Cutting Ribbons Over Our Dead Bodies

Usually, when I go to the gym, I don’t work on my legs very much because I figure my daily bicycle commute works them enough. Yesterday, however, I suckered myself into doing dead lifts, and then hamstring and quad curls. So today my legs are very sore; which is why I abandoned plans for outdoor adventure, sat my butt down into one of those Ikea reclining chairs, and nerded my morning away thinking about BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s position on Tar Sands pipelines and tankers. I wanted to understand the relation between ‘the general public opinion’ and ‘the government’s opinion’ on any given idea, and what that means for how the government communicates their support or lack of support for said idea.

I came up with several scenarios, each with a different public/government opinion relation, and hypothesis as to likely government action…

…based on the assumption that when our government is presented with a new idea it has the power to do one of three things:

(1) encourage it,

(2) discourage it,

(3) or take a neutral position.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, I’m restricting the discussion to the power of  the provincial ‘government’, due to their power over resource decisions in BC. And I’m also assuming that the power of our provincial government is with the Premier, Cabinet, and to a lesser extent the ruling party. So when referring to ‘the government’, I’m referring to the power of those bodies.

So, what I figure is that the particular way in which our government encourages, discourages, or remains neutral on something will depend on what they assess the public opinion to be. And this gives rise to my scenarios of government action below:

  • When the new idea has the conceptual support of government, and the assessed support of a majority of the electorate, the government will actively support the idea and will actively publicize their support. I’ll call this the ‘Ribbon Cutting’ scenario.
  • When the new idea has the conceptual support of government, and the assessed support of a majority of the electorate, but when the government doesn’t want to commit to actually doing anything, it will actively support the idea, but won’t actually do anything.  I’ll call this the Housing for the Homeless scenario.
  • When the new idea has the conceptual support of government, but on which the assessed opinion of the electorate is unknown, neutral, or undecided, the government will support the idea but will not go to lengths to publicize their support, or will publicize their support in the hopes of shaping future public opinion on the idea. I need a good name for this scenario.
  •  Same goes for if the new idea does not have the conceptual support of government, but for which the opinion of the electorate is unknown, neutral, or undecided.
  • When the new idea does not have the conceptual support of government, and does not have the assessed support of a majority of the electorate, the government will actively discourage the idea and will actively publicize their lack of support. I’ll call this the ‘Over Our Dead Bodies‘ scenario.
  • When the new idea has the conceptual support of government, but is a matter of controversy, or does not have the assessed support of a majority of the electorate, the government will usually support the idea, but will obfuscate their support, delay their support by temporarily distancing themselves from the idea, or will define their support as having to do with particular aspects of the idea or a whole other idea that the public supports. I’ll call this the ‘Coastal Drilling’ scenario. This includes what I’ll call the ‘Bad Medicine’ scenario, where an idea that the public doesn’t support is defined as being required to sustain an idea that the public does support.
  • When the new idea does not have the conceptual support of government, but has the support of a majority of the electorate, the government will claim an absence of power, an absence of information needed to exercise their power, a need for more time to assess the idea, or will define the idea as negatively affecting another idea that the public supports. I’ll call this the ‘Fish Farm’ scenario.

It’s possible that there are ideas on which the government remains truly neutral, or with regards to which they have no power, but I believe these are rare.

And of course, because all life is a spectrum, a range of intermediate circumstances exist between the categories.

So there you have it, where does your idea of interest fit? Or can you add or modify the categories? Have better names for the categories?

I decided that the idea of a Tar Sands pipeline from Alberta, through BC, and onto supertankers through BC’s north coast is an idea that has government support, but is controversial, so their support will be obfuscated and communicated as being linked to an idea that does have broad public support (e.g. a strong economy, jobs). For example, question to Premier Campbell: do you support the idea of oil tankers through our north coast? Answer: ‘I absolutely support a strong northern economy.’

Remember that I assumed that governments will always try to do what they want to do, so if our government wants to allow tankers, the only way to remove their support for the idea is to convince them that they don’t want tankers. And the best way to do that is to be good political organizers during elections, making it so that their jobs could be on the line if they don’t fall in explicit line with public opinion. Make public opinion more obvious by signing our petition to keep Tar Sands tankers out of BC’s north coast forever!

~ Eric
eric@dogwoodbc.ca


Eric’s Blogs – I’m Dogwood Initiative’s Corporate Campaigner; I work to encourage companies to change their policies, work to communicate undisclosed risk associated with a company or a project to their financial backers in the marketplace, or work to intervene in a company’s public relations by telling a less rosy story about the company to the public. Currently I’m focused on  Dogwood’s Sacred Headwaters and No Tankers campaigns.

My Blogspace will be dedicated to giving an inside scoop on the campaigns that I’m working on, providing incidental commentary on environmental and social justice topics with regards to BC, and will also contain self-serving entries that essentially record half-formed ideas so that I don’t forget them.

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