But it's a duly elected government. It has the right to do these things, does it not?
Not quite. Not according to the "public trust" doctrine that traces back to Roman times.
In the final episode Thursday of Bill Moyers’ long-running interview show, legal scholar Mary Christina Wood, author of the book “Nature’s Trust,” traced use of the public trust doctrine through American history and all the way back to Rome.
“The heart of the approach,” Wood explained, is “that government is a trustee of the resources that support our public welfare and survival. And so a trust means that one entity or person manages a certain wealth, an endowment, so to speak, for the benefit of others. And in the case of the public trust, the beneficiaries are the present and future generations of citizens. So it is a statement of, in essence, public property rights that have been known since Roman times.
“In fact, this was articulated by the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a landmark public trust decision last year. And the decision basically overturned a statute that the Pennsylvania Legislature had passed to promote fracking. And the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Chief Justice Castille, said this violates the public trust. And he began his opinion by saying that citizens hold inalienable environmental rights to assure the habitability of their communities.
“And that these are ensconced in the social contract that citizens make with government. They cannot be alienated. They are inherent and reserved. So they are of a constitutional nature. And the point of the public trust is that the citizens hold these constitutional rights in an enduring natural endowment that is supposed to support all future generations of citizens in this country. It is so basic to democracy; in fact, the late Joseph Sax said the trust distinguishes a society of citizens from serfs.”
I do have to admit that, under the darkness of the Harper regime, I have been feeling decidedly serf-like. It's all for today, for someone else. The future be buggered. Our grandkids can inherit a despoiled Canada that we've bequeathed to them. Unlike Norway, we'll have nothing but ruinous debt and ecological devastation to pass along when it's their turn to take over.
Maybe, just maybe, we'll become inspired by activists in other lands to demand accountability from our political classes. Maybe.