By Jenn Watt
Protesters at MPP Laurie Scott’s office were asked last week to take their demonstration regarding the cancellation of the basic income pilot project outside citing privacy concerns for constituents.
The protest started on Monday March 25 on the final day of basic income payments for those enrolled in the program which was designed to measure the effect of financially supplementing low-income earners in Lindsay.
According to Mike Perry a local lawyer and former federal NDP candidate for the riding protesters were basic income participants their friends and allies who came to make it known the end of the basic income program would have a major impact on their ability to make ends meet. They also asked staff at the office to request an apology from Minister of Children Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod regarding the early cancellation of the project.
Perry said that the protesters waited all day in the lobby to hear back from MacLeod and when they didn’t said they wouldn’t leave.
“The protesters were asked to leave at day’s end but politely declined as all else had been tried and sometimes you have to stand up and say no more” Perry said in an email to the Echo.
Reports from Lindsay-based media stated that after being asked several times to leave the group did so.
A press release from Scott cited privacy concerns as the reason protesters were asked to leave.
“All residents of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock are entitled to services from their MPP’s office with full expectations and assurances that their privacy will be protected. This includes confidential conversations being photographed or video recorded or being interrupted when they attempt to access the services provided by my community office staff” the statement reads.
“Regrettably with such a small office space it became clear that maintaining confidentiality for visitors was impossible during a peaceful sit-in. As such we are inviting demonstrators to remain outside our office while engaging in their right to free speech. This will allow us to continue to serve our constituents to the best of our ability.”
Perry said protests continued outside for five days.
“On the fifth day outside we were told no reply would still be coming. Five days! Other things on basic income were happening – like the class action for damages being filed with the court – so the protesters moved on” he said.
Christopher O’Mara said he first became aware that comments were being removed from MPP Laurie Scott’s Facebook page when he posted a comment and was alerted to a response on March 28. When he got to the page a note was there that said the comment no longer existed.
As he looked at other posts on Scott’s page he saw all other comments had disappeared as well. It appeared administrators were using a tool that would “hide” comments leaving them visible only to one’s Facebook friends but not to the wider public.
O’Mara said he contacted the MPP’s office and spoke to a staff member who said she would pass on his request for an official statement from Laurie Scott.
A statement on the topic was released by Scott on March 29 sent to O’Mara as well as to the Echo.
“As Member of Provincial Parliament for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock it’s important to me to work as hard as I can to deal with the issues that affect people in this riding and all of Ontario” it reads. “Some people are able to share their concerns in a way that we are able to dialogue and respond while others have elevated beyond that. Recent actions including the vandalizing of my constituency office and some terse words shared have led to some amended availability for the safety of all.”
O’Mara said he understood Scott’s position and respected the effort made to keep vulgarity from her Facebook page but pointed out that the act of hiding comments shut down discussion.
He said social media offers a place for meaningful dialogue and has been employed around the world to create change.
“This is one of the main reasons we have seen social media be used as a powerful tool in grassroots political campaigns… but I believe if our officials choose to employ these tools they must also engage with and endure the consequences that come hand in hand with the power that they offer” O’Mara said in an email to the Echo.
Scott’s press release stated that she welcomes comments through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 705-324-6654 but O’Mara said those tools did not provide the ability to have a public discussion.
“So in absence of this is MPP Scott going to instead hold frequent town halls in each of our rural and far reaching communities in her riding? Unlikely I think given her busy schedule managing her portfolio as the Minister of Labour. How else then does Mrs. Scott intend to engage with us in a group setting where members of the public can learn from others to grow their own compendium of knowledge and participate in crucial debates about the future of our communities about the future of our province in a way that also effectively communicates the hive-mind’s opinion to our MPP?”