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Queen’s economist wins second Donner Prize

Award for book on Indigenous rights makes Thomas J. Courchene the first two-time recipient of top Canadian public policy writing honour.

Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)
Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)

Two decades after winning the first-ever Donner Prize for best Canadian public policy book, economist and Queen’s Professor Emeritus Thomas J. Courchene has done it again. On May 1, 2019, his latest book Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens: From First Contact to Canada 150 and Beyond was recognized by award jurors as a “masterful work on one of the most important themes of our country’s public policy history” – securing Courchene the top prize and $50,000.

“The Donner Prize serves as a beacon for aspiring writers, so when I won it the first time it was truly an inspiration,” says Dr. Courchene. “In being recognized a second time, I sincerely hope the publicity will allow my book to contribute to a greater, broader understanding of the challenges and policies that affect the lives of Indigenous peoples of Canada.”

The book, published by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, examines the historical, legal, and socio-economic evolution of Canadian policy initiatives relating to Indigenous peoples. In doing so, Dr. Courchene puts forth a new policy prescription that seeks to reconcile the goal of recognizing Indigenous rights with that of promoting Canadian economic and resource development. Jurors lauded the book’s compelling case for significant change and its vision for a brighter future.

“My work has long been a blend of economic analysis, political reality, and constitutional perspectives, so I always felt that my public policy research had to, at some point, address issues facing First Peoples,” says Dr. Courchene, who is also a founding member of the School of Policy Studies. “In the final chapter of my book I propose we depart from existing models in which Indigenous Canadians are effectively under the control and stewardship of another political authority, and move to one that would give them provincial powers on their own lands.”

The Donner Prize, awarded annually by the Donner Canadian Foundation, encourages and celebrates excellence in public policy writing by Canadians, and acknowledges the role good public policy plays in the country’s success.

“To win the Donner Prize a second time, two decades after being recognized with their inaugural award, speaks to the rich and enduring quality of Dr. Courchene’s academic work,” says David M.C. Walker, Executive Director of the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “On behalf of the School of Policy Studies, I want to commend him for crafting a truly impactful book; one that not only embodies the spirit of our school’s mission, but that can also inform and inspire public policy that advances the well-being of Canadians.”

The award results were announced during a gala at The Carlu event space in Toronto. Dr. Courchene was selected over four other finalists, chosen from more than 70 submissions. Chairing the Donner Prize jury was David Dodge, who served as Queen’s University Chancellor from 2008 to 2014.

The interdisciplinary green team

Four leading researchers from Queen’s University have been awarded the NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for their work in building a sustainable future.

NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering
The winners of the 2019 Brockhouse Canada Prize, from left: Michael Cunningham, Pascale Champagne, Philip Jessop, and Warren Mabee.  

Engineering a sustainable future requires input from multiple approaches and perspectives. Four leading Canadian researchers from Queen’s University have been awarded the NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering for their work in enhancing the value and sustainability of our natural renewable resources though collaboration.  

Given annually to only one research team across Canada, the award supports the late Nobel Laureate Bertram N. Brockhouse’s vision of interdisciplinary teamwork and collaboration as a way to propel scientific discovery in Canadian research. Dr. Brockhouse won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994. 

“The NSERC Brockhouse is one of the most prestigious and competitive research honours available to Canadian researchers,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “We are proud of our Queen’s recipients, and proud that the university is a space that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration as a means to address critical challenges.” 

Pascale Champagne
Pascale Champagne is the Canada Research Chair in Bioresources Engineering.

The cross-faculty research team consists of Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering), Michael Cunningham (Chemical Engineering, Chemistry), Philip Jessop (Chemistry) and Warren Mabee (Geography and Planning, School of Policy Studies), each affiliated with the Beaty Water Research Centre and an accomplished scientist in their respective field.  With the funding provided by the NSERC Brockhouse ($250,000), the team will work in unison bringing their unique but complementary expertise to designing solutions to address myriad problems caused by climate change.  

The four team members share a passion for sustainable use of natural resources and the development of green industrial processes. Dr. Champagne is an expert in biofuels and utilization of water resources; Dr. Cunningham is a specialist in green engineering; Dr. Jessop works in the area of green chemistry while Dr. Mabee brings his experience with policy issues and assessing the sustainability of renewable energy and material systems.  

All four researchers are affiliated with the Beaty Water Research Centre. Drs. Champagne, Jessop and Mabee are Canada Research Chairs. Dr. Cunningham was the Ontario Research Chair in Green Chemistry from 2010-2015.

