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Ontario Tech acknowledges the lands and people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.

We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.

This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.

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Lessons learned from the past

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on February 11, 2020

WWII soldiers
Members of 12th Parachute Battalion, 5th Parachute Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, enjoy a cup of tea after fighting their way back to their own lines after three days behind enemy lines in Normandy, 10 June 1919

Preparing for history to repeat

One of the largest collections of books on World War II is now available at Bearly Used Books in Parry Sound, Ontario. A couple of months ago, my dad, at 92, made his final move to a seniors’ home and no longer had space for all of his books, collected over many years. My dad was an authority on the war, having studied but also lived it, including as a prisoner of the Nazis, taken from his home in Rotterdam, Netherlands at age 17 to German work camps. He barely made it out alive, needing a few months of intensive care after the war ended to recover from malnourishment.

The Parry Sound bookstore was happy to help as we dropped off more than 100 of his books. We had tried to give the collection to a Royal Canadian Legion branch or an area library, but old books on long-past wars are not in demand. Pity, for there are lessons in those pages of history as the world shifts again along tectonic faults of social tension.

World War II signaled massive geopolitical changes. Britain emerged much impoverished and the United States entered the war after the Great Depression with almost 25 per cent unemployment. With victory over Germany and Japan in 1945, the U.S. started its ascendance as the only super-power (with the Soviet Union’s long decline). Canada emerged as a strategic middle power.

There is plenty of evidence 75 years later to suggest that massive shifts in geopolitics are coming again. What can Canada do to prepare for more turmoil in the world?

Reinforce multilateralism

As a middle power Canada can further embrace multilateralism and help develop the new rules of capitalism. Canada is one of the world’s most trusted countries and our track record is strong with support to post-war institutions like the UN, World Bank and IMF. Canada has served as a peacekeeping nation and contributed to the international trading framework through rules-based organizations like the WTO, and launch of the G7, and then G20. The U.S. remains Canada’s neighbour and strongest ally. However, as the U.S. looks increasingly inward, Canada needs to engage with the rest of the world with renewed vigour and strategy.

A useful place to start may be working with other countries to develop new rules and institutions to manage data security and utility. Many suggest data is the new oil. Countries like Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia, and South Africa need frameworks for multi-lateral monitoring and regulation of data, artificial intelligence, and new technologies like facial recognition and geo-engineering. Countries need to work together to regulate common threats, while still safeguarding innovators and entrepreneurs.  Responding to a changing climate is another area in need of a stronger multilateral framework.

Strengthen ties across the country

Few sub-sovereign governments have as much relative power as Canada’s provinces. Provincial and regional friction can therefore be intense. For example, Quebec was especially aggrieved when Prime Minister Mackenzie King broke his promise of no-conscription toward the end of World War II. The Canadian federation is again strained as Alberta and Saskatchewan feel isolated when facing the disproportionate economic impacts from phasing out fossil fuels. Meanwhile local governments are vulnerable to provincial dictates. Larger regions comprising several municipalities have no common voice. Urban-rural divides intensify and political parties further splinter the electorate.

Canada will always be a loose federation with strong north-south economic ties and relatively weak east-west national linkages. Canada needs to reinforce the strands that weave the country together. There is a need to increase the permeability of provincial borders. For example, all professionals should be able to easily work across the country; energy should be more readily distributed east-west; and universities together should offer international programs. Canada will also benefit from this century’s emergence of urban power. Urban power will complement military and economic power through culture and moral suasion. Greater Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, perhaps with Ottawa-Gatineau and Calgary-Edmonton, will serve as important global urban centres this century.

Conserve and innovate

Canadians today use more energy and generate more waste than anyone in the world. We rationalize our consumption with “we’re a big, cold country,” but truth is our communities and lifestyles are unnecessarily wasteful. This is linked with our steadily declining levels of productivity, compared to international peers.

As Canada shifts to a resource-efficient economy, with low carbon energy, much of this expertise will be exportable. Canada has the opportunity to innovate and increase productivity, while at the same time increase resilience as climate impacts intensify.

Partner with Africa

The population in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow 10-fold between 1960 and 2050. In 2000, eight of the world’s largest 100 cities were in Africa. By 2100 this is expected to increase more than four-fold to 36 cities. The battle for global sustainability will be won or lost in Africa.

The world’s development challenges are most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa. So too the opportunities. Canada, with its strength of bilingualism and lack of a colonialist past, is well suited to work with African countries, cities, universities, businesses, and institutions.

Sustainability zones

In 2017 the U.S. introduced new tax policies to establish ‘opportunity zones’ that particularly target low income neighborhoods. More than 8,000 opportunity zones exist, deferring some $100 billion in capital gains taxes. This concept could be adopted to Canadian communities accessing tax-free savings accounts, RRSP and pension funds. Participating zones could combine several sustainability objectives and catalyze cooperation across all levels of government. Key objectives could include efforts to increase resource efficiency, reduce emissions, welcome new immigrants, and strengthen social networks.

There are fewer people alive today who lived through World War II. But while they are still with us, we should ask them what they suggest Canada do to prepare for future conflict and disaster. In later conversations with my father, who passed away December 19, I took away a few thoughts: Build partnerships, be prepared, learn to live with less, be thankful when you have plenty, and never give up hope.

This seems like sound advice. Time to prepare.

Filed under: Sustainability 101