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Supporters, some critics flock to Newmarket-Aurora MPP barbecue

Hundreds attend second annual event at Riverwalk Commons that MPP says is about 'building community'

Hundreds attended the second annual community barbecue by Newmarket-Aurora MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy to offer support, but some came with criticism.

The Oct. 22 event at the Riverwalk Commons provided residents the opportunity to speak with and take photographs with the local Queen's Park representative. It offered free food, face painting, music and a visit from the Central York Fire Services with a fire truck.

Gallagher Murphy said she wanted to follow up after a positive event last year. 

“My first one was such a great success,” she said, noting the first event had 500 guests come. “I said, ‘You know what, we’re going to do it every year.’ It’s all about building community.”

This year's event saw more than 400 people attend, based on tickets given out for food according to Gallagher Murphy's constituency office.

Last year’s event was expensed by Gallagher Murphy for $11,160, the highest single expense of all MPPs in the last quarter of 2022.

That point has attracted many critics, who also attended the event among many supporters.

“A lot of people who don’t think that spending $11,000 on something like this … is an appropriate use of public money,” Gordon Prentice said. 

Former Newmarket-Aurora federal Newmarket NDP CFO Kevin Shackleton attended, also suggesting that the money could be better used as a donation to a food program for the less fortunate.

He expressed that he was glad the provincial government changed its mind regarding opening up Greenbelt lands for development and said that Gallagher Murphy’s constituency office considered local feedback regarding that.

Gallagher Murphy spoke to that interaction and said the government does listen.

“That’s what is important. We, as a government, as Doug Ford said, it was the wrong decision. It’s been reversed, and we’re moving forward,” she said. 

But Shackleton said he has had challenges reaching out to Gallagher Murphy in the past, with messages regarding her portfolio as a parliamentary assistant to the minister of health getting forwarded to a generic ministry contact.

“Frankly, I don’t think she’s done anything. She’s had a few of these parties. She’s attended community events. She’s done what I think a typical politician with no actual program has done, would do,” he said. 

But plenty of supporters came out to show support and praised Gallagher Murphy’s connection to the community.

“She’s really approachable, really connects with the community,” Matthijs van Gaalen, a former vice-president of the Conservative Party, said. “She’s a really great voice for the riding and really works to get to know the local businesses and restaurants and community members.” 

Other Conservative brass also attended, including King-Vaughan MPP and Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Stéphane Sarrazin. 

Supporter Lili Lee complimented the job Gallagher Murphy has done. 

“She is our MPP and my whole family, my mum, my sister, we all love her," Lee said. 

Tracy Calver said she has been watching the MPP for a couple of years now, and regularly reader her newsletter.

“She’s done an effective job at communicating,” Calver said. “So, I’m just here to support Dawn.” 

Asked about the cost of the event from last year, Gallagher Murphy said the attendance of more than 400 speaks to its popularity.

“That speaks to the number of community members that are coming in. As far as that’s concerned, I think this is a great event, and it’s all about my community members and bringing them together,” she said. 

Editor's Note, Oct. 23, 2023: This article was altered to update the attendance figure from 200 to 400 based on information provided by Dawn Gallagher Murphy's constituency office.