​What the ill-advised plan to replace Ottawa’s Centennial Flame with an LED says about our country

The Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill has been fuelled by natural gas since 1967. Image: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons

As there is a spectrum in politics, so too is there in moronics.

Moronics is, of course, the parallel dimension of politics — except that on the moronics spectrum, position is not measured by degrees of left or right perspective but rather from thinking that ranges from benignly foolish to flabbergastingly stupid.

Both politicians and bureaucrats can be placed on the moronics spectrum. Sometimes both occupy identical spots.

It was near to the spectrum's latter end of egregiously wacky and ill-advised that a blessedly short-lived initiative in Ottawa was squelched recently.

But while it was "alive" it showed the federal bureaucracy's capacity for being "tone-deaf" — that wonderful new Internet-age term that so aptly describes the capacity to do or propose something completely at odds with prevailing sentiment.

Here's the deal: the federal public services department recently proposed "greening" the Centennial Flame by considering other means of illumination. The flame on Parliament Hill was ignited utilizing natural gas produced in the west in 1967 by then PM Lester Pearson to celebrate 100 years of Canada as a federation.

Its key purpose: a symbol of unity. It is mind-boggling to consider how many thousands of Canadians and visitors have stood before its dancing flames and provincial and territorial plaques pondering the forces that hold together this great country.

Somehow, the idea of a Centennial LED does not convey the same essence of togetherness and hands-across-the-country unity.

So at a time when energy narratives are cleaving the nation instead of binding it, the proposal smacked of thinking that could only exist conceptually in some alternative universe.

The greening concept proposal was immediately flagged for what it in reality reflected: a symbol of potential divisiveness.

Predictably, the criticism came fast and furious and the department just as quickly announced it was abandoning the study.

All well and good.

But the thinking that birthed the greening notion must be rooted within the larger context of how a confederation deals with complex and thorny issues like energy mix and energy systems evolution. In that context, the gas fueling the flame is saliently symbolic in its capacity to be an important bridge energy source between Canada's 150th and 200th birthdays. It is also symbolic of a resource staple that has created so much wealth for Canada's first 150 years and has the potential to do so for the next 150.

So to diminish its importance even with a notional nod to a cleaner and greener future is shortsighted in that natural gas combustion is one of the firmer sightlines to that very future.

For the conspiracy theory set, it may be that this initiative was a deliberate effort by the bureaucracy to embarrass the Trudeau government at a time when it is struggling to balance competing national energy interests while the country is more polarized (and paralyzed) than ever.

Voters should become more familiar with the moronics spectrum. It threatens to escape through a gap in the space-time continuum and switch places with its political counterpart.

Many would argue it already has.

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