SpruceRoots - Transcript No.1
September 2, 2002

Leadership & the Environment

John Broadhead: Welcome one and all to the Visitors Information Centre in Queen Charlotte. It is good to be here for a community event, thank you Gwaii Haanas.

Many of us first met their Excellencies three years ago, when they were merely excellent company here on their honeymoon. It is wonderful to see you here again and I speak for everyone -- welcome to our community.

These are interesting times we live in, there are profound changes on the horizon. As residents of Haida Gwaii we are grappling with many issues -- forestry and fishing, offshore oil and gas, land use planning, sustainability of Island culture and our way of life and perhaps most significant and touching on all of these issues -- the aborginal rights and title of the Haida, and the many implications for governance on Haida Gwaii.

A while back Gowgaia Institute thought it might be helpful to launch a series of events where we would invite leading thinkers to share their thoughts on these topics and their ideas for inventing a better, more sustainable future here.

We are fortunate to be launching this first event with His Excellency John Ralston Saul. Mr Saul is an essayist and novelist who has been described as "one of today's great visionaries" and whose award-winning books over the past two decades have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

His titles include -- Voltaire's Bastards and The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, The Unconscious Civilization and Reflections of a Siamese Twin.

Mr. Saul's works have been variously described as: a hand grenade disguised as a book, a big juicy mudpie in the face of conventional wisdom and, a new way of thinking that is frequently funny, often ironic and always provocative

Please join me in welcoming and inviting His Excellency John Ralston Saul to say a few words.


His Excellency John Ralston Saul: Thankyou, Chief Skidegate, Guujaaw, John Broadhead, and Ernie Gladstone. Ladies and gentlemen.

We were last in this building, the headquarters of Gwaii Haanas, some three years ago. We were here to get a lesson on how to be responsible citizens travelling inside the Park. It's great to be back with all of you tonight. This is the beginning of our official visit to Haida Gwaii, only our second visit here. On the other hand, if you remember a trip as specifically as we remember that first visit, it must mean that the Islands truly marked you. Ever since that day, we have been coming back and seeing more of Haida Gwaii. Of course, we had no idea at the time that it would be under these circumstances.

Yes, this is an official visit, but we also feel that we're coming back to a place where we know many of you, have made friendships which we have kept up through the mail, e-mail, and telephone. After a first visit, it becomes possible to begin learning more even while you are away. Suddenly, everything you read about Haida Gwaii has a different, real logic to it.

Of course, anyone who comes here is struck by how remarkable a place it is and how beautiful a place, but IÕve also come to feel that Haida Gwaii is in a process of becoming one of the most exciting places in Canada in terms of the way in which Canadians are rethinking how we are going to run the country, how we are going to live together, how we are going to make sense of who we are, who we were and who we will be in the future, both as communities and as societies and as economies.

I personally believe that one of the things which makes the situation here so exciting is that it is part of a larger movement in Canada. Over the last quarter century, we have been living a major revival of both aboriginal culture and the aboriginal role at the centre of Canadian society. Sometimes this is not absolutely clear to people who live in a number of our cities. It is also unclear to many people because it is a natural tendency of modern media -- and this is actually not a criticism, but an observation of reality -- to focus on what doesn't work rather than on what does work. We all know that there are major problems in parts of our aboriginal community.

On the other hand, many other things are going extremely well. If you travel around the country and pay attention to what is going on around you, you realise that something astonishing is happening in many parts of the country. Aboriginal peoples are finding their way back into the centre of the Canadian debate and the Canadian experience. All across what might be called the near north, new relationships are being forged with local communities. Non-aboriginals are looking around and saying, "We're not leaving. Who else lives here is not leaving?" The natural answer to this is the aboriginal peoples. From this simple observation of reality, these new alliances are being formed.

What is so fascinating, if you have the privilege of travelling permanently around the country, is that you realise how little news has spread about this change. And yet it is there and it is real and it is happening. In fact, I think it's worth standing back from the history of the last 30 odd years in order to look at this evolution. If you do, what you find is first an agreement in James Bay with the federal government and the Quebec government. You can now see that it was a whole step forward out of the past and into a new model. It was a tentative step because nobody was sure what might work and what might not work. We were recently in Nunuvik, which is the Inuit territory of Northern Quebec. The Northern Cree and these Inuit were the beneficiaries of the first James Bay agreement. It was astonishing to discover to what extent this has been a success story.

A few thousand Inuit living in the large and difficult territory were given 30 odd million dollars in order to reorganise their lives. They invested heavily in their own communities and the result is that these are now among the best organised and best looking towns in Northern Canada. In addition to making these investments with the 30 million, they also managed to turn it into approximately 150 million dollars today. When I hear people worrying in the south about the implications of new multiple levels of government, I always rush to say to them that they should not worry so much. Instead, they should try to have a look at what has already been done. Nunuvik has been there for three decades and it works.

You could then move your eye onto Nunuvut, a more recent and also fascinating experiment. Here, we are witnessing an attempt to govern a part of Canada in a whole new way. People are happily embracing new concepts of multiple-level government. This is perhaps the only place in Canada where the idea of decentralisation is really taken seriously. Even with their small population they are now running the territory from a series of headquarter towns very distant one from the other. It is a fascinating experiment.

Then you might turn your eye to the Nisga'a territory. Throw your mind back to the year preceding the signing of the Nisga'a agreement. You will remember that there was a very uncertain debate about what would happen, what the different levels of government would mean, who would gain and who would lose power, who would own what, who would pay taxes where. And yet the moment the agreement was signed and put in place, it became apparent to pretty much everyone in the area that it was going to be easy and a success story; that it was a danger to nobody.

You could then turn to the most recent agreements in Quebec -- they might be called James Bay Two. Again, you have the sense that another leap forward has been taken and that the central role of aboriginals in defining the use of territory is being increasingly taken as normal.

In other words, over the last 30 years, we have seen a series of leaps forward or chapters, if you like; the James Bay agreement, Nunuvut, the NisgaÕa, James Bay again. And now I think the next leap may well be here, on Haida Gwaii. One of the reasons is that there is a whole new approach towards the relationship between the Haida community and the non-Haida community. People are thinking openly about how they can live -- these communities can live together. This is fascinating not only for people here, but for people elsewhere in Canada. I think that it is important for people in Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver to open their eyes and open their ears in order to understand the kinds of conversations which are taking place right across Canada in what IÕve already called the near North. We all know that environmental questions are central to what will happen to Canada over the next few decades. I don't think there is anything romantic about saying that the return of the key player to the table -- the aboriginal peoples -- will be essential to making the right environmental decisions. Not because aboriginals will always automatically be right on this question, but because aboriginals are one of the key players in the ownership of land and in actually living on the land which is at the centre of the environmental debates.

Allow me a slight detour from the main argument. We have suffered greatly from the false, the rational and falsely scientific approaches which have tended to be put forward by the social sciences. I feel free to say this since I was trained, more or less, as a social scientist. We have suffered greatly from a false and large specialisation, which tries to divide up analyses which actually are part of a whole. WhatÕs more, we've been stuck in a kind of analysis based upon a theoretically scientific measurement when, in fact, what weÕre dealing with is social patterns or social behaviour. And patterns of social behaviour are not very measurable nor scientific. One of the tendencies of this approach has been to examine people according to categories alone. And so French Canadians/Quebecers are thought of in one way and aboriginals are thought of in another way and so on. Of course, there are multiple particularities. But the difficulty with this linear, measuring approach is that it ends up giving the impression of a society run entirely upon community self-interest and upon numbers, the numbers inside each group. In fact countries only very partially are run on the basis of the percentage of the population which various communities represent.

One of the interesting things about Canada is the permanent tension between population numbers and territorial size. The fact is that an overwhelming percentage of the country is occupied by a tiny percentage of the population. That means that this small percentage of population has a particular responsibility for that large part of the territory. In almost all of those areas aboriginals represent close to 50 percent or more than 50 percent of the population. If you add to that provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, you find that even in Southern Canada, a large part of the territory will soon have close to a 50 percent or more aboriginal population. In other words, a very large part of the country, both in north and in south, will soon be 50 percent or more aboriginal. I think that this development is essential for our national sanity. As I've said before, this country was put together in the 19th Century on the basis of a triangular foundation of aboriginals, francophones and anglophones. It is not a new country. It is an old country. It is the second or third oldest continuous democracy in the world. It is a country which has an experience of over 400 years which involves happy and unhappy Cupertino between aboriginals, francophones and anglophones.

For most of the first 250 years, the aboriginals were the strongest party. For long periods, they were an equal party. In other words, the triangular foundations spread back over more than four centuries. That is the basis upon which we have built our civilisation. That is the basis upon which we have been able to add floor after floor -- wave after wave -- of new immigrants to the country. If these floors hold in place, it is because they are based upon a profound and stable construction. And one of the three pillars holding this whole building up is, as it has always been, aboriginal. For a hundred years, more or less from 1850 on, two of the pillars have attempted to deny the existence of the third. Had we been successful in removing that pillar, the whole building would have tipped over. In fact, we have been unsuccessful and now that pillar is making its return to the mainstream of Canadian politics and to its role as a great supporting full element in Canadian civilisation.

Let me add that one of the reasons we have had so much difficulty over the last years in dealing with the reality that we are a great northern nation -- perhaps the great northern nation -- is that we have been in denial about the role of that part of the population which lived to a great extent in the northern part of our country. We had sunk into the delusion that we were an European/American style nation-state based on 18th century rational principles.

In many ways, this is the least European country in the world. Places such as Australia and Brazil and South Africa have a great deal in common with us because they combine the elements of large urban centres and large territory. We simply cannot use the European/American 18th and 19th century model of the nation-state when you attempt to think about Canada. Canada only works as a concept of a nation-state if you accept the necessary and happy tension between population and place. If you say that Canada is where the people live, then you simply do not have a country. You cannot have everyone living in a handful of cities and believe that that is all that matters and maintain control over the vast and ignored territory. There is no such thing as a vacuum in geopolitics. If the Canadian people do not fill that intellectual and mythological and emotional vacuum, then somebody else will.

So the return to the centre of the Canadian debate of the aboriginal people means that we can once again talk sensibly about our triangular foundation and the totality of our territory. Let me add something to this, which is not said very often. If we have had such a close relationship -- successful and unsuccessful -- from the early 1600s on, then it is not at all surprising that the nature of the Canadian civilisation has been profoundly marked by the close relationship between the aboriginals and the European immigrants. That close relationship profoundly affected the way in which the original mixed society and now the more complex society, with immigrants from all over the world, would act and think.

We endlessly talk about ourselves as a British parliamentary democracy with a British legal system. We are neither a British parliamentary democracy nor do we have a British legal system. We have systems which are the product of this 400 years of experience. Think about the ways in which the Europeans have solved their problems over the last four centuries. It is a story of civil wars, of banned religions, of banned languages, and of centralised power. They have murdered each other by the millions. They have slipped into almost perpetual violence in order to produce clear monolithic answers. The 18th to 19th century European/American idea of the nation-state has many positive aspects. But its most unfortunate aspect was the desire for monolithic answers and clarity. To create monolithic clarity in a society where there is none, you can but devote yourself to exclusion. This means a state of force and of artificially enforced balance. Until 1945, this was the European pattern.

In Canada -- flawed though it has always been -- we have moved increasingly over the last 150 years towards abandoning the idea of monolithic answers and clarity. We have moved towards endlessly talking about how to put people together in our country. We are still talking about how to do that. I hope we will still be talking about it when I die. We wonÕt have solved any of these central problems of clarity, but on the other hand, we still won't have had a civil war. In fact, since Confederation, we have killed in political strife among us approximately 85 people. That is 85 too many. But it's a long way away from the American Civil War. And it's a long way away from the 10,000 black Americans killed in the 100 years following the civil war through civil political violence. It's a long way away from the histories of Northern Ireland and Corsica and the Basque country. So this methodology of talking and not seeking rational clarity is a very unusual approach. Where did it come from? It certainly didn't come from the tradition of British parliamentary law and democracy, both of which have had a centralising and clarifying trajectory. It certainly didn't come out of the French tradition, which has been all about centralised and clear answers. So where did it come from? I believe it came out of the aboriginal tradition. It came out of hundreds of years of trying to deal with our problems by continuing to talk. That is a single example of the profound effect of living with aboriginals on the Canadian civilisation. I could go on and on giving you examples of the ways in which our laws and our debates and our democracy have been marked by the relationships between the three founding civilisations.

Think simply about the way in which we run our federal-provincial relationships. It is so profoundly marked by our past that we are unable to admit it, largely because our pretence was that aboriginals were no longer central to our civilisation.

