Rankin MacSween Interview Transcript

Nov. 14, 2000
Rankin MacSween
New Dawn Enterprises
282 George St.
PO Box 1055
Sydney, NS B1P 6J7
W – 902-539-9560
Fax – 902-539-7210
Email – rmacsween@ns.sympatico.ca

Dave Beckwith:
Is New Dawn unique in Canada?

Rankin MacSween:
I've always wondered if we were doomed to be unique. We’re comfortable with our role here, but there’s not a lot like us in Canada. My sense of why that is, if you go back 25 years ago, there were about 25 organizations in Canada and there were maybe 500 in the states, what they would call CED organizations. Now, in the States, there are 5000, 7000, 10,000. If you go to Canada, and you start to count them up there might be 30. I'm not sure if it's grown, and I think in part, I mean I think every time people meet, I think there's a fear that goes through the Canadian psyche oh they're going to do what those Americans did back 200 years ago, they're going to have a revolution. They just don't like this meaning, because it leads to all kinds of uncomfortable things.

Well this is certainly a place where's there's been a lot of it over the years, a variety of waves of activism, in coop development, literacy education and labor both in Cape Breton, and Nova Scotia in general. What happened? Where does that stand right now?

You want to go here, you want to go down the road?

We'll come back to my questions, my questions are very easy questions, what do you do and why do you do it and what's next, but this is an interesting line of conversation. I've been reading about McLachlan and Antigonish and Moses Coady and the Coady Institute and so forth and I'm just wondering what

Well, I have a lot more questions about what happened than answers, I don't know what happened. I mean I think the probably easy explanation is the Second World War came along which changed everything in terms of the economy. I think up until the Second World War, at least here in Cape Breton, people were having a very difficult time finding a place, eh? My father told a story about when the war broke out and young fellows were signing up. Before they got shipped out, they loved going home and going to church in their uniforms, and so these are his buddies, so when they are standing there in front of the church, one of the things they wanted to show was that they had underwear, because up until that time nobody had any underwear, so they would show their buddies they had underwear,

Totally new world,

They had made it, they had underwear. So I think undoubtedly the war changed everything. I think the other thing was the nature of the movement. I think Father Jimmy Tomkins, who certainly in many ways was really anti-organization, he was between this rock and hard place all the time. On the one hand he was a priest, eh, so he was constrained by the church. I mean the church was a great platform for him, but he was as well constrained, in terms of struggling all the time to find a way of speaking of what he wanted speak of without being offensive to citizens. Then he was at the university and he was constrained by the university. One of the things he was noted for saying was every organization should be booked down every so many years, and you’d start all over again. I think that part of what happened when he and Moses Coady died, was what was left? I think because of their constraints, in terms of seeing organizations as having been destructive, there was nothing to go on after that. That would be another thing I've wondered about. Another thing I think I've wondered about is that it was the critical move there, in terms of St. F.X. University, and did they do it in when they aligned it with Canada, when they created the extension project? At the time when that happened, that marriage was celebrated, but I wonder if that was for the best?

Who seduced whom?

Organizations tend to be one off. They are very good at doing one thing. Universities at putting on courses. They do that well, they do it over and over again, to add on those other mandates I mean, something has always got to be the priority and I don't think certainly in the university the community agenda ever took hold. That's always one of the things I've wondered about.

Well it is interesting; the other book I got the other day in the bookstore in Halifax was about the labor movement, on the sharp edge of social change. I wonder what role the unions play in Cape Breton now, if they're still strong. I know there's still a lot of mining, and there's not as many jobs per dollar any more. Are the unions a powerful force still, or?

No. Less and less though all the time. Still I think the unions are more powerful than one would imagine, given their dwindling numbers. I think the United Mine Workers are being laid off. To make any sense of this community you’ve got to identify with the culture, because this is very much a Celtic culture, the Celts have always been dominant, within this whole tapestry of other cultures. When the mine was booming in the early 1900's, there was a whole wave of immigration at that time, but prior to that, the big wave of immigrants was the Celtic wave and that, I think the Celtic dominated,

Basically Irish,

Irish. A well known Canadian writer earlier on wrote a book called The Two Solitudes, a great job of anticipating the movement and the tension that accompanied it. McLennan he described the Celts. It seems to me that as a culture, I mean one of the things we've already been very good at is reacting, when we don’t like something, reacting. We have the resources for resisting and constructing organizations around that. It seems to me that the history of the union movement, which is a very proud and exciting heritage, it's incredible what they did, but the best they could ever do which was react to the violence and the oppression that were being wrought in this community, eh? Now given what was done to them, maybe the best they could do was react. If you spent the winter in a tent, eh, half starved.


