Intelligent comment, the sharing of views, the building of community: how are we doing so far?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 4, 2014

When we began publishing an on-line newspaper for Burlington the hope was that we would better inform the public and that an informed public would make informed decisions.

We took our leadership from the Shape Burlington report that focused on what that document called Burlington’s information deficit.

I was mentored by the late John Boich, a co-author of the Shape Burlington report, whose wisdom, guidance and approach to life I deeply miss.  His boisterousness and his care, concern and love for his city were present in every word he uttered.  “Ya think?” he would bellow.

When Burlington lost John Boich, I lost a friend and the best guide I had as to how this city works.  One of the things Boich and I wanted was a publication that was fearless, opinionated, open to all opinions; a publication that would pull out the very best from the people of this city.

Burlington has always had a small group of citizens who get out to public meetings to review budgets, policy proposals and share ideas. In that regard we are fortunate.

With the internet as our platform rather than a printing press there was an immediacy that allowed readers to respond.  Because we were online and the contents of the newspaper were searchable readers could go back and check out what had been said or done months – even years before.

The ability for people to comment was important to us.  Unfortunately, a lot of the comment is pretty juvenile, poorly stated and often nasty and mean.

We publish the name we are given.  If there is a concern with the contents of a comment we will test the email address it was sent from.  If invalid we frequently do not publish the comment.

Intelligent people looking at the numbers and making their own decisions: democracy at its best.

We frequently talk to the writer and on several occasions we have insisted on meeting with the author.  Our objective is to create a forum where views are exchanged and the community at large is better for that exchange.

There have been some comments that were scurrilous, some with terribly foul language.  Others have contained information that while not publishable are an insight into behaviour that bears watching.

From time to time we get a comment that represents what we set out to do ourselves. Comments made on the first person in Burlington to file nominations for the ward 1 seat in the October municipal election came in quickly.  The comments made by one commentator in particular were informative and we felt useful.  This is what we set out to do as a community newspaper – we commend these comments to you:

Rick Craven used to be an effective municipal leader. He listened to ideas, asked questions, worked hard to make a mark for Burlington. All under the great leadership and mentorship of Mayor MacIssac and a fantastic City Manager, Mr. Tim Dobbie. Then came the Cam Jackson era. Craven turned from an effective leader, and a team player, to a one man “lets battle the bully” show. He became a bully himself. He forgot how to be an effective leader, he lost the will to listen, all he wanted to do was fight.

Burlington citizens discussing a draft of the city’s budget.  Councillor Craven is on the right wearing the blue shirt.

He’s never regained his better persona of a good leader, instead Craven enjoys continuing to be the bully. You see it at meetings of Council, in the media….. he just loves to bully delegates, others who have different opinions, and the member of council sitting to his left in Council Chambers. If it’s not a fight for him it’s not worth his time. His “my way or the highway” style has become totally ineffective.

Yes, Ms. Henshell, and many who will put their names forward to run in the 2014 election, may not have the political experience at the starting gate. You do have to learn to crawl, then walk, then run. However I’ll vote for emotional intelligence, a team player, and on the job training any day rather than 4 more years of watching a sarcastic, ineffective bully trying to make his, and “his only”, mark.

Mr. Craven has lost the personality it takes to be a good leader. He needs to learn to crawl again, and walk again before he should ever “run” again. It’s a seven member city council, not a one man show. He needs to be re-taught just that instead of continuing on with the selfish traits he once despised.

A break from Council Chambers would be in the best interest for Mr. Craven if he has any bigger political aspirations. Is he a politician…. yes. A great political leader… I beg to differ.

This kind of trenchant observation and the courage to speak is something we welcome and encourage.

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5 comments to Intelligent comment, the sharing of views, the building of community: how are we doing so far?

  • Like you, and countless others, I had a great friend and invaluable mentor in John Boich.

    His spirit and impact will never be lost so long as people strive to follow his kind of leadership, giving and wisdom.

    The Burlington Gazette is a fine example.

    You’re not always objective, accurate, fair (I’ve been at the receiving end of those comments a few times) or politically correct (let alone having correct spelling!) – but you’re always willing to voice/share things in an engaging and usually respectful manner for the greater good of our community.

    Like any of us, John was not perfect. Neither is The Burlington Gazette. However, I believe you’ve sacrificed much to keep pushing his and Shape Burlington’s vision forward, and helping fill in the local information gap for Burlingtonians.

    Keep on doing what you do!
    Editor’s note:
    In my book publishing days I did a book that I co-authored. My name was incorrectly spelt on the cover. Spelling errors seem to be in my DNA.

  • G. Stevenson

    “Democracy needs more free speech, for even the speech of foolish people is valuable if it serves to guarantee the right of the wise to talk.” David Cushman Coyle

    Thank you for providing a great forum for the community to “have their say”. Its not all about politics, there are a number of topics to make one think, to understand our city better, and to offer lively debate. I wish you much success!! Keep up the great work.

  • Jack Seedhouse

    I stumbled into Burlington Gazette only very recently and am delighted to find a rationally thought-out media presence in my city of 40+ years. Opinion is being presented as opinion and not necessarily fact – admirable! Our sole print news medium is Toronto Star owned fluff and, while Cogeco 23 produces occasional good programming, it’s limits are very real. We have no radio (just ask Mayor Goldring!) and no true daily newspaper. So you’re it, and I wish you well.
    I worked quite closely with Council for some years, dating back to Rob MacIsaac and Mike Wallace times, so prefer not to voice a personal opinion right now about anyone. Suffice it to say my neighbours in Hamilton and Toronto consider Burlington politics to be blessed, sane, respectable, and in every way exemplary of good municipal government!

    Editor’s note: Well – thank you for that Jack. Keep logging in and tell your friends and, if you need a daily news fix – follow us on twitter – @OurBur

  • Pat

    What Craven needs is more Craven types to have a better and more effective council. The man is frustrated with having to deal with other councilors who aren’t able to produce tangible results. Group hug sessions and on the job training will lead to further stagnation, deflation and tax increases.

    The benefit of this newspaper is it will force transparency and accountability from other political participants yet to make an appearance. It will also encourage all those who suffer from the nymby syndrome to look into the mirror and reflect on the overall health and well being of the community.

  • Joan Gallagher-bell

    In my estimation I find your comments factual and without discrimination. The Gazette is exactly what Burlington needs a fresh wind called Factual Truth. Thank you from my home!
    Don’t stop but rather proceed full speed forward with truth, integrity, clearness and transparency for residents of Burlington. Shape Burlington was a reflection from major Burlingtonians which should have been implemented not to end up on the shelf.