Language, Innovation and the First Nations

Like many in Quebec, and abroad, I watched the 2nd debate of the Québec party leaders last week. The discussions centred on a number of issues of which one was the protection of the French language in this sea (ocean) of English speaking people.

Personally, I am firmly in agreement with Bill 101. This bill has contributed protecting the French language in Quebec. Having stated that, it is difficult for me to assess whether Bill 101 has to be strengthened as it is not my Mother tongue (which is Polish) that is in need of protection. If it was, I am sure that I would be a bit more sensitive to the subtleties of any threats to it.

On the other hand, I also believe that across Canada, the development of French immersion classes have contributed to helping protect the French language in Canada and maybe even contributed in increasing our collective abilities in creativity and potentially in innovation.

OK. That is a bit of a stretch. Sorry about that.

But bear with me a bit.

As mentioned in the “About“, I came to Quebec for a summer French language immersion program some 30 years ago after completing a BASc in mechanical engineering. Completing graduate studies in engineering and in French, I had this growing feeling that having learnt a 2nd (actually a 3rd) language increased my abilities in looking at problems from different angles. Although, I had no empirical data, I truly felt that learning a 2nd and 3rd language contributed in increasing my abilities to perform in engineering design especially with respect to exploring and developing alternative solutions to a particular problem.

It is only recently that I came upon an article (Ghonsooly, Showqi, 2012, The Effects of Foreign Language Learning on Creativity) that provides some data to support what was only a feeling. Essentially, the article “investigates the possible influence of foreign language learning on individuals’ divergent thinking abilities”. “Divergent thinking” is an expression of creativity. It is of course the contrary to “convergent thinking”.

An example of convergent thinking is what Scott, Parsons & Seat (2002) observe: “…the predominant engineering student wants his instructor to work examples and give exams that look like those examples. The students have been successful by learning a set of rules and want to repeat that experience.”

However, in the context of design, creative problem solving and even innovation, every problem is different and therefore requires “divergent thinking” abilities and skills to meet that particular design challenge. There are of course tools such as functional decomposition, concept maps and morphological charts that can help to expand the design space.

As a result of the work of Ghonsooly and Showqi, I am comfortable in suggesting that learning a foreign language should be added to any design and innovation tool box.

Having stated that, it is important to understand that design and innovation is not limited to engineers, architects, animation programmers, etc. All of us practice to some extent design and innovation in our lives although we probably describe it differently. As an example, the mere act of verbalising an idea is a creative design activity where the need is the desire to express that idea. The alternative means (result of divergent thought process) to expressing that idea are the different ways one can assemble words, verbs, adjectives as well as applying rules of grammar, intonation, body language, etc. The different alternatives are evaluated in an instant, selected and implemented.

If one accepts this observation, one would need then to consider that learning a foreign language would also help us all in developing greater skill in design and innovation by whatever name you wish to call it (“What’s in a name?”).

Let’s take a step back and consider that over the years or rather decades, research and development, creation and innovation has been the center of a number of different reports, policies and programs to stimulate and support Canada’s economic development. These programs have helped the development of centre of excellence and technology across the country. However, today we are still looking to further improve our economic competitively as can be illustrated by the Innovation Canada initiative and a number of recent articles (Chakma, 2014, Hirsch, 2013, Hodgkinson, 2014).

Most if not all of these initiatives aim to engage Canadian industry and bring it together with academia. Few, if any, of these initiatives suggest that there might be a wider initiative that can support the development of a climate supporting design and innovation in the general population.

However, as illustrated, adding the pursuit of a second language to the list of innovation initiatives can increase the general level of creativity of our population. Such a measure has the potential to touch all Canadians and engage all of us in innovation.

Technically, one such measure, the Explore program, has already to a large extent been initiated and has been running for over 40 years. The Explore program, previously known as the Summer Language Bursary Program, has promoted and supported learning our two Founder’s Nation languages (French to Anglophones; English to Francophones).

