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The 2021 Donner Prize for best public-policy book by a Canadian will be awarded on May 31 in Toronto. Four of the five authors shortlisted for the $50,000 prize responded to The Globe and Mail’s questions on the rise of populism; they commented on the mistrust in government and institutions that divisive populist leaders tend to generate.

Dan Breznitz

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Courtesy of Oxford University Press

Chair of innovation studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, nominated for Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World

“The current wave of populism is mainly fear mongering and burning down the house. But if you look at history, there have been other kinds of populism. Louisiana’s Huey Long, for example, was a left-wing populist member of the Democratic Party who attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for not being radical enough about building what we now call welfare institutions.

“If not for Long, the New Deal would not be what we know of it today. It would have been mild, and it would not have been such a positive change for American society.

“Because people are attracted to populism today, it behooves us to offer not just grand visions – ‘Canada will be a green leader,’ whatever that means – but pragmatic visions on how our society will look better for everyone in 50 years and how we can build it.”

Mark Carney

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Former governor of the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, nominated for Value(s): Building a Better World for All

“Trust is the glue of our citizenship. Fostering it must reach beyond partisanship. Our institutions and leaders must serve all Canadians and earn their trust every day. So how can they? Trust demands competence – to be relentless in implementation and to deliver reliably on expectations. Trust is built on transparency and accountability.

“At a time when some foster division, fear and distrust in ‘others,’ our institutions must look like the Canadians they represent and engage with all Canadians to understand their perspectives. And trust requires humility.

“Being humble doesn’t mean being passive. Humility means planning for things that can go wrong – like financial crises, pandemics and wars. Humility means setting ambitious goals, knowing that we need to work together to achieve them. And humility means never being satisfied with all that we’ve achieved, but knowing that, by staying true to our values, by trusting each other, we can build an even better Canada for all.”

Stephanie Carvin

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Professor of international relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, nominated for Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security

“One of the key underlying arguments of my book is that national security threats often benefit and thrive from fear, which is a product of and in turn contributes to mistrust in our government institutions. However, if the years since 9/11 have taught us anything, it is that national security cannot, and should not, be the frame through which we seek to solve problems of trust.

“Instead, longer lasting solutions must be grounded in community empowerment and social capital, supported with government intervention. Research on disasters shows that empowered communities are more resilient, better placed to deal with trauma, have a better sense of community, more citizen participation, social embeddedness and attachment to place.

“This means, perhaps counterintuitively, the responses of our national security institutions need to be grounded in empathy for the communities that are experiencing threats. Empathy – being aware of, understanding and appreciating the ordeal of others as they experience the impact of threat-related activity – highlights the need to robustly tackle these challenges, but to do so in a way that minimizes distrust.”

André Picard

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Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Health reporter and columnist for The Globe and Mail, nominated for Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic

“In health care, mistrust has real, harmful (and sometimes fatal) consequences, both individually and collectively. We saw this on a grand scale during the pandemic. Why did the U.S. have 2.5 times more COVID-19 deaths per capita than Canada (40,000 vs. one million)? Largely because many Americans doubted the value of vaccines, rejected public-health advice and embraced partisanship. They lost faith in government, and that spilled over to science, the media, corporations and more; anyone with expertise really.

“Canadians were a little less cynical and a little more trusting, but their frustrations are spilling over too. People feel public institutions routinely fail them. In Canada, millions of people don’t even have a family doctor, the most basic form of health care, and when they turn to the emergency room, they wait for countless hours. And during COVID-19, long-term care homes, which are supposed to protect society’s most vulnerable, became slaughterhouses of neglect. If we want to restore trust, we need institutions (and their leaders) to be worthy of our trust.”

The fifth shortlisted book for the 2021 Donner Prize is Indigenomics: Taking a Seat at the Economic Table by Carol Anne Hilton.

The interviews have been edited and condensed.

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