VANCOUVER — Occasionally, I am offered the honour and privilege of acting as a judge at citizenship ceremonies welcoming new Canadian citizens. I remind them that Canada defines this nation’s role as providing peace, order and good government, noting that many of the people came to Canada for those qualities and to get away from places that could not offer them. I talk to them about all the rights and freedoms that Canada offers — free speech, free assembly, etc. etc. But I also tell them that for Canada to continue to function as the kind of country they chose to come to, they must obey the law.
The media is full of horror stories about countries where good governance does not exist and the only ways to try to change the government (no matter how bad or even especially how bad it is) come at the expense of peace and order. Syria is only one of too many examples of just how quickly and how seriously a country can fail when there is no rule of law and no peaceful way to effect democratic change.
But even as I extol the blessings of the Canadian system to our new citizens, I see more and more evidence that long-term Canadians appear to be ever more willing to throw away the advantages of a peaceful, law-abiding society and to eschew the democratic processes we have for changing our government and our laws.
The ‘Occupy’ movement was a recent early step down the path to trying to effect change through other than democratic, political and legal means. It pushed the limits of free assembly and free expression. And, by most measures, it was not effective; not least because the Occupy movement and its spokespeople failed to articulate timely, definable goals by which success could be measured.
The environmental movement has, for the most part, been much more successful in defining what it is that it wants to achieve and in informing the public of why they think these goals are necessary and desirable. For the most part, within Canada, they have acted within the law and have seen our legal and regulatory structures increasingly take into account environmental factors. Someone from even 30 years ago would be amazed at how much we reduce, reuse and recycle and how much less energy we now need to run our factories and provide light and transportation.
Still, there are some who feel that the changes are not big enough or fast enough. They feel the need for going beyond and outside of the law to civil disobedience. Sierra Club Canada’s president, John Bennett, says that his members would like to follow the example of the U.S. Sierra Club and lift the currently existing ban on illegal activities. A decision will be taken at an upcoming meeting. A main target of this civil disobedience would be the proposed oil sands pipeline.
Bill Darnell, Greenpeace founder and long-time environmental activist, told the National Energy Board hearings on the pipeline issues to expect disruptive protests as people band together to "protect the environment that supports us all."
I am all in favour of protecting the environment and being green. Unlike Bill Darnell, I do not own or drive a car. However, while we do need to maintain a viable environment, the environment is not the only thing that supports us. Beyond clean air and water and lots of trees and wildlife, most of us have to earn a living. Right now, most of the jobs in British Columbia and western Canada that keep people clothed, housed and fed as well as the taxes that pay for all our government services are tied directly or indirectly to resource extractive industries and the sale of those resources to markets overseas.
The main targets of the foreseen civil disruptions are the proposed means to deliver these resources to markets, whether it is an oil pipeline or an expansion of port facilities in North Vancouver. In the long run, we can diversify our economic and job base away from resource extraction. In the short run, cutting off our resource markets and industries will reduce jobs and income, cut government revenue and services and deny us the capital with which to diversify our economic base and even to protect our environment. And ongoing illegal disruptions could, if not controlled, threaten the very peace order and good governance for which Canada stands.
Business columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker and can be reached at www.rkunin.com.