There are times when credulousness becomes guilty and there are times where false pretense loses its ability to convince. The collaboration announced between the Institut de nouveau monde (INM) and Minalliance, to organize public "conversations" about the future of mining in Québec, is clearly one of these times.
Who are these organizations? The Institut du nouveau monde, primarily funded by the Government of Québec, presents itself as an organization that favours civil society participation in all types of debates of social importance. As for Minalliance, it is nothing more and no less than the public relations arm of the mining industry, mandated to charm the people of Québec with their aromatic "positive contributions" to the development of Québec in a way that oddly reminds us of what the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, called "propaganda."
In March, the two groups are organizing a tour of Québec to hold public consultations about our mining future... funded entirely by Minalliance. Nothing these days escapes private sponsorship, not even processes of public deliberation on the future of our collective resources and wealth. In this context, the very notion of what can be regarded as public territory is financed by private mining corporations, which have the most to gain by influencing the debate in their favour. On the one hand, it is very disconcerting that the industry defines -- through Minalliance -- the boundaries of political debate, in which it is directly concerned. On the other, the Institut du nouveau monde's endorsement of the process in the name of civil society leaves us further perplexed. This initiative takes on the false pretenses of a formal public commission, that would we would otherwise expect to be sanctioned by the state, if only the Government of Québec could accept to be compromised by the fact that it is itself the promoter of the "Plan Nord."
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recently influenced the content of an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology, which dealt with issues of petroleum itself, under the pretext that it provided the funding. These days, we can no longer pretend to seriously believe that a lobby as powerful as that of the mining industry would magnanimously fund a consultation process that directly concerns its interests without seeking to control its orientation and outcome. This all reeks of a co-optive scheme in which it is embarrassing to see the INM, but particularly the Regroupement national des conseils régionaux de l'environnement du Québec, Solidarité rurale du Québec, Nature Québec and Coalition Québec meilleure mine -- all members of the consultation committee of the tour -- which lend their support, although we know they do so in good faith. This public conversation will serve as an effective diversion while simultaneously depleting the limited resources of participating citizen groups. Is this not a tactic to neutralize a segment of the debate that seeks fundamental changes so urgently needed in Québec's mining policies?
It must be quickly recognized that these mock deliberations are tantamount to a new political culture of "good governance," such as those that lie ahead, and come at a collective price. Proponent custodians of these procedural deliberations profoundly modify our political traditions into managerial exercises. Above all, this approach specifically seeks to place all civic actors on an equal footing, on which they are not, while postulating a disparity when the time comes to actually execute and benefit from the projects that are discussed on the agenda. If a civic organization works toward a restrained approach to proceedings run by industry, it becomes impossible for them to articulate dissent toward mining practices; for example against the exploitation of gold or diamonds, both mining enterprises that are most often socially and ecologically costly and only serve the interests of luxurious consumption and capitalist financing. See the malaise among "civil society" representatives in this regard.
These consulting procedures risk trapping participants in technical issues, like royalty fees for example, that will immediately imply their endorsement of mining practices while removing the fundamental issue of whether it is relevant or not to continue to exploit our land in ways that industry dictates for its own profit. The public conversation on the future of mining in Québec will remain a conversation. But ultimately, Minalliance and all of its members will exit these talks brandishing an insignificant report, other than as a device to claim that they have fulfilled their duty to consult the public. The industry will promise to consider the grievances presented to them by a docile and regulated public, while moving forward with its mining exploitation projects as we have always known them in Québec.
We are simply pointing to participation in the deployment of carrot and stick, which the mining industry is well versed in handling: we can recall what appeared as abusive strategic lawsuits against all critical opposition, in parallel with public relations campaigns and false portrayal to charm everyone else. Leave it to citizens themselves whose adequate imaginations will bring the debate to term on their own without the need to for sham discussions and disingenuous alliances.
Alain Deneault, PhD, Independent Researcher
Frédéric Dubois, Producer
Martin Frigon, Filmmaker
Jean-François Lessard, Author, Composer, Musician
Éric Pineault, Professor, Sociology Department, UQÀM
Lucie Sauvé, Research Chair in Environmental Education, UQÀM
Anne-Marie Voisard, Éditions Écosociété
Shannon Walsh, PhD, Filmmaker
David Widgington, Media Studies Graduate Student, Concordia University
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