Apples to apples or apples to bananas? - Denny Scott editorial
I’ve never been a great public speaker. It’s not stagefright or anything like that. I’ve done stuff in public that, I’m told, many people would have a problem tackling. I just have a bad habit of going off the cuff when I’m speaking in front of a crowd (or in a radio booth) and it’s easy to get mixed up then.
That’s why, whenever I have to speak in front of a crowd, whether it’s visiting a class, teaching photography seminars or just getting ready to kiss a pig for a fundraiser, I make notes, I practise my speech and I stick to the message.
Why do I do that? Because, after being on the other side of off-the-cuff speakers, I know how frustrating it can be when someone passes on confusing, or worse, misleading information.
Last week’s North Huron Township Council meeting provided a perfect example of how issues can be confused when people go “off the cuff” (at least I’m assuming that’s the case and there wasn’t an attempt to provide false information).
During a debate regarding the Columbus Centre board, which operates the Columbus Centre in the North Huron Wescast Community Complex, both Reeve Bernie Bailey and Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip provided some remarks that were, at best, confusing and, at worst, misleading to their fellow council members and the public.
Again, I don’t think there was any malice or ill intent here, but the truth is often one of the first casualties of making off-the-cuff remarks.
At the end of the discussion, North Huron Township Council decided to provide approximately $70,000 in relief to the
board by waiving existing debt the group owes in utility costs and annual contributions and cutting the group’s $29,000 annual contribution to $15,000 for the next two years.
I’m not going to come down on either side of the debate - that’s not the point here.
The point is that the situation was made confusing by comments that painted it in a different light.
First, we’ll start with the fact that both myself and other media had trouble understanding Seip’s motion in regards to giving the board the relief it needed.
Seip made a motion to wipe out the existing debt and give the board relief over the next two years by cutting the agreed-upon contribution to the centre and its utility bills nearly in half. However, in describing his motion, it sounded like he wanted to give them two free years to recover their funding lost to COVID-19. While I was fortunate enough to be able to take time and work through the motion (with the help of North Huron staff), other media outlets published a little earlier, which led to some confusion.
I’m not knocking Seip here. Politicians shouldn’t be measured by how good their public speaking is, but by the wisdom and will they demonstrate to best represent their voters, and great public speakers aren’t always the people you want running a municipality, a province or a country. There is, however, something to be said for using clear and concise language.
I know that can be one of my weaknesses (alongside talking way too fast when I’m in front of a group), so having a presentation or notes helps me from getting into an undesirable situation.
Bailey also fell afoul of a problem that good preparation could have avoided: citing half-truths (again, I don’t think this was intentional, but it did happen).
Councillor Kevin Falconer started comparing the Columbus Centre and its board to any other organization that rents space in a building, however Bailey felt that wasn’t an apt comparison, saying it was more similar to the Blyth Festival.
First things first, I will say I disagree with that. I’d say the board is more like the Blyth Lions Club, which recently decided to walk away from a space near the Blyth campground when it became difficult to afford the necessary expenses.
Falconer also disagreed, however, he had different reasons: he felt that an organization like the Knights of Columbus, which has strict rules about membership (practising Catholic males over 18 only, according to their website) wasn’t a fair comparison to an open-to-the-public group like the Festival. Bailey’s response was that he believed the public can’t attend the Festival’s board meetings, which is untrue. The Blyth Festival’s board meetings are completely open to the public.
Like I said, Bailey “thought” what he thought, but without knowing, it’s a dangerous thing to say.
Off the cuff remarks can be damaging not only to a speaker’s argument, but to the discussion in general, which is why we need people to stick to those four words Dragnet’s Joe Friday never actually said: “Just the facts, ma’am.”