Mission Possible: A 20-Step Answer to a Truly Wicked Question
How can Canada meet international commitments to respond to the current climate emergency while maintaining fiscal responsibility and a strong economy?
Canada has declared a Climate Emergency; yet there is an ever-widening gap between Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments and projected results of current government policy. Recently, I talked to a young gentleman who identified himself as a “climate denier”; yet he agreed that Canada needs clean air, pure water and solid government leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The downside of ignoring man-made climate change is catastrophic but few people would argue that cleaning up to establish better stewardship of the planet is an unsafe or wasted effort. Nevertheless, we remain paralyzed in our policy response to the climate problem.
The counter-argument seems to be that jobs, the economy and fiscal restraint are the focus of Canadian voters. This approach is more a product of unhealthy politics than reality or logic. Yes, there are Canadians who are employed and heavily invested in the fossil-fuel energy sector. Yes, there is heated regional conflict about investing in pipelines. Yes, current political debate has polarized the question into a false choice between the environment and the economy. We need government leadership to mediate and negotiate through the conflicting interests to reach a satisfactory collaborative solution. What we need is social innovation in government.
Social Innovation has been successful in the business and non-profit sectors in Canada to develop creative, collaborative and brilliantly designed solutions to seemingly intractable challenges in resource management, delivery and other high-conflict disputes. Social Innovation has been compared to improv-theatre or the improvisation of jazz musicians. Social Innovation puts away adversarial fighting and invites all stakeholders to collaborate based on shared values and goals. As I discussed in a previous blog, Social Innovation starts with a Wicked Question which juxtaposes opposing values or goals in creative tension. It is like navigating downstream between a rock and a whirlpool. I have included an example of a Wicked Question in italics at the beginning of this blog. A wicked question is demanding and relentless with respect to the problem yet has room to be gentle and protective of the people involved. “How can Canada get fully on track for its GHG Emission Targets while also providing a transition plan and social safety net for the workers and families currently reliant on the fossil fuel economy as we develop a Greener Economy?”
Mission Possible is a very specific, measurable and attainable response to the wicked problem of climate change. It is probably not the only answer to this truly wicked question, but a better strategy than the no-win competition that has been paralyzing our Parliament. We need not choose between the economy and the environment. We need collaboration so we can do both! #socialinnovation #wickedquestion #missionpossible #chooseboth
Mission Possible: 20 Steps for SMART Climate Action
On May 8, 2019, the Green Party of Canada announced Mission Possible, a 20 step climate action plan that starts with declaring a climate emergency. The second step is for an inner cabinet of all parties to provide government leadership to deal with the declared emergency. A non-partisan cabinet was successful in both Canada and England during the Second World War. Climate change is an enduring and complex problem which requires long term planning and full collaboration across party lines.
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, that same month, the Liberal majority defeated an NDP motion to declare a climate emergency. The next day, the Liberals brought forward their own motion to declare a climate emergency. Within hours, the Liberals also approved the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion. Andrew Scheer has not yet announced a policy on climate change but has been quoted by Maclean’s magazine: “It is bad, and we’ll find a way to do our part.” There appears to be potential for consensus but no concerted, collaborative effort….yet.
As I write this blog, the election has not yet officially begun. Yet, there seems to be plenty of jostling for votes. The traditional parties are making promises as usual: promises that are vague and conditional upon getting a majority in the House of Commons. The Green Party, true to our commitment to do politics differently, has built Mission Possible on a platform of collaboration. The promise is attainable and accountable. If sufficient Green Party members are elected to the House of Commons to form or influence a minority government, the Green Party Mission Possible is ready for all-party collaboration to achieve Canadian non-partisan government leadership so that Canada can meet our commitments from the Paris Accord. Remember that Mike Schreiner (Green MPP facing a Conservative majority government) was successful in securing unanimous support at Queen’s Park for Bill 71, Paris Galt Morraine Conservation Act.
There are 20 steps and each step meets the criteria of a SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-limited. The Action Plan will be fully costed. What this means is that Mission Possible is an action plan which Canadians can afford that provides a comprehensive blueprint for government leadership on an international crisis. And, the plan offers complete and comprehensive accountability so that it will be easy to know if the goals for the 20 steps are achieved on schedule. Mission Possible meets or exceeds the standards set by the “people’s platform” of the Canadian Green New Deal. When it comes to climate action, we need to be SMART.
How can the Canadian Parliament provide progressive social policies which safeguard the environment, provide a social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens and keep Canadians healthy and safer while maintaining sound fiscal policies and a resilient economy?
Politics often slips into labels about left and right and this approach can be divisive and polarizing. It is also not particularly helpful or useful when it comes to governance and leadership. If we think of movement, such as walking (whether by two or four legs or using a cane, crutches or wheelchair), balance and momentum require effort and coordination of both the left and the right. The Green Party call to action is “Not left. Not right. Forward Together”.
Canada faces complex, seemingly intractable social problems, that is, wicked problems. There is a tendency to try and solve wicked problems with simple remedies (like a recipe) or to hire a team of experts (which is more appropriate for complicated problems). Wicked Problems require collaboration, creativity and social innovation. (If you want a practical and quick read on changing the world through social innovation, check out Getting to Maybe:How the World Is Changed by Frances R. Westley). Social Innovation approaches complex social problems with “design thinking”, that is, the kind of creativity and teamwork for art, architecture or high-function, ergonomic tools and furniture.
It begins with a wicked question. A wicked question is not a riddle or a trick question. This is an investigative question full of curiosity. A wicked question is designed to focus on the dilemma of holding opposites in creative tension. For example, faced with the challenge of heating a room for people with varying comfort-levels, the wicked question would try to figure out how to make the room warm enough for Aunt Carol (who wears long pants all summer) without being too hot for Uncle Ray (who has been known to wear a spring jacket in a snowstorm). The wicked question is courageous and demanding in its expectations. It is about navigating the course downstream between the rocks and the whirlpool. The wicked question is what you need to find your way when you are “between a rock and a hard place”.
The question at the start of this blog (in italics) is an example of a wicked question about balancing concerns and values of the left and of the right. We live together here in Canada; we share the same communities and the same wicked problems. We need to apply some design thinking to use social innovation and work better…. together.