"Late Nights on Air" - a book about the Berger Commission

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"Late Nights on Air" - a book about the Berger Commission



[url=http://www.rabble.ca/news_full_story.shtml?sh_itm=e533618159748218a6cf3b... Cameron reviews it here.[/url]


The wonderful novel Late Nights on Air, by Elizabeth Hay, takes place in Yellowknife in 1975. A tale of love and adventure, featuring characters living it up while toiling away at the local CBC station, in the backdrop to the main story the Berger Commission is holding its celebrated public hearings on proposals to build two Arctic pipelines to run the length of the Mackenzie River valley, in order to bring northern gas south; in the one case for Canadian use, in the other for American use.

Hay won the 2007 Giller Prize for fiction. She also could have won the prize for writing on Canadian democracy (unfortunately there is no such award). Her account of what Berger was up to in his hearings provides as truthful a portrait as we are likely to get of this improbable, important undertaking, a great democratic moment in Canadian history, one of too few.

Through recourse to democratic procedures, the Berger Commission stopped the two pipeline projects cold. The commission empowered Natives, and other Northerners, giving out research money to those to be affected by the pipeline construction. From Berger on, it became clear that environmental assessments had to be part of the fabric of Canadian public life. The one-time B.C. NDP leader and noted jurist made it clear that Aboriginal land claims lay at the heart of the politics of the Canadian North. His report recognized the North as a Native homeland, and made arguments that led to self-government.

George Victor

Late Nights on Air is a wonderful read, and causes one to feel at home on coming across Thomas Berger’s name among the fictional characters of this love story - the canoeing sequence and northern characters and lifestyles will be easily recognized by anyone who has spent some time in the north.

Those aspects of setting and adventure explained to my friends an uncommon sudden interest in a love story.

However, the battle lines have been blurred since 1975 by the arrival of climate change in a melting Arctic and increasing difficulty among the Dene and other northern peoples of deferring gratification of the wealth that will arrive with exploitation of those buried riches. Just having jobs would be good. Divisions are deepening on the questions vital to their future .

Last year, Thomas Berger, continuing his long-time interest in the welfare of northern peoples, brought out a report urging, among other things, the expenditure of more resources for educational facilities in Nunavut where the chief bureaucrats are degree holders from the south.

And today’s Globe quotes B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell as saying that the premiers of Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories “and all of us are going to have to figure out how we cut our greenhouse gas emissions.”

“It’s time we stopped having diesel-dependent communities.”

Tidal power for Iqaluit? Really long power transmission lines from dams on the Nahani?

Campbell, descendant of a long line of wishful thinkers, has developed a Gallic shrug, and isn’t challenged by the media, apparently, on such details.

But the answers to the new northern dilemma are going to have to be developed by the people of the north, and they are obviously going to have to develop scientific knowledge and technological skill sets to do it. Along with means of achieving consensus beyond band boundaries.

I want to put the question to Tom King, New Democrat candidate in Guelph’s by-election at a BBQ on Saturday, and just say hi to the Massey lecturer who, along with Berger, gives one more confidence about a resolution being found for some very difficult questions.

I believe Elizabeth Hay still lives in Ottawa, which also figures in her story. And Canadians have always depended on Ottawa to come up with something. But it’s going to take a few like Thomas King to lift Ottawa’s head out of the tar sands, where, to paraphrase a piece from King’s lecture and the role of turtles in native lore, it’s just oil "all the way to the bottom”.

[ 04 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]