(This isn’t a story about an imminent zombie apocalypse—any conclusions you make along this line of thought are purely coincidental.)
Like you, I spend a lot of my days in meetings (just a lucky guess). A couple of weeks ago, someone used a term that I had never heard of before. And, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The person said something like this, “It’s hard to do anything with all of the NIMBYs and cavemen.” I was immediately curious—we’re all familiar with the Not In My Backyard types (NIMBY). Cavemen though? I took the bait. “What’s a caveman? Well, what are cavemen in this context,” I asked.
“Citizens Against Virtually Everything or C.A.V.E.MEN.” (If we are being politically correct we could say, cavepeople or persons, but perhaps we can slip up, just this once.) Cavemen is such a perfect term. We’ve let them back in our lives and we didn’t even know. They just snuck right up on us at work, in our communities, at our schools, at the hockey arena and on the soccer pitch.
Now, you ask, how is this connected to the election on October 19? Here’s another question: has anyone noticed decision paralysis, phobia of action or policy astigmatism this past decade or so? Does anyone remember an election that was based on a vision for our future and not just over deficit spending or balancing a budget? Even Stéphane Dion had a vision!
We are moving further and further into a state of custodial governing. And, the cavemen are to blame (well, at least partially).
How did this happen?
First, technology has allowed cavemen to find each other. Social networks allow them to create a soapbox—a soapbox that can be discovered in seconds. They can align themselves with their NIMBY brethren and even “principled” opposition that at least have a foundation in evidence or values.
Second is the media. It doesn’t matter if the cavemen represent 0.0001 per cent of the population. The 10 commandments of story production requires that you have to find someone that opposes any change and present their perspective, often with equal air time.
Third is the media, again. Sorry, media! We’ve equated any spending today as being questionable. It actually doesn’t even have to be billions to be a story. Sometimes a glass of orange juice is all it takes to end a career. Allow me an indulgence to extend this out a bit. Let’s pretend that 24 Sussex was in dire need of renovations. Even if the National Capital Commission objectively estimated that this might take $15 to $20 million, which prime minister would ever want that cost associated with them? No one seeking reelection. Does anyone in the U.S. think twice about the costs of maintaining the White House or Air Force One?
So when we combine cavemen, NIMBY, principled opposition and spending hysteria, what do we get? Much ado about nothing.
Imagine if we had Norway’s vision for how to handle our energy resources? What’s that you say? I mean who would want to create a trillion-dollar-investment fund that allows continuous investment in our nation’s future? We can’t even build a pipeline to safely transport our resources. No one argues about the carbon costs or safety risks of the only remaining alternatives of transport via rail and highways. Let’s not kid ourselves—transportation will continue in these ways, until there is an alternative. Just look at Montreal—inaction, passing the buck and a lack of vision has led to crumbling infrastructure across the city.
What’s the solution? It won’t be easy. We need to let our leaders lead and push them for a real vision. We need to shine a light on the cavemen for what they are. We need to hold the media to account. We need to be bigger than that metaphorical glass of orange juice.
We need to take smart risks to build the Canada we want—whether it be a national drug plan, a broader pension plan, an innovation plan like Balsillie proposes, or a redo of our relations with our indigenous partners. Lower taxes is not a vision. On its own, a balanced budget is a gold medal in custodial government.
The cavemen are winning and we’re letting them. Unfortunately, if we continue down this path, we risk becoming cavemen ourselves.
So when you’re skimming through your social feeds, or consuming the news, look for the cavemen. They’re there. For us to move forward we must continue to evolve with or without them.