In a perfect world
In a reporter’s perfect world, all gatherings, events, meetings and such would be open to the media, with an opportunity to talk to and question those in attendance.
Obviously, that is a pipe dream, as evidenced by the regularity with which Uxbridge township council goes “in camera” – (no outsiders allowed) – to discuss various issues confidentially. These in camera sessions usually deal with possible land acquisitions or sales by the township, legal matters and personnel issues. That is understandable to a point. But why would a provincial minister bar the media from a sit-down session with local farmers to talk about the things that impact their operations?
That was the case last Friday when about 30 farmers – mostly from Uxbridge but also from other parts of North Durham – gathered at Brooks Farms to talk with Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman and local MPP and president of the treasury board Peter Bethlenfalvy. Staffers for both Hardeman and Bethlenfalvy insisted the media was not allowed to listen in because they wanted the farmers to “express themselves freely during the session.”
If they were concerned about farmers “expressing themselves freely,” that concern apparently did not extend to the agriculture minister, who showed up 55 minutes after the meeting had started. After his late arrival, he told the gathering: “These kinds of meetings are important.”
And what is the point of farmers expressing themselves freely if there is no one there to record their comments other than the politicians? The only public review of what took place appears to be missive issued by Bethlenfalvy’s office which stated, among other things: “Farmers from across the region participated in a robust discussion focused on strengthening Ontario’s agriculture industry by reducing unnecessary red tape, without compromising food safety, and ensuring the province, including rural Ontario, is open for business.”
The rest of the release talks about what actions the government has already taken. It doesn’t give any indication of whether the farmers were happy or unhappy with their lot, whether or not the farmers supported the actions already taken or whether they came up with any suggestions for the government. And it certainly doesn’t record what any of the farmers had to say while freely expressing themselves.
The Ford government’s penchant for distancing itself from the media, even to the extent of forming its own news operation called Ontario News Now, is becoming a little tiring. The Cosmos has been seeking a face-to-face interview with Bethlenfalvy for some time now. We recognize that as a member of cabinet he is a busy man, but he should not be too busy to engage with his constituents. In our attempts to arrange an interview, we have been offered phone conversations and we have been told what subjects he is willing to discuss in those telephone calls. We have politely turned down these offers. There are any number of issues we’d like to discuss with him, such as the regional government review, the ill-considered Section 10 of Bill 66 and the municipal response to it, the Ford government’s stance on carbon tax and so on, and we don’t want to be told by our representative that he’ll only talk about this or that. In a perfect world, we would talk about all such things face to face.