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Reading List

75th Annual Summer Conference, August 10–13, 2006


In the 1930s, when Couchiching began, many Canadians would have considered progress to consist of economic security – in large part because there wasn’t much of it at the time. Today, our notions of progress are more complicated.

Progress as an idea – whether we think we believe in it or we think we don’t – in many ways defines the tensions of our time. Some of us view the idea of progress as one that is out of date and hopelessly optimistic; others see it as an irrefutable fact.

Most of us in the West believe we can continue to make our own lives better. Globally, however, we are unsure which are more significant: rising terrorism, increasing environmental disasters, unsustainable development, and an ever-rising gap between rich and poor the world over; or the growth of democracy, a global economic system that is ensuring that more people in the world are better off than ever before, and new technologies that are improving our quality and length of life.

The 2006 Couchiching summer conference explored a series of questions on the notion of progress. Among them: What is progress? Progress for whom? Progress compared to what? Progress at what cost? Progress by what measure? What will progress look like in the future?

The conference looked at progress over time, progress as we see it today, what it has meant over the 75 years of Couch’s history and what it will mean in the immediate, mid-, and long-term futures.

Speaker presentations are posted as they become available.
© 2006 Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs
All rights reserved.

2006 Media Coverage

August 6, The Toronto Star, “A slow death by progress – Caught in the ‘progress trap’; If our global civilization dies, what’s left to replace it?” 
August 7, The Hill Times, “Intellectuals, politicians gather for Couchiching conference in Orillia” (not online)
August 11, Orillia Packet & Times, “Ralston Saul to wrap Couchiching Conference; 75th annual event looks at theme of progress” 
August 11, The Toronto Star, “Club Med for the mind convenes – Think-tank marks 75 years of questioning. Keynote speaker has hope for global future” 
August 12, The Toronto Star, “Lectures target youth: ‘There’s no perfection awaiting us’: Kingwell, Basrur questions how much progress made” 
August 11, Orillia Packet & Times, “Conference impresses Ontario’s top doctor” (not online)
August 13, The Toronto Star, “The ‘development of underdevelopment’: How Western progress created African misery” 
August 13, The Toronto Star, “Low moments in history” (not online)
August 14, Barrie Examiner, “Author, intellectual closes think-tank” 
August 14, Orillia Packet & Times, “Canada: A dysfunctional democracy” 
August 14, The Toronto Star, “Author decries poor leadership” 

October 15, La Presse, p. A13, « Le progrès, quel progrès? » 

Reading List 

Thursday afternoon at 3:00
Youth Forum

An introduction to Couchiching with various members of the CIPA board, including president David McGown and conference co-chairs Gwen Burrows and Rima Berns-McGown, followed by discussion groups on topics such as The Philosophy of Progress, The Paradox of Progress, Technological Progress and Making Progress Happen. After an hour’s deliberations, the groups will report back to a plenary session – in time for the President’s Reception.

Thursday evening at 7:30 — Opening Keynote

Opening Keynote
David McGown (left) and Dr. Vivian Rakoff

Session Summary

VIVIAN RAKOFF (bio), author, former Director of the Clarke Institute Psychiatry and a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto

Moderator: DAVID McGOWN, President, CIPA

Friday morning at 9:30
From the Personal…

Left to right: Rima Berns-McGown, Mark Kingwell, Peter Timmerman

Session Summary

Material wealth. Longer life expectancy. A free and democratic society. Equal rights for women. The ascendancy of the individual. Do these apparent benefits, bestowed upon the western world by modernity, constitute the “good life”? Is this “progress” – and is it making us happy?

  • MARK KINGWELL (bio) (reading list), Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto, and author of In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac and The World We Want: Restoring Citizenship in a Fractured Age.
  • PETER TIMMERMAN (bio) (reading list), Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, York University and a committed Buddhist.

Moderator: RIMA BERNS-McGOWN, Conference Co-chair, CIPA

Friday afternoon at 2:00
Technology and Innovation: Until Death Do Us Part...

Left to right: John Weigelt, Helen Walsh, Tom Vassos, Edward Tenner

Session Summary

We are now more wired than ever. Technological advances of all kinds have changed the developed and developing worlds. As Kevin Kelly wrote: “In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world’s population.” What are the competing views of how our connected worlds affect our quality of life?

  • EDWARD TENNER (bio), scholar and author of Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences and Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology. Presentation 
  • TOM VASSOS (bio), IBM Innovation Executive and U of T MBA Instructor
  • JOHN WEIGELT (bio), National Technology Officer, Microsoft Canada Co.

Moderator: HELEN WALSH, Director, CIPA

Friday at 5:00 pm
Reception, dinner and presentation:
Couchiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy —
Elizabeth May, environmentalist, writer, activist and lawyer


Since the 1970s, Elizabeth May has led innumerable campaigns to protect Canada’s environment, starting with a triumph over an aerial insecticide program in her native Cape Breton. In 1986, she became senior policy advisor to Tom McMillan, the federal minister of environment. She resigned over a matter of principle in the granting of permits for Saskatchewan’s Rafferty and Alameda dams. In 1989, she became the first national staff member of the Sierra Club of Canada and, soon after, its first executive director. She has pushed to protect vast areas of Canadian wilderness, promote bylaws against the use of dangerous pesticides, act on the threat of climate change, and clean up the Sydney Tar Ponds, among other issues. In 2001 she went on a hunger strike to get government action on hazardous waste. When she received the Order of Canada last year, Elizabeth said “This honour is one that belongs to every Canadian who works to protect a forest ecosystem, to stop a pesticide spray program, to fight a toxic incinerator or for real progress in reducing greenhouse gases. We are all standing on guard for Canada.”

