Reflection on a fair country

Canada is a country of dichotomies: rural and urban, newcomer and native-born, rich and poor, natural and industrial, east and west, French and English, aboriginal and colonial. These dichotomies are perennial sources of divisive human conflict. Why not in Canada? The answer is simple.

We are a people comfortable with complexity and uncertainty.

This fair country celebrates differences. We Canadians see ourselves as belonging to many worlds simultaneously. We pursue not a single dream but a concert of dreams towards a common future. The promise of the Canadian spirit is to see the world whole.

History and geography shape this unique promise. Aboriginal heritage is our foundation; a deep appreciation of nature and intricate relationships. Compromise between two colonial powers and waves of immigrants taught us how to navigate nuance in socio-economic interactions.

It is not in our psyche to force singular, brittle “answers.” We instead dance with powerful dynamics of grand systems beyond our taming to find equilibria. In this way, we endure.

Enlightenment ideals of rationality led to a century of economic growth and narrow specialization. Our natural environment is vast and humbling. The impacts of our harm to it dampen any runaway belief that material progress is the only desirable answer.

Humanity faces a litany of grand challenges in the century ahead. We cannot face climate change, economic inequality, globalization, and ecosystem collapse piecemeal. These are not problems to solve, but relationships to renegotiate.

The Canadian promise offers a way forward. We must nurture the potential for all minds in our country to engage with these challenges and share our findings with the world.

I propose that we create a pan-Canadian post-secondary confederation. Consortiums of universities and colleges across the country should offer various joint programs. Students could spend each year of their degree in a different part of Canada with a co-hort; summers could be spent working in the north, rural areas or traditional aboriginal lands.

I propose deeper integration of traditional aboriginal knowledge, the academy, and complex-adaptive systems science. We should continue to build and democratize a unique Canadian intellectual tradition. We already count great thinkers like McLuhan, McClung, King, Atwood and Innis among our ranks.

I propose forming transdisciplinary research and educational institutions in the far reaches of this country. The periphery is where the real change comes from. These will be “foundations” with a mission to integrate and apply global knowledge. What do we know  of energy, agriculture, storytelling, politics, economics, and engineering, and how might we apply this knowledge in novel ways? They will be New Charlottetown’s for a new time.

If Canadians nurture their ability to see the world whole, we will offer humanity something marvelous. This is my vision, inspired by one of Canada&rsquo;s most original thinkers: John Ralston Saul. I recommend his book <em>A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada</em> for a fresh take on our country.