I will be so glad when this election is over. I have never experienced a more poisonous, sleazy, and dishonest campaign by just a few of the candidates in almost twenty years of covering local politics. The online abuse that has been hurled at various candidates, the Times, and me personally has been surprisingly nasty, with accusations thrown around, lies spreading through Facebook, and all without any basis in fact. One or two candidates have been pandering to special interest groups, spreading hate and lies in order to win their votes. And the sad thing is that the lies are being believed, even by those who really do know better, those who know the people who work on this newspaper and are aware that we have never spread hate or discrimination through the pages of the Times. I still wait for examples to show we have.
In spite of ten years of service to the community, opening these pages to all points of view, no matter how much they disagreed with us, we have been referred to as “that rag”, my “personal blog”, and less positive terms, by people who just don’t like the idea that a free press exists to allow public and open debate. There have been those who claim we are not inclusive, by which they mean we include the wrong people. It is disheartening on one level, that this community includes intolerant and mean-spirited people. On the other hand, it’s encouraging to know that they are a bitter minority.
I have been criticised for “attacking” one particular candidate: Chris Wilson. I will say, quite openly, that his behaviour has shown him to be completely unqualified to represent the people of North Grenville. The Times has never endorsed a candidate before, but the manner in which Mr. Wilson has lied, disparaged, made fun of so many leaves him unfit to be a member of council. When one woman suggested he be less negative in his posts, he replied: “You’re very childish for an old person”.
He accused the Times of “dirty tricks” because his article wasn’t in last week’s issue, even though he knew the arrangement was that his and others would be in this week. He also knew that an independent third party had decided the order in which articles from candidates would be published. When I pointed out his mischief, he replied with a Simpson’s cartoon entitled: “Old man shouts at cloud”. He seems to have a problem with older people, and the truth.
He complained to the Integrity Commissioner about a candidate, claiming that they had posted anonymous posts about him on Facebook. He had no evidence for the claim, and it was based entirely on personal pique. But, because the complaint cannot be heard before the election, he has told people that the other person “is being investigated”.
Of course, there will always be some who believe someone who appears nice and talks openly about his own “impeccable reputation”. And, no doubt, some will vote for him simply because I speak against him. That’s democracy.
But he is not the only one that has failed to enhance their reputation in this campaign. I have discussed various accusations of conflict of interest elsewhere in this issue, and there is something unpleasant about the nature and timing of the accusations, especially when, once again, there was an easy way to clarify the issues without going public with them. But that is the way some people in this campaign have used politics.
I acknowledge that it is usually best not to give oxygen to those lacking a sense of integrity or ethics, but this situation is different. Voters may go on believing the dishonesty, and these characters may be elected to council. At least I can try and indicate that there’s more to the story than is apparent. But I would hate to live in a community where people who use tactics like this, who defame and abuse without cause or evidence, sit in council. If that is how they act to gain power, what will they do when they get it? If their policy is to sow division and discord through innuendo and character assassination without foundation, what will they do to North Grenville when they have some power to persecute those with whom they disagree?
People want transparency: but they’ll condemn those who throw light on things. This is a strange election: on the one hand, there is a strong list of candidates, which promises good things for our shared future. But, on the other hand, there are one or two who are, without doubt, the worst candidates I have ever seen, mean, dishonest, ambitious, divisive and deceitful.
Am I being honest? Do I lie, or exaggerate about them? Let them produce evidence against me, and I’ll present mine too. Not baseless allegations, but actual words, on-the-record statements. The Times includes all points of view, even those with which we disagree. Everyone has a voice in these pages. It has been that way for nearly ten years. What does it say about these critics that our inclusiveness is the thing they most condemn and attack? But, what was once said: “Democracy is the worst possible political system – except for all the others”, and, whatever the results of this election, we will live with it. Let’s hope (and vote) for the best.