My good friend Peter Pike died on 27 December after being unwell for some time. He was 84.   

Peter was the Labour MP for Burnley, an industrial town in Lancashire in the North West of England, from 1983 until 2005 when he retired from the House of Commons - but not from politics. 

Peter’s maiden speech on 28 June 1983 marked him out as a man of principle, ready and willing to defend the interests of Burnley to the last.

I first got to know Peter in 1991 when I was selected to fight Pendle, next door to his Burnley constituency. I looked on him then as a kind of big brother - the long-established and worldly-wise MP and me the new kid on the block.

I kept in touch with Peter over the years and last heard from him in October in the wake of the terrible news of the murder of David Amess.

Genuine

Peter was a genuine person with no side to him. He got on well with people and I never once heard him unfairly criticise anyone.

Peter was a Labour stalwart to the core. He believed Britain needed a strong, united Labour Party. He told me he was never the greatest Tony Blair fan but it was always a pity that Gordon Brown and Tony Blair did not work better together. He said Brown's obsession with wanting to be Leader was his weakness.

Peter was incredibly industrious. His constituency casework was a top priority and the day-to-day experience of helping people resolve the problems they had with the State and its agencies informed his politics. 

I recall him standing up in the Commons, often slightly dishevelled, holding forth on the scourge of low pay or on the problems facing manufacturing or local transport or whatever the issue was. If a policy affected Burnley you could count on him to be on his feet, defending the town and its people.

Peter remained politically active when he left the Commons, chairing the local constituency Party until 2015 when he said he wanted to hand over to a younger person with more energy. 

Westminster bustle

He liked the bustle of Westminster but the place changed when Covid struck. He told me:

“Parliament is very strange now as it is almost empty - it would not be my cup of tea at all. That said I still miss it!”

I have many vivid memories of Peter. 

In 2003 he led a CPA (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) delegation to St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. I was on it. (Photo: saying hello to the children at an elementary school in Kingstown, SVG)

On our itinerary was a visit to the central prison that must have dated back to Napoleonic times. The walls were six feet thick. We were being taken up to see the tiny cells for the condemned men (though no-one had been executed there for years). To get there we had to ascend a steep flight of stone steps with no bannisters. Down below on our right was an open exercise area crammed full of bare-chested prisoners, gazing up at us. 

Address the prisoners!

The uniformed Prison Governor with his swagger stick led the way followed by Peter, the delegation leader. I was next in line with the other MPs in single file behind. Half way up the stairs the Governor swivelled round and barked out at the top of his voice:

“Mr Pike, Sir!!! Would you care to address the prisoners!”

None of us had been given any warning that this was on the programme. I looked at Peter - thanking God I was not in his position - and he handled it with tremendous skill. There was a moment when I could see his mind racing as he surveyed the ranks of prisoners below and then he settled into his theme. He too yelled at the top of his voice:

"The conditions here are terrible!”  

He tells them the prison is cramped, overcrowded and totally out of date. He vows to take up the issue as a priority when we get back to London. 

And he does.

Peter was a good friend to me and to many others. I shall always remember him with great affection.

Peter Pike  26 June 1937 – 27 December 2021

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On 3 February 1916 a fire engulfed the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, reducing most of it to a smouldering ruin. 

The fire started in the Members’ Reading Room next to the octagonal library which was saved when the quick-thinking librarian, Michael MacCormac, ordered the iron doors to be closed, sealing it off from the raging inferno.

It is thought the fire was started when a cigar was carelessly dropped into a waste-paper basket despite the fact that the Reading Room was ostensibly a “no smoking” area. The rule was widely ignored by MPs. (Photo right)

The room was panelled in old pine with many layers of varnish. It contained books, magazines and newspapers from floor to ceiling. No surprise then that the fire quickly took hold and spread at an alarming speed.

Very little was saved other than some valuable art pieces removed from the Senate. A Royal Commission reported on the causes of the fire and its aftermath.

Smell the history

As it happens, I have a very large and heavy bound volume of the Globe newspaper for April-June 1882, whose pages are charred and scorched at the edges. The rest of the volume is quite readable and is in remarkably good condition. I picked it up on my travels and I am told it came from a house in Burlington. (Photo below right)

Each title page of the Globe has a small sticker attached. Most say: 10314 Parliamentary Library. But some other numbers also appear. (Click "Read More" at the bottom to see images)

Astonishingly, it is still possible to get a faint whiff of the smoke from the pages. I can actually smell the fire when I turn them.

Records lost 

I have asked the Library of Parliament if similar volumes survived the fire. 

They say the records of the Library’s newspaper collection prior to 1916 were presumably lost in the fire. They have not been able to find a detailed list of all the losses to the Library and Reading Room collections. (The Library was affected by water.) And they haven't seen anything like my bound volume with its tagged "Parliamentary Library" pages.

So, with flames licking round their feet and ankles, why on earth would a fleeing MP - or someone else unknown - want to remove a smouldering bound volume of the Globe newspaper?  

