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Which Calgary Aldermen Use Plain Language And Which Are Hard To Understand: Manning Foundation Study

09/20/2013 06:05 EDT | Updated 09/20/2013 06:17 EDT
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Consensus in political discourse can be hard to come by, but one thing almost everyone agrees on is that politicians should use plain language to get their messages across to the masses.

The Manning Foundation, a conservative non-profit group based in Calgary, has analyzed the speech patterns of 12 of Calgary's aldermen, as part of their "Growing The Democratic Toolbox" study, to determine which ones are easiest to understand.

Using questions asked by members of council during Question Period, the study shows that while Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Ald. Gord Lowe and Ald. Druh Farrell all use language targeted to the highest grade level, their questions are often the hardest to comprehend.

Using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which analyzes passages of speech for number of words, syllables in those words and total number of sentences, and the Manning Foundation determined Nenshi, Lowe and Farrell all spoke at a college or college graduate level during Question Period.

Using the Gunning Fog Index, which measures the confusability of sentences by analyzing sentence length and complex words, the same three politicians are all guilty of using language that could be "foggy" for some listeners.

Some of the questions analyzed include:

“There have been a lot of mixed messages from the media with respect to consumption of alcohol on public playing fields by baseball leagues. Can you confirm whether the City is moving to zero tolerance on this issue or whether enforcement is based on a complaint basis?” (Nenshi, 2011-05-16),

And:

“Releasing the dam on the Glenmore Reservoir caused flooding downstream. Why does The City of Calgary wait for a major rain event before the dam is released rather than releasing it slowly over a period of time to prevent flooding?” (Ald. Ray Jones, 2011-06-13),

And:

“What security measures could be taken to ensure the late night safety of Transit Operators, and what would be the cost implications?” (Ald. Andre Chabot, 2011-09-12)

The Manning Centre admits, however, that the analysis is based on small samples of speech and depends on how many questions were asked by each member in council -- for example, aldermen Peter DeMong, Gael MacLeod and Dale Hodges were not included in the study because they did not ask enough questions.

The study ranked aldermen John Mar, Jim Stevenson, Shane Keating and Gian-Carlo Carra lowest on both tests, meaning these gents speak to a high school grade level but also use the least complex language.

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