There is no harm to say, “Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.”
When it comes to public policy debates, what the priorities for government spending should be, where we as a province should invest our hard-earned tax dollars, there is never a shortage of suggestions. And by and large, suggestions from most of us are directed towards that for which we have a close affinity.
So it should come as no surprise, I suppose, that those who are in and around the legal community would be promoting the idea of a law school at Memorial University.
When I was minister of Transportation and Works, I was invited by Chief Justice Derek Green to tour the courthouse and the lockup. It needed upgrading and renovating, and he wanted me to see it firsthand.
While viewing the lockup, I jokingly said to the chief justice, “My mother probably expected me to end up here, but I am pretty sure it was not in this capacity!” Of course, I don’t think my mother really expected that, but suffice to say that my involvement with the legal community has been thankfully limited to real estate transactions.
So, here I go again, you might say, talking about something that I know little about.
The developing debate over whether or not Memorial University should have a law school raises some legitimate questions. Aside from the obvious questions of cost, there are the more pertinent questions around need, which should be the primary drivers of the decision.
Do we need more lawyers in this province? Is the requirement to go outside the province to receive the required education prohibitive? How would a new law school further the ongoing development and advancement of the province? Where does a law school rank from a needs perspective within the educational priorities of the province?
You might say, who am I to question the need for a law school, especially when we have such learned citizens as Chief Justice Clyde Wells and Chief Justice Green, among others, advocating for one? Well, fair enough.
After all, as I said, I know little about it. But one thing I do know is that as a province, we can’t afford to fund everything on everyone’s wish list. And another thing I know is the infrastructure supporting many of the core programs at Memorial University is already taxed and in some cases in desperate need of upgrading.
Another thing I know is that the world-renowned Marine Institute is bursting at the seams and in need of expansion.
As I noted in a previous article, Memorial University, through the programs of the main campus and at the Marine Institute — as well as the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, along with many agencies and industry partners — have, over the past couple of decades, attempted to position this place as a centre for cold-ocean research.
We are an oceanic people, our economy is driven by oceanic industries and our university should have a strong oceanic focus.
No, we are not simple hewers of wood and drawers of water. We are operators and developers of oceanic industries in one of the harshest marine environments in the world.
As we move further offshore, as we move further north, as we move into deeper water and as we open new frontiers, and in our quest to better understand the ocean environment that supports us, our educational investments need to be in those areas that enable us to do so with the minimum amount of risk to ourselves and the environment.
If there is more money available to Memorial University that is where it should be spent.
If something goes terribly wrong in one of our ocean industries due to a lack of understanding, lack of research, lack of preparedness, as has happened in the past, there will be no shortage of legal counsel to deal with the fallout, with or without a law school.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.