Alexander Himelfarb welcomed into the Glendon fold

Alexander Himelfarb, the new director of the Glendon School of Public & International Affairs (GSPIA), was welcomed by the Glendon community at a recent reception.

The large crowd of well-wishers included York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts, former colleagues and friends, as well as Glendon students, faculty and staff.

“Alex was part of the vision that established this school, one that builds on [first Glendon Principal] Escott Reid’s original vision of a bilingual liberal arts college preparing outstanding students for public service for this country and across the world,” said McRoberts in his welcoming address, adding that Glendon is the most completely bilingual institution in Canada. He said Glendon was the ideal location for the GSPIA and no one was better qualified for the job of director than Himelfarb.

Left: York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (left), Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts and Alexander Himelfarb, the new director of the GSPIA

Himelfarb told the gathering there are certain issues he expects will be addressed through the GSPIA curriculum, professional development programs for public servants and the Centre for Global Challenges, which will bring scholars and practitioners together to identify problems and propose solutions.

“We are not seeing much public debate on the big questions facing Canada,” said Himelfarb. "What lessons should we draw from the financial meltdown and governments’ response? How does Canada remain competitive in a global economy of hyper-competitiveness among economic giants? How does Canada green its economy and what are the short-term costs? How does Canada earn its place at the global table? What is our comparative advantage and how do we maximize it? Are our public institutions, domestically and internationally, up to the task?”

Right: Diane Morissette (left), public servant-in-residence at Glendon; President Emerita Lorna R. Marsden; and Tony Dean, former head of the Ontario Public Service and former secretary to the Cabinet

In addition, Himelfarb said, “I believe that Glendon, with its bilingual, liberal arts, multidisciplinary traditions and with its domestic and global partnerships, has an important role in promoting policy discourse and in helping to expand public space, bridging researchers and practitioners, scholars and decision-makers on the issues that will shape our future.”

Left: Mary Moliner (left), Ontario regional executive director, Department of Canadian Heritage; Tony Dean, former head of the Ontario Public Service and former Secretary to the Cabinet; and Alexander Himelfarb, director of the GSPIA

Shoukri emphasized Himelfarb’s impressive achievements in public service both at home and abroad. “Your new position here at Glendon won’t be la dolce vita,” he said, referring to Himelfarb’s last three years as the Canadian ambassador to the Italian Republic.

“There is much hard work to be done in strengthening the profile of the school within the community and the wider world,” said Shoukri. “But outreach to the community is ‘bred in the bone’ for York University…and the world has come to York. We are counting on you to help bring in the researchers and the students, to help build a stronger future for us all.”

Himelfarb grew up in Glendon’s neighbourhood and has a long-standing emotional connection to the area. “I met Ken [McRoberts] in Ottawa in 2002 when he approached me with his idea of creating a School of Public Affairs at Glendon. I came to realize that this was something really worth pursuing.”

Right: Jérôme Cauchard (left), consul general of France in Toronto; President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri; York alumnus Patrick Johnston, Senior Fellow of the Gordon Foundation; and Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts

In fact, Himelfarb has been an active participant in the GSPIA since its creation in 2006, working closely with McRoberts, who was the moving force in getting the school off the ground and was its first director. Himelfarb had a leading role in gathering a group of illustrious participants for the school’s advisory committee and chaired the committee before accepting the directorship.

Himelfarb stated that one of the deciding factors in taking this position was the enthusiasm and the absence of cynicism among the faculty and master’s students. “I share with many Canadians the concern about the erosion of public space and the lack of policy discourse. Glendon’s traditions, its bilingualism and its people represent an excellent place for dialogue about Canada and the world.”  

More about Alexander Himelfarb

Born in 1947, Alex Himelfarb is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where he obtained a PhD in sociology. He joined the public service in 1981 with the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada. He has held a number of positions of increasing responsibility since that time, including director general of the Planning & Systems Group, Planning & Management Branch with the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada; executive director of the National Parole Board; assistant secretary to the Cabinet, Social Policy Development with the Privy Council Office; and associate secretary of the Treasury Board.

While serving as associate secretary of the Treasury Board, Himelfarb also headed the federal Task Force on the Social Union. In June 1999, he became deputy minister of Canadian Heritage. He then served as clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet from May 2002 until March 2006 when he was nominated as ambassador of Canada to the Italian Republic with concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Albania and the Republic of San Marino, and as high commissioner for Canada to the Republic of Malta.

Before joining the public service, Alexander Himelfarb was a professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick from 1972 to 1981. During this period, he undertook an executive interchange with the Department of Justice as head of the Unified Family Court Project from 1979 to 1981.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny