As seen on Cairns:
I spent the bus ride up to Whistler doing a Q&A session on the Canadian legislative process for an American visitor. He was – like many Americans I’ve met – more apologetic than necessary for his lack of knowledge about Canadian politics. I’m always delighted to find Americans who want to know about the Canadian scene, but I’m hardly surprised that they don’t know much about our political system; Canada may be a neighbour, but we’re a small country, and probably not the foreign political system that Americans most need to understand. (Though I’m all for Americans learning about some foreign political processs – after all, the US system is a very idiosyncratic one, and it would probably improve Americans’ perspective on their place in the global community if they knew a little bit about how other countries work, too.)
But the summit’s mix of American and Canadian participants reminds me of the case that I think can be made for American engagement practitioners to look north of the border. Canada has a special place as a country that has a strong tradition of bridging differences, comparable to countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands. We also have a strong consultative tradition, which lays useful groundwork for experiments in deliberation. And as a country that is not only geographically but also culturally proximate to the US, our experiences may be particularly accessible.
Watching the many delighted reconnections that are taking place at this conference, it’s clear that American deliberation practitioners have indeed embraced their Canadian colleagues and the examples they bring from across the 49th parallel.