School of rocks: Another political analogy

Let’s throw a scenario out there.

What happens when a government employee – a public servant – is told to do something, they don’t want to do and that they most likely know is wrong? What if that is only a single worm, in the whole can that such a decision would open?

What if an employee of the province is told to issue an approval for a quarry,  that will eventually be accompanied by an asphalt plant, and concrete plant, even though doing so is against multiple regulations and legislation? What if that approval creates a serious risk to every plane that lands at the local airport, and may possibly cause a rupture or massive explosion in the nearby main 12″ high pressure supply line of natural gas? And what if it is also against the will of the people who will have to live with it, next to it and the risks it imposes directly on them? And what happens when maybe the humans impacted by such a decision are trying to go about their business, but things are very concerning for them? What if they live with constant worry and stress because of this decision? Will they have issues with their wells? Will there be a problem with the pipeline, will there be an issue with planes or fly rock or ground vibrations or the smell of asphalt or dust…. the list goes on. What if all the objective experts who have looked at this plan say yes, the public do have reason to be concerned? What if they say the government approving blasting here is unacceptably dangerous?

And let’s say that for over 6 years the public have been fighting this, and these members of the public have likely given the government every opportunity to see sense, to accept the risks they are inflicting on a community. Perhaps they have been polite, persistent and thorough, but the government may have rejected their efforts and refused to even communicate with the public on this? Would you understand if the public have become less polite, but more persistent? What if you learned that rather than provide assurances or information to the public explaining why nothing bad would ever happen, the government ignored them and acted like the public didn’t even exist. Would you be surprised if the government started making it harder and harder for the public to access the details of this plan by adding multi-thousand dollar price tags to FOIPOP requests?

And consider for a moment that maybe there is, at every level in government, some serious agreement that this is a very bad idea.

Suppose the engineer who reviewed this file, was going to reject this application. Consider that she was going to do so because of the risk of fly rock and because of the pipeline. What if the people are right? Perhaps the public have been told by multiple sources that the department was widely aware a rejection was going to be issued. The public could have also been told that when the engineer balked at being told it must be approved, a request was made to a different office to issue the approval. Perhaps that other office refused to issue any decision, on the basis that they had not worked on the application and if she was rejecting it, there was probably a good reason and they were not taking responsibility for approving it.  That quite logically could have given her a lot of courage to say “I still won’t approve this”, but maybe under some pressure (imagine she probably was threatened about her job), she may have suddenly changed her mind and agreed to issue an approval. She probably remembers though that she indicated multiple times throughout the file, that it was not a good idea.

What if the public have been told the Premier was pushing this quarry through? And say, perhaps, that he does not deny it. Maybe he skirts it. Maybe he has gotten defensive about it but then thought he was funny joking about it publicly. And maybe the public have been told he is pushing the approval because a senior Federal Cabinet MP has told him to. Maybe that MP threatened to interfer in the flow of funding to the Premier’s major projects. Consider that possibly, the MP is also friends with the quarry proponent, and some of the lobbyists involved and insists they are nice people and it is not fair for them to not be allowed to develop their business in Nova Scotia. Maybe too, they only really became interested in expanding in Nova Scotia, when one of the owners and the business was suspended from doing work in Quebec due to his and the company’s federal tax crimes, and they needed to work in another province to offset the short budget in their own province. Wouldn’t it be odd for a Federal Cabinet Minister to support or demand that a separate government do this company a favour, if you consider their less than ideal reputation? Would it be possible too that their own government had given what jobs there were to a Nova Scotian company, and maybe that was their decision to live with rather than innocent public in the next province over?

What would you think if you heard that the local international airport was opposed to this because of the risk to air traffic? What if they were so opposed that they joined a court case to stop it, and then suddenly months later dropped out without clear reasons? What would you think about that if soon after you learned that a Federal Senator who sat on the board for the airport was now secretly also on a board for the quarry? Do you think that secret would be troubling and represent a blatant conflict of interest? Would it surprise you that no one in government took appropriate action? No one at the airport board thought they should be vocal about it? Would it be fair to hold them all responsible for this conflict?

Then maybe the public have been told the Minister of Environment, a day before “recusing” himself from the file, since he is friends with the lobbyist tasked with getting the quarry opened, held a meeting with the local Environment director, the executive director and the deputy minister and others and suppose he told them all, This quarry will be approved, and if it isn’t, I will lose my job and you will lose your job, and you will lose your job, etc, as he pointed to each and every person around the table.

Maybe they wouldn’t have realized he had no authority with which to make that happen. Maybe they had too little time to figure that out as a deadline for approval was set. Perhaps if some people, like some of the interested members of public, had been on the receiving end of that discussion they would have laughed at him, and then dialed CBC on the spot and told the newsroom exactly what just went down. In a flash.

And maybe the engineer, should have said “Tough luck for you guys, I am still not approving this” because she wasn’t in that meeting. Maybe she would forget she could have and should have done so, and then perhaps since it absolutely had to be approved, her superiors could have overruled. But maybe what likely would happen is they wouldn’t want to have their own names on that recommendation to approve,  so maybe it makes better sense to beat down the lower level employee, and is probably easy to guilt her into it or convince her that the united front would be the only way she was keeping her title. But quite honestly, doesn’t it seem that everyone in that chain might probably be thinking more about keeping their jobs, and hoping for the best? They certainly wouldn’t think about the danger they have placed members of the public in, would they? They wouldn’t think about the water in residential wells or the traffic on Highway 102. Maybe they  think so so little about those things that they wouldn’t bother to set any restrictions or in some cases they would give the quarry limitations well above what they had applied for. You know… Things like hours of operation, volumes of production, blasting weights… maybe all of it would be left to the proponent to self govern. Maybe that whole code of ethics, values and conduct thing they all signed on too is sometimes forgotten completely.

And maybe after all this was to happen, what if you then found out that the municipal government, who had been saying no to an asphalt plant in that location for decades, suddenly approved one? What if you found out they did so months ago and kept that a secret?  What if the public obtained emails and records that prove the asphalt plant was going to be rejected, a letter was going to be issued and then suddenly, inexplicably, it was approved? What if you learn the relatively new City Manager, who might be from the same province as the proponent, the senior MP, one of the lobbyists and was acquainted with this lobbyist working for the proponent through their prior work? Maybe they all like similar things, like fishing and nature. And what if then you realize that the Mayor is well acquainted with the federal MP who has ordered this whole mess be approved? How would it look too if it was likely that all of them worked together in the past in various capacities? What if the local public remember very clearly the Mayor supported the community all along and maybe now suddenly wouldn’t  even tolerate discussions about what was going on?

    What if a situation that causes risks for hundreds of families in Nova Scotia is actually a corrupt and politically driven favour for an unethical corporation? Would this surprise you? Would you be okay with this if you knew it could happen all the time? Would we be okay with a network of government that works this way?

What do you think?

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