Peter Kormos, the former provincial politician and Niagara Regional Council member, died this past weekend at the age of 60. Mr. Kormos was not widely known beyond his region of the province, outside of NDP circles, or those who follow politics. He was a household name in Niagara and a friend and ally to NDP stalwarts. To me, he was my political hero.
Unlike many of the tributes to Peter Kormos I did not know the man personally, and I see little value in presenting his biography. Instead, I would like to share what I view as my history with the former MPP for Welland.
When I was fourteen or fifteen years old I took my first serious interest in politics. If I recall correctly, I always found it fascinating, but I dedicated to learning all I could about our political system and how it operated. My interest in Canadian and Ontarian politics actually grew out of an obsession with American politics. The Iraq War and the controversial presidency of George W. Bush had been a real catalyst to my political awakening. I was slower to warm to Canadian politics, and less so the provincial scene; truly ironic where most of my focus is given today.
One of the early ways I educated myself was by watching the Ontario Legislative Assembly on cable television. Clearly, if I did not yet seem to be a strange teenager that should seal it. While I had my opinions I had yet to find a political party and so I wanted in part to learn and to understand how a parliament works.
This was the early McGuinty years. The media portrayal and opposition criticism of his government is what built by anti-Liberal bias and a respect for the Tories and New Democrats. The ONDP was in a pretty sorry state at that time. They were not even an official political party having lost too many seats in the previous election.
There was one politician in particular that caught my attention. Peter Kormos was a superb parliamentarian. He would rise in the Legislature and truly eviscerate the government. His critique was sharp and fought for justice and fairness. One particular issue stuck in my head. The ONDP were pushing for support of special education programs for children with autism. McGuinty had promised to continue the funding, and then ended it. I didn’t understand what autism was at the time, but Kormos’ championing of the little guy spoke to me. He was arguably the best orator in the chamber and had a unique flourish and style that was wonderful to watch.
Without Peter Kormos I might not be a New Democrat today. He drew me into the party and firmly aligned me to notion that politicians out of power could do real good. Government is not the purpose of our elected chambers and MPPs (or MPs) have a duty to do their utmost to represent their constituents and what is right.
Not long after this awakening I participated in Ontario Model Parliament as a delegate/MPP for the NDP. During one of our sessions at Queen’s Park my teacher and a few fellow students and I were in the cafeteria. I noticed Peter Kormos walking by and I said who he was, but was too shy and nervous to introduce myself. What would he want with a kid like me? My teacher chased after Mr. Kormos and introduced him to our group. I stood up and shook his hands. They seemed gigantic and callused. My teacher told him why we were there and he asked what I thought about the issues. I explained my position and he listened intently before jovially bursting out in agreement. He explained what he and the NDP were trying to do and the obstacles, but more importantly – he listened.
Years later when I chose a university Brock was second on my list. One of the major enticements for me there was that I could actually live in Peter Kormos’ riding and have him be my actual MPP, and if I was lucky, vote for the man. Sadly I never marked the ballot for Peter Kormos, but I did join the ONDP because I wanted to help his campaign in 2011. He announced his retirement that summer, but I still got to help choose his successor, Cindy Forster, and meet the man again.
Over time the youthful hero-worship wore off, but it was replaced with glowing respect. The man was a parliamentarian through the core and exercised his elected position as a sacred duty. I got to shake his hand again, and spoke with his briefly and he signed one of his old election signs for me, which now rests in my room.
Perhaps the thing I liked most about Kormos was his lack of partisanship in certain things. He was a harsh critic of Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats when he thought they were doing the wrong thing. He had his principles and he stuck to them. I am well to the centre/right of Mr. Kormos, but I deeply respected his commitment to his ideals.
One day we realize our heroes are human, either because they let us down, or because they pass away. I am proud to say Peter Kormos never let me down. He has set a standard by which I measure politicians for greatness and we are unlikely to see the like of him for a long while.
Here are some links to obituaries and memorials dedicated to Mr. Kormos: