A tough night on the job in Cayuga

As your local politics reporter, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a series of events that took place last Monday at the Haldimand County Administration Building surrounding a Council session in which MPP Bobbi Ann Brady appeared as a delegate to dispute a vote barring her from attending Haldimand’s delegations at the upcoming AMO conference in Ottawa.

  I arrived about half an hour before the 6 p.m. meeting to get some photos for the paper. My first stop was out front, where a small number of protesters were waving signage, ranging from ‘Say No to the MZO’, to ‘I Stand with Bobbi Ann’, to ‘F Trudeau’.

  I approached two women with signs, asking to take a photo. They obliged, but as I was trying to take the photo, a man standing to the right asked me my name and what paper I worked for. I gave him both, and the man immediately began to tell those nearby not to listen to or trust me, that I was a “f***ing liar,” a “piece of s**t,” and another expletive that is too vulgar to print even with the asterisks. 

This man questioned a recent article of mine, in which I mistakenly reported that the mayor had spoken with the property manager of the former Lawson House, as that was what the manager had told me. Unfortunately, a request for comment from the mayor inquiring about that alleged conversation and her thoughts on the situation as a whole went unanswered until after that paper was in the printer’s hands.

  The mayor’s reply noted that she had not in fact spoken with the manager, and we ran her reply in full the following week. We also featured more in-depth coverage of the encampment issue last week, looking at Council’s ensuing discussion in chambers.

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  To the person who approached me and the couple of people who were with him, this simple timing mishap was proof that I am an untrustworthy liar. An attempt to offer the above explanation was met with “don’t listen to him, he’ll just tell more lies.” As I attempted to move away to take photos of others, this person and his associates followed me, again telling people not to trust me and firing insults at me as I tried to do my job.

  My reaction was to become defensive. After the sixth or so utterance of the word I won’t re-type, my instincts kicked in and I began to verbally fight back with this protester. I left the scene and happened on former MPP Toby Barrett in the parking lot, giving him an anger-fuelled rendition of what had taken place. According to Barrett, he later spoke with the man, whom he noted had been a problem at past events as well.

  This is where I began to take things off the rails, in a series of moments that are embarrassing to write about, but happened, so I must.

  When I entered the council chambers, still hot, about five minutes later, I spoke directly to Mayor Bentley in front of County staff and councillors, recounting the event outside with full language, and asking if she thought it was alright for anyone in attendance to speak to a reporter in those terms. Returning to my seat, I spoke further with those sitting nearby who had questions stemming from what I said to the mayor. Again, I did not spare details.

  Following the meeting, I approached MPP Brady in the lobby outside. Still stuck in my head over what had happened earlier, I attempted to explain why I was upset, and I believe I said something to the effect of “those are your supporters too, and you should work to turn down the heat a little because this type of behaviour is unacceptable.”

  It was a half-baked idea shared too loudly at a moment when I should have quietly left the scene instead. I regret that it took place. 

I want to note that despite the fervour over any divisive political issues, many of which our MPP finds herself at the centre of, my working relationship with Brady has been a good one over the past two years. 

  While there are other political leaders in Haldimand who will not pick up a phone and speak with me, choosing instead to communicate through staffers and often offering only generalized statements instead of fulsome answers to the questions sent, I can truly say that is not the case with MPP Brady. 

  I appreciate the openness with which she provides her time to do so, including our difficult conversation last week surrounding the motion at the heart of last week’s protest. 

  I do have some admiration for the manner in which our MPP speaks out on issues she deems important, like the Argyle St. Bridge in Caledonia. Those things do need to be heard by our provincial government, despite any contentious relationship with the premier that may or may not arise from saying them.

  On the other hand, I also truly feel the manner in which Brady’s supporters booed and verbally attacked Haldimand’s councillors, particularly Ward 6 Councillor Patrick O’Neill, was off-hand and unfair. O’Neill, like Brady, has shown through our interactions over the past two years to care about his ward. He has promoted the area’s various service clubs with a passion, has served on the board of the Mudcat Festival, and has organized charity fundraisers through the  Dunnville Aeros hockey team, of which he is a co-owner.

  Regardless of his opinion on the Nanticoke MZO or any other issue, O’Neill is the representative voice of his ward, voted in by the community in Dunnville. Disagreeing with his views can be done without yelling disparaging words at him from the lobby – it can be done with reasoned conversations and letters, and at the polls in the next municipal election. That’s a fact, and if you feel like throwing a tomato at me for saying it, that’s alright, I can respect that feeling as well (just don’t actually throw something at me), but it won’t change my mind.

  To those in attendance who witnessed the tail end of my anxiety-induced behaviour, I apologize. The version of me present in that meeting was on-edge, nervous, and in full defense mode. Not a great headspace to get stuck in, as I’m sure we can all agree, but one I’m sure we’ve all been stuck in once or twice when faced with a difficult, unexpected situation.

  The version of me writing this editorial two days later knows that the heart of Haldimand’s many passionate residents is honest and true, and when they speak out, they do so out of honest concern for the community they call home. 

  To them, I apologize for my behaviour, and I will do better to walk away next time someone calls me a … nope, still not going to type that word.