“We pursue research on issues of critical importance to Canadians, including the development of alternate wastewater management strategies and environmentally sustainable approaches, green chemistry and engineering, and renewable energy policy,” says Dr. Champagne, the project’s principal investigator. “We are grateful to NSERC and the Government of Canada, for their ongoing support and understanding that Canadian leadership in complex research areas such as environmental sustainability, and true advances are only possible through collaborations that incorporate knowledge from different disciplines to create innovative and timely solutions.” 

The team has been involved in projects that explore the feasibility of using algal systems for wastewater treatment and biofuel recovery. These integrated systems hinge on devising strategies that facilitate nutrient removal, disinfection and carbon dioxide fixation, enhancing algal growth and oil production, and reducing the environmental (carbon, energy, GHG, water) footprint; and evolving biomass conversion approaches to generate biofuels and bioproducts in an integrated carbon and energy recovery scheme.  

They have also worked extensively on the use of carbon dioxide as an innovative and green “trigger” for stimuli-responsive materials. In addition to being abundant, inexpensive, nontoxic and environmentally benign, it does not accumulate in a system upon repeated cycles. They have explored and invented innovative methods to use carbon dioxide-switchable technology to address practical problems, including recent work on developing carbon dioxide-switchable materials for water treatment technologies. 

For these and other projects, the successful integration and implementation of their research within existing Canadian infrastructure and industry remains a key challenges and can only be achieved through interdisciplinary research.  

“Our research thrives because all four of us realize that we are not as capable individually as we are as a team. For our society to move towards a sustainable future, we need to abandon traditional academic silos and tackle these problems together,” says Dr. Champagne. 

For more information on the award, visit the NSERC website


Dealing with the absurdity of human existence in the face of converging catastrophes


[Human eye]
Human self awareness is an evolutionary outcome, but where has it brought us? (Photo by: Avantgarde Concept/Unsplash)

Homo sapiens means wise human, but the name no longer suits us. As an evolutionary biologist who writes about Darwinian interpretations of human motivations and cultures, I propose that at some point we became what we are today: Homo absurdus, a human that spends its whole life trying to convince itself that its existence is not absurd.

As French philosopher Albert Camus put it: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” Thanks to this entrenched absurdity, the 21st century is riding on a runaway train of converging catastrophes in the Anthropocene.

Discovery of self

Theodosius Dobzhansky. (Wikicommons)
Theodosius Dobzhansky. (Wikicommons)

The critical juncture in the lineage toward Homo absurdus was described by evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “A being who knows that he will die arose from ancestors who did not know.” But evolution at some point also built into this human mind a deeply ingrained sentiment — that one has not just a material life (the physical body), but also a distinct and separate mental life (the inner self).

Human self-awareness led to the evolution of cognitive skills that were game-changers for gene transmission success. In our degree of endowment for these skills, our ancestors had the edge over all other hominids.

But the trade-off for this was self-impermanence anxiety — a recurrent fear that, in bringing eventual material death, time inevitably also annihilates all that one has done and all that one has been, and that soon it will be as though one had never existed at all.

Buffering for a troubled mind

However, natural selection also gave our ancestors primal impulses that served to buffer the worry of self-impermanence. These involve two novel and uniquely human fundamental drives: escape from self and extension of self.

Both are reflected in a prescient passage from the great Russian author, Leo Tolstoy:

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.”

Extension of self — “connecting the finite with the infinite” — involves what I call legacy drive: the desire to leave something appreciable behind that will endure beyond mortal existence.

Delusions of symbolic immortality involve three principal domains:

Parenthood: Shaping the minds of offspring to mirror the defining characteristics of one’s own selfhood (i.e. values, beliefs, attitudes, conscience, ego, skills, virtues, etc.);

Accomplishment: Earning recognition, status, or fame through talents or deeds that evoke admiration, trust, respect, or astonishment from others;

Identifying with or belonging to something larger-than-self: Membership or belief in a particular cultural world view, one based, for example, on concepts like patriotism, political ideology or religiosity/spiritualism.

Escape from self

For those less driven to produce a legacy, there is escape from self — Tolstoy’s “not seeing the infinite.” Most commonly, this is achieved through distractions, deployed through what I call leisure drive, an intrinsic disposition to be easily drawn to indulgence in opportunities for enjoyment.

Typically, these involve motivations that hack into the brain’s pleasure modules and have deep evolutionary roots associated with meeting core needs (e.g. survival, social affiliation, mating, endearment, kinship) that rewarded ancestral gene transmission success.

Modern domains of leisure drive are manifested in many cultural norms and products designed to trigger these pleasure modules — like toys, stories, games, aesthetics, social entertainment, consumerism, humour, recreational sex, yoga, meditation, inebriation and psychedelics.

The essential consequence of these distractions lies in arresting the mind firmly in the immediate present, thus temporarily but effectively shielding it from the dread of “the infinite,” wherein the self ceases to be.

For some, placing the mind firmly in the present may be accomplished by simply keeping busy with purposeful toil or mundane routine. As American philosopher Eric Hoffer put it: “A busy life is the nearest thing to a purposeful life.”

Work hard, play hard

The delusions of legacy drive and the distractions of leisure drive both help to mitigate the worry of self-impermanence. Strong selection for these drives thus propelled copies of our ancestors’ genes into future generations.

But self-impermanence anxiety has always lurked stubbornly beneath the surface, repeatedly demanding more and better delusions and distractions. And so, from a long history of striving for an untroubled mind, the effects of natural selection ramped up in momentum, I suggest, like a runaway train.

These drives to work hard and play even harder have fuelled the frenzied and relentless march of progress that we call civilization. With this, our cultural evolution has generated a large menu of available delusions for chasing after legacy, and distractions for chasing after leisure. And this has given us a world of environmental catastrophes that are annihilating other species and their habitats at an unprecedented rate.

Sustained genetic selection for legacy and leisure drives then has generated two dire consequences for humanity: A civilization now moving ever faster toward collapse on a global scale, and an evolved psychology that is now breeding an escalation of human despair — anxiety disorders, depression and suicide.

In other words, the growing demands of these drives (resulting from biological evolution) are starting to exceed the supply rate of available domains (generated by cultural evolution) for satisfying them. It becomes harder and harder, therefore, to meet an ever-increasing need for distractions and delusions, including those needed to buffer the mounting “eco-anxiety” from living in a collapsing civilization.

Living with Homo absurdus

How can we manage our human predicament, now that we are Homo absurdus?

I have suggested that a new model for cultural evolution might come to our rescue involving a kind of biosocial management, based on facilitating and implementing a deeper and more broadly public understanding of, and empathy for, the evolutionary roots of human motivations, especially those associated with our responses to self-impermanence anxiety.

We must learn how to successfully regulate our frenetic drive to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd. And this requires that we at least understand how we came to be so driven.The Conversation


Lonnie Aarssen, is a Professor of Biology at Queen's University, where his teaching, writing and research focus is on ecology and evolution. He has published more than 180 articles in scientific journals, and is founder and editor of the open access journal, Ideas in Ecology and Evolution.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Forget smart cities (for a minute), we need to talk about smart farms

[Combine harvester]
With advances in agriculture technology, our food in Canada increasingly comes from industrial-scale factory farms. (Photo by: Scott Goodwill/Unsplash)

There’s a lot of talk about digital technology and smart cities, but what about smart farms? Many of us still have a romantic view of farmers surveying rolling hills and farm kids cuddling calves, but our food in Canada increasingly comes from industrial-scale factory farms and vast glass and steel forests of greenhouses.

[The Conversation]While the social and environmental consequences of agri-food industrialization are fairly well understood, issues around digital technology are now just emerging. Yet, technology is radically transforming farms and farming. And while different in scale and scope, technology is playing a growing role in small and organic farming systems as well.

In reality then, your friendly local farmer will soon spend as much time managing their digital data as they will their dairy herd. The milking apron is being replaced by the milking app.

The Canadian government is investing heavily in climate-smart and precision agricultural technologies (ag-tech). These combine digital tools such as GPS and sensors with automated machines like smart tractors, drones and robots in an attempt to increase farm profits while reducing pesticide and fertilizer use. GPS mapping of crop yields and soil characteristics help to cut costs and increase profits, so while seeds still grow in soil, satellites are increasingly part of the story. There’s no doubt that ag-tech may be promising for governments, investors and corporations, but the benefits are far less clear for farm owners and workers.

There is little research on the potential social impacts of ag-tech specifically, so a group of researchers at the University of Guelph conducted a study to figure out some of the likely impacts of the technological revolution in agriculture.

While changes in agriculture show promise for increasing productivity and profits and reducing pesticides and pollution, the future of farming is not all rosy.

Corporate control of many agricultural inputs — seeds, feed, fertilizers, machinery — is well documented. Agricultural land is also increasing in cost and farms are getting bigger and bigger. It is likely that digital agriculture will exacerbate these trends. We’re especially interested in what farm work will look like as the digital revolution unfolds.