Now is the moment to come to terms with the reality of our history. You can see now clearly that this triangular foundation is as essential to contemporary society as it was to Canadian society one, two or three centuries ago. We should come to terms with this reality and be happy to embrace the fact that those of us who are of European origin -- or of other origins, immigrant origins -- are far more aboriginal in our methodology than we are European. If you think of yourself in that way, it will make it far easier for you to understand consciously the nature of your civilisation.

The discovery of common interest and of deep historic common interest is a way of discovering yourself -- of rediscovering yourself. There is no doubt that there are enormous contradictions between the traditional European approach and the approaches which exist in this country. On the other hand, we don't have to choose between the two because we have both. The whole idea of rational methodology, which runs through most of the western democracies, really doesn't get you very far in Canada. In fact, anybody who thinks they can run this country on the basis of rational control doesn't last very long, because it isn't a very rational country. ThatÕs what's so interesting about it.

I often think that we make our environmental questions far more complicated than they are by pretending that we can approach them in a purely rational manner, thus in a falsely intellectual way. You increasingly see members of Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attempting desperately to sound as if they are part of the Harvard Business School. They find themselves swinging between the tree by tree or fish by fish analysis on the one hand or falling into romanticism on the other; between the certainty of false science and tree hugging. Neither are very satisfactory positions. Nor are the trees particularly interested in either approach. Both are signs of romanticism and have at their base a concept of pure human leadership. That is, both contain an assumption that humans can shape their environment at will for better or for worse. In other words, they believe that it is possible to control place. That is the 18th and 19th century European, Rousseauist idea. It simply cannot work in the real world. And it certainly cannot be applied to Canada for the simple reason that most of our territory is fundamentally uncontrollable.

What is so interesting about the situation in Haida Gwaii today is that it seems to represent a new approach towards leadership; one which is neither false science nor tree-hugging. It is also one which reminds us that history and the environment are not linear. Rather than the romantic or the utilitarian mythologies, both of which are driven by an economic theory or the rejection of it, we are finding a more practical and realistic approach which begins from the assumption that human beings wish to continue living in certain places and are not primarily driven in that wish by self-interest. You might say that they are driven primarily by a sense of themselves as inhabitants of a place and members of a community.

Yes, of course, we all have self-interest. We all need that self-interest. But it is not that which wakes us up in the morning and carries us through our family relationships and our human relationships. In a curious way, the false human science which has led to the rise of this third rate idea that human beings are driven by self-interest, is in and of itself fundamentally romantic. You might call it a dark or negative romantic view of human beings, but nevertheless romantic.

I've been talking about the stabilising and sensible effect which the return of aboriginal civilisation to the centre of the Canadian debate can have. Let me give you a local example. Here, we find a civilisation which has a role called the "fire keeper". This is one of the indications that culture is still central to the nature of the civilisation. In other words, it is not believed that culture is something for the middle class to do when they are tired on a Friday evening, after a long week at the office. In other words, culture is not perceived as something which exists merely to divert people from reality for a short period of time. In other words, culture is meant to be meaningful to society itself. Of course, it can also be entertaining, funny, and sad. But what makes it entertaining is that it is actually important and fundamental. As everybody who is in any way creative and knows, everything serious requires a little bit of entertainment about it in order for it to be taken not too seriously. Culture is a form of living memory. And as many people have said, memory is the past, the present and the future rolled into one. The way in which we express memory is through culture, through that idea of the past, the present and the future rolled into one.

Guujaaw wrote a little while ago that culture was, "something to do with bearing witness". When people say that society is driven by self-interest or technology or whatever they sell, they are completely missing the point that civilisations are about people and the circumstances in which they live and that civilisation is about people bearing witness about themselves and about where they live. And that means bearing witness about who came forth and who will follow them. Guujaaw sang a song today at the Museum about the moon. It had a line in it which went like this: "when the wind blows the image of the moon shatters on the water".

Now, if you think about any of the industries which are based upon natural resources, that is a pretty succinct description of what happens. It is there and then, suddenly, there is a wind and it shatters. It's gone. Or the environment is gone. As you can see through something as simple as a line from a song, culture is always sending new messages about the delicacy of place. Culture and ideas are constantly reminding us that leadership is not linear. Culture and ideas by their very existence remind us that management is not leadership. Management is management.