I guess now, the appropriately named Explore program could be considered as a means to increase our collective creativity. The graduates of this program could also be the focus of a survey to explore if their creativity skills increase after taking such a program. This could be an interesting study.

However, why, today, do we limit the Explore program to just the languages of the Founding Nations?

Why not see if we could extend the Explore program (or create a separate program) to address language immersion in First Nations’ languages and culture as a means to increase our collective creativity and support innovation?

A thought…

Detailing a Senate Reform Option

From the previous post (What’s Next?), the “best” Senate option was found to be limiting nominations to members of the Order of Canada (OC model) and to members of the provincial orders of merit. A very close second was the House of Elders model of the First Nations.

Based on these criteria, there are eight senators (out of 105 or 7.6%) who meet these criteria. These are:

Chretien Appointments: Serge Joyal

Martin Appointments: Roméo A. Dallaire, Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas, Hugh Segal

Harper Appointments: Irving Russell Gerstein, Kelvin K. Ogilvie, Nancy Greene Raine, Pamela Wallin

NB: It is important to note that a member of the Order of Canada if convicted of a crime can have their membership to the Order revoked as illustrated here.

Based on the current Senate status, there are currently 9 vacancies (BC-1, Manitoba-2, Ontario-3, Quebec-1, Nova Scotia-2).

Based on the OC model and desirous to develop a First Nation’s “Elder” dimension to the Senate, my choices for the current nine vacancies are:

BC: There are 376 living members of the Order of Canada in BC. Further, there are around 300 members of the Order of BC. In terms of possible candidates for me, there is really only one that meets the ultimate vision of what a Senator should be for me. And that is (the Man in Motion) Rick Hansen: Companion of the Order of Canada, he, for me, is an example to follow and reflects the best in all of us.

Manitoba: There are some 118 Manitobans members of the Order of Canada. Further, there are some 180 members of the Order of Manitoba. My first candidate would be W. Yvon Dumont, Métis, who is a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba. The candidate for the second seat would be Raymond Poirier who is also a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba.

Ontario: There are over 1200 Ontarians who have been named to the Order of Canada and over a thousand members of the Order of Ontario. My first nominee would be Phil Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation. Apparently Mr Fontaine lives in Ontario. The second would be Ms Chantal Hebert who is member of the Order of Canada. The third Ontario vacancy can be filled by Annette Verschuren who is a member of the Order of Canada.

Quebec: There are some 750 living Quebecois member of the Order of Canada and some 600 member de l’Ordre national du Quebec. For the one current vacancy in Quebec, I would suggest if be filled by Denise Verreault who is a member of Order of Canada.

Nova Scotia: For the vacancies here, I would suggest Dr Joan Glode of the Mi’kmaq, member of the Order of Canada and Joseph Shannon member of the Order of Canada.

Senate – What’s next?

Justin Trudeau took a big step and brought Senate reform back to the fore with an interesting Senate reform proposal supported by some decisive action – expulsion of all Liberal Senators from the Liberal caucus!

One can and should (in my humble opinion) applaud this initiative! Consider the reaction from the Canada West Foundation.

However, this proposal, although decisive, is far from inspirational.

As Jeff Jedras asks: “what’s next?

In exploring an answer to this question, a design approach (see “Design, is it not merely politics?”) can be applied.

This design approach would evolve as follows:

Recognizing a need: Enough is written on this subject (Rampart against dictatorship, From rampart to rubble). There is definitely a need for Senate reform.

Defining the problem: Problem definition aims essentially at defining the criteria that describe the desired state that would meet our need. These criteria will then be used to evaluate alternative solutions to meeting the need.

The following table describes those criteria that for me best describe what would be the ideal Senate reform proposal.



