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Tuesday 16 Jul 2024

The SoNice Act
David Simmonds

Not long ago, I was at a public event at which the size of the audience had outgrown the number of chairs available. I arrived early and was occupying a chair. Among those standing up were a number of women.

Traditional etiquette or gender equality, I had to choose.

I faced a dilemma. Do I follow the traditional etiquette rule and offer to yield the chair to a woman. Do I follow today’s convention that apparently puts gender equality at the top of the list? I chose the traditional option, but didn’t feel great about it, probably because by hesitating to think about it I obliterated whatever tincture of chivalry the gesture might have contained.

That was just one small exchange. The complete social cost of this sort of uncertainty has been estimated by two Ontario government studies at between $3 billion and $7.9 trillion, annually; money that could be saved and better spent on our infrastructure or, theoretically, on debt reduction.

You will be as pleased as I was to hear that, building on its successes in the fields of green energy, electronic health record keeping and emergency air transportation, Ontario plans to announce legislation later today to codify the basic rules of public etiquette. It’s going to be called the Social Niceties Act, “but we call it the SoNice Act for short, and you should, too” said a staffer with whom we talked.

Now, before you get yourself all a-twitter about how you’ll be damned if the government is going to tell you what shirt to wear at the dinner table, you should know that the SoNice Act will only apply to what are termed “public contacts and exchanges.” What shirt you wear or whether you even wear one at all, will, as long as you are at your own home, is your business. The rules will only apply in any place you might reasonably expect to encounter another member of the public.

The anticipated legislation will allow the Cabinet to set and change, as it sees fit, a list of up to 50 “standards of public contacts and exchanges.” For example, the standards might state that a person may not participate in a public contact or exchange without wearing a shirt or that no public seating yielded because of gender alone. “We’re staying away from knife and fork placement and that sort of thing,” said our source. “We really just want to address the core problems.”

Does it sound somewhat Orwellian?

“The people of Ontario should have no worries about the SoNice Act,” said our source, “because there are lots of exemptions.” Administering the exemptions is a new regulatory body, the Public Interactions Commission or “PINC,” for short.

PINC can issue exemptions for particular contacts and exchanges for a number of reasons, which PINC itself will be writing. One expected exemption is, for example, “old school etiquette expectations.” The woman to whom I yielded my seat might wish to apply for an exemption to the no-need to-yield seating rule. PINC would then have six months to decide if, for any reason, she should not receive the exemption.

Once issued her exemption, she would then simply have to flash her PINC-issued card at me to show that she was exempt from that particular standard of public contact and exchange; I would be obliged to comply. A list of other exemptions, in relation to particular public contacts and exchanges, will publish. “Needs to tan skin at beach and has adequate sunscreen,” for example, may be a common exemption to the shirt-wearing standard.

It almost sounds like some kind of “social driver’s licence” doesn’t it. Well there are big differences that indicate the SoNice Act is much less draconian. For starters, the government plans to mount a massive advertising campaign over the next year before the Act comes into effect on 1 April 2018.

When it does launch the SoNice Act, Ontarians will not need to apply for any sort of licence to engage in public contacts and exchanges. Instead, everyone should know of and be capable of complying with the law. At the outset, PINC, chaired, per the statute, by a former cabinet minister that has unsuccessfully sought re-election, in order to balance fairness with expediency, will be busy granting exemptions.

Once the initial backlog of exemptions clears, the focus shifts to dealing with complaints against individuals for failure to adhere to the standards of public contact and exchange. Any resident of Ontario will be able to complain about any other resident. The first two complaints stay on a file, but have no consequence. Once a third complaint appears, the person will receive an invitation for testing by the PINC. He or she must demonstrate a familiarity with the SoNice Act by scoring at least 17 out of 20 answers correctly, just as in a driver’s test.

If a person fails the test, he or she must sport a colourful Trillium symbol during public contacts and exchanges until she or he passes the test. The symbol confirms the wearer is deficient in the standards of public contact and exchange. The symbol is specific to the new programme, the result of a competition among leading designers to insure the uniqueness of the symbol.

If someone fails the PINC test twice, he or she may request to attended re-education sessions. Such sessions take place in a special camp-like setting. “It won’t be anything like in China,” our source chuckled, “the smog’s a lot worse there.”

Full credit to the provincial government for this new statute.

That’s the bare bones of what, I sources told me, the SoNice Act will look like. Check the news, tonight, for more information. In the meantime, let’s give our government credit for sussing out the problem and de


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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