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Bold, creative change

Imagine a better future for Canada.

Imagine a better future that is feasible and work heroically to achieve it. That is the essence of a Commanding Hope to address the combined threats of climate change and growing inequity, according to Thomas Homer-Dixon. At first, I found it a slim basis for hope. On second thought, however, why did I consider an appeal to imagination as weak? Imagination is powerful – one of God’s great gifts to humans. And it is a critical missing element in Canadian public life today.

COVID exposed pre-existing weak spots in the way we organize society. Many voices are coming together under slogans such as “Build Back Better” or “Just Recovery.” Most of the proposals are system corrections, like national standards for elder care or closing gaps in support services. Incremental improvement is the way most change occurs in Canada, but it may not be enough this time.

Beyond ‘tech’ solutions

Bold, creative change doesn’t fare well in Canada. Last week the federal government stopped working on unified regulation of stock markets, something that most economists agree would work better. The reason: some provinces are balking for partisan political reasons. The Infrastructure Bank, an innovative idea, became bogged down in bureaucratic tangles within a year. It took 20 years to get common sense changes in the family court system – and there is still drag in some places. Putting a price on pollution was proposed in the 1990s already but is just beginning to happen now. Pharmacare, repeatedly shown to be more cost-effective than the status quo, is still dismissed as too radical.

Innovation in Canada tends to be associated with high tech solutions to technical problems. At the same time, creative solutions to growing healthy food for everyone or housing the homeless can’t find funding to expand. Death by pilot project is all too common in the social sector in Canada. And no one dares to propose changing Canada’s constitution, although some other countries do so regularly. Canada, a fairly young country, seems to be already stuck in the way we did it before.

Vision for our Future

We short-change our children with our acceptance that systemic change in Canada takes generations. That’s also true in the church world, which often lags rather than leads social change. In The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye, one of Canada’s eminent scholars, highlighted the importance of myths or social imaginations as the basis of our culture. This theme continues in the current work of Charles Taylor, another leading thinker. Both have deep roots in Christianity. The Bible reminds us that people perish without a vision. I find myself wondering what might happen if Canada’s Christian community, joining with others, took up Homer-Dixon’s challenge to imagine boldly how we could care for creation and for others – and then rolled up our sleeves to also do the work it will take to achieve it.

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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