Since its origins, democracy has been a work in progress. Today, many question its resilience.

We are proud to partner with Bertelsmann Foundation and Humanity in Action for the third season of the How to Fix Democracy podcast, exploring practical solutions for how to address the increasing threats democracy faces.

Season 3, Episode 1: The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson on citizenship and belonging
Adrienne Clarkson is the co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and the former Governor General of Canada. Madame Clarkson tells host Andrew Keen her story of coming to Canada, learning what it was to be Canadian, and her journey to becoming Governor General of the country. Along the way, she formed important ideas of what citizenship and belonging means in Canada and around the world.

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship and 6 Degrees partnered with the Cultural Service at the Consulate of France in Toronto to present the France-Canada Dialogue: Democratic Spaces, discussing the contemporary relationship between public spaces and democracy. 6 Degrees is also grateful for the support of Knowledge Partners Canadian Urban Institute and 8 80 Cities.

The built environment is where we live. It impacts our everyday lives: how we interact, work, travel, shop, and more. It represents the public square in which we gather, debate, and join forces and voices as members of a community.

From an increasing privatization of space to the realities of COVID-19, we discussed how our ability to gather is changing, and how our shared spaces need to change for our communities to remain strong.

We examined how racist, classist, and inequitable infrastructure and planning affect our day-to-day lives, and our ability to participate fully in civic life. Our collective needs are changing. So what kind of built environment do we need to facilitate the best of our democracy in this new era?


– Remarks by the Ambassador of France to Canada, Kareen Rispal

– Moderator: Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities (Canada)


Habon Ali, global health student and community builder (Somalia/Canada)

Michael Redhead Champagne, an award-winning community organizer and public speaker (Shamattawa First Nation/Winnipeg/Canada) 

Angèle De Lamberterie, geographer and urban planner; development manager, Plateau Urbain (France)

Yoann Sportouch, urban planner; editor-in-chief of the online magazine Lumières de la Ville; founder of the urban planning agency LDV Studio Urbain (France)

Key Takeaways 

Public spaces are essential to the democratic process. Public spaces act as an intermediary between the public and the state. They are where we gather to voice our views, raise our complaints, and work collectively towards solutions. It is in those spaces that society can come together, but only if they are accessible to all. While these spaces can and do exist digitally, they must be complemented by physical spaces that are embedded in our communities.

The design of public spaces must be informed by community needs. Too often, community needs are ignored, incorrectly assumed, or overshadowed by private interests in the development of public spaces. For a public space to strengthen society, it must be designed in thorough and honest consultation with the community it serves, and with a genuine effort to realize the vision that the community demands. To be truly public, these consultations must also accommodate the participation of those who are most often marginalized.

Community needs are not static. As the disruption from COVID-19 demonstrates, we cannot predict all of the different ways in which public space may be needed in the future. Our spaces, therefore, need to be flexible, accommodating, and abundant, to meet the dynamic needs of communities as they arise. 

To support democracy, we must have public spaces that facilitate dialogue and collaboration among diverse people. Mere access to a physical public space is not enough. Many publicly accessible spaces are designed around consumption, transportation, or recreation, but not dialogue. The design and management of a democratic space must support the building of networks, and the exchange of ideas. Often, the most marginalized people are also those who feel the least supported by our democracies, while also facing the greatest barriers to participation. We have a responsibility to ensure that their voices are heard. We must be proactive in creating structures, both physical and philosophical, to meaningfully include those that are most marginalized in our public conversations. We must foster belonging in these spaces, not just access.

Successes in public spaces can be replicated and shared. While the demands on public space differ across geographies, successes can be replicated, iterated, and scaled. Communities are watching. Urban planners are watching. We all have the opportunity to set an example by creating inclusive, democratic, and community-informed public spaces.

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, and receive updates on projects we’re working on, and information on events we are hosting, including 6 Degrees forums, please click here.

At a time when the forces of exclusion, discrimination, and hate continue to gain strength all over the world, we must choose inclusion as a pillar for the world we want to create. At our first digital-only 6 Degrees forum, we heard from speakers from around the world — and from our communities — on how we must approach the intersecting crises of this moment, how we emerge from the pandemic with a more equitable society, and how the global movements for racial and social justice can push for meaningful change.

Here’s what we learned, what actions you can take, and how you can connect with our network.

