Couchiching Connects: October/November 2014

In this Issue:

Couch News

The President's Message

Update on the Strategic Plan

The 2015 Summer Conference



Couch Community News

Personal Tributes


Alumni in the News

Options: Our Members Write

Calling All Readers

A Message from the President Amanuel Melles

In the wake of the October 22nd attack on Parliament Hill and the loss of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, I am reminded of the cost of maintaining an open and democratic country. On behalf of the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs, I express our deep sorrow at the loss of Corporal Cirillo and extend our condolences to his family and his colleagues from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders unit.

At the core of our vibrant democracy is citizen engagement and participation. For more than 83 years, the Institute has excelled at attracting Canadians from all walks of life to participate in a vigorous and passionate exchange of ideas on national and international matters of significance. The strengthening of our democracy through active citizen engagement remains a significant matter of importance.

Through the support of Zzeem, the Board of Directors has been busy in finalizing the Institute's strategic plan, which we anticipate releasing soon. The plan is our blueprint for the next three years and will create the conditions for greater citizen engagement and enhance our capacity to remain sustainable and vibrant for many years to come.

I also want to pay tribute to Nahom Tsehaie Berhane, and on behalf of Couchiching, I extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Toronto has lost an amazing young leader to senseless violence. Nahom, a heath promoter with Access Alliance Community Health Centre, was a highly respected community leader who has touched the lives of many families and communities in our city. In the last few years, as a CITY Leaders delegate, he has actively participated in our Summer Conferences. We will miss him immensely."

In this newsletter, you will also see exciting updates on various Institute activities. We look forward to your continued engagement in the activities of Couchiching.

Update on the Strategic Planning Process
Adam Redish, Secretary

On October 4th, the Board gathered for an all-day strategic planning session, facilitated by Erin Roberts from Zzeem. The day began with an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses and then moved into a discussion of our mission and mandate, where we want to be as an organization in three years time, and the key next steps we need to take to get there.

Key themes that emerged included:

  • thinking about ways to expand the reach of the Summer Conference so that we can bring that unique and rewarding experience that is a Couch Conference to an audience that extends beyond the attendees
  • better linking the themes of the Conference to Conversations and other program offerings
  • strengthening our financial position, including developing new approaches to raising funds, modernizing our approach to fundraising, and reaching out to find new funding partners and partnerships.


While we are still putting the finishing touches on the plan, we have begun to implement one of the most important outcomes of the discussions - making the Summer Conference more accessible and affordable by moving the start to Friday.

For some years, we have heard from attendees and members that getting to the Lake on a Thursday afternoon is a challenge for many. After considerable discussion, the Board concluded that moving to a Friday start will allow us to make the Conference more accessible and lower the cost, while still leaving three days to create the rich, engaged, and unique experience it is known for. Keep reading and you will begin to see how 2015 Summer Conference co-chairs Helen Tewolde and Heather Keachie are putting this new approach into practice.

For all of us, taking the day to step back and think about who we are as an organization and why it is important that we do what we do was an exciting and engaging experience.

And as a final note, the Board talked about what is unique about Couchiching and the value we bring to our members, our stakeholders and Canadian public affairs, and you, the readers of Couchiching Connects. Since its inception almost three years ago, Connects has been the Institute's primary vehicle for staying in touch, so please, let us know if there is anything we can do to improve it, what issues you want to hear about, and what we can do to strengthen our communications with you, the Couch community.

The 2015 Summer Conference - In Fairness To The Future: Who owes what to whom? Financial, environmental, and institutional transfers between generations
August 6th to 9th, 2015
Conference Co-Chairs,
Heather Keachie and Helen Tewolde

The 2015 Summer Conference will be a creative look at the multidisciplinary question of our responsibility towards the future generations, both in the short- and long-term. What - if any - are our responsibilities and obligations to future generations, and how can we fulfill them? From pensions and personal debt, to the environmental consequences of our consumption patterns, our policies and decisions will have ramifications that we may never experience. This conference will describe the financial, environmental, and institutional transfers currently on the table, and will discuss the intergenerational obligations dynamic. From respecting our elders to representing the unborn in a democratic system, and from health care spending to education payments, who really owes what to whom?

Shortened Conference; Same Great Experience

This year, the Summer Conference will start on Friday afternoon and the opening keynote address will take place Friday evening after dinner. The Conference will end Sunday after lunch. We hope this shortened Conference format will make it more accessible, both financially and from a time commitment perspective. The magic of a Couchiching Conference, as anyone who has been up to the lake will tell you, is that it is both a respite and a stimulating environment, with conversations and ideas evolving slowly, over the course of three days. In a world of distraction and noise, where much of our news comes in 144 character snippets, the Summer Conference is the place to engage with new ideas and with each other at a rare leisurely pace. We hope that the 2015 Summer Conference will maintain that leisurely pace while being more accessible and affordable. We look forward to your feedback at the end, letting us know what you thought.

Start Your Reading!

Here are three articles on issues of generations and on wealth inequality to get your wheels turning. Look forward to more articles in the coming issues of Couchiching Connects, and on our website.

Conference Board of Canada, The Bucks Stop Here: Trends in Income Inequality Between Generations, September 2014, online at

Laskow, Sarah, "Generations Are an Invention-Here's How They Came to Be", The Atlantic, September 11, 2014. Online at

McMahon, Tamsin, "Seniors and the generation spending gap", Maclean's, September 6, 2014. Online at


Couchiching Conversations
Ahmer Khan, Chair Conversations

We respectfully bid adieu to Salim Rachid, who for over three years was chair of Couchiching Conversations. Salim will be greatly missed for his energy, insight, and leadership. Replacing Salim is Ahmer Khan, who has hosted four Conversations and looks forward to leading meaningful discussions on difficult topics in the safe spaces environment.

Joining the Conversations Committee are Andrea Salguero, Nil Sendil, Jan Van Deursen, Mohamed Huque, Natasha Collishaw, Eranda Gjomema, Fatma Hassan, Hibaq Gelle, Abdi Hersi, Mahad Hari, and Ryan Khran.

Visit for upcoming Conversations, series, and other exciting news.

In other Conversation news, our "Spirit of Social Change" Series will be coming to an end with a short film. Shayan Edalati, the project manager of the series and the film, will coordinate the completion of the documentary. A call for directors will soon be underway and a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be released shortly.

Contact Shayan Edalati for additional information or to obtain a copy of the RFP.

Conversations Held

"Somalia-Building Here versus Building There: The Somali Disapora's Double Burden"

This Conversation was co-presented by the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs, The Mosaic Institute, and the Centre for Human Rights at York University. Speakers were Faduma Mohamed and Abdi Hersi, and Hibaq Gelle was moderator. Both speakers made the case for investing in the future of Somalia, either through Canadian- based initiatives or back home via remittances and trans-citizenship voting. With an audience of over 40 people, there was much to be discussed at the highly-anticipated Conversation. A special thank you to our guest speakers and moderator, all strong Couchiching supporters.

Stay tuned for more great Conversations to come. Visit for upcoming Conversations, series, and other exciting news.


Couchiching Nominating Committee Report
Gwen Burrows, Chair, Nominating Committe

I am delighted to introduce three new members who were appointed to the Board of Directors at the October board meeting.

Ahmer Khan is Chair of the Conversations Committee following three years as a committee member. Born and raised in Canada, he joined the Institute during the last year of his undergraduate degree on Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto. He hopes to bring meaningful and challenging Conversations to all peoples across Canada. Ahmer worked alongside former Couchiching president, Rima Berns-McGown, as a research assistant for the Imported Conflict Study: Perceptions Vs Realities at the Mosaic Institute. His interests lie in strengthening Canadian multiculturalism and all things Diaspora-related be it literature, food, art, hybrid identities, or the peace and nation-building process that happens here or "back home" where one is connected.

Patrick Kennedy is the Director of Government Relations for CF Industries, Inc. He has over a decade of experience in and around federal politics and policy. He served as a policy analyst in the federal civil service as well as in the role of Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the House of Commons during two minority governments. After leaving politics, Patrick joined the Canadian Bankers Association as Director of Government Relations. He joined CIBC in 2009 as Senior Director of Government Relations, where he worked until joining CF Industries in 2013. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Political Studies from Queen's University, and his Master of Science in Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science in England. In Ottawa, Patrick is active in fundraising for the National Arts Centre as Vice-Chair of its Gala Committee, and for the Writer's Trust's annual Politics and the Pen Gala. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Government Relations Institute of Canada, the Board of Directors of the Writers Trust of Canada, and sits as a founding Board member of the Canadian Advocacy Network, an organization providing pro bono advocacy guidance for charities and not-for-profits.

Velma McColl blends her deep understanding of business, government, and policy to create opportunities for her clients at Earnscliffe. She works on a range of economic and social issues and specializes in energy, environment, and green technologies. Prior to joining Earnscliffe in 2004, Velma advised federal cabinet ministers on political strategy, policy, and communications. She has also worked in British Columbia and Alberta. Throughout her career, she has focused on Canada's competitiveness and innovation challenges, climate change, energy, technology, and sustainable development. Velma has an interest in alternative dispute resolution and has worked to find creative solutions across federal/provincial/territorial, North American, and international boundaries. Her career includes success as an entrepreneur and experience working collaboratively with business, academia, think tanks, not-for-profit organizations, and the public sector. A westerner with more than 15 years in Ottawa, Velma studies at the University of British Columbia and the Banff School of Management. She is a co-founder of the Canadian Clean Technology Coalition and Women in Government Relations and plays a leadership role with several organizations including Sustainable Prosperity and the Ryan's Well Foundation.


Personal Tributes

Torontoist, September 29th: Rima Berns-McGown, a former Institute president, wrote: “Nahom Berhane—a community health worker and father—was stabbed to death on the Danforth. The media reported on his death, but took almost 48 hours to mention the details of his life.”

Read more

From Board member Mohammed Hashim: “It is important to remind people that beautiful minds amongst us are senselessly being taken away and that they are actually of our own.”

From Hibaq Gelle: “We surely miss Nahom and all his grace.”

From Board member Aisha Salim: “This is such a tragedy for Couchiching and many other communities in Toronto.”


Elizabeth Dowdeswell

In June, residents of Ontario were interested to learn that their new Lieutenant-Governor was a woman born in Northern Ireland and raised in Saskatchewan, who developed her education at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Utah into a career as a teacher, which led in turn to a distinguished career as a public servant. Inside Canada, her roles included that of Deputy Minister in Saskatchewan and, in Ottawa, as the head of the Canadian Meteorological Service. In the wider world, her growing reputation led to her being elected as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

For members of the Couchiching family, however, there is more. Over the years, the woman we must learn to call "Her Honour" has been a keen member, appearing at our Summer Conferences over the years as a speaker, or a regular member, and a friend.

In August 2014, just before her official inauguration as Lieutenant -Governor in September, she demonstrated her loyalty and affection for Couchiching by appearing at our opening session on Thursday night. In a short, graceful speech, she talked about her happy memories of Couchiching over the years, and spoke about the continuing importance of institutions such as ours in advancing knowledge and civic engagement.

It was an inspiring message from a friend for whom we wish every possible success in her important new role.

Douglas Gibson

Emilie Nicolas

Board member Emilie Nicolas was the winner of the Youth Award in the Governor General Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, presented on October 15th. Her citation described her as “an outstanding campaigner for women's human rights, dignity, autonomy, and equality of opportunity.”

