THE VIEW FROM HERE

Facing the threat of enlightenment

Peter C. Newman April 1 1974
THE VIEW FROM HERE

Facing the threat of enlightenment

Peter C. Newman April 1 1974

Facing the threat of enlightenment

THE VIEW FROM HERE

PETER C. NEWMAN

Sure, many of our politicians tell the truth only when they’re contradicting themselves. There’s a kind of false deployment of the forces within the personalities of our party leaders which almost guarantees that their best chance for achievement is through inadvertence. And certainly Prairie alienation, which remains the time-bomb within Confederation, isn’t even being thought about, much less being solved by the inhabitants of that strange Disneyland-on-the-Rideau that pretends to be governing us. We continue to sell off the wealth that makes wealth just as fast as buyers can be found. We seem to be managing the difficult trick of actually moving backward from a nation of homesteaders to becoming squatters on our own land.

And yet I sometimes get the feeling that history is conspiring on our behalf. Our currency is one of the world’s soundest; we are the only industrialized nation on earth that produces enough oil to meet its own needs. Prices are much too high (as the feature on food costs in this issue amply documents), but our inflation rate is spiraling at slightly below the world average. Our cities remain oases of civility on a continent where most urban areas are becoming armed camps.

It may just be that, subliminally at least, we’re finally beginning to understand what’s really distinctive about being Canadian — a feeling that flows out of a perception of the contrast between what we’ve been able to preserve on the northern half of this subcontinent and what others have lost. If we can find the leaders willing to defend our heritage — economic, social and cultural — the end of the 20th century could still belong to Canada, though not quite in the way Sir Wilfrid Laurier imagined. We’re not going to become a world storehouse for other people’s wealth. Instead, we shall have to husband our resources and export only the surpluses we clearly don’t need. Defining where the long-term public interest lies in such matters is difficult enough for politicians to determine. But many of the really important decisions that will fundamentally affect and transform our future are being made not by parliament but by such regulatory agencies as the National Energy Board. If the NEB is to take the public interest seriously into account, it must provide a mechanism for hearing directly from the people. That will require the funding of thirdparty interventions which represent no vested interests. Direct public participation before regulatory bodies has already established its usefulness in eliminating commercial logging from Ontario’s Quetico Park and halting the ill-conceived development of Alberta’s Lake Louise. The many developments now being mapped out for the Canadian North are particularly susceptible to closed-door decisions because most of their operations will fall directly under the Canadian oil and gas regulations. These are not statutes (as they would be if the territories were provinces) and require no formal approval or even perusal by parliament.

During the recent past, the National Energy Board has amply demonstrated its inability or unwillingness to represent adequately the national interest. For one thing, it is badly underfinanced and instead of doing its own research often relies for its assessments on data supplied by industry sources. Only such outside groups as the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, which is made up of some of Canada’s leading scientists and independent thinkers like Dr. John Deutsch of Queen’s University, can provide objective inputs on these crucial issues.

Politicians and particularly bureaucrats get feeling edgy and threatened whenever they’re faced by real people with live opinions. They shouldn’t be. They are being threatened only with enlightenment.