The Grant Rant

A journalist's view from Niagara

NOTE TO READERS: The following commentary was read during our live broadcast of the Ontario Election results on June 7. It referenced a story we broke at the St. Catharines Standard about a local woman who, while eligible to vote, was prevented from doing so by Elections Ontario because she was in a hospital in the wrong riding. 

-GL

The polls are about to close, and when they do I will be stepping away from the anchor desk for a few minutes while I help our news team get the papers together.

But before I do I wanted to draw your attention to a story we broke in today’s paper about this woman – Dawna Bacon.

Dawna is 55, lives in St. Catharines and has been politically active most of her adult life. She views voting a civic duty and goes out her way every election to cast her ballot.

But today, Dawna Bacon wasn’t allowed to vote. She took ill and is being treated at the St. Catharines hospital. But the hospital is just across the riding boundary in the riding of Niagara West – which means Elections Ontario refused to send an officer to allow her to cast her ballot.

Because Dawna Bacon got sick, and because the hospital is a stone’s throw from her riding, she has been disenfranchised.

Since we broke this story, I have received emails from other Niagara residents and people across Ontario in Dawan’s position. Like her, they want to vote. Like her, they spent days on the phone from hospital beds trying to find help from Elections Ontario – help that never came.

We live in an age of apathy where voter turnouts are low and cynicism is common. Many people disconnect from the political process and simply don’t vote.

But people like Dawna Bacon want to vote and it is shameful that in 2018 the body that runs our elections allow arbitrary rules to disenfranchise a voter.

As voters, we should insist that whoever wins tonight changes the rules so that no Ontario citizens have their political voice silence. Dawna Bacon deserves better. We deserve better.

“The greatest of penalties is being ruled by a worse man if one is not willing to rule oneself.” – Plato, The Republic. 347.

“I don’t get involved in politics,” the man said at the door of his Welland home. “I don’t care about any of them. Doesn’t matter to me if it is Horwath or Ford. The system never changes. I don’t get involved. I don’t vote or anything.”

It was, at its heart, a common expression of frustration with politics. The shirtless man watched impassively as Ontario’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath and a small cadre of campaign staff moved from house to house Friday afternoon to shake hands and smile for the cameras. The would-be premier was smiling and charming but this man was unmoved. She was simply another politician in a long line of politicians who had disappointed him. If the past predicts the future, he has no reason to think she or her rivals would be any different than their predecessors.

So he doesn’t vote. The house always wins from his point of view, so he will always leave the table with empty pockets.

He isn’t alone in this view. And it’s hard to fault him for it. Certainly, watching the circus of the inane that is the current Ontario provincial election can be a caustic experience.

In an increasingly partisan environment, in an era where truth in politics is a matter of spin and facts of momentary convenience; when the gap between haves and have-nots grows ever wider and cronyism is treated as a virtue, cynicism and apathy can seem like the only rational responses.

I say “seems” because as understandable and relatable as that apathy is, it is nonetheless corrosive to democracy.

Everything that man despises about politics – that you, dear reader, may despise – is animated by that apathy. The maw of the politics of greed and corruption is always open and in need feeding. And nothing fills its belly more than citizens who turn away from politics. Nothing starves it more than when the voices of citizens are heard loudly and clearly.

Democracy is a rare and precious thing. Every few years, the ranks of the governing are changed by the governed. Some of these governments are good. Others are objectively terrible. But whatever the outcome, that change happens without a single shot being fired.

Most people, in most places through most of history, cannot claim such a luxury. Changes in government, historically speaking, tends to cast out the previous regime as fugitives and leaves blood on the streets.

We all know this. And yet, so many of us decide not to spare even a sliver of our lives to better understand the issues shaping the world around us so that we can make our mark on a ballot to have a measure of a voice in our collective future. Instead, too many of us choose rank cynicism, disenfranchise ourselves and complain when our politicians fall well short of our expectations.

Voting is the least that is expected of us in a free society. It is the most basic building block of our communities, our province and our nation. Actually running for office, or participating more deeply in election campaigns or scrutineering are important, to be sure, but they are all for not if people refuse to vote.

Long ago, Plato warned that those who refused to take part in politics were doomed to be governed by their inferiors. Like so much of Plato’s advice, this cuts several ways, but fundamentality he is saying we get the get government we choose. And if we choose to be but a helpless bystander, should we really be surprised when government becomes a den of grifters?

Under the present circumstances in Ontario, the parties and platforms, one and all, may leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. And finding nothing to our taste, we could decide to stay home and hope for the best. In doing so, we would surrender our choice and responsibilities to others and become willing mutes.

No, the worse fate is not to vote. Maybe the choices on offer aren’t what you really want, but they will never get better if you hide from the political process. Voting gives you a voice you would not otherwise have and is the first step to holding power to account.

So vote this Thursday. If you do not, as the old saying goes, you’ll get the government you deserve.

And you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

Greetings reader of the Rant!
Just a quick update to point to you The Standard‘s latest podcast, Inside the Newsroom, which I am hosting.
The show takes you inside the newsroom to take a closer look at how we do the news. In our first three-part series, Standard reporters Bill Sawchuk, Karena Walter and I talk about investigative journalism – from anonymous sources to information gathering and navigating legal landmines.
You can listen to the show here:

I know the blog has been rather quiet in the last few months. I have been very busy with some major investigations at The St. Catharines Standard with a few more on the way. Plus, we have an Ontario provincial election in a couple of weeks and a municipal election right after that. So my dance card is a bit full.

