Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cochrane speaks out

It's unusual for a prominent media personality provide an insightful longitudinal analysis of the public environment in any manner other than bland and innocuous.

Then there was the presentation delivered by David Cochrane at a recent Board of Trade luncheon. He was good enough to release the text of it to Meeker on Media so the rest of us who couldn't make it to the event could check it out.

Read it here, then read it again.

I've heard him speak before and he again touched on a favorite theme of his - in the conflict between politics and business, business stays silent.

And it's not for the reason you might think; business is not wholeheartedly behind the controversial business policies of this government at all.

Rather, as Cochrane points out, the local business community prefers to complain about government policies privately and to thereby vacate the public battlefield to leave the politicians dominant instead of participating in the debate on the best direction of the province.

When you take them aside to ask why, besides the fear of some kind of unspecified retribution for public criticism of the premier and his government, the most common reason local business leaders offer is fear of that magic number of 70% support for the premier.

The problem with that is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as the business community stifles itself and leave their position unstated, the government's point of view will always dominate because that's all that the population ever hears.

We have to remember that these popular support numbers don't always mean what we think they do and that they can change on a dime: in 1988, Premier Peckford received massive popular support for Meech Lake and just 12 months later Premier Wells received massive popular support while holding an exactly opposite position.

And while you would think the Boards of Trade or provincial Chamber of Commerce would have something to say about a government which has repeatedly turned down opportunities for economic development with bland platitudes about "no more giveaways", they don't.

Instead they respond with bland platitudes of their own and indulge in safe debates on a new statutory holiday in February.

And by doing that they let down their members, they harm the body politic by failing to exercise their role in the public life of our province and have no claim to call themselves business leaders.

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