‘Kill switch’ star of the show

October 1, 2018   ·   0 Comments

In 1965, at the Cambridge Union Society, Cambridge University, writer James Baldwin and famed debater, William F. Buckley, participated in what many consider to be one of the great debates of the modern era.

Throughout the debate, Baldwin delivers his remarks slowly, passionately and cooly, like a jazz vocalist. He is mesmerizing; the audience sits rapt. Baldwin tells stories and his arguments are peppered with evocative images. This is one way to convince the unconvinced: to use narrative alongside your argument. Stories can be tools, weapons. On this occasion, Baldwin was more magician than orator. It was pure theatre. Buckley, on the other hand, was smug, his points scattered. Baldwin won the debate in a rout.

There was very little theatre at last week’s debate between those vying for mayor/deputy mayor in the 2018 Orangeville municipal elections. I wasn’t looking for a Baldwin-type of performance, but I was looking for something. I’ve always said: just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean we should think small or expect small, and yet, settle for less we did.

The Kill Switch

First up, the councillors. Not only were we introduced to all those brave souls running for council (like lambs being led to slaughter); we also had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the great inhibitor to free speech and democracy: the infamous ‘kill switch’. After the third speaker in a row had been pruned by the kill switch, the person next to me said, “If they can’t manage three minutes, how are they going to manage a $33,000,000 budget?” (For the record, the Board of Trade later issued a release admitting to making errors with the timing and cutting candidates off.

Debate Rebate

This was not a debate; it was a straight up, old school, Q&A session. Candidates fielded questions like carnival ducks at the fair – left, right, left right. It was all so civil. There was no chance to refute an argument. What we got was their platform, information that could have been culled from their respective websites (or

Mind Your Business

The idea that government should be run like a business was a popular theme. It wasn’t stated explicitly, but it was there behind words and phrases, like: efficiencies, fiscal responsibility. cost analysis, bottom line. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing that most candidates have a background in business, and that the Q&A was organized by the Dufferin Board of Trade.

We should no more want the government to be run like a business than a business to be run like the government. I guess they feel this way because they see a ‘business model’ as something that is more efficient. But “efficiency” means profit in the private sector. To want to run the government like a business (see Trump, Ford, conservatives in general) is like asking that the government turn a profit. The problem is that not everything that is profitable is of social value; not everything of social value is profitable. Few would argue that the police department, fire department, library, parks and public transit are of no social value – they could not exist if they were required to be profitable. I expect that if cuts are to be made, these will be the first departments to bleed.


Word of the Day: Taxpayers. Municipal candidates love the phrase ‘the taxpayer’ as much as a populist loves the phrase ‘the people’. What they should love is using the name of some of those taxpayers, to give a face, some color to the hardships that come with high taxes. The phrase adds zero character to the people paying the highest property taxes in the GTA. It all sounds so generic; this community’s problems are not generic. What does a strung-out 16-year-old hanging out in the Mill Street library care about efficiencies and bottom lines? Also, why don’t candidates ever use the phrase “We the taxpayer”? Don’t they pay taxes, as well?


The irony of the setting wasn’t lost on me – a high school gymnasium; and yet, there were very few young people in attendance. Seniors are going to decide this election. They usually do – older people are more likely to view voting as a responsibility and to care about a broad range of issues. They are more connected to their communities, which also makes them more likely to vote. This is why young people are so often overlooked: they don’t vote (and don’t pay taxes).  Sigh.

You Down with OPP?

Those candidates who were in favor of another round of OPP costing received a raucous applause from the audience. The applause confirmed my suspicions that if the original costing had been put to a referendum it would have gone the way of OPP – which means those who voted in favor of OPS voted in their own self-interest.

In the End

Truthfully, I was disappointed. This is an old town in need of some fresh new ideas, ideas that reflect the changing make-up and diverse needs of the community. Many are promising change, but we’ve heard this story before. Am I just cynical? I think I have reason to be. During election campaigns, I always harken back to James Baldwin who once declared: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

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