As a charitable sector CEO, I am appropriately restricted from participating in any partisan political activity. But as a longtime political junkie and former Regional Chairman, I remain vitally interested in the the process and deeply concerned about our democratic deficits that go way beyond the ballot box. On the eve of tomorrow’s Provincial Election in Ontario, I wanted to share this Spec Column that I penned some time ago, remembering my friend and former Hamilton East M. P.P., the late Dominic Agostino. Dom always ensured that local elections were fun. They aren’t quite the same without him. And please don’t forget to vote.
“It is said that God gave us memory
so we could have roses in winter.”
– George Will
I am sentimental by nature. With three children under
five, I get to witness the pure joy of Christmas through young eyes. But it’s
also a time of year to reminisce about those we’ve lost.
The period between Christmas and New Year’s triggers
in me memories of Dominic Agostino. Every year at this time, he would organize
what we referred to as Dominic’s Excellent Adventure. It was an annual night
out in Toronto. The guest list included five or six elected officials of all
stripes. The only qualification, Dominic insisted upon was a willingness to
endure some gentle teasing.
The evening started at Dominic’s apartment just off
Bay Street in the financial district. Martinis were served before a cab ride to
a local theatre. Dominic always chose a movie with a political theme to ensure
we were prepped for the discussion to follow.
After the film, the party proceeded to the Keg
Mansion. The objectives were simple: to consume lots of good food and red wine
and then to tell political tales long into the night. Sadly, it’s a tradition
that ended with Dominic’s untimely passing almost three years ago at the age of
Cynics have said that if you want a friend in
politics, buy a dog. But Dominic rejected that notion completely. He collected
friends almost as assiduously as election victories.
I first met Dominic in high school. He played football
at Cathedral at the same time I was playing basketball at Westdale. By
coincidence, we both started our careers as social workers with the March of
Dimes. Working from the same small office on Woodward Avenue, we shared a
passion for politics and sports and became good friends.
A friendship with Dominic came with an added bonus:
the love and great cooking of his mom, Teresa.
You quickly realized that for the Agostinos, loyalty
to family and friends was compulsory. They insisted on providing help and
hospitality even when you didn’t need it.
Despite Dominic’s unfortunate attachment to the
Liberal party, I campaigned for him in each of his elections. That loyalty was
returned in spades, although when campaigning with me he sometimes muttered
about my Tory leanings. For Dominic, partisanship never came before friendship.
First elected to Hamilton’s Catholic school board at
age 21, Dominic remained an elected official for the rest of his life. He
climbed the political ladder from the school board to city council and then to
Queen’s Park. He surely would have made it to Ottawa had his career not been
Dominic’s approach to politics was unique. He said it
was show business for ugly people and admitted he’d never met a microphone he
He was a master at turning trivia into front-page
news, but you always knew that you were in on the joke and that on important
issues, Dominic would not disappoint.
Incapable of malice, Dominic was frequently subjected
to political ridicule and cruel whispers about his personal life. He invariably
responded with quiet dignity and a disarming smile.
Dominic’s relatively short life taught us many
lessons, not the least of which is the importance of civility in life generally
and in politics particularly.
He had the ability to disagree without ever being
disagreeable. This and his innate generosity allowed Dominic to make and keep
many friends from across the spectrum, both in and out of politics.
On New Year’s Eve, I toasted the memory of Dominic
Agostino. His was a life well lived.