Books

$50K Donner Prize, which honours the best book on public policy, reveals 2018-2019 shortlist

Five Canadian books have been shortlisted for the Donner Prize, an annual $50,000 award honouring the best book on public policy.
These are the finalists of the 2018-2019 Donner Prize. (Donner Prize)

Five Canadian books — including one about campus dissent that ignited protests at Dalhousie University over its discussion of blackface — have been shortlisted for the Donner Prize, an annual $50,000 award honouring the best book on public policy.

The five shortlisted books are:

  • University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate & Dissent on Campus by Peter MacKinnon
  • Excessive Force: Toronto's Fight to Reform City Policing by Alok Mukherjee with Tim Harper
  • Basic Income for Canadians: The Key to a Healthier, Happier and More Secure Life for All by Evelyn L. Forget
  • Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak
  • Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens: From First Contact to Canada 150 and Beyond by Thomas J. Courchene

MacKinnon's book, University Commons Divided, looks at how debates unfold on Canadian university campuses.

The book led to calls for the author to step down as interim president of Dalhousie University for writing that blackface "has a long history and one frequently, though not always, viewed as racist."

This is from the third chapter of the book, in which MacKinnon writes about three controversial Halloween parties where white university students faced what he felt was disproportional backlash for wearing costumes depicting people of other races.

Dalhousie students argued that the book expresses "racist perspectives" and "oppressive rhetoric," which led MacKinnon to respond, "I do not condone blackface. I regret any interpretation to the contrary, and the distress it has caused."

The Donner Prize jury called their selection "a book that will inspire debate."

Mukherjee's shortlisted book Excessive Force, co-authored with Toronto Star columnist Tim Harper, reviews his 10 years as the civilian overseer of the Toronto Police force. His book covers the shooting of Sammy Yatim and the arrests of over 1,000 protestors at the G20 summit in June of 2010, ultimately arguing that police need training to rely less on lethal force, especially when dealing with people in distress. The jury called it "an excellent and timely book."

Economist Forget's shortlisted book, Basic Income for Canadians, examines basic income programs tested in Manitoba in the 1970s and Ontario in 2017. She makes what the jury called a "compelling and enlightening case" for a national-wide initiative that she argues would improve the health, well-being and financial resilience of Canadians.

Toronto academics Desrochers, a geography professor who studies food and energy policy, and Szurmak, a doctoral candidate and research services and liaison librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga, go against the grain in their examination of climate change science in Population Bombed!, arguing that overpopulation will not lead to climate change catastrophe.

The authors argue that population growth and increased use of carbon fuels has led to economic prosperity, which will lead to creative approaches to sustainable practices in the future.

The jury said the book offered a "provocative contribution to the policy debate."

Finally, Queen's University economics professor Courchene's book, Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens, looks at the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations over the past 150 years.

The jury described it as a "fresh policy prescription" that "works to reconcile two competing goals: recognizing Indigenous rights and promoting Canadian economic and resource development."

The five person jury — chaired by David A. Dodge who is an advisor at the corporate law firm Bennett Jones — selected the shortlist from 70 submissions. The other jurors are McGill University economist Jean-Marie Dufour, former deputy minister to the B.C. premier Brenda Eaton, who now sits on the boards of a variety of non-profit, private and crown corporations, policy researcher Jennifer A. Jeffs and former Nova Scotia politician Peter Nicholson.

The winner will be announced on May 1, 2019 at an event hosted by former CBC broadcaster Amanda Lang. The remaining finalists will each receive $7,500.

With files from Jon Tattrie, David Burke of CBC News and Brett Bundale of The Canadian Press.

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