A North Saanich councillor called for more cordial public discourse as the municipality reviews the Official Community Plan (OCP).
“It’s very important that we take a step back, listen and open our minds to opinions that might not be the same as our own, because we are a community and there are many views in this community,” said Coun. Patricia Pearson. “The only way we are going to get to a place where we all feel good is to listen to each other.”
Pearson made this appeal after describing her interaction with residents on social media and witnessing online behaviour.
“I have seen when people tried to post differing views and literally seen them eaten alive,” she said, lamenting what she called the “sheer amount of misinformation” circulating online.
Pearson said residents need to be grateful for what North Saanich offers and join together in a cooperative spirit, while also promising steps to improve the process.
Other members of council, including Mayor Geoff Orr and Coun. Murray Weisenberger, agreed with Pearson’s assessment about the dangers of social media. Orr said he will take a break from social media while Weisenberger called it the “devil incarnated.” If it disappeared, the world would be a better place, he said.
Criticism of the current tone of public debate was not unanimous. Coun. Heather Gartshore called social media a “snapshot” of the community in expressing sympathy for residents critical of the OCP review.
“Democracy is messy and the essence of all of our citizenship is to be tolerant of strong and provocative words,” said Coun. Celia Stock. “It’s one of the things that I learnt a long time ago and people will present you with strong and provocative words when they are upset or afraid as Coun. (Jack) McClintock said.”
Council’s discussion did not go unnoticed on social media.
“Instead of addressing residents’ specific concerns, council discussed their personal emotions, tears were weaponized, and blame was placed on things like social media,” wrote Cindy Smith on the North Saanich, BC Community Page.
Others, however, agreed with appeals to dial down the rhetoric. “(It’s) good to have differing opinions but be mindful to not demonize people with different opinions,” responded Maitri Tewari.
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