Racism, ageism, misogyny, and inequality are poisoning our societies, and these problems have been laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes we need — in justice, in reconciliation, and in building trusted (and trustworthy) institutions — won’t happen overnight. It will take relentless optimism, determination, imagination, and work. We have already seen how this pandemic has inspired heartening efforts for change. When you are in need of further inspiration, think about the young people in your life — in your family, in your circles of friends, and in your neighbourhood — and the kind of world you want them to inherit.

[icc_block_quote quote=”What am I doing today to make the life of the seventh generation a better one?” author=”Roberta Jamieson” border_colour=”#000000″]

We have to work harder so we leave no one behind. Too often, our policies, our institutions, and even our progressive movements have primarily benefited some, while leaving others in the dust. To ensure that diverse voices are heard, and to ensure that everyone shares in the opportunity to thrive, we must continue to connect, to exchange ideas, to understand one another, and to work together. We have seen examples of our potential for this kind of solidarity in response to COVID-19, and we must build on this momentum.

[icc_block_quote quote=”Fundamentally we cannot move forward without saying that everyone deserves liberty, everyone deserves to thrive in our society. And we will not compromise the lives of our most marginalized people in the name of progress.” author=”Ijeoma Oluo” border_colour=”#000000″]

To make systemic change, we need an army of ethical, imaginative, and enthusiastic people pushing on all fronts. We need people to use their voices, their votes, and their dollars to demand that those on the “inside” work for real change, while celebrating those positive changes. But this is not enough. Institutions of power, and the cultures therein, are not built for disruption even when society demands it. To overcome this inertia, and to overcome the injustices upon which many systems are built, we also need allies on the “inside” willing to recognize when critical structures are failing, with the creativity and energy to replace them with something entirely new. Inside or outside, we need you involved. Now.

[icc_block_quote quote=”There’s this fascination with grassroots, but I have to be bold on this, we need to seize power. We need not to be shy, as civil society, to get into politics.” author=”Renata Ávila” border_colour=”#000000″]

Think big. Part of the multi-faceted crisis in this moment is due to a failure in imagination. We have to think big to make big changes. We have to think hard to make hard changes. Respond to this crisis with ambition, not retreat.

Interrogate what role you play in upholding harmful systems. Systemic racism is far deeper than far-right militias and tiki torches. Well-meaning people can and do contribute to systemic racism in complex ways. Strengthen your understanding. Listen to the oppressed.

Set goals, big and small, and celebrate wins. Progress serves as motivation. Define clear objectives, and make sure you celebrate successes along the way.

Don’t do it alone. Making change is hard work. As The Hon. Murray Sinclair reminded us, it’s important to build a personal support system to protect your own mental and physical health.

“Show up, show up, show up”. Find ways to be an ally, and do them. Figure out how you can move beyond beliefs and rhetoric to action and impact. Repeat.

Litigate. Your rights are enshrined for a reason. If they are infringed, you have a duty to protect them, and to strengthen them. Not just for yourself, but for your community, and for future generations.

Run for office. While flawed, our political institutions are powerful tools for change. A single ethical politician will not change the world, but what about 100? 1,000? 10,000? Be one of the many.

Act now. Literally now. Do one small, achievable thing in the next hour to take a step on the path of inclusion. Find out what is involved with running for a local office. Find a good resource on the Indigenous and/or colonial history of your place. Find an organization that shares your values and whose work you would like to support. We cannot wait until after the pandemic to start creating a more just and equitable society. Start now.

– Read the reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Senator Murray Sinclair, act on its 94 calls to action, and listen to Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt from the University of Calgary explain the importance of Orange Shirt Day, which recognizes survivors of Canada’s residential schools.

– In his new book, Michael Sandel explores the central question of our time: What has become of the common good? The Tyranny of Merit is available now!

Future of Good is on a mission to find and celebrate local Canadian projects that help communities #BuildBackBetter for a thriving decade. Click here to share a project.

Freidrich Ebert Stiftung partnered with to bring people from across the political spectrum and across the United States together for conversations on current affairs and identity. Watch the video highlights from Looking for America.

– Listen to the Economics and Beyond podcast. Every week, Rob Johnson talks about economic and social issues with a guest who probably wasn’t on your Econ 101 reading list, from musicians to activists to rebel economists.

– Read TwentyThirty, an online magazine presented by the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. It sheds light on the social, political, and environmental challenges we face and features inspiring responsible leaders who are working to solve them.

– Read IndigiNews, a grantee of the Inspirit Foundation that aims to  debunk stereotypes about Indigenous communities perpetuated by the media.

