“Social Licence” is a buzzword, that describes a concept, that has now been thrust into political debate over the development of natural resources in Canada. I suspect it is also a concept we will be hearing a lot more about in the ongoing battle over all things environmental.
I came across these words, in a report on a debate held recently at the Manning Institute, a conservative think tank, in Ottawa. Speaking at the debate were the premiers of British Columbia and Alberta and Canada’s Minister of Finance. The subject of the debate was the economic development of Canada’s Natural Resources.
The concept of Social Licence was described by Christy Clark, (Premier of British Columbia) as “consensus among those most directly involved in a project.”Notably she did not say whether those directly involved would include government agencies, such as The National Energy Board. But it’s very clear, in the case of Provinces, other than Alberta, that has a treaty with aboriginals, it would include First Nations.
This should not be surprising as Governments all over North America have shown a strong reticence in reaching a final settlement with native people’s, over who owns what, and who should be responsible for setting the terms for development. This is such a hot button political issue it has been left to the courts to muddle through.
As Premier of British Columbia, Clark should know how this works, because her province is already adhering, in selective cases, (where it suits current policy) to the concept of social licence. In particular the thorny issue of pipelines carrying oil for export from Alberta. This same policy does not apparently apply to the construction of the $10 billion Site C hydro-electric dam, or to natural gas liquefaction Projects.
It could well be said, that President Obama is using a similar dictate with his current veto of the Keystone Pipeline to carry Canadian heavy oil to American refineries on the Gulf Coast. In this case there is no consensus and likely never will be.
Consensus is a noble idea, much discussed but seldom seen in a democracy. It carries no guarantee of being the right choice, only the right one at a moment in time. It is a warm and fuzzy idea, loved by politicians of all stripes, because it allows them to dodge difficult issues. It takes a politician of true conviction (the rarest of all) to speak against current consensus.
Not withstanding there are examples where consensus has been successful, M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the social stigma and health effects against smoking are two that come to mind.
Trouble is there is Catch 22 in all of this, because it is an argument that can be used by both sides in any debate. Take for instance the example of homeowners anywhere who might have Wind Turbines plunked in their back yard, all in the name of environmental expediency. Or maybe coal miners displaced by the shut down of coal-fired generators. And how about land owners in northern B.C. soon to be driven off their land by dam construction.
Far from being nirvana for politicians these smooth words of gibberish might well come back to haunt them.