LaFontaine-Baldwin Lectures

Since 2000, the LaFontaine-Baldwin Lectures have gathered Canadians to reflect on democracy, citizenship, and the public good. Established by John Ralston Saul and hosted for the past decade by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), the lectures honour the leaders of Canada’s first democratic movement, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin.

Attend the 2022 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon will deliver the 19th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary on October 6, 2022. The LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture is hosted annually by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), Canada’s leading citizenship organization and the world’s foremost voice on citizenship and inclusion.

The theme of the 2022 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture is Reconciliation and the evolution of Canada.

Learn more here

Her Excellency the Right Honourable
Mary Simon, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., O.Q., C.D.,
Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada
Photo credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall © OSGG-BSGG, 2021

Who were LaFontaine and Baldwin?

Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin are best known in Canadian history as the architects of responsible government. From Montréal and Toronto, respectively, they were both influential in early Canadian politics as lawyers and as members of their legislative assemblies.

Between 1848 and 1851, LaFontaine and Baldwin led the “Great Ministry” that established responsible government and enacted hundreds of laws. Their reforms created the roots of modern Canada by moving government away from the European model and toward the concepts of complexity and diversity.

LaFontaine and Baldwin: More than 170 Years of Responsible Government

The day Canada became a democracy cannot help but be a defining moment in our history. On March 11th, 1848, 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.

Past LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecturers

What has the pandemic revealed about the divide between winners and losers, insiders and outsiders?  What will it take to emerge from this crisis as more just, inclusive societies?

This unique digital edition brought together former lecturers in a discussion of the critical issues of our time, led by Michael Sandel.

Celebrated author and speaker Adam Gopnik delivered the 17th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture. Gopnik has been exploring “small L” liberalism and its actors for his entire career, including in The New Yorker, and his new book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism. It has been heralded by reviewers for its relevance in a time that democratic and inclusive values are under threat.

Gopnik’s lecture on Sept. 24 questioned, illuminated, and served as an antidote to the rising tide of nationalism here and around the world. The 17th LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture also featured Gopnik in conversation with celebrated author and thinker John Ralston Saul.

“Dark Times Ahead: Taking Back Truth, Freedom, and Technology”

“Sue Gardner is on the forefront of ideas on technology, democracy, and women’s roles in our society,” said ICC Co-founder and Co-chair John Ralston Saul. “As we witness the alarming erosion of democratic institutions, I can’t think of a more relevant voice to address the challenges ahead.”

On September 24, Sue Gardner delivered the 16th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, followed by an on-stage conversation with John Ralston Saul.

The 15th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, delivered by Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel on Sept. 25, 2017, began with a troubling but pertinent question — how do we decide which immigrants to let into the country? Over 90 minutes of sustained engagement with the 1000-person crowd, Sandel pressed those gathered on their fundamental moral stances, encouraging the participants to listen to and work through differences of opinion. The outcome was not consensus, but an emerging clarity; the debate about immigration is a debate about what it means to be a citizen. What are our obligations to our fellow citizens?

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the international bestsellers This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) and No Logo (2000).  She is a board member for, a climate-action group, and in 2015 was invited to speak at the Vatican to help launch Pope Francis’s historic encyclical on ecology, Laudato si’.

On September 19, Naomi Klein delivered the 14thLaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, followed by an on-stage conversation with John Ralston Saul.

“The Canada We Hope For”

“Each year we invite a speaker who can extend our conversation in new directions with original and inclusive ideas. Naheed Nenshi will bring the force of his thinking about citizenship and cities, along with his remarkable personal narrative, to the fore, ensuring another important Symposium conversation about who we are as a country.”

—Charlie Foran, Institute for Canadian Citizenship CEO

Globally known for his passion to make cities, especially Calgary, work better, Naheed Nenshi is currently serving his second term and is Calgary’s 36th mayor. He was Canada’s first tenured professor in the field of nonprofit management at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business and a trusted business advisor to corporate leaders in Canada and the USA. Nenshi is also the lead author of Building Up: Making Canada’s Cities Magnets for Talent and Engines of Development.

