Let’s stop pretending ‘social licence’ is an actual thing – by Ross McKitrick (Financial Post – April 21, 2016)


Margaret Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society.” Today she might have added the corollary that “There is no such thing as social licence.” There is such a thing as compliance with regulations established by a duly constituted authority.

And there is such a thing as acceptance in a competitive market by customers who are willing to pay for the product. And yet, well-intentioned people have come to think more is needed, namely approval from the self-appointed activists at the Social Licence Bureau. And thus has begun one of the costliest fool’s errands of modern times.

Alberta’s NDP government found itself goaded into an international snipe hunt for a social licence to operate its oil industry and get the product to market. Bear in mind that the industry complies with all available social, economic and environmental regulations, and that its product is desired by consumers across Canada and around the world. Yet Premier Notley became convinced that Alberta’s oil still lacked legitimacy because it was missing a so-called social licence.

Unfortunately, the same folks who convinced Notley of this also set themselves up as the arbiters of who gets a licence and who doesn’t. Climate activists hung out a shingle as the Social Licensing Bureau, and Notley played along.

In the belief that it would somehow bring the enemies of her province’s prosperity onside, she took aim at the economy, already reeling from the collapse in oil prices, and laid on hefty new climate regulations and a carbon tax. Coal-fired power is to be phased out and everyone in the province will have to swallow a hike in energy costs. None of this will make any difference to the global climate, of course, nor will it have more than a minuscule effect on air pollution.

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