Council waving its hands. Making ineffective flapping gestures. It sounds like it should be some sort of metaphorical phrase. Something from the Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra episode of Star Trek. But hand-waving is actually a metaphorical term that means failure to deliver the goods. And also trying to deflect attention from your failure. Wikipedia describes it as,
… a pejorative label for attempting to be seen as effective — in word, reasoning, or deed — while actually doing nothing effective or substantial.
Oh, boy, does that ever describe to a “T” our council with its collective, increasingly desperate, yet wildly inept hand-waving efforts to promote the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition:
The use of gestures and insubstantial language meant to impress or convince.
Insubstantial. That surely describes their efforts to make the SVJI seem relevant and worth the millions wasted on it.
I came across the term while reading Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson (Penguin Press, 2013). While I’m not in complete agreement with Thompson’s arguments about the benefits of technology, his description of “hand-waving” as a term for presenting codswallop and claptrap instead of substance immediately made me think of our local politicians. Hand-waving, all of them.
The term stems from what happens when software or hardware engineers have to show their projects to an audience. When the coding fails or the wiring isn’t right, the demonstration clunks to a halt. The engineer then attempts to describe how the project should work rather than showing it. This is accompanied by a lot of hand-waving in a vain attempt to conjure in the air an image of what should have happened. No one in the audience is convinced. Hand-waving has thus become a term to indicate failure and uselessness. It has been used as a term to identify politicians’ bullshit in the media. Not by our sycophantic local media, of course.
Handwaving is frequently used in low-quality debate, including political campaigning and commentary… it suggests that the proponent of the argument, position or message has engaged in one or more fallacies of logic, usually informal, and/or glossed over non-trivial details, and is attempting to wave away challenges and deflect questions, as if swatting at flies.
For example, our splentic Mayor Saunderson was hand-waving when he tried to brusquely dismiss residents’ concerns that his beloved judicial inquiry had cost six or seven or more times what he told the public it would cost. Merely a drop in the bucket of the money siphoned from taxpayers’ pockets he bloviated. Flap, flap, flap, as if he was trying to fly.
The town’s legal counsel for the inquiry was hand-waving when its lawyers returned to justify the costs of the inquiry they recommended the town undertake which also netted them more than $1.4 million. (Bringing them here again added another expense to already-overburdened taxpayers, and raising the rapidly growing total for the SVJI).
It seemed to me the two former CAOs, each paid well over $200,000 a year to advise the council, were engaged in self-serving hand-waving when they came before council to defend their decisions approving the inquiry. The SVJI’s gobsmacking increase in costs skyrocketed from $1.4 million to more than $8 million (and likely well above $10 million if our obscurantist council was honest about the accounting) but these former apparatchiks said it was money well spent.
I don’t believe any of them convinced anyone, aside from those already on council or staff who were already engaged in frantic hand-waving over this debacle.
Compare their hand-waving with what this council has actually done for the community this term. Right: nothing. While council continues to obsessively lavish our money on promoting and justifying the SVJI, they have done nothing to help local businesses survive the lockdowns, or fixing our decaying streets and crumbling sidewalks, or upgrading the waterfront, or repairing the terminals, or making our streets safe with more stop signs and traffic signals, or doing any number of things that would actually help the community.
But they sure do a lot of hand-waving in defence of their SVJI.
The standard of intellect in politics is so low that men of moderate mental capacity have to stoop in order to reach it.
Attributed to Hilaire Beloc, writing after his second term in the House of Commons, 1910.
Of course, it’s difficult or even impossible to actually show residents the alleged benefits of the SVJI because the 300-plus recommendations are all about process, not concrete things you can see or touch. They’re abstract. I expect most residents want something solid and real for their tax dollars. And it’s even about a process that hearkens back a decade or more, before many of our residents even moved here.
How, for example, do you show someone that a non-renewable term limit on the employment of CAOs and integrity commissioners is worth $8 million or more of their tax dollars? Or that it was worth $8 million or more to be sure that when the Town of Collingwood retains a solicitor, there must be a retainer letter? Or that it was worth $8 million or more to ensure that the selection process for board membership on a municipally-owned corporation is “robust” when we don’t even HAVE any municipally-owned corporations left (since the previous council deceptively sold our only municipally-owned corporation to a for-profit corporation — without public consultation, of course).
And even if the Province of Ontario agrees to amend section 246 of the Municipal Act “to state that, if a member abstains from voting because of a real, apparent, or potential conflict of interest, this should not be deemed a negative vote, but instead recorded as an abstention” will any of our residents really feel they got their money’s worth?
How many residents will think that their money was well spent if they find out a poster was placed in the staff lunchroom that warns, “Staff must not use intimidation or fear in the workplace”? That’s in recommendation 98 from the “experts.” Part of your $8-$10 million spent on the SVJI went to help them cogitate long and hard to produce that. Of course, any HR manager could have said it to staff and not cost us another penny.
Will residents feel the egregious costs were justified if they finally see the website of the integrity commissioner contains the town’s Code of Conduct, FAQs [Frequently Asked Questions], and other educational material on the ethical obligations of Council members. Imagine how much anxiety residents had before the IC’s website was upgraded thanks to recommendation 65.
Council keeps frantically waving its collective hands while the audience scratches its head wondering why they can’t see anything that justifies $8-10 million of our taxes.
The most effective hand gesture would be to wave them all goodbye next election.
Collingwood deserves better.