Feb 23 2015


For over ten years, CivicAction, Maytree’s partner in the DiverseCity project, has been building a pipeline of emerging leaders, preparing them to lead the change that the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is ready to see. CivicAction takes pride in its community of civic leaders, which is made up of engaged, passionate, emerging leaders as well as established individuals who have committed their lives to making the GTHA a better place for all.

This was evident at the MetroNext event on January 21, 2015, which brought together an eclectic mix of civic leaders spanning a generation or two. The two inaugural awards presented at the event acknowledged the good of the past and the energy of the present.

The Lifetime Achievement Award for David Crombie, former Mayor of Toronto, recognized his commitment to city-building and civic engagement. The Emerging Leader Award for Andrew Graham was an acknowledgement of his outstanding leadership to date.

“CivicAction lives and breathes leadership and knows the importance of growing strong civic leaders for today and tomorrow. MetroNext is about shining the spotlight on some extraordinary, engaged young leaders who are the new boots on the ground impacting change in their communities,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction.

Andrew is the co-founder of Toronto Homecoming, an initiative incubated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN). The initiative, to attract and retain top talent in Canada, connects Canadians working abroad with opportunities in the Toronto Region.

In an interview with Yonge Street, Andrew, who moved to Toronto in 2008 after living abroad, quipped that he got involved with CivicAction to stay out of trouble outside of work hours. “My girlfriend of the time, now wife, was not in the same city the first few years I was here. So I always joked that I was looking for ways to stay busy.”

Toronto Homecoming is one among the many city-building projects supported by ELN and DiverseCity Fellows, another CivicAction leadership program. These projects include the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, which is dedicated to advancing Aboriginal leadership across Canada, and the Pan Am Path, a multi-use path to connect Toronto’s ravines for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

ELN is now a network of more than 900 emerging leaders who inspire and motivate each other to take action. The network offers over 30 events each year to build their skills. DiverseCity Fellows, fashioned as a “civic MBA” program, provides 100 hours of intensive leadership training to around 25 rising stars each year. So far, over 130 individuals who have graduated from the program continue to put into action learnings from one of North America’s leading urban fellow program.

Fellows include individuals like Nouman Ahmad, Executive Director of CanLeads, an organization that trains future political leaders. Nouman is leading the development of a first-of-its-kind Nominations Playbook to demystify the federal nominations process and design interventions to support first time under-40 candidates. “I believe Canada’s future prosperity lies with a new generation of leadership and responsible capitalism with a long term focus,” says the 2014-15 DiverseCity Fellow.

As seen through its ELN and other initiatives, CivicAction thrives on collaboration and is always encouraging new players to come to the table. To maintain its role as “neutral sandbox,” CivicAction will continue to bring together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle some of the GTHA’s toughest challenges.

Feb 19 2015


By Sherri Torjman, Vice President, Caledon Institute of Social Policy

I recently had the opportunity to visit the city of Melbourne, Australia. I must say it came as no surprise to subsequently learn that Melbourne had been named by The Economist Intelligence Unit as the most liveable city in the world for the fourth year in a row.

To construct this liveability index, every city is assigned a rating on more than 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

Melbourne scored a perfect ranking for health care, education and infrastructure. But some other quality-of-life factors caught my attention as a visitor to this award-winning city.

There is abundant green all around. It is clearly a place where nature is protected and preserved within the bounds of the city itself. There are also many beautifully maintained parks whose immaculate grooming reflects the importance of these public spaces.

The built environment is equally well maintained. There is a sense that history matters − with heritage buildings taking their rightful place beside modern structures.

Walkability in the downtown core is enabled by dense design. A free light rail service in the core helps cover longer distances.

Melbourne is fostering its creativity. Public art and sculptures line pedestrian bridges and river walks throughout the city.

But international comparisons of liveability are interesting only to the extent that we can apply their lessons. On this front, we can say “no worries.”

Eight of the top ten ranking cities from 2014 are in Australia and Canada. Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the international list. We should recognize and celebrate the quality of life that we enjoy in this country.

