Blog | April 17, 2012

By Archie McLean, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - John Ralston Saul has some advice for Albertans thrashing their way through the thicket of competing rhetoric this election season.“What citizens have to do in elections is stay very, very cool. Stay cool and listen very carefully to what people are saying,” Ralston Saul said Sunday. “Ask themselves very realistic questions about what (a policy) will really do, what is the history, how will this really work?”Ralston Saul, a Canadian author and philosopher, has spent much of his career studying language and democracy. He returns to Alberta this week for speeches in Edmonton Thursday and Calgary as part of Public Interest Alberta’s annual advocacy conference.As the son of a Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry officer, Ralston Saul spent part of his childhood in Alberta and refers to himself jokingly as a Manitoba-Albertan-Ontarian.His speech will focus on language, which he says has lost its power.With cable news, the Internet and social media, there’s certainly more speech than ever. But that speech may not actually amount to much.“It is not at all clear that these words are able to change things,” he said.Ralston Saul pointed to rhetoric around debt and deficits. Despite historical evidence that austerity during an economic crisis does not lead to prosperity, it continues to be the dominant response from government.Particularly in Europe and the United States, debt incurred by private companies has been shifted onto the public books, which has given governments an excuse to cut programming, thereby worsening the crisis.“That’s a failure of language meaning anything,” he said. “The only way you can hold people accountable is if language works.”In Alberta and Canada, we may be doing better economically, but Ralston Saul said citizens shouldn’t be too smug about the reasons.“If we’re doing better, it’s not because we’re smarter. It’s because pure chance put us on some land that has a lot of natural resources,” he said. “Having a lot of natural resources is not a sign of intelligence.”Ralston Saul added that Albertans should not buy into a monolithic view of the province. He pointed specifically to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as offering an alternative, more nuanced, urban, vision of the province and its future.Ralston Saul, who is married to former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, was elected in 2009 as the president of PEN international, the first North American to hold the post in more than 50 years. His term expires this year but hasn’t yet decided if he’ll try for another three years.For more information about the speech, see Public Interest Alberta’s website.By Archie McLean, Edmonton Journal.
amclean@edmontonjournal.comThis article was published in the Edmonton Journal on April 16, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.