Original post by Goldy Hyder published by the National Post on October 4, 2016.
The term “social licence” is fast becoming one of those ubiquitous expressions that everyone uses, but nobody understands.
To some, social licence is a shield used to defend the public interest. To others, it is a sword used to strike down specific infrastructure projects or other industrial developments. The federal government recently added its own definition to the mix: “Social licence is about ensuring public confidence in the decision-making for major resource projects.”
Having considered the matter for some time, I have come to believe that the confusion stems from the fact that social licence is actually a myth — or, at the very least, a gross misnomer. Using the word “licence” in relation to projects requiring government approval falsely suggests that there exists some type of formal certificate or other legally binding document that these projects need to go ahead. In reality, there is no social licensing authority to which companies can apply and no set conditions to be met in order to obtain a universally accepted permit to operate.
There is no such thing as a “social licence.” What we are actually talking about is social acceptance, and therein lies the problem: acceptance is a far more ambiguous concept. A licence is something fixed and permanent, but acceptance is both fluid and temporary. A licence provides enforceable rights, but acceptance can be unilaterally revoked.