Commentary: We have to put trust in our institutions if we want them to make tough decisions for us

BC often seems stuck in an endless struggle over resource development choices. In theory, we have effective public institutions to help guide us through tough collective decisions like these. So why do they seem to have so little influence?


Why institutions matter

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank. He points out here that one of the reasons why our natural resources are so valuable in the first place is because of our strong institutions. We have good laws, a stable society and good governance, which allow people to make sensible investment decisions for, say, building new mines - something many other resource-rich countries in the world can’t offer.

But all those solid government agencies, courts and regulators seem unable to diminish mounting public opposition to big resource projects, which are often accused of not having the social license they need. 

But as Crowley asks here, Who grants social license? He argues that large developments shouldn’t hinge on the permission of opponents, but rather on a thorough deliberation by trusted groups of people working for the collective best interest - in other words, our public institutions.

A loss of trust

But Canadians’ trust in institutions, particularly government, is falling. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer found that the number of well-informed Canadians who trust government fell by seven percentage points since their 2013 study, to 51 percent. That’s a faster fall than the rest of the 27 countries included in the study (the average decline was four percent), but our overall trust in government remains higher than the average (44 percent).

If we indeed need public trust in our institutions to help us resolve our natural-resource challenges, we’ll need to reverse this trend. It will be worth devoting some time and effort to figuring out how.

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