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Designing Canada
A Socrates Project – Wilson Leadership collaboration

Canada: Theory Meets Practice

Welcome to Canada: Theory Meets Practice (previously named Designing Canada).  Last year, our conference brought together 88 students from all levels and faculties, and nine speakers on issues of national importance.  The conference gave students a jargon-free overview of issues they might not have been aware of, a window into how people solve complex problems, exposure to different career options, and a chance to meet people just like-minded enough to be relatable and different enough to broaden one another’s perspectives.

Just like last year’s event was more than just a conference, this year’s is more than just a series of online talks.  Participants will be able to interact with one another (and with willing speakers) on dedicated Slack channels before, during and after the conference.  We’ll also use Slack to prompt reflection, for those who want to integrate what they learn into their lives.  Brief, asynchronous talks by speakers will be followed by live Q&A panels.  We’ll start and end the conference with students, kicking off with mini sessions led by Mac students and recent alum, and wrapping up with an ideation session to help you turn an idea that inspired you into a plan for action.  Events will occur every 2-3 days from January 15 to Feb 1, 2021 (dates tentative).

While participation is free, you do have to apply.  Already interested?  Apply on eventbrite

We’re in the process of confirming this year’s speakers.  Last year’s speaker were:

Designing Canada Speakers

Janet Ecker June

Janet L. Ecker is the former President and CEO of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance (TFSA), an influential public-private partnership dedicated to building Toronto as an international financial services centre. She also established the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services, as well as the Centre of Excellence in Financial Services Education, which was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a best practice in collaborative public-private partnerships. Under her leadership, TFSA led several other successful collaborations among governments and the financial sector, including Canada’s bid to become the North American trading hub for the Chinese currency, the Renminbi and the first public-private sector pilot projects in work-integrated-learning and cybersecurity.

Ms. Ecker was formerly the Minister of Finance for Ontario. During her political career, she delivered significant public policy reforms as Minister of Education, Minister of Community and Social Services and Government House Leader. Before entering public life, Ms. Ecker was the first non-physician Director of Policy for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

She currently sits on a wide range of public and private sector boards, agencies and government advisory committees, and is a Senior Fellow of the C.D. Howe Institute and a member of its National Council. Her contributions in the financial sector and politics have earned recognition including induction into the Order of Canada, the “Excellence in Leadership” award from the Transformation Institute for Leadership and Innovation, and acknowledgement as one of the “Most Influential People in the World’s Financial Centres” by Financial Centres International. Ms. Ecker is one of the founders of Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan organization working to elect more women.

Vinyas Harish

Vinyas Harish (@VinyasHarish on Twitter) is a third-year MD/PhD student at the University of Toronto. He is a graduate of the Biomedical Computing program at Queen’s University, and has recently began his PhD in Clinical Epidemiology at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. He is also a Doctoral Fellow in the University of Toronto’s Collaborative Specialization in Global Health and Junior Fellow at Massey College. During his pre-clerkship medical training, Vinyas co-founded the ‘Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Student Society (@aimss_uoft) and became interested in the role of machine learning for population-level risk prediction and preparedness for global health emergencies. This year, Vinyas is also a Graduate Research Fellow at the Centre for Ethics’ ‘Ethics of AI Lab’. Here, he is exploring the role of public-private partnerships in developing AI ‘solutions’ for healthcare.

Aaron Hobbs

Aaron Hobbs has been the Principal of thee Indigenous private schools, helping to establish two of these schools from the ground up. Previously, he was the principal of both Migizi Miigwanan Secondary School and the Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy where he helped to create a culture of compassion and understanding, but also one that encouraged a high standard of academic and social achievement. Aaron has worked with school boards, education authorities, businesses and partners in government to create new educational programs and opportunities for learners ranging from adult education initiatives, to robotics programs, to innovative blended college and secondary school programming.

Khayat Zayna

Zayna Khayat is Future Strategist with SE Health (formerly Saint Elizabeth Health Care) a health and social impact enterprise with a major focus on creating a better future for aging adults in their homes and communities. Zayna is Faculty of Singularity University’ Exponential Medicine stream, and is adjunct faculty in the Health Sector Strategy stream at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Dr. Khayat was previously the lead of health system innovation at MaRS Discovery District, a health innovation hub. In 2017 she was seconded to the REshape Innovation Centre at Radboud university medical centre in the Netherlands. Zayna completed her Ph.D. in diabetes research from the University of Toronto (2001), followed by a career in strategy consulting, including as a Principal in the healthcare practice of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). She currently resides in Toronto with her husband and three children and is proficient in French and Arabic languages.

