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Canada leading by example – Fostering Innovation

May 5, 2009

In our new vision for Canada in the world, developed after 18 months of consultation with Canadians, we aspire to create a country that takes leadership in five areas:

1. Advancing a Green Economy
2. Embracing Diversity
3. Enhancing Equality and Human Development
4. Promoting Good Governance
5. Fostering Innovation

Much of our work and effort so far has gone into explaining how Canada can do more in each of these five areas (check out the full report of our dialogue process for more information). In the next phase of our project, we’d like to start telling positive stories of the amazing ways that individual Canadian policies, organizations and people already lead by example in the five areas.

In Vancouver, we have both the privilege and the challenge of being home to the Downtown Eastside community, often called the poorest area code in Canada (though I heard a neighbourhood in Winnipeg now holds that distinction). I say privilege because, in the DTES, unsuccessful government policies, inadequate funding and creative, resourceful not-for-profits have fostered innovation like nowhere else in Canada. A handful of the organizations that lead by example in the DTES:

1. Potluck Café – In our Fostering Innovation category, we call for Canadian leadership in four areas – health care, green and communications technology, and the social economy. Potluck is a great example of the fourth area, an innovative Canadian organization taking leadership in the social economy. Potluck is a social enterprise that provides catering services to the entire Vancouver area (including free meals to the Portland Hotel Society‘s residents but also paid catering to local organizations and businesses) and jobs to DTES residents, who receive skills training in preparation for long-term employment in the restaurant and catering industry. Since 2002, Potluck’s business revenues have enabled them to provide more than 150,000 free meals to the community.

2. Atira Property Management and Women’s Resource Society – Innovation in the social economy can take many different forms – Atira has a unique model based on a separate, for-profit social enterprise (a property management company) that funds a not-for-profit (a resource society dedicated to helping end violence against women). The revenues earned by the property management company have helped fund a community health centre, an aboriginal womens’ outreach program and a legal advocate, among other things.

3. Insite Supervised Injection Site – Probably the most famous example of an innovation in the DTES, Insite is North America’s first supervised injection site. Insite provides a safe space for drug users to both inject drugs and connect to health services. Rigorous independent third-party research has shown that Insite is leading to increased uptake into detox and treatment programs, reducing the amount of injection-related litter in the downtown eastside, and preventing overdose deaths and reducing hospital visits. It’s a great story of Canada leading by example in the area of healthcare innovations, where the focus on harm reduction in the DTES has represented a major break from past policies and approaches.

Those are my stories in the area of Fostering Innovation. We would really like you to share your stories of Canadian policies, organizations and people that lead by example in any of our five areas. Leave a comment here with your story, or check out the list on our wiki and add your stories there.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. canworldjon permalink*
    May 27, 2009 10:31 pm

    I think the joint effort between TVO and HIPPY Canada (a NPO that promotes early childhood education particularly among poor immigrant communities) championing literacy for children in “at risk” families is first rate leadership on a tough issue threatening child populations everywhere.

  2. May 20, 2009 9:20 pm

    One of my fellow bloggers at the Liberal Convention in Vancouver put together an excellent video comprised of interviews he did with staff and clients at Insite, as well as a bit with Omar Ha-Redeye, a lawyer and law blogger who talks about the government’s current appeal of the court ruling insisting they keep Insite open:

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    May 15, 2009 12:22 pm

    This may be a little more general than the kind of thing you had in mind, but surely an example of Canadian good governance is the relative success of our banking system in weathering the current economic storms. This is governance in a broad sense, since a bank is “governed” not only by official regulations but also by the decisions of its own directors.

    There was actually an interesting article about this in the National Post a few days ago, arguing that our banks have been doing well (or at least, not so badly) because of a combination of sensible regulation and “the Scottish prudence and tight-fistedness that has survived in our banking DNA”. Presumably the regulations will be easier for other countries to imitate than the prudent and tight-fisted instincts.

  4. May 12, 2009 4:33 pm

    If you care about Canada’s role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, this article in the Globe and Mail should be particularly insightful.

    The current Harper Conservatives have made many moves which have placed Canada at the bottom of the pile of developed nations in terms of climate action. In fact at the last IPCCC conference Canada was voted the “Fossil of the Day” for every day of the conference and was voted the worst country in for climate action in 2008.

    How absolutely terrible!!! At the time when Canada has an opportunity to become a leader, we are falling farther and farther behind! It’s time for people to stand up and start working for what they want, rather than simply asking or writing about it.

    There are many groups starting to take action and try to make Canada’s World come true. Please look at “Pedal for the Planet” facebook group, PowerUp Canada,, Kyoto Plus, 100k on the Hill, Power Shift.

    There may not be another opportunity in history to make the changes that we need today. So if Canada’s World is possible and if you want it, I suggest you start making it happen.

    You can also go to Copenhagen as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation by applying through almost any of Canada’s NGO’s. Check out Canadian Youth Delegation, Taking IT Global, Sierra Youth Coalition, or ask your favorite NGO.

    At this point, I am not telling, I’m asking for you to take action. Just take a look at the actions by the Tamil Canadians recently, Now they have the attention of Federal Politicians. That’s more than what I can say for the fight against Climate Change – the struggle to preserve a good way of life, and find balance in civilization.

    Please take action however you can!

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