrative? What can we do individually and as a municipality to make things better for marginalized individuals and families?

I truly hope that other readers had similar sentiments. After reading this piece I hope to be a more mindful citizen of Pelham, and I hope it will inspire others, especially those in positions of power (Hi, Mayor Dave!) to do the same.

Josie Teed
Fenwick

 

Listen to those who disagree, too

Mr. Oosterhoff’s tone-deaf response to Julie Mannell’s essay reveals, in one swoop, both his poor reading comprehension and lack of intellectual maturity.

The love and tenderness Mannell feels for her hometown and its people is clear in her writing. Her plea towards Pelham’s citizens could not be more gentle and graceful. It is possible to love something and have critical dialogue about its faults; that is, to acknowledge it is less than perfect.

Conversely, Oosterhoff has a track record of refusing to engage in public discussion about critical social issues. He charges Mannell with arrogance even as he erroneously cites her living elsewhere, and claims she has no basis to comment on the culture of a town she and her family grew up in, while in the next breath mentioning his experience with the town is in “visits.”

Of all people, I would hope our members of Parliament would understand that measured criticism— of our leaders, our municipal structures, our communities— is not an act of betrayal. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “To announce that there must be no criticism…is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable….”

And finally: Mr. Oosterhoff, not everyone in our community has the same experiences, and if they are negative, that does not make them less valid.

Your job is not only to represent those that agree with you. It is especially to listen to those that disagree, and integrate their experiences, too.

Hannah Hackney
Toronto

 

Alive and shining, with help

Julie Mannell visited the Comfort Maple in the 1990s and feels that the tree wanted to die because it had “issues.”

I visit this tree many times each year. I know it has rot, missing limbs and we really don’t know how old it is. However it still produces an abundance of seeds every other year.

It still provides shade, shelter, food and home to the many insects and animals that live around it. It can be an inspiration to the people who visit it.

I have a missing limb (left leg) and am bald on top. A tight cable helps to keep my artificial leg on. Is my life over just because I need help and support?

Does the Comfort Maple want to die if it is still producing seeds? I see it as a vibrant tree. It shines with life.

John Pruyn
Ridgeville

Students never heard all options

I am a Grade 8 student at Pelham Centre School.

When I was in Grade 7 we were told we had to pick a new name for the school and write a paragraph about why you wanted that name.

Wellington Heights was on the list that we had to pick from.

No one told us we could keep the name E. W. Farr or Pelham Centre. We were told the name had to change.

We were also told that whoever chose the new name would get the credit for it, but we were never told who chose the name.

Even though I am going to E. L. Crossley next year I still don’t think the name should change and I still think of my school as Pelham Centre and so do other kids I go to school with.

I am not happy that our Panther was covered over with a poster of a Husky.

It would have been nice if we were told we could have kept the name instead of saying it had to change, and to find out all this time later that it didn’t have to change.

We are kids and were just doing as we were told. I would like to graduate as a Pelham Centre Panther.

Luke Morris
Fenwick

 

Thank you from E. L. Crossley rowers

From the parents volunteers who worked hard to make the pasta dinner event that was held on February 4th  we would like to thank our community supporters without whose generous donations we would not have had this fundraiser.

And also thank you to all the friends and families of the crew who came out and supported us.

Without you this night would of not been a great success.

Thank you so much!

Sherry Rusin and all the Parent Volunteers
Pelham

Pelham taxpayers being manipulated and bled

I was reading the news last week and came across three articles that stuck in my craw.

I have never before penned a letter to any paper’s editor, but I am getting more and more upset at how our town is being run and we, the taxpayers and stakeholders, are being manipulated and bled.

The first article stated that Pelham’s 2017 operating costs are up 4.69%, meaning that the average residential assessment of $316,400 will mean a Pelham-only tax increase of $69.60, according to Treasurer Cari Pupo.

Now, as a retiree, I am one of the lucky ones in that I have a pension with an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA).  This reflects the change in the cost of living as measured by the Canadian Consumer Price Index and, as such, my pension for 2017 is being increased by 1.45%, and yet we all know that this figure doesn’t reflect the actual rise in costs to us.

And, as I said, I am one of the lucky ones.  My wife, like many in the private sector, has not seen a raise in close to a decade.

The math is elementary and will drive people out of Pelham to find more affordable living if it not reined-in.

The second article dovetailed perfectly with the first.  It had to do with Pelham Transit services and that the Town of Pelham has agreed to spend $83,920 this year to continue operating a single, 16-seat bus after April 1, when the Province’s funding of the pilot project ends.

Further in this article, we’re told that Recreation Director Vickie van Ravenswaay said monthly ridership has doubled in the past year to 232 riders a month.

WHAT? I thought, so I spun around and retrieved my calculator and found that this means, assuming the Town of Pelham’s funding is for a full twelve-month fiscal period, that we, the taxpayers, will be paying $6,993 per month for this highest-ever number of 232 monthly passengers, or $27.14 for each ride after you credit the Town with the $3 paid by the passenger.

What is even more galling is that this service is being continued for just 7.7 riders a day (based on a 30-day month).  Paying cab fare for this number of passengers would be far cheaper than maintaining this service.