Evaluation Scale


Impact on reducing the potential of an elected dictatorship


0:   no impact on reducing dictatorship potential

10:   maximum impact on reducing dictatorship potential

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can reduce the   possible effects of an elected dictatorship.
Impact on partisanship


0:   no impact on reducing partisanship

10:   maximum effect on reducing partisanship

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can reduce the partisanship   dynamics in the Red Chamber.
Impact on increasing the effectiveness of the House   of Sober Second Thought


0:   no impact on effectiveness

10:   maximum impact of effectiveness

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can contribute to   bringing the Senate back to its original mission.
Cost of reform


0:   high cost of reform

10:   no cost of reform

This   criterion measures the potential cost to a particular reform option.
Degree of implementation   ease


0:   difficult implementation effort

10:   easy implementation effort

The   criterion measures the potential ease with which a particular reform option   can be implemented (ex the need for a constitutional amendment would mean   that it would be very difficult while the status quo would be the most   easiest to implement).
The MacDonald   factor


10:   high MacDonald  potential

0:   no MacDonald potential

After   the criterion on “elected dictatorship”, the MacDonald factor addresses the   degree to which a reform package addresses the original spirit of the Senate   nomination “that these Senate worthies would surely be   representative of the best of the colonies”.

Gathering information: Understanding both the options and the role of the Senate in the Canadian Parliamentary system will help in understanding the impact of different Senate options on our democracy.

A search of the web (Thanks Google!) reveals a number of senate reform options which include government, Wikipedia (Triple-E, reform history), journalistic (Hebert,  Coyne, Wherry, etc.) and political party sources (Conservative, NDP, Liberal, Green PEI).

Further, it is important to revise what is the role of the un-elected Senate with respect to the democratically elected House of Commons and underline its impact on. A number of sites can be cited: Munroe, Makarenko, Senate, etc.

Developing alternative solutions: Ever since the effort of the Reform Party to promote the triple-E Senate a number of different options have been proposed. These are:

Triple-E Senate – Equal, Elected, Effective. This option would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. Further, if obtained would only guarantee an increase in partisan politics and potentially leading to “dead-lock”.

Elected Senate – The current Conservative Senate reform proposal is to have senators elected at the provincial level and submitted as recommendation to the PM for nomination. It is expected that the Supreme Court will indicate that this option would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. However, if successful, this would most likely lead to increased partisan politics.

Senate Abolishment – This will undoubtedly require a constitutional amendment which would be difficult to obtain. Further, abolishment would remove the only real “rampart” to and “elected dictatorship”.

The Black OptionConrad Black prepared a Senate reform proposal where the number of senators is increased to 180 which are distributed amongst appointed and elected nominations. Here again, this proposal would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. However, if successful, this would most likely nevertheless lead to increased partisan politics.

The Trudeau Option – This particular reform option underlines that the PM, any PM, has the power to create precedent by defining and applying a selection criteria above and beyond that what is found in the constitution. Will this option reduce partisanship? Possibly not, as has been highlighted by the reforming of the ousted Liberal Senators into the “Liberal Senate Caucus”. Further, this option does not inspire or add to a Canadian national myth.

House of EldersDoug Cuthand in a column for The Star Phoenix outlined the using the First Nation’s Senate as a model for reform of Canadian Senate. This, in my opinion, is an excellent alternative to the current model and could be easily incorporated into say the Trudeau option. Considering that the Senate is to promote a regional point of view and that our First Nations are “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” populating the Senate with First Nations Elders could potentially bring the symbolism and spirit of “Turtle Island” to oversee and inspire our collective Nation’s future.

The OC Option – The OC option is defined by limiting nomination to the Senate to members of the Order of Canada who have demonstrated that they live by the motto: “Desiderantes meliorem patriam” (They desire a better country). These people come from all walks of life having excelled and marked their particular communities and disciplines. This particular option can also be easily incorporated into the Trudeau option.

Status Quo – Technically, doing nothing is still a possibility despite all of its limitations. The main advantage is that it would not require any more cost and no constitutional amendment.

Evaluation: The evaluation of the alternatives requires a set of criteria such as those defined in the problem definition. When I review these different options as a function of each criterion defined in the previous table, the result obtained is found the following table.

Based on these criteria, the OC option comes out as the best option in the weighted scale while it ties with the House of Elders option in the un-weighted evaluation. Both of these options as followed in the distance by the Trudeau option.

As a result, the answer to “What’s next?” can be summarized by the pursuit of defining and writing a national myth through combining the values of the First Nations with the pursuit of excellence in our communities. 

Design, is it not merely politics?

The association between “design” and “politics” is not a straight forward one.

Typically those working in the design field (engineering, architecture, software, systems, etc.) do not necessarily see the link with politics. And those working in politics do not necessarily see the same link with design.

However, in researching (web search – Thank you Google!), one can find that the topic of “design and politics” is indeed being addressed at the philosophical level through the works of people like Tony Fry, Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) as well as students like Marcel Münch along with many others.

Ton Fry focuses on sustainability and the role of scientists in politics in his book “Design as Politics”. His point of view is well described in his book which is a heavy read and one that I can only really take  in bits and bites. Honestly, I am currently still digesting this particular work. However, it should be noted that there are at least two points of view being expressed on the web with respect to Fry’s “Design as Politics” work.  One review (Keith Owens) suggests that  “The book packs a wallop and extends the thinking Fry voiced in two earlier works,  A New Design Philosophy (1999) and Design Futuring (2009)” and underlines that “Fry argues that designers should answer this challenge by transforming themselves into politicized change agents who will confront blinkered forms of ecological thinking and who can overturn many long established and deeply entrenched political, economic, ideological and technological foundations upon which rest human’s current self-negating ways. ”.  On the other hand, another review (Mohsen Shahmanesh) underlines the need for humanity to pursue sustainability as described by Fry as well as highlights that Fry’s point of view on democracy  as “…But when Fry goes into providing what he sees as a road to solution he goes badly wrong…   …Moreover, despite his repeated assertion that his solution is the only one that is not utopian, the world of Design as Politics is essentially built on a series of unsupportable assumptions.”.

Luhmann is credited as being a pioneer in developing and applying a “systems” point of view for the design of social systems which comprises systems theory as societal theory, communication theory and evolution theory.

With respect to Marcel Münch, I should note that his blog post “Systems theory for design thinkers” pointed to Luhmann. Münch’s blog treats many interesting subjects. However, the point that I found the most interesting was found at the end of the Luhmann post. There Münch underlines that “Ultimately this (systems theory) leads us to the question if design itself could be a system, in line with Luhmann’s theory…   … Design seems to be omnipresent and intrinsic to every system. One could even interpret it in a way and say the binary code of a system is design”.

However, design is indeed a system.

There are a number of different definitions and points of view on what is design especially when referring to technological development and innovation. Further, the range of such definitions can be multiplied by a few magnitudes if the point of view of different practitioners were to be included. I am no different.

For me, design is a system that is composed of a number of interactive and interdepend components that work together to accomplish some desired task (see “Why Rock n Roll?” post). The design system components can be defined as “recognizing a need”, defining the problem, gathering information, developing alternative solutions, evaluating those solutions, detailing the design and implementing it.

Recognition of need and phrasing it in so many words often constitutes a highly creative act because the need may only a vague discontent, a feeling of uneasiness, or a sensing that something is not right.

Joseph E. Shigley, the Later Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering, “Mechanical Engineering Design”

One way to illustrate the interactive and interdependent relationships between these design system components is through the development of a concept map.

Figure 1 Creative Tension

Figure 1 Creative Tension

Consider a desired yet undefined state (fig 1). As time moves forward the distance between where one is and the desired yet undefined state increases creating a form of “discontent”, “uneasiness” or some form of creative tension. At some point, this forces one to start to recognise what is the source of this tension or need. At that point the design process starts (fig 2), followed by problem definition, information gathering, etc. and finishes with the implementation of the design and hopefully meeting the desired state.

Figure 2 The Design Process

Figure 2 The Design Process

The process is driven by a design environment which in turn is driven by a client which can be an organization or society at large and a designer “master” of the design process and associated tools and methodologies.

Considering that the design process as described is a dynamic between people (designers) living in society (client), is not design merely politics as defined as “the total complex of relations between people living in society”?