Beware of Surveys
Well, Pipe Man has gone, at least for now. I must admit, as I crossed the swing bridge on Friday and looked up the river, I missed him. It seemed to leave an empty space there.
I couldn’t help thinking that Pipe Man has given us quite a ride. In the short time he was with us on the Muskoka River he has brought Huntsville national attention and created more controversy and more debate than many of the more substantive issues facing our community in the past decade. The irony that Pipe Man has, in some ways, generated more passion and more attention than our need to keep an acute-care hospital in Huntsville has not escaped me.
To me, this whole issue was a public relations disaster from the outset. It has not only been blown out of proportion, but it has had the opposite effect from that which was intended. It has reflected badly on Council, on the donor and on the artist who created Pipe Man. In some ways it has shown a nasty underbelly of Huntsville. Many of the comments were personal and just plain mean.
As a result, people like Jan Nyquist, the owner of Pipefusion in Huntsville, have been vilified where they should have been praised. He did nothing wrong. He, and his father and mother before him, have made enormous contributions to the economic and cultural well-being of Huntsville for many decades. His donation of the Pipe Man to Huntsville was well intended; a goodwill gesture to a community that meant a great deal to his family.
Sadly, the same can be said for Beverley Hawksley, a highly regarded local artist who created Pipe Man. Art, especially good art, is often controversial. It takes time to grow on you. Many artists, now world renowned, were rebuffed when their works were first displayed.
If blame is to be laid in this matter, it must rest with Huntsville Council. Perhaps there should have been more public consultation when the offer to donate Pipe Man was made. The reality, however, is that it would not have meant much. Pipe Man out of the water was not really an issue. It was only when he was in place that it became one. By then, it was too late.
Council’s mistake, in my view, was in conducting a public survey once the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan. They made the decision to approve Pipe Man in the first place and they should have either stuck to their guns or acknowledged they had made a mistake and dealt with it then and there. They are, after all, elected to make the hard decisions. The survey simply perpetuated negative comments.
I am not a great fan of surveys. For one thing, they are not polls and they are not scientific. In my experience, people are more inclined to respond to a survey if they are against something than if they are for it. I was not surprised, therefore, that when asked in the survey whether or not they supported the Pipe Man, most people responded with a “No”.
The survey results from about 1300 people do not reflect the view of what is likely the vast majority of Huntsville residents, who just don’t give a damn one way or the other, or those who support Pipe Man but cannot bother to fill out a survey. The survey simply shows that about 1200 people are against it.
Having conducted the survey, however, Council was between a rock and a hard place. They ignore it at their peril, however unscientific the survey might have been in determining the view of the entire community. Pipe Man was doomed the minute the survey hit the internet and, in the long run, I am not sure that Huntsville is better for it.
Of course, another survey has also recently been completed. This one in relation to hospital care. That one really concerns me. For one thing, the survey did not provide an option for two fully acute-care hospitals in Muskoka. One of the options however, may have led people to believe that is what they were supporting. Should the results of that survey, which have not yet been revealed, be used to influence a final recommendation for the delivery of acute-care services in Muskoka, it will not have accurately reflected the views of many of those who completed it. That is something we should worry about.
Most surveys, in my view, are not an effective tool in accurately determining public opinion. They can be misleading and they can be manipulated. We are best to take them with a large grain of salt.
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