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IOG Graduates the 20th Cohort of the Executive Leadership Program

1 minute read

Thursday, June 13th is a milestone achievement for IOG: we graduated the 20th cohort of our Executive Leadership Program. Mr. Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, left the graduates with resonating food-for-thought: choose a chair that you love and make a difference on the lives it impacts. This is what ELP is all about. Since 2012, many inspiring leaders and change-makers have come through our doors for training and left with so much more:

  • A network of new colleagues, friends, and mentors to support their leadership journey;
  • an appreciation and love for Canada’s North and the governance challenges these communities face;
  • a deeper understanding self, their leadership style, and their goals;
  • a wealth of stories and advice from experienced public servants who once wore the same shoes;
  • a greater sense of preparedness for working in the public service in an increasingly digital world; and
  • a sense of excitement to further their careers using their moral compass and core values as a guide.

Over 300 executives from across Canada now have a more nuanced perspective on what it means to be a leader in the 21st Century. Cheers to you all and enjoy these pictures from the celebration.

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Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination at the Institute on Governance

5 minute read

By: Ross Holden, VP of Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination

For millennia, people named the months after features they associated with them, such as the colour of a full moon. Many of these names are very similar across the northern hemisphere, such as that for the golden moon we see at the vernal equinox in September (“Harvest Moon”), which in early agrarian societies signaled that it was time to harvest the crops. June’s pinkish full moon (commonly called the “Rose Moon” in Europe) coincides with the ripening of wild strawberries, and because of this combination of colour and association with food, June is called “Strawberry Month” by many of the Indigenous peoples of North America. So it is my pleasure, on this the occasion of the Institute on Governance’s Ode’ imini-Giizis newsletter (the Anishinaabe Ode’ imini, meaning “strawberry,” and Giizis, for “month”) to introduce myself, and re-introduce the IOG’s aspirations for supporting Indigenous governance and self-determination.

In Canada we associate the word “Indigenous” with the people whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of North America – First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Through the work I’ve done with Indigenous peoples over the past two decades, I’m often asked if I am Indigenous myself. The answer is No. In fact, I’m a quintessential British mutt, of Celtic and Saxon extraction, so I am not indigenous to Turtle Island, but rather to a much smaller group of islands across the Atlantic Ocean, in the northwestern corner of Europe. The nest question is invariably: Why do I do what I do?

Part of the reason has to do with my upbringing. My father, a civil engineer by training, had a distinguished career working with First Nation communities building bridges (literally, and figuratively), roads, schools, and water treatment plants. Because of this, growing-up, my sister and I had the unique privilege of spending more than one summer vacation in a remote, fly-in community; fishing, playing, fishing, eating, and fishing some more. Needless to say, our annual back-to-school “What did you do over the summer vacation?” spiels usually stole the show. It was also not unusual for my father to invite a Chief over for dinner when in town, and there I would sit at the table, wide-eyed and open-eared as they discussed the issues of the day and the challenges his community faced (back then they were all male), while I tried to think of some way to avoid eating my peas. This early, uncommon, but enlightening exposure to Indigenous culture and reality made an indelible imprint on me and has informed my worldview ever since.

The other reason I do what I do is that, given our shameful history of colonialism and all that it entails, I am of the view that Canada’s social, economic and moral success as a nation is contingent upon reconciliation between Indigenous peoples, and our broader society. Unless and until the historic wrongs inflicted upon Indigenous peoples are addressed, until they are able to exercise their inherent right to self-determination, until they enjoy the same standard of living that the rest of us take for granted, and until they have re-taken their seat at the highest levels of decision-making in the land, we as a country will continue to flounder in the mediocrity that has held us back from greatness for decades. This is the most important challenge facing Canada, so for the sake of all our children and grandchildren, I feel compelled to do whatever small part I can to help right past wrongs and set us on a good path. Which brings me to the work IOG has done – and will continue to do – on Indigenous governance and self-determination.

The IOG is proud of its track record in supporting Indigenous governance, self-determination, community wellbeing, and renewed nation-to-nation relationships. Dating back to its inception in the early 1990s, the IOG has a long history of research and publication on such diverse topics as First Nations and Métis governance, relationships between First Nations and the forest industry, urban Indigenous peoples, potable water in First Nations communities, Indigenous community economic development, self-government, and nation-to-nation relationships.