Unfortunately, international rankings often miss the mark in several important respects. No Canadian city would reach a perfect score on infrastructure, which needs serious investment − not just in terms of a major infusion of capital. An equally vital investment of time and effort is required to resolve a fundamental problem: current governance restrictions that hamper cities’ ability to independently raise and spend money to support their respective agendas.

Canadian cities also fall short on public transit. Progress has been made in several centres over the past few decades. In 2010, for example, the American Public Transportation Association named the city of Montreal as the best public transit system in North America.

But there is clearly a need to update and modernize public transit both into and within major urban cores throughout the country. Most drivers in major urban centres will tell you that they waste hours on a daily commute that could be far better spent caring for their children and elderly parents.

Liveability scales may not readily apply when it comes to affordability. Granted, the original purpose of the liveability index was to rank cities according to their attractiveness to expatriate executives. These individuals are unlikely to be concerned about price because they can afford to pay for expensive housing or are subsidized by their respective companies. But the reality is that the cities named most liveable in Canada are the least affordable in terms of housing – a serious and ongoing problem.

While liveable cities may offer a wide range of recreational and cultural programs, lower- and modest-income households may not be able to participate. Unfortunately, the children in these families miss out on opportunities from which they would benefit immeasurably.

Finally, there is not sufficient attention paid to questions of accessibility. The latter should be understood not only from the perspective of getting in the door. We need to ask who is getting in the door. Are community events and organizations inclusive? Do they reflect the face of the community? Are they sufficiently diverse in terms of race, income and ability?

I am proud that several Canadian cities ranked so highly on The Economist international scale. At the same time, it clearly is a scale tipped in favour of the well-off who already benefit greatly from the amenities that good-quality cities have to offer.

A liveability index ideally should be constructed on a foundation of inclusion. We need to ask more questions about the questions − before we can say that our cities have got it right.

Feb 12 2015


By Lisa Attygalle, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

How can communities be active agents of change? What’s the process of creating an effective story? What’s the best way for a story to motivate action? In an age of fast communication – of snippets, of 140 characters, of 7 seconds to grab attention – it is easy to reach people, but how can we use stories to truly connect?

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used as an emotionally powerful and authentic way to articulate change and impact in a person’s life. And now, the technology to create, curate and share content is prolific and accessible. The Rockefeller Foundation recognized this opportunity at the intersection of storytelling and technology and launched a project to look at “the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a means to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnera­ble around the world.”

The project consisted of interviews, roundtable discussions, a technology platform assessment, and analysis of supply and demand, and resulted in a guide filled with insights, recommendations and tips for anyone who is looking to strengthen the practice of digital storytelling in the social impact sector.

The guide explores five key components of digital storytelling:

  1. Strategy – How can digital storytelling help social impact organizations advance their missions?
  2. Capacity – What resources and skills do individuals and organizations need to shape and share their stories?
  3. Content – What are the elements of compelling and motivating stories?
  4. Platforms – What technologies are available (or needed) to help people curate, house and share stories?
  5. Evaluation - What simple, effective and meaningful metrics can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of digital storytelling?

In digital storytelling, it is important to always start with a goal in mind – what is the impact we’re trying to achieve? Effective digital storytelling needs clear goals, identified target audiences, and specific objectives in capturing the stories. Creating stories is a meaningful form of community engagement and there are techniques to guide someone through telling their story in their own way while prompting them to share the parts of their story that connect with the goals of the initiative.

The most meaningful stories come from people with lived experiences of the issue, even though they may not be skilled storytellers. By giving people a voice, stories can help move the needle on community issues by helping people to:

  • Be aware of the need
  • Care about the cause
  • Understand the problem and solution
  • Feel a sense of urgency
  • Know how to help

Storytelling in Action

Community Story Strategies works with organizations to help groups and individuals create and share personal stories that send a powerful message. One ongoing campaign, It Starts with You, It Stays with Him developed by White Ribbon Canada and Le Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions, aims to inspire men to promote healthy, equal relationships with the boys in their lives. They used digital stories as a way for men to explore the experience and choices that shaped their identity as men. The stories were then used as a classroom education tool to prompt discussion on topics such as societal pressures for young men and boys to conform to stereotypical and rigid ideas of masculinity; the importance of gender equality and the impact of violence against women and girls (and men and boys); fatherhood; and homophobia. See the Digital Stories and Discussion Guide.

