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By Aaron H. Emery
On Inclusion, Diversity, and Problem Solving in Atlantic Canada
I moved to Atlantic Canada in the spring of 2016 to help a handful of business leaders from across Canada’s East Coast start a new organization, called For The Region. I moved here because I believed in Atlantic Canada — as a PLACE and a PEOPLE. I moved because I could see that something big — a revolution of sorts— was beginning to come to a boil and I wanted to be a part of it. As “the new guy” in the neighbourhood you may be tempted to dismiss my thoughts on “inclusion” out of hand. My experience is too limited to prove valid. I’m probably not informed enough say much of substance.
But I’m an American — so I’d better not let a lack of experience stop me from putting forward a definitive opinion on something.
Atlantic Canada is a beautiful place. Ocean & forrest. Urban & rural. French & English. Indigenous & Colonial. New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia & PEI. Atlantic Canada isn’t any one thing. There is a rich mix of diversity in this place that outsiders will often overlook. We are four provinces, four First Nations, dozens of languages, and countless rich schisms of culture based on race, gender, education, location and other influential factors. Each cultural reality should be celebrated for it’s past and coveted for the perspective they can bring to problem-solving for our future.
Whether it’s government, business, education or civil society — we need each of these voices around the tables where decisions are made. We’ll be better for it.
And you knew there’d be a “but”, didn't you?
Diversity isn't ALWAYS an easy thing. And life in Atlantic Canada isn't ALWAYS an easy thing. French communities don’t have a plan for sustainable healthcare funding (neither does anyone else). English communities don’t know how to eliminate homelessness from our communities (neither does anyone else). Indigenous communities would love to transition to cheap, clean, renewable energy — but they don’t know how to get from here to there (neither does anyone else). We’re all in this together. We face an unknown future. We have some very big problems to solve in the coming years — problems that are interconnected across cultural… and provincial boundaries. So while our diversity is an asset, we will also need to figure out how to rally around the grand common cause as a grand common people. We will need a collective imagination if we are going to solve these collective problems.
We must commit to making our diversity a building block — rather than a brick in the wall.
In my short time working throughout Atlantic Canada I’ve encountered the “yeah… but” more times than I care to recall. “Yeah…but that’s never going to work with the French community.” “Yeah…but the urban centres would never let that happen”. “Yeah…but as an Anglo you’ll never get government on board.” This is what it looks like when our diversity becomes a brick in the wall. This is the conversation (or lack thereof) when we let our differences defeat us — rather than enrich us.
The differences are real. And they are fantastic. They are a strength. What we must commit to —in New Brunswick…and Newfoundland…and Nova Scotia…and even PEI — is a new attitude towards “the other” and a new approach to inclusion. We need an inclusion that isn’t simply about tokenism or ticking the boxes of community consultation (did we talk to the French guy, Indigenous gal, rural leader about this?). We need inclusion that is HUNGRY for a diversity of voices, ideas & opinions and that is hell-bent on utilizing our cultural differences as building blocks, rather than bricks in the wall.
I moved to Atlantic Canada because I see so much potential. I’m bubbling with excitement for what the decade ahead may hold. We have the pieces to do something GREAT here if we can commit to seeing building blocks where — for too long — we’ve insisted on bricks in the wall.
We can start to make this transition — from bricks to blocks — through intentional conversations about our successes and struggles around issues of inclusion. One such conversation — for anyone interested — is kicking off in Moncton on June 15th. The evening is hosted by Rotary Resurgo & facilitated by Moncton’s new mayor, Dawn Arnold. Anyone interested in to role of inclusion in solving the biggest problems facing Atlantic Canada should be sure to mark their calendar to participate in this conversation.