Debates at the crossroads

So, Canada and the U.S. both hosted debates last evening; Canada for it’s national party leaders, in advance of the upcoming Federal Election in October, and the U.S. Democratic National Committee (DNC) for candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 2020 Primary.

These debates are significant for one simple yet existential reason: choosing the ‘wrong’ leader at this crossroads of history will have repercussions the likes of which humans have never before experienced.  The reason: climate emergency.

For those who have not yet checked out the findings of the scientific community, do so, before you vote. This is not a hoax, scam, or money-making scheme for businesses in the Green sustainability industry.  It is very real, and human caused. If you have not read the summary of the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, do so, before you vote. In the short year since it’s publication, scientists have alarmingly stated that the recommendations in the report are already understated. Earth is warming even more quickly than that radical report cautioned.

Canada, as a historically fossil fuel-driven economy, faces a fundamental ‘paradigm shift’ away from resources to a knowledge-based sustainable one. Fossil fuel workers, who contributed to our national prosperity for decades, need to be retrained and protected during the transition. Massive capital and human resources need to be devoted to this change initiative. We face also a rare opportunity to step up on the world stage by demonstrating that we have the courage and leadership to show that major transformation is possible, even from a fossil fuel economy, to a cleaner one.

America, leader in fracking and oil production and consumption, remains the unilateral global power to whom the world (at least pre-November 6, 2016) looked for guidance and responsible, measured action in emergencies. Yet collusion between Congress, Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry and mainstream media has kept the climate issue well off the public radar until the last two devastating hurricanes forced them to address it. Their puerile president insists it’s a Chinese hoax.

In both countries the level of public ignorance and feckless leadership is startling and unnerving.

Canada’s glamour-boy Prime Minister, being influenced by the fossil fuel industry, used taxpayer funds to actually buy a pipeline contract from a U.S. company, when he saw that public sentiment was shifting in the other direction. Then, true to courageous leadership form, he failed to even show up for the first debate last night, being represented instead by an empty podium. As for the public, a quick post-debate poll showed that 76% of Canadians thought the Conservative leader (who is also beholden to the fossil fuel industry) won the debate, and they also ranked the climate issue far behind those of immigration and taxes. They don’t get it.

Down in America, the DNC earlier refused member demands to host a separate debate solely on the climate emergency, leaving CNN to step up and do so. And while that debate did have substantive discussion about very important issues (health care for all, gun violence, immigration, racism, corruption) the participants failed to drive home the point that should we fail to curtail this climate emergency, all the efforts on those other issues simply become an exercise of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Every once in awhile, society encounters events that slap it awake from its sleepy day-to-day concerns. Whether the Biblical story of the Flood is historical or allegory, imagine the stress and courage experienced by people facing that catastrophe. Less dramatic, and definitely real, were the World Wars, Great Depression, the 2008 Great Recession. Each of those required the emergence of strong leaders to guide the public to safer ground. Yet none of those involved existential consequences for failure. Only the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis comes close, and fortunately for us, both Kennedy and Khrushchev had the moral courage and leadership strength to make the right decisions and ease back from the brink.

Here’s the critical fact: scientists say that at most we have an 11 year window in which to hold the global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-Industrial Age levels. Should we fail, we won’t experience severe disruption immediately, but the momentum will be irreversible, and the consequences catastrophic.

Yet our current global ‘leaders’ seem more preoccupied with maintaining the status quo, with incremental change, with the financial minutiae topics of Davos, with personal enrichment. If we fail to elect the right leaders this time around, the window for remedial action will close, and we will deserve to be cursed by our children, if they survive.

We are at the crossroads of human existence, created by us, and manageable by us. But we need to elect the right leaders, and the will and courage to support them. NOW.

Michael Darmody is a leadership consultant and executive coach. More detail on the challenges we currently face can be found in his new book The Boiling Frog: How Complacency and Ignorance Created Our Leadership Crisis and What We Can Do About It.

Vote: Act During Critical Times

During the national political debates this week, one of the pols mentioned that during the last Federal election, 72% of eligible voters didn’t bother to vote.
If this statistic is accurate, it causes one to ponder relative situations in life: the bloody deaths of Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians, Bahrain-is, Yemenis, and Algerians, adamant about achieving their basic human rights after decades of oppression, contrasted with Canadians’ apathetic, shoulder-shrugging, disengaged acceptance of our politicians and ideas about our future.
As with many things human, effective change comes only after a certain level of pain has been endured for enough time for people to shout “enough.” Egyptians have passed it. Canadians are nowhere near that pain point yet.
But we must be alert and awake to the critical times we are in. Surveying the global landscape, we find that Canada is in far better shape than many countries (Ireland, Greece, Portugal, the U.S.): lower crime, less scary deficits (although still work to be done here), a functioning multi-cultural mosaic, and a reputation for rational, humane, intelligent approaches to world problems.
This has not happened by accident, but rather (at least partially) by design, through decisions taken several years back. Twenty years ago, the Business Council on National Issues and the Government of Canada commissioned Harvard strategy uber-guru Michael Porter to conduct a study of Canadian competitiveness in the global arena, and to recommend strategies and action steps to position Canada effectively for the next 20 years. It was called Canada at the Crossroads. We’re now there again.
The report concluded that, up to 1991, Canada’s great wealth had allowed businesses, labour, and governments to achieve their respective goals without major change or sacrifice; no one had to collaborate to increase the size of the pie. Porter pointed out how dysfunctional government policies, rather than assist the private sector to innovate and grow, actually hindered our global competitiveness. Some recommendations were adopted, others not, but the details of the report are not the point.
The point is that because someone had the foresight and diligence to be proactive in 1991, we are in a better place now, and with the current serious struggles faced by many nations, there is great opportunity for Canada to leverage her relatively strong position, and to ensure a solid future as a major player in the new world order.
Critical times. Question: who is preparing us for that now? Which party or politician has the foresight and vision that will position Canada for the next 20 years? Do you care? Where is the guiding ‘Canada at the crossroads strategy’ for this point in time, and who is crafting it and how will it affect us?
There is always the huge temptation to shrug; what can my one vote do? Yet if we fail to take action as individuals, we cannot expect action from populations. And we will then deserve the results that we get. Movements start with one person.
So please, let’s each do our part to ensure Canada does not drift into the future during these critical times; missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Read about the issues, decide which party best reflects your vision for Canada, and then GO VOTE!

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Torontonians Set Good Example for US Voters

There are some excellent lessons from the recent Toronto Mayoral election that other Canadian cities and all US cities/states can ‘go to shool’ on.
First, a voter turnout of over 50% shows individual ownership and intention to make a difference; quite impressive given the pervasive apathy and discouragement that has of late descended on our jaded, cynical society. I did not vote this time around (shame on me, but Hazel won again in Mississauga and I favoured her), but kudos to all of those who did get out and exercise their precious right. Recent ads in the US advise disenfranchised Latinos NOT to vote at all, as a sign of protest! Not a particularly good suggestion.
Second, in the end, the campaigns of Smitherman and Ford moved away from attack ads, and Smitherman showed extreme class and dignity with his final speech acknowledging defeat. Both he and Ford based their campaigns on clearly different platforms from which voters could choose, and put it all out there for the people to decide.
While democracy is a flawed form of government, it remains, as Churchill once said, the best one we’ve invented so far. The leadership shown this time around by the candidates (expressing their different visions for the city) and by the voters (modelling the way by taking action and going to the polls) demonstrates that if we truly want it to, our system can work well.
Hopefully, Canadians and our leaders at the national level will learn from this. And given our close integration with the giant south of our border, hopefully, they will take note prior to their November 2nd elections too.

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