Dave Obee: Why we published Gwyn Morgan's column

VKA-obee-520501.jpgWe published another column by Gwyn Morgan on Wednesday, and it brought the response we have come to expect: A few people thanked us for it, but many others were highly critical of Morgan and the Times Colonist.

From Kevin Bishop: “After railing against government measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, he actually advocates for people to book holidays to sun destinations — in order to save the poor, struggling airlines! This is the height of irresponsibility and displays a complete and utter lack of concern for the many who are dying during this pandemic.”

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From John Stevenson: “As far as the airline industry is concerned, they deserve financial help; but to suggest that people ignore their safety and that of others, to take winter holidays is absurd at best, and flies in the face of what the pandemic and infectious disease experts are telling us not to do to limit this virus’s rampage.”

From Gordon MacNeil: “Whether the Times Colonist meant to or not, it will encourage some people to break the rules that have been set for very good reason.”

From Sean Hier: “Surely, the Times Colonist can find more sophisticated material to fill the top half of the Comment page.”

From Claudette Preece: “Quite frankly, I’m stunned that you printed this.”

All valid points. So why did we publish Morgan’s column?

The Comment page is supposed to provoke thought and conversation by presenting a variety of points of view. And different people see things in different ways, so a column that infuriates one person will please another.

The opinions on this page should be diverse and at times uncomfortable. They might change your thinking, or might confirm what you already believe, one way or the other.

Beyond that, we welcome viewpoints that disagree with opinions already expressed here.

Two weeks ago today, we published an editorial calling for the resignation of local council members who had travelled overseas during the holidays. On the same page, I wrote a column listing all the reasons why overseas travel is irresponsible these days.

So you know where I stand — but it might be hard to understand why I believe that there is a place for Morgan’s opinions. It’s simple: He has extensive experience in business, in Canada and elsewhere, and he sees things in a different way.

We recognize that Morgan can push, prod and provoke. We are not asking anyone to agree with him, or any other writer on this page. All we are trying to do is present a variety of opinions for your consideration.

To be fair, there are limits to what we should print. A column denying the Holocaust will not appear in this newspaper. If you praise the wonders of eugenics, it will not be published here. Surely we can all accept the brutal truths about the 20th century.

Editors have to define the limits of commentary, and draw lines in the sand. It’s not a perfect science. The lines shift from time to time, and not everyone will agree with the decisions we make.

And these days, many readers do not want us to challenge any government health directive, including the suggested limits on travel. So it was no surprise that Morgan’s column drew a strong reaction.

As I wrote two weeks ago, I do not think that overseas travel would be a good thing. My decision came from gut sense, not because of any government directive.

But on Thursday, I could have gone through Vancouver International Airport to France, Germany, the United States, Korea, Japan and China. If those countries had let me in, that is.

The people who got on these flights were breaking no laws or rules, just going against recommendations given with great emphasis but with no legal weight whatsoever.

That is just one of many inconsistencies in the government’s approach to this pandemic. Another is that anyone returning from overseas must quarantine for 14 days — and, wink wink, it’s on the honour system.

When we are told that we can watch a big screen in a sports bar but not in a theatre, it undercuts our commitment to the cause. We can’t attend church services but we can get on our knees and pray in Costco. It’s no wonder that the health authorities are unable to convince every­one to get on board this train of thought.

We know that many people will disagree with Morgan’s opinions, but I would argue again that — cancel culture be damned — we should always consider other points of view. As with everything that appears on the Comment page, you can take or leave his views; it’s up to you.

It boils down to this: The page should offer diversity of thought. Some days, you will agree with much of what you read. Other days, you will not. That’s the whole idea.

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