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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wynne tries to be connected and responsive - and fails miserably

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attempted to appear connected to the younger generation and responsive to the many questions and concerns of Ontarians, but she failed miserably.

On February 11, Wynne held a Reddit “Ask me Anything” session.  AMA sessions are supposed to be about “something uncommon that plays a central role in your life” or “a truly interesting and unique event.”  They are intended to be unscripted, real responses to real questions asked by real people.  When Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi hosted a Reddit session in October 2013, his responses were thorough and to-the-point, whether about expanding light rail services or upcoming road construction projects.

Instead, the Premier’s session lasted less than an hour and she only managed to respond to 10 questions, all of which sounded like pre-drafted generic answers.  That left 1505 comments without responses.

The questions were honest, frank inquiries about the state of Ontario’s government.  They asked for legitimacy in a Premier that became Premier without ever being elected by the Ontario people.  They asked for hope in a time of reckless green energy experiments instead of investing in keeping and building jobs for Ontarians.  The questions were on a breadth of provincial responsibilities – from sex education to the economy to the LCBO to public sector compensation.

Readers were left horribly disappointed - some even called it offensive that the Premier would enter such a social media platform without doing her research that people would, you know, expect answers to their questions.

Unanswered questions included:

-  What were the consequences to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and the Chief Executive Officer of Ontario’s Public Drug Programs for their failure to produce and publish annual reports as required by law?

-  Why are residents restricted from installing their own solar panels?

-  Does Premier Wynne agree with the federal Conservatives’ decision to scrap the long-gun registry?

-  When will the alcohol monopoly be broken or why, specifically, will the Premier not allow beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores?

-  With $1 billion in surplus electricity being exported to Manitoba, Quebec, Michigan, and New York, why are hydro rates increasing for Ontario’s own residents?

-  What are the province’s short-term plans to address deficit spending and find efficiencies (i.e. not the medium-term to balance the budget in 2018)?

-  Does Premier Wynne agree with the McGuinty sexual education curriculum that was introduced in 2008?  Will she scrap it, update it, or leave it as is?

-  Why were rehabilitation services such as speech therapy for elementary students in Hamilton and Niagara cut by 80 percent in the week before Christmas?

All of these questions went unanswered.  Commenters called it “one of the worst AMAs I have ever read,” “a joke,” “a blatant PR move” that confirmed their views of a “typical politician” avoiding the tough questions, a “seriously poor engagement” that “did more damage than good” that was “not an actual attempt to communicate with Ontarians” and only “spewed the same bullshit responses we could read in any article, interview, or on the Ontario Liberal website.”  (And this is just a summary of the comments appropriate enough for publication!)

The few questions Wynne did respond to were soft-balls written strangely like planted Liberal-friendly questions.  One was about her running (because Wynne loves running) and another was about her favourite book.  This at a time when Ontario’s debt is over $263 billion and small, medium, and large businesses are closing left, right, and centre to move to more competitive jurisdictions in Manitoba, Quebec, or the United States.

Aside from the two wasted questions, other answered questions included:

-  Why was the city of Leamington given $2 million when Heinz closed its doors while Ottawa was given $190 million when Cisco closed its doors?  (Wynne responded she was disappointed in Heinz’s decision, made sure her government acted quickly, blah blah blah.)

-  Will Bill 83 pass to protect free speech in Ontario? (Wynne responded her government was being blocked by the Opposition Ontario PC and NDP.)

-  Will the province help Mississauga establish a subway? (the short answer: yes.)

-  Won’t raising minimum wage only further drive businesses from Ontario in favour of cheaper jurisdictions? (Wynne said tying minimum wage to inflation was the way to go.)

The questions that were answered were answered as if they had already been pre-typed and pre-approved for when the question just so happened to be asked.  It is unclear whether Wynne was actually even responding to the questions behind a computer, or whether she pre-approved responses that were subsequently posted by a political staffer.  Many of the important topics – the economy, jobs, rising electricity costs, and rampant corruption in Wynne’s public service – went unanswered.

To attempt to make up for her disappointment, Wynne promised she would answer one additional question per day for the rest of the week.  But the damage has been done, with many Reddit members calling for whoever handles Wynne’s public relations and social media accounts to be fired for such a fundamentally poor understanding of what she was signing up for.

Like so many other stories of this Ontario Liberal government, they tried to connect with Ontarians and do something good, and failed miserably.