$400,000 versus a free letter to the editor
One doesn't look far to find negative perceptions of Fort McMurray. Letters to this newspaper decry everything from emergency room waiting times to litter to truck-crazy drivers speeding and changing lanes on icy roads. Internet bulletin boards are full of chatter of the impressions of outsiders, residents, and former McMurrayites who leave the city to make their fortunes elsewhere.
Outside press coverage -- think of the infamous Chatelaine article that painted Fort McMurray as largely an uncultured town of cinderblock buildings populated by gold-diggers, escorts, and the men who love them -- tends to focus on the "unusual," which, in the media industry, tends to skew towards the problems afflicting the city. Regional council in November approved $400,000 to combat so-called negative press coverage, but the money spent to counter bad press would be better spent addressing problems that the "negative" stories are about.
For example: a story might focus on Fort McMurray's drug problem. Does this city have a drug problem? Sure does -- but then, so do most cities. So give an extra $400,000 for treatment programs. Tired of reading stories about the growing homelessness problem? Earmark that $400,000 for affordable housing programs or even to local shelters. It would be money better spent, and perhaps then stories could pick up on the ways council is tackling local problems, instead of tackling stories about local problems.
The folly of the $400,000 was laid bare over the weekend when local doctor John O'Connor wrote a letter to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald warning people about the quality-of-life problems being experienced by our rapidly growing community.
The $400,000 won't begin to counter all the new negative attention focused on the city by a letter to the editor -- which cost O'Connor nothing to write -- that tells people "life here is intolerable." O'Connor has long been an advocate for improving working conditions in the local health region, and is unafraid to call things as he sees them.
His letter was overly harsh -- it's not true that there's "nothing to do" for teens, for example (besides, any parent knows that teenagers growing up in Disneyland would have the same complaint) -- and many worry that his letter could scare off workers in industries we desperately need here (like health).
However, keeping silent about problems does absolutely nothing to solve them. Instead of arguing whether O'Connor should or shouldn't have written that letter, let's address the problems he wrote about.
© Copyright 2007, Fort McMurray Today.