Rex Murphy: Notley learns a hard truth about social licence — it’s not meant to be granted, ever. That’s the point – by Rex Murphy (National Post – May 20, 2017)

Social licence is one of those phrases, like cultural appropriation, or — a while back — civil society, that just seem to pop into lexical existence, almost out of nowhere, and instantly take on the authority of unchallenged and long-accepted concepts. They are mouthed in every parliamentary speech, are munched over by the solons of the afternoon panel shows, and crowd the editorial and opinion pieces of all the finest newspapers.

Yesterday they were unheard and unseen. Today they are presumed to be the boundary stones of argument and discussion. It is all so fast. One other note on usage: these terms and their semantic kin usually emerge from the fertile lexicography of the social justice camp, which is only appropriate since “social justice” is itself a term from the same fertile semantic factory.

Today, I turn to social licence (I’m saving “cultural appropriation” and its many novelties and self-contradictions for another day). Justin Trudeau is a fan of social licence. Speaking before the high council of the Sanhedrin at the Calgary Petroleum Club, before he was prime minister, Trudeau (as is his way with nebulous but high sounding concepts) gave the vague, trendy formulation full authority: “Social licence is more important than ever. Governments may be able to issue permits but only communities can grant permission.”

A quick note here on the prime minister’s peculiar play on words. What is a permit? Why, it is an official declaration, in writing, with the force of law, usually from an order of government, that a person or a company has legal permission to do something. It is Permission with a capital P.

But, insofar as Trudeau’s statement can be understood to mean anything at all, the official government permission — the one that counts — under the elastic rules of social licence really has no force at all.

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