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Welcome back to our little corner of the Muskoka universe. Happy New Year and cheers to a positive start to a new decade. Given the recent developments in the middle east, however, it seems like it's already been a little bumpy. I have taken the last couple of days off to destress after this last month and what was a whirlwind end to 2019 for me. I must say that these few days off have given me appreciation for the four day work week idea Finland's Prime Minster introduced in the last month. We should all be less busy with 'stuff' and more focused on living less stressful lives. But after giving my brain and body a rest I'm ready to keep making friends with our local public officials, spotlighting local business as well as sprinkling important, fun as well as informative tidbits of information for your reading pleasure.
As I reflect on the last few months and look forward to the new chapters of this blank book we are all writing I wanted to take a moment to touch on a few important threads. When I first began this publication I wanted to introduce voices from the community. Voices which represented different parts of our region and also those of our politicians as they are obviously an important voice given the decision making they are doing for us. I'm incredibly humbled by the amount of local writers and business owners, experts in so many different fields, who decided to submit their columns and those who contribute to have their voice heard so that our communities are informed, can curate their own content and have open dialogue and discussion. Sadly, what I'm not surprised at is the lack of representation from our local political base. I'm not surprised but I'm disappointed.
I have spent the last two years covering Muskoka municipal politics, I have covered local elections which meant I knew most candidates and councillors well or at least enough to get by. First, let me begin with the fact that during election season they are all media darlings. Some understand how to play the press game as if though they had written a manual on the subject or at least studied it at length. During non-election season, so most of the time, the majority run on talking points. The problem with talking points is it gives the impression to the general public that all these people working for your local government really don't accomplish much. My vision for Muskoka Post's political content included a 'mayoral corner' which I introduced to some Muskoka mayors. I invited them to write about topics and issues they felt strongly about and thought would be important to the community to convey through their own thoughts. They meet once a month with their respective town/township councils and district councillors at the Distirct of Muskoka committee and council meetings. Lack of agenda topics is not a problem.
Yes, I understand that politicians are busy people, however, I also understand that communication and transparency seems to be a big election issue Every Single Time. Let me explain; Now Huntsville mayor Karin Terziano taking the initiative and writing a column to the general public outlining why she decided to replace Scott Aitchison, as well as presenting a plan for her mayorship going forward would have been welcomed by tax payers seeing as she was appointed without an election platform for the job. Initially when I inquired with some mayors if this is something they were interested in, they obliged and wrote a couple of columns on subjects which were at the forefront of current municipal events. These editorials were well received and had strong readership numbers. However, in the last couple of months less and less has been forthcoming. I've stopped suggesting topics and won't be asking in 2020 because I honestly believe that this is something that should naturally come with transparent leadership. Tell us how you feel about issues and topics which we are all going to be affected by and paying for. In essence less talking points and more real conversation.
While we're on this topic, however, let's talk about councillors. While the mayors could communicate more, so could local councillors. Write once in a while, express an opinion, tell us what is on your mind because that is why we elected you in the first place. I love attending Huntsville meetings, there is so little expression and conversation from the councillors it's astounding. Sometimes I actually question how some stood up as a candidate and spoke. Politicians are often afraid of being misquoted by journalists, this makes them shy to interview as they have to closely monitor their on-the- record interactions. This is why I often get this line "I wanted to talk to you about this but I can't be quoted, so off the record ..."
Which is exactly why I offered column space instead of interviews on certain subjects. Their own words within the context they are meant to be in. Perhaps in this new, non-election, year we can persuade our Muskoka mayors and councillors to journal more about their decisions, opinions, and plans for our communities in the context of their own words. I can string together a twitter thread into an article but I would much rather allow our readers have an in depth column conversation.
Perhaps this honest and open communication with the media by politicians would influence the behaviour of town and district staff. Catching a public employee without their communications squad to huddle with prior to giving an answer is amusing. In fact, I've had one flat out tell me when I asked a question regarding the issue we were both attending to, if I could just email her later so that she wouldn't have to answer my questions on the fly. Because let's face it when you answer questions without talking points you might just say something too truthful. Something I might require a Freedom of Information application for otherwise. My point is that when I, recently, asked a few municipal public works departments for dispatch snowplow logs for an article I was going to be writing I was told I would require an FOI.
Here is what pisses me off about that; as a journalists I'm an extension of the public because anything I find out or research will be conveyed in full to the public. Who funds the government? That's right, therefore, as tax payers you are the boss. Meaning if you want access to snowplowing logs because you'd like to evaluate for yourself the service which you are receiving shouldn't you have that privilege. But nope, I would have to file an FOI which would cost money, then it's up to the same public employees who asked for the FOI to supply this document and they can redact and black out the entire document if they so choose to. Ask the Town of Huntsville for the FOI which they supplied to the Historical Society following the sale of the train station. The Request for Proposal was redacted in FULL. Yes while this is standard practice that does not mean that it is kosher or ok for tax payers to have to pay for public information funded by them.
But it seems I have digressed from our political leaders leading by example. There are always plenty of agenda topics to notify the public about and as public officials, elected by the public (well most of them anyway) perhaps sometimes speak to the public via your own voice as oppose to that of your carefully crafted communications department. Ribbon cuttings don't count, we can craft our own business profile articles without your help.
On that note I want to send a big call to action to all Muskoka residents to seriously consider running for municipal office in this new decade. Especially women. Ladies you need to know that your voices and experience are so incredibly valuable and important to this institution. Millennials also need to enter this race; your views on life in this century and tech savviness are required now more than ever. Run because you are not satisfied with the status quo, run because three Muskoka municipalities declared states of emergency last spring and nothing has been addressed or mitigated for spring 2020, run because we continuously need more public employees but receive less services, run because endless, mind numbing meetings are accomplishing less and less, run because you want more transparency, run because you want to not because a special interest group asked you to, RUN because nothing is government funded, it's ALL tax payer funded. We need more diverse voices within Muskoka politics.
In the meantime, write. If you want to create your own news content then write about the things that are important to you in Muskoka. I personally am delighted to bring a new era of first person media communications to our communities, as well as this adage; "Everyone was thinking it, I just said it." Say it loud and clear and then submit it to Muskoka Post.
Here is to the next 3,650 days of change, possibilities and opportunities Muskoka is yet to experience.