‘Social license’ is all social and no license: Former Premiers

Gary Doer, former Manitoba premier and Canadian ambassador to the United States. Image: Brian Zinchuk/Pipeline News

Regina – Social licence was a hot topic at the recent Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, with two former premiers speaking their mind on the subject.

“We should never use that term ‘social license again,’” said former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

“There’s a whole bunch of things implied by that term. First of all, that you don’t have it already, as a sector. You need to apply for it from someone. We really don’t know who is the issuer of the social license.

“We especially don’t know who the issuer is after the first Western Canadian foray to earnestly earn social license, the Alberta carbon tax, resulted in precisely zero change in the environmental political support for a pipeline project."

Wall said it's "not just a speaking point" to highlight to Canadians that social license has long been paid by the oil and gas sector.

“It’s paid in the taxes this industry has provided, to all of Canada. It’s paid in the direct support to transfer payments, that have quite literally ensured the survival and the viability of social programs. It’s paid for in the jobs that are created for Canadians. It’s paid for the taxes we’ve already talked about, both directly and indirectly," he said.

“That doesn’t mean, as a sector, that we ought not to be trying to better by the environment. But really, my view is we should separate these two things.”

He went on, “We helped, as and industry, and I would say governments are to blame. I share in it. I was around for 10 years as Premier of Saskatchewan, the country’s second largest producer of oil. We have been very flatfooted. We have been not at all effective in telling the story that already exists about the sector, which would have earned whatever social license implies, and maybe avoided some of the challenges they’ve faced recently to get the right public policy and pipelines built in Canada.”

Wall said Canadians are getting there on their own. “It’s not too late, for us as an industry, to demonstrate through action, technological advancements we talked about like pipeline integrity and carbon mitigation, but also to tell the true story.

“It’s not too late for us to build support. We should call it that. It’s not a license. It’s support.”

He said when Canadians understand the significance of the resource and the realities of increasing global oil demand, “they do ask the very pragmatic Canadian question, if it’s not our oil because we can’t get a pipeline to tidewater, then whose is it? And from the list of competitor countries, Canadians are smart enough to realize that most of the countries we compete with probably aren’t as responsible, or as interested in the sustainability of the industry as we are.”

Wall said his theory is that when Kinder Morgan’s Ian Anderson, president of Trans Mountain, gave the federal government a deadline of May 31 last year, “The country started paying attention to this issue – of pipelines, of our oil and gas resource.”

Poll after poll showed increasing support.

“If we make our case to Canadians, and we if we demonstrate by our actions, we continue to demonstrate by our actions that we don’t just care about the environment, we have a plan to protect it, and a plan to reinvest in it and we rehabilitate it, I think we won’t need to ask for a license for anybody. I think we’re going to see support grow.”

Gary Doer on social license

Gary Doer, former Manitoba premier and Canadian ambassador to the United States, said that “Social license has almost become a strategy to get a veto, as opposed to get approval.

“Consultation with people affected, absolutely. It’s part of the due diligence process. In my way of thinking, it’s better to be done before you even propose something. You bring in engineers, lawyers, accountants proposing something. Know what the lay of the land ahead of time, through consultations.

“My view is projects should be approved under the definition of public interest. It’s public interest which should determine the final outcome of these applications.

“Energy is a public interest. Reliability, affordability of energy is a public interest. Clean air, clean water, is a public interest. To me the criteria for making decisions should be public interest.

“I’m not sure what Brad said, but I’m sure he would be very upset about social licence, because it’s become a de facto veto for some people, which is unacceptable for the public interest of Canada, and in my view, is unacceptable to the people of Manitoba.”

Doer added, “I find it’s a phoney term. Do you know what my problem with social license is? It’s all social and no license.”

— Pipeline News

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