Social Inclusion has real potential as a framework for policy, a lobbying tool and as a grassroots mobilizer - if it is doesn't get co-opted or turned into meaningless mushy rhetoric. After two days of discussion, most conference participants appeared, despite some real anxieties and a few outright skeptics, to share this view.
Ed Broadbent's doubts about the utility of the concept that he expressed in the morning session had the effect of focusing discussion around the key point of whether Social Inclusion truly represents a new way of thinking or is simply spin that could get used by any tax-and-service-slashing politician.
"I take it as a given that Social Inclusion is a good," said Jane Jensen. "It should be the basis of Canadian society.... However, in order to get to an action agenda, you need to use another, larger concept - citizenship. It's the key. Social Inclusion isn't something done TO people. It's about who choses, who makes decisions and who participates."
She said we must act, not in the name of inclusion, "but in the name of all," a comment echoed by Bob Glossop who quoted Rabbi Marmor in saying the question "isn't the dignity of man, it's the dignity of the other man."
"Inclusion on its own doesn't lead to empowerment," said Jensen. "It needs to detour through a discussion of citizenship."
Many spoke of the need for inclusion to work its way up from the ground level. Peter Clutterbuck, for instance, said "it's done by people out there in the communities." He challenged Ed Broadbent, saying the "policies of the 60s through the 80s were about coming forward as supplicants, claiming rights. Politics is now about including people in decision-making," he said, referring to David Miller's example of the citizen's assembly process in Toronto.
Wayne Helgasan made wry and telling points talking about policy consultations on Aboriginal issues in Manitoba with government officials. After one particularly good session with local people, a policy aide said to the minister of social services "We know this works in practice but will it work in theory?" He promoted the need not for evidence-based research but for "evidence-based decision making," and joked about what he sees too often in policy circles: "decision-based evidence-making."
Delegate Celia Denov spoke, it seemed, for many when she said "Initially I was somewhat skeptical." She said she came to feel much more supportive of the concept, but said "It's really important to ground this thing." She told of how at one point the Ontario government made a policy of considering all policies in terms of their effect on women, suggesting inclusion could be used in the same way as something against which to compare policy proposals.
Diane Richler said that as someone working in the disabilities movement, the two days were "really a landmark." At most events, people talk about issues in terms of their own exclusion and concerns. "This is the first time I've heard someone talking about policy issues as a human being in all dimensions," from swimming lessons to pizza lunches.
Bob Glossop said he started out the conference "undecided" and came away a "devotee."
“One thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is that people who have been excluded have been excluded from positive self-regard.” Social Inclusion adds psychological considerations to traditional social and economic considerations, he said.
Marcel Lauzière concluded by urging delegates to communicate to others the messages and discussions held at the conference. "It's not just sharing discussions among each other, but how you bring it back to your community - with whom you share that discussion."
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