Much of our vegetables are grown in vast glass and steel forests of greenhouses. (Photo by: Erwan Hesry/Unsplash)

Marginalized workers are set up to lose

While rising costs are always a concern for producers and consumers, we have two main concerns about how the digital revolution is changing farm work in particular.

First, who owns all of the data being produced in precision agriculture? Farm owners and workers produce data that has massive potential for commercial exploitation. However, just who gets to harvest the fruits of this digital data labour is unclear.

Should it flow to those who produce it? Should it be something that we own collectively? Unfortunately, if smart farms are anything like smart cities, then it looks like corporate control of data could tighten.

Second, it’s very likely that ag-tech will lead to an even more sharply divided labour force. So-called “high-skilled” managers trained in data management and analysis will oversee operations, while many ostensibly “lower-skilled” jobs are replaced. Remaining on-the-ground labourers will find themselves in working conditions that are increasingly automated, surveilled and constrained. For instance, in fruit and vegetable greenhouses inputs are increasingly being controlled remotely, but migrant workers still do much of the planting and harvesting by hand. And, they do so under conditions of severe physical and social immobility.

There is a wealth of research documenting the vulnerable position of migrant agricultural workers from coast to coast in Canada and elsewhere.

If we don’t direct it in a humane way, the digital revolution in agriculture is likely to heighten these vulnerabilities.

The agricultural system was built that way

Our food system is built on centuries of Indigenous land theft, dislocation and the suppression of Indigenous foodways while relying heavily on exploitable (Indigenous, migrant and racialized) labour. Across North America, farm workers have long been excluded from basic labour laws, legal status and the right to unionize.

And now, increased productivity often relies on increased exploitation - just ask anyone working in a FoxConn factory. As a result, our current food system is rife with exploitative practices, from production through to distribution, with racialized immigrants bearing the brunt.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that automation tends to negatively impact already marginalized workers.

The digital revolution in agriculture has a double edge. Smart farms bring promise, but automation in agricultural production and distribution will eliminate many jobs.

Our concern is that the suite of jobs that remain will only deepen economic inequities — with more privileged university graduates receiving the bulk of the well-paid work, while further stripping physical labourers of their power and dignity.

There is no magic pill, but our governments do have options. Policy and legislation can shift the path of ag-tech to better support vulnerable farm workers and populations. In doing so, the looming issue of land ownership and repatriation must be addressed in Canada, with Indigenous nations at the head of the table alongside marginalized workers and farmers. Supporting pathways to farming and permanent residency for migrant workers, as well as training for digital skill-building can help to close more immediate gaps.

We need to ready ourselves for how radical transformations in food production and distribution will impact land prices, property rights and working conditions. Our folksy view of farming is due for an update.The Conversation


Sarah Rotz is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and Planning at  Queen's University. Mervyn Horgan is a visiting fellow in the Department of Sociology at Yale University and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Guelph.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Major funding boost for two Queen’s-affiliated research institutions

SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network see funding increase of more than $12 million, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Sciences Initiatives fund.

Window on a Window to the Universe - An underwater camera mounted in the SNO+ (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) neutrino detector captures a snapshot image when the 12-metre diameter acrylic sphere is 85 per cent full. (Photo credit: Mark Chen, Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)

Seven of Canada’s leading and internationally renowned research facilities will receive a large funding boost of almost $40 million, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives (CFI MSI) fund.  Two of these national facilities, SNOLAB and the Canadian National Design Network, are affiliated with Queen’s and will be granted $12 million from the funds to continue their operations and contributions to leading-edge research.

Queen’s is affiliated with national research facilities that receive support thought the Major Science Initiatives fund:
The Canadian Cancer Trials Group
Canada’s National Design Network

Announced today by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, the funding is part of an additional $160 million for the CFI MSI included in last year’s federal budget. The new funding will support cutting-edge, collaborative, international research that is helping to power Canada’s scientific productivity and economic competitiveness.

“The Major Science Initiatives fund supports ongoing operations for a select group of national research facilities that serve as hubs for collaboration in research and innovation,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Through our leadership in these initiatives, such as SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network, researchers at Queen’s gain access to leading edge infrastructure – aiding them in addressing some of the most important issues facing society, such as advanced manufacturing, cancer treatment, and probing the deepest mysteries of the universe.”

