OPINION: Caustic campaigning

Somewhere in the misty past, an astute observer compared politics to a blood sport. By its very nature, the democratic political arena is an adversarial environment where competitors are pitted against each other for the right to control the decision-making process. That state of affairs gets even more intense during election campaigns. But have those toe-to-toe confrontations gone too far in the internet age?  

Online forums have offered more people than ever an opportunity to share their opinions. They have also reduced the discussion to an electronic version of red faced, spit-flecked lips shouting match.

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A generation ago that kind of toxic exchange would have been shunned as over-the-top, or more in keeping with the pugilistic vernacular of the day, below-the-belt. With the arrival of anonymous social media warriors, the concepts of fair play and respect have been replaced with keyboard smack-downs, at times delivered with caps locked enthusiasm.

Keeping that preface in mind, there are plenty of controversial topics in this town whose mere mention will cause the conversation to shift with undue haste from civil discourse to a social media free-for-all.

That roster includes the decades-in-the-making Garibaldi at Squamish four-season resort proposal, which is now in the master planning stage, and the Newport Beach project, formerly known as the Squamish Oceanfront Development.

But the issue that has red-lined the needle on the vitriol meter from the get-go is the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas plant, a facility that is slated to be one of the first LNG processing and export terminals in Canada. Opponents of the venture have pilloried well-known Squamish resident and council candidate John French because he was employed doing communications for them for a period of time. One online pundit had this caustic message for French: “FU WFLNG."

Now that the Woodfibre LNG venture is close to being operational, the controversial Cheema land development proposal has taken root in what has become fertile soil for political hot potatoes.

Some have been criticizing and others defending mayoral candidate and former Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association president Jeff Cooke over the association’s precedent-setting Memorandum of Understanding with Vancouver developer Bob Cheema to launch a bike in/bike out mountain bike community on Cheema’s property.

Some keyboard pundits called Cooke’s harshest critic “a nefarious troll” as well as “a disgrace to our community and our methods of democracy.” In addition, it was alleged the author of that affront was guilty of trying “to slander a candidate for mayor,” and was “slithering out from under rocks already in advance of the election.”

To be fair, in general, those abrasive remarks are not indicative of the overall flavour of this campaign so far.

That being said, let’s try to stay classy Squamish as we get closer to casting our ballots.

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