Couldn’t join us for 6 Degrees? Catch up on who participated here, and watch all of the videos here. 6 Degrees is an ongoing forum, so follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for resources, news about upcoming events, and inclusion news from around the world.

On the 172nd anniversary of democracy in Canada, we spoke to John Ralston Saul, co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, and author of Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, about why March 11 should be a national holiday, what lessons we can learn from LaFontaine and Baldwin, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why is March 11 the anniversary of Canadian Democracy?
On March 11, 1848, the Canadas and Nova Scotia tricked the British into giving them responsible government. It sounds boring, but what it really means is that parliament has the power, instead of the imperial authority. Whoever has the votes in parliament decides who the governor general can call to be prime minister and form the government. So, from the moment that parliament has the power over who governs and how the money is spent, you have democracy and virtual independence. You can’t be a colony when you control those two pieces. So, March 11 is the beginning of democracy in Canada and of Canada becoming an independent country. And it is the beginning of the end of the British Empire because that model is then slowly, slowly followed by other countries, beginning with New Zealand and Australia.

So, Canada was the first out of the British Empire to have responsible government or democracy?
We’re actually the first out of any of the European empires. Canadians understate all of this. The world was controlled by the English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and American empires and the first country to talk its way out was Canada. Before that, we had only the Americans, who fought their way out, which was the old-fashioned way LaFontaine and Baldwin used political methods to accomplish something which the British governing elite opposed.

Can you talk a bit about LaFontaine and Baldwin and what they mean to this day?
Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin were the visionaries and leaders of the government – the Great Ministry, it was called – that came to power on this day 172 years ago.

What’s wonderful is they are two really odd guys. They didn’t meet until they were in their thirties. They came from two different cities, two different languages, two different religions. Suddenly a few years after the failed rebellion in 1837, they were brought together. I don’t know what they thought of each other but they quickly realized that they had to do something. And they were real fighters by temperament.

In fact, LaFontaine, when he was a young man, had been a boxer — an intellectual and a boxer. He started political life as Louis-Joseph Papineau’s main bodyguard. And Baldwin was a strange, romantic figure.

From 1840 to 1848, they fought, fought, fought. Everything but physical violence on their side. It was quite dangerous, I mean their lives were at risk many times. They often had to flee Orange Order club-wielding mobs. They were cool and very calm and courageous. At last, they won the election of January 1848.  By 1849 the anti-democratic forces attempted what were in effect counter coups. In 1849, when the Orange Order and the anti-democratic elites burned down the parliament buildings and tried to assassinate them, they refused to send the soldiers in to open fire. They said — we’re just going to wait this out, we’re going to try and keep order as calmly as possible. And so, they set the model for a very stern, but non-violent approach to government.

By the time they got to power in 1848, they were already not that well. It had been such a hard fight. Three years later when they left, they were exhausted. Ready to die. They were in their fifties and a few years later they were dead. It killed them, doing this really killed them.

Do you think that March 11 is a day that should be celebrated more than it currently is?
Yes, absolutely.

Until the worship of John Macdonald began in the 1960s — really an attempt to be like the United States and to have this single heroic figure, which, of course, couldn’t help but backfire — until then, LaFontaine and Baldwin had always been major figures in the story of Canada. They were talked and written about endlessly. With the LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture and all the work that we’re doing at the ICC, we’re coming back to that idea that Canada is not a place with one leader or one hero — it isn’t about heroes, it’s about ideas, strategies — inclusion, the public good, egalitarianism. Egalitarianism was central to the 1848 idea of Canada – endlessly invoked.

March 11 is an incredibly important date because it sets a pattern for the country at its best. Remember that 1848 was the year when most of the European countries went through what they called the democratic spring of Europe. They overthrew their undemocratic governments in France, Italy, the Austro-Hungarian empire, et cetera. Nova Scotia and Canada were part of that revolutionary change. But within about six to nine months, all those governments had been overthrown by the old anti-democratic forces. The only places where democracy survived were the Canadas and Nova Scotia. It’s really quite remarkable. They survived by being incredibly tough and by refusing to let violence run the show. So, I think it should be celebrated enormously. We must try to understand this success.

It’s worth remembering that, just before they formed the government on March 11, [LaFontaine and Baldwin] got the legislature to pass its first pro-democracy bill, which was a bill setting up an immigration policy for Canada. So, the very first act of a democratic parliament in Canada was to pass an immigration bill. It’s pretty amazing.

What do you think could be done to celebrate March 11 more?
I think it should be an official day in Canada.

It should be a day on which people and politicians, citizens, and schools talk about where they feel our democracy should go. Because LaFontaine and Baldwin were all about that:  you can only have democracy through strategies for improving society. That’s how they did it. It wasn’t nationalism; it was improving society and the public good. I think their names — but above all their approach — what they taught us about how to build democracy in Canada, should be in schools. There should be continual discussions about how we can improve our societies, just as they did in 1848. Parliament and the legislatures should mark the day.

Do you think the conversation about how we can improve societies is missing in the public dialogue?
Yes. So much of journalism is about power. Who is winning, who is losing. And about very specific issues. Fine, but there is very little stepping back and saying, what do we need to do in order to create a more inclusive, a more just society. A lot of the work that we are trying to do at the ICC is about that, in terms of new Canadian citizens, in terms of immigration, in terms of citizenship. And I think that there really has to be enormous emphasis on the role of ideas and working out where we can go. Because if you don’t have a big idea of where we should be going, it all ends up in directionless infighting.

What role do you think everyday citizens could have in not only promoting LaFontaine and Baldwin, but also in having this conversation about where we can go as a society?
That’s why I’m always talking about citizenship. here are three or four things that a citizen can do, should do. One of them is really to be talking with families, with friends, in social clubs, classrooms, hockey arenas, workplaces, talking about where should the country be going. Why do we have homelessness, poverty? What should jobs look like. What policies are needed on Indigenous questions. These things need to be thought of, not just in terms of the policies of the day, but they have to be thought of in terms of what do we really want to do. And people can talk about that in many places. Most of us participate in all sort of social, family, religious, professional gatherings. But we don’t organize enough as citizens to talk with each other about where we think the country should be going. It’s not just a thing for political parties. It’s something for each one of us.

What can we learn from that initial government – the Great Ministry – in the context of today’s increasingly polarized political landscape?
The fascinating thing is that it was, of course, polarized then. It was the pro-democratic forces against the anti-democratic forces. That’s how we ended up with a burnt down parliament. But in the end, most of the anti-democratic forces changed sides. A large number of the people who had opposed LaFontaine and Baldwin ended up adopting most of their ideas, their ideas about democracy, their ideas about bilingualism, their ideas about inclusion, their ideas about social policy. They were largely adopted. We are living today on foundations built by LaFontaine, Baldwin, and their allies. What is fascinating is that out of that great reform party — which was called the Reform Party and the Great Ministry — came both the Liberal party and the Conservative Party. Effectively, the Reform Party split in two and most moderates joined one or the other. Why? Because they understood — they both accepted the idea — that they had to advance the common good or they couldn’t expect citizens to support them.

We have to get away from the idea that competition in politics is only about opposition. It may be about different approaches, but it has to be about improving and strengthening the public good. And I think that is one of the great messages that came out of [the Great Ministry]. The lesson is that there is something called the common good and it has to be served. And we must remain centred on that. If children are not eating properly, if newcomers are marginalized, if people are homeless, if treaty negotiations stretch on for decades…we have to talk about these real issues and about what makes dignity and citizenship possible.

The day Canada became a democracy cannot help but be a defining moment in our history. One hundred and seventy-two years ago, on March 11th Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine was summoned by the Governor General, Lord Elgin, to form a new government. Why? Because the grand coalition of Upper and Lower Canadian reformers had won a clear majority in the election of 1848. For the first time, in any part of the British Empire, it became clear that the people and not the imperial authorities would decide who was to form the government.

March 11, 1848 is one of the most important dates in Canadian history. It marks the beginning of what we might call modern Canada. Another way of putting it is that March 11 marks the beginning of Responsible Government in Canada — the now axiomatic idea that governance is properly carried out by elected citizen representatives and not colonial powers. It was a defining moment for representative democracy in Canada, marking a paradigm shift in its modes of governance, and laying the legal foundations for a society based on inclusion and egalitarianism.

