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73nd Annual Summer Conference, August 5–8, 2004

Welcome to the 73rd Couchiching Conference!

Growing up in southern Ontario in the 1960s, it was certainly a standard refrain in my home that one did not discuss politics or religion at the dinner table…Clearly such admonitions do not apply to Couchiching. We have been discussing politics, and public policy for over 70 years, over breakfast, lunch dinner and on into the early hours of each morning. And this year, at least formally, is the first time that we will engage in a rigorous debate over the role of religion in the secular state. I can just imagine what mealtime conversations are going to be like!

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. God’s Back with a Vengeance: Religion , Pluralism and the Secular State will be one conference that I believe will go down in the annals of amazing Couchiching conferences as we navigate through the tensions created by the often competing voices of religion and secularism.

The creation of this annual Couchiching phenomenon is no accident. Each summer’s conference is the result of the combined work of staff and volunteers who work tirelessly over the course of the autumn, winter and spring actively engaged in conference planning, fundraising, and the tracking down new and interesting speakers. 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 to you? In real terms, this means that the Couchiching Institute and its conference exist because of your continued interest to return annually as a delegate and member of the organization. But that is only part of the story. Because it also means that the activities of the conference continue 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 73-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 Couchiching Board and Committee members who are at the conference, we are generally the last ones to bed each night! Each of us would 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 again, welcome!


David McGown