Doing Development Differently

I recommend that Rachel Notley bring together not a blue-ribbon commission, but one with a green ribbon and a yellow, black, red and white one to represent the equal voice that will be given to Aboriginal understandings of ‘development’.

Commons. conf. KeynotesThe election of Rachel Notley at a time when depressed oil prices have pushed the ‘pause’ button on runaway resource development in Alberta. It offers a karma-like opportunity to re-think what ‘development’ means — especially for the people who’ve grown tired of the same old ways and voted for change. These ways, once summarized by the line that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”, have long outlived their usefulness, while delivering less and less to fewer and fewer people.

The corporate good and corporate development are no longer synonymous with the common good. It’s time to reclaim the common good and re-define ‘development’ in terms that are answerable to it.

On May 26, I’ll be giving the opening keynote address to an international conference on the Commons in Edmonton, and have titled my talk: “Righting Relations with the Land and the Global Economy: Lessons from our Ancestors on the Commons.” Moreover, I will be paired with Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille, who will speak of how his ancestors related to the land in what is now Treaty 8 Territory in Alberta.

I’ll share a bit more from the speech I’ve drafted in a later blog post. But for the moment, I want to share where thinking about it has prompted my mind to go with the overthrow of status quo thinking in Alberta. Premier-elect Rachel Notley has vowed to create a new Resource Owners’ Rights Commission to review Alberta’s royalty structure. But that sounds a lot like status quo thinking too.

Or rather, with a majority mandate, perhaps she could expand the mandate of that commission, and frame its inquiry within something that dares to dream big, and to include more than the usual suspects.

I recommend that she bring together not a blue-ribbon commission, but one with a green ribbon and a yellow, black, red and white one to represent the equal voice that will be given to Aboriginal understandings of ‘development’.

After consulting with key stakeholder groups, including citizens, community and environmental groups, unions, organizations like the Pembina Institute as well as those representing the oil and gas sector to create the commission of inquiry, Notley might then charge it with conducting public meetings across the province. Here, people can come together in small discussion groups followed by plenaries to talk about what development means to them. I envisage it being a bit like the open public meetings held across the country and across the North by the Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the 1970s where Justice Thomas Berger broadened the discourse to allow other meanings of words like ‘economy,’ ‘development’ and ‘making a living’ to have weight. For some people who might turn out for this inquiry, ‘development’ might mean developing skills, or development more as a child grows into maturity, or a community develops as neighbours help and look out for one another. For others, it might mean developing right relations with habitats and within habitats.

The CBC, both on air and through its digital platforms, plus social media and other conventional media, could help share the key themes, stories and suggestions emerging from these, and help nurture the public dialogue toward a new consensus on development.

This might include a new understanding of the need for appropriate limits on the scale and pace of development, to stay within the carrying capacity of local environments (social and ecological). It might also include consensus on how best to negotiate among various claims to share the benefits of this province’s resource inheritance. And it might foster a new willingness (by corporations and consumers alike) to share responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption, for eliminating toxic wastes and seepage, and for shifting toward low and no-carbon energy alternatives.

Bruce Wark interviews Heather

NewBooksJournalism

Canadian journalist Bruce Wark interviewed Heather for New Books in Journalism.

“Menzies outlines her discovery of a vanished way of life and argues that restoring it would help North Americans recover a deeper sense of self as well as more satisfying social relations with the people around them. It could also help them gain more control over political decisions that affect them in their communities, states and provinces and at the national level.”

Listen to this great 40-minute interview to hear Heather speak about her book and journey to Reclaim the Commons.

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