But it was like once we won, once the cold ends, and the violence ends, once it became a little bit more civilized well what the hell do you do then, because their reaction was essential to the violence and that was the footing that filled the movement. I think the other things that happened was that once the public sector took over what would essentially be all the investor activities here on the island, once Canada and the province took that over in the 60's there were incredible changes, incredible impact on the culture. Another kind of destructive impact that was much more subtle, eh, but anyway, it's generally whatever that legacy is. You look back at what was done and what people like McLachlan were able to accomplish is that they were able to call people's attention to the way they were being victimized, but we were never able to move beyond that rhetoric. It's a movement that got trapped, it meant understanding, you know, the presentation was all of it. We're in a mess and people say, oh, so what? Who cares? Move on, you know? And if the battle is laid out as stop doing those bad things, and you essentially draw a line at the place the Maritimes begins or where Cape Breton begins or draw a line and say just don't cross here and we're fine, and defending the line becomes the point.

That sort of leads me into what do you do and why do you it, but, there is the bridge question. How much do you see New Dawn as the inheritor of that movement? Is there a straight line or a jump or are you on a different place?

Well certainly there's a connection to the movement there. I remember as a child, you know, I mean I was… What is the word I'm looking for?

Here in Sydney?

Yes, and certainly in my in-laws and my home there was always a story about Fr. Jimmy. I don't remember a lot of what was said or what he said, but the sense that..

The moment,

I remember other connections personally. There was another priest in Boysdale, Mike Gilles, who was a very close friend. So that was kind of part of who we were and I think most of the people who were part of that creation would have been submerged in much of that, even more so than I was.

It was 25 years ago that it was founded and sort of equidistant between the heyday and the powerful times and then and now,

The other thing that it did, I think it’s interesting, I think in part, if I understand Greg McLeod correctly, part of it was reacting against coops. I think in part New Dawn was an outcome of the frustration with the movement and that frustration was what Greg would call the technical focus, and single focus. If you decide to form a credit union, that's all you did, or a coop store, that was it. No, I think Greg was very frustrated because there didn't seem to be a lot of excitement or interest going into it and Greg was desperate to try to get at the big picture. Fr. Greg MacLeod was the father of New Dawn, and I think it was really interesting to understand how it came to be. See he was a priest and went through, was organized and ended up in New Glasgow, as a curate for Fr.  Michael Gillis, who has been close to Cody. Greg then goes off to Europe to study, he spends five years in Europe, in Germany. Comes home, eh? Comes to the coal mining town, you gotta understand, in Sydney Mines it's a coal mining town, you've got streets and avenues, see? The working people all lived on the streets; the officials all lived on the avenues. At the time in various minds, people on the streets are good; people on the avenues are bad. It's a very much anti-business pro-union town, okay? Greg goes to Europe, he's teaching philosophy. On his way back some way or another he decided that the best way to go back was to go to Latin America on his way. So Greg goes to Latin America on his way home, first time seeing a developing country, he is shocked to say the least, okay? The poverty. Flies in, lands in Montreal, this would be the late 60's, when we were booming. The big downtown, things are happening, and he can't believe it, his head is filled with contrast, Latin America. Then he lands here, he's been gone 5 years and sees the big city, goes back to Sydney Mines, and he is really struck that in many ways Sydney Mines reminds him a lot more of Latin America than it does Montreal. So he begins to ask all these questions, why, and he had no inkling before, eh? At the same time there's a new program, a new government program that had just been launched in Canada. So

Growth pole?

P-o-l-e. Pole. So what the plan is is to try and concentrate growth in certain key Canadian cities, so for instance Halifax is one of those cities, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. So Greg is kind of with this, so they're going to do this, so he begins to try and understand what the rationale is, eh? And the sense is if they can get Halifax as big as Boston, they would all be prosperous. That's the sense of it, eh?

I think if you ask people in Fall River if that works they'd have an argument too, but.

So then, so there is this correlation underlining the program between sides and vital core. So Greg then tracks down a lady by the name of Jane Jacobs. He didn't know her, but he found her and called her up, and he wants to know whether she thinks this is true. She thinks it's the strangest thing she ever heard of in her life. Halifax at its pinnacle of glory might have 60,000 people. No thanks at all, you didn't need a couple of hundred thousand people. So Greg has another question, it had to do with where the people were going to come from, so Greg has his image of all the bureaucrats coming to Cape Breton and dragging people out from behind the bushes and taking them off to Halifax. So his conclusion is that we're on our own. That for the first part of this century, we have privatized, and that was a very bad experience, very violent, and then for the second half of the century we've had the public sector happening and they're not really acting in our interest so his conclusion is that we're on our own, we're absolutely on our own. So he then is kind of driven to try and create an instrument that would provide the community with the way. He certainly didn't grab for the coop movement, he was very deliberate, he spent 2 years down there in St. F.X., meeting once a week trying to find a structure that made sense, eh? And these were the stories, I was never, these were before my time, but literally the historical papers. This guy was searching. So Greg just got frustrated and he went and bought a house one day. He just went and bought a house to do something that was the whole point to do something. Then he goes to the first Dalhousie conference. It was put on by the legal aid,

What year?

1975. Greg went, and he met Stewart Perry from Boston. He was told about community development corporations popping up in the big city. He said I want one of those to take home and that was the basis for New Dawn.

Well, I'm about to ask my opening questions, which are far less interesting than this conversation, but I'm very interested in the history as well. I worked in The Legal Services Corporation, in the national office in DC from 1975-1978, so the idea of mixing legal services and social change work is pretty interesting to me.

I have no idea what was going on at this moment, I mean I haven't heard of them for years. But at that moment there was a real,

They were in the right place at the right time.

There you go, yah.

They held a CLE conference, community legal education.

The first one in Canada.

And Greg MacLeod shows up and,

Part of his search, eh, and he meets Stewart Perry from Boston.

And so they have a house, they have a structure, they have a CDC concept and they go to town. I come here a couple years down the road, is there anything else important about the beginnings or the early days to say or should we move to who you are and what you do it and why you do it?

Yah, let's try going ahead and see what happens.


Okay, give me an idea of what you want here.

What do you do and why do you do it are the opening questions. They go to motive, go to your own personal story or whichever one, or you can go to what your work is now, that can be the other question.

Well, let me work backwards. I work here in New Dawn, and they call me the president of New Dawn. I've got this wonderful job, the best job in Canada. I work with wonderful people and I work on important stuff. One of the ironies is that in many ways we're working on something hopeless, eh? This community is spiraling downward, down down. And here we are, what to do? We build and we're losing, we're losing our battle very quickly. The lions are eating us up; we’re just dropping like a son-of-a-bitch. Which is a bit of an irony, I'm puzzled about that, because intellectually, eh, this is not working. But at the same time it's a great place and I mean I think what makes it exciting for me is that I learn from it. I think another thing that's really exciting about it is that I mean I'm surrounded by these people of whom I’m a bit in awe, they see the new possibilities, and that's quite a privilege to witness. So what happened was, in terms of how did I get here, when I was growing up I didn't aspire to do this work, it wasn't like,

I want to be an executive director!

I grew up outside of Sydney as I mentioned, and one of the things when I moved back, one of the things that was so much a part of our lives was that in our community, when people came of age, they went away.

Just the way the deal is.

Yah, it wasn't even a question. So as a child, my fantasies about being an adult were kind of the place that I would be. Dr. Tom Dooley was one of my heroes. I wanted to be a doctor and go to some far off place, save lepers.

On airplanes.

Yah. Anyway, when I was first year at university, we went out, myself and a friend of mine, we went out to British Columbia to make a fortune. We didn't make much, but that's why we went. And my father had a first cousin and we went to visit him. We went to Richmond, B.C. and the big shock for me meeting that family was they had all these children and they all lived in Vancouver. I remember thinking, what a shame, they all stayed around here. I was just struck by it; I never thought it through,

You never knew that you were allowed to stay.

Exactly. So it seemed, anyway. I finished University, then I did a graduate degree. I became very interested in the whole issue of justice and corrections,

Where were you at university?

I was 5 years of junior college at Xavier, then St. F.X. for the undergrad degree in criminology.  I ended up then working in Ontario. And then ended up coming to Halifax to work. And then, there about a year and half, that was my first like adult job. Professional, I guess you could call it, where it wasn't physical, I was getting paid for something I supposed I knew what I was doing. But that was my first time working for the government, which is quite an education in itself, eh?


