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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

Searching for a preferred Canadian scenario

Dan Coates, President and CEO, Scenarios for the Future

The Scenarios for the Future project feel privileged to be at this conference to have an opportunity to ask you to join with us in looking at the work we as an organization have tried to do over the last two years.

We, like Couchiching, are an effort that is trying to promote strategic dialogue in the country about the future, about the big issues and choices that face Canadians. As Couchiching is a model of citizen engagement of one kind we, also, are an effort to try and promote citizen engagement in a fundamental sense.

I’ll compress my remarks so I can turn over the mike to Micheline Bouchard, one of our distinguished members, and then to Michael Adams [and] to outline the evening, then I’ll turn the chair over to Don de Guerre.

Don, who is an outstanding facilitator with a global reputation ,will lead us through an exercise we felt was very important because if we’re all about serious dialogue among concerned citizens and concerned with furthering shared understanding [and] together with engaging in those key decisions, we should be a model of how we engage.

You will be applying your wisdom in that second part, instead of us trying to give you wisdom. It’s only by capturing our collective wisdom that we will engage each other.

I think it was Tom Courchene [who] said the other day that if we are to do what he was proposing, that is, plug citizens into the supranational agencies, mechanisms would have to be developed. We certainly have to create it in Canada first and in other democracies far more effectively than we’ve done to date.

Just to tell you quickly about Scenarios for the Future. It grew out of an initiative by Michael Adams, who felt [as a leading national pollster] that there was a need for more dialogue and there was a need for Canadians to talk about the future together; most fundamentally to deliberate together. After all, polling is not a deliberative process. It doesn’t capture deliberation.

Michael has initiated this project, inspired it and led it. I’ve had the privilege to work with him and manage that process with a group of professional people who supported me in every way along the road.

The co-chair of our effort is Jacques Menard, who is chairman of Quebec Hydro and Vice-Chairman of Nesbitt Burns.

Michael brought together a group of friends, including Jacques Menard, Pierre-Marc Johnson, Dan Gagnier [and] Tom Kierans [who were] very crucial in getting our project launched and particularly in helping me recruit the round table members.

We brought this critical mass together and we developed a fund raising capability and under Michael’s and Jacques leadership and the energies of 30 odd people.

We have a brochure that lists all their names, I’m not going to try and repeat what’s in it. To try and keep our pace, I’ll tell you among those other key people were four or five donors among the dozens of donors that really made the difference in launching our project.

I just want to acknowledge them. First and foremost was Alcan, a model of social responsibility as a corporation. All these donors took a risk on our project, because it was bringing together sovereigntists and federalists and a very diverse group of people. They didn’t know what the outcome was going to be and we didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.

We never tried to control the outcome. This was a serious professional attempt at citizen engagement.

So, they took a high risk and Alcan led it. The Molson’s companies were also a very crucial donor in the early days.

I’ll just single out two or three others who were major donors: The Bank of Montreal, CIBC and Canadian National. There were many others and Micheline Bouchard, as well as being a member of our round table with Michael and myself, was a very key fund-raiser.

Le me just tell you why we think our project is important. It rests largely on a national round table we convened over about nine months; 12 days devoted by a group of 30 Canadians from diverse backgrounds. They came together in these five sessions and using a rigorous scenarios methodology.

Michael will lead us into that exercise.

It was a very impressive group of people. They worked very hard. I’ve got to mention that our facilitators for that round table were Suzanne Taschereau, an outstanding facilitator, and Adam Kahane, who is quite a renowned facilitator in scenarios methodology.

In addition, the most crucial person in our secretariate that I led, was Stephen Rosell, president of the Meridian International Institute, our think tank we created to try and further effective governance in the U.S. and Canada.

Stephen brought an enormous intellectual depth and wisdom to the project and guided us in the development of process and the entire project.

Now, why is this project important?

I’m just going to leave you with two quotes and then I’ll turn the microphone over to Micheline.

The two quotes are from Daniel Yankelovich, who is also a pollster and scholar like Michael. {He’s] an older man, not really retired, but he’s given up his major polling firm. But he’s still a leader, both in this country and the United States and in many other countries.

I’ll give you one quick quote from Dan, who was one of the 10 key resource people at our national round table. He has written so widely, but I’ll just give you the quote he said at the round table.

"Between elites and the public there is a total absence of dialogue. That disconnect is so great that it makes a mockery of one of its fundamental tenets of democracy and that is the consent of the governed."

And he argues, of course, elections do not equal consent.

He says our existing model of public communication is totally off base. It is top down. It’s from leaders to the public. The medium of exchange is information. What leaders are giving the public is information and the assumed purpose of that information is either public education or persuasion.

He says before we can carry on a dialogue with the public we have to change this model; to move from a model of top down communication to a model of two-way communication. We also have to understand that the medium of exchange is not information, but a discussion of solutions based on values.

One quick quote from Janice Stein, David Cameron and Richard Simeon.

All of them were advisers or participants in our project and they also produced a C. D. Howe commentary in June of 1997 in both official languages that was on public engagement. Even though it was translated [and] heavily promoted by C. D. Howe, it got virtually no publicity other than a minor mention in Lise Bissonnette’s editorial in Le Devoir and Rafe Mair in Vancouver.

It was a major statement on citizen engagement in this country, or in any country, and it was ignored.

Just one quick quote from them:

"Today Canadians across the country are determined to have a voice in shaping their political future. Canadians have done a lot of citizen work in recent years, but it has not been of the right kind.

"Canadians had little opportunity to engage in a cumulative process of working through their conflicts and disagreements together, learning from one another, adjusting their preliminary beliefs and preferences and arriving over time at strong stable judgments about matters of common concern."

And they talk about people experimenting in other democracies. We’ve done in Canada so little serious citizen engagement.

The kind of citizen engagement, or this kind of involvement, they say, can happen only if the right processes of engagement are in place.

That’s what we tried to design with Scenarios for the Future’s national round table.

The criteria of effective citizen engagement that we consider critical: a discussion of identities, values and needs, an inclusive, fair and respectful process, an open agenda set by the citizens, not by government or leaders putting proposals for reaction, and the opportunity to reconsider preferences in light of learning about others.

Well, that’s all I want to say other than introducing Micheline.

Our little project is going to accumulate, as it says in our booklet, in a national round table in early 1999 — probably February. And in that national round table we’ll bring some of the members who have participated in the first major round table and people who participated in workshops we’re trying to hold across the country, including this session today.

And that national round will produce a report [the] considered judgment of those 30 or more members on the future prospects of the country and, most particularly, a preferred vision of the country and some of the steps they would consider taking or advocate that we take to reach that preferred future.

That’s the exercise that Don is going to outline that we’ll do in phase two of this evening.

I’ll just introduce Micheline by saying that she is an outstanding leader in her home province of Quebec and also nationally in the country in her profession and in business in the corporate world.