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CCE in brief

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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 21 January 2012

 “We’re going to change this system by structural reforms and by raising people’s awareness and consciousness.”

I just so happen to have a few projects along those lines...

Friday 20 January 2012


 “If it weren’t for Alberta’s energy sector, I wouldn’t enjoy the quality of life I do today.”

There are two things the hubbub around “ethical oil” have to tell us about society:


Despite what Conservatives pundits have tried to tell me (and PM Steven Harper tried to tell the world when he said Canadians “don’t care” about morality in procedure) – ethics matter.  The Defenders of the Crude would never use the term otherwise.

The importance of ethics makes sense not out of some perceived notion of the better angels of human nature, but out of simple social evolutionary adaption.  Do Unto Others as You’d Have Them Do Unto You only gains in meaning when the Other is beside you every day on the subway, or can access your whole life – and your social networks – online.  The give-a-penny, share-a-penny mentality also makes sense because it proactively builds good will, collaboration and mutual benefit.  Call it the busker model of business.  It’s not unique to humans – even chimpanzees do altruism, because it pays. 

The users of oil might just be using “ethical” to soften the appeal of their cause, but the fact that they feel it necessary to use the word at all is telling in and of itself.  Just like “clean coal”, there is recognition on the part of old-tier energy resource advocates that people ARE concerned about environmental degradation and the impact of resource-use on local communities.  It’s the same trend we saw with the advent of “humane” capital punishment, moving from public hangings to private, less painful injections.  Eventually, you get to a point where you can’t simply can’t sugar-coat the unpalatable enough and choose a third way.

The third way is renewable energy, clean/green energy.  The broad, long-term appeal here is that “renewable” will translate into “ever-lasting” and “clean” will end up meaning less degradation in one’s backyard.  In ancient Rome or even Victorian England, personal waste got dumped on the street.  That kind of self-centred, short-term focused thinking led to plagues and epidemics that impacted everyone equally.  It took a while, but we eventually learned how to collaborate on a more effective model; we have a public sewage system now, and are all a lot healthier for it.

Fossil fuel is today’s equivalent to dumping crap on our streets; yes, it’s handy, yes, it’s there, but you mess up the lawn and risk health (individual and environmental) and access to green space to get it.  If your personal gains outweigh the costs, you don’t care – which is why Albertans are more pro-oil than they are willing to adopt new technologies, but we’ll get to that in point two.

The clean/green movement is the advocate for  tomorrow, but that tomorrow comes at the expense of oil-beneficiaries’ present.  Yes, it is telling that the majority of them aren’t dependent on oil-or-coal generated income.  That just means that the short-term carrot of fossil fuel is smaller for them than the long-term carrot of consequence, while the long-term carrot of better access with less consequence is perhaps bigger than the short-term stick for “Ethical Oil” folk in adapting to a new system.  The great minds behind the Oil Industry could be redirecting their energy on building the next thing – creative destruction as the only option for perpetual success.  It’s far easier, though, to keep promoting and expandinge horse-and-buggy market rather than invest in developing cars.  Though we know how that turns out.

The weighing of long-and-short term carrots and sticks is the history of cognitive development and civilization.  As we live in increasingly dense urban environments, the long-term sticks that result from snatching short-term carrots grow in significance, as does the possibility of big carrots down the road if you perhaps skip the small carrot available at the present.  The societal whole is increasingly less tolerant of individual gain at social cost.

Hence, ethics.  And that’s why even the use of the term “ethical oil” is a great indicator of the slow demise of fossil fuel dependence.  


There comes a time when any model outlives its practical usefulness.  There is never a clean cut line between models, however – there is always a period of friction.  In that way, social upheaval is the same as the shifting of tectonic plates – and equally inevitable.

As an example: Feudal Japan went out fighting – the samurai battled against the adoption of the Western model and the country against the West itself.  In the end, the result was inevitable.  You can’t stop progress.

The use of the horse and buggy was familiar and comfortable.  Just as important, it was routine.  The advent of the car brought great benefits, but new challenges.  The introduction of the train, though, was terrifying for once-isolated communities.  The train brought disruption, diversity, quantity.  It changed everything.  It is no coincidence that the concerns being raised around mass transit through a railway grid used the exact same arguments being leveled against wind turbines today.  There were concerns about the health impacts of trains on people and livestock.  Some said that the noise and commotion of locomotion lead to two-headed calves being born.  While many of the arguments presented might seem ridiculous, but they were based in a very real place – the discomfort of change.

Change, unfortunately, is the order of the day.  Just look at the impact of the Internet on print journalism, the pulp and paper industry and the communities that depended on it.  The ripple-effects of the 21st Century are shattering the conventions that have sustained us, in some cases, since the dawn of the industrial revolution.  Is it any surprise that stress-related mental illness diagnoses are on the rise, economies are contracting, national and domestic tensions increasing, and decision-makers are waffling?

I think there would be a lot of agreement with that concept.  The Tea Party and Occupy Movement would surely be on board.  But what does this have to do with oil?

Here are the pro-ethical oil and anti-oil arguments, as I understand them:


Depending on your point of view, oil is all kinds of wrong – its extraction hurts the environment, it’s a limited resource so can’t be relied on forever and the sheer amount of energy, resources and innovative potential put into obtaining it are long-term wasted as again, it won’t last forever.  When there is even the remote potential of something cleaner and more sustainable, why on earth would you focus on building the better buggy when cars are the thing people are after?  When that opportunity equates to economic opportunity, isn’t it detrimental not to pursue green energy?


Or, it is absolutely right.  Fossil fuels have been the source of social growth since the industrial age – you can’t expect that to change.  There’s still enough out there to last all of mankind for, well, a while; we’ll have time to figure out what next way down the road, (ie: not our problem).  Given that reality, isn’t it better that we use our own oil and make money doing so?  Fossil fuel generated income plays a huge role in our economy and besides, the way Canada does oil is far better than other countries.  We successfully and proudly advertise “ethical” Canadian diamonds to a desiring world market; “ethical oil” is the same thing.  Besides, this is a Western thing.  The elites in Central Canada have called the shots, ignoring the West, for far too long – it’s our term to lead now and if it’s at their expense, so be it.

The first argument is a proactive one; the minimal size of the carrot to be had from oil extraction and use stands in contrast to the broader implications of the long-term stick of environmental degradation and the lack of preparedness for what a world without oil would mean.  The short-term discomfort to be had from developing and building a clean/green energy infrastructure is nothing compared to the long-term benefits of stability, sustainability and a back-yard that doesn’t reek of bitumen and muddy up your carpet. 

The emerging clean/green energy industry is all about building new partnerships, information sharing, building on innovation – horizontal integration, building new energy networks, etc.  Proactive is adaptive. 

The second argument is a reactive one; we’ve got it, we’re using it, the payoff is great.  If you don’t get the payoff, too bad, but don’t try to take it away from me.  I don’t want less of what works, I want more of it – shouldn’t everyone?  Those trying to take away my carrot are themselves the stick, so I have to swat them with a club.  Hence, the whole ethical oil movement. 

Notice the focus of Ethical Oil is on the unethical nature of their opponents?  It’s less about why fossil fuel use is good, it’s why the alternative is bad.  Green energy is unproven.  Foreign oil is blood-fuel.  Those who are against us are either soft-hearted lefties or the powerful, foreign interest groups conspiring against us.  It’s not about who the partners are or could be – China, for instance – it’s about who the enemy is and how the enemy is not us.  It is no irony that the Harper Conservatives used the same “trouble lapping at our shores”/”socialists and separatists” threats to push for a majority government as they’re using to back ethical oil.  The whole ethical oil argument fits in with selectionist thinking; it’s reactive.  Reactive is combative.

When it looks like their opponent’s arguments are gaining traction, the anti-oil factions become equally reactive.  When reactive meets reactive, you inevitably end up with conflict.  Just ask Rob Ford.

This is as true in national politics as it is in personal politics.  Politics, really, is the social equivalent to fighting – the whole point of politics is to plan your success at the expense of someone else, or mitigate harm to yourself by deflecting it with criticism pointed elsewhere.

Some of my journalist friends’ would tell me segueing into why reactive vs proactive is a distraction that takes away from the main point, but I think it’s fundamental to understanding what’s really happening here.  Plus, this is a blog, not a lecture – you can read whichever pieces you like.  The industrial revolution, the horse and buggy, the collapse of print media and the rise of online social networks, the ethical oil argument and even the rise of urban living are all tied into the same paradigm. Understanding the causal factors behind social, behavioural patterns is key to making the best decisions that balance long-term interests against short-term needs.  They all tie in to the rise of the city.


Urban living forces people to be ever-adaptive as every facet of their daily routine is subject to countless external influencers.  In Toronto, a domestic fight can lead to a distracted driver who runs a light, hits a streetcar and grinds the whole metro system to a halt.  Even a photo in a newspaper can throw one of the most powerful politicians in the country off their routine (Rob Ford = great metaphorical fodder).  Urbanites are intensely inter-dependent in ways most people never even consider, yet there it is. 

At the same time, the diversity of intense urban living provides untold benefits – mass transit, ethnic cuisine, theatre, new business opportunities.  We are willing to take the risks, the lack of individual control over our lives, because in the cost/benefit analysis, the opportunity pros outweigh the adaptive cons, and even the adaptive needs offer room for innovation, which potentially creates new benefits.

That doesn’t mean that there are those who are adverse to change or who see the costs of change as outweighing the benefits – hence, NIMBYism.  Across the board, though, the benefits of dense urban living are enticing; this is why urban growth continues to escalate, globally.


By contrast, small-town anywhere tends to be less diverse and, therefore, more homogeneous – not just in terms of demographics, cuisine or social activities, but even down to routine.  This is a lifestyle that works – the benefits are there, the risks of change are minimal, life is good.  Until, that is, external change forces internal change.

I grew up in Cornwall, Ontario when it was a mill town.  Kids didn’t think it an exciting place to be, though there was some theatre, bowling, the odd festival.  Parents could be relatively assured that their jobs at plants like Domtar were secure and that positions would be there for their kids when the time came.  Routines were pretty established, from family dinners to summer bonfires.  Not much changed, because not much needed to change – until the realities of the global economy came home to roost.  Cornwall is still in the process of adapting to the forced reality of closed plants and unemployment, but it IS adapting.  Part of the process has involved, not surprisingly, diversification – there are new industries popping up and, at the same time, diverse consumption opportunities, too.  Who’d have thought Cornwall would ever have two sushi joints?

Cornwall’s change was met with resistance, yet it undeniably is happening.  The rebirth of Japan was met with fierce, ultimately futile, resistance.  Apartheid didn’t go down quietly, nor did slavery in the United States, although the Civil War was about more than just that.

What we’re witnessing with Ethical Oil is the last forceful gasps of an industry that is losing its hold over the present.  As soon as they started applying the “ethical” descriptor and started pouring vast amounts of resources into mounting an offense, they were done.  This isn’t politics, this isn’t the four-year cycle;  this is a fundamental change in the nature of the fuel that drives our economic engine. 

I don’t expect those behind ethical oil to switch horses mid-stream, no matter how tired their current horse is.  I don’t expect Albertans or Steven Harper to back away from their staunch defence of bitumen.  For their sake, for our collective sake, I hope they spare a few thoughts and a few dollars to what is coming next.  Adaptation, after all, is the key to survival.

Thursday 19 January 2012

THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC SERVICES: Built on an Open-Source Public Service Platform

“Why don’t we create a collaborative model of healthcare?” – Don Tapscott

 January 12, 2010 – a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shakes Haiti to the bone, reducing weak infrastructure to rubble, wiping out 220,000+ lives and putting the fate of a nation in question.  Worse earthquakes had hit other populated areas in recent memory, without the same degree of impact.  What led to Haiti's particular tragedy combined a lack of planning with selfish interests that saw sub-standard buildings erected in the first place.  The absence of proper maps and census data only made a potential response plan ever harder to develop.

Ironically, it was an altruistic, coordinated effort by the international community that stepped in to address the crisis.  The resources of UN agencies, USAID, individual donors from Japan, school groups in Europe and countless other sources in Canada and around the world was largely coordinated through open-source, online maps and crowdsourcing. 

An Ushahidi-based open source platform became the hub around which government and Not-For-Profit agencies were able to interact in a planned, coordinated way to connect the people of Haiti with the services and resources they needed.  A person stuck in a collapsed building could send a text to a friend, who could pass it on to an appropriate official, which would then be coordinated through a central point in the States to get the right people and resources on the ground in Port-au-Prince to go where they were needed.  Someone moved to make a donation after watching footage of the devastation on the evening news could access the system in the same way, learning the best opportunities to contribute and putting their offering into the mix.

The Haiti experience gives a great example of how an online, Open-Source Public Service Platform can provide an opportunity to transform the existing social service model into something adapted to the realities of the 21st Century.

Think about it – there is broad concern that social services cost too much and that much of that cost is lost to inefficiencies.  It’s like using an old light bulb – little of the energy used actually gets translated into illumination.  Services aren’t always provided where they are needed, or aren’t as accessible as they should be, or people simply don’t know the right entry point to reach those services.  Countless paid hours are spent by government employees trying to help frustrated clients find the specific service they need – and that’s before you add barriers like transportation access, language/cultural barriers, wheelchair/stroller accessibility, etc.

Inefficiencies, cost, access challenges.  You can add to this increased wait times as people struggle to find appropriate services, or end up needing advanced services because they were unable or un-empowered to connect with the right front-end services before an issue emerged.  Also worth mentioning is the recent federal contraction on census data collected and the broad social concerns around accountability and customer service within the public sector.

All these can be problems of the past, thanks to crowdsourcing – and the solution can be realized in a way that doesn’t add to the tax burden.  Again, that solution is an Open-Source Public Service Platform.

A quick example of what the benefit of an integrated, open-source online social service platform would look like: a First Generation Canadian living wherever, trying to find out how to diagnose and treat an ailment in her non-English speaking, wheelchair-bound mother -- could use an App on her phone to narrow down her search and tailor results to include the language and transportation need components.  The search results would include phone numbers for the service providers and a broader coordinating entity, for example a LHIN.  The lady would be able to find and connect her mom with the specific help she needs and how to get to it with a few clicks on a blackberry.