Digital storytelling is powerful way of sharing personal experiences in a way that can communicate social impact. Effective digital storytelling needs clear goals, identified target audiences, and specific objectives in capturing the stories. The most meaningful stories will be personal, authentic and offer insights and experiences that can articulate and measure change and impact in a person’s life.

Learn more:

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

Feb 10 2015

Al Etmanski - IMPACT

By Al Etmanski

Have you ever wondered what cherry blossoms in Vancouver taste like?

I didn’t have the imagination to even conceive of such a question let alone answer it until I attended a dinner hosted by Elementa a collective of young culinary talents in Vancouver last spring. Not only did they serve a cup of frozen aerated cherry blossoms (It was like tasting cherry bubbles) to cleanse our palette, they also offered their rationale for presenting authentic regional tastes. Elementa chefs believe in honest food that is both true to the place where it is grown or raised and true to the people who prepare it. “Our grapes, hops, produce and game should remind us of who we are and where we come from. We shouldn’t be trying to make our food taste like food from elsewhere,” said one of them.

The integrity of these young chefs challenged my thinking. Was I importing social innovation concepts from elsewhere and ignoring Canada’s rich heritage of social change?  Was I trying to make Canada’s social change experiences “taste” like those from other countries and ignoring fundamental differences of values, heritage and culture?

At the time I was finishing my new book on social innovation and these questions led me to realize that more than half of its draft content was either a wholesale importation or adaptation of social innovation concepts and methods from elsewhere.

After the Elementa dinner the course of my book writing changed directions. I cut out 30,000 extra words to get to Canadian bedrock. Today, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is as close as I can make it to celebrating Canada’s social innovation “terroir.” Commonly associated with wine, I loosely translate “terroir” as “a sense of place,” or the interaction that geography, environment and heritage has on the characteristics and qualities of products and processes. “Terroir” doesn’t imply we ignore insights from elsewhere, only that we make sure we appreciate what we are tasting belongs.

Impact explores the paradox of short-term success versus limited long-term impact. Many of us have had the frustrating experience of running a successful campaign, pioneering an effective social program or changing a law only to see their transformative edges eroded, isolated or forgotten.

We can learn a lot about durability from Adelaide Hoodless. Her social innovation, the Women’s Institute, was recently chosen as one of the top ten in the world. Alas Women’s Institute is better known in other countries than it is in Canada.

Women’s Institute was founded in 1897 in Stoney Creek Ontario in response to children dying because of poor hygienic practices in food production. Today they have a combined membership of nine million in 65 countries and are credited with ushering in the first wave of feminism.

That’s the kind of impact we want isn’t it? And that’s what my new book is about.

Impact presents six patterns being used to achieve lasting social, economic and environmental justice. Download the introduction to Impact here.

The six patterns are:

  • Think and Act Like a Movement
  • Create a Container for Your Content
  • Set the Table for Allies, Adversaries and Strangers
  • Mobilize Your Economic Power
  • Advocate with Empathy
  • “Who” is More Important than ‘How’

During an interview for the release of his album “Les Noise,” Neil Young was asked the source of his creativity. His answer was enigmatic, “I don’t make up my music, I remember it.” Perhaps like Neil Young we don’t “make” social change by paying attention to how others do it as much as by remembering how we do it. When we do, we’ll find that social change, like cherry blossoms, tastes like home.

Learn more:

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

Jan 26 2015


Municipal finance and governance is a topic that doesn’t get much attention. But interest perks when the Mississauga mayor makes a stunning admission about cancelling a planned LRT if the province doesn’t pay the full cost. Or when the Toronto mayor presents a budget that is all about “caring investments” while proposing to maintain property tax below the rate of inflation.

Both instances are snapshots of the fiscal health and governance challenges facing Canada’s large cities and city-regions and how they affect our day-to-day living. Despite growing in importance as economic engines of the country, these municipalities have a constant struggle on hand stretching budgets to meet growing demands.