William Mulock gets elected  

No-one can ever know. But perhaps we have a clue. The fifth Federal Election took place in 1882 (with the Conservatives winning 139 seats (53.4%) to the Liberals (71 (46.6%) on a 70.3% turnout). The bound volume contains a valuable (though, obviously, not unique) record of the ups and downs of the election campaign, the rallies and the rivalries. In the language of the time it paints vivid pictures of the candidates with all their strengths and weaknesses.

In 1882 Newmarket’s famous son, William Mulock, ran for Parliament in North York as a Liberal and won.  

The first public meeting of the campaign was held on 2 June in Queensville when Mulock addressed a huge crowd from the balcony of the Bennett Hotel for an hour and a quarter! 

“Mr Mulock came forward amid deafening applause which prevents his commencing to speak for some moments… with the exception of a few interruptions from a knot of Tory clacquers on the edge of the crowd he was given a fair hearing.”

 His opponent, James Anderson, was not so lucky:

“Mr Anderson, the Government candidate, followed and for a portion of the time allotted him talked in the most erratic and pointless fashion, awakening the pity of his opponents if not the commiseration of his friends.”

Rough old trade

Politics was a rough old trade in those days. Heckling at political meetings was commonplace. Fighting too often broke out. And the reporting of events was merciless and blunt. In the run-up to the election, the Globe’s Parliamentary reporter had the nerve to tell his readers in his opening sentence: 

“The proceedings in the House of Commons were very uninteresting yesterday.”

Votes for (some) men

Of course, women didn’t have the vote then. But neither did lots of men. 

The franchise was incredibly restrictive. 

“Male persons of 21 years or over, British subjects by birth or naturalisation who own or are tenants of property valued at $400 in cities; $300 in towns and $200 in villages.”

There was also the “income franchise” where the male voter had to have an income

“from some trade, office, calling or profession or not less than $400 per annum.” 

There was even a special category of franchise for farmers’ sons.

“Every farmer’s son residing on the farm of his father and mother (if not less than 20 acres) for the twelve months preceding the return of the assessment roll is entitled to vote providing (1) that he is a British subject and (2) that his father’s property is assessed at a sufficient amount. ($200 is the qualification for each vote; if therefore the father’s property is assessed at $400 the father and son have the right to vote; if for $600 the father and two sons; if for $800 the father and three sons and so on.)

“If the father be dead and the mother the owner of the property, the son or sons have the right to vote as though their father were alive.”

With all these restrictions it is a miracle that voter turnout in the 5th Federal Election was 70.3%

Nowadays we don't have that excuse.

In September 2021 the turnout in Canada’s 44th Federal Election was 62.5%

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The Glenway developer, Marianneville, which donated 16 acres of land to the Town of Newmarket earlier this month can afford to show some largesse.

On 21 January 2010 Marianneville bought a little over 140 acres of land (57 hectares), then designated as private open space, from the owners of the old Glenway Golf Course for $9,900,000.

This works out at a very modest $70,287 per acre.

Rezoning unlocks value

Marianneville took a gamble that they could get the land rezoned for housing. And they did. They are now reaping rewards that are truly sensational. They can afford to gift to the Town the land they cannot use and do not need. And we shall soon see little plaques erected along the new public trails reminding us of their generosity.

Joanne Barnett, Vice President of the Kerbel Group and the brains behind the operation, is now re-cast as Lady Bountiful.

The sale of the golf course at Glenway to developers triggered similar sales elsewhere. Predatory developers, hungry for land in urban areas, targetted golf courses across the Province. 

The development of the golf course at Highland Gate in Aurora soon followed.

Sitting on a gold mine

Rezoning land can unlock millions. And golf course owners soon realised they could be sitting on a gold-mine.

A golf course next to the proposed route of the controversial Bradford Bypass, owned by John Cho, the father of Ontario’s Associate Minister of Transportation, Stan Cho, could be worth a small fortune.

John Cho’s business partner Kenneth Yoo is quoted telling a Korean newspaper:

“It (the golf course) is currently tied to a Greenbelt but it can be transformed into a residential area. In that case, the value will rise beyond imagination.”

In 2008 the Town was given the opportunity to buy the Glenway land but didn't take up the offer. 

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Newmarket Today says the 16 acres donated by Marianneville are estimated to be worth $14,000,000 - or $875,000 per acre. The Marianneville lands total 140 acres. If we believe Newmarket Today's estimate, the total Marianneville lands would be worth $875,000 x 140 = $122,500,000. Not a bad return for an outlay of under $10M in 2010.

See also:  Glenway: What really happened (21/06/2015) and Glenway, the final act: What did we learn? (24/06/2015) And the Glenway West Lands: Giving back to the community (12/06/2017)

Update on 31 December 2021: From Newmarket Today: Glenway West and the Land Donation

I laughed out loud when I read that the Glenway developer, Marianneville, had donated 16 acres to the Town and this was estimated to be worth $14M.  

Talk about inflation in land prices!

Marianneville bought the lands that are now being developed for housing in Glenway together with the lands that have been gifted to the Town – for $9,900,000 on 21 January 2010 from the owners of the old Glenway Golf Course.

Not in the Golf business

The owners first offered to sell to the Town in 2008 but the then Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, advised councillors not to buy as the Council was not in the business of running a golf course.