Of the almost $40 million increase to seven of Canada’s research facilities, over $12 million will support Queen’s-affiliated SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network:

SNOLAB will receive almost $7 million in support of the lab’s continued operation. Located 2km below the surface, in the Vale Creighton Mine located near Sudbury, SNOLAB was born out of the Queen’s-led Sudbury Neutrino Observatory – for which Arthur McDonald was named co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics and winner of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. SNOLAB is one of only a handful of underground laboratories worldwide capable of supporting the current and future generations of subatomic and astroparticle physics experiments, including the search for Galactic dark matter and the study of neutrino properties and sources.

The work conducted as part of the SNO collaboration and, subsequently, at SNOLAB has led to groundbreaking results cementing Canada’s, and Queen’s, reputation as world leaders in the field.  Building on this history of success, Queen’s is home to Gilles Gerbier, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics. SNOLAB continues to attract top-flight scientific collaborations, including through the Queen’s-based Arthur B. McDonald Astroparticle Physics Research Institute.

Canada’s National Design Network (CNDN) managed by CMC Microsystems provides researchers with access to products and services for designing, prototyping and testing their ideas. The $5.3 million funding increase will continue to support researchers across the network by providing state-of-the-art commercial design tools, expertise and industrial connections for research and development in advanced smart technologies.

The long-term goal of the CNDN is to foster Canadian leadership in advanced technology manufacturing and establish Canada as a global technology leader. Queen’s works with CMC Microsystems to manage CFI funds granted to Queen’s as part of Canada’s National Design Network.

“The support of the Government of Canada through the CFI is critical to ensuring that these prominent research centres can continue to contribute to leading-edge discovery,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “The enhanced funding ensures consistency of operations of these facilities, allowing our researchers to focus on their important work.”

For more information on the CFI MSI, please visit the website.

Indigenous-led clean-energy projects could power reconciliation

Many remote Indigenous communities are not connected to the electrical grid and produce their own electricity using diesel generators. (Ocean Networks Canada/Flickr)

The federal government recently announced a $20 million initiative to reduce diesel dependency in up to 15 remote Indigenous communities. At first glance, the program seems like an exciting opportunity for these communities to achieve stable, reliable and affordable clean energy on their own terms.

About 250 remote communities are not connected to Canada’s electricity grid and rely on local, diesel-powered generators to produce electricity. But diesel delivery is expensive and unreliable (due in large part to weather), which translates to high costs for consumers. It is also a dirty fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, the defining challenge of our time.

Addressing climate change in Indigenous contexts requires leadership from Indigenous peoples, communities, organizations and governments. But more often than not, Indigenous knowledge-holders are ignored, dismissed and even undermined by governments in the development of national policies.

As a collaborative team of Indigenous and settler researchers studying reconciliation in the context of renewable energy through a program called “A SHARED Future” — we had questions about this initiative, and we’ve been able to ask them.

We have a rare opportunity to look inside this federal initiative during the development stage to evaluate what’s working (and what’s not) and provide real-time feedback to the federal public servants rolling it out. Our participatory action research has sought to inform the design, and will continue to track the initiative over the next three years. Our aim is to show how future federal initiatives could reflect Indigenous leadership from concept to implementation.

The backstory

Our research is currently guided by an Indigenous research advisory committee (Ken Paul from the Maliseet First Nation/Wolastoqwey Neqotkuk in New Brunswick, Diana Lewis from the Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, and Melissa Quesnelle Naatoi'Ihkpiakii from the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta), and we will seek additional members from the 15 communities eventually selected for funding.

Elder Barbara Dumont Hill leads a sunrise ceremony in the traditional territory of the Maliseet and Mi'kmaq. Heather Castleden/A SHARED Future

The foundation of our research lies in reconciliation between Indigenous and western knowledge systems. For example, we want to know what reconciliation looks like in the context of local-to-global demands for energy, and how we can work to repair historical energy injustices. We are also committed to examining Indigenous perspectives on any culturally relevant gender issues and impacts surrounding this initiative, as even the clean energy sector has inequities.

Help versus support?

In its announcement, the government noted that it wants to “help” and partner with Indigenous communities to build a cleaner energy future. We delve into whether this is an Indigenous-led initiative soliciting help, or simply another government-led program seeking validation.

In the context of Indigenous rights, sovereignty and self-determination, it’s important to know who designed the initiative, how it evolved, to what extent the eligibility criteria reflect Indigenous ways of knowing and expertise, and how the jury was selected to adjudicate the applications.

Perhaps most important, does this initiative truly reflect a nation-to-nation relationship in the spirit of truth, healing, reconciliation and calls to action?

Championing Indigenous-led clean energy

From coast to coast to coast, Indigenous communities in Canada are quickly becoming important leaders in the renewable energy sector.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are involved in, or own, more than 150 large-scale clean energy projects. Many are developing renewable energy programs to break free of colonial ties, move towards energy autonomy, establish more reliable energy systems and secure long-term financial benefits. The right kind of projects may help with broader calls for reconciliation and nation-to-nation building in this country.

We also know that governments have a “consistent pattern of failures in public-sector policy and project implementation.” Indeed, the western science community continues to have difficulty working with Indigenous knowledge-holders and valuing their knowledge systems in relation to other environmental issues such as water policy and management.

But there is strong evidence that Indigenous-led and Indigenous-created programs, whether government-supported or research-based, have a better chance of success when “helpers” get out of the driver’s seat.

New opportunities or same old, same old?

The announcement speaks of working together, partnership, collaboration and self-determination. But it does not use the language of reconciliation or rights, show that Indigenous peoples are driving the agenda or indicate to what extent the team behind the initiative strove to do things differently.

A SHARED Future: Four elements teaching from Algonquin Elder Barbara Dumont-Hill. Simon Brascoupé

From the first phase of our participant-observation research, we know, for example, that the initiative originally targeted all remote diesel-dependent communities, and that it will now only include remote Indigenous diesel-dependent communities.

This is certainly a step in the right direction — as it could begin to mend energy inequities — and it’s the outcome of an unusually long period of engagement and the interventions of Indigenous clean energy champions, our research team and others.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for action and accountability through transparency. Our analysis will look at how to make the processes behind this initiative fully transparent. For example, what went into NRCan’s decision to engage with the two not-for-profit collaborators, the Pembina Institute and the Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise (ICE SE)?

This research matters within the federal discourse of nation-to-nation relations because our future is uncertain, not just in terms of real reconciliation, but also in terms of the urgency needed to respond to the climate crisis.

As researchers, it’s important for us to understand how federal programs like this one can address the climate crisis and advance reconciliation. The right to self-determination — “nothing about us, without us” — is key to our analysis.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony is over

For the next phase, we’ll interview participating Indigenous community members, public servants, utilities, developers and not-for-profits involved in the development and roll-out of the Indigenous Off-Diesel Initiative. We want to understand the challenges and successes encountered in implementing clean energy projects, to what extent this work reflects a commitment to reconciliation and to what degree iterative feedback from our team and Indigenous community members is taken up, given this country’s colonial and bureaucratic structures.

The Government of Canada has expressed a clear desire to do things differently; it wants “innovative solutions to economic, environmental and social problems.” The funding for this initiative falls under the terms and conditions of Impact Canada, led by the Privy Council Office. Naturally, the Privy Council Office is watching the roll-out of this experiment that highlights partnership and collaboration with Indigenous clean-energy champions … and so are we.

Derek Kornelsen of Rootstalk Resources contributed to this article.

____________________________________________________________________________The Conversation

Heather Castleden is the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Research for Health, Environments, and Communities and an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Department of Public Health Sciences.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Personal truths exposed

  • Biba Esaad
    Biba Esaad's thesis work "explores the way in which materiality (and subsequently, the meaning) of historic mediums, like oil paint, can be altered depending on their built environment, surrounding installation and more broadly speaking, aesthetic and spatial relationship."
  • Claudia Zilstra
    Through costume-making, Claudia Zilstra "explores her reproductive health, and what it means to be feminine in society today."
  • Jessica Lanziner
    Jessica Lanziner's thesis work "investigates the way that the abandoned becomes reclaimed through the passage of time and the process of decay."
  • Makayla Thompson
    Makayla Thompson's art "depicts scenes of peaceful animals attempting to live among the only species which destroys on such a large scale, knowingly, and with little to no regard for consequence - humans."

The culmination of years of study, creativity, and hard work is on display this week as the graduating class from the Fine Art (Visual Art) program hosts its annual year-end exhibition.

Ontario Hall has been transformed into an art gallery for Exposed: BFA 19, featuring the work of 24 graduating students. The exhibition started on Sunday, April 21 and continues to Saturday, April 27.

There is an impressive range and depth of artwork on display throughout the historic building, from multimedia installations and paintings to sculpture and prints, and much more.

The exhibition is open to the public and provides a temporary escape right on campus.

Exposed is open 9 am-4 pm daily. The closing reception will be held on Saturday, April 27 at 6 pm in Ontario Hall.

To learn more about the exhibition and the artists, visit the Exposed: BFA 19 website.

More information about the Fine Art (Visual Art) program is available online.

Cities and countries aim to slash plastic waste within a decade

Plastic trash on a beach]
Volunteers work to clean up trash, including plastic bottles, on a beach. (Photo: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash)

If all goes well, 2030 will be quite a special year.

Global and local community leaders from more than 170 countries have pledged to “significantly reduce” the amount of single-use plastic products by 2030. Success would result in significantly less plastic pollution entering our oceans, lakes and rivers.

[The Conversation]Today, societies around the world have a love affair with disposable plastics. Just like some love stories, this one has an unhappy ending that results in plastic bags, straws and takeout containers strewn about the global environment.

As researchers who study the contamination and effects of plastic pollution on wildlife, it would be nice if by 2030 we no longer heard about plastics showing up in the stomachs of dead whales, littering the beaches of distant islands and contaminating tap water and seafood.

It is time for some good news about the environment, including stories about how cities and countries are managing plastics and other waste materials in more sustainable ways, and how children will have cleaner beaches to play on.

No reason to wait

Scientists have known about plastic pollution in our oceans for more than four decades. It is pervasive in rivers, lakes and soils too. Plastic pollution knows no boundaries, with small bits of plastic found from the equator to the poles and even on the remote slopes of the French Pyrenees mountains.

Plastic waste damages ecosystems, smothers coral reefs and fills the bellies of sea life. In the absence of action, the amount of plastic waste produced globally is predicted to triple between 2015 and 2060, to between 155 and 265 million tonnes per year.

As a welcome response, global leaders have decided to act. At the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March, environment ministers from around the world signed a voluntary commitment to make measurable reductions in single-use plastic products, including straws, shopping bags and other low-value plastic items that are sent to landfill after being used once.

Similar goals to deal with plastic pollution have been introduced by municipal, provincial, federal and regional governments across the globe. Non-profit organizations and industry leaders are making efforts to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. For example, Ocean Conservancy is uniting citizens and organizations around the world in cleanups to meet their goal of an ocean free of plastics by 2030, and Unilever has pledged to use 100 per cent recyclable packaging by 2025.

Canada joins the movement

Canada introduced the Ocean Plastics Charter at the G7 summit in 2018, committing nations to work with industry to make all plastics reusable, recyclable or recoverable by 2030. That means sending no plastic waste to landfill.

Vancouver aims to be a zero-waste city by 2040. Although the city has reduced the mass of waste going to landfill by 23 per cent since 2008, it still has a long way to go.

Ontario also has its sights on being waste-free by developing a circular economy, which means keeping materials in use for as long as possible. The province aims to cut the amount of waste sent to landfills in half by 2030, a reduction of 4.5 million tonnes, through reuse and recycling.

To propel Ontario into action, Ian Arthur, the member of the Ontario provincial parliament for Kingston and the Islands introduced a private member’s bill in March to eliminate Ontario’s use of non-recyclable single-use plastic products such as straws, coffee cups and plastic cutlery, which ultimately end up in landfills. These plastics do not feed into a circular economy.

In addition, school children in Ontario are working towards collecting 10,000 signatures on petitions to ban single-use plastics in the province.

Canadians would like to see more action against plastic waste. According to a recent poll, 90 per cent of Canadians were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the environmental impact of plastic waste, and 82 per cent thought government should do more to reduce plastic waste.

Bye bye plastic waste

Our research, and the research of others, has found that single-use plastic products litter our beaches and coastlines, small pieces of plastics contaminate our Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean, and microplastics are present in our sport fish and drinking water.

Ambitious global, regional and local collaborations are sorely needed to truly realize these goals. It’s time to commit to ending the love affair with disposable plastics.

Individual action does work. Quench your need for caffeine by using a reusable mug. Hydrate with water from a durable and refillable bottle. Purchase groceries that come in containers that can be reused or recycled. Plan your kid’s birthday party and your work meetings without using disposable single-use plastics.

A decade of positive habits could lead to a future where plastic is no longer waste, but valued as a material that can be reused and recycled — shifting our current paradigm to a more sustainable one that lasts far beyond 2030.The Conversation


Chelsea Rochman is an assistant professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto.

Diane Orihel is an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and Queen's National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Mapping the connection gaps

[Team K-Connect]
A team of Queen's students – Xavier McMaster-Hubner (Computer Science), Sam Alton (ECEi), Erik Koning (ECE), Raed Fayad (ECEi), and Nathaniel Pauzé (ECE) – recently earned a top prize at the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge in Kingston.

Weak or unreliable wireless data connectivity is an ongoing frustration for consumers and businesses in Eastern Ontario. Imagine yourself committing to a multi-year wireless service contract only to discover that coverage is unreliable at home or at work, the areas where you spend most of your time. Regulators also need to know for sure where service gaps most need to be filled so they can prioritize new locations for cell tower permits.

