Worst Hyperbole Ever?

By Jason Menard

Worst council ever? One could argue that. Hyperbolic and misleading statement? Most definitely.

Our main local newspaper, The London Free Press, recently posted a Tweet that read, “Do we really have the worst council ever? Poll results going to city hall seem to suggest it” with a link to its article — on that leads with the vaguely referenced, “They don’t call it London’s worst council for nothing.”

Could this be London’s worst council? Possibly? It certainly has been one riddled with negativity. But worst ever? I don’t know if you can make that claim using anything but anecdotal evidence.

And to use the poll referenced here as ‘proof’ is just inflammatory and irresponsible.

After all, this is only the second iteration of this poll, commissioned by council itself. Unless I’m dramatically mistaken, I don’t think there are many (or any) previous polls that could be used as benchmarks upon which favourability could be judged.

(On a side note, it is nice to see The London Free Press actively supporting recycling in the community, though, as it’s continuing to flog the “Worst. Council. Ever” statement as it did going back to its review of the first poll.)

This is not to criticize the author, Pat Maloney. I quite like Mr. Maloney’s writing and reporters like him are exactly why I believe in the need and power of a paid-for free press. He is willing to do the dirty work and dig for stories that so-called citizen journalists either don’t have the inclination or the resources to do. Chip Martin’s exposure of Mayor Joe Fontana’s ‘wedding expenses’ is another example of the good work the Free Press does.

But headlines and Tweets of this nature are inflammatory and misleading. Worst council in memory? Maybe — depends on how old you are. I know many people were disenchanted with the Anne-Marie DiCicco era. One person’s Billy T’s is another person’s chicken wings and pool. Others will lament the Dianne Haskett years, especially as it relates to a certain gay pride declaration issue. I’m also old enough to remember the Tom Gosnell years and the latter part of the Al Gleeson era.

Why, in 1898 corruption and graft led to to City Hall literally collapsing on itself.

Regardless of whether the sitting council (and, for a while Board of Control) were left-leaning, right-leaning, or somewhere in between, one thing is always consistent: people are going to be unhappy.

Some people are going to be more unhappy with certain issues than others. Some people were happy with the status quo. It’s the nature of the political beast. Going back over my years, I’ve seen first-hand people in my community angry about issues ranging from the building of the energy-from-waste plant at Victoria Hospital, to the placement of the aquatic centre, to the deforestation of a section of Pond Mills in order to build new houses, to the colour of a Zehr’s in Masonville.

And I would hazard a guess that if you polled the constituents at that time, they’d have shown a marked dislike for the council at the time.

Am I ready to state this isn’t the worst council ever? No. There are many things that appear to be indefensible (to be fair, I’m willing to let the legal process play out in the Fontana trial as I believe in they system; and I wonder how the Ombudsman would have responded to a certain wing-ding), but I’m not ready to use poll results that can only be measured against a one-year-old version of itself as the foundation for such a definitive statement.

In a city plagued by partisanship and inflammatory statements, fuelled by the visceral immediacy of social networking, it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s a self-indulgent ‘epic’ overuse of hyperbole — and while it may sell a few more papers and draw a few more eyeballs, it’s misleading and myopic.

I hope those in the community who often lament the fact that local media focuses on the negative things in London are just as quick to call out hyperbole, even if it may be politically aligned with their views and goals.

A bad council? Sure. One with which many Londoners are disappointed? No doubt. But worst ever? That’s up for debate — and a two-year-old poll shouldn’t be the foundation of that argument.

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