Let’s start a national debate

Public policy and regulation among subjects of winter Partners in Learning discussions

The winter season of Partners in Learning, a discussion group that meets at the Southcott Pines clubhouse, runs Wednesdays from Jan. 13 to Feb. 10 and then March 3 to 31. This season’s topics include Science, Serving the Public Interest?; Has Big Brother Gone Too Far?; Theatre, Behind the Scenes; and The World of Books. Socrates Café runs Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. every other week from Feb. 4 to April 1.

“Has Big Brother Gone Too Far”
Molly Russell, moderator

I find that hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear on the news that there is some law being instituted to “protect” the public. I think these laws have gotten out of hand. That’s the premise of my course.

Give me some examples.
For instance, when the actress went skiing in Quebec and died of a head injury, they wanted to bring in a law that said everyone has to wear a ski helmet all of the time. And people are saying, come on, that’s too much.
Seat belts are another example. Most people would agree that seat belts are probably a good thing, and they have saved lives. My mother was in a car crash, and in those days (1952), they didn’t require seatbelts. My dad was saved because he had the steering wheel. But my mother was tossed from the car and she died. So seatbelts are at least rational for most people.
Another one: people were in a boat, and had lifejackets in the boat. The boat capsized and they weren’t wearing them, and one of them drowned. So now in a boat you have to wear a jacket at all times. How are you going to get a suntan or swim off the boat in your bikini, etc.?
To protect us, they put laws in, but they base it on a small part of the population. What are they really afraid of? I think people are afraid of being sued. (Demonstrating a coffee cup cardboard sleeve) This is from VIA Rail. They decided they had to do this to protect people from the heat of the cup. Is this really necessary? It’s very costly.

But laws are made by people. How do these laws come into place if people don’t think they’re a good idea?
I disagree with that statement. Laws are not made by people; laws are made by politicians. And politicians wish to be reelected. They get on bandwagons and lose the rationality that’s really behind a lot of human behaviour. Most people would say there is too much regulation because we are not making these laws, but are subject to these laws.

So what would you like to see? What is the solution?
I’m going to throw that out to the participants. I think there are two things: one, the politician thing; and two, people protecting themselves from being sued. Should we have people sign a waiver saying, if they get hit by a car and they’re not wearing a helmet, that they can’t sue?
The problem lies where laws infringe upon my freedom. Human beings are individuals. Every one is different. You can’t do a blanket law and treat everyone the same.
I feel we need more examples of people taking responsibility for their actions, and not having Big Brother telling them what to do.

Science, Serving the Public Interest?
Mike Ash, moderator
It’s exploring whether science supports or doesn’t support the benefit of society. And how that connects with public policy because public policy gets formulated by interest groups and input from the public, but also hard information – let’s call that science. How do those things all connect?

What are some issues you are looking at that are hot topics influenced by public policy?
With the Copenhagen conference going on, what is science telling us about the future of the environment and sustainability? This is probably one of the areas we will explore. For 20 years, scientists have been warning us about global warning, but why hasn’t this translated into public opinion and public policy action to make a change and an improvement? What’s the problem there?
How is science providing information to predicting the future or the formulation of public policy that supports the public interest?
How well can we predict the future? Do we believe these predictions? Does the public understand what science is telling them? How good is science at communicating that to the public? Why are there contradictions in scientific evidence, for example when one group says one thing and another says the opposite?

Why is this topic important right now in Grand Bend?
I think probably because there’s so much conflicting information out there and I think there might be a perception that science isn’t held in the esteem it once was. Why is that? We need to know why we can’t have fact based, research based decision making for the betterment of society. I know people think that happens a lot, but I’m not sure society is taking full advantage of scientific information.
Certainly locally, there are some issues to talk about. Wind energy; are there really health issues related to wind energy?
One interesting topic might be whether public opinion and public interest are one in the same. This comes across in the balance of the welfare of individuals and special interest groups and society overall. How does that translate into the best solutions and policies overall?
Today, public input seems to be dominated by opinion and communication through social networking tools. Fact based decisions are less, rather than more, common at all levels of society. Today, with the Internet, anyone can put out information and sway the public without any basis in fact.

It’s a challenging and demanding topic, and I think it will be very interesting for the group.

To register, visit partnersinlearning.ca