A team of Queen’s students has come up with a novel way for consumers and regulators to more easily understand where there are gaps in wireless connectivity.  

Raed Fayad (Electrical and Computer Engineering – Innovation Stream), Sam Alton (Electrical and Computer Engineering – Innovation Stream), Nathaniel Pauzé (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Xavier McMaster-Hubner (Computer Science) developed a proof-of-concept system to measure varying cellular data signal strength across Kingston and to display those data on a visual heat map. Users would be able to view the heat map online to see how reliable their cellular signal would be depending on where they are in the city.

The group came together as team K-Connect at the QHacks hackathon at Queen’s in early February.

“We used the Post-it note brainstorming method we learned in our APSC 200 Engineering Design and Practice course for our idea generation phase at QHacks,” says Pauzé. “One of our strongest ideas involved collecting Wi-Fi signal strength data inside the new Mitchell Hall building to find the best location to work on our project. We decided to scale-up our idea by collecting cell signal strength across campus. We moved forward with this project choice because we saw the usefulness of the data our product would collect.”

The idea earned the team one of two spots in the City of Kingston Mayor’s Innovation Challenge pitch competition a week later. They presented to a panel of municipal and academic leaders at Kingston City Hall, earning a top prize in that competition. (The other winner was Blackrose Technology led by Erik Koning (Electrical and Computer Engineering), who proposed using drones to monitor environmental threats or to help in search-and-rescue). Each team earned $4,000 in seed funding for their ventures and admission to the 2019 QICSI start-up accelerator program.

“Two members of our group are considering enrolling in the QICSI program,” says McMaster-Hubner. “We have options to further develop K-Connect, but our current situation for the summer makes it very difficult to try and prepare or do anything until we are back together as a group.”

This article was first published on the website of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

A new honour for John Meisel

  • John Meisel Gate presentation
    Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf and Dean of Arts and Science Barbara Crow unveil the plaque honouring Professor Emeritus Meisel. (University Communications)
  • John Meisel Gate presentation
    Professor John Meisel speaks after the unveiling of the John Meisel Gate, during a ceremony held Monday, April 15 in the Peter Lougheed Room of Richardson Hall. (University Communications)
  • John Meisel Gate presentation
    The newly-named John Meisel Gate is located between Dunning Hall and Richardson Hall. It is named after Professor John Meisel, who arrived at Queen's in 1949. (University Communications)
  • John Meisel Gate presentation
    Dean of Arts and Science Barbara Crow speaks about the influence and impact that Professor John Meisel had on Canadian politics throughout his multifaceted career. (University Communications)
  • John Meisel Gate presentation
    Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf displays the plaque that will be placed by the gate between Dunning and Richardson halls. (University Communications)

Every day, hundreds of Queen’s students, faculty, and staff pass through the black, wrought iron gate located between Dunning Hall and Richardson Hall.

Long a landmark of the university campus, the gate has never had a name – at least until now.

On Monday, April 15, Queen’s dedicated the gate to one of the university’s all-time great professors – John Meisel. During a ceremony at Richardson Hall Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf and Dean of Arts and Science Barbara Crow unveiled a plaque honouring Professor Emeritus Meisel, who first arrived at Queen’s in 1949 and would go on to become one of Canada’s most influential political scientists.

“The courtyard, bordered by Richardson, Dunning, and Mackintosh-Corry halls, has long been one of my favourite places on campus, and over the years the gate itself has acted as a symbolic entrance to the social sciences here at Queen’s,” Principal Woolf says. “I can’t think of a more suitable tribute to Professor Meisel than to name the gate in his honour for all he has done for Queen’s, the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Department of Political Studies.”

A pioneer in research into political behaviour Professor Meisel also wrote widely on Canadian elections, political parties, Quebec politics, science policy, and cultural policy. He was the founding editor of two prestigious academic journals, the Canadian Journal of Political Science and the International Political Science Review. From 1980 to 1983 he was chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and later served as president of the Royal Society of Canada.

His contributions to Canada were recognized in 1989, when he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and again in 1999, when he was promoted to Companion, the highest grade in the Order.

In 2017, Professor Meisel was recognized by the Department of Political Studies with the establishment of the John Meisel Lecture Series. Each lecture addresses a timely political controversy and is followed by a town hall-style discussion that is open to both the Queen’s and Kingston community. 

To learn more about Professor Emeritus Meisel, watch this recent video interview.



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