Right in the centre - Labels and such


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

I am convinced that more than ever before in history, we have assigned labels to more things, people and conditions than ever. Labels can be helpful, but they can also be very harmful. It gets further complicated by the fact that we don’t have a lot of control over some of the labelling.

We are repeatedly told that we can be whatever we want to be but that advice needs to be constantly evaluated as to whether the label we attach to things, people and conditions are real or valid. Some labels are unchangeable, others are questionable and many are absolutely unnecessary.

Let’s look at my personal example. I am a human, that’s a certainty and I had no choice in the matter. I was born a Canadian, again no choice. I could move to another country and change my citizenship but I would still always have been born a Canadian. I was born a Waddell, over which I had no choice; I could change my name, but the name under which I was born can never change. I am a male, albeit an old one. My age changes every day, but I had no choice in my gender and, quite frankly, it makes no sense to me to fuss about it. I am a husband, a father, grandfather and great grandfather. I had a choice about being a father, but had I not become one, obviously the latter two titles would not have happened.

So what’s the point? The point is that some labels are automatic and some are by choice. 

It seems today that everything and everybody has to be labelled. Probably the most useless of labelling is the ones we put on people. If you were born in Canada or have become a Canadian, you are Canadian. I care about peoples’ backgrounds, it’s fun to discuss heritage but we are all Canadians, not hyphenated Canadians. I am all for history and heritage but we need to have a bigger, greater goal in building our country and communities than to have an unhealthy clinging to our heritage.

Political labelling can be harmful too.

Another type of labelling has a profound effect on our society and especially on our politics. We have an election coming in Manitoba and it promises to be a hard fought one. Already we see a lot of political advertising. I find the union ads particularly annoying, they simply shouldn’t be allowed and here’s why.

Elections are based on one-person-one-vote. Often, only 60 per cent of voters bother to cast their ballot. Many unions come out in favour of a candidate or a party. The problem is that the union doesn’t have the authority to apply a politicial label to all its members as I can guarantee all members don’t agree with the stated union stand. When a union takes a stand for or against a political party or candidate, the assumption is that all members will vote the same way. Also, in my career, I have known of many cases where union members were clearly instructed and bullied as to how they “must” vote. And the unions have gotten away with it. Union members have been told they, “have to vote a certain way” or they will lose their jobs. 

For years, unions in Manitoba got behind former NDP premier Gary Doer’s rallying cry that. “The Tories fired a 1,000 nurses.” It was a lie but it didn’t matter, Doer used it for years. The unions parroted it and many people still believe it. 

Some will be upset when I say unions should not take a political stand but those same people would be very upset if the Chambers of Commerce came out in support of a particular party. How would they respond if the Association of Manitoba Municipalities did that? Or how about the Manitoba Simmental Cattle association supporting a party? 

In the same way that I get upset when a union or organization expresses support for a party, I don’t like it when a  newspaper comes out in favour of a candidate or party. If an editor (such as myself) or a columnist supports a party, that is one thing, but if a newspaper does so, there is an assumption that all the employees echo that support and they may not. They may well vote differently than a particular owner/publisher or editor. Their vote is sacred, just as every vote is sacred. Votes and voters should never fear how they vote.

In Manitoba, only individuals can donate to a political party but there is no limit on how much unions can spend on ads supporting or opposing a party.

There’s another little wrinkle in all this process. I am pretty sure when the NDP have a convention, a large percentage of the delegates are appointed by the unions. So much for one-person-one-vote. 

We need to be very careful about how we apply labels. There’s often a lot hidden behind the label.