Since the release of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada in 2015, the IOG has delivered a number of courses to federal and provincial public servants grounded in TRC Report Call to Action #57. In 2017, the IOG and Canadians for a New Partnership convened the cross-Canada Characteristics of a Nation-to-Nation Relationship Dialogue Series, which brought together First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and federal representatives to articulate their perspectives on four themes: Nation Building and Re- Building, Jurisdiction, Intergovernmental Fiscal Relationships, and Wealth Creation. In 2018, the IOG partnered with the First Nations Financial Management Board (FMB) to develop the Self-Determination and Governance framework to support the transition out of the Indian Act to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. More recently, the IOG organized and convened a workshop that brought together experts in Indigenous Knowledge, and members of the federal science community, to explore the practice and policy of interweaving Indigenous and western scientific methodologies.

Moving forward, the IOG will continue to act as an objective, third-party intermediary between the Crown and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples by bringing to bear an extensive network of subject matter and technical experts, Elders and others to facilitate dialogue, learning, capacity-building and policy development, all in support of reconciliation, a renewed nation-to-nation relationship, and self-determination. I feel honoured to be part of that effort. For more information about what IOG is doing in the field of Indigenous governance and self-determination, or if you’re interested in supporting the IOG’s efforts, I encourage you to contact me at And don’t forget to look to the sky early in the morning of June 17 to see the Strawberry Moon, and a few days later, on June 21 the summer solstice, to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.

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Civil Society and Government in Canada: rebuilding social cohesion one conversation at a time

4 minute read

By: Rhonda Moore, Senior Advisor of Science and Innovation

In March, IOG informed you of the launch of a policy project to examine the relationship between civil society and government. At the time, IOG identified a number of challenges facing civil society, and which negatively impact the relationship between civil society and government.

The IOG has now hosted three of four planned dialogue sessions. The process for each session is the same: a group of representatives from civil society and government meet to hear a panel of speakers – also a mix of civil society and government representatives – present perspectives on an aspect of the civil society – government relationship. The panel presentations are followed by a question and answer period. Speakers then join participants in small groups for discussion on three questions prepared by IOG staff which build in the theme of the session.

Collectively, the three dialogues have traversed a wide range of topics and a number of themes have emerged from the conversations. Broadly speaking these themes unpack the context in which Canadians live, the drivers by which the civil society – government relationship is changing, and the impact on social cohesion in Canada. For this purpose, social cohesion is defined as a common clarity of purpose held by both the government and civil society groups that work in partnership with the government to support the needs of citizens. This piece will focus on social media as a driver of change eroding social cohesion.

Social media – for this purpose includes the internet, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – has both enabled people to communicate differently, and to learn more about a broader range of topics at a faster pace than we may have ever thought possible.

The content of social media platforms presents Canadians with a paradigm shift in how we consume information and who provides it to us. Journalists, editors and publishers – the traditional gatekeepers of knowledge – now compete with anyone who has a viewpoint and wants to share it. The latter group are not bound by the same code of ethics or values in their conduct as professional journalists. As information consumers, Canadians have to learn how to sift through these vast amounts of information to discern what is accurate and what is not.

Second, social media platforms operate in a landscape that is largely unregulated and which does not abide by any collective ‘rules of engagement.’ As Sandra Robinson’s research (Carleton University) demonstrates, many social media platforms lack meaningful policies to prevent hate speech, bullying, and other activities that have significant and negative consequences. The legislation that guides our personal and professional face-to-face behaviours does not apply in some realms of the internet and social media.

Without regulation, the internet is akin to the ‘wild west’ where ‘anything goes’. The tension created in this unregulated space plays out in interactions between civil society and government, decreasing public trust and confidence in both parties about the other. These decreases in public trust and confidence create a sense – perceived or otherwise – that social cohesion is eroding.

Indeed, data from Ipsos Reid suggests that 47 percent of Canadians believe a highly digitized society will be one that is less connected. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Changes that will decrease connection between Canadians
Figure 2: Canadian views on the future

For example, in embracing the fourth industrial revolution, many private and nonprofit organizations developed online presences, and regularly engage their community via those means. Conversely, all levels of government have moved cautiously into this new realm, and remain latent adopters of social media technologies, creating a perception that they do not operate at the cutting edge of technology, nor are they deftly regulating these disruptive technologies and services.

Is Canada living through the “messy middle” of a period of significant change? Owing to the vast nature of the disruption, is it possible that the current “messy middle” in which we find ourselves is messier and longer than other more recent changes? This theory could explain the data in Figure 2, which suggests many Canadians struggle to see a positive future.

The final session in this four-part series will look to the future and discuss how to rebuild social cohesion through the broad themes of inclusion and diversity.

The last session in the series will take place at the IOG on 26 June, from 8:30 – 12. Spaces are still available. For more information about the upcoming event or to contribute to the discussion paper process, please contact Laura Edgar, Vice President, at or by phone at 613-562-0090 x EXT.

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A Man for Every Season: An Interview with Mr. Taleb Abidali, winner of the inaugural “Babylon Award of Excellence”

6 minute read

By: The Honourable Marie Poulin, Senior Project Manager

It is an honour to introduce Mr. Taleb Abidali, the first recipient of the “Babylon Award of Excellence”, which was awarded by the Ambassador of Iraq in Canada. Mr. Abidali, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who is the Principal of Cresco, a successful construction company in NS, spoke with the IOG’s Honourable Marie Poulin about his past, the award, and his hope for Iraq.

This award was developed by the former Canadian Ambassador of Iraq, H.E. Abdul Kareem Kaab, to recognize the accomplishments of Iraqi-Canadians as well as to appreciate their significant contributions to the prosperity of Canada and the well-being of the Canadian community. Mr. Abidali received the award because of his “personal growth and development” as well as the “significant impact and influence he’s had on the lives of others within his community and country at large,” as written by the Chair of the Selection Committee, Anu’a-Gheyle Solomon Azoh-Mbi, Cameroon High Commissioner to Canada.

Taleb Abidali was born in Iraq in 1946. Growing up in the Middle East with no money was a struggle for his family, but Mr Abidali always considered himself rich as he shared his up-bringing ‎with one brother and four sisters. As a teenager, he thrived in sports and won numerous awards for his accomplishments, including the 1500 metre dash. This instilled the competitive nature which drives him to this day to constantly push himself to achieve his goals.

Prior to settling in Canada, ‎Mr Abidali worked in Iraq as a physical education teacher and a school principal. After achieving great success as the owner of a construction company in Kuwait, he established a food production company in Turkey, with distribution throughout the Middle East. Motivated by the desire for something more, Mr. Abidali and his family moved to Halifax in 1992; he had little money and did not have a proficient knowledge of English. He joined the team at Cresco, and with his partner Hossein Mousari, over time he not only grew the‎ business into one of the region’s major developers, but also developed a reputation for loyalty, trust, and hard work.

Speaking over the phone, Taleb explained his decision to immigrate to Canada:

“When war broke out in Kuwait, I was looking for a safe place. So I applied to come to Canada. I had a great feeling about this country, based on what I had heard; what I had read. There were other opportunities in Germany and in England. I chose Canada. And my wife Kabila supported me. She is a dentist. She knows the importance of safety. We find that Canada is a home for immigrants. It’s a big home, a beautiful home.

“I was at a coffee shop in Egypt, a few years ago. There was a picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the counter. I asked to see the manager. I asked why. He said ‘Because Canada opens its arms to newcomers’. Here in Halifax, we have a company called Shaw, a family business following four or five generations. It is one of the oldest companies in Canada. I am in business with Allan Shaw for land development. Every year, he gives a party on the day his company was founded. One day I said to him: ‘Allan, I love Canada better than you. You were born here. You take it for granted. The green, the quiet, the safety, the opportunities – these are normal for you. Not for me.’

“And so I compare Canada to every country in the world. My new country has more value than all the others. But we cannot take it for granted. That is why good governance is SO important. People in charge need to think about the public interest, above all. Politics is not a ‘piece of cake to be divided’. Unfortunately, the system in Iraq is like that. They try to work out the problems between themselves, as a political family. That’s not right. Iraq needs Canada’s support to move to better governance, to build a strong foundation for the next generation. What the Institute on Governance is doing with the Government of Iraq is a real thing. I thank the Government of Canada for choosing the IOG to do this work.”

Mr. Abidali now resides in Halifax. He and Kabila have 6 children, 8 grandchildren. Celebrating Father’s Day this month is especially important to him because he feels that the youth in Iraq are facing serious challenges: “60% of the population in Iraq are youth. As parents, we need to leave strong foundations to our children‎ with good values, strong institutions.” He is very proud of the fact that he has encouraged his children and continues to do so in whatever choices they make: “It is important to jump. When you believe that what you are doing is right, you do it. It serves the community, the country, the area of expertise.”

When asked how issues facing the youth in Iraq could be solved, Mr. Abidali answered:

“Iraq is the richest Arab country with oil, large rivers, mountains in the north, flat lands in the south, enabling it to live on the diversity of its agriculture and exports. Did you know that Iraq was the first country in the world to produce dates? It has 35 million date palms which produce 110 kinds of dates. I am convinced that Iraq has the foundation to do everything that needs to be done: the people, the scholars, the material. It needs good leadership to develop the plan and to carry the pride of the people. I am in a leadership position in business in Nova Scotia and in Canada. My responsibility is to pay back. And I love doing it.”

