Canada's NDP


May 27th, 2024

Disruptions on the Horizons Report Gives Us a Guide to Canada’s Upcoming Challenges

This week, Policy Horizons Canada, a think tank that explores trends to examine potential challenges future Canadians and governments may need to contend with, released a report titled Disruptions on the Horizons. It’s an interesting document that tasked over 500 separate stakeholders with describing what they believe to be the most likely to reshape or challenge the Canadian way of life. It’s a fascinating thought experiment that lays out the major issues we will likely need to deal with.

The report also examines the interconnectivity of such events, and how likely one event would lead into another, across the five broad categories of Society, Health, Politics/Geopolitics, Economy, and Environment. The report attempts to categorize the top 10 disruptions (those both most likely to happen and what will have the largest impact). While it certainly isn’t summer beach reading, it may be helpful in guiding where we should be heading in terms of policy development and political discourse.

In the Society category, there are three very important matters, including downward social mobility is the norm, artificial intelligence running wild, and the most likely disruption on their list, people cannot tell what is true and what is not. These are all concerning issues, and in many ways are tied together. When discussing that last point, the report states “More powerful generative AI tools, declining trust in traditional knowledge sources, and algorithms designed for emotional engagement rather than factual reporting could increase distrust and social fragmentation. More people may live in separate realities shaped by their personalized media and information ecosystems.”

In terms of the Health category, there is only one disruption listed among the top ten, but it’s a demonstrably large issue: healthcare systems collapse. We have seen our healthcare system strained over the past several years. As stated in the report “Existing pressures such as an aging population, increased rates of degenerative disease, labour shortages, and limited funding capacity may be straining the future of Canada’s healthcare system. New compounding risks such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), biological threats, and augmented humans could further push the system beyond the brink.”

In terms of the Environment category, two are referenced: biodiversity is lost and ecosystems collapse, & emergency response is overwhelmed. With both categories, the causes are similar (climate change, air and water pollution, etc.) These matters may, in many ways, be the most pressing of our time. The challenge is ensuring that we have the political will to do what we must to protect our environment, and in many ways reflect other issues such as mis- and disinformation that causes people to question whether we are actually doing significant damage to the world we live in; which seems like a difficult issue to ignore considering the growing frequency of wildfires and other natural disasters.

In the Politics/Geopolitics category, there are three matters listed in the report’s top ten: cyberattacks disable critical infrastructure, billionaires run the world, and democratic systems break down. We are seeing these matters come to fruition, with cyber and ransomware attacks more and more frequently (London Drugs being the most high-profile case recently). On billionaires, the report states concerns ranging from the use of their vast wealth to influence public opinion, which isn’t exactly a new issue, to issues that exceed the current world order, such as “gain warfare capabilities and control over natural resources and strategic assets.”

The final issue in the top ten, vital natural resources are scarce, feels oddly emblematic of and tied to each other matter discussed by the report.

While the Disruptions on the Horizonsreport may feel fairly doom-and-gloom, it should also be seen as a potential rallying point for clear systemic change on a number of fronts. The authors are clear that it’s an exploration of theoretical disruptions. We can and should focus on areas where we can affect positive change, whether that means adapting to and fighting the worst effects of climate change, regulating AI now before it becomes an immense problem later, or safeguarding our healthcare system now before our current cracks become fissures.