These numbers do not sufficiently support the adage “Build it and they will come.”  There is no value per-dollar in this and it should be immediately stopped.

And then there is the article by Dave Augustyn, our vaunted mayor, in which he lays out the chronology of how the land grab by the DSBN for a healthy chunk of Cherry Ridge Park in Fenwick came to be.

As many of your readers may already know, there was a hastily called meeting of Town residents last Wednesday, February 8, at the Fenwick Fire Hall in response to a mail-out by the DSBN, dated January 30, 2017, received by only the residents of Cherry Ridge.

Mayor Augustyn was in attendance and spoke about this matter, as well as about the DSBN changing the name of E.W. Farr Memorial Public School.

He left most if not all of us believing he supports the DBSN’s proposed soccer field on a good portion of our park, all for an unspecified Memorandum of Understanding— oh, wait, he said maybe some “ZUMBA classes” could be held at the renovated school.

Augustyn laid out the chronology, and said he had been transparent in this because he had written an article in a paper addressing this.

I could not recall reading any such article, but then I received another newspaper on Thursday, and— wait for it—there it was, dated Thursday, February 9, one day AFTER the public meeting, and over a week after the DSBN letter was sent.

Interesting.  How can one not become a cynic of our Mayor.

I have only been a Pelham resident for five years but I love it here.  It is peaceful and quiet, and the people are down-to-earth and friendly.

The only thing that has disheartened me is how our Town Council, chaired by Mayor Augustyn, has continually shown disdain for the taxpayers of Pelham.

I have nothing against growth, but it must be sustainable and reasonable and always respect the taxpayers.

And growth does not have to be in the form of urban sprawl where people are put in big houses on postage-stamp-sized lots. I realize that this can greatly increase the tax base so as to pay for Pelham’s mounting debt or mitigate the increases to our tax rates, but rather it should better reflect what Pelham is before it is lost forever.  That is why my wife and I left the GTA and why we are so happy here.

Bjorn Walter
Fenwick

 


Cherry Ridge Park proposal is inappropriate

I received a survey regarding a proposed change to the soccer field located at Wellington Heights Public School.

Regarding the survey letter itself: Why was there no email address or contact information from the Town of Pelham provided within the letter?

Given the tight time-frame to respond and the fact that the proposal involves municipally-owned land, this was a negligent oversight.

While I believe in partnerships, I find this particular proposal unconventional and inappropriate.

The residents of Cherry Hill were promised and provided with a public park. I do not believe that the original intended use(s) included over-use by any group, agency, association or school.

Does the Town’s official plan allow for the proposed changes to Cherry Ridge Park?

The existing quiet space is enjoyed and appreciated by all that visit. The local taxpayers in and around the subdivision not only use the park, we paid for it.

I am concerned about the potential for future development possibilities and uses.

These could include large crowds in attendance for competitive events (for which there would be insufficient parking), excessive noise from a PA or music system, lighting for evening games and the installation of portable (or permanent) toilets.

Further, homeowners which back onto the park paid a premium for their lots and are likely assessed at higher property taxes by MPAC as a result.

I am opposed to having ‘our’ park used by a special interest groups, public or private school systems or similar.

David Goodhue
Fenwick

 


P.S.

If I may be allowed a P.S…

I love the Comfort Maple. It is especially glorious in colours. This past fall it was spectacular. We bring out of town visitors to her as a matter of routine.

The great tree is a stone’s throw from our farm property in North Pelham. It looms big and beautiful from the back yard. It would be a sad day to see the old girl finally go.

My undergrad degree is in Forestry. I love trees about as much as Joyce Kilmer. But the old girl’s going to go someday, despite our gallant efforts to keep her with us. My vote is a hundred years from now, but I’m obviously being selfish.

Ms. Mannell used the tree as a literary vehicle. We love it because we are more comfortable with consistency than we are with change. The tree is not the point.

Nick Saltarelli BScF, Past President of the Ontario Professional Foresters Association
Pelham

 

Don’t forget the bigger picture

Sometimes it’s the little things that get under people’s skins and cause an uproar. The re-naming of a school in Fenwick seems to be one of those little things.

People are rightfully angry and want some kind of justice. The Mayor and Council appear to have rolled over on this issue and have probably already agreed to the land request for the school’s soccer field. Citizens should know that a public meeting is meant to inform them of an already agreed upon course of action. Look at the result of last year’s public meeting over the new arena.

Meanwhile larger issues are being ignored. The Town passed a 4.69% tax increase. That’s a lot more than the inflation rate. They say we need improvements to the Public Works yard to the tune of $227,000. They say we need to spend $365,800 for ever more staff and raises for everyone. How many readers have had a raise lately? They want to expand the transit system—you know, the little white bus that drives around empty most of the time. There is still $25,000,000, yes, that’s $25 million, that needs to be raised for the arena. I have heard nothing about that, yet it is being built right now. If the funding arrangements for the arena don’t materialize, as promised by the mayor, a 4.69% tax increase will feel like a fond memory.

Little things are important. Sometimes people need to focus on a little problem, like a school re-naming, to realize that much bigger issues need to be looked at just as carefully, such as the way the Mayor and this Council do business.

Jim Pitt
Fonthill

 

 

About the Author

The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.