September 18th, 2019

Making the most out of consultations

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on July 11, 2019.

Step right up and take a gander at splendiferous cure for whatever ails you; a (political) science breakthrough that will make your headaches disappear, beggar your opponents, and make your opposition to which and whatever brim with new vigour.

Why, it’s consultation!

Don’t like a pipeline? Where you properly consulted?

Against the carbon tax? Were you asked?

Problems with a land development in your neighbourhood? It might all come down to if and how you were told about it.

Yes, all matters involving all manner of controversy all seem to come down to the level, scope and outcome of consultations.

However, it needs to be noted, it’s not a sure path to universally happy outcomes in an age when everyone seems to think their opinion or stake in an issue outweighs all others.

Indeed, many who argue that improper consultations have left them distressed are not happy with the outcome. It’s a new national pastime to shrug off the work of commissions, bureaucrats and academics as pointless or wrongheaded. So it’s not too far a leap to discount the entire process when it doesn’t produce favourable results.

What should be a consensus-building exercise is adrift in an all-or-nothing political environment.

And the worst offence in the social media age is to take away someone’s voice on an issue, even when fewer and fewer people are voicing their opinions in an official capacity.

That’s the high-minded analysis, but in practise even the word consultation is being used as a club.

Many may roll their eyes on the issue of First Nations consultations related to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, but similarly waited for the United Conservative Government in Alberta to slam dunk the carbon levy and farm safety legislation on the basis of poor consultation.

On both provincial issues, expedited consultation processes are a go this month, ahead of legislation that will surely zoom through the legislature this fall.

A revised heavy emitters levy that the UCP is promoting as a better alternative to a general carbon levy is the subject of one.

Meetings, involving 150 stakeholders from the oil, chemical and utility sectors, will take place over three days during Calgary Stampede week.

They began and were announced on the same day, Tuesday, and apparently don’t include environmental groups, though interested parties can fill out a form on the province’s website.

It’s led some to suggest the end result of the consultations is probably well defined already ahead of regulations in place Jan. 1, 2020.

Alberta’s farmers barked about hasty legislation then clogged highways with farm machinery in 2016 when a farm safety bill was was introduced by the NDP and tabled for amendments after consultations.

What followed was two years of hammering out rules with producer groups that now call the exercise valuable.

After making Bill 6 an ever-present election issue, new consultations are underway, though the schedule, nature, scope and participants of summer feedback sessions hasn’t been made public.

It’s ironic, though, that the one thing that was “rammed through” – Workers Compensation Board requirements – is one thing that’s likely to survive UCP edits.

It costs as little as $300 per worker per year to cover workplace accidents while completely negating liability and possible civil action. Private insurance plans would be in tough to beat that price.

The shrewd political move will be to make WCB coverage available but not mandatory, and then crow about productive consultations.

It’s probably a winning strategy with farmers and most Albertans who felt their voice was unheard by the New Democrats.

Unfortunately, like the environment plan, it won’t make everyone happy, and doesn’t make legislation bulletproof from court challenge.

It is, though, one way to make the most out of the consultation process.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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