That was one ‘State of Emergency’ too far. After Mayor Robert Quaiff declared to the world last week that Prince Edward County was submerged under water and too frail to fill our own sandbags—visitors began calling and cancelling plans to visit the County. County businesses were forced to divert resources and time to reassuring prospective visitors that no, in fact, this island wasn’t sinking.
It is a fiasco. Not the water—but the ill-considered comments spewed by our mayor to every news outlet that would put a microphone in his face. This self-inflicted damage may well cost the County economy more than he might have hoped to extract from the province in this ploy. Worse, it’s becoming a pattern.
There is no question that folks are enduring hardship as a result of the recent rain and encroaching lake water. And it deserves a municipal response. What we don’t need, however, is our Mayor running around dizzy from the sudden demand for his opinion, speaking on behalf of the County to the CBC radio or television news crews complaining that our population is so old and decrepit that we can’t fill our own sandbags. Or that we might be gurgling our last breath before slipping underwater.
Everything about his interview with Wei Chen on CBC Radio last Wednesday morning was terrible. Quaiff began by confirming the interviewer’s perception the County was incapable of protecting itself from the deluge because we are old and helpless.
“Prince Edward County is way above the provincial average,” said Quaiff, oblivious, it seems, to how this would sound to folks deciding the fate of our schools. “One of my concerns is having those individuals doing their own sandbagging and carrying their own bags.”
Chen helpfully underlined the point urging listeners across southern Ontario to consider travelling to the County to volunteer filling our sandbags— for these poor feeble folks unable to protect our own property. Wow.
Destructive freelancing by our current mayor is becoming a habit. Achievements gained in developing the economy and the County’s brand over the past two decades are being eroded by the mayor’s recklessness. Instead of promoting and marketing the County—our economic development team are instead forced to triage the damage from Mayor Quaiff’s latest comments.
This weekend should have been a big weekend for the County as the annual Terroir festival celebrated the growing and important wine sector. Prince Edward County has become a beacon for the growing market segment focused on extracting natural goodness from the land, adding value in preparation and processing and marketing fine food products far and wide.
But attendance was surely affected by the news that our mayor had declared a state of emergency for Prince Edward County. As were the accomodation businesses, the wineries, the craft brewers and the restaurants.
Some suggestions, Mr. Mayor.
- Get some media training.
Don’t go near another microphone until you sit down with professionals to understand the risks and rewards of what you hope to say. Not until you understand the message you want to leave, how to do that and how to avoid messages that damage this economy should you speak into another microphone.
It’s only a few weeks ago that he agreed with a Belleville radio interviewer that the County was Disney World to Quinte’s Orlando. It is an idiotic comparison and served to reinforce a message our northern accommodations providers revel in.
Protecting the value of the County’s brand is not the job of an amateur. If you are speaking for this community and economy—learn some media basics.
- Save “State of Emergency” declarations for circumstances that justify it.
There is nothing in the statements from Shire Hall or information it produced that suggests this is anything other than a means to extract money and resources from senior levels of government. Leave aside the cynical political calculations—how many times do you figure you can cry wolf before these agencies stop listening?
- Consult with your council and your economic development team before taking such drastic steps.
In this way, you can better assess the pros and cons before telling the world the County is so old and broken it can’t take care of itself.
Toronto was heaped with scorn when Mayor Lastman called in the army to save the city from a snowstorm in 1999. Sadly, this is our Mel Lastman moment.