2015 Meet & Greet

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Thanks very much to those of you who attended our Meet and Greet on April 29th. It was a wonderful evening spent with a group of politically interested and active residents of Markham. The food was plentiful (thanks to those who contributed it), and the speaker was thought provoking and entertaining.

Tony Van Alphen, a reporter with the Toronto Star for 25 years, discussed his tenure at the Star, especially the period of time when he covered municipal politics. He spoke about the necessity of keeping government at all levels accountable and honest and stressed the importance of having citizens groups, like MCCRG, take on that role. He complimented our group on its determined, and successful work to ensure that City funds were not used to build the proposed Markham arena. He also mentioned that if a citizens group had taken on the City of Toronto when the “Sky Dome” was being built, the taxpayers of Toronto would not have lost many millions of dollars over the years on that project.

Members of the executive were on hand to review a chart of our other initiatives (Accomplishments and Projects). Mr. Van Alphen was pleased that MCCRG has continued to stay active after the defeat of the arena project. Members of the audience were asked to provide their ideas on what projects the group should tackle in the future, and all of those ideas will be considered at future executive meetings.

The icing on the cake for the evening was that we signed up some new members and also collected some contributions for our work. As you know, membership is free and we rely on contributions to assist us in paying for our expenses, for example, the newspaper ad during the 2014 election, in which we announced those candidates running for office who were being endorsed by MCCRG.

For those of you who could not attend, we hope to see you at the event next year. In the meantime, please stay in touch, give us your feedback, keep track of our activities in the press and on our website, and contribute (on-line or by cheque) to our meagre bank account if you want to support our present and future activities. All contributions go towards our expenses because we are all working as volunteers.

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Van Alphen’s speech:
It’s about groups like you. And how really important they are. I want to outline some points and tips perhaps worth noting as you try to grow and become an even more effective and influential force.

If there had been a citizen group like the current one in Markham in the last few years, perhaps municipal and provincial politicians would have never built the then Sky Dome in Toronto in the late 1980s for more than $600 million in mostly taxpayer money so a bunch of young millionaires could have a playpen complete with a hotel. That stadium had some private money but in the end taxpayers were on the hook.

A couple of local citizen groups mobilized, planned and executed a major campaign that stopped a potential financial nightmare here in Markham which could have burdened taxpayers for generations.
Governments and politicians lose sight of their responsibilities and why they were elected. They are blinded by the prospect of an iconic building or bridge or legacy project, which I call a bright shiny objects, instead of the necessity of buses, soccer fields or homeless shelters.

You are somewhat like shareholders in a company that has the power to elect, embarrass, support, oust, influence or defend the directors. Democracy is precious. If you don’t exercise and protect it, your leaders can act with impunity, knowing no one is really watching or cares.

Some politicians mix lies and the truth with the eventual goal of convincing the public that the lies must be true too. There are those that repeat lies enough times that an unsuspecting public believes them to be true.

Writer George Orwell, once said ‘’the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those people who speak it.’’

But it never ceases to amaze me and a lot of other reporters and citizens what lengths our governments will argue ‘’right to privacy’’ instead of releasing information that could help the public and taxpayers make more informed decisions or know that a council make a bad decision.

Oversight – That’s what citizens groups must do when their municipal leaders don’t practice it very well. Whenever municipalities or companies don’t want to give you information or stall the process, ask yourself this. “What have they got to hide? What harm would it do to release the information at a nominal cost?” Again, it belongs to you as taxpayers.

You gained expertise in how to galvanize public opinion and how to effectively oppose council. It starts with hard research, the collection of relevant, accurate facts, what they simply mean and effective distribution to the public and media.

Enthusiasm, hard work, stamina, persistence, and patience. You won’t win all the time but when that eventually happens, it will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and the fact you did the right thing. It’s nice to sleep soundly at night.

(End of excerpt)