COLUMN: Distraction Politics and the Siege Mentality

SOUTH DUNDAS — Distraction has become the new norm in politics in Ontario. Stir the pot with some wedge issue in one direction, so that people don’t see other issues in that direction. While the pot stirs, problems are swept away.

Take the new Sex Education Curriculum, and all of the churn stirring in that particular pot. While social activists and parents face off about the curriculum changes, no one much notices that it is budget season in  Ontario, that the province is still in a massive deficit. No one is paying much attention to the whispers of a partial privatization of Ontario Power Generation. Nor are people paying attention to ongoing battles between the province and our doctors over funding. Nor are they paying attention to the cuts across the board, that are going to have to occur in order for Ontario not to become the Greece of Canada, a financial basket case. Instead people are paying attention to a social, wedge issue.

It’s happened before. During the 2014 Ontario election,  Tim Hudak was tarred and feathered over his 100,000 cuts plan, because the wedge became how those cuts would occur. No one believed him that it would be due to natural attrition or retirement. Instead the message, thanks to Hudak’s opponents, became that he was going to cut jobs, slash and burn. As a consequence, and lots of advertising funded by the third-party union groups, the Ontario Liberals won a majority.

The previous Premier of Ontario, the much-loved Dalton  McGuinty, practiced this same tactic. Eco-Fees on everything under the sun, which were quickly jumped on by the public and the pundits, and removed by the government, occurred the same time that the scandals at Ornge (buy a vowel) Air Ambulance and E-Health started to become public. These issues still percolate on, but does not stick to either the former Premier or the current one.

Distraction is the Teflon coating for politicians. There is a clear track record of success. The 15-second sound byte media is as much to blame for the success of this as the politicians who preach its use.

Siege Mentality

Circle the wagons. Bar the doors, glaze the windows, throw up the partitions. A siege mentality is starting to take hold in South Dundas. As reported in The Morrisburg Leader this week, the South Dundas Municipal Centre, nicknamed the Taj Mahal,  is quickly becoming Fort Knox.

The reception area is being moved over safety concerns of its isolation from the rest of the staff. A security door is being added to bar access to the public to the rest of the administration areas on the second floor. Poor design decisions from building the municipal keep creeping up. However those bad decisions, and the actions of a few people in the community, should not mean the complete lock down of township employees from the public. This is a small township, and a friendly township. The more you start barring the doors and circling the wagons, the more you lose that feeling.

The changes to the Council Chambers concerns this writer as someone who works in the press. The press is to be roped off, along with the public gallery, from the council table. Press has been asked not to take pictures during delegation presentations to council. The reason is that it is “too distracting”.

What’s next, the requirement of administration permission to take pictures at all? To use a recording device at all? South Stormont tried this route and it was quickly shot down.  Any good photographer can take photos inside without using a flash. Any good photographer can use a zoom lens so they don’t take a photo two feet from someone’s face when their talking. But restricting press access, to a public meeting, goes against Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would not be surprised if there was a charter challenge launched about this.

What is most concerning to this writer of this term of council is that some of those elected pledged openness and transparency. They claimed that some on the last term of council were not open or transparent. Since taking office, we have seen this siege mentality take hold, the appearance of less transparency, less openness and more restrictions. Several in  the community have remarked to this writer that they expected better from this council. Hopefully this council will see the error in their ways and make a 180-degree correction, if not, this term of council may go down in the books as one of the most futile in South Dundas history.

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