Come what may

We shall try a word game. It may be fun. Read the next two sentences. The city may consider this land greenspace. The city shall consider this land greenspace. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognize they mean profoundly different things.

We shall try a word game.

It may be fun.

Read the next two sentences.

* The city may consider this land greenspace.

* The city shall consider this land greenspace.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognize they mean profoundly different things.

The first denotes a suggestion. The other a command.

Whitehorse officials don’t like commands.

They are difficult to countermand. And doing so may involve work, imagination, reason, logic, political capital, time and probably a bunch of other stuff.

Commands, by their very nature, shall be restrictive.

And, after a few years on the job, city staff and politicians may know a lot more than the public about city planning.

At least they think they do.

And that’s the problem.

Because when they see something they believe needs to be done, they want to do it. Without question. With ease. Despite what the public thinks.

Which is why they shall tweak the Official Community Plan.

The city wants to do a quick find/replace – sticking “may” in place of “shall.”

Want a concrete example of why this is a bad idea?

We thought you did.

A week ago, city planners announced they, er, shall substitute “may” for “shall” in the Official Community Plan.

And here’s what happened after that assertion.

On Thursday, planners announced they may substitute “may” for “shall” in the Official Community Plan.

See where this is leading?

May is a weasel word.

And so, suddenly everything is shifty. It’s hard to pinpoint what the hell is going to happen.

When you insert a word like that in a plan, it isn’t much of one. Once that happens, residents shall never know, from one week to the next, what city planners and politicians may do.

One week, you learn they may do one thing only to discover in the next that they shall do another.

See how confusing things get. It makes for poor planning.

We’re encouraged city planners may change their plan to reword the Official Community Plan.

Because stripped of assertive language, it shall become useless. (Richard Mostyn)

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