Letter from the editor: Democracy requires open and transparent communication

Letter from the editor: Democracy requires open and transparent communication

On June 2, Ontario will see democracy in action as individual regions vote in their Members of Provincial Parliament and, once tallied, we see who will lead our province for the next four years. At times like these, we also need to question how well that democracy is working.

I believe voting is important. It’s the first step a citizen can take to help shape their home and future. While there are arguably some shortcomings in the style of our elections and a debate could be had as to changes that could best serve the people, the current system is at least workable. 

If people participate, that is.

Every election there is a discussion on voter turnout and, much like with organ donation, I believe that mandating participation unless someone specifically opts out would go a long way to encouraging better numbers.

But even before the vote, the first step to any election is the campaign period. This time allows for candidates to reach out to potential constituents and share their platforms. As much as increasing the quantity of voters is important, I believe it’s equally important to better the quality of those votes. When voters are well informed, it betters our communities. It means they get vocal about what really matters to them, and that means politicians are forced to listen and are pressured to make things better.

This is one of the reasons I’m most proud to be a part of this newspaper. We have the privilege to share information about our local candidates and what they stand for. We have the privilege to be trusted by our readers to help inform them of their options. It’s a privilege we don’t take lightly.

For these reasons, I have growing concerns as we head into this year’s provincial election. These concerns began with the last federal election, as current MP Leslyn Lewis went uncontested in the initial bid to be the Conservative candidate. While I won’t get into the drama that ensued around other interested people failing to get on the ballot, it has always been clear that Lewis had the support of the Federal Conservative party and was being placed in Haldimand with that support. That isn’t to say she can’t serve the people of Haldimand Norfolk well; I’ll leave it to each of you reading this to decide your feelings on Lewis’ work now that she has the seat.

Now forward to the Provincial election, and we see a similar scene unfold. This time however, there isn’t even a hint of an election among the parties. Following current MPP Toby Barrett’s retirement, our current mayor, Ken Hewitt, was appointed by Premier Doug Ford himself to take the candidacy. Additionally, the local Liberal agency had local candidates they supported, but the Provincial party chose who they wanted for the party. Again, this isn’t to say these appointed candidates can’t serve our community well if elected, but rather that it is concerning this step of our democracy has been passed over. While I welcome newcomers to Haldimand, I am concerned that such important positions could potentially be filled by people who have no interest in the riding outside of the job title.

This concern for the state of our democracy has only been heightened by the communication style, or rather lack thereof, extending from the PC party since the announcement of Hewitt’s running. As readers will have noticed, The Press has been running a series of profiles of each of the candidates as they’ve announced running and as we’ve been able to connect with the candidate for an interview. Readers will notice, however, that some candidates have not been profiled by next week’s paper (our final edition before election day). It appears likely that Hewitt will be among this group, as we were told by a PC party rep following our initial request for an interview that Hewitt would be unable to accommodate answering the questions. We were also informed he would be unable to attend our candidate debate this week, and we heard from the Simcoe Chamber of Commerce’s debate organizers that they received the same message.

This led me to take a dive into Hewitt’s online campaign presence to see his digital reach. I found a Facebook page with 11 followers (as of publication) and a website. The website does include an overview of Hewitt’s history, but the only platform points come from a shortened release originally published on the PC party’s site, along with a couple PC party releases criticizing Liberal leader Steven Del Duca and an announcement on a new hospital for Windsor-Essex. 

Perhaps Hewitt has done all of his campaigning door to door, but if this is the case I have yet to see him or any promotional material at my home. And even if I had, my concern remains for how many people will be missing his messaging and stance when avenues like local newspapers are ignored, despite being a primary news source for many voters.

Hewitt may not be the only candidate to end up on the ballot without having reached out to the newspaper. Their lack of communication concerns me as well, but Hewitt is of particular concern for two reasons. The first is that he is the candidate for the party that has had our region’s support for nearly three decades, so I would expect a greater enthusiasm to engage with voters on wider scale. The second reason is that we as a newspaper have previously never had a problem regularly communicating with Hewitt as the mayor, but now this communication has come to an abrupt halt for MPP candidate matters. I have heard this strategy is being implemented elsewhere in the province, with other PC candidates avoiding candidate debates and similar public speaking engagements. I worry about what this says when political parties actively avoid having their candidates speak publicly during a campaign.

We rely on transparent communication from our sources when writing articles and informing the public on current happenings to ensure a complete and accurate story. Barrett went above and beyond in this partnership, providing weekly opinion columns and regular press releases for provincial matters that specifically affect Haldimand and Norfolk, along with responding to requests for further information. We greatly appreciated those efforts and come June 2 – regardless of who the vote supports – we hope to see a similarly strong partnership with our new MPP moving forward.