In a six-week series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with renewing our democratic institutions.
Lili-Anna Peresa, president of Centraide of Greater Montreal, was interviewed on Sept. 3 by Adam Kahane, chairman, North America, of Reos Partners.
Kahane: If things don't turn out well in Canada over the next decades, what would have happened and why?
Peresa: We – both citizens and politicians – would have failed to show courage in making the tough, long-term decisions we face. With a four-year election cycle, politicians campaign and paint a nice, beautiful picture, but they're not telling the entire story. When they get in power, they realize they have to make tough decisions. Then people aren't happy because the politicians aren't doing what they promised. When we vote for people, we have to have the courage to let them do what they have to do and not succumb to the pressure to do what is popular. So balance is the most important thing, and the line is very fine.
Kahane: Do you think we're making wise investments for the future?
Peresa: Right now, we're investing a lot in health care. Why is that? Because people fear that they and their loved ones could become ill, and want assurance that if they do they will have access to quality care. But since the population of deprived areas have poorer health and lower life expectancy, reducing poverty reduces the pressure on our health system. And since there is a link between low educational attainment and poverty, investing more in education would be more sustainable than sinking more and more money into health care. But how can elected officials who serve four or five years have the courage to invest in such a long-term, preventive approach?
Kahane: Does Montreal have the capacity to make needed change?
Peresa: Over the past 20 years, every neighbourhood in Montreal has organized a multidisciplinary round table in which people from community organizations, local agencies, the city, the police, health providers, schools and so on talk and work together. Before, only agencies mobilized citizens. Now neighbourhoods themselves are the ones working on this mobilization.
I think that we're fed up with bad news and our skepticism is high. We want good news, and we know that we have to rely only on ourselves to create that good news. Even if we don't have the same political vision, we know we have to stick together to create forward movement.
Kahane: Most people think that multi-actor groups are less capable of making hard decisions. What is your experience?
Peresa: I find that people in multi-actor groups play fine together. They define neighbourhood priorities, such as security or making sure that all kids go to good schools, and then they work together to make it happen. They don't say, "Okay, we'll choose the one that is easier"; they say, "What is the most important one for us to move on first?"
Despite the degree of poverty in Montreal, when you look at statistics on the levels of happiness and quality of life, it is one of the top places to live, because we have a strong social community network. The reason we have a low crime rate, a high quality of life, and a society that mobilizes in a peaceful way is because we have an open culture and because our social fabric allows people to have hope.
Possible Canadas is a project created by Reos Partners, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and a diverse coalition of philanthropic and community organizations. For longer versions of these interviews, or to join the conversation, visit possiblecanadas.ca