McGill University to establish high-profile discussion series on Canada’s place in the world

Thanks to an endowment of $5 million from Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman, LLD’90, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) is launching a new flagship event entitled Conversations, sponsored by Charles Bronfman, a series of high-profile and broadly accessible discussions about issues of global importance and the challenges and opportunities facing Canada.  

The Conversations series, to be held annually starting in 2023, will focus on an exchange of ideas and perspectives rather than a debate. The event will for the most part feature a moderated conversation between prominent Canadian and international experts in a particular field such as the economy, social policy, or government. The series is expected to attract a wide audience and will have an online component to allow people from across Canada and the rest of the world to participate.  

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Charles Bronfman for this important gift in support of the Conversations series,” said Christopher Manfredi, Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill. “For the past 28 years, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada has played a vital role in the academic lives of students and faculty from across our University. Its prominence as a centre for research, teaching and constructive dialogue is owed in large part to the vision and generosity of Mr. Bronfman, who played a key role in the Institute’s creation, as its founding benefactor and inaugural co-chair. The extraordinary gift we are celebrating today will help raise its already impressive profile.”  

“Some 30 years ago, the Principal of McGill and later Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, the University’s Board, chaired by Alex Paterson, and I agreed to create MISC,” explained Mr. Bronfman. “Our goal was to create an Institute that would encourage students to study Canada in depth and offer a wider focus through annual public conferences on issues of the day. Now, through Conversations, MISC will explore Canada’s place in the world. Is the nation living up to its potential? Can we benefit from a better understanding of those areas in which our country can become a real leader? There are many areas where Canada shines and some where we don’t. I hope that Conversations will help us take advantage of the former and pay needed attention to the latter.”  

Series to reach beyond academia 

The goal of the Conversations series is to reach beyond academia and engage with a broader audience of informed citizens, media, and policy makers in discussions related to Canadian history, politics, policy, and the country’s role and position on the world stage, according to Daniel Béland, Director of MISC and James McGill Professor in the Department of Political Science, who will be responsible for the thematic focus and direction of Conversations, in consultation with an advisory committee. 

“This gift is a game changer for MISC and a key contribution to McGill’s public engagement profile,” said Béland. “Mr. Bronfman’s major and timely injection of support will allow us to enhance our presence and reach as large an audience as possible through media partnerships and other outreach initiatives.” 

A passion for Canadian history and identity 

As someone who once remarked that “philanthropy is the DNA of my family”, Charles Bronfman is one of the world’s most generous philanthropists. He has signed the Giving Pledge – established for philanthropists devoted to giving away a majority of their wealth to charitable causes – and has authored two books on the subject: The Art of Doing Good – Where Passion Meets Action and The Art of Giving – Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan. He is also the author of Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy. 

Among Bronfman’s philanthropic passions is building a greater understanding of Canada among Canadians. Over the years he has generously supported initiatives that encourage young Canadians to strengthen their knowledge and appreciation of our history, alongside their heritage and cultural identity. In addition to his longstanding commitment to MISC, he was a founding co-chairman of Historica Canada, which produces the Heritage Minutes, a series of sixty-second short films, each illustrating an important moment in Canadian history. 

The Bronfman family name has a distinguished place in McGill’s history. The Samuel Bronfman building – home of the Desautels Faculty of Management – is named after Charles’ father, and the University’s Advancement operations are headquartered in what was once the head office of the family’s Seagram enterprise.