A discussion about allowing barbecues in local parks turned into an impassioned plea about inclusivity in town during Monday night’s council meeting.
As a result of feedback from the public, Coun. Sandra O’Connor suggested small propane barbecues could be allowed in three parks in town. She was presenting an amendment to the new parks bylaw, which bans barbecues in all town parks.
Niagara-on-the Lake has parks of different sizes and with different characteristics, said O’Connor, and after discussion with staff, she was asking that the Lions Park in St. Davids, Memorial Park in the Old Town and Centennial Park in Virgil be exempt from the barbecue ban.
At the suggestion of Lord Mayor Betty Disero, the amendment also allows for staff to report back “from time to time” on any additional parks where barbecues could be allowed.
Coun. Erwin Wiens, however, took exception to the motion, saying he was troubled by “the larger picture” the bylaw paints.
When the parks bylaw was first discussed, he suggested there was no danger to propane barbecues, and since many enjoy an outdoor meal, they should be allowed.
But he said Monday he finds the proposed amendment exclusionary.
Parks are becoming more popular, and a very large “vocal, well-heeled, privileged and well-educated group” has been using words like “overcrowding” or “over-use,” saying “we need to take back our park,” when parks are public places, and should be inclusive to everybody, he said.
“I haven’t heard a good reason why you can’t have propane barbecues. What I have heard is that there’s a possibility of camping, of people coming with tents, and while they’re here they don’t bring anything to our economy,” he said. “Not everyone who comes to our town or lives in town can eat at our high-end restaurants.”
Inclusion is much more than a committee or report, he said, referring to an earlier presentation of a report on inclusivity and diversity in town.
In emails to the town about the need for a bylaw, there’s “even talk about ‘those’ people coming with their extended families and monopolizing our parks,” he said, “and no one ever gets called out.”
He compared a compromise, by saying “we’ll give you this park,” and the townspeople have their own parks, “separate but equal,” to the deep south of the ’60s, which didn’t work then, and doesn’t work here, he said.
People also complain about noise in the parks, he said, because “kids are screaming and playing and having fun, God forbid.”
Wiens said he had thought about the issue “long and hard. This is near and dear to me, personally.
“My wife feels it as a visible minority, my kids feel it as a visible minority, and the people who work for me are visible minorities.”
He explained he would be abstaining, because if he voted against the amendment, it would be saying no to propane barbecues, when he would like to see them permitted in all parks. Voting in favour would be compromising his principles, “and I’m not doing that . . . I don’t want to vote on this because it’s not inclusive.”
An abstention is sometimes used when a councillor feels there is not enough information for a decision, or the vote is inappropriate for some reason, but is counted as a no vote.
Coun. Allan Bisback and Coun. Wendy Cheropita also abstained, and the remaining votes in favour of allowing barbecues in three town parks meant the amendment was approved.