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John Ibbitson is a columnist with the Globe and Mail. His book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, co-written with Darrell Bricker, is shortlisted for the Donner Prize.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson, a journalist with The Globe and Mail, is among the finalists for the prestigious Donner Prize, which recognizes the best public policy book by a Canadian. Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, co-written by Ibbitson and pollster Darrell Bricker, is one of the five shortlisted books announced on Wednesday for the $50,000 prize.


“This book is a timely corrective to the general inattention to declining global population,” reads the jury citation for Empty Planet, which calls the book “original, challenging, engagingly written” and says Bricker and Ibbitson’s thesis has important policy implications, “especially with future immigration policies, as well as long-term economic forecasting.”

The other books on the shortlist include Living with China: A Middle Power Finds Its Way by Wendy Dobson, a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. In its citation, the jury calls Living with China an “au courant and informative look at a critical issue” – given China’s emerging global role and its current fraught relationship with Canada.

The Wealth of First Nations by Thomas Flanagan, senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, also appears on the shortlist. The jury calls the book “a potentially ground-breaking contribution from both a statistical and policy perspective” when it comes to the key issue of improving the economic and social well-being of First Nations.

Breakdown: The Pipeline Debate and the Threat to Canada’s Future by former TransCanada Corporation executive Dennis McConaghy is recognized as a well-researched and balanced history of four pipelines plans, the jury says, addressing the political decisions that have resulted in many projects being significantly delayed. “It is a necessary contribution to the discussion of the perspectives of Albertans and of resource developers generally,” the citation reads, outlining “several pragmatic strategies to help Canada find a way through these issues.”

The final book on the shortlist is The Tangled Garden: A Canadian Cultural Manifesto for the Digital Age by former CBC executive Richard Stursberg with Stephen Armstrong. The book outlines threats to Canadian culture in the new digital environment, specifically from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. The jury says Stursberg “paints a very dim portrait of the status quo and conveys a sense of urgent need for policy action to level the playing field.”

In Wednesday’s announcement, jury chair, former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, says the shortlist reflects issues that until very recently were centre stage in Canada’s national dialogue and, given Canada’s history, will be again. “These books are exemplars of the goals of the Donner Prize, presenting sound and original research and analysis, in a manner that is accessible to a general audience.”

The 2019/2020 shortlist titles were chosen from a field of 74 submissions. The gala awards presentation, usually held in the spring, will be postponed until the fall due to the current situation regarding COVID-19.

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