Monday, August 29, 2005

The Future Isn't What it Used to Be!

As we celebrate Alberta’s centennial, we look forward as well as back. In our futures thinking, we make assumptions. One key assumption we should make is that many aspects of the future will not simply be a continuation of the past.

Some things will be “more of the same” twenty five years from now. We will not have dealt with the health care issue, which will be “solved” not with money but with imagination, focused management and increased responsibility on the individual for their own health. We will not have taken sufficient steps to resolve global warming, if it remains an issue – we simply are unwilling to face up to our environmental responsibilities until the planet finally demands this of us. We will continue to have growing rates of crime; ever increasing numbers of road deaths; shortages of political courage to do the right thing, whether its popular or not. These trends will continue. It will also be the case in 2030 that popular music will be “too loud” and parents will not understand the lyrics.

But there will be other things that will not be like the past. First, the US will no longer be the only major power – China and India will seek their place alongside the US as significant influencers globally, and they will be the major players in Asia. This will impact not just trade, but also security. Second, there will be a growing decline in Canada’s status in the world, as other countries – notably Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South Africa – emerge as major players through their strengthened economies and focused strategies for regional political influence. Third, our political systems will be so strained by the social demands upon them, that we will reinvent the political structure of Canada, rebalancing the roles of the three levels of Government, with municipalities becoming as important as Provinces as more and more powers are devolved from an ailing Federal system.

Other things will be significantly different too: complex tax systems will be replaced by flat taxes; oil products will be purchased through personal carbon credits; educational credits will attract significant tax relief; paper money and coins will be replaced by plastic; most major highways will be toll highways; instant global communications will replace many current forms of radio and television broadcasting; immigration will be a substantive fact of Canadian life, with over 30% of the population being recent immigrations (within the last 10 years) by 2050.

In Alberta, we will be experiencing the best of the oil boom, but will be becoming increasingly concerned about water supply and environmental quality, especially in the south. We will be challenged to find non natural resource work for our recent graduates and the partners of immigrants, since our technology sector will be exceptionally weak by 2030. We will be struggling with environmental clean up issues, which we should really have tackled back in 2005 before they became so serious as to affect communities and force relocation. Our aboriginal friends and colleagues will be becoming increasingly militant, since we will have continued to fail to resolve their land and governance issues. There will be significant disruptions to our weather patterns.

Of course, much of this is speculation. So were the ideas which shaped the internet, breakthroughs in medicine or space exploration. No one can safely predict 2030 or beyond. Yogi Berra, the sage of baseball, noted once that “you have to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going – you might not get there!”.

What we now need to do is focus our energies on the future Alberta wishes to create, rather than letting the future hit us like a force five hurricane. It will do so, unless we harness the imagination and skills of Albertan’s to explore the future and shape it.

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