We are putting enormous energy in western civilisation into creating managers. And we do need managers. I'm not criticising them. There are some very good managers in this room. I even know some of them. Management is essential, but management is not leadership. And one of the great tragedies of western civilisation and democracy over the last few years is that we have reached the stage where we are pretending that the job of a leader is to manage. The job of a manager is to manage. The job of a leader is to lead. And you lead through ideas and through culture. That's why both ideas and culture must be integrated into our essential concept of society.

Leadership is also dependent upon the sense that you, the citizenry, individual citizens as a group, that you can actually shape your society within the limitations of reality. If you don't believe that you can shape your society, then there is no society. If you believe that the forces to shape your future lie elsewhere and that all that is going to happen to you is inevitable, well then, there is no society, there is no civilisation. In that case, you're accepting the lowest form of barbarism. If you believe that you can reach the age of voting and not have the power to shape your society, what then would be the point in voting? What would be the point in having governments if you can't shape your societies within the limits of the reality of that society?

So, one of the delusions of the last 50 years has not been globalisation, but a particular school of globalisation, which says that everything is international and at the same time is driven by economics and is inevitable. In reality, there is justice, there are standards and environmental realities and dozens of local, national and international questions which are as important or more important than economics. And most of these elements are not subject to inevitable forces. The idea that the world would be driven by inevitable, economic forces is a denial of the role of citizenry and of society. It is an idea which says: "Go on, consume, get nice clothes, have a fun life, go on holiday." Like you, I am for all of that. But it doesn't mean that that is the purpose of society.

So, leadership is dependent on the sense that you the citizens can shape your society; that you are not afraid of great global forces; that you do not believe they are inevitable or capable of preventing you from shaping your society. That is not an abstract idea. Believing that you can shape your society means believing that you can deal with local industries on a long-term basis, rather than being afraid that if you speak up and do not conform, these industries will abandon you and remove your jobs.

The reality is that the classic form of economically driven globalisation is now dead. It doesn't quite realise yet that it's dead. It's a bit like the walking dead. A zombie of certainty. People still write about it as if it were alive. But nobody really believes anymore.

That doesn't mean that internationalism is dead or that international economics is dead. Nor does it mean that international economics are uninteresting. Quite the contrary, they are extremely interesting, just as international social questions are extremely interesting and the international legal questions and international cultural questions. What is dead is that silly, late 19th century idea that only the marketplace can determine the nature of society. The nature, the signs of mortality are everywhere -- both positive and negative. There are negative signs, for example in Europe with the return of negative nationalism. We were told that that sort of negative nationalism was inevitably dead and gone; that it could never come back because everything was going to be economic and global. Suddenly out of the blue you see political forces rising which are based on negative nationalism. It wasnÕt supposed to happen. And yet, that's the funny thing about reality, it is happening.

On the positive side, there is also a massive new involvement by younger citizens in public organisations. Often these are NGOs. IÕm not judging any of these causes one way or the other. After all, there are thousands of NGOs. How could you say that you are for or against them? You would have to deal with them one by one and subject by subject. The point here is that thousands of young people have suddenly engaged themselves publicly on a wide variety of issues in a parallel set of structures which are local, national and international. They believe that in this way, they can change society. Even though this is not directly related to democracy, it is a sign at its most fundamental level, citizens believe in the power of citizen engagement.

But these two phenomenon contain within them an essential threat to democracy. The negative nationalism belongs to an old anti-democratic tradition. And the new parallel involvement of the citizens also involves a rejection of mainstream democracy. If we are not careful the combination of the two could overwhelm the basic democratic function of our society. In other words, there is a great need today to deal with the questions of citizenship and leadership and commitment and involvement. If not, we could well find ourselves dragged back into a period as difficult as the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century when negative nationalism almost destroyed us. It could happen. You could blink your eyes and wake up and find that this happened.

Let me give you one example of the sort of questions which we must deal with. For many years, mainstream people have been saying that we don't have much power at the national level and that we canÕt do much because there are great, inevitable, global forces. On the one hand, this was an interesting way to minimise personal responsibility for those who had power. On the other hand, it has gradually had the effect of discouraging young people from going into public affairs. After all, why would you go into public affairs if you were told that no power lies there? And so we have seen the rise of the NGOs. Why go into mainstream politics if those in them say they do not have power? Why not go into something new, parallel and capable of being local, national and international? These movements have been remarkably successful in winning over public opinion, particularly in the environmental area. They've redefined the public imagination when it comes to the importance of the environment. But when you look around the world today, with the exception perhaps of Germany, none of these environmental movements have found their way into mainstream public life. The result is that they have enormous influence but almost no power. They do not have their hands on the levers of power. This is the classic problem for any reform movement.

Reform movements almost always start up outside of the mainstream. The successful ones, at a certain point, cross over into mainstream. But if they don't cross over at the right moment then they are usually assimilated or destroyed. Think of the successful reform movements: the women's movement, healthcare, public education. The really successful movements don't simply go into politics. They go into all parties. And in so doing, they change the shift of the debate by becoming central to the mainstream debate.

If they don't do this, then the historical lesson is that these movements begin to fritter and fall apart. Suddenly they discover that they're acting as courtiers -- now known as consultants or lobbyists. They suddenly discover that the public is more and more distrustful of them, simply because they have such enormous influence but are incapable of delivering change. Why? Because they do not have their hands on the levers of power. It is that profound differentiation between influence and power which causes these movements to fall apart.

Take a look at the makeup of the current Parliament of Canada. When you become an Minister of Parliament, you fill out a form in which you describe what you are as a professional. You describe what your interests are. Generally speaking, you are allowed to assign three categories to yourself. For example, you might be a fisherman, a housewife and a nurse. Or an economist, a painter and a manager. There are 301 members of Parliament. That means that there a possible 903 answers. In the current Parliament, two of these 903 answers are environmentalist. Now, whose fault is that? ItÕs not the fault of the people running for Parliament. It's the fault of the people not running for Parliament. You canÕt have it both ways. Power does actually lie inside the nation-state. That is the only place in which organised citizen-based democracy exists.

If you are concerned by the question of leadership in the environmental movement and you are not in a place where you can put your hands on the levers of power, then you are going to have difficulty actually shaping society. You may wish to convince the people who have been chosen by the people to follow your wishes. However, from the outside you can only be a voice from the outside. Your cause may be just but, if you are acting as a group, you are in effect lobbying those in power to follow your wishes rather than those of another group. When people say that there is no point in going into politics because there is no real power in parliamentary politics, they're making a profoundly anti-democratic argument. They are saying that there is no point in being a citizen in the nation-state.

The problem is that we cannot have it both ways. If you really believe that you want to change the political situation, then you have to go into politics. Yes, of course, that involves ruining your life. That's what politics does. You ruin your life in the name of the public good. But then, personal pleasures are worthwhile, but not necessarily the be-all and end-all of human existence.

On a more specific point, I want to remind all of us that environmentalism is tied -- not entirely, but to a great extent -- to one section of the economy. That is the commodities section. The commodities sector is very particular. All sections of the economy are not the same. And thus your production is not the same as the high tech business and neither are the same as the commodities business. One of the fundamental characteristics of the commodities is that it is a very weak economic factor when it comes to spreading wealth widely. The natural tendency of the commodities business is to concentrate wealth in a few hands and to leave the rest of the population with an unsecured and relatively low income. What's more, it is an industry which has great difficulty thinking long term. It is rarely about fundamental reinvestments. There are other industries which think medium and long term and reinvestment much more easily, for the simple reason that they have complex industrial structures. The eternal history of the exploitation of fish, of mines, of logs, of agriculture, when they are dealt with as an industrial commodity, has always been that the commodities industries use up the resources in each place they go and then move on to another place. One of the things that makes this easy to do is that its infrastructures are not complex. It simply, therefore, leaves them behind. Another related characteristic is that it has very little need of a middle-class. Note that I am not criticising the commodities sector. I am simply describing it the way it would be described in Economics 101. That's the way it functions. It has little need of a middle class. It has little need of long-term commitment. It has little need of broad and in-depth education among its workers. It is fundamentally unstable and short term. In general, this destabilising effect means that commodity-based societies have difficulty becoming stable democracies.

A number of comparisons have already been made between the Pampas in Argentina and the Prairies in Canada. The difference is that in Argentina, the government gave enormous stretches of land to single families. When the immigrants came, they became employees -- commodity employees -- of these large corporations. That meant that they could not become involved in local democracy. That led to the profound instability in Argentinean democracy -- one from which they have still not escaped. On the Canadian Prairies, on the other hand, the government handed out smallish lots of land to owner farmers. The result was the growth of local democracy and relative stability and middle-class involvement in democratic life.

