The Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit wrapped up this Saturday, with hundreds of attendees gathering at the Delta Ottawa City Centre for three days to hear from speakers that included political philosopher Charles Taylor, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Ed Broadbent himself.
In only its second year, more than 900 people signed up to attend the summit, said Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, at the event’s opening reception March 26.
From a packed Delta penthouse overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament, Earnscliffe Strategy Group’s Robin Sears welcomed reception-goers on behalf of the firm and the Government Relations Institute of Canada.
The GRIC sponsored the Progress Summit’s opening evening, which gave guests a taste of multicultural entertainment from Toronto’s Juno-nominated Autorickshaw band, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and a popular make-your-own poutine station that was better visited than either of the cash bars.
Sears quickly moved away from GR topics to put on his “favourite old hat” from his days as federal secretary for the NDP during Broadbent’s years as leader of the party.
“[Broadbent] was a man for whom politics was always about ideas as well as values … and that was rare then in politics, and it sure as hell is rare today,” Sears told summit guests.
He said political parties today are much worse at being places where ideas are incubated, instead becoming “too fixated with the machinery and with the flash” of politics and less worried about the merit of their ideas.
“As a result, a lot of people don’t play any role in political parties anymore,” said Sears, adding that he sees the Broadbent Institute, a self-declared non-partisan organization founded in 2011, as a step to recreating a new home for social democratic thinking on progressive issues in Canada.
The sold out summit aimed to bring together leading progressive thinkers, organizers and policy experts to tackle big issues in advance of this year’s election.
Other members of the GR community taking part in the event included Summa Strategies Canada’s vice-chairman Tim Powers, who was part of a summit panel discussion on “Fighting for the Frame: How Progressives Can Win Back the Debate.”
Notable delegates speaking at event panels included Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, 2014 U.S. Democratic pollster of the year Anna Greenberg and Facebook’s head of public policy Kevin Chan.
Topics discussed ranged from manufacturing and clean energy, to Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples and political engagement among young Canadians.
At a standing-room-only lunch roundtable on March 28, delegates discussed food as a federal election issue, touching on subjects like national food policy, food security issues in Canada’s North and challenges faced by young farmers in Canada.
Food Secure Canada, which hosted the lunch featuring healthy veggie and cheese snacks from local farmers, is launching a new campaign to ask the federal government for a $1-billion investment for a Universal Healthy School Food Program, according to Diana Bronson, executive director of the advocacy group.
For young farmers, concern at the roundtable focused on difficulties accessing land and start-up capital.
“Farmers are getting older,” said Genevieve Grossenbacher, co-owner of a small-scale organic farm in Buckingham, Que.
She said the average age of farmers in Canada is 54, and that younger farmers are often discouraged from joining the sector because of high costs for land and difficulty acquiring funding to start operations.
Grossenbacher, who led discussion among young farmers at the event, is also program manager for community and volunteer engagement at USC Canada, an organization that promotes international development through ecological agriculture.
When asked about the issue of access to labour, young farmers around the table agreed it was a significant concern.
With other members of Canada’s agriculture sector saying a declining low-skilled workforce in Canada and recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are causing issues in the industry, Grossenbacher said young farmers making low incomes are sometimes forced to pay themselves less than labourers in order to attract workers during their first few years of production.
She added that changes to the government’s student employment grant program, which currently doesn’t fit within the farming season, could go a long way to bridging this gap.