Editorial: Numbers matter

Numbers are the easiest and most direct facts reported in the news. Financial numbers can paint a picture of the health of an organization, or hold government to account. Statistical numbers can influence what happens to your community. Numbers are absolute and provide context and clarity to issues large and small. It is also why governments at all levels do anything and everything to obscure these facts, and also why government officials need to stop playing games with reporting numbers.

There are many examples. For nearly a month, The Leader has asked the Ministry of Long-Term Care for information on provincial funding for Dundas Manor in Winchester. In March 2020, then minister Merrilee Fullerton announced funding for Dundas Manor, but in the three years since, there is a gap between what the province is funding and the funds the community must raise. That gap has widened thanks to inflation. After weeks of inquiries and missed deadlines, the ministry still has not provided an answer: is more provincial funding is coming? Will funding be indexed to inflation? If so, how much? If not, why not?

Another example involves disclosure from school boards for enrolment numbers. When the education consultant hired by SDG Counties sought school enrolment numbers from local school boards, the Upper Canada District School Board was completely transparent about their enrolment numbers, the other three boards were not. It took SDG officials contacting the Ministry of Education to pry enrolment data from some of the other boards. Publicly-funded school boards are an arm of the provincial government, which means there must be transparency in reporting numbers as education is paid for by all Ontarians.

Local government is not immune either. When The Leader asked for the exact number of applications for the South Dundas Chief Administrative Officer position, the response was “several.” Several is not a number. The actual number matters as it gives context to how the hiring process is going. Did the CAO job posting attract a lot of interest in this labour market? What is size of the field of candidates from which our next CAO will be chosen? Several is not a number: it is imposed context by government that is purposely vague. The Oxford Dictionary defines several as “more than two but not many.” Is that three people, four, five, or eight? Define “not many” please.

This may sound like nitpicking over numbers, but consider this – not receiving accurate numbers from the Ministry of Long-Term Care means a lack of clarity for fundraising goals for a much needed reconstruction for Dundas County’s LTC. Potentially it means needing more money than is known, further delaying completion of the project. It should be necessary to go to the Ministry of Education to compel school boards to release public enrolment data. And in the case of South Dundas, questions asked about numbers should receive answers that match – numbers – devoid of imposed context and interpretation.

Numbers matter. When it comes to government numbers and funding paid for by you and the other citizens of your country, province, municipality, or school board – you have a right to know what those numbers are.

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