Big Thinking

Register now! 

Upcoming Big Thinking lectures





The Big Thinking series is made possible through the support of


Fall 2017 line-up

Big Thinking on the Hill

Economic inequality: Should Canada bring back inheritance taxes?

October 24, 2017 - 7:30 am to 8.45 am
Parliamentary Restaurant, Centre Block
$25 - pre-registration required
Complimentary for parliamentarians and the media
Breakfast included

Patrick Turmel, Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and Director of the social and economic ethics section of Université Laval’s Applied Ethics Institute

Most democratic societies, including Canada, are faced with growing inequality, and various policies to address this issue have been the subject of repeated debate. One of the main areas of concern is the return of “patrimonial capitalism”, in which inheritance becomes the main determining factor of one’s socio-economic position. In this context, many voices on the international stage have been speaking to the necessity of increased inheritance taxes as an essential tool for achieving a more just society. Canada is one of the few developed countries to have eliminated inheritance or estate taxes. Should we consider reinstating this fiscal tool? This talk will consider the main objections to inheritance taxes in order to reach a clearer understanding of this morally and emotionally-charged debate.

Patrick TurmelPatrick Turmel holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and is a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and director of the social and economic ethics section of Université Laval's applied ethics institute. He is also a research fellow at the ethics and finance chair of the Collège d’études mondiales of the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris, president of the Société de philosophie du Québec, and a member of the editorial committee for the magazine Nouveau Projet. His publications include La juste part : Repenser la richesse, les inégalités et la fabrication des grille-pains, co-written with David Robichaud, and Rites of Way: The Politics and Poetics of Public Space, published with Mark Kingwell.

This event will take place in French, with simultaneous interpretation available via cell phone.


Register now!


The promise of reconciliation: Will this time be different?

November 21, 2017 - 7:30 am to 8.45 am

Parliamentary Restaurant, Centre Block
$25 - pre-registration required
Complimentary for parliamentarians and the media
Breakfast included
Registration details coming soon


Katherine Graham, Professor Emerita, Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University 
David Newhouse, Director and Professor of Indigenous Studies, Chanie Wenjack School of Indigenous Studies, Trent University

Canada embarked on an official journey of reconciliation with the Prime Minister’s commitment to implement the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Recent changes in federal institutions that acknowledge Indigenous-Inuit-Crown relationships give cause for optimism. While the frame of reconciliation is new, the idea of a renewed relationship between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples has been a recurring theme in Canadian policy since the 1970s. This presentation asks the question: will this time be any different? 

Katherine Graham is Senior Adviser to the Provost at Carleton University and former Dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs. Co-founder of the Community Based Research Canada and the founding coordinator of the Carleton University Institute on the Ethics of Research with Indigenous Peoples, she has worked in the field of Indigenous policy and administration for over three decades. She served on the staff of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) and was the Program Co-chair (along with Prof. Newhouse) of the 2016 National Forum on Reconciliation that marked the 20th anniversary of the RCAP report.


David Newhouse is Onondaga from the Six Nations of the Grand River community near Brantford, Ontario. He has been Chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies, now the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, since 1993. His research explores the emergence of modern Aboriginal society, while his policy portfolio includes work with the Policy Team on Economics for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the National Aboriginal Benchmarking Committee of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board. He also currently serves as the Science Officer for the Aboriginal Peoples Health research committee for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. 




Big Thinking on the road

The importance of Indigenous knowledge and spirituality for the future of academia

November 25, 2017 - 8:00 am to 10:00 am
At The Royal Society of Canada's Annual General Meeting
Fairmont Winnipeg Hotel
2 Lombard Pl
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 0Y3
Registration details coming soon

Blair Stonechild, Professor of Indigenous Studies, First Nations University of Canada

Indigenous knowledge and spirituality is an ancient and viable system that has persisted for tens of thousands of years. However, the rise of “civilization” along with its human-centered ideology and philosophy of rationalism have demonized and marginalized these ways of knowing and being. While some academics claim that Indigenous knowledge and spirituality are not suitable for inclusion in academic studies, Elders believe that dismissing the concept of spirit and failing to recognize the interconnectedness of all created beings has led to a contemporary world on the edge of self-destruction. Recognition of the legacy and potential of Indigenous knowledge is therefore vital for the future of scholarly endeavour and perhaps humanity itself. This is the academy’s challenge.

