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CanadaChanging: Introduction
Hassan Masum, 19 Jul 06

canadia.jpeg From today until Friday, we're doing a series of articles with Canada in the spotlight.

Of course, we're WorldChanging - so why Canada? Well, case studies are valuable learning tools. Sometimes, taking a closer look at how solutions are implemented in a particular place teaches you practical tips, ones that might be left out in a big-picture view. If this series works well, we hope to do more countries and topics in the future.

Looking for best practices from elsewhere is an effective strategy - one that WorldChanging is all about. There's all kinds of goodness out there, and just keeping up with the leaders in each domain would accelerate progress tremendously. Canada, while by no means a global leader in sustainability overall, does have enough candles burning to be worth a look.

So - let me introduce Canada, my home.

Canada: land of great lakes and mighty rivers, of vast boreal forests, towering mountain ranges, and icy splendor in the North. A nation which stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic, second in land area only to Russia - surely we are a country of ecologically sensitive outdoor lovers?

Well, not quite. While the outdoors does have a special place in the Canadian imagination and experience, a large majority of us are urban dwellers: roughly 80% of the 32.6 million population. And Canada's environmental record on a per-capita basis is mediocre at best; according to the 2005 environmental indicator benchmarking report, "The Maple Leaf in the OECD":

Any way you look at it, Canada comes up short. We are simply not living up to the vision we have of ourselves as a nation. Canadians expect more; they expect better and we can do better. We need a national sustainability plan. We need it to protect our quality of life. We need it to conserve our rich natural assets for the future. And we need it so the true picture of Canada reflects the one we have in our hearts.

"...the true picture of Canada reflects the one we have in our hearts." Because on the bright side, Canada, in my view, is a place where there is a lot of latent support for smart sustainability policies. As we'll be seeing in the next couple of days, there are many signs of progress on the landscape, ranging from energy-efficient building and standards to incentives for wind and solar production to a good deal of entrepreneurial activity in the clean-tech sector.

On the cultural side, Canada is a land of immigrants - roughly 20% of the population is foreign-born, nearing 40% for Vancouver and 50% for Toronto. (Statistics Canada is a great place to learn this and other details.) The multicultural mix is not without tensions, and can pose problems of identity and security, but it's also a source of richness, strength, and diversity - one that we're only starting to use consciously, for citizen diplomacy, business ties, and simply learning how to live together well.

Another angle to understand a country is to see what concerns they're grappling with, and which ones they choose to focus on as the most important. A few of the many long-term challenges most Canadians would recognize as issues in some form include:

  • Better acknowledging the identities and concerns of Quebec and aboriginal populations, while preserving national cohesiveness and purpose.

  • Keeping our healthcare system financially sustainable and improving its timeliness, while not losing the accessibility and cost-effectiveness relative to private healthcare systems.

  • Making the immigration process more effective, including issues of rate of immigration, encouraging more new Canadians to settle outside the main cities, recognizing foreign credentials and work experience, and reconciling diversity with shared values.

  • Getting serious about dealing with environmental concerns, including both local concerns like air pollution and global ones like climate change (where some business leaders are getting on board).

  • Managing our relationship with the U.S., our southern neighbor with almost 10x our population. Links between the countries run very deep, at both business and personal levels - when we disagree on policies, maintaining constructive engagement is a challenge.

There's an interesting series running currently called Canada in 2020, where some of these challenges are being looked at by a variety of voices. For more day-to-day insight, see news media like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, or the, er, slightly offbeat This Hour has 22 Minutes. We'll be pointing to other sources as the series goes on.

I'll close by quoting from the Canada Day speech of our Governor-General (herself a fascinating lady - a Haitian immigrant who became one of Canada's leading French language media personalities, and is bringing character and insight to what many consider an anachronistic institution). The combination of celebrating positive points only in combination with pointing out how much more it's our responsibility to do both locally and globally is, to me, typical of the optimistic side of Canada - not an ideal we live up to as well as we should, but one that many of us cherish:

Everywhere I went [across Canada], women, men and young people told me that living in a country where we all enjoy equal rights is a gift not to be taken for granted. Indeed, it is a responsibility. A responsibility that requires each and every one of us to do our part to protect that freedom from anyone who would seek to restrict it. A responsibility that places the public good above the notion of every man for himself, and openness to others above withdrawing into solitude.

Today, my friends, let us rejoice in our good fortune, in a world where too many peoples are still struggling with thirst, hunger, misery and violence every day. Let us never take our blessings for granted out of consideration for those who have been so cruelly deprived. Ours is a country of great wealth, from its plains, forests and mountains that nourish us, to the crystal clear waters of our abundant lakes and rivers.

Yes, let us rejoice! We are rich in the demographic and cultural diversity that make Canada a microcosm of the entire world. We are rich in the ingenuity of our researchers, the influence of our artists, and our two official languages spoken the world over. And we are free. Free to live out our deepest dreams, free to help improve the lives of those around us.

Our diversity will always be a cause for celebration. But the time has come for us to reflect on the values we all share and to celebrate them together.

Stories in this series:

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What I've always found curious is that while Canada is so much more progressive than the United States on so many issues, in forestry policy it is far behind.

While these kinds of questions aren't necessarily the focus of this site, I am curious to know your take on forestry policy in BC. Perhaps this will be covered in a later post.

Posted by: Erik on 20 Jul 06

Very much looking forward to learning and sharing ideas.

Posted by: Arjun Singh on 20 Jul 06

Yay for CanadaChanging!

Thanks for doing this – I'm stoked. Us Canadians love a little recognition that we exist... ;)

Posted by: Sarah on 21 Jul 06

"# Better acknowledging the identities and concerns of Quebec and aboriginal populations, while preserving national cohesiveness and purpose."

Better acknowledgement of the Aboriginals I agree, but Quebec?!? What more do they need!?! Their own "Nationalist" party gets roughly twice the seats of the NDP with roughly half the votes... This Government and Previous governments keep bending over(and not in a good way) to the interests of Quebec regardless of what everyone else in the country thinks. We should just stop being so afraid of seperation and just run the country how we would like to run it, not how some tiny minority would like to see it run. Sorry for the rant but I do not see that as an issue. (I also think their Language laws are borderline Racist too)

Posted by: Chris on 21 Jul 06

The USSR was known to be a terrible custodian of its environment. And despite its reputation, the US has made very significant strides in reducing the environmental impact of our 21st century economy. It is with this in mind that on my annual summer treks to Canada (where I often note construction or mining activity that simply would not be tolerated in the States), I wonder if the more interventionalist government isn't doing more harm than good. Many economists draw a strong corrolation between economic freedom and environmentally freindly output. When travelling in Canada, it occurs to me that this might in fact be the case.

Posted by: Jake on 22 Jul 06



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