I don’t know if many others have noticed, but this era of populism also seems to be ushering in a culture of systemic anger.
A few days ago, a political event planned by the Prime Minister of Canada had to be cancelled because security officials feared for his safety. Members of Parliament are now required to wear panic buttons for the same reason.
Not that long ago angry crowds gathered outside Premier Doug Ford’s personal residence, causing a serious security risk. Hospitals and other public institutions have been harassed and interfered with.
The so-called Freedom movement fuels anger. Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum, continually and increasingly point fingers at what is wrong with this country, rather than what is right about it. In my view, they promote anger and anxiety for their own partisan purposes.
The sad thing is that it appears to be working. Many people these days are just plain angry and will express that anger on the slightest whim.
I saw that clearly in Huntsville this week when a story published on Doppler about Kent Park went somewhat viral. This is a small piece of vacant property at the corner of Main Street and Brunel Road. At one time it was a Fina Gas Station. At another, it was parking space for a few cars, and then a small park with some green space with an ice cream vendor smack in the middle.
As part of Huntsville’s streetscape project to revitalize the downtown area, Kent Park was redesigned in a manner that is unusual for a Muskoka Park, somewhat futuristic in its nature, and quite controversial. The point here is not that the park design was unacceptable to some people, but rather the vitriol with which it was expressed.
I cannot recall a story on Doppler that resulted in so many angry and negative comments both on our Doppler site and on Facebook. Almost all comments, both on our Doppler site and on Facebook, were critical of the park design. Many of them were angry and some, like this one, were downright nasty. “It looks like shit. It was better green space when it was a Fina station.”
Kent Park is a small part of the Town’s streetscape project and an even smaller part of the town itself. Certainly, its design is controversial, and it is understandable that many people will object to it. But there are a number of greater and more substantive issues in Huntsville, and one needs to ask why it is this one that has become the tinderbox that could easily develop into a central issue in the upcoming municipal election.
In my view, it is because people are generally angry these days and Kent Park has become a focal point to vent this anger. It’s not just about Kent Park. It’s also about so many other things that are frustrating, frightening, and angering people today.
There are “Kent Parks” in many other communities in Canada; relatively small issues or grievances that become catalysts and are escalated to a boiling point simply out of a sense of frustration and anger.
The real genesis for a great deal of this anger comes from much larger issues such as declining health care services, a critical lack of affordable housing, rapid inflation, and terrible service from some public entities, including roads, major airports, and passport offices.
Only government can fix or ameliorate these larger issues. Individuals can only express their frustration and anger.
I get frustrated at all levels of government that resort to more talking and finger-pointing, more excuses as to why someone else is responsible for fixing things rather than actually doing something about the plethora of challenges many Canadians face today.
And there are steps that can be taken immediately, notwithstanding that many of these challenges spread well beyond Canadian borders.
First, we have to get people back to work. There was not nearly the labour shortages pre-pandemic that there are now, which is affecting our productivity and the services we receive. Could it be because the federal and provincial governments made it too easy to stay home?
But until the labour shortage is resolved, there are things that can be done now to ease tension and anger. Medical personnel in Canada’s military could be seconded to hospital Emergency Rooms that need staff to remain open. Similarly, other military personnel could help out at major airports with security, baggage handling, and so on. Camping and Park fees and fees for other publicly-funded leisure activities, could be waived or reduced, to give families a badly needed break they might otherwise not afford.
As for the passport offices, just move personnel from other less challenged public services to that office, to ease the backlog. Simple solutions for all of these initiatives, that don’t need an expensive and time-consuming task force to accomplish them. Just get it done.
As for inflation, there are temporary steps governments can take now to ease the burden on Canadians such as reducing sales and gas taxes. And in relation to health care and affordable housing, the Feds and the provinces need to stop kicking each other and actually come together to get something done. We need a new national health care plan, and we need it quickly. There should be no competition between jurisdictions when it comes to fixing our broken health care system.
Governments at the federal and provincial levels need to take meaningful steps now to bring relief and a sense of well-being to Canadians. We do not need excuses. We do not need delays.
What we do need government to do is to arrest this culture of anger that is creeping into our society. That can only be done by dealing quickly and effectively with those issues that can only be resolved by government action rather than inaction. Failure to do so will be an open invitation to individuals to express their anger and frustration at their own level and in their own way.
And therein lies the rub.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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