So that didn't work for me. I decided I was going to go back to school, I just didn't know what to do, so I was going to go back to school. But anyway, meanwhile, they were looking for somebody to do something at the university, the local university, and they called, and so I came here. That was 1978. Part of what I was doing was this research piece at a local corrections center, a local jail. We were out there one day, and one of the things that really struck me is the kids, and they were kids at that time, they were coming back in right away. Well, of course, there was always incredible recidivism no matter where you were. But what struck me about it here was how quick they came back, we weren't even talking days and they were back. And so I said, why, what's going on why are they coming back? Well there's no place to stay. Well why don't you stay at the hostel? They're gone. I'd never been in a community this, I worked in Kingston, I'd worked in Ottawa, there was always a hostel, I couldn't believe there was no hostel, eh? It was my first inkling of how poor we were. We didn't have the infrastructure that one would expect in a community of this size. So I said, well okay, what we do is get a hostel. So I began asking who I need to talk to about getting a hostel. They said well there's this guy Greg MacLeod, he started this organization called New Dawn. You should go talk to him. I think they do things like that. Greg had taught me at Xavier, so I knew Greg. I go off to see Greg, okay? So you know, Greg, Greg is like crazy, Greg is mad, there's just incredible activity going on, you just get close to him and it's like, you get caught in his tornado. I said, Greg, I want to get a hostel for the kids. Now, New Dawn, they've got a little bit going, but it's not very much at the time, but Greg's imagination was full of possibilities. Greg says, well that’s social development. So I go on the social development committee. Then there's a change of people; I end up being the chair of the social development committee. Then the social development committee needs somebody on the board, so I end up going on the board of directors. Meanwhile, I mean the organization is just in this, there's just trouble and problems and difficulties, and you just get spin all the time. Then I'm on the board and trying to make sense of the whole thing and then Greg says you can only serve for 6 years and then you're off, you've got to go away. Greg's 6 years came to an end, I guess it wasn't that long, Greg wanted off anyway, and nobody else made more sense then I did, eh? So I replaced Greg as chair, so it just went on from there. And meanwhile there was the thing I was really interested in, as I was beginning to see. There were 2 questions see that I was really struggling with. I was trying to understand why the community was in domestic disadvantage. Why unemployment had to be so hard, like how did you create an economy and I really began to be interested in that, see. And the second thing I began to be interested in and this was part of an outcome of working in the justice field, eh, was this whole business of process, eh? In the corrections business everybody was involved, everybody was on the council and what frustrated me was the continuum of activities that came within that description.  I mean, the social workers I saw, she scolded, she did that all day long, like a mother,

Straighten up young man,

That's right! And then everyday it was just so non-directed. I became really interested in this whole business. I ended up going off to the Merle Palmer Institute and spending time with a guy by the name of Clark Mustakis. He's a child psychologist and I ended up doing a degree in counseling. But what happened was gradually my interest shifted from the individual piece to the group piece, so I tried to understand groups and why it was so hard to get them to work together. Witness our own board’s struggle in terms of being effective. And then witness as well in the community, our difficulty as a team working together and the distraction because of the conflict, internal conflict. That became a real passion of mine, to figure out the situations of the economy and the process issues. So meanwhile things went on, with incredible difficulty. I often say if you took an organizational textbook and you found out what you're supposed to do, well we did every one of those things wrong, eh? Now I think the interesting thing about us is that I think we only did it wrong once. What's interesting I think about organizations, at least this organization, and I think it might apply to community organizations generally is that there is a memory. My sense of bureaucracy is that there's no memory. So that a bureaucracy can make, I'm thinking of government bureaucracy can make, I've seen them here, they make the same mistakes over and over and over again, eh, they don't stop. They come back in 5 years and they'll do the same thing over and over again. What's always struck me is that people think.

What's an example of that? What do you mean? How has that mechanism worked?

To buy a house and fix it up seems easy, get some land, build something on it. Right, we spend too much money fixing it up and we go about doing the work in the wrong way. We wouldn't have a good lead hand, and nobody would deal with the lead hand so the problem would go on and on and on. We had to sell it because we'd used the money on what we'd needed to live on. So we couldn't do anything about that and eventually it became hopeless. Eventually we got the housing thing I think sorted out. We’d either sell it, renovate it, knock it down, build it up, we can do any of those, we're just, get to work, get to work,

So how much housing do you do?

We wouldn't be big by Washington standards, but we're big by Sydney standards, so we were up to about 300 units, we're down now,


Yah, we're down now to about 200 because of what's happening to the economy. I think another example say would be on the financial piece. We couldn't generate a decent plan for some reason. We didn't know where we were from one day to the next, one month to the next, for some reason we couldn't get it right, we kept hiring people, firing people. Anyway, we went nuts until we brought in a competent CA who sorted it all out. I think for me the journey since I've been here, and I came as a volunteer, then I was here as a staff member, but we were near bankruptcy, so I come in as a non paid executive director. Then I was a part time it was only in about 89 that I came in full time. So for me, the two big questions, the two big learnings are what's going on when a community is deconstructing and how do you rebuild it, that whole question. The second big question for me is how do you build an organization?

Help me understand a little bit more about New Dawn. What's the governance, what's the structure, you have members, the board, just the basics.

We're governed by a board, a volunteer board, there's a membership, a small membership, it’s closed in the sense of the board of directors. See when we were putting New Dawn together here the struggle was on the one hand, Greg was clear he was creating a business, he wanted it to be a business, so he wanted to be able with the organization to pick people who could run the business. At the same time he was terrified of it becoming cliquey or stale, so he put on the term limit piece, eh? So essentially you serve on the board for about 6 years and then you have to come off for at least a year. I ended up coming off for a year and then ended up coming back. So essentially the board consists of people who have the expertise that we're looking for at that particular time. Like years ago we were getting into what we called a trust, so we ended up putting a number of people on who were from that background. Investment was becoming more important, so we looked for people that could help with that. There is an AGM (Annual General Meeting) and all that kind of stuff. I think the organization is best understood as a trust thing. It's as much like being a trustee, representing the community and ultimately accountable to the community. In terms of technically how it operates, we don't go to the community for the board. Then you've got a staff, in terms of giving a picture of the organization; there’s about 200 staff now. Those 200 staff are split over 10 different companies and a series of subsidiaries.