It was this conundrum that led to the setting up of the Institute on Municipal Finance & Governance (IMFG). “Very few people had a grasp on managing finances, even within city governments,” says Alan Broadbent, chairman of the institute, as it gets set to mark its 10th anniversary this year. “The idea was to lay down the architecture of municipal finance, highlight how it is different and educate more and more people about its uniqueness.”

Along with Enid Slack, Alan launched IMFG in 2004 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. And he points out that even after a decade the institute finds itself in a rarefied field. He recalls Enid declaring herself to be one of the top five experts in the area of municipal finance and then quickly admit that there are only five of them in the entire world!

Attempt to broaden the conversation

“Apart from filling the knowledge gap by providing solid research and analysis to inform policy, we want to broaden the conversation on issues that are important to cities and encourage graduate students to take up the work by giving out two scholarships each year,” says Alan.

In its full length IMFG Papers on Municipal Finance and Governance and shorter Perspectives and Forum reports, the institute addresses topics that include expenditure and revenue trends in cities, the fiscal health of cities, financial transparency and accountability, municipal borrowing and infrastructure financing, affordable housing, and transit finance.

One of IMFG’s recent papers on Toronto’s fiscal health even explains how the Toronto mayor could increase investments without raising taxes. The paper points out that user charges and fees have been an important and growing source of Toronto’s revenues. It calculated that an average household paid nearly $400 more in charges and fees in 2012 compared to what they paid in 2000 for the same services.

Creating a knowledge hub

Alan says the enormous costs that city services entail cannot be funded by the limited revenue tools that Canadian municipalities currently have at their disposal. Larger cities like Mississauga and Toronto are forced to go to the provincial and federal governments for help and in the process deal with uncertainties posed by wild card politics.

While cities would benefit if they had more leeway to manage their finances, that responsibility comes with certain political risks, says Alan. Many city leaders are not courageous enough to face the certain heat if they raise taxes and are happy to let the other levels of government take steps to raise revenue and then pass it on to them. “I guess only mayors like Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi might be prepared to take unpopular steps and face the consequences.”

Acknowledging that different cities have different needs, Alan says IMFG’s mandate is to focus on tailor-made solutions based on research and continuous learning from across the world. To achieve this IMFG holds several events each year which bring together academia and participants from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. It also hosts visiting scholars to understand how urban finance and governance issues are addressed in other countries.

“The goal is to iron out inefficiencies and ensure everybody can take part in the good life cities offer without being squeezed out. In other words, to make cities just and equitable places through evidence-based planning,” says Alan on what IMFG would be doing in its coming decade.

Jan 26 2015

The idea of unconditional cash transfer from government to individuals or families has been receiving renewed attention of late.

The concept, usually referred to as Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) or basic income, has waxed and waned in Canadian and global policy circles for decades. Support for the scheme has always been across the ideological spectrum.

It originated in the 1940s as a feature called negative income tax, where people earning above a certain amount would pay taxes while those below would receive a supplement from the government. American supply-side economist Milton Friedman backed it in the 1960s, and soon public figures of all hues were attracted to it.

While conservative politicians were attracted to the concept as a way of simplifying the social welfare and tax systems in one fell swoop, leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. saw it as the solution to poverty.

While the U.S. government sporadically field tested the concept in the early 1970s, its longest run was in a small Canadian prairie town. The almost forgotten experiment in Manitoba called “Mincome” – a neologism of “minimum income” – ran between 1974 and 1979. For various reasons Mincome ended with no final report or analysis of data from the small town of Dauphin, the saturation site where everyone was entitled to participate. The little analysis that was done showed a reduction in health care costs and higher school graduation rates.

‘Present system entangles people in poverty’

Retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has been advocating for GAI for years. In a recent interview Segal says that a guaranteed income is the most effective way to alleviate poverty.

“[GAI is] a much more efficient way of dealing with the issues of poverty than what we are now doing,” says Segal, who is now Master of Massey College. “The present system is not sufficiently strong to support people. But like a spider’s web, it is sufficiently strong to entangle people and it works against people getting into the workplace.”

