George Maroosis and I didn’t agree on a whole lot in our latest interview at his downtown art centre, yet that made the conversation even more special.
There’s a point where North Bay’s record-holder for the number of years as a city councillor contends that private school system products are “more centred” than public system grads. At another spot, he was resolute that the best advice for anybody squabbling with a neighbour is to hire a lawyer – even when it involves public property. That's what you get when two contrarians talk.
I did like, however, his concluding message that gave some golden advice for the elected officials. "The one thing over the years that I found is you know the people who've been elected they do try to do their best and I think ... if I can give anybody any advice that this is not personal ... if you have a disagreement, don't take it outside of the council chamber and make it personal because it just isn't going to work."
Maroosis, who put a bow on 34 years of civic servitude this term, didn’t get a chance to make a departing speech because they had to stop holding official council meetings a couple of months ago. That happens when several councillors and/or the mayor indicate they won’t be returning and create a “lame duck” situation. With Mayor Al McDonald bowing out after three consecutive terms, Johanne Brousseau leaving her seat in a failed mayoral bid, and one-termer Scott Robertson choosing to exit stage left, Maroosis’s retirement put them over the edge of the council quackery formula.
Unless someone organizes a goodbye event, which we both agree is unlikely, the video embedded below serves as a salute to his historical perspective. Maroosis, who turns 77 years old next month, was nicknamed “The Wrench” by yours truly more than a decade ago precisely because he held just enough institutional knowledge to bring up last-minute nuggets of wisdom to foil an opposing councillor’s machinations. (The clip is set to start at the end comments but this one has chapters indicated, so viewers can bounce into specific topics rather than having to watch it all at once.)
That moniker retires with him, although the role might be filled by Mac Bain who is beginning his 20th year on council with his latest election win giving him the 10th spot. Ironically, Maroosis was the bane of many Bain resolutions over the years as the elder found a variety of ways to inject pause and the need to further ponder some of the political panderings.
Does ‘Mac the (Rubber) Mallet’ sound good? I like the alliteration but not sure he’ll embrace the notion.
“It's sort of regrettable because we didn't really have an opportunity you know to say goodbye,” Maroosis said about the lame way things ended without a parting salute, “in particular (for) the mayor, who served three terms and done a good job and dedicated his life … what essentially was 12 years being in that office and you know he certainly worked hard at it so (we) really never had an opportunity.”
The ‘private school’ comment actually made me laugh, mostly due to my experience covering politics and life in general – with clear indications that it isn’t the case. Rotten apples come out of all the barrels and it’s a mug's game to assume that character can be baked into the source of a piece of paper.
Maroosis, to be fair, was pointing to how the Ontario Premier names his cabinet based on his party’s best and brightest based on their experience for the chosen portfolios. He said it might make sense in the future for a mayor to have more say in forming his “cabinet” of chairs – especially if the governance changes to a ward system. You can hardly base ascension decisions on the pecking order of votes when each ward would be disputed differently at the polls. Some candidates might run unopposed or represent a ward that has more or fewer voters.
I thought at first of how Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli’s brief stint as Finance Minister under party boss Doug Ford is an example of how appointing cabinet chairs leads to awkward decisions. But that was politics more than resume and the current Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, I thought, served as a better example of unearned responsibility.
Maroosis said: “I'm sure the Minister of Education … has expertise in education because he was educated …”
Not in the public system, I said (because that’s where the majority of students get their educational start.
“I think he knows what a good education is, you can be sure of that because if you're educated in the private schools they tend to, you know, be a little more – just how to put this diplomatically … they're often more centered because they're smaller classes…”
If you’re following the news these past couple of years, Lecce has become a lightning rod of divisional thinking on the education system front – much of which has been fuelled by his contentious use of Twitter posts but also founded on the province playing games with teachers and staff.
Of course, one can look at the state of the contract negotiations and interruptions to school schedules as a result to measure the result of his so-called expertise. It seems like the goal of the province isn’t to make the public system work, so maybe Ford’s appointment of Lecce makes a bit more sense when it comes to privateering learning opportunities (appears health care is enduring similar expertise.)
That said, I’ll leave one more thought on the subject to ruminate – I don’t think a Minister of Education is suitable for the role if they haven’t raised kids through at least one of the systems.
Maroosis said he is glad not to be on council as it tries to wrestle with inflationary pressures impacting budget deliberations soon to dominate the chamber discussions.
‘This is not a happy situation for anybody, not for the taxpayers, not for anyone because it really restricts so much what you can actually accomplish… it's very tricky, never mind the Council, anybody who is in business is facing the same kind of situation … you don't know where your costs are going and obviously, your customers are not happy, you're not happy, so it doesn't make for a very happy situation in any way shape or form … everybody's going to be on edge until you see where this thing settles…”
Maroosis also noted that the demographics of the city and specifically the voters lean heavily toward seniors, and that should impact infrastructure priorities. He was, of course, noting the upcoming debate that is coming over the twin-pad “community centre” proposed to be built in the far south end at the Steve Omischl Sports Field Complex.
“I'm going to be curious to see what they do because you know most cities would have a special Centennial project,” he said, referring to the city’s 100th birthday as an incorporated city in 2025.
“I guess maybe this is what leaves the door open for the replacement of West Ferris Arena, which interestingly enough was a 1967 project for Canada’s Centennial and maybe now for the city Centennial they can come up with a community centre plan that satisfies both things,” he said. “Because … people have to realize is that Double Rinks is getting close to the end of its life cycle too so you can't dither too long with replacing ice surfaces to some degree.
“But you know the other thing is … look at who voted in the election, it was the older population, so what's in a community centre for a centennial project for seniors? I think the council needs to think about that,” he said, adding that letting them walk around the rink like at Memorial Gardens “… doesn't really cut it does it?”
Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to email@example.com. To contact the writer directly, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca