Canada – A Different Kind of Great Country for a Different Kind of World
Notes for talk
First, congratulations on the symposium and thank you for the opportunity to lead off. It is not only timely for Canadians to discuss and understand the Canadian difference in relation to diversity. It is important for others to understand. My pilgrimage on the Canadian difference path started in early 2011 – not quite seven years ago. It began with Canada, the Unknown Country, whose only shared story seemed to be its drive and capacity for mutual accommodation. Bill Innes and I launched the Canadian Difference project with Trent University around the time of the November 2014 special meeting of Canadian history academics in Charlottetown, PEI in November 2014. Tom Symons, and later Chris Dummitt, were indispensable in putting Trent University at the heart of the project.
My first essays for the Globe and Mail on mutual accommodation started in June 2015 and are over 60,000 words. These are more than John Stuart Mill used in his 50,000 words On Liberty.
The Canadian difference most relevant to the future of Canada and the world is no doubt the mutual accommodation foundation of its diversity and the need for dialogue about it both within and beyond Canada.
The diversity of today’s world is inescapable and requires never-ending ongoing accommodations on a scale without historical precedent. The big question is whether the needed accommodations will be mutual or forced. Mutual accommodation strength is best alongside the strengths from the other three better ways humans have found for going about things – freedom, science and knowledge, and compassion.
Each of these better ways are inexhaustible. They each rest more on persuasion than force. How do people feel safe and know who they are and should be in a world that is no longer narrowly bounded? My first mutual accommodation line of thought came from two ideas in the early nineties. Idea one was a response to the feelings of some English Canadians at the time of the second Quebec independence referendum that Canada needed a stronger sense of identity. My response was that if, in a world in which all identities are partial, one can live without a firm identity, that made one stronger. I think this is starting to play out.
Idea two came around the same time, when some Canadians used to pride themselves on our greater tolerance. I do not favour intolerance, but I do not like the implications of a tolerance that puts some in a higher position than others by tolerating something about them. Also, I was far from sure Canadians were more tolerant than others. But I believed Canada had a stronger drive towards mutual accommodation than any other country. Indeed, I saw a key difference between Canadians and Americans: a Canada with the strongest drive toward mutual accommodation of any country, and a United States with perhaps the strongest drive toward division.
One of the ways we better understand ourselves is to better understand others by comparison, and vice versa. Ken Dryden’s 2000 Charles R. Bronfman lecture, “Finding a way: legacy for the past; recipe for the future” compared Canada’s number one sport, hockey, with America’s number one sport, football, and earlier number one, baseball. The bottom line was this. The shift from baseball to football required stronger central control. It was the opposite to hockey. Once the puck is dropped in hockey, there is chaos – the 180 degrees opposite of control. The only choice is to do what it takes. Dryden believes Canada’s choice to do that has shaped today’s country.
Canadians have mostly done what it takes for diverse people to live together in mutual accommodation. Canada has found the more one can include others’ identity strengths, the stronger one’s own becomes. A country like the U.S., driven more and more by ideology – sometimes masquerading for a narrow identity – finds compromise and mutual accommodation hard. Ideology has two fatal problems – it excludes too much reality and it divides people.
A U.S. in the midst of its greatest political turmoil since the Civil War is starting to take another look at itself. American exceptionalism comes from its earliest days. As one American literary critic – RWB Lewis – put it in his 1955 book “The American Adam” – America is the new Eden, Americans are the new innocent man – Adam – freed from the historic sinful past of Europe. Ironically, as things have turned-out, Canada is freer of the European nationalisms and ethnic, class and other divisions than the United States. Arguably, while both Canada and the United States share the New World of North America, Canada’s world is newer relative to old Europe than is the United States. The divisiveness of the Trump era – there long before him; arguably from its inception – is an emerging existential and identity threat to the U.S..
Some recent positive (but skeptical) American thinking is seriously questioning America’s two biggest and earliest myths – its exceptionalism and the American dream. What keeps a divided U.S. together if those myths erode too much too quickly? This is potentially the most consequential question for our times. What then is the glue in a divided country in political turmoil?
Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker staff writer, who grew up in Montreal, had a long May 15, 2017 article in the New Yorker titled “We could have been Canada. Was the American Revolution such a good idea?” Here is his first paragraph. “And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America – what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in-spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution”, no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior – less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada.
The Gopnik rumination about the founding of the U.S. is important. “Birth myths” are often too limiting and lead to lasting self-misunderstanding. The latest book from Kurt Andersen “Fantasyland – How America Went Haywire – a 500-year history, looking back to the beginning” suggests that what is happening today in the United States – this strange, post-truth, “fake news” moment – is not entirely new. Rather, it is the ultimate expression of a key part of America’s national character and path.
Andersen sees a U.S. formed by wishful dreamers; by hucksters and their suckers. He sees the “whatever-you-want” fantasy as deeply embedded in the American DNA.
Identity and culture are the new driving forces of the 21st century. Canada has the strength of being able to live without a firm identity in a world when all identities are incomplete. It has a vast land which it can call home and still include a diversity of newcomers.
Context mattered less when things were stable and changed slowly. Twenty years ago, I told a Japan Society conference in Toronto that we had been witnessing the emergence of a New World brought by globalization, growing consumer dominance, and rapid technological change – a prediction even more true today. We have moved from many different worlds into a single world and from a producer-dominant society to an increasingly consumer-dominant one.
Culture and Identity are today’s emerging driving forces. Culture affects how we go about things – how we face birth and death, business and political challenges and personal conflict and the way we live and dream. Confidence in our own culture and identity makes moving forward easier. Identity gives us the sense of who we are: of borders; places; and feelings that separate us from others. Difference is central to identity, so it can lead to fearfulness of others’ differences. The challenge is to see different identities as potential sources of strength, not threats. Strong identity needs a culture that can live and work with others who are different. Right now, this is a Canada advantage opposite both the United States and Europe. Canada used to look to Europe and the United States for its way forward. Each now needs to look to Canada as part of their way forward.
Culture and identity always matter. They change slowly, for better and for worse. Culture and identity aspirations and anxieties impact the dominant military, political, and economic forces. The choice between inclusive and exclusive identities – and the possibility of having both – has become central to all our futures.
We live in two worlds at the same time – inner and outer. Sometimes one dominates. Over time, they are best balanced. Humans are always in search of a home. The Old Testament story about Adam and Eve being pushed out of their Garden of Eden home by God can be seen as making refugees of us all. Today, the world is dominated by the growing number of desperate people looking for safe places to go. The Australian TV drama A Place to Call Home is about searching for every kind of home, where the characters can feel safe in: both their outer physical space and their inner space where people can be most themselves.
The emergence of a single, inclusive global order means people must now get along as never before. Not all societal or organizational cultures have been equal in terms of finding mutual-accommodation ways to successfully pursue both individual and group goals. Cultures with this ability have an advantage. Lasting strength will increasingly come less from winning and putting oneself first, and more from making things work for everyone involved. The New World requires identity strengths that are enhanced by room for other identities. Those who use their own strengths to get others to follow them will be the best leaders for the kind of new world we are entering.
Since the Renaissance, the main Western driving forces have been centrifugal – horizontal rather than vertical, more separate then connected. Horizontal forces – the U.S. is the best example – are indifferent to individuals. They respond to the need for equal treatment for everyone. Vertical structures like Japan, even overly restrictive ones, can give individuals a sense of having a place – a home and of being cared for. Politics, societies, and cultures each need the right balance between horizontal and vertical forces. Canada today may well have a lot of that balance – a balance that is dynamic and can be lost.
Canada’s culture and identity strengths are Western. Canada is competitive on freedom; science and knowledge; and compassion. It has the advantage on mutual accommodation, where it also has unfinished business with its indigenous people from the past and its Muslims looking ahead. All sides will have to help. It is hard to think of anything the post-2017 world would benefit more from than the steady spread of mutual accommodation strengths and skills throughout the world.
It is hard to feel hopeful about our U.S. neighbour, whose leader does not stand against the serial sexual abuse of women or white supremacists and is actively stoking anti-Muslim fears in similar ways to what Hitler did with the Jews. It is hard, but not impossible, because strong resistance is starting to come from within the U.S. system.
The Trump United States of 2017 has been on a global separatist kick whose outcomes and potential damage remain uncertain. On the Muslim front, it is playing with genocide fire.
The world has changed and our closet neighbour is not who it has been for most of the last 100 years. The U.S. is still a good neighbour, but is becoming a less and less good partner and an increasing threat to continental and global stability. The question for Canada – and for a too self-absorbed world – is whether Canada can become the kind of great country the new world emerging needs.
No one thing is ever everything. Nothing is ever only one thing. Canada’s first great moment came 150 years ago. Words – persuasion, not force – and a railway created a coast-to-coast country that has become a different kind of great country for an emerging very different kind of world. Canada has also found an “asymmetrical equivalence” way of holding a huge and diverse country together. Over time the total Canadian societal system delivers what most people want. Canada today is basically a largely sane and balanced country in which economic and social advance go hand-in-hand. This is the post-1945 Canada that most Canadians have come to love. The U.S. led and dominated post-war global order will no longer work if the U.S. is not able to move with China – a vastly different kind of country – to a less centralized, more asymmetrical leadership approach. The U.S. has more of the right kind of leaders for the new world, but there is too big a gap still be bridged between them and too many everyday Americans who do not understand how important it is to the U.S. and Canada to work together with other countries on the trade front.
