The article is about the revitalization of an old idea:
Governments organize groups of about 100 randomly-selected citizens to recommend solutions to protracted public policy challenges.
“Ordinary people, it turns out, are quite reasonable,” suggests the author, pointing to citizens’ assemblies that have indicated a willingness among Irish Catholics to support equal marriage and an openness among US Republicans to immigration reform.
Since both British Columbia and Ontario have experimented with this method before, I briefly wondered whether it could help Canadians reach a consensus on the future of fossil fuel production in the Prairies.
For example, the current dispute between Western supporters of a resuscitated Energy East pipeline and their determined opponents in Quebec has become so heated that, no matter the ingenuity and creativity of our public service, it is hard to imagine a politically-imposed solution that might please both sides.
Nevertheless, I’m not certain that the problem is intractable.
Most reasonable Canadians will concede that, at some point (we can disagree on how far in the future that point might be), the Prairie provinces will have to wean their economies off of fossil fuels.
At the same time, it is hard not to feel sympathy for the tens of thousands of Westerners currently employed (directly and indirectly) in the extractive industry when they are called upon – often in sanctimonious tones – to abandon their livelihoods while millions, if not billions, of people around the world remain dependent on oil and gas (and will find it elsewhere if we don’t produce it here).
If only Canadians from across the country could sit down together, free of the partisan shenanigans, and try to sort this out…
It did not take me long, however, to reject such an approach as unworkable.
The problem, as I see it, is language.
According to the 2016 Census, less than 18% of Canadians are bilingual. As a result, a random sampling of 100 citizens would have trouble speaking to one another at all.
Irvin Studin, who briefly contested the Conservative party leadership last spring, advocates a national languages strategy to ensure that we all become multilingual.
But I suspect that, rather than uniting us, any federal initiative that orders Albertans to learn French and demands that the government of Quebec promote English language education would do the opposite.
A bottom-up approach offers greater promise.
I therefore hope that provincial leaders in Alberta and Saskatchewan make French language education a priority in their “building back better” budgets.
Not only is learning a second language good for the brain, it might also be the best chance for Western Canada to make a compelling case for a fair and just national transition to a post-carbon economy.
On the history of bilingualism in Canada, see Matthew Hayday’s So They Want Us to Learn French. The Canada West Foundation produces fascinating reports on Western Canadian politics and policies.
To be notified of my next blog post, follow me on Twitter @achapnick.
You can subscribe to my newsletter at https://buttondown.email/achapnick.