Opinion column by MLA Rick Strankman. FILE PHOTO

There’s no such thing as an unbiased opinion

When I go online to search for an oxymoron list, ‘unbiased opinion’ is on every list: Stuart Taylor

Stuart Taylor is a friend of mine. He’s a member of Hinton’s town council and a former Wildrose electoral candidate. He’s been a constant advocate of tax restraint and full transparency in the affairs of government.

Not long ago, Hinton’s administration, backed by a majority vote of the council, refused to disclose the terms of the town’s signed contract with an engineering firm, even to elected council members like Taylor. Taylor cried foul. He immediately filed a petition with the provincial Access to Information Office and fired off letters to newspapers explaining that Hinton’s town council was engaged in unnecessary government secrecy.

Hinton’s council responded in anger. Using taxpayer dollars, they hired a lawyer to determine if they could sue Taylor, possibly getting him kicked off council. Taylor wasn’t intimidated and stuck to his guns. He won a decision with the provincial FOIP office. Then not long afterward, those angry council members who had wanted to end his civic career publicly backtracked and disclosed the document to the duly elected Taylor.

With this type of candid determination and deliberate focus, Taylor recently found himself accused of lacking impartiality and of holding biased opinions. He responded by sending this note to the local newspaper:

“Recently, someone accused me of having biased opinions. It made me scratch my head because as best I know, there is no such thing as an unbiased opinion. When I go online to search for an oxymoron list, ‘unbiased opinion’ is on every list. It’s right alongside other oxymoronic terms like old news, open secret, plastic glasses, larger half, and thunderous silence. None of these things are real.

“Regardless of how fair-minded a person might wish to be, and despite their age, sex, ethnic background, etc., everybody has a personal perspective – an angle from which they see. And every person’s perspective is shaped by experience, culture, philosophic ideas, upbringing, education, legitimate self-interest, and a lot of other things.

“An opinion, by definition, is a conclusion based on a person’s perspective and experience. If any of us quizzes a doctor, newspaper reporter, elected council member, or MLA, the best we’re going to get back is an opinion, which has been shaped by that person’s life experience. Even newspaper reporters and journalists are not exempt from this type of inherent bias.

“If you ask a dairy farmer about the most desirable price of milk, you’ll likely get a different answer than you would from a mother of five living on a restricted income. It isn’t that either one of these people are dishonest or calculatedly malicious. They simply hold different perspectives, each shaped by their life experiences.

“Likewise, if you question an elected individual about a project, who by nature is anxious to launch new and expensive taxpayer-funded programs, you’ll likely get a different response than if you quizzed a different elected official who is oriented toward lower taxes and financial restraint. Different life experiences equal different opinions.

“Even if two people argue over whether the earth is round or flat, the opinion each person expresses has been shaped by life experience, education, personal background, etc. That one person is in error won’t change the fact that it was the conditioning, education, and life experiences that led each person to their conclusion. There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion.”

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