Note: a modification of this article first appeared in
Like the classic Dickens’ novel begins:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.…”
Charles Dickens was talking about 1780’s Paris and London, but he could just as easily have included my little home town of Caledon. The best of times are when I meet some of the most intelligent, empathetic, talented people in the country right here in my own community. The worst of times are when I encounter the misogynist, racist, ignorant “good old boys” club ranting in a family restaurant (see my blog stories).
Recently, it was the best of times when the Town’s Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the behaviour and actions of a certain Councillor. It was accepted by Council along with the necessary consequences. That should have been the end of the story. But then we were reminded about the worst of times, when a local newspaper pulled the scab off a wound that was just starting to heal.
We should be looking to an intelligent press to bring us valid community news, educate us ethically on critical issues of importance, and keep us informed of opportunities for public input into community matters that concern us. I would ask our citizens to judge the level of commitment to these goals as seen clearly this past week in the two local newspapers that serve our community.
To be fair, both community newspapers regularly give us advance notice of public meetings, by-law changes, and all notices distributed by the Town. Beyond that, they are as different as night and day. Take the April 20, 2017 issues for example.
One paper’s front page features a group of children taking part in an Easter egg hunt, with the cover story about a school closing; the other paper headlines: “Councillor docked pay in breach of Code complaints”, with that as the front page story. The difference in our two community papers couldn’t be clearer – one is “share and ahhh”; the other is “shock and awe.” As a Star reporter once told me when I challenged why there weren’t more good news stories on the front page, he answered, “It’s not our job to report every safe landing at Pearson.”
Our Easter Egg newspaper, let’s call it Paper One, seems to highlight good news, albeit still publishing a far right wing column by Claire Hoy, once dubbed “Bill O’Reilly north.” The other paper, we’ll call it Paper Two, seems to have taken a more sensational approach to the news, and a more confrontational stand against the Town and our public servants.
For example, after the last public Town Council meeting, when the Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the misbehaviour of a Town Councillor, prescribing pecuniary costs and a requirement for retraining, Paper Two asked the totally irrelevant and way past its due date for freshness question: “Do you think Coun. Shaughnessy is guilty of violating the Code of Conduct?” and for its readers to respond at firstname.lastname@example.org
WTF! Hold the Presses! The Report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. The Council has received the report. This is not up for discussion or a public commentary! Whether the generally uninformed public thinks the good Councillor is guilty or not is irrelevant. She has been judged and found wanting. Period. Move on.
Normally, asking the public to participate in any information gathering of the community pulse is a fine idea. But what happens when the question asked is both irrelevant and past its due date?
For example, “Do you think that the Archangel Lucifer was guilty of rebelling against God?” or “Do you think that Prometheus was guilty of stealing fire from the Olympian Gods?” or “Do you think that Donald Smith got drunk after he hammered the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway?”
Seriously, none of us were there and it was all a long time ago. Some days we’re in heaven, other days are hell, we have fire, and a railway runs coast to coast. Irrelevant and past due date. Move on.
What possible community good could be served by asking such a question of the Paper Two’s readership? OK, if you have read the complete Report by the Integrity Commissioner, and if you fully understand the role of the Integrity Commissioner and the Ontario Ombudsman, and if you have read every public document related to this case, and if you are aware that on April 30, 2015 the same Councillor was disciplined by Peel Region for similar misbehaviour and publically apologized (all on record with the Peel Region clerk), and if you were in attendance on the day the Report was handed down and received by Council, then maybe you can cast a legitimate YES or NO … but still irrelevant.
The Councillor has been found in violation of the Code of Conduct, and has been given the appropriate sanctions; she now has the choice to change behaviour or face more onerous repercussions.
Whether the newspaper survey thinks she is guilty or not doesn’t matter in the slightest. We deserve intelligent questions that are relevant and current. Otherwise we get garbage in, garbage out.
We deserve better!
Skid Crease, Caledon