Citizens affecting change
Where citizens were engaged on development issues, incumbents lost and new green Councils were elected. This is not surprising given that the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt Plan were both created as a result of citizen outcry. Organized, engaged people do make a difference.
There were a number of areas in the Greenbelt where development threatened the quality of life of residents. In Midhurst, a community of 3,500 nestled in the municipality of Springwater, just north of Barrie, the Midhurst Ratepayers Association endorsed five candidates out of seven candidates elected. The new Mayor, Bill French ran and was elected on an anti-sprawl platform. Working with their new Council, the Midhurst Ratepayers Association is determined to stop plans to turn this agricultural community on the edge of the Minesing Swamp, a provincially significant wetland, into a sprawling city of 30,000.
Similar change occurred in Georgina where long time Mayor Robert Grossi, lost to candidate, Margaret Quirk. The residents group, Save the North Gwillimbury Forest surveyed the candidates to ensure voters knew where candidates stood on the issue of developing a 1,000 home subdivision in an environmentally sensitive area of the Greenbelt. The group effectively engaged residents through an on-line campaign and at all candidates meetings.
In Niagara, where the municipality of Grimsby is planning to build a road through one of the remaining forested areas, a new Regional Councillor Tony Quirk was elected. The group working to stop the destruction of the forest was very pleased with the news of the new Councillor who promised to save the woodlot. Organizers held events at the woodlot and ran ads in the local paper to build awareness of the threat to this precious forested area in the Greenbelt.
Ousting incumbents is not easy. In each of these cases the volunteers in these community organizations put in insignificant effort to inspire change. They held events, paid for ads in the local papers, developed websites, online petitions and used social media to build awareness and communicate the position of the people running for Council. In some cases, people in the community were inspired to run for office to fight the issue themselves.
Last summer at an event in Midhurst, Margaret Atwood gave an empowering speech to the attendees, “This is your opportunity to do something bigger than yourself.” Well, they did it. We should all be encouraged by these citizen’s, they cared enough to get involved in their community to make change happen.