In March 1848, a Reform government – it was called The Great Ministry – led by Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin came into power in the United Province of Canada (the territories now known as Ontario and Quebec). During its three years in power, the Reform government laid the legal foundations for egalitarianism, instated a system of public education, and insisted on a non-violent approach to politics. (When protesters burnt down the Parliament buildings in Montreal, the government ordered the police forces not to open fire on the crowds.) It was, as author and ICC co-founder John Ralston Saul has noted, an “astonishingly atypical” beginning for modern democracy in Canada, given the political discord in Europe and the United States at the time. Inclusion, restraint, debate, representation, egalitarianism — the precepts of good governance as we understand it today, forged by an unlikely heroic duo of Francophone Catholic and Anglophone Protestant.

“The first law passed by The Great Ministry created a Canadian immigration policy designed to protect immigrants. This is the foundation of our refugee, immigration and citizenship policies today,” says John Ralston Saul, who wrote a biography on the two leaders. “The example of LaFontaine and Baldwin is that democracy in Canada only works if we are willing to leap forward with important ideas and policies that strengthen egalitarianism and the public good.”

In 2000, John Ralston Saul founded the LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, an annual lecture given by a prominent public intellectual. The lecture honours the legacy of LaFontaine and Baldwin, gathering Canadians for debate and dialogue in the spirit of the public good. Past speakers have included George Erasmus, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, His Highness the Aga Khan, Naomi Klein, Naheed Nenshi, and Robert Lepage, Michael Sandel, and Sue Gardner.

Visit 6 Degrees for more information about past LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture series.


June marked National Indigenous History Month in Canada and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) celebrated with seven citizenship ceremonies across the country. We believe that reconciliation is the shared responsibility of all people — existing and new Canadians alike — and our ceremonies in June shone a light on the spaces, traditions, and practices of Indigenous Peoples. At our ceremonies, new Canadians and Canadians that have been in the country for years or generations came together to reflect on what being Canadian means, what reconciliation looks like, and how to be active, and engaged citizens.

Highlights included:

At Conservation Halton, we heard from Jennifer Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty, a cosmetic brand that aims to help Indigenous youth, and Elder Edebwed Ogichidaa Kwe (She who speaks the Truth Warrior woman leader) . Catering was provided by Anishinabe catering company NishDish. 

Thank you to Edebwed Ogichidaa Kwe (She who speaks the Truth Warrior woman leader) Valarie King for this welcome song!

— Institute for Canadian Citizenship (@inclusion_ca) June 4, 2019

And thanks to Jennifer Harper, founder of @cheekbonebeauty, for her remarks: “As creatures and humans, we all crave and desire peace and security…When we can come together and break bread, remove hate, and sit in that space and share in love, that is a successful country.”

— Institute for Canadian Citizenship (@inclusion_ca) June 4, 2019

At UBC First Nations Longhouse in Vancouver, Dr. Richard Vedan, Elder Scholar welcomed new citizens and shared the history of his people.

“We’re in the process of truth and reconciliation…you are part of that because you have inherited all of the benefits of the people that went before.” – Dr. Richard Vedan, Elder Scholar to new Canadian citizens at today’s ceremony at @UBCLonghouse. #IndigenousHistoryMonth

— Institute for Canadian Citizenship (@inclusion_ca) June 18, 2019

At the Saskatoon Indian & Metis Friendship Centre, Marianne from May Henderson catering held a demonstration of how to make bannock and spoke about the dish’s significance for her community.

“This is one of our staples,” Marianne, who works with our wonderful caterer May Henderson, teaching new citizens about bannock at today’s citizenship ceremony in Saskatoon, part of our #IndigenousHistoryMonth celebrations.

— Institute for Canadian Citizenship (@inclusion_ca) June 20, 2019

We also held a citizenship ceremony for the first time in Yellowknife — at the Chief Drygeese Centre on the land of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Join @ICCICC for a special Citizenship Ceremony in #YZF this Thursday, June 20, to honour National Indigenous Heritage Month:

— City of Yellowknife (@OurYellowknife) June 18, 2019

All of ceremonies celebrating National Indigenous Month:

• Conservation Halton (Rattlesnake Point) in Mississauga, ON
• Neeginan Centre in Winnipeg, MB
• La Cité de l’énergie in Shawinigan, QC
• UBC First Nations Longhouse in Vancouver, BC
• Town of Fort Macleod – Community Hall in Fort MacLeod, AB
• Saskatoon Indian & Metis Friendship Centre in Saskatoon, SK
• Yellowknives Dene First Nation in Yellowknife, NWT

While National Indigenous History Months is over, we will continue to engage Indigenous Peoples in all our ceremonies, and in all our work, year-round. Join us at an upcoming citizenship ceremony and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on other ways you can get involved.