Yang needed after the Yin
Donham's aggressive approach
contrasts to what's gone before
THE ISSUE: DONHAM PILLORIED OVER MEMO
A chastised but unbowed Parker Donham can find comfort
in knowing that his turn in the town pillory this week
proves his skill as a keyboard provocateur has lost noth
ing in the 19-month layoff from advocacy journalism.
The leaked private memo he wrote to Sydney-Victoria Liberal MP
Mark Eyking runs only 332 words - less than half the length of
the weekly newspaper column Donham wrote for years - but it
generated front-page headlines in the province, much bureaucratic
flapping, and calls for his head.
Damn, he's still got the touch!
Of course, provocative style is not generally prized in flakdom.
Donham, in his contract work as spokesman for the provincial
Crown entity Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has taken up the more
proactive branch of communications consultancy, which involves
lobbying and strategizing well beyond the scope of cautious public
statements vetted by nail-biting bureaucrats.
It is a higher risk game, as reaction to the Post's disclosure of
the memo showed this week. But in this critical phase of the
cleanup saga Donham finds himself in a vitally important public
role, challenging what might be called the JAG culture.
Officials of the Joint Action Group and Environment Canada
took particular exception to Donham's charge that they "promote"
unrealistic expectations in the community as well as "a Cadillac
cleanup solution of dubious feasibility and affordability" The promoting,
as opposed to permitting, would be hard to prove.
But let's try the point another way. Let us say that JAG, by its
very nature and because of the culture it has evolved, is unable to
discipline public expectations or even to persuade the public to
confront in any realistic way the very notion of tough trade-offs.
This is a less confrontational way of stating the problem than Donham
expresses in his broadside. But the implication is no less
damning. It would lead to the judgment that the whole JAG
process, in summary has been a failure.
Consider the products of the JAG process in recent months.
Contract consultants produced the list of 10 cleanup options, but
that could have been done without JAG - or at least with a much
abbreviated and simplified form of public participation. But perhaps
JAG's more crucial assignment this spring - indeed,
throughout its six years - was to bring some kind of focused,
engaged public feedback into the mix.
Yet it is hard to see where the workbook exercise, the showpiece
of engagement, accomplished anything that could not have been
done better though more conventional public consultation methods
such as focus groups and the like.
JAG chairman Dan Fraser recently remarked that "it's really a
personal choice as to which option is more acceptable than another one."
Yes, that's about what it's come down to at the end of the
JAG exercise but the question we're left with is whether such
facile, open-ended public feedback is of any probative value at all
as governments consider spending hundreds of millions of dollars
to rid Sydney of its dirty obsession.
JAG-versus-Donham shows us the yin-and-yang of cleanup
mobilization, a passive-receptive attitude towards the question of
community acceptance versus a "political job of selling a solution,"
as the Donham memo puts it. Whether the yin has helped at
all, or perhaps even hurt, remains a matter for debate. But clearly
we need some yang to move us on from here.