A protracted election campaign now over, Prime Minister-designate Trudeau’s government is now in its honeymoon phase. Oddly enough, many people who admit that they did not truly support Mr. Trudeau nevertheless feel they are now in a position to demand special concessions. That their stories have any traction whatsoever can probably be blamed on the nature of politics. After all, they make great theater.
There is of course the open letter from “an average west coast, middle class mom voter” filled with superficial and simplistic left-wing exhortations that basically amount to “do the right thing.” In that letter, the author reminds the PM-designate that her vote for him was merely strategic. Then there are the petitions to make Green Party Leader Elizabeth May environment minister in the incoming cabinet, despite the fact that her party only has one seat, and that it campaigned against the Liberals. Much like the BC mom, many of the backers of this petition no doubt voted Liberal primarily to get rid of Prime Minister Harper.
Behind these demands is a simple message: “We put you in charge, now you owe us.” But strategic voting is tricky. It is far from certain what proportion of Liberal voters would have preferred another party, and also far from certain what proportion of those voters would have preferred the conservatives but chose the Liberals to avoid the very same left-ward shift that these hardliners are advocating. Strategic voting works both ways.
The bottom-line is that the new government should not allow itself to get carried away with making symbolic gestures to appease a vaguely-defined and lukewarm-at-best constituency. Canada is in a very troubling economic position right now. Manufacturing’s decline is chronic, and oil & gas, with a strong track record on job creation and revenue generation, is under substantial pressure. Symbols do not make jobs; clear, sober, and rationally-conceived policies do.
The activist class demands that the new government choke off the development of the oil sands, specifically by restricting pipelines. Their demands hinge on “science” – in this case the science of climate change – and they claim that this new government must respect “science.” This is precisely the simplistic and emotionally-charged symbolism that the new government must resist. “Science” is a crude attempt to give an objective imprimatur on what is simply an opinion, the opinion here being “oil sands and pipelines are bad.” Many of these critics who tout science have utterly no scientific background. The word “science” creates an image of objectivity; anything contrary to it cannot be valid. Thus, its misuse is an attempt to gain a monopoly on the truth. In this context, any policy choice or argument contrary to the proponent of “science” is “unscientific” and thus invalid. In this realm, it is crucial to tread carefully, lest this line of reasoning be declared “denialism” or “anti-science.”
The gist of it is science is not black and white. The word “science” works much in the same way as the word “law.” To criticize a chosen course of action as “contrary to the law,” without any actual knowledge of the law, is to pursue the same truth monopolizing outcome as “respect science.” And science, much like law, is not wholly objective. Sure, it can have its well-settled and established black and white areas, but where things get muddy and assumptions of logic, factual judgments, or weighing of mutually exclusive methodologies are required, matters can get exceptionally grey. In these areas, reasonable people can differ, so there is room for value judgments and thus bias. That is precisely why the opinions of activist scientists can be questioned without amounting to “denialism.”
Put differently, it is not always the case that an opinion derives from science, it can be the case that science derives from opinion. Were it otherwise, it would not be so easy to find legions of “scientific studies” that contradict each other. It would not be the case that battles of experts are the norm in areas of dispute. That PM-designate Trudeau – after his spat with Dr. David Suzuki – gained the support of Dr. Wade Davis – an honourary board member of the eponymous Suzuki Foundation – belies the notion that science is so conveniently monolithic.
The Liberal Party’s win is more than symbolic. It ran on a national campaign, aiming to bring diverse interests together. It has an interest and duty to represent all Canadians, even the activist class, but it cannot do so in a manner that hinders economic health. To give into the demands of symbolism is easy and the rewards are as immediate as they are piddling. Ultimately, however, the new government will be judged on more long-term, substantive, and enduring achievements, not on short-term kudos won from a fickle subset of the public. After all, the bulk of Liberal supporters voted for a viable, responsible balance of environmental regulation and economic growth, not an anti-industry crusade masquerading as such.
So, the new government should not succumb to the false choice of corporate interests or the public’s interests, which extends beyond environmental protection. The public works for corporations and the majority of jobs are created by corporations. And that is not symbolism, that is cold, hard fact.