Saturday, May 20, 2006

Doing What Works: Dogs, Children and Mobs In Ontario

Today, my daughter decided she wanted some chocolate. We were in the car at the time and had indeed just purchased some chocolate at the rather fabulous Mrs. McGarrigles Fine Food Shop in Merrickville, Ontario, which carries a good selection of imported British candy. 'Choca, choca, choca' came the chant from the back seat, gradually increasing in both pitch and volume. We're entering the so-called terrible twos here, where demands and tantrums are becoming more commonplace.

Prior to becoming parents, we had raised our first dog from puppyhood. Being bookish types, and wanting to get things right with the dog, we did a lot of reading and learned from a lot of folks out there about how best to train and socialize our puppy to be a productive member of society. We learned a lot from Corgi-L, the mailing list for Corgi folks on the net, and from many other experienced dog people.

What we learned applies equally to toddlers and dogs. They do what works for them. Each action is an experiment. What will happen if I scream at this point? What will happen if I snatch / snap for that piece of food? What will happen if I do the thing that Dad just told me not to do? As dog trainer, or as parent, we have the power to shape the consequence of each experimental action. If it has a pleasant consequence, the action will be repeated. If the consequence is either negative, or nothing, then over time, the action will not be repeated as frequently and will eventually fade away.

The key to this whole approach, of course, is consistency. Give in once to a demand or an undesired behaviour, and all is lost. This is not always easy to do - but not doing it will in the end make life harder for all concerned.

I find it very difficult to understand how otherwise intelligent folks cannot grasp this concept, and the reason I raise this at this point in particular has to do with an issue here in Ontario that I don't believe is getting the attention or perspective it deserves. A group of native protestors have, for several months now, blockaded roads and illegally occupied part of Caledonia, Ontario. They have burned bridges, destroyed vehicles and buildings, stolen documents from the offices of a developer, and generally resorted to the rule of the mob.

So, what consequences for this lawlessness? What has the Ontario government done in the face of this breakdown of law and order, this complete disregard for civil society? Have they done anything? They have not.... No attempt has been made to restore access for the citizens of Caledonia to their highways. No attempt has been made to restore the stolen property to its owners and no attempt has been made to identify or prosecute the vandals who burned a $1.5 million dollar footbridge.

To be fair, thisis not strictly true. The government is doing something. In fact, they have bowed to the protestors' demands. Most recently the Minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, David Ramsay, has indefinitely prohibited development on the disputed site - this without even the courtesy of notifying the owners of the land.

So what do we learn here? Mob rule, violence, theft, vandalism and lawlessness wins out. We have given the protestors their chocolate. All across the country, you can bet others are watching this situation. In time, they too will do the same. Because, like children and dogs, special interest groups of all stripes do what works.

It was incumbent upon our government to see that the illegal tactics used in this case did not succeed; not only because of the one dispute, but because of the wider message the success of the Caledonia protest sends.

The media is not giving this whole situation the coverage it deserves. But I am concerned that in the end, the Liberal legacy in Ontario will be more than a healthcare premium, more than a string of broken promises - it will be that the people of Ontario will be buying British chocolate for a whole lot of flimsy causes for years to come.