Dave Levac

Dave Levac began his political career in 1999 as elected MPP for the riding of Brant, after working for 25 years as an educator. Seated in the Opposition benches, he gained valuable experience and knowledge serving in the Legislature. The following election saw a change in government, and Dave became the Chief Government Whip. After holding various roles in government, Dave ran for and was elected the 41st Speaker of the Ontario Legislature in 2011. He served two terms as Speaker, making him the longest serving Speaker in Ontario history. After five terms of elected office and 20 years of service in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Dave retired. He now brings his vast experience and knowledge in education and politics to McMaster University, where he is Public Leadership for Change Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Mark Marsolais Nahwegahbow

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow is Ojibwe and a Band Member of Whitefish River First Nation located on Birch Island, Ontario in the District of Manitoulin island and is the founder of the Innovative First Nations social enterprise, Birch Bark Coffee Company and he is on a mission to change Indigenous lives across Canada.

There have been more than 153 “Boiled Water Advisories” on the federal government’s website. In Ontario alone, there were roughly 86 First Nations reserves continuing to suffer, to some degree, but the numbers remain unclear because as announcements are made of recently lifted long-term drinking water advisories, more long-term drinking water advisories appear on the Indigenous and Northern Affairs website.

Birch Bark Coffee Company, through the sales of its coffee to retail stores and online customers, aims to deal with “All Water Advisories” and not just exclusive to “Boiled Water Advisories” in Ontario and the other provinces across Canada. For every 100 bags of coffee sold in a retail store and every 50 bags sold online to a customer, Birch Bark Coffee will be able to equip one home with a certified water purification unit purchased and installed for free.

Barrie McKenna

Barrie McKenna is a veteran business journalist, who spent 30 years as a columnist and foreign correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He has worked in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Washington, D.C., where he covered the U.S. for The Globe from 1997 to 2010. During his Washington posting, he covered three U.S. Presidents and traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Barrie has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. He has also worked in Montreal and Toronto. A native Montrealer, he has degrees from McGill University (History) and Carleton University (Journalism). He is a five-time finalist for Canada’s National Newspaper Awards and winner of two Canadian Best in Business awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.

Hugh Segal

Hugh Segal has years of experience in public policy, and international and regulatory affairs. He has served as Chief of staff to Prime Minister Mulroney, Associate Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary to the Premier Davis, and was appointed to the Senate of Canada as a Conservative by Liberal Prime Minister, Mr. Martin. He chaired the Senate Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee and the Special anti-Terrorism Committee, as well as having served on Agriculture and Forestry, and the Urban Poverty subcommittee. His work has included negotiating on behalf of Ontario during the patriating of the constitution and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and supporting the NAFTA negotiations between the Mulroney and George H W Bush administrations.

Hugh has taught public policy and governance at Queen’s school of Policy studies for over twenty years, where he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow, as he is at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. During his time in the Senate, he was appointed Canada’s Special Envoy to the Commonwealth, with responsibilities around institutional reform, protection of democracy, rule of law and human rights. A former President, CEO and now lifetime Fellow of the Institute for Research and Public Policy in Montreal, his period there saw the development of new research streams on national security and defense, a research programme on strengthening democracy and new peer-reviewed evergreen priorities for Canada stream of research. Hugh has served on public company boards in the dairy, financial service, construction, engineering and energy industries. He is a former Vice Chair (Research) for the Canadian International Council, Chair of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, and a Senior Advisor at Aird & Berlis LLP. He is the author of Beyond Greed and No Surrender.

Cliff Van Der Linden

Clifton van der Linden’s work explores the relationships between digital technologies and patterns of democratic participation. He is actively engaged in the application of new, technologically-enabled methods—such as the use of Big Data and machine learning—to the study of political behaviour and public opinion. Cliff has founded and led numerous companies, from non-profit organizations to Silicon Valley-incubated, venture-backed technology start-ups. He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vox Pop Labs, a social enterprise best known for producing Vote Compass, a voter engagement and education application that has drawn tens of millions of users. Vote Compass has been run in more than a dozen countries worldwide in partnership with media organizations including the Canadian and Australian Broadcasting Corporations, The Wall Street Journal, Vox Media, Grupo Globo, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, Sky News UK, France24, and Television New Zealand. Cliff’s entrepreneurial endeavours were recognized with the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2017. He was also named one of Toronto’s Top 12 Young Innovators of 2012 by Post City Magazine and was the recipient of McMaster University’s Arch Young Alumni Award in 2015.

Cliff has advised various governments on matters related to digital technology and public opinion research. He is also a regular media contributor on issues pertaining to elections and public policy.

Spaces are limited.  The $20 confirmation fee will be refunded to those who attend.  If you need to cancel your registration, please contact, by January 10 to have your fee refunded, and to give another student the chance to participate.