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OPINION: Bill Walton, Obfuscation

Sometimes it is difficult to believe all you hear.
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20171101 teddy walton

There were words of wisdom from both the Chamber and Council last week concerning the necessity of communicating with clarity, precision, accuracy, specifics, truth, with full disclosure of facts and details, and no obfuscation. These encouraging words were from local politicians, no less.

I was trying to use a word to stump Stu Kidd but having been in the political arena for many years, he would know the verb to obfuscate.  All one needs to do is watch a few clips of Question Period in the House and see the master of obfuscation answer the Opposition’s questions to understand the word. The Master himself (you now know why Justin wouldn’t let the Minister of Finance answer questions – Bill Morneau actually tries to speak the truth as he knows it) about ethics. Bill, and now it seems a few of his colleagues, didn’t quite disclose all their financial details when taking office. Maybe they were just obfuscating rather than prevaricating, but who knows.

Anyway, the topic at hand in Council was whether there might be a question (other than who to vote for) on the next municipal ballot. The first problem was to attract enough interest and voters to make any referendum binding. In our fair country, we pretty much encourage all people of voting age to get out and cast a vote, whereas in some other jurisdictions they throw up barriers to stop some people from voting in their democracy. Yet only roughly half of us bestir ourselves to vote in municipal elections.

If that doesn’t discourage any attempt to put questions on the ballot, the thought that a number (a high one, but you decide) of voters might not understand the question well. The mental capacity for marking a ballot is not one raised very often but it is a good point. This brings in the matter of communication regarding the issue on a ballot. On almost any issue there are at least two sides, pro or con, or even on the fence – so where do you get the answers for your decision-making?

Do you turn to someone who has the knowledge or education to give an informed answer? Say for instance, someone like the Ethics Commissioner with whom Morneau consulted with? Do you rely on your own resources and good sense? Do you read news (paper or other media), watch TV news, read magazines or do you turn to the World Wide Web of everything where you can find arguments pro, con or otherwise on just about everything? Or do you simply ask your partner or spouse and accept their reply in the spirit of harmony and understanding?

I fear that most of us simply pass along the responsibility of thinking deeply about an issue to someone we have appointed to look after our interests: The Mayor and Council; the MPP; and the MP. Or the School Boards. At a closer level maybe it is the electrician, the plumber, or the carpenter we hire. Or our grandchild who knows how to program the DVR.

Mentioning School Boards, the Toronto Board that defined Halloween costumes is a perfect example of using good common sense to look after our interests. You don’t need kids scaring other kids with frightening masks, fake weapons, and gory costumes. Nor do we need any cultural appropriations. I was wondering how the dozen or so children we get Trick or Treating would meet the Toronto School Board guidelines. One of the first children I saw walking up the driveway had feathers – they looked like eagle feathers from a distance – on her costume. Oh no, I thought. However, it turned out she was only a Dark Angel in a Trench Coat – some Gothic character from young people’s stories or games that emphasized the generation gap on my behalf. (I think they were turkey feathers dyed black and already I was thinking I could dress as my pet crow next year).

I suppose if I had been better informed about things Gothic I would have known that and not jumped to a false conclusion.  Which brings me back to any referendum question: I certainly hope they give us lots of time to think about it. For instance:

  • Should we delay repaving the bottom end of Cartier Street for yet another year?
  • Should we cancel the new arena in West Ferris even though the shovels are in the ground?
  • Should we gather all the Lottery kiosks and Bingo Halls in the City under one roof and call it a Casino?

These are tough question for a referendum. Besides, it’s hard to think like an eagle when all you have are turkey feathers. Just saying.



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