Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor makes official visit to York University

Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell

Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell made an official visit to York on Feb. 3 for a tour of the campus and to meet with students and researchers. The tour began with a presentation on the York-led Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project with Faculty of Education Professor Don Dippo and MEd candidates Hawa Sabriye and HaEun Kim. Professor Dippo is a BHER co-lead.

Other highlights of the visit included an interactive demonstration of LUXX, a locative media game developed by students in the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design in collaboration with digital engineering students; a stop at Osgoode Hall Law School seminar featuring representations from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights titled International Decade for People of African Descent: Access to Justice; a tour of world-leading vision research facilities at the Sherman Health Science Research Centre; and finally, a roundtable discussion on the future of diversity, innovation and sustainability in Ontario with graduate and undergraduate students.

Lieutenant Governor Dowdeswell shared an exciting opportunity with students during a roundtable discussion held at the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence – the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize.

This year, as part of the Canada150 celebrations, Ontarians will be invited to reflect on the past and make creative contributions toward the future of the province through an innovative contest hosted by Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, in partnership with the Walrus Foundation.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize wants Ontarians aged 18 and over to present their ideas for taking innovative action on challenges Ontarians will face over the next 50 years.

Participants are asked to present their ideas and creative solutions for one of six categories – Reconciliation; Environmental Stewardship; Inclusive Prosperity; Governance; Scientific and Technological Innovation; and Social Cohesion – in a short essay or video.

A panel of judges will select 36 finalists, who will then have the opportunity to publicly showcase and defend their proposed policy solutions before a live audience. The submission deadline is March 6 and six winners will receive their prizes in October 2017.

YFile had the opportunity to sit down with The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell to talk about the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize, and how the York community can contribute to Ontario’s future.

Q. What is the inspiration behind the Visionaries Prize, and how is it relevant to the York University community?

A. The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize came about because, as we were thinking of how to celebrate Canada150, we knew that we didn’t want to just celebrate the past. As important as that is, we wanted to provide opportunities to think a little bit about the future, and to cause people to imagine and create solutions to issues that we have to deal with. And, I’m particularly interested in helping to develop that cadre of youth leadership for what will be the next 50 years, so that is why we came up with the notion for the opportunity for creative thinking.

It’s really relevant to anyone who is thinking about the future, but students are really in that mode of questioning and exploring and they are in environments that really help them to think through what some of those problems are going to be.

When I began this position, I said that I wanted to listen to Ontarians around the province to actually see what they thought some of the critical issues are – issues that transcend politics and transcend time, because in my position, I am absolutely neutral and non-political. But, there are issues that are worth learning about and thinking about, and worth looking for creative solutions.

Q. How were the six specific categories determined, and what would make those categories exciting to York University students, staff and faculty?

A. The six we’ve chosen very much come out of my conversations with Ontarians. It relates to environmental stewardship, inclusive economic prosperity, social cohesion, reconciliation, governance, and science and technology – and all of those are very much at the heart and centre of university campuses, and how we’re providing an opportunity for young minds to become more aware and to really develop some critical thinking around how to deal with those issues.

So the essence of this is very simple: anybody over the age of 18 can send in an approach they think might help with one of those particular subject matters.

Q. Are Ontarians, and more specifically post-secondary students, currently engaged in provincial policy planning and the long-term direction of Ontario’s future?

A. I think I would answer that by saying it depends. It depends on the subject matter, it depends on the issues of the day – but I’ve visited a lot of municipalities around this province and I have an opportunity to sit down with the mayors and I ask them to bring together a bit of a roundtable of citizens in the community, and I also go to post-secondary institutions, and it gives me an opportunity to say to people: ‘What are you proud of?’ ‘What do you want me to know about your community?’ and also, ‘What are you challenged by?’ So if I look at it through that lens, then I think people are genuinely interested in what their future’s going to be and how they can contribute to it.

I particularly notice at many campuses how involved students are with the community in which they live, and that’s not just on the issues of the day, such as Syrian refugees for example, where they are very engaged, but it’s also the longer term. I see places where volunteers in communities of all ages are working on environmental issues for example, or they are working on how to make sure their community is still going to be a place where people can grow old, and so they are concerned about the evolving demographics. I think people do think about the world around them and what they want for their community and Canada150 gives them a chance to say ‘We like what we see’, we’ve evolved into something we’re very proud of, but we also need to be vigilant, we need to make sure people aren’t being left behind’ and that there’s an opportunity in this country, and there will always be an opportunity in this country, for everyone.

So looking ahead through something like a Visionaries Prize gives us a chance to say “We could be doing this, we could be better, we could be doing more.”

Q. When we look back 50 years, there are so many elements of today’s government and today’s society that we did not foresee. What tools or measures can we use now to look forward 50 years, in order get a better idea of what challenges we might face five decades from now?

A. I think young people in many university communities are faced with that every day, and they are learning about tools. I just came from an incredible conversation and demonstration of the combination of arts, technology, media, engineering – the extent to which, on this campus, you’re seeing an interdisciplinarity that didn’t exist two decades ago. There is a recognition that most of the societal problems we are looking at are problems at new interfaces, and so it requires a very different way of thinking about problems and really focusing on creative problem solving, and so many of our students now have those tools at their hands.

Another tool that we have is so much more information, so much more data … the tool of information on most issues, we just didn’t have in times past. The tools are being created in many ways.

Q. What advice would Your Honour offer to those who are considering sharing their ideas for the Visionaries Prize?

A. Just do it. Even use what you are doing in one of your classes – there is so much good food-for-thought in what students are already working on.

It’s not a big deal, and it should be fun, and it will get your ideas out to a broader audience.

Q. What is Your Honour hoping the recipients of the Visionaries Prizes will achieve?

A. I hope they will feel some sense of satisfaction, and that they will be validated in their thinking that they’re on the right track to something, or that their ideas are worthwhile. I hope it will be confidence building and I hope it will support them in whatever it is they want to do, but also open doors to them for ways in which their contributions can really be helpful. Perhaps that means that through their conversation with the judges, or with others involved, that they come to see how their ideas can actually be used, and that I hope they will find useful.

And, certainly, for those of us on the receiving end, who knows how those ideas can be used – it doesn’t stop with the competition.

Q. Has anything like this been done before?

A. I don’t know… I certainly haven’t been involved in something that takes it from putting forward ideas and then having them judged, and having them judged in a public way. I’m sure there are all kinds of competitions, but this one also has an energy about it because it’s part of Canada150.

For more information on the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize, or to submit your entry, visit https://thewalrus.ca/lg-visionaries-prize/.

By YFile Deputy Editor Ashley Goodfellow Craig