Rules on MP mailouts in drastic need of tightening up

Armchair Mayor column for publication in The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Aug. 23 When Betty Hinton’s first election flyer arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, I wondered if she was in too much of a hurry to do her regular householder. But when another arrived, and another, it was obvious something was up. Turns out they’re boilerplate stuff, as many MPs’ mailouts are, but these are more blatantly partisan that most (admittedly, Hinton isn't running again, but the Tories sure are). The folded one-sheeters boast about the Conservative government’s record on a few choice issues. For example, one of them is headlined Time to Clear the Air, and inside says “Breathe a little easier. The Conservative Government is acting to improve Canada’s air quality.” How? The Tories are cracking down on smog, car exhaust and “turning the corner on greenhouse gas emissions.” But it’s not just about the Tories. It’s about those awful Liberals who, “for more than a decade . . . spun the same old rhetoric and the same old excuses.” Well, constituents, rhetoric is “not good enough” for Canadians, and the government either. Apparently, the Conservatives have never indulged in rhetoric. In fact, the leaflet says so.

And it asks us to put a check mark beside the party leader who is “on the right track on the environment.”

With helpful little pictures of scissors, we are invited to tear the sheet in half and mail our votes back to Betty, who guarantees us “Real action, real results.”

A more vapid piece of political propaganda I have not seen in a long while. It is matched only by its sister flack sheets, including one that trumpets “Canada Is Back,” and then informs us the Conservative Government (I wonder why it’s no longer “Canada’s new government”) is rebuilding our armed forces, defending the Arctic (well, not quite yet), and “standing up for security and human rights around the world” (translate, pissing off China).

And, once again, there are those terrible Liberals, who have “squandered our reputation, wasted opportunities, and failed to contribute meaningfully to the international community.” Etc., etc.

Most offensive, though, is the one with a picture of a syringe in a children’s playground and the title “Safe?”

“Junkies and drug pushers don’t belong near children and families,” it says. “They should be in rehab or behind bars.” The Conservatives will clean up drug crime, it says.

The dastardly Liberals? For 13 years, they “allowed the drug trade to flourish.”

While the drug leaflet arrived in Kamloops mailboxes just this week, it has already created a stir in Vancouver, home of the supervised injection site the Tories are trying to get rid of.

Hinton, not surprisingly, defended this rather useless expenditure of tax money as within the rules, and as an effort to gather feedback.

If anyone could point to an example when one of these schlock mailouts resulted in anything remotely resembling public policy I’d be interested in hearing about it.

And if there’s anyone in the whole of Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo who has found them to be anything but bald election propaganda, well, I await your cards and letters with great anticipation.

There’s no clearer example of the need to revisit the guidelines around MP mailouts, and to establish clear distinctions between useful information to constituents (which we are happy to pay for) and partisan babble — which the party should pay for.

* * *

Things can get a little testy at times between persistent citizens who won’t let go of an issue, and the City staffers who have to come up with the answers.

Take City engineer Dave Trawin, and Columbia Street resident Kim Levesque, for example. Following the public hearing and council vote in favour of a John Howard Society housing development a few weeks ago, Levesque went after more information.

Main issue with neighbours, who unanimously objected to the development, was concern over access onto Columbia Street, and traffic issues resulting therefrom.

City planner Randy Lambright (he of the notorious NIMBY email) responded to no less than eight specific concerns from Levesque, including such things as large-truck traffic, lack of traffic signals, and sight impediments.

To which Levesque replied with a question about joint-access regulation. To which Trawin, in Lambright’s absence, answered with a brief explanation and reference to the “Local Government” or Highway act.

To which Levesque asked for clarification on which sections he was talking about.

And Trawin came back with an email wondering when the questions were going to stop. Plus, he complained about the fact that Levesque was copying all the emails to the media.

“I do not think it is appropriate that my emails for you and yours for me are cc’d to them,” he wrote. “To me it is the same thing as having them conferenced in to a phone call between us or having them all in the room if we were meeting to discuss the issues.

“As you are aware I have nothing to hide that is why you have been given free unlimited access to files, etc. and hope my time and answers help provide clarity and rationale to my departments’ (sic) decisions. I just feel there is nothing to gain by feeling that every word emailed is via a media conference.”

After which, the media stopped receiving copies of the emails.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with having the media sit in on a discussion between a resident and the City, depending on the circumstances. And it’s definitely not unprecedented.

From Levesque’s side of the exchange, keeping the media informed directly works to the advantage of residents who are concerned about the project in that it discourages the bureaucracy from any temptation to foot-drag, and assures no laundering of the discussion.

On the other hand, Trawin no doubt was getting the impression that the purpose of the exercise was less a respectful exchange of information than it was a media circus.

Of course, we could go down to City Hall and take a look in the file if we wanted to see more emails, or submit a Freedom of Information request if it came down to that.

Maybe on a slow day. . . .

About Mel Rothenburger (9652 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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