What's the geography, by the way, what's the area that you take on?

Well we would probably say Cape Breton, you know, or all of Nova Scotia. The reality is that we're pretty much confined to what's called Cape Breton County and the big concentration is here in Sydney, the budget is about $5 million ($CAN) now.

And those 10 companies encompass what kinds of activities?

Real Estate, healthcare, training, and social development. The organization is very close to a CDC that you understand from the States.

Okay. So all this is really partly a framework for you, what makes you tick, why do you do what you do, what is it you do and why do you do it? What sustains you and how can we advance the field of organizing. Probably the question is how we find and sustain leaders and activists in the field. So, wending our way back through that. This is a pretty good picture of what you do, and I'm interested in sort of what's your day, what's your week. I find that the majority didn't grow up wanting to be the executive director, or the president of an organization. So what's your driver, the core of your work, what sustains you in it?

Well I guess I don't know. I suppose my self understanding of that continues to change so probably what I would have said 10 years ago is very different from what I would have said 5 years ago and different from what I would say today. I think in this advanced point in my life that the surprise is the connection between this work and that spiritual part of me. The other reason I think is the sense that there's injustice and it's quite a challenge. There's another part of me that I mean I think we're all creative in some way, eh?  I was listening to a local guy here, and he was saying everyone is an artist. Well for me, working in this community and working with the organization is kind of my mode of expression. There are moments that are glorious highs, and that might be when I see the deal, when I see the picture coming together.

The rest is details,

Exactly. Or my sense of when I've got 250 people together and they're all excited.

Can you give me a specific example or a story about that, either one or the other of those, seeing a deal, or seeing the people, just to enlighten us,

Well I always remember the deal, this was a number of years ago, we have a couple of particular challenges here. We have a rapidly aging population, getting older because the kids are leaving, right?

The percentages are exploding, and people are living longer.

And plus we have all of these folks who are beginning to retire so early and on very little income. . So part of the challenge is where are these people going to live? Where’s the affordable housing stock going to come from? So we're in this whole discussion, trying to find a way of being useful. The legislation regarding institutional care for seniors, it's all governed by the province. So that's one piece. We end up taking over, there's a military base, there's a military let down and then there's a radar station, so after 2 years of negotiations we end up with this base. It's not a big base, but it's big for us,

How many?

60 units of housing and lots of other buildings. So there's a carpentry shop, officers mess, hospital, and so on. So it's like, after 2 years we're finally in, and we're walking around, and it's like getting a village, what are we going to do with this?

Whose idea was it to say yes?!

Right. So I'm walking by and I'm looking and the housing is duplex, and I'm looking at the housing and I'm thinking of the old folks. They need company and care, eh? Because the day before, what I began to understand about the legislation was that if I decide to take care of you, no problem. Away we go. I can bring in your son or daughter, but not the third one, because once I do four, I'm running an institution. As long as it's 3, I'm not. So I say, why don't we bring in 3 seniors on this side, put a family over here, put a door in the middle. It was just glorious, because a number of nice things came together. Number one, we've got these liabilities, we've got these families who don't have enough income. Number two, we've got these seniors, who are all by themselves, they need help. So we take these two folks, put them together and we turn them from liabilities into assets. The other thing I think that happens is that in one fell swoop, we'd deprofessionalized care, and we'd deinstitutionalized the solutions.

And so how many of those units are part of this?


30 arrangements like that?

The Province eventually got wise,

Figured it out,

But we had a good go of it, once we figured it out. It was kind of nice, one of those high moments.  Okay, where are we now?

So what do you do, why do you do it, what sustains you? What's it going to take to extend or advance community organizing in Canada or in Nova Scotia or in Cape Breton, or wherever your slice of the pie is?

Well, the world is crazy and the world doesn't make any sense, it's just nuts, eh? So essentially for me this is about trying to create another world, we're trying to get another option here in terms of perspective and in terms of context, eh? So we've got this mess. We're in a war, and we stop that, and then we are in peace, right? We're in this society that's not safe. We want to create one that makes more sense, eh? I mean my sense of the world is that we're lost, we're all lost, so essentially it's trying to help helpers to be found. I don't know how not to do this work. It's not like I'm particularly virtuous or anything, it's just, I don't know what else to do, in terms of you can't put up with the insanity of the world. I mean the insanity, insanity of Bush and Gore, I mean it's insane, eh? It's absolutely insane, well what do you do, do you just accept that or do you try to fathom and begin to dig out another way? So for me, that's what it is, okay? I don't mean to be critical on the Bush and Gore, I mean it's the same problem in Canada, I mean, we've got Chretien and Stockwell Day and it's insane,

There’s a choice for ya!

Right. Its' exciting, it's just exciting, I can't imagine, I don't know what else to do?

And so how do we get more people, how do we get more of this work? How do we advance the work, what will it take not just to keep going, but to jump to the next level?

I don't know the answer to that question, I'm sorry.

We're just. here. That's what we're doing.

I don't know. I think of Carl Rogers, the psychotherapist. One time I remember reading this great image he had about a propensity for growth, in fact that was our inclination, that our propensity was not to grow towards neurosis and psychosis, our propensity was to grow towards maturity. I remember he talked about as a child, being fascinated with the potatoes that were in the basement, and being struck with how the eye of the potato would always grow. If there was a little bit of light, just a little bit of light, the way the eye of the potato would always grow towards the light, see? It seems to me in terms of New Dawn, we are not under any illusion. What I think we hope is that we can be a little bit of an inspiration. Look, this is what a group of people can do. A group with no influence, no money, here's what you can do. So there's hope. Transformation is possible. I guess I think being able to demonstrate our accomplishments, modest though they may be, is a value. It seemed to me the first problem we've got in Canada is that we have very few examples of CDC's. We have an awful lot of talk about CED, we have an awful lot of consultants, so everybody' talking about it and consulting on it, but where is the doing? So it's interesting to me that that's one of the first things we need, we need more of them. So in terms of if we want the young people in, eh, well show them, show them what's possible, show them some alternatives to how we can organize people. All CED is in my mind I mean, it's just a way of organizing, like the private sector has a particular way of organizing people for a particular end, as does the public sector. It's another way of organizing people, see? So we need to do more of that. And it seemed to me, all New Dawn is is like a little experiment, which may make a great deal of sense, maybe it doesn't make sense. But I don't know how else to figure it out unless we try these things. I think if we just talk about them, we'll all go insane. One of the really interesting things we've found here is that if you sit at the table and you start to talk about Cape Breton's problems, you can talk about them and talk about them and talk about them. Inside of a 5 hour thing, I mean you are feeling such hopelessness and such despair that you can't move.

You'd rather move to Vancouver!

Exactly, it's over, eh? So it's really important, see? The real action is critical, it's important to talk and try to understand, but it's also important to move, do something. Do it and then talk again. So it seems to me our first challenge in Canada is to find a way of getting the young to do, stop talking and do.

What's the biggest barrier to that besides the propensity of the talk? What would be the biggest encouragement to do more experimentation, more action?

That's a very good question, it has to do in my mind with mentoring, with education, and it has to do with time and understanding. We're finding there are board people, it takes 3 years, it takes us three years, before a new board member is,

Moving, operating, leading, not just

Exactly. I think we may have the same challenge with staff. We need to be much more deliberate in terms of formation. I mean, part of what the twentieth century was about as you well know, is we ended up with this military/industrial model in terms of how to do everything. So we ended up with this mechanical approach of how to do all things. You know, if you're going to grow something, if you're going to rebuild a community, this is not a mechanical process, it's much more of an organic process. But what fascinates me in terms of CDC's we end up trying to cook book,

The model, let's practice it, all you need is another New Dawn and

The model, that's all, we have this model, it's a cookbook, okay? Well let's say in fairness to us, we’re certainly part of the world and we're influenced by this crazy violent culture, we're immersed in it. But in growing the movement I think the mistake we keep making is like, I think we keep asking the wrong questions. I mean, we keep asking oh yah, how are we going to do that? It's not a matter of doing. It's more a matter of being. How are we going to create being in a certain way? This is a real issue, even for us as an organization.

So here's the next part of the question. How do we find people, I think it's not making people, it's finding people and then helping them grow. Do you have an approach for that here at New Dawn or do you have some ideas for it beyond here?

When I was a child growing up in a small community, the church was very important, right? And one of the interesting things about the church was that you would have a sense of calling, calling out the people who would be priests or nuns or deacons, and there’s never enough, but I want to make a point. One of the great stories for me from the New Testament had to do with the story of tipping the boat,

Absolutely, I know exactly what you mean!

You know, to go in and say to Peter come with me, come and sail with me,

I'm fishing!

Exactly. One of the things that has always struck me about Greg is that 25 years ago, if you met Greg he would grab you by the arm and he would say come with me. And for many of us that were touched, it was an incredible affirmation. The other thing is, I think it takes incredible confidence to do the asking. He acted like he knew what he was doing, but he didn’t. And what strikes me about the modern world, the world we’ve constructed, what strikes me about the young people is who is calling them to do what, I mean they're called upon to shop, but they're the only ones calling them, eh?

In a thousand ways a day,

So they're being called upon to shop and they're being encouraged to make big money and then they can shop, by a big home, a guitar. This is part of what I think New Dawn gets, and I think we understood this all along, and I think we're more conscious of it over the years. It’s that part of what Greg demonstrates, that part of what we have to be about is we have to call people, we have to call people to the table. I think one of the most exciting things to me about New Dawn is that we're able to call more people all the time. As we develop more, we have more capacity, we can call more people and engage them, and burden them with the challenge. I think that New Dawn is going to have a future, we just have to make sure, I think in the past we've tended, we were so skinny as an organization, we tended to go for the strong experienced accomplished people,

Unlike we were when we started.


No, I would not have hired myself ever.

Exactly, exactly. So I think as we're more able to now have even more of a reach, for the young ones and the inexperienced, more of a reach for the potential. So I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful, but I think we're critical in this whole business of the calling, calling people, because they're not going to come unless we call, and develop them for ourselves.

There’s a question I'm asking specifically here, partly because Chris Bryant is sort of the web master of this particular part of the web, but also because it’s specific to all of Canada. As you look at the continuum from completely outside the system to completely inside the system, somewhere in between there is getting government money and providing the product of government by non-governmental means. In that middle is there a place where an organization by producing a product and providing a service loses the ability to raise hell? Or, loses the drive to deal with the most difficult people, places, issues or problems, the seemingly unsolvable? Where on that continuum is the edge or is it not an issue?

Well, I think, there are two kinds of CED. I think there is that kind that I call the liberal kind of CED. I think I've seen this in some parts of the States and I think I've seen it in some parts of Ontario. What the liberal CED approach is about, I mean, small ‘l’ liberal, is you have a problem area, right, and so what we gotta do, is we gotta take the private sector and we gotta take the public sector and we gotta get them in there, we've got to get them in, okay?  I think the other approach is what I would call the progressive framework, and I think the progressive framework is all about the problem of powerlessness. It manifests itself in several ways, but the main problem is not the power of parliament. How do we construct management to provide it with power? I don't have a lot of time for these kinds of discussions in Canada that go on about CED, that go on about federal policies. I mean I just I don't have the energy for that, I'm not interested in federal policy, I'm interested in Cape Breton policy. I think that the federal government of Canada is not part of the Cape Breton solution. It’s all arse-first. So it's a matter of, we've got this crazy screwed up country, it's all ours first, eh, where essentially you've got communities…  I mean, I was in Toronto recently, it was very interesting, a powerful vital city in Canada, largest city in Canada. I was looking around and I was thinking, Oh my god, you know, this is so intense, if the trains would stop running, if the subway system shut down, if the police were to go away, if they don't pick up the garbage for one day, the whole thing comes to a halt. You've got this city state, but yet the way we've got the government structure here, we've got the mayor of Toronto functioning in a subservient way to the Premiere of the province, who’s functioning in a subservient way to the prime minister. Poor Mike Harris he's the premiere of Ontario, I mean he's not dealing with anything nearly as intense,

As Toronto,

as the mayor of Toronto. I mean it's a whole different world, considering when we came up with these governing structures, nobody imagined a city like Toronto, nobody imagined that, eh? So what's interesting, you've got the city of Toronto now, and the province of Ontario getting testy with one another. That is very exciting, very exciting, because the province of Ontario is going to act in the interests of the province of Ontario, which more and more has very little to do with what is in the interest of Toronto. What's interesting about that is, we're on the other end of the continuum where the antithesis is vital, see? The problem is you see, we've got a community and we're part of a problem. The province of Nova Scotia very rarely acts in a way that's in the interest of Cape Breton. It always acts in a way that's in the interest of the province, that's what it's supposed to do. The government of Canada very rarely acts in the way of the interests of Cape Breton. Instead it always asks of policy what’s in the interest of the country as a whole, that's what it's supposed to do. But our whole problem as a community is we have no structures that enable us to act in our interest. I mean the modern world is a world of organization, we have no organizations that have that capacity. We have federal development agencies. Good people, glorious people, but today they're over there, what are they doing, they're acting in the interest of the government of Canada, that's what they're paid to do. It has nothing to do with Cape Breton. You go down the street you have the Cape Breton economic development meeting, Enterprise Cape Breton, the provincial development agency. What is it doing, it's acting in the provincial interest. That has nothing to do with the interest of Cape Breton, see? The Bank of Commerce, our own banks. Beautiful people, same idea. New Dawn is one of the few institutions on Cape Breton Island that has any capacity that is acting on behalf of Cape Breton’s interest. A large part of the culture of New Dawn, when New Dawn was launched I think that what they anticipated was that there was going to be a lot of cooperation with government,

The structural approach was that,

Exactly, and part of it was the economy here is very much tied with public sector. We've got no private sector here so that's the only game in town. But I think the director, Greg at that time, I think anticipated a lot of cooperation, a lot of partnerships and I think that it was a surprise that it didn't happen. And I think that the other part of the surprise is there's been a fair bit of tension between the public sector and the organization, and sometimes very explicit tension. I think in part it’s because the public sector never funded New Dawn.