Read more: 2014 Recipients - Governor General Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case - Status of Women Canada

Shirley Greenberg

Shirley Greenberg, a long-time Summer Conference supporter, was named Outstanding Individual Philanthropist at the annual Philanthropy Awards Dinner in Ottawa on November 13th. The award recognizes Shirley’s donations “to so many causes, often with a focus on women and women’s health.”

Read more

Couchiching Alumni in the News

November 15th: David Dodge and Christianne Dodge have been recognized with the John Orr Award from the Toronto Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association. “Their tireless efforts have made an immeasurable impact on Queen’s and Canada”. The award rewards significant contribution to the life and welfare of Queen’s. A former Governor of the Bank of Canada, David was the 2012 recipient of the Couchiching Award for Public Policy Leadership.

The Globe and Mail, October 26th: Reporter Dirk Meissner wrote: “Shawn Atleo has listened to grandmothers in the Arctic, heard the concerns of the youth in his home village of Ahousaht on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and felt Ottawa’s cold winters and its harsh politics, making him ideal for the new British Columbia position of Shqwi qwal.

“A Shqwi qwal, pronounced she-qwall, is a West Coast aboriginal name given to a community leader who helps build new paths and relations.

“B.C. Premier Christy Clark said that there is no better connected, respected or qualified aboriginal communicator in Canada as she appointed Atleo as Canada’s first Shqwi qwal at a ceremony at Vancouver Island University …”

Shawn was a speaker at the 2013 Summer Conference, “Coming Together: Navigating the Relationship Between Indigenous Peoples and Canada” (

Read more

The Globe and Mail, September 26th: Preston Manning wrote: “Nine years after the massacre of Chinese democrats in Tiananmen Square, I visited China as Leader of the Official Opposition in our Parliament. As is customary, we were met at the airport by a small group of officials, including several from the international liaison department of the Communist Party. Although most of my itinerary had been arranged in advance, our hosts nevertheless asked, ‘Is there anyone else you would especially like to see?’ To which I replied, somewhat to the consternation of our embassy staff, ‘Yes, I would like to meet my equivalent, the leader of the official opposition in China.’” He was the 2007 recipient of the Couchiching Award for Public Policy and Leadership and is founder of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

Read more

The Canadian Press, September 23rd: Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s new lieutenant-governor, “is looking for public input as to what causes she should champion in her role as the Queen’s representative in the province.” She is a former speaker and delegate to our Summer Conferences.

Read more

Read more

Rima Berns-McGown is the Jack and Doris Fellow in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. She was Immediate Past President of the Institute, co-chair of several Summer Conferences, and leader in outreach and development of Couchiching Conversations.

The Globe and Mail, September 22nd: Paul Martin, Joe Clark, Ed Broadbent, and Joseph Ingram wrote: “The recent closing of the North-South Institute as a result of discontinued federal government funding is a loss both for Canada and for the global community.” Former prime minster Martin was a speaker at the 2013 Summer Conference, “Coming Together as One: Navigating the Relationship Between Indigenous People and Canada”.

Read more

Opinions: Our Members Write ...

The Globe and Mail, October 31st: Couchiching board member Vasiliki (Vass) Bednar wrote: “Ordinary people think they can run successfully for city council. They’re wrong.” She is an Action Canada fellow and deputy director of cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Read more

The Globe and Mail, September 30th: Vasiliki (Vass) Bednar wrote: “In politics, our interpretation of what constitutes an act of sexism has shrivelled to a superficial social media-driven cherry-picking that barely skims the surface. We ignore the real prejudice and discrimination against women that infects our potential policy-making. This has to change.”

Read more

Calling All Readers of Couchiching Connects!

Please send information on Newsmakers, Couchiching Alumni in the News, and Opinions: Our Members Write ... to Sheila Robertson, Editor, Couchiching Connects.

2016 Summer Conference

The Canada Project

Identity, Citizenship, and Nationhood in a Changing World

August 5-7, 2016
The YMCA Geneva Park Conference Centre, Orillia, ON

Read More


Couchiching Connects
April 2017
View Now

Sign Up for our Newsletter!