CBC Ombudsperson: How much detail is enough?
The complainant, Robert Muir, says there were flaws in an article CBC Toronto published in the aftermath of flooding the city experienced last summer. He felt the article left readers with the wrong impression about the municipal government’s ability to prevent damage caused by heavy rainstorms.
You are a professional engineer responsible for developing and administering funding for urban flood risk reduction for the City of Markham, Ontario. You say there were fundamental errors in an article headlined “More flooding, more questions for Toronto politicians”, which was published online August 12, 2018.
The article, labelled as ‘Analysis’ and written by Matt Elliott, came in the aftermath of an intense rainstorm in Toronto which caused flooding and disrupted public transit, among other damages. Mr. Elliott’s column focused on whether the City of Toronto is well-prepared to deal with such intense storms, which are considered likely to occur more frequently in the future due to the effects of climate change.
In particular, Mr. Elliott described how political divisions led the city to reject the idea of introducing a so-called “stormwater charge” – a separate fee intended to raise money to mitigate the effects of rainwater. He contrasted Toronto’s situation with that of nearby Mississauga, Ontario, a city which has introduced such a fee and, as a result, raised additional funds.
Your feedback was that the column contained errors and ultimately misled the reader:
Based on my experience and specific understanding of Toronto flood risk factors, and my understanding of the Mississauga’s responsibilities for flood control as a lower-tier municipality and detailed knowledge of their stormwater utility fee, there are fundamental errors in (the) story….
There also appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the Toronto basement flood damages reduction program, the long term capital plan, and the approved and fully funded remediation projects. The article also incorrectly suggests that a stormwater tax based on paved surfaces would be reasonable, incorrectly linking paved surfaces to flood risks.
That last point received special emphasis in both your original letter as well as follow-up correspondence, along with your belief that the article was misleading on how efforts to mitigate floods are funded:
The article leaves the erroneous impression that there is a funding gap and a stormwater charge is needed to “implement a new charge designed to make up the difference” – please correct the article or explain the “difference” and what specific projects should be funded with a new revenue source.
Laura Green, Executive Producer at CBC Toronto, replied to your complaint.
She indicated that Mr. Elliott is a columnist who covers issues at city hall. The article, she wrote, was not intended to be a detailed report on the issue of flood mitigation, so Mr. Elliott “is not expected to lay out every angle and detail up for debate.”
Continue reading this on the CBC website, where it was first published.