The "Social License" Fallacy

September 1st, 2016 | R. Rados

In the world of resource development, a new and frequently muttered term is being used to shut down the extraction and shipment of needed natural resources. You've probably heard it slink through the lips of Justin Trudeau and some of his cabinet ministers. It's something called “social license” and it loosely translates to communities granting permission to companies to develop resources in their areas. There is no real way to measure it, gauge it or recognize it, but the Liberal government is implementing social licensing into several review processes for approving pipelines. Without social license, they claim, pipelines can't be approved or built. Meanwhile, this same practice of gaining community approval is absent in the Liberal government's quest to reform Canada's electoral system.

Two separate polls have shown that a majority of Canadians want a referendum on electoral reform. A poll by Ipsos showed nearly 75% of Canadians in favour of a referendum. A poll conducted by Forum Research showed that 65% of Canadians prefer a referendum on electoral reform – that poll also showed that only 18% of Canadians support reforming Canada's electoral system without a referendum. We can hardly call 18% “social license” when using the same logic being used by Trudeau's Liberals on pipelines and resource development. By the same logic, we also can't call 39% a social license to reform the way we vote.

We can cite these poll numbers to Maryam Monsef and Justin Trudeau until our faces go blue and we flop over, but it won't change a thing. Blake Richards, Scott Reid and Jason Kenney have likely had to take shots of oxygen between their sittings on the Reform Committee and in the House Of Commons just to keep up with Monsef's mind boggling logic. Her logic dictates that a referendum wouldn't be inclusive enough, but that her selectively organized “townhalls” in tiny rooms across Canada are. Her so-called tour to consult with Canadians has already excluded Calgary and various other Conservative strongholds, while her ongoing townhalls have turned people away due to over-capacity. Maryam Monsef's inclusive consultation has proven to be nothing but a ruse, yet we're supposed to swallow Justin Trudeau's social licensing scheme for pipelines like it's pudding.
The ultimate social license for electoral reform comes in the form of a referendum. Changing the way we've elected our governments for 150 years is just as significant as setting up an oil jack or ripping up a person's private land for a pipeline. Some might argue that it's more significant. How we elect our governments determines the structure and strength of our governments. Since governments play a significant role in the personal lives of every Canadian, our electoral system isn't something that should be restructured without social approval. Given the results of Brexit, Liberals shouldn't automatically assume that a referendum would completely kill their efforts to change the way we vote. In fact, a referendum would give Liberals a bigger platform to present their ideas than their small, exclusive townhalls.
Maryam Monsef started her “inclusive” cross-country tour in Iqaluit where she provided no translation in Inuktitut, forgot to invite the town's mayor and didn't bother to advertise her “consultation” visit. Anyone who thinks this was just a rookie mistake committed by a rookie minister should think again. Monsef's consultation with the people of Iqaluit was scheduled between 10am and 12pm on a weekday. These types of “public consultations” and townhalls planned by governments are often booked during weekdays, when people are busy working and have trouble finding time to attend. It's been a tactic used in cities like Calgary, where public “open houses” are almost always scheduled and advertised in ways that deliberately minimize public input. Maryam Monsef and her colleagues are using an age-old tactic designed to create the illusion of public consultation. Luckily, media outlets have taken notice of Monsef's deliberate lack of effort.

In this whole electoral reform debate, I'm going to do something I don't usually do. I'm going to be an optimist and say that I'm convinced that Justin Trudeau will do what's right and call a referendum under public pressure. A referendum on electoral reform wouldn't be a simple yes or no, it would be a choice between FPTP and another system of voting. If the current committee has one job, it should be to find a reasonable alternative to put on a ballot against FPTP. After that, the fate of Canada's electoral system should be left to Canadians.

So far, experts on both sides can't agree. Reputable professors and researchers have spoken for and against a referendum. If the current committee on electoral reform makes a truly balanced decision, it would recommend a referendum, simply due to the fact that there is no consensus among experts and researchers. In all provinces, electoral reform has always gone to a referendum. The precedent to change electoral systems in Canada falls fully on the side of a referendum. Combined with mixed messages from experts and researchers, precedent dictates that electoral reform can only go ahead with a referendum. If you need more evidence to prove the need for a referendum, just read this whole piece again. As described in the very first paragraph, Justin Trudeau's Liberal government won't approve any further pipelines in Canada without social license. Why, then, wouldn't we hold his government accountable for its lack of consistency?