Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Handout

When it comes to public policy discourse, Canada is snoozing and it is losing, according to a prominent businessman and philanthropist.

“We fell asleep on updating our public policy thinking over the last 30 years,” says Jim Balsillie, former chairman and co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion (now BlackBerry Ltd.). “In the central issues of our times, our policy community needs help in upping our game.”

To that end, Balsillie, has put his money and his name where his mouth is: The new Balsillie Prize for Public Policy is worth $60,000 to the author of the book judged to be the best Canadian book in that non-fiction category. The Writers’ Trust of Canada has announced the four short-listed titles for the inaugural annual award.

Story continues below advertisement

Among them is Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic, which was written by Montreal-based Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard and published by Random House Canada. “Wouldn’t that have been a nice policy discussion to have five years ago rather than last year?” asks Balsillie.

According to the three-person Balsillie Prize jury, Neglected No More is “an urgent, powerful appeal to the nation and a blueprint for treating all seniors with the dignity, respect, and compassion they deserve.”

The other finalists for the Balsillie Prize are Toronto’s Dan Breznitz, for Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World (Oxford University Press); Victoria’s Gregor Craigie, for On Borrowed Time: North America’s Next Big Quake (Goose Lane Editions); and Vancouver’s Jody Wilson-Raybould, for Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power (HarperCollins).

The first Balsillie Prize will be revealed Nov. 24.

In selecting the finalists, the jury composed of author and physician Samantha Nutt, policy expert Taki Sarantakis and digital strategist Scott Young considered 69 titles submitted by 34 publishers. Each finalist is guaranteed $5,000.

The $60,000 grand prize is $10,000 more than the amount handed to the yearly winner of the Donner Prize, which, since 1998, has recognized excellence in public policy writing by Canadian authors. Asked why a second prize in the same field was needed, the namesake benefactor suggested there can never be too much discourse on the subject.

“Public policy essentially shapes everything in our lives,” says Balsillie, chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators. “Either you shape it or it shapes you.”

Story continues below advertisement

In 2018, Balsillie appeared before a House of Commons committee on misuse of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm that improperly obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users. He was part of a group who told MPs that Facebook and Google represented a new form of “surveillance capitalism” and called for more robust control over the U.S.-based web giants.

“Technology may not be everything,” Balsillie says, “but if you don’t understand it, you don’t understand how it’s shaping discourse on climate, security, politics, sovereignty and economics.”

Public policy titles that are among Balsillie’s favourites are Matt Stoller’s Goliath, Joe Stiglitz’s People, Power and Profits, William Burns’s The Back Channel and Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

And the book he keeps coming back to is Donald J. Savoie’s Democracy in Canada, from 2019. “Fundamentally, he writes about the disintegration of our institutions and why our institutions are eroding,” Balsillie says. “I would agree with him, but I also say that not only do we need to revitalize our existing institutions, we need new ones.”

To inspire change and promote the most discussion, books should transcend public policy circles. Classic game-changers of the genre include Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, from 1965, which altered the auto industry. Nader was inspired by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which highlighted the dangers of the pesticide DDT to the environment.

“If a book stays in a narrow, academic world, then its probability of driving political change is low,” Balsillie says. “You want crossover books, and that’s why I’m supporting them. That’s the core motive.”

Story continues below advertisement

Expand your mind and build your reading list with the Books newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies