Sometimes a good dose of introspection is good for the soul…and as a test of whatever principles you now espouse.
I’m always amused when someone accuses me me of “inconsistency”, which reminds me of Emerson’s aphorism, “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.
It remains, obviously, to decide if my changes in position are foolish.
I admit to being a contrarian. Seeing that, and recognizing that it might be an interesting experiment, Premier Bill Bennett made me Environment Minister in 1978. It was only a year as I was moved up to Health the next shuffle but that time gave me much pause for reflection and I became convinced that Industry would only care about the environment if they were forced to or if, somehow, it made them money. As my associate Damien Gillis often points out, if corporations did things that prevented them from paying dividends or putting the bottom line first, it was tantamount to a breach of fiduciary duty.
This is true. The only thing a company is supposed to do is make a profit.
Companies often take pride in employing people as if that was an act of good citizenship, not for the purposes of profiting from employees’ labours.There is, of course, nothing wrong with companies employing people – what’s wrong is the notion that they do this out of some charitable gesture, motivated by altruistic philosophy.
They take pride in spending philanthropically although, as Jimmy Pattison has shown around the province, that is seldom done anonymously. Moreover donations are tax deductible.
Often the donation interferes with the plans in place – let me explain.
Say a company wants to place an MRI scanner in a certain hospital. The Health Ministry will have a schedule for placing these machines and the corporation’s choice is not at the top of the list. The donation now, in effect, deprives another hospital of the MRI it had reason to expect was theirs. Now, if the corporation were to say, “I understand that hospital X is in line for an MRI, I will build it for them,” that would be quite a different thing.
There’s another important factor – MRI’s cost a fortune to run. If the corporation stays in the lineup, the government will have made provision for the cost. When it jumps the queue, the Health budget is distorted.
I have nothing but praise for philanthropy when it is done in cooperation with the targeted donee and the donor is not seeking to gain business from the publicity and is not seeking a tax break.
My only point is that one makes a serious mistake in thinking that donations from corporations are not intended to increase profits.
Back to the environment. In Tuesday’s Sun was a headlined story of how Teck Resources has been polluting the Columbia River for decades and doesn’t deny the story but simply denies the the damages claimed. This candid admission came only after they were sued.
In all events, my short stint as Minister of Environment confirmed what I long had suspected – the real environment department of a company is its public relations budget and that there were no exceptions to that rule.
British Columbians now face serious environmental problems on many fronts – mines, rivers, farm land, fish farms, pipelines and tankers to name a few. And here’s the rub – the corporations are under no compulsion to behave appropriately and, in fact, the onus is not on them to demonstrate that their venture is environmentally sound; no, it’s private citizens and organizations they form that bear that onus!
The Precautionary Principle places to onus of proof on the developer, not the public.
In fact, the onus should not just be on the developer. Counsel for the public should be the governments, but they are, when so-called “free enterprise” parties rule, virtually always bought and paid for and wind up supporting the developer and bad-mouthing environmentalist groups. It’s interesting to note that Ministers accuse environmental groups as being bankrolled by foreign money as they help foreign companies such as Chinese government-owned corporations and companies like General Electric gobble up our resources, pollute like hell then take their money and run.
(Incidentally, The Common Sense Canadian has no foreign “sugar daddies” and would like it known that we would love some!)
Does all this mean that I’m a neo-communist – or even a socialist?
Not at all. I believe in the marketplace, if only because nothing else works as well. I say this recognizing that “socialist” countries are not that at all – they just demand that companies pay their fair share of taxes and obey social and environmental rules. I don’t want public ownership, other than natural monopolies, but strong laws and good policemen.
That is what I mean when I call myself an environmentalist.
In Canada as a whole and in British Columbia we have government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.
That’s what we must change if we ever wish, as Lincoln actually said, to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people.