Role of public intellectuals in shaping Canada to be debated at York U’s Glendon College

How can we empower citizens and invigorate public debate on the future of Canada?

Some argue that Canada has not developed a tradition of public intellectuals and our scholars “fiddle while Rome burns,” while others wonder whether public intellectuals are merely “quote-forrent academic pundits” who enable lazy journalism. What can we expect from Canadian public intellectuals? What should we expect? If they are merely fiddling while Rome burns, how can we promote informed debate on the big issues that will shape our country throughout the 21st century?

A group of thought leaders will come together to discuss the role of public intellectuals and scholars in shaping Canada at a one-day conference, Fiddling while Rome burns? A Conference on Public Intellectuals and the Future of Canada, at York University’s Glendon College on Thursday, Oct. 23. The conference will take place in the Centre of Excellence at the Glendon campus.

The conference will examine the dearth of critical public debate in Canada on some of the defining issues of our generation (climate change, inequality, the scale and ambition of social programs), and consider the role of public intellectuals in initiating and influencing these debates. In an era when spin, controlled messaging and attack ads trump substance in our political discourse, where governments scale down their policy development capacities and universities and the public service become more disconnected from one another and perhaps even from citizens, the ability of public intellectuals to expand our political imagination, to integrate knowledge and to bridge thinking and practice is arguably of increasing importance.

“In an era where spin and attack ads trump substance in our political discourse, the ability of public intellectuals to expand our political imagination, to integrate knowledge, and to bridge thinking and practice, is arguably of increasing importance” says Alex Himelfarb, director of the Centre for Global Challenges.

Participating in the conference are:

Above: Speakers at the Glendon conference
Above: Speakers at the Glendon conference “Fiddling While Rome burns?

Paul Wells, political editor, Maclean’s and Andrew Potter, managing editor, Ottawa Citizen, will debate the democratic role played by the media.

Morris Rosenberg, former deputy minister of foreign affairs and current president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, will moderate a discussion with: Marc Lesage, professor, Glendon School of Public and International Affairs; Peter MacLeod, director, Wellesley Institute for Urban Health; Hilary Pearson, president, Philanthropic Foundations Canada; and Jodi White, president, Sydney House Consultants.

Political ethics expert Paul Saurette, professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, will lead a conversation with: Tom Flanagan, distinguished Fellow, The School of Public Policy, University of Calgary and former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Danielle Martin, vice-president, Medical Affairs and Health System Solutions, Women’s College Hospital (who recently defended public healthcare before a US Senate Committee); and Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Celebrated author and philosopher Joseph Heath, professor, Department of Philosophy and the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto, will also give a keynote on the next generation of public intellectuals in Canada.

The conference will be bilingual and simultaneous interpretation will be provided.

For the complete program and biographies of the speakers, visit the Fiddling While Rome burns? conference website.