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My day at the Community Forum

I went to the SFU Public Square Forum: Charting BC's Economic Future on October 4th and the first thing I thought of when I entered the front doors of the Conference Centre was, "Gee, am I the only guy who is not here as part of his job?" It looked like every guy except me was wearing a grey suit and very few of the women were not wearing grey or black, either. This Forum was the culmination of SFU's Community Summit and I was invited because I had facilitated one of the 100 Community Conversations on a particular theme of own. I figured that everybody there would be one of these people. No, it turns out I was mistaken about that. The opening panel was Institutional leaders. In fact the whole room was full of these folks. Except me. I thought, Hmmm....  this is gonna be innerestin. And it was.

 

It was extremely high level and to a great extent it was very top down. In attendance were politicians and heads of major institutions: the BC business council, the BC Federation of Labour, Native chiefs and all sorts of others whose names I recognized and many who I'd seen on the local news. The opening panel started the day off well. While some of the panelists said fairly "stock" phrases such as Yuen Pau Woo from the Asia Pacific foundation saying we need to go beyond the transportation function of the "Gateway" to take advantage of so much flow going through BC. Even if it's  not just the  traditional transport function. Examples include companies doing work on global scale that isn't necessarily taking place here.

 

 

However, other panelists really set the tone of the day.

 

Greg D'Avignon from the BC Business Council asked: how do we change the tenor of discussion among institutions? How do we change the approach and [methods] of institutional problem solving in BC? Looking after health and welfare of kids ensures their success in school and in life. BC needs their success and participation. Yes, the BC Business Council said that!


Tamara Vrooman, CEO of Vancity: why is it that businesses can't have policies and practices like Vancity? Often they are held back by myths, while adapting to community needs actually lowers risks and costs.

Finally, Chief Sophie Pierre, really made the point of the whole day: there is no single solution but we need a common direction or we won't be able to move forward.


After lunch, however, there was a wake-up call presentation from  Roger Gibbins from the Canada West Foundation. He reminded us of some of the stark realities of BC. For example, the vision of the purpose of resources in the economy is, on the surface, very different between Vancouverand Prince George. Even when Vancouver thinks we can stand on our own as a "world city" because we think our social and natural capital is unique, our world competitors lie  Barelona or Sydney (or even Seattle) think theirs is too and are selling their so-called uniqueness to the rest of the world. In Gibbins' opion, Vancouver needs inclusion of BC resource wealth to compete with those others who also think their capital is unique.

 

A good spectrum of powerful Native leaders were also in attendance and, they, and eveyone else, actually, seemed to agree with Miles Richardson that we need to build a mutual, respectful relationship with Native people before their  issues can be resolved. In fact, it was pointed out that beyond what Richardson said, we need to build respectful relationships between disparate groups across the board: labour vs. business, urban vs. rural, and so on.


These thinkers smart were also respectful listeners, I discovered.  Especially in my breakout group that included Krishna Pendakur, Tamara Vrooman, Peter Robinson, Adrian Dix, Dorothy Sayer, inter alia. We had two breakout sessions with the same group. In the morning we were asked "what are the issues" and in the afternoon, "what are the solutions". In both cases I'm happy to say that I was able to bring the essential conclusions from our  Librarians' Conversation: that the documents and process from the 100 Community Conversations were too top down; that institutions need to go back to the communities with open agendas and let communities choose their issues and what they want to work towards. We even talked about the subversive idea of disassembling our institutions and rebuilding them with community input. Discussion around those issues were interesting, informative, and introduced new (and, sometimes, old) ideas back into the discourse. Someone said we shouldn't deny politics; it has a lot of power to change for the good. Others wanted to start with the fundamental issue: the land and the fact that we have to,  in particular, let native communities help determine what we do with it. There was also a discussion that local governments should and could be bigger parts of the solution but short terms-of-office and restricted municipal power holds them back.

At the end, there were repeated calls for doing this again but with more background work. That sounds great, and I think it would be great but I was also left with lingering questions. I do wonder if all these institutional leaders, especially those for whom straying from the status quo brings great risk and who preside over the top-down domination of economic decision-making, could adjust to local/community desires to make their own futures, or at least have an equal, collaborative role. I fear that some of these leaders were there to protect their organizations. I guess time will tell whether the positive responses to the day end up in a report that fades away or whether they result in new dialogue and, ultimately, actions and change.

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