(Published as a column in the AM News on Friday June 20, 2014)

To protectTwo issues are topping this week’s hot list. One local – the imminent closure of Stuart Wood Elementary – and one provincial, the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

As it happens, they seem to have at least two common denominators. The first is that they will affect more than the present generations and they will cause changes to the landscape as we know it.

The second is that such decisions require open and extended public consultations and a strong dose of critical thinking in order to be deemed acceptable by the majority of people, an important safeguarding feature of any democracy.

The Stuart Wood imminent closure has brought forth a sad reality and it extends past the walls of the actual heritage building. The downtown needs a public English-speaking elementary school. Lloyd George is a French immersion school that could be converted, once again, to a dual track. Or another site can be considered as a potential location for a new school.

Should the school close, the whole face of the downtown will change; its vibrancy will suffer and new families may be deterred from moving in, knowing that they’ll have to buss their children to a school up the hill.

As the saying goes, when there is a will, there is a way. In this case, it could be paved with some solid critical thinking bricks leading to a result that will benefit families with young children and all residents who want their community to stay as vibrant as ever. Schools can do that.

As for the Northern Gateway pipeline, yes, it was approved. No big surprise there.

The decision was made after an independent panel reviewed scientific data, the PM said, and yes, it is supposed to bring tremendous economic growth and create new jobs.

And who in their right mind would stand in the way of economic growth and more jobs (though opponents argue that more existing ones will be lost should the pipeline happen)?

The answer is no one; if it’s done right, that is.

By the looks of it, there are still multiple issues regarding the pipeline. Will the jobs (most of them temporary, let’s not forget that, once the pipeline is built) be given to Canadians, and how much of the revenue will stay in the province?

Yet he ultimate question and most important is, of course, how much is the pristine beauty of that area of the province is worth, should a spill occur. You simply cannot put a price to that or risk it in any way.

According to Nature Canada, the oldest nature conservation charity in Canada, a pipeline has an estimated ‘one in four chance of a major spill during its lifespan.’ Any risk of a spill is too much.

The process leading to the final decision was anything but responsible, according to a group of 300 unapologetic scientists who called the Northern pipeline report flawed and useless. Environmental groups, regular citizens and a coalition of BC aboriginal groups openly opposed the project, saying that the pipeline should not happen.

Too much to risk, they say and not enough to gain.

Here’s an analogy: imagine you’re standing on a cliff by the water, ready to jump in. You are a good swimmer, but there are boulders that can hurt you as you jump. Some say the risk is minimal, the risk too small to count, others say the risk is high and the effects irreversible; they say you shouldn’t. Would you still jump?

Critical thinking is what we employ in making decisions. From every day small ones to big, monumental ones that are to be reflected onto many generations to come as well as the present ones, and also sealing the fate of the place we call home, province and country-wide both.

We tell our kids to think before they act and be ready to face the consequences. But if consequences are not immediate, as in this case, who will be facing them?

Critical thinking is required in today’s world more than anything. We’re bombarded with a flurry of information, we have to choose, we have to stand by an issue or another, and, bottom line: we have to be present in the community, just like we are in our own homes, and have a say in the decisions to be made.

In case of decisions involving more than one person and one generation, the effect of any ill-fated mishap is multiplied to the point of being impossible to estimate.

Critical thinking, getting involved and voicing an opinion might just prevent that.

How else can we look into our children’s eyes and say ‘to the best of my knowledge, I did everything I could’ without looking down because in truth, we know we did not…