Two citizen groups win praise for activism

First published: December 30, 2004

As the year draws to a close, citizens in West Northumberland can take heart from the success of at least two groups. And while kudos are being handed out, both sides in these vital issues deserve praise, showing the system does work occasionally for the good of all despite suggestions to the contrary.

Port Hope’s Families Against Radiation Exposure, who have vigorously fought Cameco’s proposal to processing slightly enriched uranium; and Cobourg’s Friends of the Laneway, who sought to preserve a laneway off Brooke Road South as greenspace for public access, are two shining examples of citizen activism. Regardless of one’s point of view, it cannot be denied these groups put forward extraordinary efforts to raise awareness and both have met with a degree of success in a time when public criticism of their efforts would make most people walk away.

What is most fascinating is the dynamic of the organizations and how both have placed enough pressure and developed sufficient credibility so no one is able to discount them entirely.

Families Against Radiation Exposure worked diligently to keep Cameco accountable for its actions. Critics bemoan the group’s efforts and attacked it with gusto. But, it won several key victories in maintaining the flow of information to the public and questioned every assumption and fact presented. And while some have tried very hard to undermine the group, it has survived the year.

Cobourg’s Friends of the Laneway were successful in stopping a developer from destroying Molly Baker Lane, off Brook Road South. The group worked diligently starting in August when a proposal to develop adjacent lands was brought before council. Initially, the town was ready to sell the lands, but with diligence, hard work and tenacity by the Friends, council approved an agreement to save it at its final meeting of the year.

A majority of council must be praised for working with Friends of the Laneway. And Cameco should receive kudos for its effort, too. That may seem ludicrous. But it is not. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes. Both sides must be willing or nothing would happen. And that is why this is so important.

Take the example of Cobourg council when it approved the laneway. While the mayor and several councillors, along with town staff, spent time and resources reaching the deal, three members of council revealed the pettiness so often found when citizen groups come before municipal politicians.

Councillor Pam Jackson was first to slam the deal, arguing the lands should be sold instead. She insulted the group by saying it was only a minority, about 200 citizens out of 17,500. She also claimed the laneway would be expensive to maintain. Continuing on, she attacked volunteer groups, saying they make promised and then don’t keep them. But her most damning criticism was saved for Cobourg’s youth, who she said would use the lane for sex and drugs.

“For young people, it will be one more place to indulge in whatever they do these days,” she said, adding the area will be littered with condoms and needles.

Councillor Bill MacDonald threw his support behind Jackson. But it was Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner who added insult to injury.

Standing proudly, he told council, his actions were motivated by one elderly woman, an acquaintance he knows through the Probus Club, who lived adjacent to the laneway. She asked him to do something. And he did. Forget all the work of the Friends of the Laneway, he said later. It meant nothing.

This glimpse inside the heart of these politicians clearly demonstrated why these citizens groups deserve praise and why so many others in our community are afraid to become involved in issues within West Northumberland. Jackson’s vitriolic assault of our community volunteers and youth is unforgivable. In one sweeping generalization, she insulted two of the most important groups in Cobourg. She owes them a public apology.

All too often people who speak out are demonized or trivialized to a point where it is unbearable. All too often, those with a personal connection to the powerful get attention and those who do not are ignored. This is the cancer of democracy. If we are lucky, voters will not forget these statements come election time.

And this is the reason we need to celebrate the efforts and success of all citizen groups, politicians, businesses and institutions who did make an effort over the past year. When it works, it is a beautiful thing.

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