Monday, February 2, 2009

Canada's Role in the World - A Disruptive Conversation

Have you ever had a conversation with a person or a group of people that was so powerfully disruptive in a positive way that it caused you to stop and reassess everything you ever thought about regarding personal purpose, national pride or an opportunity to make an impact in the world.  Have you ever had such a conversation where all of these things came into play in a single dialog?

I have just had one of those experiences at an event hosted by Canada's World and to be honest, my brain is still struggling to come to grips with the magnitude and potential of the conversation.

I was honored and privileged this weekend past to participate in a national dialog around reassessing Canada's role in the world and it was powerful.

Before I go any further, I know what you may be thinking.

Yes, Harry, we've all seen these things before.  So much dialog with no results in the end.  Expectations set and then dashed.  Some events even grew so heated that people in the event imploded as they were unable to come to grips with their passion and differences in defining our role in the world.

However, this one was different.

Oh sure, we had all the same types of participants, including but not limited to:

  • Anglophones
  • Francophones
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • young people
  • life-experienced people
  • well traveled, and not-so-well traveled folks
  • varied education levels
  • retired folks and people just engaging in careers
  • diverse career selection - public and private sector, entrepreneurs, educators, writers, ecology-focused, etc.

So what was special about this dialog?

A couple of things come to mind.

First and foremost, the group that came together was unified in their love of Canada first and what it means to be a Canadian (even though their definition of being a Canadian varied).

Secondly, we came together with a vision for Canada's role in the world and the strong belief that Canada needs to reassert itself as a leader in a number of areas - political, diplomatic, socioeconomic, ecological and with new innovate economic models to name a few.  We are proud of what Canada has accomplished but see the need to raise the level of contribution and results significantly on all fronts at home and abroad.

All that being said, the thing that grabbed me the most was the heightened level of passion, respect and collaboration that embraced this group.

Conversations about identifying our role as leaders domestically and globally often break down as different groups debate who is more or less significant, who has contributed to or detracted from solutions, etc.  We certainly had enough contrasting demographics to have gone down that slippery slope if we wanted to.

But we never went down that path.

Instead, we embraced our respective differences as the thing that makes Canada great - that in Canada, all voices matter and that it is the differences in language, culture and life experiences that each one of us brings to the table that enables us to create innovative solutions that other countries will choose to model.

Our different backgrounds and experiences made the conversation stronger, more relevant and more profound.

One of the important elements for me is that such a conversation goes nowhere unless it produces a call to action.  Dialog without results is just entertainment and frustrating at that.

Canada was once looked upon as a leader in many areas of international and domestic policy.  While some leaders would have us believe that all is still wonderful from the perspective of how others view us, a number of domestic and international studies tell a completely different story.

How do we reassert ourselves as a global leader, perceived by other countries as the role model by which they can learn?

We start at home - we lead by example.  We continue to embrace our phenomenal culture originally built upon three founding nations - Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal peoples.  Our relationships aren't perfect.  However, they are incredibly powerful when combined and growing stronger every day - an incredible model of cultural diversity and collaboration that many envy.

We embrace immigrants who come to our country.  We tend to forget that outside of Aboriginal peoples, we are all immigrants here in one form or another.  Let's make this a place where an immigrant's education and accreditation abroad mean something here.  We need to encourage intellectual and cultural capital to flow into this country.  While some people say that Canada is an easy place to immigrate, there are many stories that suggest there is room for improvement in how we attract and retain people from all over the world.

Let's stop talking about things like Kyoto and actually start living up to our green commitments and obligations.  If we make a lot of noise about creating initiatives that we don't live up to, other countries eventually stop listening to us.

Let's stop talking about being "greener" and be truly green.  We see green technology as an investment and not an expenditure.  Our brilliant researchers in green technology can create technology that we embrace in Canada and cause other countries to say "I want what they have".  We can and must market this technology to the world.

We need to stop bragging about our wonderful healthcare and education systems as being the best in the world (which they are not) and focus on actually fixing the challenges within them, to create a truly enviable system that countries around the world will copy.

We talk about our wonderful cradle to grave system, yet so many of our children live below the poverty line, with insufficient food, clothing, shelter and personal safety.

There are so many topics - these are just a few.

However, the conversation this weekend made one thing very clear to me.

We need to care.  We need to stop being indifferent or apathetic to what is going on inside and outside of Canada.

We need to restoke the passion within us as Canadians.   Many of us spend a lot of time waiting for someone else to fix our concerns domestically and internationally while at the same time, simmering on the inside that others are not doing it fast enough or to our liking.

Pogo noted "we have met the enemy and he is us".

We are our greatest enemy and yet we are our greatest strength.

We can choose to be indifferent, apathetic people waiting for someone else to fix things while we complain the solutions aren't right, aren't fast enough, aren't thorough enough, etc.

Or .....

We can choose to be a part of the solution, to engage with fellow Canadians, to bring our strengths, talents and skills to bear to craft the perception of Canada, internally and externally, that WE believe we are.

It starts with an inner passion to get engaged.

Once your passion is stoked, bring your passion and beliefs to the table in a national dialog that makes government, NGOs and citizens equally responsible and accountable for manifesting the country that we know we are capable of creating - one that sets new standards by example and establishes a new paradigm domestically and internationally.

Are you ready to help manifest Canada's destiny in the 21st century or would you rather lament about how others are not living up to your expectation?

I think I know what you would prefer.

When you are ready to contribute, go to Canada's World and prepare to engage in a positive, constructive, respectful dialog with fellow Canadians who are passionate about improving how Canada becomes a role model in a number of different areas on the global stage.

Canada and the world eagerly await your strengths, talents and skills and the passion that you have to make this place a better one for everyone.

Your ideas have potential to profoundly influence and impact the world.

Isn't that an incredible thing to realize?

Yours in service and servanthood.



  1. Hi Harry

    I am glad to know that you had a good time in Canada. I am happy to hear about your experiences and your perception about the country, people and diversity.

    Canada is indeed a very special place.

    All the best as always

    Edison Reis

  2. Hey Edison,

    Many thanks for the quick response and the kind words.

    If I may ask a question of you. :-)

    Would you like to be part of this dialog? We need the voices of people like you to continue this dialog across the country.

    Take care,


  3. Hello again Harry. As one of the facilitators for the event you so eloquently describe in your blog, I would echo your sentiments: I saw people who not only had passion for what they said, but also voiced a commiment to do something about what the group said was important to them. I've facilitated many similar sessions before, but very few came up to the level achieved this weekend. I also encourage anyone to go to the Canada's World website to check out what's happening as a result.

  4. Harry!

    Thank you so much for your lovely reflections on Canada's World. You've really captured the essence of dialogue: the feeling it inspires, as much as the result it produces. I hope to continue reading your moving words on the role we should play in a world that, as you say, "showers us with abundance."


  5. Hi Harry!

    I was truly honored to meet you and all your fellow dialog participants this weekend. As a recent immigrant to Canada, such passion and such levels of understanding and respect make me feel that I really want to belong to this country and share with its peoples. Many thanks for your insights.

  6. Hi Maurice and Reilly,

    Thank you both so much for your passion around incubating and promoting this dialog.

    The impact of this dialog has been greatly amplified by your efforts and passion around creating a collaborative experience for all Canadians.

    Take care,


  7. Hi Elodie (aka Loutron),

    It was an incredible honor to collaborate with you and the other members of our team this weekend.

    Let's keep the energy and passion high as we collaborate towards a greater future!

    Take care, Elodie and thank you for your incredible efforts.