How would you begin to build something of such complexity and magnitude?  Wouldn’t the cost be preventative?  Nope – that’s the advantage of crowdsourcing.  If one central entity – ideally, government – were to provide the basic digital infrastructure (the Ushahidi model is already established and is freely available, and RIM is probably looking for work that could include adapting it for this purpose), the various players involved would organically populate the rest.  A detailed map would be a great, free tool for gaining statistical data, developing broad understandings of service distribution and need (facilitating planning and reducing duplication, gaps and overlaps) and provide opportunities for oversight that would find the right balance through sheer volume.

Service providers inputting their data into the map could use a template form to know which pieces to populate their corner with.  This would include things like address, broad service category, specific service category, accessibility, languages spoken, contact information, etc.  Each entry would have a comments section with an aggregated customer service satisfaction indicator.  When public transit, doctor’s offices, social service offices, etc. plug their information into the map, it would be an easy matter of using an App on a phone or a computer to connect with the right search terms and cross-reference them for proximity, availability and so on.  A secured level of use could record all the data that helps government plan funding allocation and public need in a way only dreamed of now.

We’re already starting to do this by recording wait times in hospitals or results in schools; a public service platform is simply the next logical step.  The Government of Ontario has taken a huge leap forward through a Social Innovation Summit hosted by SiG@MaRS and by launching a wiki allowing Ontarians to participate in the world’s first crowd-sourced policy paper.  The Ontario Liberal Party learned from Facebook and created FRed, creating an online community for members and those interested in learning more.

This same principle can take advantage of the growing connectivity in our society in countless other ways; you could use an open source map to plan your next vacation, if tourist-service providers sign up, or to find new employees/help transition ones that don’t fit without needing to fire them.

Here’s an example of what such a map could look like, using fair trade as an example.

The challenges of today are steering us in one clear direction – collaboration.  The only way to face our current economic, health and quality-of-life woes is to find efficiencies in service – not by cutting the offerings themselves, but by ensuring they are properly coordinated.  An Open-Source Public Service Platform is the perfect tool to make this happen.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

You Can't Stop the Signal

I actually think the right response to this is to demonstrate clearly how they can't stop the signal and beef UP 'Net activity + collaboration. 

Maybe that's just me.

Opinions, anyone?  Spare an idea, take an idea, share an idea...

Tuesday 17 January 2012

The Knowledge Economy, Healthcare, Human Capital and the Occupational Mental Health Solution

Two of the biggest issues currently facing jurisdictions around the world are a tightening of the economy and the rising pressure being put on our healthcare system, which translates into ever-mounting healthcare costs.  I believe that both of these issues are deeply linked to our transition to a knowledge economy where cognitive ability is in greater demand than physical ability – and therefore, is linked to mental health.

Just as safety equipment and labour laws were developed in response to the new challenges of the industrial revolution, I believe we have a social need for new accommodations in response to this conscious revolution.  These accommodations will stem from a new public perspective on what constitutes mental health.

We tend to differentiate between mental health, thought of in terms of mental illness and cognitive ability, the suite of skills that involves tasks like problem-solving, time-management, multi-tasking and innovation.  Yet we recognize that both stem from our brains.  The brain is part of our body and therefore subject to environmental stress factors that can lead to physical illness.  Just as poorly-adapted workplaces can expose a body to unnecessary physical risks, the same holds true for our mental health.

The number one cause of workplace absenteeism is mental illness.  Every day, 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to mental health problems.  In Canada, the resulting direct and indirect economic impact, including days absent from work, has been placed in the range of $51 billion by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).  This cost is compounded by the “offset effect” where individuals will seek treatment or advice, including expensive diagnostic tests, for the physical effects (back pain, cardiac discomfort, etc) of what eventually is determined to be a mental condition.

While Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are of great help to those suffering from mental health challenges, they are reactive.  A proactive approach is needed.  The solution for reducing this drain on economic productivity and strain on healthcare budgets is to proactively accommodate mental health/cognitive ability in the workplace.  Just as occupational health and safety led to the development of a safety equipment industry, proactive “mental fitness” can create new business opportunities.

Here are a quick few examples of how: kinesiologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists can expand their services to include assessing the “cognitive workspace”; employee training programs can include cognitive exercises and accommodation tools; gyms can add individual mental health assessments and training to their offerings by adding psychologists to their teams.  All these initiatives bring proactive mental health care to the people, helping to keep them out of the healthcare system.

With the right knowledge and proactive accommodations, we can avoid unnecessary mental stress and maximize cognitive capacity and productivity.  Given that our strained economy now depends on mental ability for growth, this isn’t just a matter of good social policy – its good business.