Put people ahead of ideology

Gwyn Morgan’s Jan. 8 column in the Advocate makes claims that the greatest threat to Canadian economic development is, apparently, so-called “environmental zealots.” A second threat he labels “defacto veto to First Nations” people.

Gwyn Morgan’s Jan. 8 column in the Advocate makes claims that the greatest threat to Canadian economic development is, apparently, so-called “environmental zealots.” A second threat he labels “defacto veto to First Nations” people.

He cites several historical instances in an attempt to prop up his shaky argument. He claims the motivations of environmentalists and others who are opposed to resource development in Canada are “ideologically-driven” and, presumably, wrong.

While I could argue against Morgan’s anti-environmental and anti-aboriginal positions, space prohibits such an argument here.

I will, however, point out his faulty argumentation and his own ideological bias, limiting myself to three basic points.

First, Morgan’s article begins by marking the history of “the day the first Europeans set foot on our soil” in Canada. The ownership of “our soil” in this phrase is telling. Morgan’s historical conceptualization of Canada is decidedly colonial; it is an imaginary land without history, without people, and with vast untapped natural resources free for the taking and development. If there were any people on this land prior to contact (by the way, there were), they were certainly too primitive to realize the land’s potential except to use bitumen to “seal their canoes.”

The Canadian vision, for Morgan, is to turn it into something better, namely an economic engine for industrialization. Morgan’s dismissal of and contempt for the political power granted First Nations people is appalling, suggesting his belief that aboriginal people have no claims, political or otherwise, to the land and resources of Canada. The colonial history trumps all.

Second, Morgan dismisses environmentalists’ concerns that oil spills might result from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Whether or not spills will happen in the future is unknowable for certain, yet Morgan’s argument to support the pipeline is that oil is transported every day in Canada without incident. Therefore, we should not worry. It is a rather simple (and perhaps banal) logical point that the safe transport of some oil does not imply the safe transport of all oil. Accidents happen, and they are sometimes quite significant, despite our predictive capabilities. The recent BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example. Yes, BP extracts some oil without incident in the Gulf, but this accident should give us pause about the safety and consequences of oil extraction.

Third, one of Morgan’s tactics is to dismiss legitimate environmental and aboriginal concerns as mere ideology, as if his own position is somehow exempt from ideology. One cannot escape ideology, and it is always a factor whether visible or invisible. Morgan’s own ideological leanings favour “creating prosperity and jobs.” The suggestion is that opponents to industrial development want to destroy prosperity, jobs and the economy. Morgan’s argument is almost exclusively monetary (with some fervent nationalism thrown in). And, it is true: slowing resource development would likely create an economic slowdown. That is one cost.

Yet, costs are not solely economic. There are other types of costs and the obvious one is environmental. Another cost is the historical cost. Many proponents of resource extraction ignore historical claims of aboriginal people. Even Stephen Harper himself has offered a stunning denial of history at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. Regarding Canada, Harper said, “We also have no history of colonialism.” Currently, Harper is muzzling Canadian scientists, dismantling avenues of public information like the CBC, and closing down and burning the books from Canada’s scientific libraries. These actions are naked ideology of Orwellian status.

Economic and industrial developments are necessary; the question is the extent to which we, as a nation, want to pursue these benefits and their related costs. Despite Canada’s vast resource wealth and history of prosperity, there are important and serious costs to these advantages. Dismissing the facts of environmentalism and history does no one any good, except, perhaps, for those of unscrupulous and unconscionable actions. Facts, whether or not you agree with them, remain true. The question is when we will begin to face them.

Roger Davis

Red Deer

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