Landmark conference at Glendon examines election issues

Glendon hosted a landmark conference on “Responsibilities of Citizenship and Public Service – Crisis or Challenge” Nov. 10-12. The event was the first joint conference of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).

Left: John F. Helliwell (far left), research associate, National Bureau of Economic Research and Professor Emeritus(UBC); Roy L. Heenan, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Trudeau Foundation; France St-Hilaire, vice-president research, IRPP; and Alexandre Trudeau at the conference dinner

The conference set out to examine issues which turned out to have particular relevance for the recent announcement of a federal election for Jan. 23, 2006 . “The strength of a democratic society rests on the engagement of its citizens.…Yet only 60 per cent of Canadians voted in the last federal election, and fewer people are willing to serve within government, religious groups, universities, foundations and other public organizations,” stated the conference’s program summary.

The conference examined underlying issues, such as trust in government, the interaction of government and civil society in promoting the public good, and accountability and ethics in government and civil society. Special attention was focused on the next generation, addressing questions about where responsible civic leaders will be found, and how they can be nurtured, encouraged and supported.

“Given Glendon’s specific mandate of preparing students for careers in public affairs, as well as the college’s unique, bilingual nature, it was most appropriate for this conference to take place on our campus,” said Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts. For its part, the IRPP provided free registration for 10 Glendon students, offering them an exceptional opportunity to join some of Canada’s outstanding public figures in a debate that has such great relevance for their future.

In his opening remarks to the conference, McRoberts observed that, if the youth of today are less engaged and attracted by public service, this is because today’s political discourse has less appeal for the idealism of youth. He argued that the disengagement of youth from Canadian politics stems from the poverty of present-day political discourse itself and that Canadian youth have simply moved on to causes and issues of social justice on the international stage.

John F. Helliwell (right), research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, gave the conference’s keynote addresses, presenting his research paper titled, “How’s Your Government? International Evidence Linking Good Government and Well-Being”. The paper was developed in collaboration with Haifang Huang of UBC’s Economics Department. While Helliwell admitted that “defining and evaluating ‘good government’ requires some heroic assumptions”, he presented his research with the conclusion that  “the effects of good government remain as the single most important variable explaining international differences in life satisfaction.”

Each conference session consisted of a presentation of papers followed by a discussion. Topics included: responsibilities of citizenship and public service; the role of the media as public service and in shaping attitudes; political parties and public service; the importance of public service today; and shared governance and the public good.

The list of participants featured some illustrious names in public service and in the media, as well as prominent scholars doing research in the field. Participants included Graham Flack, associate assistant deputy minister of energy policy at Natural Resources Canada, Ken Alexander, editor and publisher of Walrus magazine, Peter Donolo, executive vice-president of The Strategic Counsel, Graham Fraser and Chantal Hébert, both national affairs writers for the Toronto Star (Hébert is also a Glendon graduate — BA ’76). Also participating were former Quebec premier Pierre Marc Johnson, Hugh Segal, president of IRPP, Stephen Toope, president of the Trudeau Foundation, and former Ontario premier Bob Rae, to name just a few.

The Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) is an independent, non-partisan think tank, whose mission is to advance new ideas to help Canadians make more effective policy choices, through thoughtful analyses and creative proposals. The IRPP sets as its goal to address the issues of today, as well as those of the future.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation promotes outstanding research in the social sciences and humanities, and fosters dialogue between scholars and policymakers in the arts community, business, government, the professions and the volunteer sector. Pierre Trudeau’s second son, Alexandre was among the honoured dinner guests in support of the foundation’s activities and, in particular, of this important conference.

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.