Human progress has always been marked by the implementation of advances in technology and science, resulting in modernization and improvements in quality of life. The process requires people to willingly apply their reason and skills. By its very nature, progress can and should be a unifying force in society.
This is something the first Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald understood very well. Having worked diligently for years to convince Upper and Lower Canadians to see past their political, language, and religious differences, Macdonald grasped better than most the fragility of his new confederation. He placed his faith in progress to unite Canadians, and set about opening the west, forming the North West Mounted Police and constructing Canadian Pacific Railway’s transcontinental line.
Years later, another great Canadian Prime Minister followed in MacDonald’s footsteps. The man widely recognized as the father of modern Canada Sir Wilfrid Laurier also looked to settlement of the west to provide Canadians with a unifying project. The first French-Canadian Prime Minister, it was Laurier who oversaw the inauguration of Alberta and Saskatchewan into Confederation.
These two prime ministers – one a Conservative, the other a Liberal – shared a vision of a Canada united by progress. This vision is our legacy.
Over the past two centuries we have seen a rapid increase in the pace of scientific and technological advancement. From the internal combustion engine, to genetic modification of crops, to internet-based communications, human kind is progressing faster than ever before.
The improvements are staggering. Around the world, quality of life is increasing, and more people are living longer, healthier lives. Food is more abundant, poverty is being reduced, and fewer wars are being fought.
Yet we are also witnessing a backlash to the pace of human progress from an increasingly vocal minority.
Take, for example, the anti-pipeline movement. Pipelines have been proven to be the most efficient, safest and most environmentally conscious way to transport oil. New pipelines incorporating modern technology greatly reduce the risk of contamination and speed the recovery efforts in the event of a spill. Construction of new pipelines will create both short-term and long-term economic growth, providing governments with billions in revenue. In addition, new pipelines will allow Canadian refineries to process Canadian oil, making our country and the world less reliant on supplies from jurisdictions where freedom and human rights are virtually nonexistent.
These rational arguments did not matter to the protestors who stormed a recent Energy East Pipeline hearing in Montreal, forcing officials to halt the proceedings. All that mattered to these extreme activists was imposing their will through fear and intimidation.
Over the past year, the Alberta government has announced a series of policies aimed at pleasing such radicals at the expense of Alberta’s working families. In addition to imposing a massive carbon tax on Albertans, the government has hired a number of anti-pipeline activists, ostensibly seeking the “social license” for new pipelines.
This approach is based on a massive miscalculation. The government believes that the anti-pipeline movement, which the Alberta government routinely cultivates for political gain, is made up of progressive-minded people.
Disregarding technological advancement to the detriment of safety and the environment is not progressive. Imposing job-killing regulations at home while encouraging economic growth in repressive regimes around the world is not progressive.
Rejecting facts and reason, anti-pipeline activists will not be cajoled or convinced to abandon their ideology. This movement is not progressive. It’s regressive.
The Alberta government’s failure to understand the difference will have massive consequences for both our province and our country.
Pat Stier, MLA for Livingstone Macleod