Peter Mansbridge is a journalist and retired CBC news anchor. This piece is adapted from remarks that he will deliver at Imagining 2080: A Forum on Canada’s Future, a public forum created by the Future of Canada Project at McMaster University.
Next week, Canadians will engage in an important conversation to chart a course for becoming the nation we want to be in 2080 – almost six decades from now.
For the past couple of years, I have served on the Council for the Future of Canada Project. The project supports research and initiatives with the goal of creating a more equitable, sustainable and resilient Canada.
Now we are opening the conversation to a wider audience. We picked 2080 because we wanted distance – real distance – between now and then. Lots can change over 60 years, and of course we can only guess at what those changes may be. But what do we want the country to be in the 2080s?
I know it feels hard to focus on that right now, to separate our lives from the moment we are in today, a hard moment. The rising cost of living. A burning planet. War: physically, financially, digitally.
To really look ahead, not just imagine, but to build something so many decades down the road, is a lot to ask when next year, even next month is hard to contemplate for so many Canadians. Thinking decades into the future seems ethereal. Like something we can’t wrap our minds around. But that’s the challenge.
Talking about our future is important – in fact, it’s critical. But let’s be honest: We cannot move forward without acknowledging who has been left out in the past. So-called “important” visions of our future have long ignored the failings of our past. It’s a conversation that has been dominated by one group – a group that looks predominantly like me.
So we have an opportunity here. To chart a new course. To think about who has a seat at the table. To think about who is building our future.
I’ve travelled across this country, from coast to coast to coast. I’ve seen and heard what its people are capable of. All its people. From those who have deep roots to those just starting to plant seeds.
This is not how we’ve done business in the past. Let’s not pretend it is. That needs to change if we are really serious about our goals.
We need everyone at the table, and let’s be clear – they don’t need to agree. But leaving out voices that will challenge, that will push and that care enough to do both – that’s not how change happens.
As a journalist, I’ve seen the roadblocks to change close-up. I’ve seen the resistance to new and difficult ideas. These days, divisions feel deeper, meaner. It’s not our ability to understand each other that is up for debate, but our desire. That’s a dark place.
I’ve never been in the business of big ideas. I’ve been in the business of meeting people with big ideas, of asking questions about those ideas and making sure that Canadians know about those ideas.
From politicians, to academics, to entrepreneurs, artists, activists, community leaders, researchers and students – we need to hear ideas from any and all who are engaged and who care. From those who have been using their voices for decades for change, and those who are just learning to speak up now.
So let’s think big. Big and far. Sixty years down the road – what is our country going to look like? What will our shared values be, and how will we continue to grow, to learn, to exist and to prosper?
If we reverse the clock and go back 60 years to November, 1963, the world witnessed one of the most significant moments of my youth: One of that era’s big thinkers was cut down in Dallas. It was a seismic shift that left so many wondering: what if?
Sixty years from now, what will the world’s preoccupation be? We can’t know with certainty. But here’s what we can do: We can come together, dream big and chart a course for Canada. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed.
I think I’ve lost count of how many of these projects that I’ve been a part of over the years. Will this one be different? Will this be what we need?
I don’t know. You don’t know. In fact we won’t know. But let’s be positive and let’s be innovative – let’s try.