Global Problem Solving? Stephen Harper Defends the Status Quo

Posted by: Don Tapscott on January 29, 2010

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech on Thursday in Davos was received well, many of the delegates that I spoke with told me they thought Harper’s vision was too blinkered.

With the conspicuous exception of global warming, Harper acknowledged that many challenges face the world, but told delegates that the two most appropriate arenas for discussion and decision making are the G8 and the G20. He described the latter as “the world’s premier forum for economic cooperation.” And each country should be guided by “enlightened self-interest” and a better “attitude.”

The consensus in Davos is that the planet is facing urgent, complicated, 21st century problems, and we need to craft 21st century systems to develop the answers. We should involve all of our planet’s best talent in the solution-seeking process, including the private sector, civil society, and individual citizens.

Doubtless Harper placed emphasis on the G8 and G20 because this year’s meetings will occur in Canada and he is the Chair. But that doesn’t mean he should be indifferent to the enormous contributions that could be made by others, or closed to the exciting new approaches to solving global problems.

Following last year’s World Economic Forum at Davos, many delegates went on to participate in the Forum's Global Redesign Initiative in meetings around the world. The Initiative brought together diverse stakeholders to develop fresh solutions to the many challenges facing our small and fragile planet. Much of this year’s Forum was devoted to discussing the proposals developed by the Initiative.

The Initiative itself was driven by the belief of Forum members that our international collaborative processes are tired and too constrained to meet current needs. In Davos, the failed Copenhagen global-warming conference was frequently cited by delegates as a metaphor for the inadequacy of existing processes. To be sure, no one is suggesting that nation states do not need to sit down and hammer out accords. But many Davos delegates believe that such meetings, while necessary, are by themselves insufficient to grapple with the many thorny issues confronting us.

Had Harper come to Davos a day earlier, he would have heard French President Nicolas Sarkozy deliver a withering critique of how the planet’s issues are managed today. "From the moment we accepted the idea that the market was always right and that no other opposing factors need be taken into account, globalization skidded out of control," Sarkozy said. Many systems in the world, including capitalism, were in serious need of reform. "Each of us must hold the conviction that the world of tomorrow cannot be the same as the world of yesterday.” (Read Sarkozy’s full remarks here.)

Yes, the G8 and G20 meetings will be important and they may even make some progress on issues such as climate change. But today there are collaborations involving millions of people, along with governments, private companies, and civil society organizations that are actually doing something about climate change. Government leaders need to listen to fresh thinking about how to harness this power, rather than relying on old approaches that have the world stalled.


This is a guest post from author Don Tapscott, chairman of nGenera Insight and Adjunct Professor, Rotman School of Management. Follow him on Twitter: @dtapscott

TrackBack URL for this entry:http://blogs.businessweek.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/

Reader Comments

d

January 29, 2010 03:01 PM

The reason the world is stalled is because as Mr Sarkozy says "the market was always right", and we are unstalling ourselves right now.

As for coming up with new ways of dealing with problems, "government leaders need to listen to 'fresh thinking' about how to 'harness this power'. What power? ideas? from 'collaborations involving millions of people'? About what? anything that hasn't been discussed ad nauseum? and government leaders are not already aware of? The world is digging itself out of a hole made by the notion that government leaders are a draw back to society, what we need is more government not 'collaborations involving millions of people' harnessing some mystical power so that politicians can listen. My money is on Mr Harper, and the G8 and the G20, governing in challenging circumstances, not some meetings of 'diverse stakeholders' willing to be harnessed. Flower power went out with the new age it harnessed.

Dorothy Zaharko

January 29, 2010 03:19 PM

This is Harper's way of doing things - behind closed doors, with just a few making decisions for many. I am glad to see I am not the only one skeptical of Harper's motives and his obvious old century solutions for new century problems. That is what happens when you operate in vacuum by muzzling your MP, manipulating the media, misusing parliament for your own personal gain and shutting out Canadians from participating in any kind of meaningful dialogue, not controlled by Stephen Harper. Canada can do better and the citizens of Canada deserve better

K-Lo

January 29, 2010 04:11 PM

Don, we must have watched different speeches.

There is a reason why Europe and the United States face a much great fiscal crisis than Canada.

Canadians are lucky to have a leader that understands economics.

Upper Canadian

January 29, 2010 04:19 PM

The fact is that "technocrats" are morally bankrupt and morally reprehensible.

Take the author's own words:

"That’s not what the audience wanted to hear. The consensus in Davos is that the planet is facing urgent, complicated, 21st century problems, and we need to craft 21st century systems to develop the answers."

Really? I believe the Montreal Protocol (which was nation states coming together and agreeing on a global problem) proved the exact opposite.

Now, if you were to frame the Davos 'position' appropriately, namely, well, we're a big bunch of jerks who want to overthrow democracy and replace it with a totalitarian dictatorship, and oh, by the way, yes, we think you are actually too stupid to live your individual life....

But you hide and sugar coat it.

For shame!

Andrew

January 30, 2010 02:12 PM

@K-Lo:

Harper certainly understands economics. He has a masters in it, after all!

Unfortunately, as this article rightly points out, economics are only a part of the global issues, many of which Harper is ignoring or directly contradicting. His view is 'blinkered,' meaning he only looks in one direction while failing to see many other issues.

We are faring better than many other countries, but it isn't just because of Harper's policies. We've had a tradition of "conservative" policies when it comes to regulating the banking industry, across most of our past governments, that have paid dividends now.

Alex

February 8, 2010 11:15 AM

@K-Lo
Andrew is correct. Fortunately, when Paul Martin was finance minister, under Jean Chretien, he put into place banking practices that kept things under control here in Canada. It was his forsight, and not the now PM Harper, who kept us out of the trouble that now faces our American and other international friends.

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