Robert Sandford: Episode 4 Transcript

December 2, 2019

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Colleen Sklar: Welcome to Creative Resolutions In Action – A podcast that dives into the real world of Manitoba with a mixture of smart conversation, expert advice, behind the scene stories and straight talk from leaders in government, business, industry, academia and civil society. Creative Resolutions In Action: Manitobans Building Strong Communities

In today’s episode. I have the pleasure of sitting down with Robert Sanford. Bob is the EPCOR Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. And Bob has been a long time collaborator with us here at the Winnipeg Metro Region. And it’s always wonderful to have you in town Bob, if you could just tell me a little bit about what you’re working on these days.

Robert Sandford: Well first of all, thank you for inviting me and for inviting me back to Winnipeg and I’m working on many things that are all linked together abroad, and particularly in Canada – water security, water security in the face of a changing climate, and how we restructure governance so that we can be effective and not only dealing with the environmental problems that we face now, but the changes in the environment and the changes in natural system function that that are inevitable now that we know that climate warming is on its way. 

Colleen: And I wondered if you could just tell us a little bit about your thoughts about what we’re going to be faced with was going into the future – extreme variations between drought and flood – and what that means for the the Winnipeg Metro Region and Manitoba in general as a collection of actors trying to work together.

Robert: I think it’s important for me to say that I travel widely in places that are not as fortunate as we are here in Manitoba or in Canada, and I visit, unfortunately, places that are not going to make it. And I’ve looked very carefully. Why them and not us? 

And there’s a number of factors that I think are really important to see – as trends and trends that we should examine and respond to here.

Colleen:  What are the trends you’re seeing globally around too much water, not enough water, on deteriorating water quality globally, and what are some of the areas you see an opportunity for us to address in regional plan?

Robert: First of all, I think it’s really important to recognize that Canadians don’t know how fortunate they are, and how much potential we have here to deal with very serious pending problems.

Unfortunately I go to a a lot of places that are probably not going to make it over the long term, and I ask why them not us, and then you begin to compare the kinds of circumstances that you see elsewhere with what we have in Canada. 

Some of the problems that these places face include large populations, large population concentrations, weak or corrupt governments, inadequate wealth distribution, the encroachment on that important agricultural lands and the deterioration of agricultural soils, and especially depleted water supplies – when I say depleted it’s not just in volume but also in quality. And then associated with that are damaged or lost natural system function that all lead to blunt climate disruption vulnerability. And we’re seeing it widely. We’re no longer waiting for climate change. Ten years ago we described what might happen as the climate warmed, now we’re showing and demonstrating to people what is happening.

So when you look at it from the Canadian context, and you look at it from the Lake Winnipeg Basin concept, not just as a province, but as a vast region, we see that there are some very, very important things we need to understand. We need to understand how important our population centers are, like Winnipeg, because they are concentrations of population. And you told me that Winnipeg represent 63% of the population of Manitoba and also 70% of the GDP. 

Also we see that one of the limitations that you have is in governance. The governance does not extend capably to deal with all the kinds of problems that you have now and will be inadequate to deal with the kinds of problems we deal with when we see a projected nine degrees Celsius warming prairie climate. 

So we need to restructure our governance and the best way to do that is start regionally and to develop strong regional governance structures and proactive ability to address the problems that we know that are coming for sure.

Colleen: Me and you have had a chance to talk about water issues issues; we’ve talked about Lake Winnipeg; we’ve talked about a loss of agricultural lands and soils; you talk about regional planning, and why regional planning, and what should we pay attention to when we start to undertake regional planning we undertake regional plan.

Robert: I think it’s important to recognize that you need to develop regional planning that deals with regional problems problems. True regional problems, common problems, common problems to all. And a good measure of whether or not your regional planning is working is if you can solve a problem like the eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg. And if you’re structures are in place and capable of doing that, then you’re probably on your way, and if they’re not, and we have seen and observed what’s happening here in Manitoba over the last ten years, and what you’ve had has been inadequate to deal with the problem. 

So new structures, new attitudes, new practices, have to come into existence. New relationships have to be formed in order to allow your regional planning to become more effective and more proactive.

Colleen: We’ve got really incredible opportunity right now. We seem to have good provincial support. We seem to have incredible support from the private sector, the development community, the business owners… Those folks that really want to see our economy thrive here. Also we’ve seen some really good support from NGOs who want to see the environment protected and all of those things that come with it. What would be one message you’d like to send the elected officials who are sitting at the table with this incredible opportunity before them to plan this Winnipeg Metro Region for the future. What would be one thing you’d like to give them – a piece of advice. 

Robert: The single piece of advice I’d like to offer, and thank you for giving me that opportunity, is that I think you need to pay very close attention to the Collaboratively Leadership Initiative model. I think that it has done more to breakdown artificial and outdated barriers that stand in the way of effective regional management. 

We’ve found that certainly the fact that you have overlapping jurisdiction, but you haven’t exercised organization and orchestration of that jurisdiction, is a critical element of of moving forward. And involving First Nations and indigenous governments in that process is vital to the province’s economic and social future.

I think is really important to recognize that you’ve worked on a divided basis and I think by unifying your governance structures and intentions, working more closely together, it will help you solve your environmental problems. But more than that – it’s a huge economic economic growth opportunity. And it’s an opportunity to build a stronger Manitoba in the future. 

Colleen: That’s excellent and as that’s been a really exciting project we’ve been working on with your leadership at the table. We’ve been able to take it to a really important juncture right now where we’re kind of through the relationship building hurdles, and we’re on now to getting some projects on the ground – projects around water, projects on the economy, and around making sure communities are good places for everyone to live.

Robert: I have observed that one of the things that’s been most interesting about your process here, The Collaborative Leadership Initiative, is that it demonstrates that to solve really, really complicated environmental issues like Lake Winnipeg, you need to alter the governance structure of the province. But the fact of the matter is that you can’t alter the governance structure of the province without reconciliation. And I think this is an important step forward for Manitoba and for the country because if you can make this work on a more implicate and synergistic level, then it’s going to help the economy of Manitoba; it’s going to improve the social relationships between all Manitobans; and it’s going to lead to more prosperous future even in the face of threats like climate change, which now suddenly become something you might be able to manage better 

Colleen: Bob, can you offer one piece of advice for the Mayors Reeves and Chiefs as they move forward with the Collaborative Leadership Initiative, and as we move forward and thinking about planning this region for the future.

Robert: If I had one piece of advice to offer for everyone involved in the Collaborative Leadership Initiative in terms of moving forward, I would offer this: You have no choice. The current governance structure you have is not adequate to deal with the problems you face now and will be completely inadequate to deal with the kinds of problems you’re going to face in the future. So in a way, the government structure that you have right now is self terminating. You have to find a way to transcend individual and local interests, and to unify the region around these these kinds of solutions or you will lose your prosperity or part of it in the future. 

Colleen: So Bob, we’ve been asking all of our participants a kind of a final question and the question is: If you could talk to anybody in the world and ask them either a question or give them a piece of advice, who would that be and what would you say?

Robert: I would say pretty much the same thing to anyone and looking at the Manitoba situation and the example, I would suggest you that we need to follow the indigenous advice of thinking seven generations ahead. We need to think ahead and we need to do so with great care and with greater urgency.

Colleen: And is there somebody that you if you could talk to anybody in the world, who would that person be? 

Robert: I would talk to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and I would say to him that there are models out there that we need to watch and support and that Manitoba has one of those. 

Colleen: Well thank you so much Bob. It’s been a pleasure as always to speak with you. You bring us great insight into what’s going on globally and encouragement about where we’re going right now in the Winnipeg Metro Region.

Robert: Thank you for inviting me

Colleen: And thank you all for joining us today on Creative Resolutions In Action. If you enjoyed this episode please be sure to check out episode three where we talk with Chris Lorenc, the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and we discuss the importance of building transportation and trade infrastructure to grow Manitoba’s economy. 

Please be sure to subscribe to this podcast, like it, and tell me what you think of the conversations stations in the reviews, and who else you might like to hear from, and tune in for the next episode where we will sit down with Merrell-Ann Phare from the Center for Indigenous Environmental Resources as she shares the history-making work of the Collaborative Leadership Initiative which brought Chiefs, Mayors and Reeves together for the first time in over 150 years.

Creative Resolutions In Action: Manitobans Building Strong Communities.


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