StonechildDr. Stonechild is a member of the Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation. He attended Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School and Campion Collegiate, then went on to obtain his Bachelor’s from McGill University, and Master’s and Doctorate from the University of Regina. In 1976, Blair joined the First Nations University of Canada as its first faculty member. Blair has been Dean of Academics and Executive Director of Development responsible for construction of the university’s facility. Major publications include Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion (1997), The New Buffalo: Aboriginal Post-secondary Policy in Canada (2006), and the biography Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way. His latest work, The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality, which relates the teachings of Indigenous Elders, was published in 2016. Blair resides in Regina with his wife and three adult children.

2015-2017 Season

Diversity dividend: Canada’s global advantage
Bessma Momani, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance, University of Waterloo
Jillian Stirk, former ambassador and Assistant Deputy Minister, Trudeau Mentor
September 21, 2017

What is the relationship between diversity and economic prosperity? Join Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk as they present the results and policy recommendations from a year-long research project that shows a positive correlation between workplace diversity, revenue and productivity in Canada. This finding has important implications for both federal policy and public discourse on issues of diversity, immigration, and the strength of the Canadian economy. How and why can diversity have a positive economic impact? What are areas for action, and what are the implications for Canada’s future in a competitive global economy? This event is sponsored by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Canada: A “nice hat for America?"
Stephen Toope, President of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences & Director, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
May 2, 2017

Canada's relative position in the world also has changed, and not for the better. Many states can aspire to Canada’s status of middling power, and not just the usual suspects. To be effective, our refreshed foreign policy will require two key components: tough-minded focus, and stronger and more diverse relationships. Being a nice guy, a toque on the head of America, won’t be nearly enough. Are we up for the challenge? We better be, or the world will suffer. And that’s not hubris or idealism; in today’s crazy world, it’s truth. Yes, truth – it still exists. And we need to shout it out.

Immigration, multiculturalism and populist backlash: Is Canada exceptional?
Keith Banting, Stauffer-Dunning Fellow in the School of Policy Studies and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University
March 21, 2017

There is growing international commentary that Canada is unusual in continuing to support global openness, immigration and multiculturalism while avoiding the populist backlash evident elsewhere. Many commentators attribute this Canadian exceptionalism to our national identity. Without denying the place of that identity, this Big Thinking presentation will highlight the role of our political institutions and public policies. Keith Banting will focus on immigration, refugees and multiculturalism to ask whether Canada really is different and, if so, why? Will Canada remain on the same trajectory in the future?

“Canadian-ness,” citizen engagement, and Canada 150: Using history to inform policy
Matthew Hayday, Associate Professor of History at the University of Guelph
February 21, 2017

As we mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation throughout 2017, discussions about what it means to be Canadian will be front and centre in the media. Throughout Canada’s history, particularly during key anniversary years and on national holidays, governments, community groups, artists and citizens have planned diverse initiatives to try to shape what it means to be Canadian or to be a part of a particular community. Historian Matthew Hayday will discuss how national celebrations and commemorations – both official and citizen-led processes – have shaped our country’s sense of itself and offer suggestions to policy-makers of lessons that can be learned from these past efforts about what works, what does not, and how to foster citizen engagement in these events.

Building skills for citizenship: Educating our children for the common good
Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in Democracy and Education, University of Ottawa
December 1, Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel
At the Conference Board of Canada’s 4th Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit.

Ask people of any nation if they think youth and young adults should learn how to be good citizens and most will say "of course" (likely even more so following the U.S. presidential election). Ask them if teaching young people to get involved – locally, nationally, and globally – is a good idea, and, again, most will agree. But beyond the clichés, when colleges, universities and K-12 educators wrestle with the nitty-gritty details of what will actually be taught and what students will actually do, the consensus starts to fray. That’s where the real work of building skills for citizenship begins.

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
November 29, 2016

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? 

“There’s an App for that?” Addressing the policy challenges of digital inclusion
Catherine Middleton, Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, and Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society
November 19, 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.

Just sustainabilities in cities: Re-imagining e/quality, living within limits
Julian Agyeman, Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts University
November 9, 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.

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
October 25, 2016

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?

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