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October 19 2019

Lalli: Canada needs more Canada, without the polarization

Lalli: Canada needs more Canada, without the polarization

This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald on October 19, 2019.

It seems we are more polarized every day. Newsfeeds are customized to confirm our worldviews. Opinions become more entrenched. And elections surface deep divides.

At the start of this election year, a study by Abacus Data from Maclean’s found that one in four Canadians are deeply entrenched in their political views. Just last month, the Digital Democracy Project found evidence of affected polarization — defined as a dislike of parties or their supporters on the other end of the political spectrum simply because they belong to an opposing group.

Further, a recent Angus Reid poll showed that once Canadians learned about the number of immigrants that Canada welcomes every year, they fell almost entirely and equally into two opposing camps: 39 per cent who felt the number is just right and 40 per cent who felt the number was too high.

Meanwhile, although climate change is the second-most important issue to Canadians in the upcoming election and 90 per cent of Canadians agree climate action is important, any balanced approach to solutions draws criticism from the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The divisiveness on some of the most important issues of our time has a significant impact on our ability to unite as a country. While it is a privilege of the democratic process to have the freedom to debate, to discuss and to choose the Canada we want, there is a danger that polarization can persist long after election day. And that we further erode Canadian identity.

Being Canadian is not an artifact; it is a feeling. The feeling of living in a free society, not having to look a certain way or be a certain way to have the opportunity to reach our full potential. Without vision, without leadership, without inspiration and connection, we risk losing our identity as Canada.

As we head into the final stretch of our federal election, let’s look for vision, inspiration and connection to what Canada and being Canadian means to you. Canada’s future must include alignment of voice, alignment in action and a commitment to execute based on a foundation of trust and the betterment of humanity.

Why do we need to do this? Because it’s within us. We can be leaders on the global stage — economic leaders and environmental leaders. Our politicians work for us; therefore it is imperative we vote to ensure our society remains competitive, relevant, and nationally and globally responsible. This is our obligation, and this is the obligation of the politicians we elect to lead us. Nation-building is required in order to hold true what is Canadian.

As a citizen, a mother and a business leader, I believe we are at a crossroads as a country. We have the opportunity to plan how best to move forward. We must move forward together with AND conversations that enable growth of our civil society, economy and academia. What I mean by this is we can no longer get results with half of the equation. We can no longer have conversations and political actions that further entrench our biases and own worldviews.

For instance, this past spring the Canadian Global Cities Council, a coalition of CEOs of eight of Canada’s largest urban chambers of commerce and boards of trade coast-to-coast — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Brampton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax — launched the Canadians for Natural Resources initiative.

The goal of the initiative, which was spearheaded by the Calgary Chamber, was to start a conversation about Canada’s potential to be a global leader in both natural resources development AND fighting climate change at the same time.

The initiative has encouraged Canadians to talk with each other and their elected leaders about how Canada’s natural resources can be further developed to successfully position Canada as a leader in the fight against climate change and greenhouse gas reduction.

Today, we can have natural resources development AND solve climate change. We can feed the world AND have sustainable agricultural practices. We can respect each other’s heritage AND still be patriots. We can be in business AND be socially accountable to the communities in which we operate.

Whatever your polarizing issue is, find the AND. Find the people in your community and rally. Rally to the AND. Better is within us. And we will find it because Canada needs more Canada.

Sandip Lalli is president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.