Politics: where soul meets the real world


Do we have the political resources we need?

This occurred to me as I listened to provincial PC leader David Alward answer questions on a CBC Radio call-in show this morning. He kept using the words, “I believe,” to preface what he and his party planned to do if elected.

Soul and belief have a long history. What is soul? To paraphrase philosopher Thomas Moore, the soul is a kind of interior workspace in which we work out issues between our internal nature (or spiritual being) and the physical world. In Jungian terms, soul might be seen as a waiting room between the conscious and the unconscious mind.

Our souls, putting aside any specific religious notions of the word, crave something more than mere survival. Our souls are aspirational. Our souls want to shape the world into something more than the sum of its parts. Everything we do, from the making art to the creation great societies is soul work.

But soul work also has a dark side. Politics, more than any other endeavour brings out that darkness. The rise of fascism in Germany 75 years ago is one of the most dramatic examples. While surfing the YouTube a few nights ago, Sharon came across an old war documentary made by Alfred Hitchcock. His crew had recorded the Nazi death camps as the American Army arrived. The movie is beyond disturbing. Our horrific capacity for inhumanity is right there in stark black and white.

Local activist Larry Lack, never one to shy away from the dark side, called in to the radio show this morning. He challenged David Alward to shut down the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant, citing the huge ongoing expense of developing a technology that was far from being “green.” At first Alward ignored the question and promoted the project as a necessary and worthwhile government investment. Lack probed deeper, and Alward simply acknowledging that their opinions differed.

Nuclear power, in a most visible way, demonstrates the conflicted soul of ingenuity. The nuclear promise is cheap electrical power. The dark price of that power is radioactive nuclear waste that can’t be safely stored anywhere on the planet, and will remain a threat to living organisms for tens of thousands of years. And I needn’t stress the very real prospect of turning nuclear waste into nuclear weapons.

Back to the radio show, most of the callers dealt with more immediate concerns. Access to doctors and drug plans for seniors were hot topics. Alward did his best not to weld himself to any specific promises while trying to satisfy the voters.

The trouble with that is neither the voters nor the politicians want to look at the real issues. What are those issues? The issues, as always, are physical resources and human energy. New Brunswick is relatively resource poor. Its forests and fisheries are depleted. It doesn’t have sources of abundant cheap energy, such as Churchill Falls in Labrador. And it doesn’t have any large local reserves of fossil fuel. But on the positive side, it does have 800,000 tonnes of potash reserves to help support its agriculture industry. Instead 95% of its potash is planned for export. So the question is, with limited resources, how can our politicians give the voters everything they want? The simple answer is, of course, they can’t. They have to get creative.

The easiest way for a politician to be creative is to shield the voter from the truth. It becomes politics as usual—“the art of the possible.” But real creativity requires more soul searching.

For example, on the energy front, the province could form a coalition between the Atlantic provinces to collectively develop greener sources of energy. One of these projects could easily be the construction of a new DC tie line across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the aforementioned Churchill Falls. The falls has the potential to produce far more cheap power than we can use, and the government of Newfoundland would like nothing better than to have customers other than just Quebec for its hydro power.

Making the most of human energy depends on aspiration. As individuals, we gravitate toward our dreams. So what is the New Brunswick dream? For many of us, unfortunately, the dream is merely to survive. And that may not be good enough.

In the next radio program, the CBC crew went to Saskatoon to report on the economic boom underway there. Saskatoon has become an aspirational place. Fortunes are being made there in oil, potash and hi-tech. Car dealerships are selling $100,000+ vehicles. The arts community is thriving. Newcomers are arriving daily from the rest of Canada. The city has grown 10%, from 200,000 to 220,000 in the last three years. Saskatoon has the resources the world wants.

My concern would be, what will they do when their frontier runs out of resources? That’s a prospect we New Brunswickers already face. But do we have the courage to do the soul work to create a better future for ourselves? Not if we listen our current political leaders.

Real aspiration for this province seems to be in stunningly short supply.


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