- 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.