| Nov 22, 2007

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Editorial - November 22, 2007 Sustainability, Integration, Silos?Lets Call the Whole Thing Off. by Jeff Green

At the recent food summit held at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, there was a lot of talk about sustainable agriculture. One of the presenters at a workshop took exception to the word sustainable. She described it as a word that is so broad that it doesn't mean anything, and she used an example. "What if someone described their marriage as 'sustainable'" she asked. “If all someone could say of a marriage is that it is sustainable, it probably isn't.”


Sustainable is used on both sides of many debates. Proponents of nuclear power argue it is a “sustainable” form of energy production because the power plants do not produce green house gas emissions. Opponents of nuclear power say it is “unsustainable” because of the amounts of greenhouse gases that are burned in building the plants, mining and processing uranium, etc.

We are being asked by the federal and provincial governments to develop sustainable communities, integrated sustainable communities. “Integrated”, I suppose, is meant to be the opposite of “isolated” – sustainable, as opposed to unsustainable. Our health care system requires a dose of integration as well, that's why we have a "Health Integration Network" in Ontario as opposed to a "Health Isolation Network"

The goal of community integration and of health integration is to make sure that people working in health care and local government don't get stuck in “silos”, at least that's what we have been told.

Some of us didn't know that people were stuck in “silos”, but that's only because the silos are not real, they are metaphorical silos. Silos refer to systems that don't look out around them, but are only concerned with their own internal workings. This could be a township that isn’t sufficiently integrated with neighbouring townships, or a doctor's office that doesn't work well with other doctors or the local hospital, a hospital that doesn't work with nursing homes, etc.

Silos don't integrate, and that makes them bad. Integration leads to sustainability, which is good.

With a Liberal government now entrenched in Toronto, anyone who depends on provincial funding for anything at all, certainly knows by now that they'd best get with the program and demonstrate their ability to integrate, or at least talk about integration. Otherwise they will likely have trouble sustaining funding from the province.

The funny thing is that some of the provincial ministries are prime examples of the “silo” mentality. In rural Ontario we often deal with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development, the quasi-governmental Conservation Authorities and the Ontario Provincial Police. None of these ministries or agencies seem to be on speaking terms with each other, and the public often doesn’t know where the authority of one begins and another ends.

They are classic silo-like, non-integrated, unsustainable entities.

But in this part of the world they are the government. The people who came up with the “integration” and “sustainability” mantras are also the government. Maybe they should focus on cleaning their own house.

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