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Canada’s leading political voices come to Concordia

Justice Murray Sinclair, David Butler-Jones and Stockwell Day join key parliamentary figures at this month’s WSSR lecture series
May 21, 2014
By J. Latimer


This spring, some of the biggest names in Canadian public policy and governance are coming to Concordia for the 2014 edition of the university’s Workshops on Social Science Research (WSSR).

From May 1 to July 17, the WSSR is featuring more than 30 different one-, two- or three-day learning opportunities and a variety of evening talks in two main categories: "Democratic Governance and Public Policy," and "Research Methods."

Hosted by Concordia’s Department of Political Science, the summer workshop and speaker series is designed to offer students and members of the public a chance to learn from leading politicians, research methodologists and policy experts.

At “An Evening With…”, six of these key figures are addressing the public. Here’s a preview from three of the speakers: David Butler-Jones, Canada’s first chief public health officer; Stockwell Day, former president of the Treasury Board; and Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

David Butler-Jones David Butler-Jones

David Butler-Jones: SARS, H1N1 and the nature of a pandemic

When severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit Canada in 2003, causing widespread panic, the country didn’t have a chief public health officer. That changed in 2004, when the Public Health Agency of Canada was formed. David Butler-Jones assumed its leadership the same year.

The next big fight was against H1N1.

“It hit Canada in the spring of 2009, and we stopped it by Christmas,” Butler-Jones says. “Half the population was immunized by the holidays, unlike in the United States and Europe, where outbreaks continued through the next spring and even the following winter.”

He attributes this success to SARS. “Quite honestly, if Canada had not had SARS, we would not have been in as good a position to respond to H1N1.”

The lessons Butler-Jones and his colleagues learned were invaluable. They saw that a country’s ability to respond to a pandemic was determined by collaboration, leadership and collective action through information sharing.

The concept of “the perfect plan” is naïve, Butler-Jones says. “You can’t plan for everything. Eisenhower said that it’s not about the plan but the planning. It puts you in a better position to be able to respond.”

In the case of H1N1, Canada’s response included the creation of a collective management committee to oversee the sharing of information between its cities, provinces and federal government. It also included coordinated public outreach complete with vaccines and effective antiviral medication, along with instructions on hand hygiene and a message for people to cough into their sleeves.

“Our ability to deal with a pandemic is dependent on our underlying capacity to deal with life,” Butler-Jones says. “Our economic health, our relationship with the environment, the vulnerability of our population, the capacity of our infrastructure — it’s all intertwined and connected with our ability to respond.”

David Butler-Jones’s public talk, “Plagues and Pandemics: The Capacity to Respond,” takes place on May 29 at 6 p.m. Register today.


Stockwell Day Stockwell Day

Stockwell Day: The economics of natural resources

In 2008, while serving as Canada’s minister of international trade, Stockwell Day was repeatedly asked the same question by the representatives of countries in need of natural resources: “Why does it take so long to get a project approved and an order filled?”

As a private consultant, he still hears that query, and believes that the delays are unacceptable, if not detrimental, to Canada’s economy.

“These nations like our people,” Day says. “They like our technology and our quality resources, but they’re frustrated by the wait times attached to our guidelines.”

While Canada lags, “Competing countries are learning how to attract investment that gets resources out of the ground and refined and moving.”

Angola, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are among those whose interest Day believes is waning. “They’re shopping elsewhere! They’re discovering that they, too, have natural resources. China, for instance, has become adept at extracting shale gas and deep-water exploration in northern climates.”

Day is also concerned that Canada’s energy policy may be jeopardizing its social programs. Every province needs money for education and health care, he says, but the necessary revenue streams aren’t reaching their economies.

“I can’t think of a province that doesn’t have environmentally sustainable resource projects on the waiting list for approval that aren’t being held back. Some are held back for legitimate reasons; some for strictly political reasons.”

Can Canada maintain its standard of living and protect the environment at the same time?

 “We have proven that environmental enhancement and economic activity go hand in hand,” Day says. “The more money a jurisdiction has, the better it can protect its environment.”

Stockwell Day’s talk, “Energy, the Economy, and Sustainability,” takes place on May 26 at 6 p.m. Register today.


Justice Murray Sinclair Justice Murray Sinclair

Justice Murray Sinclair: The legacy of abuse

It’s hard to imagine a more devastating governmental system than Canada’s residential schools, which forcibly uprooted aboriginal children from their homes with the goal of assimilating them into an urban, church-run environment.

But from the 1880s until 1996, approximately 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended the federally managed schools.

“Aboriginal kids were told they were heathens and savages and uncivilized,” says Justice Murray

Sinclair, commissioner of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) since 2009. “They came to believe they were inferior, and that mythology created a schism in society that we’re still struggling with today.”

The TRC was established as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, ratified in 2007 to facilitate the country’s healing process.

“In a settlement agreement, individuals are precluded from going to court and having a judge validate what they’re saying and what they went through,” Sinclair says. “Truth and reconciliation commissions are unique in that they’re not quite an inquiry — they’re less formal, and they provide an opportunity for the survivors to document their stories and share their experiences.”

He notes that the TRC’s interim report, published in 2012, brought to light a host of wrongdoings. “Fifty per cent of the remaining survivors suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse while in the residential schools, which resulted in long-term injury.”

The abuse was brought to the attention of Parliament by a few prominent Canadians: in the 1940s, Tommy Douglas — the long-time Saskatchewan premier who went on to lead the New Democratic Party — wrote letters voicing his concern about the treatment of children in residential schools. But this “hidden history” largely went under-reported.

“It could’ve been due to a lack of interest, or a wish not to undermine a government coming out of the Second World War, or a general conspiracy between the media and government,” Sinclair says. “And there was a certain degree of racism in the educational community, where it was believed that Indians needed to be civilized. There was little challenge to the racist assumptions the schools were founded upon.”

Sinclair maintains that Canada’s government must now commit to a new relationship with aboriginal peoples — a relationship based on respect. The key? Support, and the right kind of education, he says.

“The goal is provide an opportunity for aboriginal communities to revive their culture.”

Justice Murray Sinclair’s talk, “Guiding Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Process,” takes place on June 4 at 6 p.m. Register today.

Find out more about the WSSR’s “An Evening With…” public lecture series at Concordia.


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