Canada at 150: The Willowdale Experience

As industry leaders, academics and politicians gathered together in Montreal for “Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge,” a group of enthusiastic participants also gathered at the North York Civic Centre in Willowdale to watch and participate in conference discussion. Over the course of the two days we broadcast the webcast over 40 participants joined in, and created some powerful discussions in our corner of the country.

We kicked off on Saturday with a small group including M.P. for York South-Weston, Alan Tonks. Mr. Tonks stayed with us throughout the morning chatting with the attendees that had gotten up early to participate. Hon. Judy Sgro, M.P. for York West also joined in for a short time. Mid-afternoon, our own M.P. Martha Hall Findlay called in with her own impressions of the conference, boasting that there was great conversation happening not only on stage in Montreal, but in the hallways and corridors between sessions as well. If Council Chambers in North York were any indication, it sounds as if Canadians were engaging in similar dialogue and debate right across the country. We contributed to the more formal discussion with several question submissions throughout the day, and though none came up at the conference, we did all cheer on Elizabeth Dubois from Martha’s office as she appeared on screen to ask one from the floor. For the record, we counted it as a Willowdale question! Behind the scenes we were also having a lot of fun (as we seem to so often do), one particular fit of laughter came as Carol and I tried to improvise the opening a coffee can with only a set of car keys. Though successful, we were clearly lacking the grace of the famous Willowdale Women at that particular moment.

A bit bleary eyed early Sunday morning, Robert Fowler’s keynote quickly snapped us all back to attention and quickly stirred more discussion. As the day progressed we welcomed Liberal candidate Andrea Matrosovs who had come all the way from Simcoe-Gray and the Hon. Ken Dryden, M.P. for York Centre, who had recently flown in after spending the first two days of the conference in Montreal. Together we watched as Michael Ignatieff made his closing remarks with what we all felt were some bold policy proposals. It was terrific to see that already, the ideas that were flowing from Montreal were being filtered into a strong political message. Mr. Dryden offered some additional words of wisdom and encouragement, pushing us all to stay engaged as we continue to craft our political direction.

So after hours of policy, dozens of Timbits and several pots of coffee, we all came away, with not only a few new ideas and policy perspectives, but also with a huge amount of gratitude for the Liberals for working so hard to engage Canadians from coast to coast and allowing us all to participate in satellite sessions like this one (or on computers at home). Thanks to the M.P.s and their offices who worked with us to make this happen in Willowdale. It was a unique experience speaking with a number of them in an intimate setting and getting immediate reaction to a landmark event. Also special thanks to Councillor John Filion, Willowdale (Ward 23) and his staff for securing the use of the Council Chambers. The crew from the City of Toronto from IT to A/V to security were all incredibly helpful. With the success of this event, it surely won’t be the last. We hope that you’ll join us for the next one!

- Markus O’Brien Fehr

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