When asked how he had reacted to the news about the Babylon Award, Mr. Abidali replied with regard to his having a sense of duty to give back, stemming from his appreciation for the opportunities Canada has provided: “I do what I do, as a development and construction entrepreneur because I love it AND because I have to give back to this great land. When I put my head on my pillow at night, I snore because I know that I did the right thing, coming to Canada.”

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IOG launches NEW Leadership Development Program in Science and Innovation

2 minute read

By: Rhonda Moore, Senior Advisor of Science and Innovation

In April 2019, the IOG launched its newest leadership program. The Leadership Development Program in Science and Innovation (LDPSI) targets individuals working in scientific or science policy roles seeking to enhance their leadership skills. The program is open to all sectors, including academia, government, non-profit and corporate, and is specifically geared to professionals with some management experience who have the potential to become an executive in the next five years.

Why a program for scientists? While scientists receive a great deal of training, it focuses to a great extent on their research activities and does not always make connections beyond the laboratory walls. As a result, many scientists do not seek leadership opportunities outside the lab, though they have a lot to offer. For example, of the approximately 300,000 Canadians who work for the federal government, about 20,000 are trained scientists or engineers. Yet very few of the executive cadre have a scientific background. Many of the policy challenges facing contemporary Canada find solutions in science. Elevating the profile of science within the ranks of the federal public service – literally and figuratively – brings profile to this important federal function, increases levels of scientific literacy, and advances evidence-based decision making in federal policy.

To encourage scientists to develop their leadership potential, the IOG has created the LDPSI, an intensive nine-day program, offered in three units of three days each. Facilitated by a core team of instructors with experience as science executives, the curriculum blends classroom and hands-on learning, providing participants with opportunities to apply their learning in a variety of exercises and scenarios. Participants study the cultures of science, innovation and policy, where they intersect, how they work together, how they influence Canadian society and how individuals can have impact and results. Participants also receive personal mentoring and coaching throughout the program.

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Overcoming challenges: The IOG’s Gender Equality Program in Iraq

3 minute read

By: The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Senior Advisor

Since 2003, the Government and the people of Iraq have begun an important and very challenging transformation of their social and political system. Indeed, Iraq has departed from the unitary centralist state model to a federal structure. The Institute on Governance (IOG) has been operating in Iraq since 2015 under a contract with Global Affairs Canada implementing the Fiscal Federalism, Decentralization and Resiliency project. The project supports the necessary foundation that Iraq needs to become a stable, federal democracy with sustainable economic growth.

An important component of our work is to increase the efficacy of senior public officials, particularly women, to operate in a federal state. Enhancing women’s leadership, advocacy, and decision-making both at the federal and provincial levels is a priority; the IOG has been involving Iraqi women leaders in training courses, field-study visits to federal countries, and on-the-job coaching as a result. Our goal is to see more women in positions of leadership in government and in public institutions. To achieve this goal, the IOG has developed a Gender Equality Program. The Gender Program aims at increasing the ability of Iraqi women to lead, improving the capacity of women in civil society organizations to advocate and cooperate with government, and to support the Iraqi government’s inclusion of women’s perspectives in its decisions, policies, and actions.

The highlight of our Gender Program is the development of a leadership training program for women in senior positions. Our first cohort is comprised of 24 senior women from the public service and leaders of civil society organizations. Last October, they travelled to Canada to gain a better understanding of their roles and how to become more effective leaders in the new system of decentralized governance in Iraq. They met with Canadian women in elected office, the public service, and civil society with the objective of advancing the principles of federalism in Iraq and developing their capacity to work together to achieve better outcomes for all Iraqis. Included on the speaker guest list were two former provincial premiers: Premier Dalton McGuinty from Ontario and Premier Pauline Marois from Québec.

The second initiative of the program is to do a needs assessment of women in Iraqi leadership positions to better understand the role that Iraqi women play in civic affairs, their career paths, the challenges they faced in rising to senior levels and how they overcame those challenges.

The third initiative is to support the gender units that exist in federal and provincial governments to enable them to enhance their capacity to effectively deliver programs and services to women and girls in their respective areas.

Our Gender Equality Program was structured to respond to “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy”, which states that “Canada wants to help equip women in Arab countries for more women in positions of power, in politics, at the heads of companies and in other decision-making spheres.” We firmly believe that peace and stability in Iraq will be reached with the increasing participation of these outstanding women.