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Opinion, Dave Dale: Like nails on a chalkboard

Don Rennick is famous for being unwelcome (banned) at the previous council’s meetings due to the injurious tone he took when referring to staff competence
Don Rennick presents to North Bay council's special committee meeting Jan. 10.

Remember in 2021 when Premier Doug Ford compared then New Democrat Party Leader Andrea Horwath’s constant criticism to the annoying pain caused by someone dragging their nails down a chalkboard?

Memories of the grisly ship captain in the movie Jaws interrupting a town hall gathering came to mind.

Ford was immediately gang-tackled for being misogynist, which is defined as a person who “dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.”

At the time, I thought it was a bit off for the actual circumstance, even if I suspect he might be at the very least a closeted male chauvinist. It seemed to me, in this instance, Ford was referring more to the incessant criticism of his poor legislative decisions and lies to the electorate. I could go further and say it was perhaps sexist to call him sexist.

Horwath’s vocal frequency had little if nothing to do with it, even if it’s a fact that females, generally, do have a higher vocal range. And, although it’s true that high frequency voices can be annoying to some people, her voice isn’t the best example of painful sounds (if you remove the labourous rhetoric and endless droning about the evil cabal of Grits and Tories).

Compared to the injured-rabbit octave of psychologist Jordan Peterson, a favourite target of progressive left and feminists, Horwath has the tenor of two or three incels (a member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women). 

This topic came to mind when Don Rennick was making his presentation to North Bay council during the special committee meeting held Tuesday. Rennick is famous for being unwelcome (banned) at the previous council’s meetings due to the injurious tone he took when referring staff competence.

As it turns out, this council is more open and welcoming to public presentations and Rennick took the opportunity to lecture them about budgeting. It sounded like he was taking them to task for referring to the Canadian Price Index when deciding on price points for tax increases. I couldn’t listen, though, because his voice hurts my ears and I can’t concentrate on the value of his wisdom. It’s not his fault and I’m not trying to make fun of him here, but it really is like nails on a chalkboard. I’ll have to get the written version of his opus. I tried turning on the YouTube channel’s caption option but it wasn’t available at the time.

No doubt some readers will take offence at my pointing out the issue and making a comparison, although I’d appreciate it if you consider that I know it’s my cross to bear. There are countless pundits and experts online who I can’t listen to for more than a couple of minutes, both male and female. And I'm quite aware that my voice has been dubbed "better suited for print."

I did feel a certain measure of glee, though, as I watched the meeting from home and had the ability to turn the volume down until he was finished. Rennick and his accounts of financial integrity provided a valuable service in the city with his dissection of municipal spending and responsibilities. But there’s something else about him, perhaps the dripping disdain for people with the power to make decisions without having the benefit of financial acumen – at least not at his level.

Even if he had perfectly tuned bass and Hollywood star charm, I believe his criticisms would eventually exact the same pain in an elected official’s heart as nails being dragged across a blackboard.

On a positive note, I had two interesting video interviews to kick-start 2023.

The first was with John Best, a semi-retired carpenter who lends his skills to local and global projects that benefit people less well off than most of us. We met in the 1990s when he was working on the construction at the Union of Ontario Indians head on Nipissing First Nation (beside the Eagle Nest gas and gift store, which started as a chip stand way back then). Best was also involved with the work done on the initial Gathering Place location, converting it from the existing cab station at Worthington and Algonquin. And he was involved with launching North Bay’s Habitat for Humanity efforts and continues to assist the local Red Cross efforts.

Best and I reconnected at a gathering Dec. 30 of Ukrainian families new to the city after being displaced by the Russian invasion. It was a potluck supper hosted at St. Andrews United and organized by The Vest Project raising funds for non-lethal support provided to Ukrainian defenders.

Best told me about his latest missions across the globe assisting people displaced by war and disasters. His expertise comes in handy when setting up temporary hospitals, shelters, and potable water services. He gets assignments through Samaritan’s Purse and was in Poland and Ukraine twice this year.

While his Christian beliefs connect him to religious organizations that he feels spends donated money efficiently and responsibly, Best said there are many other groups doing good work for those who are not religious.

He hoped our interview, where he describes the ins and outs of mission work internationally – including the abject poverty of millions of innocent bystanders in conflict zones – inspires others to lend their support and experience disaster relief themselves.

The second interview was with an old chum of mine from my Canadore College “daze” that began in the fall of 1986. Kevin Schofield had just graduated from West Ferris Secondary School and was taking television broadcast. He was actually from Moose Factory and the Cree teenager had boarded with local families, as did about 200 other Indigenous students. He described it as a continuation of the Residential School System in our interview. I was a more recent import to the city and taking print journalism. We were both booze hounds at the time and frequently saw each other during the pub crawling exploits.

A talented singer and musician from a young age, Schofield said he was playing in the Belmont, Voyageur and Fraser Tavern at 14 years old.

I thought it was cool to catch up after all these years, although we’ve been Facebook friends since 2007. He earned the moniker Tennessee Cree while down in Nashville for a year and a bit, but has made Ottawa his home this past decade. A massive stroke and emergency brain surgery gave him a near-death experience that changed his outlook.

Last week, after sharing my column that touched on the issues about the national anthem at business meetings and schools, Schofield commented that parents of Indigenous kids should encourage them to sit when forced to participate in such exercises.

Interestingly, during our interview, he described how they used to do that in elementary school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with parents motivated by American Indian Movement protests. I believe the Canadian political battles powered by the National Indian Brotherhood (now Assembly of First Nations now) also fuelled the pushback against colonial rule.

Some of what Schofield says in the interview might brush against the grain of some but I like how he let it flows with a ‘damn the torpedoes' approach. It’s genuinely raw with a searing earnestness that spices up our universal truth – only the good we do for others really matters.

And sometimes we need those nails dragging across the blackboard to get our attention.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. Contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website