Three noted Canadian historians took a look at an early version of my initial paper on mutual accommodation. One dismissed the mutual accommodation perspective out-of-hand. Another helped me a lot, but was worried that a mutual accommodation narrative for Canada would run against his idea – which I share – that it is better for countries not to have a single story. Indeed, the genius of a mutual accommodation narrative is its open-ended nature, so there can never be only one story. Mutual accommodation leaves more than enough room for separate narratives. The third historian was cryptic and not given to ready praise. So I loved his comment, “I think you are onto something”.
Historians matter. So do business leaders. Even if no historians liked “mutual accommodation”, I would still like it because I have so often seen its power over a long business and professional life. Two Canadian CEO’s of two different global professional organizations in Canada, are today not only the Canadian CEOs of their firms, but responsible for the whole Western hemisphere, other than the U.S. Another Canadian senior business leader, who got his start in Canada, subsequently served as the Japan CEO of his U.S. headquartered multinational and then of its research and development arm in the U.S., says he got his job, wittingly or unwittingly because of his Canadian mutual accommodation skills. So it can help to be a Canadian in business where working successfully with different cultures is more and more valuable in a globalized business world.
I saw mutual accommodation most powerfully at work in the business world by the Honda Motor Company. It never bought into the Reagan/Thatcher era, when “shareholder value” was the primary driver of a company. Honda believed a broader set of standards were needed to include all stakeholders, not just investors. This meant shareholders: suppliers; consumers; workers; and communities.
Two stories. Mr. Kawamoto, the CEO of Honda in Tokyo, spoke at the Canadian Club of Toronto at the opening of its second assembly plant in Alliston, Ontario. He told the story of Honda wanting to establish a plant in Brazil and that the Brazilian government wanted Honda to put it in the Amazon valley. Honda found the Amazon workforce would be their first assembly plant workforce anywhere that could not read an operator’s manual. But he said that did not make Honda better than them. Honda found a way to go forward, without diminishing a single standard necessary for the highest performance for all its stakeholders. Honda started from where the Amazon workforce were and found a way to enable them to meet what Honda required – the highest and best kind of win-win mutual accommodation.
A second story came out of a dinner in Tokyo on my way from Singapore back to Toronto. All the top global Honda management was present, except the new elected President and CEO. They apologized for his absence. He was away showing the Crown Prince and Princess an assembly plant in Kyushu province. I suggested they had no doubt seen all the assembly plants they would ever want to see. Not like this one, I was told. It was a plant initiated by Mr. Honda so that 70% of the workers who ran it could be handicapped.
Leadership greatness in business and politics requires a rare combination of objectivity and empathy. My oldest friend – we were sometimes in the same baby carriage together in Montreal – became a leading child psychotherapist pioneer at the Sick Children’s hospital in Toronto. He had that combination. So did Shakespeare and Jane Austen.
So I was very interested to read that after four years into the job, the new head of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, in his new book, “Hit refresh”, put the need for empathy at the centre of his Microsoft reawakening challenge. Empathy is not just basic to his personal philosophy. It is what is working for him as he seemingly takes Microsoft successfully down its needed new path. Empathy from a hi-tech guy – an Indian-born engineer heading one of America’s greatest technology companies – may be telling us something about how needed U.S. movement beyond its current turmoil might take place. I have said the Western world has become unbalanced, as the more the dominant big horizontal, Western forces of freedom and science have prevailed. Empathy is a key element in making mutual accommodation work.
A second “hopeful for America’s future” book is “Principles” by Ray Dalio. He is the founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, now the largest and best performing hedge fund in the world, with about $150 billion in global investments. Dalio would probably not realize his radical transparency believability weighting, idea meritocracy, integrated into algorithms for decision-making, is a very specific, highly successful, mutual accommodation decision-making methodology. This one liner does not begin to capture what it takes to use people and algorithms to accommodate all each has to offer in order to make superbly successful investments. One must read the whole book to see how much goes into that success. There is not much immediate visible empathy at Bridgewater – the ability to start from where the other guy is, until you better understand what is really going on. Markets are a huge and largely effective but imperfect mutual accommodation way. Finance markets are for investors the other guy who must be listened to. Algorithms provide the base data to which disciplined ways of individual thinking are then applied to get a decision.