Friday evening at 7:30
The Paradox of Progress — Unintended Consequences

Left to right: Sheela Basrur, Gwen Burrows, Elizabeth May, Madonna Larbi

Session Summary

We take for granted many examples of progress: consider antibiotics, immunization and the eradication of smallpox. But some of those progress produce somewhat less desirable effects, such as global warming. Can we save ourselves … from ourselves?

  • SHEELA BASRUR (bio), Chief Medical Officer of Health and Assistant Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Health and former Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto during the SARS crisis.
  • ELIZABETH MAY (bio), Executive Director, Sierra Club of Canada.
  • MADONNA LARBI (bio), consultant on international and social development and former Executive Director of MATCH International Centre. Presentation 

Moderator: GWEN BURROWS, Conference Co-chair, CIPA

Saturday morning at 9:30
To the Political: Africa and the Developing World — Progress Questioned

Left to right: John Kirton, Robert Greenhill, Atul Kohli, Zine Magubane

Session Summary

The benefits of progress are distributed unevenly around the world. How does the developing world cope with the challenges of post-colonialism, AIDS and economic development? Are there ways that developing nations – in Africa, Asia and the Americas – might ultimately trump the West?

  • ROBERT GREENHILL (bio) (reading list), President of the Canadian International Development Agency and Alternate Governor for Canada on the Board of Governors of the World Bank Group.
  • ZINE MAGUBANE (bio), Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston College. Presentation 
  • ATUL KOHLI (bio), Professor on International Affairs at Princeton University and a specialist on the politics and economics of development.

Moderator: JOHN KIRTON, Director, CIPA

Saturday at 12:30

Luncheon speaker: JIM BALSILLIE (bio), Chairman and Co-CEO, Research In Motion

Saturday afternoon at 2:00 — Discussion Groups

Saturday evening at 7:30
The Story of Progress

Session Summary

Is “progress,” essentially, only a cultural narrative? An Enlightenment – Western – idea of goals and continuous improvement that seems the only way we can conceive of the stories that define our society? What about other cultures or traditions that express their concept of the universe in different ways? What happens when these narrative foundations collide, especially in our increasingly diverse culture? Writers and artists help us explore, through storytelling, the view of the world through different lenses.

  • LILLIAN ALLEN (bio), poet, vocalist, and lyricist, and one of Canada’s foremost “dub poets” performing verses on social and political issues.
  • MICHAEL HOLLINGSWORTH (bio), playwright and author of the epic cylce of 15 plays know as The History of the Village of the Small Huts and is co-founder of VideoCabaret. Presentation 
  • BRIAN MARACLE (bio) (reading list), journalist, author of Crazywater and Native Voices on Addiction and Recovery, and former host of CBC Radio’s Our Native Land. Presentation 

Moderator: BERNIE LUCHT (bio), Executive Producer of CBC radio’s Ideas

Sunday morning at 9:30
Canada Looking Forward: Making Progress Happen

Left to right: John Ibbitson, Giles Gherson, Anne Golden, Michael Chong, Salimah Ebrahim

Session Summary

How can Canada contribute to make the world a better place? How should Canada progress itself? We need to rethink our current practices to ensure more effective progress.

  • ANNE GOLDEN (bio) (reading list), President and Chief Executive Officer of the Conference Board of Canada and former President of the United Way of Greater Toronto. Presentation 
  • JOHN IBBITSON (bio) (reading list), political affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail and author of The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream.
  • SALIMAH EBRAHIM (bio), environmentalist, film maker, journalist and co-founder of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.
  • THE HONOURABLE MICHAEL CHONG (bio), President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for Sport Presentation (English)  Présentation (français) 

Moderator: GILES GHERSON (bio), Editor-in-Chief, The Toronto Star

Sunday afternoon at 1:00: Closing Keynote Speaker
Rediscovering the Sense of Action and Leadership


Session Summary

JOHN RALSTON SAUL’s latest book, The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World, confronts the reigning economic ideology known as globalization. His philosophical trilogy and its conclusion – Voltaire’s Bastards, The Doubter’s Companion, The Unconscious Civilization and On Equilibrium – has influenced political thought in many countries. A Companion in the Order of Canada and a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, Saul recently received the Pablo Neruda International Presidential Medal of Honor. (bio)

Moderator: PAMELA WALLIN (bio), Canada’s Consul General to New York

Thank You to our Corporate and Government Sponsors

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Bell Canada Enterprises
BMO Financial Group
Canada Lands Company Limited
Canada Post Corporation
Canadian International Development Agency
CBC News
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Glaxo Smith Kline
Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
Jackman Foundation
Lake Communications
Probyn Eastman Ltd.
RCB Holdings Ltd.
Scotiabank Group
TD Bank Financial Group
The Burton Charitable Foundation
The Struggle for Democracy
YMCA Geneva Park
York University