True. But the Council is in the business of safeguarding and extending public open space – if, of course, the terms are right.

Back in 2008, the then Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, now MP for Newmarket-Aurora, agreed with Shelton and the offer was not taken up. 

"Fantastic deal"

Former Newmarket councillor Dave Kerwin – at that time the longest serving councillor in Canada – said the buy was a "fantastic deal". This was an uncharacteristic understatement by Kerwin, known for his florid hyperbole. 

Marianneville went to the OMB and got the golf course land re-designated for housing. It has made hundreds of millions in pure profit. 

Glenway Golf Course dropped into their lap like a big, ripe, juicy plum.

And now they have gifted to the Town the stormwater ponds and land they otherwise can’t use. 

Good for them!

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A Newmarket Media Release on 9 June 2017 told us: "Approximately 16 acres are included in the donation, bringing the total of public land ownership for parks, trails, open space and environmental protection to 27 per cent of Marianneville’s land holdings." However, we know that Marianneville owns 140 acres.

The relationship between Southlake’s top managers and the hospital’s nurses has been strained for years

The nurses in the Intensive Care Unit and in the Medical Assessment Consultation Unit say patient safety is being put at risk. They point to the downsides of team-based working which is not used anywhere else in Ontario.

Rebuffed and discounted

They asked to meet Arden Krystal, Southlake’s Chief Excutive, but were rebuffed. They asked to meet the hospital board but were ignored. They pleaded for a meeting with the local MPP, the Minister of Heath, Christine Elliott but got nowhere. They took their case to the press and media who listened.

Frustrated at every turn, the Ontario Nurses Association triggered a review under the Collective Agreement they had with Southlake. A three-person independent review panel was constituted (with nominees from Southlake, the ONA and an independent chair with impeccable credentials) which reported on 14 November 2021.

Unsafe

I’ve read it cover-to-cover and the panel – with no dissenting voices – confirmed what the nurses had been saying all along. The working practices imposed by the top hospital managers were unsafe.

“For approximately the past 2 years, the Medical Assessment Consultation Unit (MACU) Registered Nurses have consistently reported their concerns in relation to an increased workload, resulting in decreased quality of care and safety.” 

The report shows staff turnover sky-rocketed in the Medical Assessment Consultation Unit in 2020-2021. The Independent Assessment Panel:

“heard that the staff has lost trust in the leadership team as a result of being told multiple times that the practice environment would change for the better and nothing occurred. Building trust is imperative in increasing job satisfaction, increased organizational commitment, quality of care and retention. Moving forward, the Hospital will need to deliver on their promises to re-build the trust that was lost over the past years.”

Trust is a precious commodity

Trust, when lost, can take a long time to rebuild. If ever.

Integrity, judgement and competence are key qualities in leaders and once these are forfeited we are all in trouble. 

The Independent Review Panel heard about the constant leadership changes in the Medical Assessment Unit. There have been 4 managers since 2019 with 3 of them since February, 2021. 

“The present manager started in August, 2021. While the MACU Unit Council used to meet regularly, all meetings have been on hold since 2019. Huddles were also not being implemented. While they have been re-initiated by the new manager in mid-August, 2021, there appears to be no pre-defined times or standard work (structured and consistent process) for the huddles each day…” 

The nurses’ union told the panel that requests for increased staffing  

“when patient acuity exceeds the staffing resources or the unit is short staffed… were often not met, with no explanation provided.”

Time to Listen

I hope Southlake’s top management learns from this measured report and starts listening to the nurses on the frontline.

Arden Krystal’s refusal to meet the nurses to hear their concerns was a disgrace. She’s a busy person – whose salary in 2020 was an eye-watering $479,677 – but, as a former nurse herself, she should have made the time to meet them.

Other people, too, should listen and learn.

I include Newmarket-Aurora’s Liberal MP, Tony Van Bynen, who told the House of Commons on 1 December 2021:

“As a member of the board of directors for Southlake Regional Health Centre for nine years, I understand the challenges in meeting the financial obligations of dealing with inflation and particularly in increased patient loads as a result of growing communities. I do understand there is a critical need to look at funding for health care.”

He went on:

“I believe the Prime Minister did say that was going to be reviewed in due time, as soon as we deal with what is in front of us right now with regard to COVID, vaccines and making sure that we have a plan that gets the economy back on its feet. Following that, we might be in a better position to review what should be considered going forward.”

That’s way too leisurely an approach. But it's what I've come to expect. 

Talking to the people on the front line

Maybe he should try talking to people on the front line who have something to say.

In 2019, when he was running for election as a newly minted Liberal, I asked him at his "Meet Tony" event at Tim Hortons why he hadn’t been down to talk with the paramedics who had been demonstrating outside Christine Elliott’s office every Friday lunchtime for months.

He told me he didn’t do that sort of thing.

More’s the pity.

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Van Bynen is no longer a member of the Health Committee.

Note: In their briefing to the Panel, Southlake tells us that as of August 2021, the hospital is funded for 486 beds, and has consistently been operating and staffing for on average 464 beds. The beds increased to 519 to address surge capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.