What I am talking about here can be applied to dragging the bottom of our oceans for fish or to the "consolidation" of sawmills. Suddenly in the name of efficiency, a dozen or so sawmills based in communities throughout an area can simply be eliminated and replaced by a single sawmill to which raw logs are delivered. Chief Ernie Wilson of Skedans, said last night that in the 1930s there was lots of food even though it was a time of poverty. Well now there is greater prosperity but the food is dwindling away. When you analyse the situation, it is a classic evolution of a commodity-based system. My point is that commodity industries are never, in and of themselves, about stable democratic life. They are about extraction. That is not to say that these corporations are either good or evil. It isn't about ethics. It's about a type of business. Businesses are rightfully driven by self-interest. I'm not referring to the people in the businesses. I am referring to the legal construct of the industry.

One of the basic characteristics of the commodities sector is that self-interest can with difficulty be defined on a scale which takes local communities into account. Perhaps in the early days, it can take them into account for a short period of time. But in the long run, it simply cannot. This is not new. This is not the result of globalisation. This has always been the story of commodities. I could take you through the history of 19th century mining or the grain business in the Roman empire. These are fundamental characteristics of the commodities sector.

What does all of this mean? What it means is that the people who own the commodities businesses may or may not be decent people; the people who run them may or may not be decent people; the people who work for them may or may not be decent people. Whether they are or not is not really the point. The point is that businesses in the commodity sector cannot give long-term societal leadership. More generally, an organisation which is led by self-interest cannot give leadership. But, in the case of the commodities sector, the problem is more accentuated. They cannot give leadership because they cannot be fundamentally anchored in communities.

It is therefore both naive and unfair of any of us to expect them to give leadership and to expect them to act in other than a self-interested way. It is even more unfair to expect their managers to act in a disinterested way.

The only way in which those corporations and their managers are able to act in a disinterested manner is if they are helped to do so. Regulations are required in order to allow them to act in a disinterested way. That is how -- looking back through history -- Athens and Rome and China and Japan, over thousands of years, were able to build long-term, disinterested behaviour out of commodities-based economies. They did so by regulating those economies for their own good and for that of society. The purpose of regulation has always been to permit people who are driven by self-interest to act in a broader manner than mere self-interest. It was the sophistication of regulations which permits commodities-based organisations to act in an atypical manner. And that is what we have generally done in the past. The way in which we opened up the Prairies permitted atypical commodity activity. We escaped the Argentinean trap by creating certain kinds of holdings and certain kinds of trading mechanisms. That is the role of regulation: it protects the corporations from themselves. What's more, it protects them from the disastrous boom and bust cycles which historically destroy them and in the process seriously damage societies. This is particularly true of the commodities sector. These same regulations protect the employees as employees and as citizens. They protect the employees from having unlimited demands of loyalty put upon them by the corporations. This is true for managers as for workers.

Leadership is an integrated view of society, culture and economics. The problem is that the commodities dependent society is at the low end of the possibilities of that kind of leadership because of the very nature of the commodities business. Canada, therefore, has always been in an extremely fragile and difficult situation. And yet it has built itself into one of the most successful and prosperous countries in the world. We've done this by regulating -- with some success and some failure -- the commodities area over a period of more than 130 years.

Remember, the commodities area will always be the first victim of unstable markets. Anything based on extraction is fundamentally unstable. And if you look through history, you will find that the elites who end up running such sectors are rarely local elites. It's not a recent phenomenon.

I know that this community is looking beyond traditional concepts of regulation in order to deal with its own situation. You are looking for regulations which can be the tools of citizen involvement. I know that you are caught up in the midst of concepts which, today, are almost clichés. Value-added activity. Diversification. And yet these concepts are very real. Without value-added activity and diversification there is no possibility of leadership in a commodity dependent economy and in a society interested in its environment.

