Imagine BC

Dialogues on the Future of British Columbia

Year 1 – The Future of British Columbia

What might be possible by bringing together a group of intelligent, curious, and passionate British Columbians of diverse ages, professions, geographical, and cultural backgrounds to explore the one thing they share in common? The future of British Columbia.

The Imagine BC dialogue series is an exploratory and interrogative approach. It is aimed at deeply inquiring into the way things are, the way things ought to be, and the values and choices possible to create a liveable future in British Columbia. Our conversations attempt to bring a quality of imagination to these complex questions. And we do this with a sense of urgency and purpose as well as with a sense that time is limited and choices must be made today if we want to have an impact on the future

As we speak we are losing species, the human footprint on the land is growing, and opportunities for innovation are being lost. There are too many people adrift. Our capacity to define these challenges accurately and make decisions wisely will determine our future.

Is there, as yet, a distinctive British Columbia culture?
How might we have economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and healthy communities in British Columbia?
What should British Columbia be in 30 years and what are the choices we have to make today?

Is there, as yet, a distinctive British Columbia culture?

Four overriding themes marked this portion of the dialogue.

  • First, a shared love of and connection to the land – Love of the land
  • Second, a recognition of the immense cultural and linguistic diversity in the province – Cultural diversity
  • Third, an excitement and optimism about the future based on our identity as a province ‘on the edge’ – A province ‘on the edge; and
  • Fourth, an urgency around the need to reconcile our relationship with First Nations – Relationship with First Nations people

How might we have economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and healthy communities in British Columbia?

The future is highly unpredictable. Global tectonic stresses include energy shortages, climate change, terrorism, disease, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and the potential for instability in the international financial system. Such problems are exacerbated by the increasing complexity and pace of networked systems, the increase capacity of small groups of people to destroy things and people, and the rise of fundamentalism.

We recognize that economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and healthy communities are equally necessary and are inextricably intertwined and interdependent. Each one relies upon the other.

Economic prosperity refers to the generation of wealth, and also means equal access to human rights such as health care, education, employment, and cultural enrichment. Our current standards have to be raised. We need a different “floor” for the “have-nots” in future. Other elements of economic prosperity include choice, trust, cultural engagement, and personal enrichment.

Environmental sustainability includes the visible natural world, – trees, water, mountains, – as well as the water and air we take for granted. The built environment and what we create must be included in this definition as well as the cultural environment. Sustainability refers to making decisions today so as not to compromise the future.

Healthy communities are characterized by the conditions conducive to human health and well-being, including the social and economic determinants of health and the built and natural environment. In this sense, the health of a community and its individuals goes beyond the physical health and includes diversity, trust respect, public engagement, basic security, and freedom from violence, as well as choice, civility, and a pervasive generosity of spirit.

What should British Columbia be in 30 years and what are the choices we have to make today?

We share an existential connection to the land that leads to a desire to preserve it to the greatest extent possible. This involves respecting the land in its natural state and making a commitment to live in a way that sustains our environmental quality, our generosity of spirit in terms of cultural diversity, and a deep appreciation, and a deep appreciation for the enrichment of life that comes from such diversity. Present choices involve evolving from the present economy and cultural framework that is driven by natural resources to a broader based economy with an emphasis on human resources.

Decentralized approach to problem-solving and ingenuity

There is an ecological approach to problem-solving which involves creating multiple groups linked together within a loose information network. Power is distributive rather than hierarchical. Groups would be allowed to search for solutions with as much autonomy as possible. Success is rewarded along the way with failures viewed as learning opportunities for all. For example, competing multidisciplinary teams might be charged with solving the homelessness problem. Competition can be creative as it focuses people’s minds in addition to structuring incentives.

Creative ideas come by supporting preferential reproduction of good ideas, networked groups instead of hierarchical organizations, and the transfer of these ideas to different contexts. Through small groups of people, we see the potential to experiment with distributed problem-solving methods. Such efforts require:

  • A collective effort to reach effective and sustainable solutions
  • Resources such as knowledge, data, expertise, finances, and jurisdiction inherently distributed between stakeholders
  • Agreement by problem-solving groups on how tasks will be segmented and allocated and on how new knowledge will be shared and synthesized


Addressing the diversity of problems and exploring the richness of opportunities that guide us into our optimal future, we denizens of British Columbia can learn from the salmon whose ingenuity, resilience, and persistence have inspired us since the beginning of time.

The salmon is already an icon with BC residents from Haida Gwaii to the Rocky Mountains. It is what makes us care about this place. The salmon is a creature that has always been swimming at the vortex of cosmologies of aboriginal people. People and salmon have co-evolved here. When we talk about the things that we love, we are necessarily inarticulate. Salmon have become a metaphor for what we acre about in British Columbia.

Our vision of British Columbia’s future involves restoring the abundance of salmon throughout their former range. It will require feats of engineering heretofore unprecedented. It will require restoring robust stands of timber and clean water. Salmon and humans want the same habitat. The restoration of salmon and all of their abundance and diversity would require fundamental infrastructure changes, from road building to community planning. To care about the salmon is to care about the sustainable future of all peoples and species in British Columbia and it requires making imaginative choices today.

Whether it’s salmon, homelessness, mental health, the aging population, educating and caring for our children, or creating wealth, we need to bring new problem-solving strategies to our complex problems in a way we have yet to do in this province. And we need to involve more British Columbians in the dialogue about the future.

