Art Viola’s comeback

Community News & Features Mar 1, 2004 at 4:55 pm

NIAGARA-on-the-LAKE-Election fever is over but for Arturo Tapiador Viola, Deputy Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, his campaign still continues. This time, he is not on the run to win more votes but on the run to retain the confidence of his people.

The formidable Deputy Lord Mayor admits that he is busier now than he was during his term as Lord Mayor. “It is meetings, after meetings, after meetings,” he said. “But I am not complaining. Hard work it may be to become a public servant, but I am very happy that the people still trust me. It is an honor to be elected for public office once again. It has been quite an accomplishment.”

Viola ran for councillor during the recent municipal elections and obtained the highest number of votes among the 18 candidates (Viola got 3,024 votes, the closest candidate had 2,913) that catapulted him to the next highest office in the municipality: Deputy Lord Mayor. While he cherishes the overwhelming support of his constituents, his work has just begun. This time he is faced with a host of issues ranging from tourism, garbage collection to transport and communication. The ride may be tough but his supporters are confident that he can carry out his duties with utmost skill and passion.

“There is no doubt that Art can do his job efficiently”, said William Schulz, a Canadian businessman and resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake. “He did a great job when he was the mayor. With his vast experience and inherent diligence for work, he can definitely be successful in whatever program he wants to undertake”.

Indeed, Viola is now tightening his belt and getting ready for his challenging journey. With the tourist season fast approaching, several issues are being addressed. One is the problem concerning the parking issue.
Residents clamor for privacy while tourists clamor for convenience. It is a question of whom to please. Viola in his well-noted imperturbable nature has this to say; “the town is noted for its heritage value so we have to be very careful in taking care of it. We are having a consultative meeting to reach a compromise with both parties so we will have a pleasant atmosphere during the tourist season. As much as possible we want to please everyone. We want to project a Niagara-on-the-Lake as a serene place where people can relax, watch the sunset, stroll around and relish its magnificent nature”.

Tourism is simply one of the primary issues that Viola had to help tackle with his partners in governing this picturesque town with a population of approximately 13,000. Moreover, he is also trying to suggest ways to improve its lack of communication facilities. “We are aware that there are newspapers in town but it is not enough to serve as the people’s source of information. Many of our residents want to have a regular newsletter from the municipality so they would have a first hand information on what is going on in their area. Many of the residents also wanted to have a paper that serves as a forum where they can express their views directly to the governing body.”

An open government is now Viola’s goal for a successful leadership. He is steadfast in his belief that if all government officials carry out the policy of “public participation” then everyone will be encouraged to contribute his or her valuable support.

Viola believes that his principle of “consultation and cooperation” has been his cornerstone in establishing rapport with the people. Viola said, “A lot of people have lost their trust on politicians. I was able to establish trust with my people. For this reason, they are giving me another chance to continue my responsibility.”
Viola’s sincere intention in pleasing everyone may seem a demonstration of his honesty but for some, however, it is interpreted as weakness. His complaisant character was misunderstood and considered one of the reasons why he lost in his 2000 bid for a second term in office as Lord Mayor. One Filipino Canadian who prefers to remain anonymous commented, “Art was too good that his people found him too lenient as a leader. We wanted somebody who is quick to make decisions-a decisive leader.”

“You cannot simply please everyone,” is Viola’s reply to his detractors. “People misunderstood me for being lenient. All I wanted was to become a sympathetic leader. Someone who is ready to listen to them, make decisions after weighing all possibilities. I know it takes time but this way I am confident with my decision and accept the responsibility. As I mentioned earlier, I want a political system based on consultation. I avoid a dictatorial type of leadership.”

It may be best to recall that in 1997, Viola won an easy victory over two strong opponents to become the Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was believed to be the first Filipino and the first Asian to receive the honor of heading the local government in the municipality that is predominantly white Canadians. There are only five Filipino-Canadian families in this town.

Viola’s accomplishments as a volunteer in the community are so numerous, which earned him the reputation of “volunteer for all seasons.” In 1988, amidst a large gathering of businessmen and politicians, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce honored him as “Citizen of the Year.” In 1999 he was one of the “Twenty Outstanding Filipinos in North America” while in May 2003 a Golden Jubilee Medal was presented to him by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

He has been an active crusader for a healthy lifestyle through his participation in raising funds for the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation and Diabetes Association.

His conscientious nature also prompted him to accept the presidential post of the Horticultural Society wherein he shyly admits, “I do not even know the difference between a weed and a real grass.” But it was his love for nature and dedicated service to humanity that have inspired his colleagues to vote for him while he was on holiday in the Philippines. In other words, Viola’s significant contributions to charities and social causes have been difficult for his detractors to equal and for his constituents to ignore.

In his “comeback” to politics, Viola is prepared to confront doubts, setbacks and unfairness. He is willing to face the challenges and take chances. He aptly believes that when the path comes to an end there is no greater joy than making his dream come true: to become the leader of Niagara-on-the-Lake with integrity and compassion for his people.