Let’s give them something to talk about

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This is a Public Service Announcement on behalf of voters, directed to the candidates at this year’s municipal election. There are a number of candidate meetings scheduled for the coming weeks (a Mayoral Candidates meeting, sponsored by the Times, is on September 20). For the sake of voters, and the reputation of candidates, I’d like to reprint something that I wrote in 2014, after the last all-candidates meeting. The plea is that there will be no need to write this again: that, this time, the candidates will actually debate, discuss, interact and explain how, and in what specifics, they differ from each other. For example, in 2014, the meeting was described as follows:

Passion. Heated debate. Conviction. A full and frank exchange of views. Last week’s All-candidates meeting had everything but these elements. The occasion was prefect: the largest audience the municipal theatre has ever had (there was no room left even on the stage), and an eager and expectant atmosphere. Then the candidates started talking and it became clear that the same tired approach to campaigning was going to prevail once more. The occasion was well worth having: the public heard the candidates speak on a variety of issues of interest to us all – Kemptville College, growth paying (or not paying) for growth, sustainability, heritage, and so on. I am glad all the candidates came out, and very grateful to the public that our rental of the theatre was worthwhile!

It just seemed that, for most of the candidates, these issues weren’t really of much interest to them. They recited their prepared platforms, but rarely showed any spark. There were very few concrete ideas put forward, just generalised approval of all the right things, a homogenous and rather bland presentation clearly designed not to offend, not to stir anyone up, not to inspire. That aspect of the evening was quite discouraging.

Moral cowardice is when you acknowledge in private that bad behaviour is taking place, and then sit silently in public and watch it happen. There was a certain amount of that at the meeting too, in the sense that people who don’t really like each other decided it looked good if they praised each other in front of the voters. Politics. There is a very definite approach taken around here that one must always be “positive”, and never “negative”, but rarely does anyone define those terms. It does seem that “positive” means pretending everything is fine and will all work out in the end. That every aspect of our community is healthy, that growth pays for growth, and that we are all friends and on the same page. So, “positive” really means rose-coloured glasses, or lying.

“Negative” is also called “fear-mongering”, which is when someone points out realities and warns that we will be in trouble if we don’t do something about them. That is complete nonsense. Fear-mongering is when you give an exaggerated report on things and imply that disaster is inevitable, a very different attitude. There are aspects of North Grenville society that are sacrosanct: they cannot, or should not, be examined closely, should never be questioned or criticised. This creates an intellectual minefield, where you have to watch your words in case someone takes offense. The problem is that, no matter what you say, however valid, fact-based, or supported, someone will take offense. That is a fact of life.

Listening to people who sold Acton’s Corners heritage site now saying how much they would approve of community associations taking over heritage buildings was, honestly, nauseating. These same people have refused to support heritage in the past, and have not been positive about supporting community associations. Now they want us to believe that their next term would be completely different. How can anyone believe that? It was all said four years ago, the last time we had an election. But candidates need to remember something.

Now, can anyone point out how things have changed in the past four years? Couldn’t the same things be said today? Will they be repeated tomorrow, or next year, or in four year’s time? Here’s some lasting advice to the candidates, taking care to speak to the reality of things, not the way councillors and mayors seem to want them to be:

In all your time on Council, you will almost certainly never address so many people at one time again. You will get used to sitting in that theatre for council meetings and have an audience of one, or two, or five at most. Candidate meetings are a major job interview for each of you, and the general consensus seems to be that you failed to really impress. I believe people came to that meeting to hear something real, some genuine discussion, even some debate. They were ready for that, and, overall, they didn’t get it. Imagine: when one young woman wanted to know what the candidates would do to provide jobs for people with university degrees, the majority of the answers were bland repetitions of “development will bring jobs”. She was quite discouraged with the non-answers. It was clear that many candidates had no definite plans.

Here’s the saddest part. I know that the meeting did not reflect the truth about many of the candidates. There are some who are genuinely passionate (not just in words), who really want to see change. But they got caught in The Bubble, that place of unreality, where your tone of voice changes, you speak cautiously, and you “behave yourself”. That’s why we set it up like a council meeting: so now you know what it can be like under the lights and cameras. It’s not too late! Burst the Bubble! Engage. Inspire. Speak truth to power. Show us why we should vote for you.

1 COMMENT

  1. David… insinuations of moral cowardice… that you know that which is inside candidates but failed to surface… clearly poetry is your vehicle. If these NG candidates can’t get their ideas out during an election debate.. will they really have the guts to do so when acts of compromise are being sought on the floor of council? I think that story has just been witnessed.

    By contrast I seek in political candidates … kindness, diplomacy and listening skills… linked to an ability to articulate decision for action. These too can be misconstrued and mislabelled … in poetry of all kinds.

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