Coastal knowledge and the rural experience
“A rising tide lifts all boats… as long as you have a boat”
A popular seafarers’ analogy was a central theme as academics and community leaders met at Memorial University in St. John’s for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s Future Forums. While an appropriate metaphor for the place, it was a particularly fitting observation in the discussion on Inclusive Excellence and Engaged Leadership.
“It is a very tight community, which I think is a strength and quite relevant to the themes we’re talking about,” said Mark Shrimpton, Principal, Stantec Consulting and a Professional Associate at The Harris Centre, Memorial University’s hub for public policy and regional development. “We end up with a bunch of people who are connected by this place – this is something about islands – who make connections and have common cause, but different viewpoints.” In a conference room overlooking St. John’s Harbour and the city’s downtown, participants focused on Newfoundland and Labrador’s rural character, remarking that leaders – whether local or national – must consider this rural experience when drafting policy that will affect the province.
Barbara Doran is Founder and President of Morag Loves Company, a film production company, and is a 2017 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Mentor. She pointed to shortcomings in the past, and summarized the challenges ahead as the province turns toward a more participatory and collaborative future. “All you have to do is look at the history of mistakes this province has made to understand that if we had solid leadership there that grew out of participatory democracy, maybe we would be in a better situation than we are right now,” Doran said. “It’s good for these consultations that there were people from various sectors,” she said, noting that progress will require cross-sector cooperation and must include the business community.
The roots of that participatory approach are starting to take hold in Newfoundland and Labrador. Several participants in the Future Forums highlighted projects they are involved with that include partners from academia, non-profits, and the business community. With this focus on inviting more voices to the table, the greatest challenge is to ensure that all viewpoints can be expressed. “Whether we’re talking about social issues or politics, we need to make sure that we honour people’s lived experience and really hear that voice,” said Angela Crockwell, Executive Director of Thrive, an organization dedicated to supporting youth and addressing gaps in services for young people. “Until we do that, sometimes we don’t know we’re excluding people or that there are barriers to people’s participation because we do not have a true understanding.”