Big Thinking

Upcoming Big Thinking lectures

The 2016 US Election: How did it come to this, and where is it going? 

Richard Johnston 
Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia

Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 (7:30 am - 8:45 am)
Location: Parliamentary Restaurant, Centre Block
Cost: $25 (credit card only), includes a hot breakfast. Free for parliamentarians and the media

The battle for the Republican nomination defied prediction and challenged much of what we thought we knew about parties in the United States. Many believed that Donald Trump was a creature of the media, doomed to obscurity once they lost interest. Instead, he activated potential Republican constituencies that had long been dormant. Something of the same happened on the Democratic side with the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Is 2016 an historical accident, leaving no permanent impact, or has the electoral landscape been fundamentally transformed? What impact will this have on Canada?

Richard Johnston is Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia. He studies parties and elections in Canada and the US and is a pioneer in survey research. He is the co-author of, among other books, The 2000 Presidential Election and the Foundations of Party Politics and of The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South.

Do we need to rethink sexual assault law?

Elaine Craig, Associate Professor at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Carissima Mathen, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa

Date: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 (7:30 am - 8:45 am)
Location: Parliamentary Restaurant, Centre Block
Cost: $25 (credit card only), includes a hot breakfast. Free for parliamentarians and the media

After a year that has featured dramatic sexual assault trials, including that of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, what are the issues that continue to plague the justice system in relation to sexualized violence? Join two legal experts as they explore this complex question, which touches on the presumption of innocence, the role of the courts, law enforcement and lawyers, and the cultural context of sexualized violence. How do we move forward and what must we do to ensure justice for all?  

Elaine Craig is an Associate Professor at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University. She teaches and researches in the areas of sexual assault law, constitutional law, criminal law ethics, and feminist legal theory. She received her doctorate in law from Dalhousie. She also holds a master’s degree in law from Yale, a bachelor’s degree in law from Dalhousie, and a degree in criminology from the University of Alberta. Her first book, entitled Troubling Sex, was published in 2012 by UBC Press. She has a forthcoming book, Sexual Assault Lawyering on Trial, examining the legal profession’s role in sexual assault trials, which will be published in the coming year.

Carissima Mathen, a constitutional and criminal law expert, is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. As a former Director of Litigation for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), she led court challenges that fundamentally reshaped the law of sexual assault in Canada. She is co-author of Women, Law and Equality: A Discussion Guide (Irwin, 2010). One of the most active legal commentators in the country, she appears regularly on television, radio and in print, and is deeply committed to public legal education.  

Big Thinking on the road

Just sustainabilities in cities: Re-imagining e/quality, living within limits

Julian Agyeman
Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts University

Date: Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Location: Hart House University of Toronto 

Social justice and environmental sustainability are often seen as being at odds, especially in cities. Through his innovative concept of ‘just sustainabilities’ interdisciplinary scholar Julian Agyeman of Tufts University will argue that integrating social needs and welfare offers us a more ‘just,’ rounded and equity-focused definition of sustainability. This does not, however, negate the very real environmental threats we face. Agyeman’s wide-ranging lecture will explore examples of just sustainabilities, focusing on ideas about 'fair shares' resource distribution globally, planning for intercultural cities, achieving wellbeing and happiness, and  the concept of 'spatial justice.’ He will conclude with a consideration of roles for the humanities and social sciences in creating just sustainabilities in urban centres.

Julian Agyeman is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, USA. He is a sought after public speaker whose extensive work focuses on environmental justice and sustainability, with an emphasis on ‘just sustainabilities’, sharing, and intercultural cities. As an ecologist/biogeographer turned environmental social scientist, he has both a science and social science background, which helps frame his perspectives, research and scholarship. Agyeman is a member of the Fellowship of the Royal Society of the Arts, is the past founder and chair of the Black Environment Network, and is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.

This lecture will take place at the Federation's Annual Conference. Click here for more information or to register. 

“There’s an App for that?” Addressing the policy challenges of digital inclusion **SOLD OUT - Media still welcome**

Catherine Middleton
Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, and Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society

Date: Saturday, November 19, 2016
Location: Delta Waterfront Hotel, Kingston, ON

We are often told, “There’s an app for that” when trying to do something. But for many, the “app for that” is inaccessible, too expensive, unusable, or simply beyond our experience. Yet businesses, governments and even our friends and relatives frequently assume we all have some capacity to use the digital technologies that have become pervasive in society – smartphones, apps, social networking, the cloud – capacity that allows us to be included in today’s society. This Big Thinking lecture challenges assumptions about digital literacy across all segments of the population and outlines policy actions needed to advance digital inclusion for all.