Where has the money come from?

Business. We operate as a business; we're private,

From operations.

Yah, the market. It wasn't ideological. We spent a lot of time trying to get it, but we could never get to it, we gave up after a while and said let's try it on our own. I have a lot of things I'm worried about but the issue of government money is not one of them. I mean we've operated with no staff, we've operated with staff; we've operated with no money, and we've operated with money, but we've always operated. If you've got money it's easier.

If I have a preference I'll take it,

Exactly. And I think I think there has always been this feeling. Say for instance on the housing issue, there were times when we were working with what was then called Canada Mortgage. It’s a big housing agency. I remember telling the board, well, that's the way they want to do it, they can have the keys. I remember going up and gathering up the keys and walking into the meeting with the keys.

Really? Plunk them on the table.

Exactly. So there's always been this attitude, there's a clarity in our minds about what’s the interest of community and the understanding that the interest is probably different than the interests of the public sector.

Well and that is a big difference, if your operating support is a grant every year from government,

I think the sense here is that this organization is incredibly lucky. Attached to success there's always mystery.

It makes a lot more sense retroactively.

Yes, okay. I think that part of the reflection is that we were lucky that nobody's ever given us money form the public sector. This was an incredible piece of luck. Those days when we were desperate, we probably would have taken the money and what would have been the price in the long run? So again I want you to know, it wasn't because we were noble and wonderful and all that kind of stuff but after a while you develop these understandings.

I guess we just don't do that.

That's right.

Well I appreciate all the time it's taken. I’ve got a couple of closing questions and then I want to show you this stuff I brought along. The questions I always ask at the end: what did I forget to ask and the other is, what questions do you have for others, what do you want to put on the table, what should I be asking other people?

Well I don't know what questions you forgot to ask. Maybe one of the questions you forgot to ask is the question about what's the language, where are we at with the language. I probably can't do a very good job of trying to ‘splain’ this as Lucille Ball used to say. But I think language is really important to us here, because back 25 years ago we were illiterate, we were CED illiterate. Every time we get a word it would incredible liberating. So the phrase, like CDC, which we would refer to nowadays as community corporations. At the time it was like okay, we knew there was forks and we knew there was knives and now we found out there was a spoon, there was another way that people were organized.  I think another word that was very liberating and helpful for us was disinvestment, which was a wonderful way of understanding who we were and what essentially we were up against.  I'm rather tired of the word capacity. It's really interesting; there was a time when that word was incredibly new. It's interesting the way these words just get, after a while they just get pounded to hell. I mean the big federal department is Human Resources Canada and they have a Director General of capacity. Well what the hell does that mean? So for me, one of the big questions is where have we been on the language, where are we now, what are the words now that we're trying to hatch and what’s the language we need to construct, what's the work that's left to be done in terms of language?

Good question.

I could tell you stories about this community, but a couple of years ago I came upon a minute book of the Board of Trade and I basically was struck by the writing,

The script, copper plate, yah,

Exactly. So it was 1951, I read the minutes, and what really struck me was that was the quality of the ideas then. For example, the number of farms producing milk was limited by a quota, and everybody was going broke. The big dairies were starting to come. So the idea they came up with was to set up a factory to make powdered milk. A hell of an idea, eh? I thought it was brilliant, just brilliant. These are poor farmers, eh, but what do they do, well they instruct the secretary to write a letter to the provincial minister of agriculture and ask him if he'll set a factory up,

Send somebody over, yah,

But see that's all they knew, there was no language for the dimension we were living in, and for me this is what the language is all about, it enables us to construct this new dimension that we've got to construct.

Great question. Anything else?

What I like about Indonesians, they'll tell you a story. They begin the conversation not at all with the issue, but they begin with a story, they'll tell you about their children or their wife or their father, they'll tell you a story, which gives you a context to move in on the issue. Maybe in part, I see the problem with having this discussion about CED in Canada, is that the circumstances are so different. Like when I hear a story about trying to work in an inner city in Toronto, I mean on the one hand I'm humbled by what they're trying to do. On the other hand, they're in a very different position in terms of the resources that they can access. I don't mean to suggest, poor us and we've got it tougher, but the context is different. So we'll barrel into these conversations as though there's no difference and I find myself backing off and backing off. It seems to me as we're sitting around any table and we're talking about growing a movement or whatever, there’s this issue of context. I mean when you tell me a story about Flo (Frank), see, I never understood that before because there's no time to listen to the story. I've been at the table six times with Flo in my life. It just blows me away,