Martian Questions for the Premiers

Commentary, Environment, Link Byfield

In the depths of the Great Depression 75 years ago, a few stock lines got William Aberhart elected as premier of Alberta.

One concerned “the Man from Mars.”

How could you explain to a visiting Martian, asked Aberhart, why it was that in a world awash in material goods, there was suddenly too little money to buy them?

A dressed-up stage “Martian” would ask, “If you Earthlings have made everything but money, why not make more money?”

Heretical as this may sound, it was the correct solution for the Depression.

Politically, it was a good question, because everyone was already asking it. But it required banks and governments to completely rethink our system of credit.

If the Man from Mars were to drop in on this week’s meeting of provincial premiers in Moncton, here are new questions he might ask:

“How can you Earthlings expect Alberta to produce less oil for environmental reasons, and more equalization money?”

“Why are you Earthlings complaining about high fuel prices, and demanding more use of higher-cost substitutes?”

“Why is your Parliament pursuing a high-cost energy policy (i.e. Kyoto) without ever having scrutinized the environmental science behind it?”

“Why is the province with most to lose, Alberta, doing the same?”

Even with simultaneous translation into Martian, the premiers would have a hard time explaining. The answers wouldn’t make sense in any language.

Among the least translatable thoughts are:

Trying to explain why a country with one of the biggest areas, smallest populations and coldest climates on earth is considering even higher taxes on energy.

Trying to explain how penalizing successful provinces to reward unsuccessful ones is good for the country.

These ideas can’t be expressed convincingly in any language. Yet they persist.

Long ago, before the rise of socialism throughout the world, a brilliant young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a chilling prophecy of what would follow democracy.

Democracy works in America, de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, because people take responsibility for their government. But the day will come, he said, when gradually the government will take responsibility for the people.

“Above this race of men,” he speculated, will “stand an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. The power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. …it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property… What remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of learning?”

A more exact description of present-day Canada would be hard to write. Yet at the time de Tocqueville wrote it, Canadians were taking up muskets against their local lords and masters to win the right to govern themselves in much the same way Americans did.

We should wish that even one premier today had the courage to go into this meeting and, speaking the unvarnished truth, demand the right of all Canadians to govern themselves.

Link Byfield is an Alberta senator-elect and chairman of the Citizens Centre. The Centre promotes the principles of personal freedom and responsible government.