Gordon Laxer's Acceptance Speech on the occasion of receiving

the Alberta Teachers Association Award

Edmonton

May 19, 2007

 

It is a great honour to receive this award on behalf of Parkland Institute.

 

Parkland is a non-profit research network which conducts education and research for the common good. We receive no university funding, but are grateful for in-kind support. Parkland is funded by professional organizations like the ATA. We are thankful for your steady, long-term support. Parkland is also supported by unions, and over 600 individual members.

 

The latter is very important. It is not enough for peak organizations like the ATA, to support Parkland’s work. To do our work effectively, Parkland needs the support of more individual Albertans. And who could be better individual members than teachers?

 

The role of Parkland and teachers is the same. The goal is to fashion socially and critically engaged citizens: teachers within the classroom, Parkland amongst the public at large. My own role as a Political Economy professor at the University of Alberta and Parkland’s Director, is to wear both hats.

 

Parkland has done research and books about education – such as Contested Classrooms. Education, Globalization and Democracy in Alberta. Parkland also researches issues of privatization versus public, not-for-profit services in the areas of education and health care.

 

We also do public education – speakers events like Linda McQuaig’s talk May 7 on her new book – Holding the Bully’s Coat.

 

Or co-sponsoring a course with Community Service Learning on ‘Oil and Community’ every Thursday in May and early June at U of A. It’s a credit course for students, and at the same time, open to the public to attend.

 

Parkland’s fall conferences are our major public education event of the year.

 

Last fall’s conference was on ‘Power for the People. Determining our Energy Future’. This fall’s conference will be on ‘From Crisis to Hope: Building Just and sustainable Communities.’

 

We would love to see more high school students at Parkland’s fall conferences.

 

Perhaps a competition or an award, to send the best grade 12 social studies student in each class in the Edmonton area, or perhaps from farther a field too. How can we make this happen?

 

It would be lovely to see more teachers at the conference too. How can we do this? Write Ricardo Acuña or Cheri Harris at parkland@ualberta.ca

 

A major problem we face in Alberta is the relentless attack on the public sphere, denigrating its worth, trying to replace it with the law of the market place. He who has the most money can buy the best health care or education. The idea of public health care, public services, supports for the poor, or public education is anathema to many in the political and economic elites, including those from the corporate controlled media.

 

They just don’t like the idea that everyone, as a matter of citizenship, has a right to the same level of public service, including education - that income level should not bar anyone.

 

Parkland is involved in formulating new ideas about the common good, democracy and the commons.

 

Our role is to push the envelope of what can be debated in Alberta, to broaden the alternatives which are considered. There is resistance to broadening the debate.

 

George Orwell said that “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

 

The right to tell those in power things they did not want to hear was put to the test on May 10 when I presented as an invited witness at the international trade committee of the House of Commons.

 

The following was the Calgary Herald’s May 16 introduction to their publishing of my testimony, which the committee chair attempted to  suppress:

 

‘Manifesto infuriates Tories’

 

A storm of controversy erupted on Parliament Hill last Thursday over testimony that Conservatives tried to prevent from being presented at the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade. Committee Chair Tory MP Leon Benoit interrupted University of Alberta professor Gordon Laxer, who was arguing that Canadians will be left "to freeze in the dark" if the government forges ahead with plans to integrate energy supplies across North America. He was expressing concerns about the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a 2005 accord by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to streamline economic and security rules across the continent. When Benoit ordered Laxer to halt his testimony, opposition MPs overruled Benoit's ruling, and he stormed out. The Liberal vice-chair presided over the rest of the meeting.

 

Here was the first paragraph of my testimony, which immediately set off the Conservative members:

 

‘I don't understand why Canada is discussing helping to ensure American energy security when Canada has no energy policy, and no plans or enough pipelines, to get oil to eastern Canadians during an international supply crisis.’

 

Sometimes, attempts to squelch unwanted viewpoints backfires, and perspectives which do not usually air on the corporate, mainstream media, break through.

 

Because of the clumsy attempted suppression, The Edmonton Journal, and the Calgary Herald ran my testimony May 16.

 

Other media took up the story and my argument too.

 

Controversy can be good. It can allow the public to debate a wider range of options than they are normally exposed to.

 

That’s what democracy is about. To continually strive to attain its ideal – rule by the people. Now wouldn’t that be nice.

 

Knowledge is subversive in the best sense. It challenges the pretensions and justifications of inordinate power. The powerful almost always want to suppress knowledge. They want everyone to accept the beliefs which keep the powerful and the rich in their privileged places, even if it means for example, that people can’t find a house to rent in booming Alberta.

 

Once citizens have the knowledge, and feelings of empowerment, they can free themselves from the existing ideas promoted by the powerful. Why should the freedom of the marketplace take precedence over every citizen’s right to have adequate shelter?

 

We are in a war for ideas.

 

I would like to thank the ATA once again for this award. We are deeply honoured and look forward to many more years of working hand-in-hand with the teachers of this province.

 

If you wish to take part directly in Parkland’s work, please write Ricardo Acuña at Parkland, or go to Parkland’s website www.ualberta.ca/parkland.

 

I want to finish with an inspiring quote:

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead.