Stephen Harper Defends the Status Quo

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech on Thursday in Davos was received well, many of the delegates that I spoke with told me they thought Harper's vision was too blinkered.

With the conspicuous exception of global warming, Harper acknowledged that many challenges face the world, but told delegates that the two most appropriate arenas for discussion and decision making are the G8 and the G20. He described the latter as "the world's premier forum for economic cooperation." And each country should be guided by "enlightened self-interest" and a better "attitude."

But the consensus in Davos is that the planet is facing urgent, complicated, 21st century problems, and we need to craft 21st century systems to develop the answers. We should involve all of our planet's best talent in the solution-seeking process, including the private sector, civil society and individual citizens.

Doubtless Harper placed emphasis on the G8 and G20 because this year's meetings will occur in Canada and he is the Chair. But that doesn't mean he should be indifferent to the enormous contributions that could be made by others, or closed to the exciting new approaches to solving global problems.

Following last year's World Economic Forum at Davos, many delegates went on to participate in the Forum's Global Redesign Initiative in meetings around the world. The Initiative brought together diverse stakeholders to develop fresh solutions to the many challenges facing our small and fragile planet. Much of this year's Forum was devoted to discussing the proposals developed by the Initiative.

The Initiative itself was driven by the belief of Forum members that our international collaborative processes are tired and too constrained to meet current needs. In Davos, the failed Copenhagen global-warming conference was frequently used by delegates as a metaphor for the inadequacy of existing processes. To be sure, no one is suggesting that nation states do not need to sit down and hammer out accords. But many Davos delegates believe that such meetings, while necessary, are by themselves insufficient to grapple with the many thorny issues confronting us.

Had Harper come to Davos a day earlier, he would have heard French President Nicolas Sarkozy deliver a withering critique of how the planet's issues are managed today. "From the moment we accepted the idea that the market was always right and that no other opposing factors need be taken into account, globalization skidded out of control," Sarkozy said. Many systems in the world, including capitalism, were in serious need of reform. "Each of us must hold the conviction that the world of tomorrow cannot be the same as the world of yesterday." A text of Sarkozy's remarks can be seen here.

Yes the G8 and G20 meetings will be important and they may even make some progress on issues such as climate change. But today there are collaborations involving millions of people, along with governments, private companies and civil society organizations that are actually doing something about climate change. Government leaders need to listen to fresh thinking about how to harness this power, rather than relying on old approaches that have the world stalled.