Waters: West Kelowna quickly moves to tidy its breastfeeding faux pas

After declining to support a request to designate district buildings as breast-feeding friendly places, council will revisit the issue.

If one group asks another group to do something and the group being asked deliberately does nothing, and some of its members even speak out against what’s being asked for, does that constitute rejection?

Not in the eyes of West Kelowna council.

Last week, a group of UBCO nursing students asked council to support a program that would identify district facilities as breastfeeding-friendly places. The identification would be done by placing stickers, the students would provide at no cost to the city, in district buildings identifying them as places where breastfeeding is encouraged.

I say encouraged as opposed to allowed because under the B.C. Human Rights Code, a woman can feed her baby in any public place and it is discriminatory to ask her to cover up.

West Kelowna council listened politely, then a few councillors made it clear that they thought the program was a bad idea because it could make mothers who do not, or cannot, breastfeed feel like they were somehow failing their babies. The students said that was not their intention and it was left at that.

While council did nothing at the time, Mayor Doug Findlater said the issue could come back at a later date.

The story got plenty of play in the local media, including in this newspaper.

Fast forward to Monday. West Kelowna issued what it called a  “clarification,” saying no decision had been made on the Baby Friendly program proposal. It’s right. And that’s what happened. Nothing.

The inference, of course, is that the media got it wrong and council did not reject the Baby Friendly program proposal.

But if you are asked to do something and you deliberately do nothing, your silence can’t be taken for support. The students sure did not appear to feel they had council’s support as they left council chambers last week.

Meanwhile, despite being told it would not cost the district anything, the mayor plans to ask council to support a motion next month directing staff to report back about any potential costs to the district of the program and the implications of supporting it. Whether he has the support for that motion to pass or not remains to be seen but last week there appeared to be no appetite by members of his council to support the program.

This isn’t the first time a municipal council, or any government for that matter, has gone back after the fact and tried to change the perception of what it did. And it won’t be the last.

In layman’s terms, it’s called spin doctoring. And it’s done for a myriad of reasons. But in the case of a local, provincial or federal government, the main reason is always public perception.

In this case, it literally is a motherhood issue. Who could be against breastfeeding? But, as was pointed out by the two female members of West Kelowna council—Coun. Rosalind Neis, a nurse, and Carol Zanan, a former La Leche League volunteer, publicly encouraging breastfeeding is a two-edged sword.

While those who do may feel empowered, those who don’t breastfeed may feel their decision is being publicly frowned upon or criticized.

As for council, doing what the mayor said might happen—bringing it back for consideration at a later date—does not mean it was supported in the first place. It just means council appears to be having second thoughts.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.