John Ralston Saul – Canada as a Metis nation

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid ide…

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid identity resonates with me as a German-Canadian making sense of post-modernity.

To Ralston Saul, Canada was upon arrival of Europeans an aboriginal civilization of minorities, 2 million people coexisting in this land with many cultures and languages while contemporary Canada continues to exist as a country of 30 million as a mixed set of cultures and languages. This coherent sense of a polyglot civilization of complexity that Ralston Saul describes makes Canada not a new country, but a very old country. He claims that contrary to our mythology, we are not a child of Europe in the Americas, we are in our philosophy the most American country in North America while the United States is the largest experiment of European ideas that happens to be taking place outside Europe.

He claims that what works in the Canadian civilization can’t be traced back to Europe.  It is a country of aboriginal inspiration, where complexity and mixedness is more interesting than clarity and homogeneity. Newcomers, in order to survive in this harsh environment, had to aboriginize themselves. They mixed with aboriginals and created a new people, the Metis. It is the only place Europeans colonized where they abandoned European modes of transportation and adopted local modes, in this case the canoe. Champlain said “our sons will marry your daughters and we will make one people”. Hudson’s Bay Company employees were under instructions to arrange marriages with the daughters of local chiefs to create military and trade alliances.

Today, we live with complexity, with multiple levels of government, with accepting differences among us. We’re a nonmonolithic nation-state. We adore negotiating, living comfortably with unresolved questions of clarity, we are in a constant state of negotiation and renegotiation. We are constantly thinking about how we can comingle individual and group rights in our Charter of Rights and constitution. Our approach to belonging, our approach to immigration and our capacity to adapt. We have taken the idea of the aboriginal Great Circle and worked through how to bring people into it. The oral traditions of aboriginal treaty rights are integrated into our legal foundations.

Ralston Saul argues for an urgent need for the incorporation of true Canadian philosophy and mythology into our sociology and political science. Harold Innis and Marshall Mcluhan and theories of communication came from here but we think they’re less important than Rousseau.

Check out this struggle for community engagement with local parks supervisors in Dufferin Grove #VoteTO #ChangeCampTO

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation m…

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

Have a read of the full letter and response. The reports of Parks & Rec’s attitude of homogeneity and bureaucratic central control over creativity and community collaboration is symptomatic of the industrial age approach to services delivery. Standardization is seen as more efficient. Separation of professionals from stakeholders is seen as a more responsible approach to governance.

What is being lost is the public value of what parks and public spaces are for. The park is not a set of services, it is a space for community. Community is composed of the connections between people and emerges in spaces for individual and community self-expression. By instructing supervisors to be obedient to the Corporation first and seeing community connections as a conflict of interest, this organization may be damaging the very thing it is intended to promote.

If true, and it seems entirely plausible to be true, this cynical approach to the management of public resources is shameful and short-sighted.

Join the Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=314791346519

Visualization of US social clusters from Facebook

via petewarden.typepad.com Fascinating what you can figure out from public Facebook pages. I’d like to see something similar done in Canada.

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Fascinating what you can figure out from public Facebook pages. I’d like to see something similar done in Canada.

Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy h/t @adamschwabe

via youtube.com A movement isn’t created by the leader, it is created the first follower who shows others how to join.


via youtube.com
A movement isn’t created by the leader, it is created the first follower who shows others how to join.

The decline of civil society and what it means for society

ResPublica Director Phillip Blond spoke to the Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit on “The decline of civil society and what it means for society” focusing on the New Civic Settlement: outlining a new politics of civic association. The talk outlined ho…

ResPublica Director Phillip Blond spoke to the Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit on “The decline of civil society and what it means for society” focusing on the New Civic Settlement: outlining a new politics of civic association. The talk outlined how civic society has been eroded, and what we can do to rebuild it and how a reconstituted associative culture can help solve public policy problems which neither the state nor the market have the ability to solve.

To hear his speech please click on the following link: The Cabinet Office

Downloadable version:

Phillip Blond’s thinking interests me. A lot.

Declaring war on Canadian complacency

Stephen Harper is counting on Canadians??? complacency as he rewrites the rules of his country???s politics to weaken legislative scrutiny Reuters via economist.com This shocking piece from The Economist is much more blunt than most Canadian media has…

Stephen Harper is counting on Canadians’ complacency as he rewrites the rules of his country’s politics to weaken legislative scrutiny

Reuters

This shocking piece from The Economist is much more blunt than most Canadian media has dared to be on the threat to Canadian democracy implicit in the Harper government’s cynical prorogation ploy.

