Birthdays evoke memories of the past. We reflect on what we’ve done well, brood over what we might have done differently. In celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, these retrospective musings have been both heart-stirring and deeply troubling. But what comes next? We canvassed our experts to imagine Canada 50 years from now. Sorry, no flying cars, but plenty of optimism.
Lois Harder (Chair, Political Science): Canada 2067.... Having survived the “Global Age of What the Heck Were We Thinking?” the international community has averted environmental catastrophe (barely), and instituted an economic architecture that prevents extreme polarization of income. The capabilities and rights of diverse peoples have finally been recognized, resulting in the relaxation of border controls while also institutionalizing Indigenous sovereignties.
Mike O’Driscoll: (Acting Vice-Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor, English and Film Studies): Canada in 50 years? When it comes to optimism I’m like the reverse of the proverbial canary in the coal mine: I’m not the first to keel over; I’m the pretty much the last. So if you see me tipping sideways, you’d best beware — or perhaps it’s even too late. It is, then, with some regret that I find myself torn between describing, in these few lines, what I hope this country will look like at age 200, and what I’m afraid it might actually look like. Still, and regardless of the angle from which I type this, let’s go with what we should be striving for: I envision a Canada in which every single person — Indigenous and settler — has access to safety, justice, security, good food, clean water, full health care, robust education, affordable childcare and equal opportunity for success, reward and recognition of their inherent value as a human being.
This is not, of course, the Canada we live in right now. Nonetheless, I would like to see this wonderful future unfold in tandem with a move to clean and sustainable energy predicated on an equitable society that refuses the environmental, social and political ravages of unfettered global capital. And I hope that in reading this 50 years from now, my happy, healthy grandchildren will know that canaries are tiny birds that flit from tree to tree in the dappled sunlight of distant lands, far from the depths and darkness of our worst ambitions.
David Peacock (Executive Director, Community Service-Learning): When I imagine Canada in 50 years, my mind turns to our city, Edmonton, and its possibilities. In 50 years, Edmonton will be a northern city known throughout the world for its strong Indigenous leadership in politics, business and the cultural industries. Edmontonians will have come to rely upon the resurgence and vitality of Indigenous cultures for the flourishing and growth of the city. In 50 years, the city will have invested in our social infrastructure with basic income guarantees, accessible housing and anti-racism programs throughout the education, health and government sectors.
Homelessness will be practically beaten through coordinated and deeper investments by governments and industry in the social sector. Educational outcomes will have become more equal, and the U of A will be the most accessible U15 institution for all students, faculty and staff.
As an Australian-Canadian dual citizen, I'm excited thinking about an Edmonton and Canada that celebrate a greater diversity of sports! The hockey hegemony will have cracked a little; Edmonton will be known throughout North America as a soccer capital, and Canadian women soccer players will be dominant. Cricket will be played, and long grass mowed, in every second school park in the city. Finally, in 50 years’ time, the U of A's scientists will have designed and brought to market new binding products for cement and bitumen to withstand the freeze-thaw cycles, and Edmonton roads and sidewalks will be, finally, accessible for people with limited mobility.
Daniel Laforest (Associate Professor, Modern Languages and Cultural Studies): I think Canada in 50 years from now will be characterized by an important shift in the nature and privatized use of its vast, uninhabited spaces. From our current standpoint, it seems clear that future struggles over natural resources will put Canada to the forefront of global geopolitics.
While this certainly holds true, we cannot underestimate the fast-growing need for what I would call "the storage spaces" of the third economical sector. For example, the databanks of today's internet are hosted in gigantic warehouses — or "data farms" — that need to sit safely away from the multiple threats of catastrophic climate anomalies, of trespassing and vandalism, and of terrorism.
Vast areas of Canada, especially in the West, offer such safe havens. Similarly, the growing farms (indoor or outdoor) of tomorrow's legalized marijuana economy will necessitate large expanses of privatized, protected areas. Thus, in many ways, Canada in 50 years from now risks becoming the very pricey and sought-after storage land of the neoliberal economy.
Greg Anderson (Associate Professor, Political Science): I think Canada will still be navigating its complicated relationship with the United States 50 years from now. It will still be as deep and interconnected, probably more so. I don’t really see it really being that different. The two are deeply, deeply tied to each other economically, politically, culturally, and again, say what you like about some of the chaos in the United States sometimes, but there’s an awful lot of commonality between Canada and the United States in terms of both being immigrant societies. Their strength is anchored in that, in that diversity, in that pluralism. I think you’re going to see both societies continue to build on that and be the envy of the world. Administrations, prime ministers, presidents: they’ll come and go, but I think there will be a lot of things that will remain the same.
Geoffrey Rockwell: (Professor, Philosophy/Humanities Computing; Director, KIAS): I think a level of digital literacy will have become central to democratic citizenship. More and more we’re seeing big data in various forms being used to manage us; essentially, replacing humans in the decision-making processes. Because of these things, something that was previously a niche area now becomes something that we all have to worry about. We all have to understand how we can be watched, and one of the things that people learn when they play with the [web-based text analysis tool] Voyant Tools is the opportunities and limitations of big data. So just for democratic participation, as algorithms begin to replace people making decisions, we need to understand how those algorithms work. Playing with tools like Voyant is one of the ways people can understand, as opposed to just being told “this is good” or “this is bad.” You learn about cars by driving them.
Malinda S. Smith (Professor, Political Science): I’d like to see a conversation around the next 50 years where we unsettle settler-colonialism, where we transform disrespectful relations, where we think seriously about what we individually and collectively can do to help nation-to-nation relations on Indigenous land. And I would like to see black Canadians woven much more intimately into those kind of conversations.
Allen Ball (Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning/Student Programs, Associate Professor, Art & Design): I received a riddle in a Christmas cracker that read, “What can be measured, but has noo [sic] length, width or height? The futures." I think the extra “o” in "noo" was a typographical error as was the “s” at the end of "future," but, perhaps they were intentional? Regardless, it got me thinking of the future as intersecting and intersectional pluralities. I doubt that I'll be around to see how Canada turns out in 50 years, but I remain optimistic about the place I now call home.
Further reading: A Canada 150 celebration? Not so fast.
For almost as long as there's been a Canada, there's been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary, we're proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.