‘Audi Alteram Partem:’ hear the other side

How does one go about writing a newspaper column? Andre Carrel discusses his process

The editor occasionally cautions me to remember that the purpose of a community newspaper is to speak to the community about issues of concern to the community.

I am relatively new to Terrace, but I have gained some understanding of local issues and concerns.

Even a casual observer could not help but notice the prevalence of lawn signs on the subject of the Northern Gateway project, the multitude of social, cultural, and economic assistance agencies, the industrial traffic and, more recently, the energetic residential subdivision construction.

My problem is not the lack of a subject to write about, it is deciding where to start and how to structure my arguments so as to bring them to a rational conclusion within the column’s 630 word limit.

When something attracts my attention, I set out to gain an understanding of its social, cultural, political, and economic context before framing an opinion.

I am an avid non-fiction reader, and what I read has a strong influence on the way I go about trying to understand what I am looking at: books such as Thomas Piketty’s Capital, a study of the evolution of inequality and the concentration of wealth at the heart of our political economy, or Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital, a critical analysis of postcolonial theory, offer a thorough socio-economic background.

Donald Savoie has authored many books on Canadian politics. His latest, Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher, should be a quick and easy read, but his explanations of how we progressed from “Government of Canada” to identifying the institution by the Prime Minister’s name is unsettling. Savoie reveals the ugly truth of the consequences of those events and developments written about by Piketty and Chibber.

Savoie traces the gradually progressive surrendering of decision-making powers by Parliament and Cabinet to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This transition is not limited to the federal government; it is also evident at provincial levels.

Concentration of power creates bottlenecks, a decision-making vacuum that leaves many subjects not central to a first minister’s agenda unresolved.

Unresolved problems, be they of an economic, social, cultural or environmental nature, do not remain static; they fester, grow, and spread like weeds.

The process is gradual, and people inevitably adapt to the conditions created.

Promises based on political ideology have failed to materialize. In Savoie’s words, “the notion that public administration could be made to operate like private sector management has been misguided, [and] recent management reforms in government have been costly to taxpayers.”

He maintains that the concentration of political powers “has caused some power to move out of national governments, drifting up to international or regional trade agreements or organizations, and down to local government.”

In other words, communities are left to deal with problems which are the consequence of economic, social, cultural and environmental neglect by federal and provincial governments who avoid making decisions on matters which are their constitutional responsibility.

The impacts of that neglect surface in communities who have neither the resources nor the constitutional authority to deal with the consequences of their government’s ideology.

Governments have lost sight of the common good.

Thus, when a local issue arouses my interest, authors such as Piketty and Chibber paint a picture for me of the social, economic, and cultural history of the issue, and Savoie helps me understand how it all fits into Canada’s current political reality.

Forming an opinion and reaching a conclusion at this point is not a problem.

The problem is boiling my thoughts down to 630 words, a problem made worse by authors such as Joseph Heath and his philosophical explorations in Enlightenment 2.0 of the social and environmental preconditions for rational thought.

Maybe if I took up tweeting I would learn to express my thoughts in 140 characters.