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72nd Annual Summer Conference, August 7–10, 2003

Welcome to the 72nd Couchiching Conference!

The theme of Continentalism: What’s in it for us? is turning out to be one of the timeliest and controversial topics that we have examined in recent years, attracting a wide spectrum of delegates from across Canada and from think tanks in the UK and the US. We know you will enjoy the conference sessions and the stimulus of debate.

I want to draw your attention to a couple of new initiatives that Couch has undertaken in the summer of 2003. First and mostly logistical, you will note that we have both discussions group sessions and a panel presentation on Friday afternoon. Second, it is with great pleasure that I announce the establishment of the Couchiching Award for Public Policy Leadership.

For over 70 years, Couch and its delegates have listened to, debated with and ultimately agreed or disagreed with the views presented on the many faces of Canadian and international issues of public policy. And it would be no secret to say that there have been times where a spokesperson from either the public or the private sector has presented a view that we may not have agreed with, but we somehow knew that it was the right approach to a problem, the right action to take.

It’s that the quality of public policy leadership that Couch will recognize, this year and annually. The ability to take risks, to acknowledge when difficult decisions have to be made and stake one’s reputation and career on the line.

As our inaugural recipient, I can’t think of a Canadian who more sets that standard than the Hon. Michael Wilson. Michael will be speaking at the Friday afternoon panel on NAFTA Plus? and then, following a reception, will receive the inaugural award at dinner. We are all going to wear a clean pair of shorts in recognition of this event!

For many years “Couch” has held a reputation of providing an environment for informed dialogue, with speaker and audience participation including first-class contemporary leaders and thinkers, who seek out this opportunity to interact with their peers. The Couchiching conference has proven time and again that it is the ideal vehicle to incubate new ideas.

The creation of this Couchiching phenomenon is no accident. It is the result of the vision and hard work of successive generations of Board and Committee members, and of our delegates, who over the years have built upon our mandate to “engage Canadians from all walks of life in public affairs debate”. A core principle of this mandate is to ensure that no Canadian is prevented from participation through lack of funds, or the means to travel to attend the conference.

What does this mean? In real terms, this means that the Couchiching Institute and its conference exist because of your interests as delegates and members of the organization. But that is only part of the story. Because it also means that the activities of the conference can continue only because of the generous donations of corporate, government, foundation and individual sponsors. Sponsors’ funds underwrite planning the entire conference, inviting speakers, marketing the event, ensuring web dissemination (so that Canadians across the country can follow the conference as it evolves), covering the costs of speaker travel and accommodation (no fees are paid), sound and lighting, producing electronic proceedings, providing student scholarships, and promoting the year round activities of the Institute.

This is the legacy of our many private sector and public sector donors. It enables the continuation of a 72-year tradition of Couch as the primary voice of public affairs discourse in Canada. It recognizes the value in continuing the ability to engage in public affairs debate at the lake. We hope that you will take away an enthusiasm to engage in public affairs elsewhere, to follow through on your ideas and those of other active citizens, and to encourage others to participate in Couchiching opportunities. Most of all, we hope that you will seek out and provide support for the Institute, personally, or through your own connections. As a charitable organization, we will always need financial support, but we also need the commitment of interested and energetic volunteers on a variety of fronts.

Please take the time to speak to the numerous Couchiching Board and Committee members who are at the conference, and who are identified on their nametags as such. Anyone will be delighted to explore opportunities with you. Take time to thank our sponsors because they make this event possible.

Thank you for your active interest, and thank you for being here!


David McGown