Catherine Middleton holds the Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Her research focuses on policy making that enables affordable access to, and encourages effective use of, mobile devices and fixed and wireless broadband networks. Middleton and her colleagues are frequent contributors to government and regulatory consultations on the development of Canada’s digital infrastructure. Middleton was named to the inaugural cohort of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists in 2014.

This lecture will take place at the Royal Society of Canada's Annual General Meeting.
**SOLD OUT - Media still welcome**

Building skills for citizenship: Educating our children for the common good

Joel Westheimer
University Research Chair in Democracy and Education, University of Ottawa

Date: Thursday, December 1, 2016
Location: Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel

This lecture will take place at the Conference Board of Canada’s 4th Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit.

More information on this Big Thinking lecture to come.

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The Big Thinking series is made possible through the support of

2015-2016 Season

Is incremental equality for First Nations Children compatible with reconciliation?
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and Director, Equity and Diversity, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
September 27, 2016

A Canadian Human Rights Tribunal landmark ruling released on January 26, 2016 found that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and their families by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services and failing to ensure equitable access to government services. When governments know better they should do better for kids, and this talk will discuss the history of the Canadian Government’s relationship with First Nations children and highlight the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling in the context of this value. What are the implications of this case, and how can we engage in meaningful reconciliation?

Canada's origin story
Kathleen Mahoney, Professor of Law, University of Calgary
May 10, 2016 

Since Confederation in 1867, Canada has identified and conducted itself as a country of two founding nations, the British and the French, while subordinating the status of Indigenous peoples. A new project is seeking to alter that narrative through official recognition, on the 150th anniversary of the 1867 confederation, of the foundational contributions of Indigenous peoples to the formation of Canada, in addition to the British and the French. By resetting Canada's origin story, future generations will better understand the true nature of the country's origins, and we will improve the context for discussion and action on commitments already made to reconciliation, building nation-to-nation relationships and rights to self-determination. This event is organized in partnership with the Royal Society of Canada

The evolving Middle East: Implications for Canadian strategy
Janice Stein, Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
April 19, 2016 

The Middle East is experiencing the systematic collapse of a political order put in place one hundred years ago. This breakdown is creating ripples far beyond the region, pushing refugees up against an increasingly tightly wound Europe and exporting ideologies and ideologues that promote violence around the world. The breakdown of order can be remarkably quick, but the construction of a new order is painfully slow. How then should Canada deal with a part of the world that is likely to remain turbulent and violent for the foreseeable future yet is important to the world and to Canadians? 

Reforming Canada’s voting system: What would proportional representation change?
André Blais, Professor of Political Science, Université de Montréal
March 22, 2016

The 2015 federal election campaign brought new urgency to a fundamental issue in Canadian democracy: Should we change our voting system? Discussion has focused on the merits of a “proportional” versus a “majoritarian” system. Three questions are key: Does proportional representation foster a higher participation rate? Are voters’ preferences better represented in a proportional system? And are citizens more satisfied under a proportional system?

Thinking out loud: Talking liberal arts with Joseph Boyden
Josephy Boyden, novelist and short story writer
Big Thinking on the road at Concordia University
March 7, 2016

What does a liberal arts education mean and why is it important? Join novelist and short story writer Joseph Boyden and Concordia's Rebecca Duclos (Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts) and Jill Didur (Associate Professor, Department of English) in conversation on the future and challenges to the liberal arts. This event was made possible through a collaboration with Concordia University's Thinking Out Loud initiative.

  • Big Thinking video (coming soon)

The future of assisted death in Canada
Jocelyn Downie, Trudeau Fellow, Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine, Dalhousie University
February 23, 2016

Canada is rapidly moving into a new reality for end-of-life care. From an all-out ban, Canada is on course to adopt some of the most progressive assisted death legislation in the world. In the last year, Quebec has implemented permissive assisted death legislation and the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the Criminal Code prohibitions on assisted death. Canadian legislators are under pressure to resolve a host of thorny issues by June 2016. Who qualifies for assisted death? How are interests of patients and health care providers reconciled? What oversight system is appropriate? This event was sponsored by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

Canada's origin story
Kathleen Mahoney, FRSC, Professor of Law at the University of Calgary and Legal Advisor at the Assembly of First Nations
November 27, 2015

This Big Thinking lecture was held at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, and sponsored by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the University of Calgary. 

Reconciliation and the Academy
Wab Kinew, Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Affairs, University of Winnipeg
November 17, 2015

See past Big Thinking lectures