Wise words from Chuck Strahl...
Photo credit: Rhonda Moore (Twitter: @R_mmoore)
Last night, the Public Policy Forum recognized Chuck Strahl, a former federal cabinet minister and Manning Centre board member, for his contributions to public policy development.
After accepting a Peter Lougheed Award from the Public Policy Forum, Strahl shared the remarks below with the audience (check against delivery). We decided to post his comments and share them with a broader audience as Strahl touched on a very important point when it comes to public policy – Canada has succeeded because we have embraced democracy and the rule of law.
As Strahl notes, nebulous terms like ‘social license,’ and environmental radicals determined to block the Kinder Morgan pipeline and other development projects, could jeopardize our nation’s ability to continue to grow and thrive going forward…
'Canada has always been a land of great potential, but sometime around the middle of the 20th century, a war-weary Canada seriously got down to the business of building a better country. And we became a very good country – not perfect, of course, but a good country that is the envy of much of the thoughtful and onlooking world. It wasn't primarily Canada's natural wealth or even our citizenry that made us better, it was really a series of public policy initiatives that set us apart. In those crucial post war years we chose a particular fork in the road- we chose democracy and the rule of law – and that has made all the difference.
I'm a political partisan, and I believe that certain public policies will strengthen Canada going forward, while others will make her weaker. Other political players and parties have different policies, and to be honest, sometimes their initiatives have proven to be at least as good as mine. But Canada has thrived despite – or perhaps because of – all kinds of different political leadership: Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Progressives, Social Credit – we even survived and thrived when a separatist Party held sway in Quebec. But always, always despite our differences on the public policy front, we became a better country because we believed in democracy, and we respected the rule of law.
Today, Canada stands at another crossroad. The path we've followed is no longer as clear or straightforward as it once was. Undefined 'social license' and political groupthink is replacing the rule of law, and because social license doesn't actually have a definition or any rules, we risk falling back to a time when the person with the biggest stick has the most authority.
Of course, we've always had local, provincial and national 'interest groups' and campaigns, and their presence is a reassuring part of the democratic process. The ability to pressure or influence our democratic institutions and leaders will always be a litmus test of a healthy society. But doing so while routinely ignoring the rule of law is both risky and reckless. It may seem like good fun or even effective in the short term to run roughshod over rules, regulations, and the rights of others, but democracy only works – long term – if we color within the lines of the law.
Which leads me to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline to the west coast. Pipelines – like any infrastructure that travels through multiple jurisdictions – will always be controversial, which is why we have in place the toughest rules and environmental regulations in the world. The approval process is complicated, takes many years to complete, is properly expensive and thorough, but in the end, there are rules that apply to everyone. The "rules" extend right up into the Constitution of Canada, which unequivocally gives the federal government the right to approve a pipeline in the national interest. Which they have done.
So although the public policy issues are different, we are once again faced with a similar fork in the road. If project proponents – not just for pipelines but also wind and solar farms, mining companies, renewable hydro projects – or for that matter, residential land developers or high tech start-ups – do not believe they will get a fair hearing, that the rule of law has morphed into a 'malleable suggestion', then we will not build a better country going forward. Whether you like the project or not, we had better hope that Kinder Morgan starts and completes its properly and duly approved pipeline, because if it fails it will not be a victory for the environmental movement, it will be a failure of democracy and the further weakening of the rule of law.'
Public policy advocates know their ideas will not always hold sway. C'est la vie. But if the rules of the game are allowed to become 'there are no rules', then we should be very worried, indeed. Good public policy, fearlessly advocated, massaged by the democratic process, and then enforced by the rule of law will build a better Canada. We will not like nor recognize our country if it fails to choose this path.