“An Artist’s View on Identity and Belonging”

Many know Robert Lepage as the influence behind Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM and  shows, and Peter Gabriel’s tours, Secret World and Growing Up. For the stage, he has created Needles and Opium and The Far Side of the Moon. He also directed The Ring Cycle for New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Lepage is also the recipient of The Glenn Gould Prize, celebrating his international critical acclaim for combining diverse media into cohesive stories that surprise, challenge and delight.

Lepage addressed 350 people, and many more online watching the live webcast. It was a rare opportunity to hear him speak about his personal life and the themes that fuel his work. Insightful and entertaining, he showed us how different cultures brought together are shaping our identity: “by learning other languages we often learn about our own culture”. The lecture featured introductory remarks by Adrienne Clarkson, John Ralston Saul and Antoni Cimolino, the Stratford Festival’s artistic director. Saul also led an audience Q&A with Lepage.

Immediately following the lecture, 120 audience members participated in an intimate discussion on the ideas presented by Lepage. Seated at tables, each group was asked to work through pre-set questions and then share their table’s highlights with the room in a conversation moderated by Saul, Lepage and Clarkson. The room was buzzing with excitement as participants eagerly shared how Lepage’s ideas resonated with their own experiences.

2013: Shawn A-in-chut Atleo 

“First Nations and the Future of Canadian Citizenship”

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, reopens Canada’s original conversation on inclusion. Influenced by the founding principles of peace, friendship and mutual respect between Canada’s First Nations and newcomers 400 years ago, his explores how these founding ideals must frame the national dialogue today.Atleo sits at the very heart of the discussion on where our country has been, and where we all need to help it go. In addition to the National Chief, the lecture featured:

  • Introductory remarks by Antoni Cimolino, the Stratford Festival’s artistic director, Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul;
  • Ceremony blessing by Lee Claremont;
  • Drumming by James Adams; and
  • An audience Q&A led by John Ralston Saul.

2010: His Highness the Aga Khan

Featuring His Highness the Aga Khan, the 10th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, held on October 15, 2010, was a huge success. The Aga Khan spoke about pluralism and diversity to a sold out audience at Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory’s TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning. John Ralston Saul then took the stage and discussed citizenship and pluralism in Canada. Telus streamed the event and it was shown in 60 Ismaili community centres across the country; approximately 20 000 people watched the lecture online.

On October 16, at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria in the Royal Conservatory’s TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, approximately 100 people participated in a roundtable discussion with John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson to further discuss the themes and topics from the previous night.

“Returning Canada to a Path of Principle: an Arctic and Inuit Perspective”

Siila Watt-Cloutier delivered the 9th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture on May 29, 2009, in Iqaluit. Watt-Cloutier, one of Canada’s leading public figures, has long been a national and international voice for Northerners and the North. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, the first recipient of Canada’s Northern Medal and was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

An audience of approximately 500 people packed into Inukshuk High School in Iqaluit to experience the first lecture of this scope in the North. Dignitaries included the Rt. Hon. Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada, John Ralston Saul, and Adrienne Clarkson. The lecture was streamed to venues in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal and Alice Springs by AustraliaIsumaTV, award-winning filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s production company.

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson presented the 2007 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture.

“The Society of Difference”

We have to examine how we have the same values but look so different. Are there profound intellectual and ethical differences, or do we load the slight shoulders of visible difference with the heavy weight of crippling significance? When we take away the visual, what are we as a people? Why is difference looked upon with a mixture of trepidation and acceptance?

George Elliott Clarke presented the 2006 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture.

“Imagining the City of Justice”

“The City of Justice” very simply is one where all citizens bear responsibility for the success or failure of their community, where resources are shared to assure adequate assistance for the poor and the equitable distribution of the wealth gained at least in part by extraction of the peoples‟ natural resources, and where initiatives are undertaken to ameliorate past injustices. The City of Justice should be the goal of all so-called urban agendas, for while potholes must be filled as soon as possible, so must minds be expanded and hearts enlarged.

“Freedom from Want: From charity to entitlement”

The Honourable Louise Arbour presented the 2005 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin presented the 2003 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture.

“The Civilization of Difference”

Why does difference dominate? How can we better manage difference? Canada, like other countries, has struggled with these questions. Sometimes we have answered them with exclusion and violence. Yet even in our beginnings we find another response – the response of respect, inclusion, and accommodation.