Empathy is about listening. I see the Dalio/Bridgewater approach as a superb way of hearing what you need to hear before you invest. Investments are not about being empathetic. Financial markets capture where other investors are. The best objective understanding in the Dalio world involves data and people-weighted belief. The challenge is finding out how to accommodate everything relevant – data and the best thinking – to future market outcomes. The method is to combine data with rules about how to get the best thinking out of the best people – a hard mutual accommodation to achieve. It has proven itself as a successful way to invest in a tough world. It can be hard on those participating.
All tough mutual accommodations are hard on those doing them. But it is also worth looking at as one of a likely infinite number of ways for successful mutual accommodations in different situations for different purposes. These two books show one mutual accommodation way working to re-vitalize one of the great companies of history. The other shows how a different way can bring superb investment results. Neither way leaves much room for the top-down big ego CEO.
Canada has two big jobs. Frist, to broaden its role in the world. Second, to strengthen its economy for an unsettled world where neither the U.S. nor China will be easy to work with. Canada should think about deploying more diplomats for a world that is in desperate need of them and has too few to do what will be needed. Second, it has had among the best special forces in the world for tackling specific high-risk military challenges. It needs to increase them because the world also needs more of them.
The biggest issue for the next twenty to thirty years is how much internationalism and how much nationalism will there be. That will largely depend on what the United States and China choose to do.
It will likely be some time before Trump, a Brexit Europe and a China feeling stronger than ever externally and more vulnerable internally than it has been for some two decades, are able to come together. China will do best if it seizes the opportunity U.S. withdrawal affords them in ways that work globally and do not risk its internal stability. This will not be easy for China to do. For several decades, the U.S. has overreached externally and underreached domestically. This is now being changed by U.S. domestic politics.
Canada is a different kind of country. Its mutual accommodation – albeit flawed – makes it a great country. In the 16th century and beyond, small England took liberty to the world. In the 21st century, Canada must take mutual accommodation to today’s changing world. It need not use force or occupy. Force and occupation ain’t what they used to be. This is what is making everything different. There are three big sets of changes from the 1945-2000 world. First, centrifugal forces are rising in a world too intertwined for separatists to succeed. Second, the U.S. withdrawal from overreach to ground it can hold is going off the rails under Trump. Third, there is no replacement for the U.S., with the broad strengths it displayed in the forties, fifties and sixties.
In 1900 the global population was 1.4 billion. By 2000 it was 6.0 billion. It could reach 9.0 billion by 2100. Amid this huge increase, three factors have become globally very important; resources, technology; and successful internal and external governance of the diversity of the world. Canada now has an unmatched combination of positive elements for addressing the world ahead. It has spent the last 150 years navigating its own domestic mutual accommodation challenges.
Whether it wants to or not, it will spend the rest of this century navigating its own and the world’s mutual accommodation and containment challenges. The outcome will be either a new great country called Canada or a failed Canada.
I have called this 21st century challenge a second Sir John A. Macdonald moment. To succeed, Canada will have to move forward on more than one front with the same kind of boldness Macdonald brought to Confederation and the transcontinental railway.
Canada will have to manage the opportunities and pressures from its great resources of food, water, energy, and minerals, as well as its vast land mass (which may be made more valuable by global warming). It could also have a second key set of strengths: a high level of IT and quantum innovation capability in a century where innovation will match, if not exceed, resources in importance. Canada could have a head-start from the institutional and cluster critical mass in the Greater Toronto region, including Waterloo, Ontario, of information technology (third in North America after Silicon Valley and New York) and of quantum technology.
Could it be that Canadian federalism and its mutual accommodation way of governing diversity will provide the fundamental long-term stable path forward beyond traditional nationalism and the nation state? The United States, China, and Russia are all powerful nation states with powerful nationalisms. Each also has nuclear weapons. State-based nationalism will be a powerful force in these three countries for years to come. They are the big three either/or force-based powers in the world. Canada’s role will always be different because of its lack of competitive either/or and force-based strengths.
Stability is essential for mutual accommodation to succeed. Each promotes and reinforces the other. The combination of stability, balance, trusted institutions, asymmetry, and the accommodation of equal and special treatment are the central elements that have made the mutual accommodation ways of Canada possible. Let us recognize them and use them to our own benefit – and the world’s benefit.
Canada and the world must each become bold. Only mutual accommodation can provide the firm base needed for bold to work. Dialogues in diversity are the indispensable place to start what will be a very long and very hard journey for Canada – and for the world. We are only at the beginning of the journey. It will require new vision, new ideas and new projects.