We tend to be a little cynical in the newsroom when we hear that a proponent or government is holding an open house on a controversial topic or development.
This is almost always an attempt to dilute the angry crowd so that people have more difficulty getting up a head of steam. It’s far easier for most people to stomach standing up in public and loudly denouncing something if they are surrounded by like-minded individuals, rather than explanatory boards and whatever poor sap has the unenviable task of answering public queries about them.
Because that’s what these open houses inevitably are: boards on easels set at intervals in a big, largely empty echoing space that discourages both sitting down to stay awhile and congregating together.
Public meetings, on the other hand, usually involve a whole pile of chairs in rows facing down the hapless proponent of whatever scheme is on offer — sort of like a firing squad.
The folks who arrange these things aren’t stupid. They’ve been around long enough to know the difference. So I couldn’t help but both decry and a little bit admire the use of the open house tactic by Island Health for their upcoming interaction with the public on the Duncan opioid crisis, specifically the situating and opening of the overdose prevention site which has not gone down well with people in the neighbourhood.
Originally, a public meeting was scheduled with invitations going out just to the immediate neighbourhood. Rather predictably, that invitation got spread far and wide and had it gone ahead, we predict Island Health would have been staring down a very large, very angry crowd.
So that got “postponed” in favour of two, count them two, separate open houses. Divide and conquer?
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I think open houses are a good idea. Even when the proposal is controversial and people planning to go would rather have the chance to yell at the proponent, an open house can actually be a better option to let people know what’s going on, rather than just what they’ve heard or seen passed around on social media.
But in this case, I think the neighbours know perfectly well what the issues are, they just don’t want the overdose prevention site in their area, period. I think there are still going to be raised voices and those manning the open house better be prepared to face the music.