I'm getting tired of a small minority blaming everything that is wrong with Fort Erie on four councilors. These uninformed zombies of the internet take their talking points from a couple of local scoundrels and pass them along with all the authority they can muster from their basement command centres.
I have spent a lifetime educating myself about politics and trends. There is obviously a lot more to Fort Erie's woes than the fight to save a public beachfront property from development. It became an issue because Rino Mostacci mistakenly thought that the people of the area would roll over to his vision of a condo parade on Bay Beach. He managed to convince the mayor and a foolish councilor or two that his great idea would be a catalyst for change and improvement over Crystal Beach's and the town's economic future. Too bad he didn't take into account the demographics and the trends going on in Crystal Beach before he unveiled his dream and roped the Molinaros into an untenable project.
So, let's talk about what's going on in Crystal Beach and elsewhere in Fort Erie. The one that no one talks about: what's really happening to many of our young people in Fort Erie. We've heard it before, the ads and the pronouncements that we're losing our young people because they move away to get educated and then they find jobs elsewhere. What does anyone expect when there are so many young people choosing a life on the dole rather than to make the effort to become self-sufficient? I can bet that everyone reading this knows of at least one "teen mom" living in Fort Erie. It's pretty predictable what will happen: the young women will probably not finish high school; will not marry; will not find a job or will end up in a low-paying job; or they will have at least one more out-of-wedlock child. One thing is that they will remain supported by the taxpayers while they grapple with the realization that having a baby is not such a fun thing to do. The Baby-Daddies usually fare no better as they are often cast aside or lose interest as time goes on and they realize that they must be a part of their child's life for the next several years. Many choose not to get "real" jobs as they will then be financially responsible for the baby. I have seen this up close and personal where I now live and it literally keeps me up at night.
Far be it from me to put down social assistance. I was on it a couple of times myself. Out of work or laid off, it is a life-saver. I was briefly on disability but chose to get a job and get off it as soon as I was able. I hated the fact that it was necessary for me to accept welfare. Never in my life thought it would happen to me. I am grateful for the help I received. I also see many who abuse the system. It seems like a "career choice" for some in the area. For a while Crystal Beach was a dumping ground for those on social assistance, many sent down from Toronto to live in the cheap cottages that were snapped up by slum landlords after the amusement park closed. No wonder Crystal Beach went into a tail spin. Redlined and home to welfare recipients, what chance did Crystal Beach have? If it weren't for the remaining summer residents, the Beach would have been a ghost town, inhabited by the poor and the disadvantaged.
Then something happened: people started hearing about the cheap houses in Crystal Beach and started buying and fixing up the run-down buildings. People from Toronto came down, not as welfare recipients, but as retired or near-retired people looking for a cheap getaway place. Soon the Beach started to come back to life; the beautification committee worked hard to make the streetscape more welcoming and colourful; Bay Beach Properties were bought by the town with the thought that it would serve as a public park on the public beach for the future; and developments began to spring up in the area. The one glaring mistake was the gated community built on the property where the amusement park once stood. It was a slap in the face to the whole community, grabbed away by a dodgy developer and gated off. Right in the middle of the village.
But we still have the remains of the previous Beach - the place where teen moms go to live and be supported by the taxpayers because, it seems that mistakes are forgiven and encouraged in Ontario. Look at what's happened recently in politics: gross mismanagement of funds and drunken, drug-addled behavior are celebrated as the perpetrators of these excesses are celebrated and win elections. If a community can forgive Rob Ford, then it surely will not shame those teen moms on Mothers' Allowance.
And that is the real problem. Everyone is expected to accept and welcome this new generation of young people and wish for their success, even though they are statistically doomed to failure. I'm sure there are many who know the exceptions to the statistics, but I'm also fairly sure that they also know that most such situations do not end well for the mother or the child(ren.)
So, what can be done? Perhaps parents of teenagers are afraid to lay down the law and place high expectations on their children. I admit that I was raised in a different era, one where teen-aged pregnancy was not tolerated and those who did get pregnant were either forced into marriage or sent away to have their babies and give them up for adoption. Back then, we also did not have access to birth control or legal abortions. Although I am personally against abortion, I do feel that it should be the choice of the woman to determine if she has an abortion. I am inclined to think that teenaged pregnancies are a matter of choice these days. The casual acceptance of a teen pregnancy is also problematic. Add a reality show highlighting teen moms and one comes away with the impression that it's the thing to do to be cool.
So this is what has been bothering me lately while I observe the local political scene. How are we to expect that people will make reasonable choices in their voting when the entire social fabric is ass-backwards? Until we can keep children from making foolish, life-altering choices, we will be no better off. The ones who go away to university are the ones who decided that education was more important than having babies. They took precautions if they were sexually active; they placed a higher value on themselves; and they planned for their future. It's unfortunate that they had to escape Fort Erie, sometimes permanently, to achieve their dreams. What we have left is a lot of people without dreams and pride, who are hostages to their prejudices and lack of critical thinking. These people resent those who move to the area and have new ideas.
This is Fort Erie's present and future. I hope I'm wrong.
Editor's Note: I offered this opinion piece because it is a real issue in Fort Erie as it is in places all over. I did read the study referenced by a reader and found it very interesting, although it seems to have been done about ten years ago. The problems brought up in various information sessions conducted seem to be still with us, certainly not a good sign. Teenagers themselves want better access to alcohol and drug counselling; birth control advice and mental health services. The on-going lack of transit options is still a major problem, although it has improved in the past couple of years. One thing that they all asked for was a movie theatre in Fort Erie. Too bad that the one movie theatre in Ridgeway, The Boutique Theatre has closed. I suspect this was not the kind of movie theatre the youth wanted. Too bad the one in the mall in Fort Erie closed years ago. (I do wish that every young person in town had a theatre like we had when I was growing up in Buffalo. The North Park Theater was the place where the kids spent their Saturdays in the school year. Wonderful place that has now been restored to its original elegance.) Makes me think that somehow the former Gypsy Theatre location would have been a perfect place for a movie theatre that could be enjoyed by all ages. Those surveyed said that the beach is one of the good things about Fort Erie, along with the safety and decent neighbourhoods. However, they all agreed that drugs were a big issue all over Fort Erie and it was mentioned that teen pregnancy is a big problem. Most did not want to move away and hoped to return to jobs after university.
So, the same problems were discussed over a decade ago and few positive improvements came as a result of the study. There is a skateboard park, so those who enjoy that activity have a place to go - if they can get there. No one mentioned the Kinsmen Pool which was in operation at the time. For socializing, it was the beach (no particular beach was pointed out, just "the beach.") Too bad for the kids in Stevensville; there is still no transit available to them. What is the Youth Advisory Committee doing anyway?
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