In a Toronto Star op-ed Senator Art Eggleton also cites guaranteed income as one of three ways to end poverty in Canada. “It wouldn’t provide for the ‘good life’ but it would ensure that no one in this country goes without the basic needs of nourishing food, warm clothing and decent shelter.”

Roderick Benns, the publisher of Leaders and Legacies, in an opinion piece, says the movement to create a basic income guarantee as Canada’s next key social program has been gaining steam. “In some ways, it’s incredibly simple. No man or woman in Canada would ever fall below a $20,000 annual income threshold.”

Queen’s University’s The Journal also makes a case for basic income. A column points out that our current welfare system not only fails to eradicate poverty, it effectively reproduces it. “Instead of addressing poverty head-on, we spend billions on programs to address substance abuse, family violence, housing and everything in between. If poverty was a wound, Canada is the idiot doctor who’s done everything except stop the bleeding.”

Projecting guaranteed basic income as the very simple solution to eradicating poverty in Canada, the column in The Journal suggests only those below the poverty line should get money from the government to lift them above a certain threshold instead of every Canadian receiving a state income. “In addition to tackling poverty directly, a federal basic income is both cheaper and allows billions of provincial tax dollars spent on social programs to be redirected to education, healthcare and infrastructure.”

Multi-faceted approach needed

Advocates say GAI would replace and improve on the current provincial welfare approach which often claws back payments if recipients find even part-time employment. The idea was also investigated in a 2012 Tyee online series on anti-poverty reforms.

Amid the renewed enthusiasm, the Fraser Institute tries to put a damper. In a report titled The Practical Challenges of Creating a Guaranteed Annual Income in Canada (PDF) released on January 6, 2015, the Institute examines the concept in detail. While conceding that the idea has conceptual appeal, “particularly the potential for greater efficiency and administrative savings in the delivery of income support programs,” it casts doubts on the plausibility of GAI implementation for Canada.

The Fraser report argues there are practical design challenges stemming from a lack of clarity and agreement on even the basic features of the idea. It says the biggest challenge is for all three levels of government to agree on reforms to existing income support systems and make way for a single GAI that delivers on the promise of simplicity and cost savings.

Taking issue with the Fraser report, Kaylie Tiessen, economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Ontario, questions its starting assumption that a basic income program would serve to eliminate all other existing programs. That would be a folly as a basic income program would have different objectives, says Tiessen.

For instance, she points to a new OECD research that suggests boosting incomes for the bottom 40 per cent of the income spectrum through cash transfers and increased access to public services are essential to create greater equality of opportunities in the long run.

Tiessen says the Fraser Institute’s approach on the issue outlines what’s wrong with the discussion: treating the idea of a basic income program as a cash grab by the desperate. “That depiction is the opposite of how basic income proponents talk about the idea. They talk about it as bringing dignity, a sense of belonging and empowerment into a social safety system that otherwise stigmatizes and disempowers people as well as limits their options in life.”

In other words, rather than being a lazy idea that doles out money, GAI comes from a line of thinking that sees it as a way out of the poverty trap that many think our current welfare system leads people into.

Jan 13 2015


By Michael Jones and Daphne Mainprize, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

Too often the places we create are placeless because they don’t include our stories
- Michael Jones

Every community and organization needs its own mythic story. The myth serves as a gateway into our deep life together. Leaders in turn shape the culture of a place through the circulation of these stories that convey their core values. Our places, in turn, become the public stage where the wisdom of these stories may be lived out.

Most places have personal and community stories that express these values. What they don’t have, however, is the larger meta-narrative – a mythic larger-than-life story – that can inspire and contextualize the future they want to create for themselves. These larger “founding” narratives are the lifeblood of any community and often serve as the most powerful building block for creating a regenerative culture for the future.

Seeing the source of our myth begins by paying attention to the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to lift up into the imagination the mundane activities of everyday life and see within them the small miracles, the invisible vein of gold in the life of any organization or community.

For the past year we have been co-chairs of the Mariposa Roundtable “mapping” the richness of our heritage by exploring the communities’ storied connection to the mythical town of Mariposa as detailed by the much loved Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. As the community of Orillia embarks on an ambitious downtown revitalization and waterfront development plan – and struggles to reinvent itself and its identity following the decline of its once thriving industrial based economy – community leaders are asking: What is the story we want to tell? That is, what is the story that speaks to our unique identity, and how can this story help us learn from our past to create a positive, creative and sustainable future?

