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Discretion? At whose discretion?


"Discretion" can be a powerful word. Ask a person who has a TV, for example, and is sitting at home with small kids to supposedly enjoy a family night. The adult is channel surfing and stops on a program. Then comes the voiceover: "The following program contains scenes of nudity, sex and violence and is suggested for a mature audience. Viewer discretion is advised."

"Discretion" can be a powerful word.

Ask a person who has a TV, for example, and is sitting at home with small kids to supposedly enjoy a family night. The adult is channel surfing and stops on a program.

Then comes the voiceover: "The following program contains scenes of nudity, sex and violence and is suggested for a mature audience. Viewer discretion is advised."

The parent groans and hits the remote: "Awww Dad, why did you change the channel?" "Mommy, what does 'mature' mean? There's cute fuzzy bears in that show!"

"Mom, Dad, what's 'dis-cresh-shun' mean?"

"It means that if you were in that show, the cute fuzzy bears would rip you open, tear you apart and have you for dinner. And that's why you can't watch it."

Exercising discretion is all about choice and judgment, whether it's about choosing what you want your kids to read and watch, or if a particular outfit is appropriate to wear to a formal event.

The word also comes up in the case of political discussions and policy. On a local level, it's frequently associated with the erection or placement of buildings, or new businesses, or use of certain facilities in a particular area. Like other municipal councils, the Grand Falls-Windsor body politic is often called to make a judgment in relation to "discretionary use." For example, someone wants to open a bar in a particular area. Council will advertise that the person has applied for a licence to sell wine and spirits at such-and-such address, and anyone with concerns is invited to submit them to the town office. It is then at the council's discretion to determine whether the concerns are warranted enough to not allow the bar.

As seen in the workings of council, the policy of "discretionary use" has merit. Residents sometimes have legitimate concerns. But as observed by council in their Tuesday night meeting - and for once, they made a good case - the discretionary use policy can have its negative side.

A woman had applied to operate a home-based business out of her home on Canada Drive. A massage therapy operation. The woman is a certified therapist; such professionals are hard to come by. But council had received complaints from area residents, mainly traffic-related. The estimated number of cars that would use the business would be 28 a week. One councillor, who defended the business proposal, said she had contacted the RCMP and was told that didn't amount to high traffic, but only the same as people making regular trips to go shopping.

Deputy Mayor Bob King even pointed out that discretionary use can have a sinister side. He supported the town's plan for a mini-home development off Grenfell Heights, but when there was a public forum on the issue at the town hall, area residents lobbied against it, and in a very nasty form. One person even made the silly comment that he didn't want "Bubbles and Ricky" (Trailer Park Boys) in his neighbourhood. Others complained about the possible devaluing of their homes if a mini-home development were to go up. Never mind that other towns and cities have them - Bishop's Falls for example - and the mobile homes are as spruced up and well-kept as any other neighbourhood around.

We're not saying to abolish the policy, because it is required. But residents aren't always right. If government policies were solely dependent on what residents thought, then welcome to the world of mob rule.

In a town like Grand Falls-Windsor, which is going through its own challenges because of the mill shutdown, we need all the business we can get. As one councillor said, "Grand Falls-Windsor is open for business."

Economic development should be based on vision and creativity, not on the pettiness of people who don't want to be inconvenienced.

Sue Hickey

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