I understand that you are moving towards building a new museum attached to the current museum. I understand that it is going to include a learning branch which would be somehow related to UNBC. I think that that branch could become a key element in shaping the diversification and the value-added activity which you were talking about. Let me take a very simple example. You have some of the finest wood in the country here. One has only to look at those remarkable new poles which have been raised and the astonishing carving which is now part of them. This tells you that there is an historic skill here related to high-quality wood, as opposed to the mere commodities exploitation of tonnages of wood. The raising of these poles is a verbal statement about a value-added approach and culture and community. In other words, these poles are a statement about the nature of an integrated civilisation. They are a statement about shaping things. I can't think of a simpler and more logical place to begin building a complex relationship with people across Canada; the sort of people who are interested not simply in cutting down thousands of trees and turning them into pulp or cheap lumber. But the sort of people who believe that as much money as possible should be made out of each tree that is cut down. The sort of people who believe in a long-term value-added approach. That means attaching the finest work to the finest wood.

As it happens, Canada now has some of the finest modern furniture makers in the world. Sheridan College in Southern Ontario is perhaps the finest furniture making college in Canada. It is lead by people such as Michael Fortune, a remarkable furniture maker. It would be wonderful to think of people like Michael Fortune coming here once a year in order to take part in both learning and teaching the various high-quality uses to which wood can be used. What I'm talking about is a responsible, solid, long-term stable approach towards an extremely high value product.

It's worth pointing out that you have a very real psychological advantage over most other parts of Canada. I think it comes with being the citizens of an archipelago out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You are a continent onto yourselves. You do not have the illusion that the purpose of commodities is to use them up so that people can move 20 kilometres further down the road. That would be the old commodities syndrome: just keep extracting, extincting and moving on down the road. Surrounded by this ocean as you are, you all have the sense whether you are Haida or non-Haida, that this is your place; that you belong here and that you are willing to do whatever is necessary in order to remain here.

I think that this advantage will make it easier for you to deal with commodities in a different way. And if you are successful, you will teach a great lesson to the rest of Canada. That lesson will be that commodities does not have to mean a perpetual road show with logging towns or mining towns gradually slipping down the road. If you succeed in this, you will have also shown that, at the philosophical level, the European/American rational model of linear leadership simply doesn't need to apply in places such as this. After all, there are all sorts of other models available in this country. They come out, as I said earlier, of our triangular foundation and our four centuries of a rather unusual tradition. I also said earlier that Canada has always been part of a non-monolithic approach. It isn't hard to imagine then that it would be natural for Canadians to evolve commodities models which are atypical and could be applied in different parts of the country in different ways.

Now, I would admit that most of our society is obsessed by the European/American models of specialisation which tend to be developed by our mainstream universities. The result is that as we have grown richer so we have -- curiously -- been increasingly sucked into an old-fashioned European/American model. In a certain sense we have gradually lost the originality of the approach which has allowed us to become so prosperous even though we have been so dependent on commodities.

What I'm trying to say tonight is that there are profound lessons in the experiences of the Northern Cree, the Nunuvik Inuit and the Nunuvut Inuit and the Nisga'a. They have shown us that there are other models and that these models can work. What's more, they are perfectly natural continuations of the non-monolithic model which Canada has been working on for some over 150 years, if not for over 400 years.

That is because Canada has never been based upon monolithic models. It has always been about complexity and multiplicity. This can be a great advantage to us when faced by something as frightening as that of commodities and their tendency to run out if exploited in the classical manner. This can frighten us because there are no official economic stories which tell us that there are other ways of dealing with this situation.

The key to the idea of leadership in the environmental area and in society in general is that you must find ways to integrate people and place. That tension of people and place is something which comes relatively naturally to Canadians, if they wish to take advantage of it. That is one of our great advantages. It is something which is very difficult for the Europeans in particular. They are still very much caught in the 18th and 19th century model, which is all about people dominating place. You have only to look at the serious floods in Europe last month in order to realise the extent to which they are trapped in that falsely rational approach.

Let me end this talk where I began it. As a non-aboriginal, I believe that I carry hundreds of years of aboriginal influence. Much of it is so integrated into my being that it is unconscious. What's more, as a non-aboriginal, I believe that the strongest ally I have as an individual citizen, for stability in Canada and for developing this country in an interesting and unusual way which is true to the place is the return of the aboriginal peoples and their cultures to a mainstream role in Canadian society. Howa.

His Excellency John Ralston Saul

Click here for an interview with John Ralston Saul conducted by SpruceRoots' Ian Lordon.