Prior to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newfoundland and Labrador already had its share of challenges.
From the highest per-capita provincial debt and the fastest aging population in the country, to declining provincial revenues and an increasing demand on services, the province has significant issues to work on.
In addition to all of this, we must consider the growing impact of the global climate crisis.
This is the impetus for the Harris Centre’s Forecast N.L. initiative, a provincewide engagement and discussion series that asks: How can we recover from the impacts of the pandemic and create economic and social prosperity while mitigating and adapting to climate change?
There has emerged an overwhelming agreement among climate and natural scientists that, if not addressed, current projections for our warming climate will have devastating impacts on our natural, social and economic systems.
For Newfoundland and Labrador – a province sustained by natural resources, with a culture and society that is intricately tied to the land and ocean – the health and well-being of citizens and communities, as well as the strength and survival of major industries, depends on the health of our natural environment.
‘Move us forward’
Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre and associate vice-president of engagement and external relations, says there is “no doubt” the province’s economy is in crisis mode right now.
But, he says, if we don’t think strategically about all these issues together, the solutions we come up with will only work in the short-term.
“It’s a tough conversation to have, with lots of competing priorities, but the Harris Centre’s mandate is to facilitate informed public dialogue and provide a neutral platform to discuss issues, ideas and solutions,” he said.
“There is no shortage of experts in this province, on all of these issues, and the Harris Centre is well placed to bring those experts together with concerned people of the province, to have an honest discussion, help bring some understanding of all the angles, and hopefully come up with some promising ideas and approaches that can move us forward.”
Moving beyond polarization
The initiative, which is slated to take place over the next year-and-a-half, will incorporate online public speaker forums and panel discussions, as well as various online content, to help unpack issues related to climate, economy and society in Newfoundland and Labrador, all in an effort to move beyond the potential polarization and competition of concerns that can often arise within these topics.
As part of this series, a steering committee of thoughtful and experienced individuals – co-chaired by Elizabeth Beale, former president, CEO, and chief economist of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council and board member of the newly formed Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, and Dr. Brad De Young, professor and Bartlett Chair in Oceanography at Memorial – has been put in place to help direct the project, recommending key themes, topics and presenters to be included in the initiative’s programming.
“We need the people of the province look at all the facts, ask questions, challenge the norms and think up some big ideas.”
The steering committee is also responsible for selecting individuals to participate in a citizen forum. The citizen forum is a group of 45 individuals from around the province who will commit to participating in each of the discussion sessions, as well as providing feedback and comments in the online portal.
Dr. Greenwood is reminding the people of this province that 2021 will mark 75 years since the National Convention, where citizens from around Newfoundland and Labrador gathered to “put their heads together” to navigate a way forward for a jurisdiction that was facing an economic crisis.
“While the circumstances look a little different this time around, it’s still a watershed moment where we need people to come together,” he said.
“We can’t just leave this to the experts. Governments respond to what the electorate demands. Businesses respond to what consumers demand. We need the people of the province to look at all the facts, ask questions, challenge the norms and think up some big ideas that could really work, on the ground, in our province.”
‘Don’t need to be an expert’
The Harris Centre recently launched a provincewide invitation to the public to be a part of the project.
“We’re looking for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from different backgrounds, different regions and different perspectives to participate,” said Cathy Newhook, manager of engagement and communications at the Harris Centre.
“You don’t need to be an expert – we’re looking for people who are simply concerned about the future of the province and who are motivated to listen and share ideas.”
Participants will have the opportunity to learn, discuss and find innovative ways to help the province create economic and social prosperity while mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Members of the citizen forum will be expected to review the online material, watch the (virtual) public sessions and provide comments, ideas and possible solutions via an online discussion forum.
How do I get involved?
Please visit the Harris Centre website for more information on eligibility and the application process.
Applicants will be expected to share some demographic information about themselves, as well as provide some details about why they are interested in joining this important conversation.
The Harris Centre would also like to invite faculty, staff, and graduate students at Memorial who study these topics to submit their name and research to be added to the list of expert resources for the project.
There is also a knowledge mobilization committee for relevant public, private and community organizations to take part.