Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan urge graduates to give to society

The message was one of giving selflessly in today’s new era of philanthropy – whether through time or money – and of finding love for the journey ahead. Sandra Faire, president & chief executive officer of SFA Productions, and Ivan Fecan, president & chief executive officer of CTVglobemedia, told graduates at York’s Spring Convocation Monday afternoon that philanthropy is a great habit to get into and one they enjoy indulging in together.

York conferred a joint honorary doctor of laws degree on Faire, an acclaimed film and television producer, writer and director, and Fecan, who also heads the CTV network, during ceremonies for graduates of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Fine Arts for their dedication and generosity to the arts.

"We are particularly touched to be recognized together. That’s because we’ve been married for over 26 years and whatever we may have accomplished, either as individuals or as a couple, we accomplished together," said Fecan, a self-made broadcasting maverick known for his creative flair for programming and his keen business sense. His only regret? They didn’t start giving earlier.

Left: Brenda Spotton-Visano (left), chair of the York Senate, stands ready as York Chancellor Roy McMurtry (seated) confers a joint honorary doctor of laws degree on Ivan Fecan and Sandra Faire. York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (right) looks on

As the couple alternated in speaking to the graduates, Fecan told them that finding a cause to champion is like finding a career they are passionate about. "There are so many worthwhile causes: alleviate poverty, support cancer research, send aid to disaster victims. Do you focus on the third world or the world just around the corner at Jane and Finch? It’s a matter of choice, your choice, and making that choice is intensely personal."

For Fecan and Faire that choice was a natural one – the arts. They live, breathe and work in the arts. It is their passion. In particular, the couple wanted to give to arts education, because they believe it is an often overlooked area, but one that is essential to the creation of a great society.

"Our advice to you, is to choose your cause carefully, build a relationship with it over time, because while philanthropy is by definition selfless, a long-term relationship with a worthy cause can be enormously and deeply rewarding to the soul," said Fecan, who worked at the CBC before becoming vice-president of creative development at NBC for two years in the mid-1980s. He returned to Canada and the CBC taking on the role of director of television programming in 1987.

Fecan, who earned a BA in Fine Arts at York, is largely credited for ushering in a legendary era of programming at the CBC with shows like "Degrassi High", "Road to Avonlea", "The Kids in the Hall", "Royal Canadian Air Farce" and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". After leaving the CBC, Fecan joined Baton Broadcasting in 1994, eventually becoming its president and CEO. Under his stewardship, Baton purchased CTV affiliates and renamed the company CTV, making it an important player in Canada’s cable television industry. In 2000, CTV was purchased by Bell Canada Enterprises. BCE merged CTV with The Globe and Mail to form Bell Globemedia, later renamed CTVglobemedia, of which Fecan became president and CEO.

The recipient of two Gemini awards, Faire is best known for her variety specials and for network series such as "Comedy Inc.", "Comedy Now" and the upcoming "So You Think You Can Dance Canada", which she started working on yesterday at York. Faire is also a vice-chair of the National Ballet of Canada and a cabinet member of Grand Jeté for the National Ballet School.

Right: Ivan Fecan (left) and Sandra Faire give their joint address

She told the graduates that the stereotyped image of a philanthropist is a middle-aged man, clad in a tweed jacket sitting in his panelled library with a tumbler of scotch by his side, writing massive cheques to organizations he barely knows. "I’m not sure that depiction was ever true, but there’s no doubt about one thing, the face of philanthropy has changed radically today."

Today’s philanthropist can be anyone from a Grade 1 student who cracks open her piggy bank to give to those less fortunate to the very rich and famous, said Fecan. "For many decades it was primarily Canada’s great families, the Eatons, the Thomsons, the Rogers, the Westons, the Irvings, the Iveys and the Schulich families just to name a few. We are all in their debt for giving so generously, but today a new face and a new generation of philanthropy has emerged."

Faire and Fecan have led the way, giving time and money to numerous groups, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Ballet of Canada, Soulpepper Theatre Company, the Hospital for Sick Children and York University. The 325-seat proscenium theatre in the Accolade East building at York is named in their honour after they donated funds to make the theatre a reality.

"Well, today you don’t have to be rich or famous like Angelina Jolie or George Clooney, whether black, white or Asian, young or old, student, entrepreneur mogul, male or female, rich or not rich, an increasing number of people are giving back," said Faire. "You can’t afford it right now, you say, but you don’t have to give millions to make a difference. The amount can be as little as $50 a year or it can be your time and knowledge, and to anyone who thinks that $50 can’t make a difference, just ask a hungry child in Darfur, it will feed him for a year."

Faire reminded the graduates that Toronto outranks every other city in the country, on a per capita basis, at giving back.

"If we, in some small way, somehow, are part of the new face in philanthropy, you are the face of the future. We urge you to think about it, make a choice to give back, make a difference and start now, because you can," said Fecan. "Find love, find your soulmate and make that journey together."

As Faire responded: "It doesn’t get better."