In mapping the mythic story, we take up the call to be anthropologists uncovering other untold stories, forgotten artifacts, mysterious images and hidden meanings. We polish and burnish them so they may shine again and serve as the foundation of something we may become immersed in and from which everyone can learn.

In viewing Mariposa as a mythic fable holding within it many elements of a wisdom story, we may ask ourselves:

  • What does Mariposa mean to us now? What does it look like and how does it feel?
  • What can we learn when we think about the mythic story of Mariposa that we cannot learn anywhere else? What are the key images and themes of Mariposa, and what can we learn from them?
  • How do we turn these images and themes into a storyline that will capture the imagination of visitors – or travellers and pilgrims – from around the world?
  • What are the key locations – culture, industries, neighbourhoods, networks, infrastructure, sacred sites – that interconnect in the telling of the Mariposa story?
  • If we were to imagine Orillia in twenty, fifty, or one hundred years, what will have changed and what will have stayed the same?
  • What would the storybook of the community look like? How would our built environment, streetscapes, parks, neighbourhoods, public places and place names be different from today?

We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. At the same time, it is more fragmented and polarized than ever before. In this turbulence it may be our mythic stories of place that serve as the bridge from our past to our future. We may not be able to retrieve our past, but we may still be able to learn from it. And this learning may lead to a vision of a future to which we can bring our gifts and unique talents to create a place in which everyone can grow and thrive.

If you are interested in discovering the roots of your own story of place – “Your Mariposa” – we would look forward to offering the Mariposa Experience in your community. As a festival, a teaching, a conversation, as an art form – “Experiencing Mariposa” is an opportunity to discover your story of and for our time and for the future. Through the power of our stories we can bring the gift of place, community and belonging home again.

Learn more: 

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

Dec 12 2014

Canada with multicultural faces

  • When you look at the current situation in Canada, what catches your attention?
  • What keeps you up at night? What energises you?
  • What important upcoming decisions will Canada have to make? What are the upcoming forks in the road?

These are some of the questions the Possible Canadas project is asking for an insight into the country’s future as we approach the 150th anniversary of its founding.

Created by Reos Partners for The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and a coalition of philanthropic and community organizations including Maytree, the idea is to seed a national dialogue.

In a series of interviews, insightful Canadians from across civil society, business, and government discuss the major challenges facing the country and how best to address them.

The issues range from making pluralism work, renewing democratic institutions, taking our proper place in the world to using natural resources wisely.

On making pluralism work, Khalil Shariff, Chief Executive Officer of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, is curious to know how Canada and Canadian institutions will continue to adapt to an increasingly diversified population. “How will Canada manage its position as a demographic crossroads of the world? I have great optimism and confidence that Canada will manage this test, but we will have to be imaginative about how it will happen. Also, how will Canada employ its diverse population in reaching out to the entire planet? What kind of economic and cultural ties will we establish?”

Striking a similar note, Gabrielle Scrimshaw, Co-Founder of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, voices her concern at the lack of attention to relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people. “The aboriginal population is the fastest growing demographic in Canada… Three out of ten aboriginal people are under the age for fourteen. We have a tremendous opportunity to educate and equip these young people from a place that’s culturally centred. If we don’t talk about this opportunity now and work to get it right, we’ll be living with the consequences of our inactions for generations to come.”

‘Forever a work in progress’

Among others joining Shariff and Scrimshaw on making pluralism work is Jean Charest, former Premier of Quebec who focuses on tolerance and says Canada will forever be a work in progress. “The challenge for our leaders is to lead Canadians in appreciating what we have, acknowledging that nothing is forever, and accepting that we need to be more ambitious and challenge ourselves more.”

On renewing our democratic institutions, Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, admits that the transforming views about immigration keeps her up at night. “An unsettling trend has emerged in Canada. Public policy now favours a rise in temporary foreign workers over permanent economic immigrants. When companies say they face a skills shortage, all too often the solution is bringing in a foreign worker temporarily for what is often not a temporary shortage.”

