London has again received attention from outside its urban growth boundary and beyond but not in a good way. Company is about to arrive and yet, our dirty laundry is airing online for all to see.
Sandy White has been the centre of attention this week, a place
she likes to be, but unfortunately it is isn’t giving her the
respect she craves and demands.
By now, you have all heard the story, I’m sure.
White had resigned from the London Transit Commission to which she
was appointed by her colleagues. She had had a difference of opinion
with the management and the board about an advertisement on the bus;
she believed it to be sexist and inappropriate for a city bus. For
those of you who haven’t seen it, here it is.
The LTC has been down this road before. A few years ago there were
complaints about an ad questioning the existence of God. Some people
tried to shut it down but doing so would have gotten them into
difficulty with the charter. The LTC uses a private contractor to
handle advertising on its buses, an important source of revenue that
allows the city to reduce its share of the costs.
When the LTC board refused to remove the ad, White resigned from
the LTC. For the benefit of the media, she cited objectification of
women and abuse of children as her reason for taking this stand. She
felt passionately about it. It was a matter of principle.
Her resignation was received by the Strategic Priorities and
Policy Committee on Monday. White, following her allegations of
racism by the Ontario Ombudsman, was absent.
Councillor Paul Hubert had a problem with receiving this
resignation. He appreciated and respected the Councillor’s opinion
in this matter but was concerned that if people quit over a
difference of opinion, what happened to the dissenting voices. He
recalled that there had been strong differences on the issue of
computer filtering at the London Public Library, but nobody had
resigned. The issue for him was one of performance; there wasn’t
any performance review for the appointments that council made. How
could they be sure of getting effective representation on boards and
The discussion was making the mayor uncomfortable. White wasn’t
there but her resignation was. It was her choice. They might be able
to look at a mechanism for performance review at some other time.
At that, Councillor Stephen Orser attempted to provide a defence
of her resignation, to explain why she had done this but he was told
by the mayor that, in her absence, discussion of her reasons would be
That left Councillor Bill Armstrong to weigh in. He had a problem.
If she just got up and left, who would take her place? It was a
matter of workload. Who was going to take up the slack? He certainly
couldn’t take on any more. Had anybody done an analysis of the
workload that these appointments engendered? Was anybody
There was a conclave in Rome, the mayor joked. Maybe they could
send up some smoke signals here.
Councillor Bud Polhill muttered that perhaps he could take it on
in a few months. He had something on the go that took him out of town
but that would be over in May. He was quickly nominated.
It turned out that the mayor had some interest in it too, but he
didn’t want to run against Bud. The two began to offer the position
to each other.
Then Councillor Nancy Branscombe chimed in. She had been talking
to Councillor Joni Baechler who had expressed a willingness to take
this on. Immediately the mayor backed off saying that Baechler would
be excellent, Baechler was the one. A vote was quickly taken and all
agreed. End of story.
That was Monday afternoon.
The recommendation went to council the following evening. This
time, White was in her usual seat.
When the issue of her resignation came forward, she couldn’t
She had resigned on a matter of principle, she was a social
worker, she had spent years counselling victims of abuse. She had a
master’s degree, not some arts diploma. She knew what she was
talking about. And she had received a lot of support, not only in her
ward but across the city and even across Canada. People were
applauding her. But on this council, certain councillors—Hubert and
Armstrong—had violated her Human Rights. She had consulted a
lawyer. She had a case. She wanted an apology from them.
But no, they didn’t get it. Perhaps if she had used (the N word)
or painted a penis on the side of the bus, then it would have made
sense to them. She wanted them to show some respect.
Armstrong objected. She had named him and he wanted to speak on a
point of privilege. She hadn’t even been here; if she knew what had
been said, she was going on hearsay. He had only talked about
workload. It had not been directed at her. But White kept yelling
although she no longer had the floor.
Councillor Matt Brown interjected. He had never expected to hear
that word uttered at council. It didn’t have a place in our
society. The mayor wondered what or who he was talking about.
White was back on her feet. She was the one. She had used the
word. She had done it deliberately, for shock value, she said. Her
daughter had empathized with her frustration that people weren’t
listening, that she wasn’t getting respect. Maybe she should say
something to shock them. Her daughter had suggested something even
What that could be one can only imagine.
White is not a racist. Despite the offensiveness of the word, it
was not said in the heat of passion or out of conviction. It was a
weapon, to be used as a last resort, deliberately, to make people
understand, to make them pay attention to her. To make them respect
It’s a juvenile behaviour. It’s throwing a temper tantrum.
It’s to make people sorry that they didn’t listen to you. It’s
to get your own way.
We’ve probably all done it at some point in our lives. Mostly
when we were younger and a little less public.
Extremes of language, including profanity, can be effective in
drawing attention to extraordinary situations. In rare cases. And
rarely when the extremes involve racism or sexism. Mostly, that just
results in a loss of respect.
From White, these meltdowns, these episodes of anger, these
incidents of chastising and berating are becoming all too frequent
and commonplace. Her threats and tirades are becoming tiresome for
others and exhausting for her. She needs a rest.
As for the mayor, it’s yet another blow on the eve of the World
Figure Skating Championships. Until then, the meeting had been going
so well, most motions had passed unanimously with little discussion.
And now this.
He would review the minutes of the meetings, he said, and the code
of conduct. He just wanted to “restore harmony” to the council.
That too was an unfortunate choice of words.
Note: Since this latest episode, White has apologized on television and radio for her use of the offensive word. She is calling a press conference on Thursday afternoon to do another apology. The mayor has reviewed the notes and code of conduct and decided she needs to apologize to the full council too, the next time it meets. I would advise her to write it out, keep it short, and leave her daughter out of it.