Earthlings kept in chronic state of war


Nothing happened this week to get me thinking about warfare. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. It’s been a quiet week. The only thing to get my attention in the news has been the sale of NB Power.

NB Power has become one of those most irrational of things: a political football. And this very expensive, heavy football is being lobbed back and forth between the province’s two political parties, the ruling Liberals and the Conservative opposition. But how did NB Power get started in the first place?

Well, according to Wikipedia, it was started by a Liberal premier, one Walter Edward Foster, who at age 45 was known as the “boy premier.” In addition to the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission, (which, in 1920, welded together more than 20 different power utilities and stabilized power rates for New Brunswickers), the boy wonder’s government also created the first department of health in 1918, and gave women the right to vote in 1919. Not a bad set of achievements in three short years.

Then, somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s NB Power ramped up expansion to meet explosive industrial growth, and subsequently shifted its emphasis from local power supply to exporting power to the New England states. To meet these two growing market demands it began building coal- and oil-fired generating stations, followed by the nuclear plant at Lepreau.

By 2000 the utility was deeply in debt. The ever-rising price of oil and the high cost of maintaining a nuclear power plant were crippling NB Power. The utility had become so unwieldy that the ruling Progressive Conservative government of Bernard Lord spent $3.2 million of our cash on a plan to carve it up and privatize it. And NB Power was subsequently divided, but not sold.

That task fell to the next and current Liberal government. Struggling to reduce the staggering and growing provincial debt, the government entered into a dialogue with Hydro Québec to offload the debt and to stabilize power rates for the province, and here we are today.

None of this story has anything to do with partisan politics. The perception is, NB Power has grown too big for this province’s population to support—especially in a province with too few resources—even though the utility's debt is not attached to the provincial debt. That said, we simply may not have the human, financial or natural resources to produce a supply of power as inexpensively as Quebec (or for that matter Manitoba or Newfoundland) can.

So why has this issue become such a political battle? Well, somebody has to be at fault, right? Absolutely. That’s how the system works. But why? I don’t really know.

In one of my former lives I did some marketing and consulting work in the Northwest Territories. While there I was surprised to learn that there were no provincial parties. Every constituency simply elected the best person, and the winners all went off to Yellowknife to form the next government. There, they sat in chambers until they could select a leader and cabinet from the elected body, which could take from several days to a month or more. Then they would govern. Nothing wrong with that system, I thought.

The Northwest Territories is a vast piece of geography, and as a political realm was able to successfully split itself into the Northwest Territories and Nunivut without an undue amount of stress. How difficult would it be to divide say, northern Ontario from southern Ontario, given Ontario’s strong three-party system and layer upon layer of special interest lobbyists attached to the three party lines? Nearly impossible, I’d say.

The two- or three-party system operates in a permanent state of virtual war. Each of us has been raised from birth to be a red Liberal, blue Conservative or orange New Democrat. Canadian babies born today are also being raised Green or Bloc or PQ. Yet, in actual fact, there is virtually no difference between the parties when they are in power.

In the early 1990s former Premier Bob Rae’s NDP government in Ontario behaved more harshly and conservatively during the economic recession of that time than either the recently ousted Liberals or the Conservatives would have dared. Government employees were subjected to wage freezes and “Rae Days,” forced to give 10 unpaid days of work a year to the government. Rae’s nominally “leftist” government proved only that the government is the government—a creature of expediency and public protection.

There must be something in this artificial state of tension—this permanent artificial warfare between two political entities—that satisfies some human condition.

And it does. Warfare becomes us. The sad fact is, the more we work toward ritualizing it, the safer it becomes for most of us. Sports and government are good examples of this more or less positive “blowing off of steam.” But the innate combativeness of the human creature underlies just about everything we do.

We are frankly at war with every single entity on the planet. I expect we’ve always been so. We fight to get our kids into the best schools. We fight to make it to the top of the career ladder. We fight for the most attractive mates and the most money. We fight for “our” country or “our” system of beliefs. We form elite groups to protect “our” interests, even here in Charlotte County I’ve heard.

Indeed, we humans see ourselves as the most elite species on the planet. And at 6.8 billion and growing, we’re a highly imposing elite. And that fact came home forcefully this morning when my wife, Sharon, showed me a video on the Internet. This one documentary movie has changed our family’s eating habits forever. The movie, “The Earthlings” addresses our human nature vs. the rest of nature. It is a violently unflattering portrait. But don’t take my word for it. I urge each and every one of you to watch it at: Clip out this scrap of newsprint, go to your computer right now, type in this IP address in your browser and watch. Nothing I could write here could affect you more.

I don’t know how to end this war mentality. I fear it may get worse instead of better. I for one will try to change my own personal worldview. I believe that everything I’ve been doing is wrong. The trouble is, I truly don’t know how to change—the temptation to keep doing what I’ve been doing is that strong.

Perhaps all we are is a collective force of nature, which nature itself can and will stop. Only blind arrogance makes us think we can “save” the world.


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