In the course of many extended conversations with a friend who practices law, mostly pertaining to real estate, we would touch on the essence of what a career entailed. I was a school teacher until I discovered the wonders of retirement, and Scott even went as far as to pay a visit to the small rural school where I spent five really stellar years late in my working life. I had visited his office on occasion, but it would have been somewhat awkward for me to get in any observations of his interactions with clients, so I had to take his word for his thoughts on the law, its deployment, and on how it affected the parties undertaking the legal process.
A recurring theme in our conversations was that education formed a good part of many occupations where one has to deal with human beings, and Scott thought this was very relevant to the practice of law, particularly in the process of bringing parties to an acceptable settlement without engaging the services of the court and burning through exorbitant legal fees. I had observed some of this phenomenon in my father’s architectural practice where clients had, at times, unrealistic expectations of what could be built, and especially what could be built within a realistic budget, along with considerations of light, sight lines, interior spaces, interrelationships within the building envelope and how the building related to the building site. This was a critical part of the work because it was, in essence, the intellectual and spiritual framework for construction and ensured that the client understood well in advance not only the end result, but the journey from conception to planning, to detail preparation and on to construction before final occupancy. Dad’s success as an architect rested on the number of people who would write at the end of the process to say not only that they were deeply enjoying the final project, but also that they could see how those initial consultations had set the course for both the process and the result.
Such is not the case for all practitioners, and the area where education seems to be least central to the work at hand is in politics and government, an area where a good part of the electorate is content to function on preconceived notions of ideology and/or to accept the divisions laid out in the existing political framework of parties, candidates and support groups. As in business, it would appear for secrecy and deception to be largely the norm, sometimes through societal inertia, sometimes through duplicity, sometimes through expediency. The electorate gets bombarded with waves of information, but said information has been carefully chosen to direct attention to whatever the agency deems as good and to distract from the sources of the information and, often, the possible and likely consequences of the decisions being made. Where business is entirely about generating profit for shareholders and the executive suite, there seems little impetus to ensure that we are getting the whole picture and that the profits being generated will do more good than harm. The current and ongoing shut-down of the Sears retailing establishment in Canada is an interesting case study, where layoffs and disappearing pensions are being used to fund bonuses to the executives who have taken the enterprise into bankruptcy and dissolution, where those responsible for the decisions that lead to the downfall reap large rewards and those who toiled in the trenches are stripped of benefits, both present and future.
The same hiding behind a veil of secrecy also prevails in most governing bodies, often for the benefit of small groups of people whose fortunes allows them much greater influence than the one vote to which the general populace can aspire. Where this amounts to corruption, if often goes unpunished because of that same veil of secrecy. This is a legal matter and missed opportunity to hold to account those at fault. Other times, there may be cases where policy seems distant in its origin and benefit, and the implementation seems high-handed and dictatorial. In those cases, what’s lacking in a meaningful effort on the part of those enacting that policy to ensure than all parties are armed with the data and analysis to make sense of the action. All of our elected representatives ought to be armed with the knowledge to explain their decisions and the ability to make sense of those decisions to the people who elected them. as well as those who may have made other, unfulfilled choices at election time.
As an example, the current discussions of reconciliation with First Nations certainly has both supporters and detractors. On this file, we seem to be moving slowly, but there is an ongoing stream of relevant information that needs to be put at everyone’s disposal and there needs to be time for options to be developed and time and resources allotted to First Nations to sort out what might be their idea of the desired outcomes. For those like Senator Lynn Beyak whose sense is that First Nations should just “get over it” and become Canadians, there is a chance to review the information and to show that they have a basis for their beliefs, and for the rest of us to understand that perspective, without necessarily accepting that it might be valid if we have data and analysis to bolster our own thoughts.As new material emerges, we might need to re-evaluate our positions.
There is a certain amount of anxiety in the salmon farming community at this point, where First Nations are occupying a farm and where notice of review of tenures seems to have given the idea to the companies that they are about to be unceremoniously evicted from the waterways of the province. It turns out that the reviews are scheduled and that the panic might reveal more about the outlook of Marine Harvest than about the state of the spaces they occupy. For a group that appears to have done whatever it can to squelch information relating to disease outbreaks, escapes and other negative effects on wild stocks, there might be a tendency to think that the fish farming community senses that the end of their current business mode might be coming to an end. I wonder if they are willing to put all the informational cards on the table and let the public decide in full knowledge of how the industry operates and what are the real benefits and harms involved in their operations. It i here that the government, and especially the ministers responsible, ought to have the duty and the mandate to see that all appropriate information is put at the disposal of the electorate so that, when the government decides to either renew the tenures or to let them lapse, we will all have a clear understanding of the reasoning behind that decision.
When it comes to light that local casinos have become a money laundromat, and where it comes to light that the phenomenon has been known to government for the better part of a decade, and where the knowledge has been buried because it might have a negative impact on certain “commercial” enterprises, and where those enterprises are undertaken by people whose moral, electoral and financial support props up the party that buries the report, we have the exact opposite of a desirable education quotient. This is not a simple oversight, but a fraud on the electorate, even if the law seems not to see it as punishable.
The same applies to the approval of projects that appear, on the fact of it, to contrary to the interests of Canadians as a whole, but that will be good for board rooms in Toronto, Calgary and Houston, projects whose evaluation omits large swathes of data about downstream consequences to be suffered by all of us, but whole effects will be mitigated for those who stand to gain the most.
As a voter, I am willing to revise my position on many files, but I need to see that I’m getting decisions based on the best information, which means all the information. It falls upon my representatives to convince that the revision is warranted.