Still, if you will excuse some shameless self-promotion, I am proud to say I was nominated for and won, a National Newspaper Award and an Ontario Newspaper Award recently.

The NNA nomination for local journalism was my third nomination for Canada’s top prize in journalism. Third time is lucky, as they say, and I won for my investigative series titled The Wolf in Priest’s Clothing, about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The series also won a feature writing category at the ONAs, where I was also nominated for a journalist of the year. I am also proud to say I was nominated alongside my colleague Bill Sawchuk for beat coverage for our ongoing investigative work on Niagara’s regional council.

There was some truly amazing work nominated at both awards events by some extraordinarily talented journalists and it is humbling to counted among their number.

New content will be coming to this blog soon! Stay tuned!

 

The list of #menbehavingbadly continues to grow. The latest is news icon Charlie Rose who, it seems, had a thing about not wearing pants around his female coworkers, and apparently showing his female staff explicitly sexual movie clips. Every few days, there are new stories about men in positions of power and influence treating women in despicable ways, ranging from the creepy to the outright criminal. The reveal of new allegations seems to have become part of our daily routine.

The cases have all been American so far, but I figure it is only a matter of time before a Canadian scandal hits the headlines. If you are doing the math, it is inevitable.

Many men, it seems, are baffled. I’m not talking about the men who are genuinely shocked at the scope of the problem. I am talking about the men who don’t understand why they shouldn’t catcall women, or grab them at the office, or not wear their pants. (Seriously, Charlie? Wearing clothes around your co-workers is not exactly a taxing professional requirement. At what point, exactly, did that seem like it was OK?)

So as a public service, the Grant Rant blog is publishing this handy guide for men (particularly those MRA, “red pill,” insecure types crying “Men can’t even ask women on a date anymore!” You can, dullstone, you just can’t harass them) who, for reasons that frankly baffle me, are unclear on the issue. Feel free to print this and keep it in your wallet should you ever think that now is the time to harass a woman:

THE GRANT RANT HANDY GUIDE TO SEXUALLY HARASSING WOMEN

  1. Don’t. 

  2. Seriously, don’t.

  3. Wear pants and don’t be a seedy creepy creep.

  4. DON’T!! EVER!!! What is the matter with you?

 

tenor

On Nov. 16, 2017, I was invited to speak to the St. Catharines Rotary Club about issues surrounding the news media and fake news in the era of trump. You can listen to my speech in its entirety on Soundcloud here or the link below.

The slideshow that is referenced during my speech is embedded below or can be found here.

In the annals of political advertising, the recent attempt to by the Conservative Party of Canada to brand its new, plucky leader Andrew Scheer won’t be remembered as a high water mark.

You can sympathize with the party’s plight. After nearly a decade in government with a leader in Stephen Harper who, while not exactly popular was trusted by a lot of Canadians to keep the country on track, the Tories lost to a very popular, very photogenetic Justin Trudeau of the Liberals.

Fact is, the Tories can’t win the next election on policy arguments alone, not unless the Liberals implode in a fashion similar to the old sponsorship scandal that sunk Paul Martin’s fledgeling government. He will never be as charming as Trudeau, but he needs to close the gap. On some level, the Tories need Canadians to like Scheer. Or, you know, at least not look at him and go “Who is that guy again and why is he wandering around the park all the time?”

In a way, the Tories are where the Liberals were under Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Those were leaders with all the charisma of a sleepy possum (in the case of Ignatieff, a somewhat arrogant and angry sleepy possum) who just could not connect with Canadians.

Well, this newly released ad is probably not going to help the Tory cause.

It features the Conservative Party leader lumbering around a park in an ill-fitting t-shirt, looking about as comfortable as a seal at a shark party. He looks vaguely panicked, like he really, really doesn’t want you to go look at what might be in the trunk of his car. And what in the name of Odin’s unseeing eye is with the “random” people saying hello? We know they are actors, and they aren’t doing a great job. Right on cue they say:

“Uh hi..Alex? Is it Arthur? Antonio? It’s something with an A, I know that….”

(If they are not actors, then they are people being held hostage and someone needs to help them.)

Then there the populist message. Scheer, in his rumbled shirt wandering aimlessly among strangers in an upper-middle-class suburb, is a “man of the people,” where the Liberals are part of the “cocktail crowd” – as if the Tories, with their extensive war chest, are impoverished monks.

But maybe Scheer has a similar problem as former Ontario Party PC Leader Tim Hudak. Like Hudak, Scheer has been a politician most of his life, with little experience in the outside world. And that often fosters an odd, slightly awkward public presence that is less everyman and more pretending to be an everyman.

Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe Scheer really does wander around playgrounds by himself. Maybe that is his thing. And maybe Canadians respond to that. Maybe.

Look, most politicians tend to produce slightly awkward political advertizing. And, to be fair,  Scheer’s ad is nowhere as horrifying as the weird monstrosity produced by Niagara Falls Liberal candidate Ron Planche during the last federal election.

They are politicians, not actors, after all. But in terms of political messaging, what Scheer is trying to say gets lost in the weird, uncanny valley vibe going on. It doesn’t so much sell a political message as it does appear to be inspired by the faux everyman groove found in that episode of the Simpsons when Homer meets President Ford.