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Opinion CEO Annette Verschuren: We are polarized on the environment

Annette Verschuren

Brian Losito/Air Canada

In a six-week series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with increasing the innovativeness of our economy.

Annette Verschuren, chief executive officer of the energy storage company NRStor Inc., was interviewed on Oct. 7 by Brenna Atnikov.

Atnikov: What keeps you up at night?

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Verschuren: The discussion of the economy versus the environment. We're never going to create innovation if we polarize ourselves on these two issues. Why can't we both add value to our industries and take greater responsibility for managing our natural resources? It's healthy to have differences of opinion, but not when we reduce issues to black or white. When you're too far to the right or to the left on an issue, you very rarely succeed in solving problems. The grey area is where the resolutions happen. Right now we're fighting on the details and not on the big issues. We have to find more things we can all agree on.

There's not enough concern in our country about the economy. The jobs aren't there, the pension funds aren't there, people aren't living happily ever after. Maybe we haven't hit the wall hard enough. I am worried about where the new jobs are going to come from and that other countries are going to steal them away. The clean technology that's happening in Korea, China, Japan and in parts of Europe is so advanced relative to what we're doing. We've got to catch up.

A weakness in Canada is that there aren't enough women in senior leadership roles. Imagine how much more productive our country could be if we called on all of our talent as opposed to parts of it! We have the brains and are blessed with the greatest natural resources in the world; we now need a lot of courageous leadership to be able to sustain and build on what we have.

Atnikov: If things turn out well over the next 20 years, what needs to happen?

Verschuren: The new economy is going to come from finding more productive ways to produce food and energy, to use water, to extract and refine oil and gas, to extract minerals. Why can't we be the country that takes on the challenge of reducing the carbon footprint? Why can't we be the country that most responsibly produces fossil fuels and minerals and the like? We're really good at so many things. We're one of the leaders in the world at brain research and cancer diagnostics. We also have some great stuff happening in information and communications technology, in data management, in big data analytics. With our educated work force and myriad research facilities across the country, we have enormous potential to solve all kinds of problems.

I would love the story to be that Canada was a little bit stuck for a few years on where it was going, but look at what it did. It reduced its energy footprint. It's got the best cities and transit systems. For these things to happen, we need to take a longer-term perspective; we can't just wait for the next quarter and see what the results are.

Atnikov: What important impending decisions does Canada have to make?

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Verschuren: Canadians have to rethink what we want to be and how we want people to see us. We're not putting the right investment in the right places, because we don't know where we're going. We have to be more optimistic and find ways to move our society toward creating value. People want to rally behind a future, and right now, nobody is describing what that future is. Leadership can really create change, and people will follow behind a sensible vision for the country. If the vision is clear, we will find a way to get there. We need inspirational leadership – from unions, First Nations, business, government – to take us to that point.

Possible Canadas is a project created by Reos Partners, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and a diverse coalition of philanthropic and community organizations. For longer versions of these interviews, or to join the conversation, visit possiblecanadas.ca.

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