Yalnizyan says this is a recipe for growing friction between “us” and “them.” She goes on to say that this problem arises from a common view that low wages and low taxes are “good for business.” Middle-class jobs are being cut, replaced by more low-paid and some higher-paid work. “We pay tribute to a large and resilient middle class as the mark of a flourishing economy around the world, but our own middle class is being squeezed in every way, ironically in the name of economic growth.”

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, is among those who weigh in on the democracy debate. She bemoans the lack of people’s participation in the running of the country. They have become passive consumers. “It’s very hard to wake people back up to the fact that they have power. Forty percent of Canadians don’t vote. In the by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca last June, only 15% voted!”

About taking our proper place in the world, we have a range of opinions from academics and business leaders. For instance, Janice Gross Stein, Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, warns against smugness. Stein says we know from good research that our big cities are not doing as well in opening doors to employment and advancement to immigrants as they were two decades ago. “Yet if we’re going to thrive, we have to attract even more immigrants than we have in the past. To many people around the world, we are the most attractive country to come to. We have to live up to that record.”

A sentiment echoed by Suzanne Fortier, Principal of McGill University when she says, “We’ve done a good job with the fundamental things that are important in society. Of course, we always have to think of how we can do better….” Turning our attention to creating a smart and caring nation, Fortier says one of the most important decisions Canada has to make is where it chooses to invest. “It’s not only investment of money; where we decide to invest our intelligence and time will also shape our country and our future.” She warns that if we are not careful, there will be more disparity and Canada will be a more divided, less tolerant, and less safe country.

On using natural resources, Tzeporah Berman, author and environmental activist, talks on the issue of resisting climate change. She worries that Canada is now doing less on climate change and has a weaker regulatory system to address environmental threats than any other industrialized country. Joining her in this section, among others, is Preston Manning, President of the Manning Centre for Democracy. Preston believes we can’t continue to engage in a polarized environment-versus-economy argument. “Nobody is out to destroy the environment or the economy—you need both—but a lot of people are willing to take one side or the other.”

You too can join the debate by reading, commenting on, and sharing these interviews on the Possible Canadas website. Media partner The Globe and Mail is also publishing selections in print and online.

Dec 10 2014

City Vote logo

By Desmond Cole, project coordinator, City Vote

The push for permanent resident voting in municipal elections is a very Canadian combination of local, national and international realities. It’s easy to focus on the bigger picture considerations such as citizenship applications or global migration patterns. Our understanding of voter eligibility is highly influenced by notions of national attachment. However, as we enter 2015 and the four-year terms of city councils across Ontario, we must continue to focus our vote reform efforts on our most local level of government.

Each new city council in each municipality represents a fresh opportunity to explore permanent resident voting. Supporters should study and replicate the processes that brought the issue before city councils in North Bay, Kitchener, Guelph, Halifax, and Saint John. Each effort began with conversations between local residents and their elected officials. Those conversations led to motions at local councils to study the impact of permanent resident voting. Councillors and mayors could then vote on the merits of the proposal for their respective jurisdictions.

Based on this model, cities in three Canadian provinces have now formally requested the right of permanent residents to vote in their local elections, and several others are poised to follow suit. Supporters can now draw on a host of consultations, media, and staff reports that have already been generated. City Vote, the campaign to connect and coordinate all of these efforts, established itself in 2014 and will continue to support local reform efforts.

City Vote now boasts a network of hundreds of supporters and advocates in at least 15 Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Hamilton, Windsor, Kingston, Edmonton, Vancouver, and several cities in the Greater Toronto Area. We’ve identified supportive city councillors, many of whom were re-elected last month and others who have gained office for the first time. We’re connected with community agencies who work with and for newcomers to Canada. These are the right ingredients for continued progress.

We’ve also made connections with jurisdictions outside Canada that practice non-citizen voting at the municipal level. During a trip to Chicago in September, we met with Local School Council authorities. LSC Director Willie Montes de Oca shared his city’s experience in engaging all parents and local stakeholders, regardless of citizenship status, in education planning, budgeting and accountability.

Our new website, cityvote.ca, is a hub for relevant media and updates from other cities. Soon, the site will include extensive research on non-citizen voting in nearly 30 international jurisdictions. Also, volunteers who wish to organize around specific local opportunities will host and update sub-pages within the site.

In recent months, the issue of permanent resident voting has earned news and opinion coverage in the Guelph Citizen, the Hamilton Spectator, CBC Nova Scotia, and the Toronto Observer, to name a few publications. And in a pre-election survey of local candidates in Waterloo region, over 95% of respondents endorsed the idea of permanent resident voting.

The post-election period is a renewed opportunity to advance our mission, city by city, council by council. If you have not already done so, now is the time to sign up for the City Vote campaign and get connected to ongoing efforts in your municipality. Every advancement in the municipal government process signals to provinces, who must ultimately decide on permanent resident voting, that local residents are ready for change.

City Vote’s progress in the last year would not have been possible without the ongoing support of Maytree and the dozens of volunteers who have assisted with the website, event planning, media and research. We thank you for your support, and look forward to continued success and partnership in 2015.


Dec 04 2014

By Sylvia Cheuy, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

Video by Drew Morey, Drew Morey Productions. Narrated by Bernadette Hardaker, LifeStories

Ten principles of a successful community builder

I live in a pretty special place. My husband and I were intentional about choosing the kind of community that we wanted to live in and raise our family. Today, more than a decade later, our kids regularly let us know that they can’t imagine living anywhere else, and truly, neither can we. Clearly we made a good choice.

What makes where we live great? Well, for one thing we have easy access to lots of green space and trails; a vibrant, walkable downtown with unique shops and restaurants; fantastic artisans, theatre, and music as well as great community spaces – that host farmers markets and festivals where neighbours meet up and visitors are welcomed.

But, more important than the physical assets, what makes where we live a great place are the people. Like most communities across Canada, ours is blessed with many dynamic people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work together to make good things happen.

Service clubs and dedicated volunteers regularly champion projects that are beyond the mandate of any one organization – mobilizing people and funds – to work together on projects that contribute to making our community a great place to live.  In my community, there is no greater community-builder than long-time Rotarian Doc Gillies. Like countless others throughout the region, I have been fortunate to work with, and be mentored by Doc. Recently a group of Doc’s friends commissioned this great video to share Doc’s wisdom, so those of you who haven’t had the good fortune to work along-side him first-hand can still benefit from the wisdom he generously shares by example.

Doc’s ten principles for being a successful community-builder are:

  1. Personal Credibility – Doc is active and well-known in the community. He volunteers his knowledge, skills and connections out of love for the community … not personal gain.
  2. Sense of Humour and Fun – Doc is easy-going and makes working together a lot of fun.
  3. Pick Winners - The projects that Doc contributes his leadership and energy to have strong community support that many would be willing to contribute to.
  4. Do Your Homework - Doc always comes to a project having done his homework. He has thought about what needs to happen, who needs to be involved and who will benefit – and can be engaged – in making the project a success.
  5. High Energy – Doc is enthusiastic and motivated about the projects that he champions. He is actively involved in them and inspires others with his enthusiasm.
  6. Persevere – Doc is well-known for his tenacity. If he sees a need in the community, he doesn’t rest until he moves it into action. When challenges arise, he is creative and ingenious about generating alternative solutions.
  7. Model Commitment – Doc is someone who leads by example. He is the first one to commit his time and his own financial resources to the projects that he is championing.
  8. Finish the Job – Doc finishes the projects that he starts and makes sure that they are finished well.
  9. Hand-Pick Key People – Doc is a community connector. He knows who he wants and needs involved in each project and he brings them on board to lead the project with him.
  10. Mentor the Next Generation – Doc is very deliberate about building a leadership team and mentors those he engages by working with them so that they learn how to get things done in the community.

Every town has people with the creativity, the energy, the commitment and the vision to make good things happen. “You need somebody that will bring people together, that people will rally around and say, “Come on, we can do this!” because otherwise we are in a world where less and less gets done.”

Who are the community-builders in your town? Maybe it’s you!

Learn more: 

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

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