Imagine BC Year 1
Dialogues on the Future of British Columbia – PDF


Year 2 – Ecology and Economy: Navigating the Future of British Columbia

What would it take to get decision makers to rethink the relationship between the ecology and the economy? Who are the decision makers? Is it sufficient to lobby individuals for change or are the challenges so overarching that government must intervene to direct individual action? If government intervention is necessary, at what level?

It seems clear that we are all decision makers; everyone can take actions that increase or reduce his or her personal footprint on earth. At the same time many of the challenges are beyond the capacity of individuals to affect. The cooperation of governments, businesses and international agencies will ultimately be critical to finding a right balance.

Conversely, governments cannot or will not move far in any in any direction without the support, or at least the acquiescence of a willing population. So any attempt to encourage action must be aimed broadly at public education, – at public dialogue, – as well as at appropriate levels of government.

At a time when reducing the human footprint is a critical goal, British Columbia is particularly well-equipped to take a leadership role. The province has extensive experience with clean and renewable energy and is a leader in energy conservation. It is also a leader in researching alternative energy systems.

Far from being a limiting factor on our economy, the aggressive pursuit of conservation and alternative energy has the capacity to create jobs and economic wealth, especially as our expertise and technological advantage becomes increasingly valuable on the growing world market. There are rich multi-sectoral, public, and expert driven dialogeas and debates to be had over the potential for British Columbia’s future, over the flexibility of BC’s economy and the resilience of the global biosphere.

The conclusion is clear: no one wants to spend any time thinking about a future that’s all bad. But if we don’t think about it, – if we spend no time whatever planning beyond the next quarter, the next political term, or the next international sporting event, – the future will be bad. As Canadians, – as British Columbians, – we have a huge capacity and a rich natural advantage. It is urgent that we marshal our resources in a way that will make the “right balance” not just an imagined future, but also a likely one.

Imagine BC seeks to

  • Create a network of interdisciplinary innovators who will generate provocative and constructive ideas about the kind of future we want for British Columbia
  • Engage British Columbians in meaningful public dialogue, transcending partisan politics, about our province’s future
  • Produce a number of educational materials that support public dialogue in British Columbia’s future
  • Cultivate a culture of dialogue that engages citizens and specialists/experts/thought leaders to consider our future from multiple perspectives
  • Contribute to public judgement about what choices we should be making for a sustainable future
  • Influence public policy discussion regarding emerging economic, social, cultural, environmental issues and opportunities in British Columbia

Imagine BC Year 2
Ecology and Economy: Navigating the Future of British Columbia – PDF


Year 3 – BC’s Future Well-Being: Alternative Futures and Signs of Progress

What kind of future do we have in British Columbia? How does thinking about our future and our present in terms of well-being contribute to addressing the challenges we face as a province? What are the indicators of well-being?

How is well-being impacted by natural, social, and economic capital? How do we score on the happiness index in British Columbia compared with other jurisdictions? What actions are necessary now to ensure the future well-being of British Columbia’s citizens?

If we were to develop a set of provincial well-being accounts to monitor our progress, what should be included, – e.g. quality of work, the state of our communities, social and regional disparities, early childhood education, crime rates, health, the strength of our relationships, the state of our environment? What would it take for British Columbia to be a national and world leader in social, economic, and environmental well-being?

Imagine BC series aims to build the province’s capacity to think proactively about the future. A society that is alert to the future is a society that is ready to seize the opportunities open to it.

In this regard, ‘future-literacy’ as much as technological or civic literacy, is a critical competitive advantage that deserves investment and merits both public and private support.


Imagine BC Year 3
BC’s Future Well-Being:Alternative Futures and Signs of Progress – PDF


Questions for creative exploration and conversation

Questions drawn from Simon Fraser University Dialogues on the Future of British Columbia

How could we shift from problem-solving with one-off disciplinary frameworks and cultivate a culture of creative exploration? What are local, national, and international examples of such decentralized approaches? What do we want British Columbia citizens to dialogue around?

What is the most important objective for British Columbia for the next 30 years?

What do we imagine for the future of our children and the children of others in British Columbia?

How can we bring people who live in British Columbia together in community conversations around our common interests?

How do we engage people from diverse cultural, ethnic, economic, and regional backgrounds to focus on the future and what and how they can contribute?

How could we realize the full potential of British Columbia’s diversity?

What steps could be taken to build capacities in communities?

How can we ensure that heritage legacies are appreciated and protected?

How can we redefine prosperity in non-monetary terms in order to reduce our human footprint?

What roles must education, arts and culture, and dialogue play to engage our society in urgent conversations to bridge our differences and forge consensus?

What new narrative do we want to create for the province and do we need new language to talk about the need for change?

How do decision makers and citizens engage with each other to explore and understand the relationship between ecology and economy?

What reforms to government structures will help us make better decisions?

How do we expand and relocate the idea of leadership and change the way we envision the relationship between this leadership and governmental decision-makers?

What will government look like in a community imagined and driven by community leaders?

Where are we getting it right?

Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue

Dialogue brings together many voices, stories, perspectives, and experiences to increase mutual understanding and identify shared solutions. Instead of arguing for what you already know, dialogue is entered into with a spirit of curiosity and an openness to be changed.

Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue