By: Claire Tremblay
Political think tank Canada 2020 wants Canada to have great vision – the type of vision that secures Canada’s prosperity into the next decade. Some might even call it 20/20 vision – the best sort of vision there is.
A self-described centrist progressive think tank, Canada 2020 started in 2006 with the idea of gathering up Canada’s greatest minds to generate ideas to solve Canada’s problems. Twenty leading thinkers were asked to pick a single issue that could transform Canada by 2020. Luminaries including journalist Chantal Hebert, health sciences expert Dr. David Walker, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and literary critic George Elliott Clarke offered up their ideas. They identified the rise of Atlantic Canada, Western separation, the Arctic, baby boomers health needs and the prospect of Québec as America’s 51st state as emerging issues.
Five years on, think tank Chairman Don Newman says Canada 2020 has grown substantially. Since then, Canada 2020 has hosted symposiums, overseas politicians and established a web site. Issues already addressed by the think tank include the need to make multibillion dollar upgrades to Canada’s electricity infrastructure, foreign ownership of Canada’s natural resources, inflation targeting, a pre-budget debate and the creation of a sustainable health care system. Symposium speakers have also included Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, Jeff Turnbull, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor Energy, Rick George, and Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Sandra Pupatello.
And Canada’s 2020 symposiums and dinners and lunches are proving more than just high-level gab fests. Ideas percolated through Canada 2020 have been picked up in the media (including editorials in the Globe and Mail) and by influential audience members including politicians and business leaders. By getting ideas out into the public forum, says Newman, Canada is better able to direct its destiny.
“The idea with Canada 2020 is to bring out ideas that help Canada,” says Newman. “If you don’t address your problems and try to deal with them in the changing international landscape, you are just throwing the dice,” says Newman.“If you can think about the things you have to deal with and at least exchange ideas first, then you can put out different ideas on how to deal with important issues.”
On the world front, America’s foreign debt problems rate highly as an emerging issue for Canada. In September, Canada 2020 is holding a global strategic outlook conference on the long-term economic outlook for the US. and its implications for Canada. The conference hopes to gain insights on international analysis and forecasting from both Canadian and international minds. Notables attending the conference include Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group based in London, David Emerson, former Canadian Minister of International Trade and Martin Wolf, from The Financial Times.
Canada 2020 will also hold an event in November with the United States Embassy on North American innovation. Newman says some “high-powered” people from the United States and Canada will attend the conference, including the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T Rybak, a scientific advisor to American President Barack Obama and the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson.
“One of the reasons we are doing all this is to think of policies for Canada in 2020 and to have some idea of what the world is going to look like, how those trends will impact Canada and how we can take advantage of the trends.” says Newman.
The Canada 2020 web site states its goal is to “create and environment of social and economic prosperity for Canada’ through the “engagement of Canada’s business and political and community leaders.” As to what this looks like in practice, Newman says, it is “about not just some people prospering but everyone prospering.” This includes making social services “that are available and affordable while also knowing what the cost of them are and how we can afford them in a global economy,” Newman says. “If we as Canadians have good ideas about international problems then we will have influence in a multi-power world,” says Newman. “For example how we came through the recession has made the world look at us and ask how did we do things differently.”
An issue closer to home says Newman is energy policy in Ontario. John Podesta, President and CEO of the Centre for American Progress and former White House Chief of Staff has spoken at two Canada 2020 events in Ottawa and Washington. Podesta spoke out in July this year on the Ontario Green Energy policy urging Ontario not to scrap its renewable energy policy.
Issues concerning Ontario are front and centre for Canada 2020 in the lead up to the upcoming provincial election later this year.
Just as impressive as the issues Canada 2020 tackles are its founding members and supporting organizations. Newman for one is a Canadian icon. A veteran journalist of 40 years and former Senior Parliamentary Editor of CBC Television News, Newman is now a senior consultant with Ottawa public relations firm Bluesky Strategy Group and columnist for iPolitics.ca, an online political hub. Other founding members include Tim Barber and Susan Smith, owners of the firm. (Both Barber and Smith worked on Parliament Hill in the 1990s as political aides). Fellow Hill veteran and award-winning author Eugene Lang is Vice-President at Bluesky.
High profile Canada 2020 backers include the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Scotiabank, Telus, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and Canadian National Railways.
However, Canada 2020 is not just about high-profile Canadians working to affect positive change in Canada. The think tank also welcomes all concerned Canadians to participate
in Canada 2020. Sign up to its newsletter, contribute as a sponsor, participate in Canada 2020’s blog or watch Canada 2020 events online. More information on Canada 2020 can be found on the organization’s web site, www.canada2020.ca.