Joe Clarke was the keynote speaker at a symposium sponsored by the University of Waterloo entitled “Communicating Sustainability in a Polarized World.”
Clarke observed that Canadians will have difficulty understanding how others see the world during this period of continuing change. Canadians must be prepared to resolve differences that are profound and deep. Canadian policy should attempt to reach a middle ground, recognizing that accommodation will come at a cost, and require compromises that will be painful.
Clarke appealed for limits on the exploitation of Canada’s natural resources, an approach that may entail limits to our growth. The very idea of limits challenges long held assumptions about Canada. Canada has been seen as a country that could not “wear out. “
Many Canadians now are concerned about Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples. The concerns of others are directed at the political power of First Nations. Clark does not regard this political power as a risk for our future. Aboriginal values are more important than Aboriginal power as these values may be a way to a shared future.
When it comes to climate change, Canada, like the United States, is a polarized country. Yet Canadians have always sought consensus. There are important questions to be answered as Canadians attempt to reach this consensus. Why should Canadians be so adamantly committed to opposing positions? Can we identify the best mechanisms for overcoming these differences?
Currently there is no single institution in Canada with sufficient legitimacy to lead the way to a consensus on sustainability. We need to establish such an institution, for which the model could well be the recently abolished National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
As regards Climate Change, Clarke accepts that there can be no dispute about the basic facts. Canada must approach the subject recognizing that steps to limit climate change can also be an opportunity. If not, Canada will be at a future disadvantage.
Clarke recognized that there is a need to “put a price on carbon”, a subject that is “the third rail” of Canadian politics. He does not regard the defeat of Stephane Dion and the Liberal Party in the 2008 Election as a once-and-for-all rebuff of the legislation that would be necessary.
Presently most of the world regards Canada as an outlier, reluctant to engage with others on an international scale. Canada must make a reasonably serious commitment to its” international connections” if it is to influence international measures that will affect us.
He concluded his remarks by warning that there will be serious consequences for Canada if we don’t start to act now.