In this new and frightening re-interpretation of Canadian democracy, Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. In this new world, black is white and up is down. It is a horrifying affront to democracy, regardless of your ideological or partisan leanings.

In Iran, the Green Revolution swept the streets of its major cities in response to a threat to the democratic processes of their constitutional Islamic Republic in a vast ongoing struggle for the future. Where is the equivalent Canadian movement? In Canada, I’m afraid, we just take it. We are a country of learned helplessness. Canada is a polity suffering from collective Stockholm syndrome. Call it democracy’s death by a thousand cuts.

I don’t know how this will all play out, but I’m fed up. I’m angry. I’m afraid for the future of democracy in the country that I love. But I also know that I am all the more motivated to do something about it. Others will have their own analyses and prescriptions, this is mine.

This is not a rant against Harper, the Conservative Party, Ottawa or politicians as a class. This is not me advocating to elect Liberals, Greens, NDP, or to talk about electoral reform, constitutional law or parliamentary procedure.

I blame us.

It is the particular Canadian culture of complacency that has empowered a skillful and cynical tactician to remake the political landscape in a way that other parties are jealous of more than horrified at. Voting the bums out and putting in new bums won’t change this fact.

I don’t actually believe that Canadians are apathetic. Canadians care deeply about many issues. They engage in their own quiet and private ways on many issues outside of politics and elections.

Complacency is not apathy. We care, we just don’t do anything about the things we care about. Our actions don’t match our words.

Canadians are disconnected from each other, their sense of citizenship and from civic life in general. I believe this disconnection is the legacy of the 20th century and the modern industrial welfare state. It is disconnection and the absence of a public life for the majority of Canadians that is the source of complacency. We don’t know each other. We can’t see each other and as a result we can’t find common cause or mobilze to take action around the things we care about in a way that is relevant to our politics.

Into the vacuum of a disengaged electorate, we have allowed cynical tactical opportunists of all political stripes to restructure our democracy in a way that keeps Canadians as silent and disconnected clients of the State. Mainstream media, political tacticians and socio-economic realities work to maintain and reinforce this disconnected and defanged democracy.

So, before we will ever see real change in our politics, I believe that the electorate needs to reconnect to itself, one individual to another and from individuals to their communities, one community at a time. Thankfully, we have the technologies and the methods to do this. We just need the individual and collective will to take on a major project of civic re-engagement.

This is the work of our age: to restore community, rebuild our civic institutions and reinvigorate our democracy so that we can transform our communities and society to face the very serious and difficult challenges that lie ahead.

So, to my ChangeCamp colleagues and collaborators across the country, let me offer a proposal about the change that I believe we seek.

The change we seek is two-fold:

  1. To make government more open, transparent, innovative, participatory, accountable, effective and efficient
  2. To reinvigorate the public sphere, re-engaging ourselves, our neighbours, our colleagues and our loved ones with each other around our civic passions

This is what we mean by “Reimagining government and citizenship in the age of participation”.

We are doing this not because we love technology or social media, but because we need a better democracy, a restored sense of community and a society that works for us and the historical moment we find ourselves in.

The moment demands our urgent efforts to reverse the tide of a culture of complacency. Now is our time. 2010 is the year it begins. The alternative is unthinkable.

Remembering David Pecaut and his love of Toronto

As I look at the future of Toronto, I am as excited as I have ever been about what the 5 million people here have to offer the world. To me the potential of Toronto lies not so much within its architectural or economic or social possibilities as i…

As I look at the future of Toronto, I am as excited as I have ever been about what the 5 million people here have to offer the world. To me the potential of Toronto lies not so much within its architectural or economic or social possibilities as in what it could represent to the world as a place where amazing things get done because this city is full of conveners, of civic entrepreneurs, of people who understand in their collective DNA how to bring all the parts of civil society around a table to solve problems, seize opportunities, and make great things happen.

It is this capacity of social mobilization that can be Toronto’s greatest gift to the world. We should stop worrying about global rankings and focus on what will make us truly special – which is that we can be the best in the world at collective leadership.

We can be a city where collective leadership is the norm. A city where civic entrepreneurs are everywhere and the process of bringing all the parts of civil society together to solve a problem is really how the city defines its uniqueness – a city where this quality is the essence of what makes Toronto so special.

In that sense, Toronto’s gift to the world could be this unique and powerful model of city building that comes from collective leadership.

This letter, published by Spacing shortly after his death, is must-read.

I feel myself profoundly saddened by David Pecaut’s passing, a man I never had the opportunity to meet but who has been described as “the best mayor Toronto never had”. His impact and his legacy is very much alive. My thoughts today go to all of those who are feeling his profound absence today and in the days to come. Now the work begins.