BC’s dysfunctional resource debate, Part 3: Action not marketing

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Previously in this series, I’ve discussed a few reasons why our public discourse on natural-resource issues has become so dismal

 

First, I highlighted the public’s loss of trust in business and government leaders. Next I highlighted how public institutions have lost influence. This time, I’m focusing squarely on resource companies and what we expect from them.

 

Performance counts, PR doesn’t

The Calgary-based think tank Canada West Foundation recently released a report examining the resource sector’s challenges with public opposition and what it should do about it. Among its strongest recommendations is that resource companies need to focus on delivering exceptional performance in the communities where they operate. Putting out glitzy ads won’t cut it. Here’s why the tactic makes sense:

The issues matter: Communities have legitimate reasons to be concerned about big projects in their back yards.

Communities matter: They will be heard and they should be heard. In the case of aboriginal communities, there exist specific legal frameworks demanding they be heard.

Marketing won’t work: You can’t get around legitimate questions by relying only on advocacy. Besides, opponents tend to have advantages of credibility and celebrity.

There’s a good story to tell: Canada is not some weak, under-regulated state ripe for exploitation. Our resource companies aren’t fly-by-night robber barons. We have a history of responsible resource development much of the rest of the world envies.

 

What we expect from resource companies

So when we say that companies need exceptional performance on the ground, what do we mean? Essentially four thing: economy, community, engagement and environment. These are the hallmarks of responsible resource development.

Economy: It comes down to providing jobs, business opportunities and training to local communities as well as revenues to local governments.

Community: This means guaranteeing health and safety, supporting cultural protection, encouraging social planning and making community investments.

Engagement: The priority here is to start the conversation with communities early, sustain it once it’s begun and building systems that ensure accountability and transparency over the long term.

Environment: Here’s an issue companies can’t handle alone. They rely on government to provide good systems of environmental protection (see my last post on the importance of public institutions).

 

But if that’s not enough

That’s the recipe. And in many cases, performance on the ground is already excellent and constantly getting better. If there’s a role for a better advocacy, it is to accurately describe real performance in these areas. More mountain-and-tree TV ads aren’t needed.

But what if all the ingredients are there and it’s still not enough? What explains enduring, passionate opposition to resource projects? The Canada West Foundation report suggests that it can partially be explained by the topic of my next and final post on this issue: the elephant in the room - climate change.

 

Peter Severinson is the Research Director for Resource Works.

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Foster.


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