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The Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs (CIPA) is Canada's oldest organization devoted to studying and publicizing current issues affecting Canada and public policy. Founded in 1932, it holds an annual conference every August on the shores of Lake Couchiching and smaller events during the year, in Toronto and other major cities. In 2019, the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs was merged into the Canadian International Council, and continues as an annual Couchiching event which the CIC hosts.
The mission of the CIPA is to increase the awareness and understanding of domestic and international issues amongst people in Canada, through open and inclusive discussion, without advocacy or partisanship.
Over the years, the issues examined at the Couchiching conference have reflected the changing concerns of Canadian society and the world. During the Great Depression, topics focused on social reform, the state of the economy and the growing threat of war in Europe. In the late 1940s and 1950s, participants discussed issues such as rebuilding the post-war world, the Cold War and the challenges of world peace. More recently, conference topics have turned to such issues as technology, the environment, the problem of illiteracy, the economic challenges facing today's youth and globalization in various contexts.
Over the years CIPA has offered as speakers and attracted as participants current and future leaders in politics, education, science, the arts and the rest of civil society. In the past decade, speakers have included Tariq Ramadan, Will Kymlicka, Haroon Siddiqui, Kevin G. Lynch, Sheela Basrur, John Ralston Saul, Alan Borovoy, Lewis Mackenzie Jennifer Stoddart, Gerri Sinclair, Karen Armstrong, Mobina Jaffer, Michael Wilson (politician), Bill Graham, Lloyd Axworthy, Andres Rozental, Anne Golden, Barbara Hall, Roger Obonsawin, Sylvia Ostry, Pierre Pettigrew, Moses Znaimer, Sir Michael Marmot, Dr. Fraser Mustard, Sir John Maddox, John Polanyi, Bartha Knoppers and Margaret Somerville.
Speakers in earlier decades included John Kenneth Galbraith, Henry Kissinger, Marshall McLuhan, Denys Arcand, Pierre-Marc Johnson and Bernard Crick. Former or future Prime Ministers of Canada have featured at the conference too: John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Joe Clark, Kim Campbell and Paul Martin.
The annual conference, which is open to the public, draws about 250 participants from all walks of life and from 18 to past 80 who are interested in the current topic or in public affairs generally. The usual format involves about three days (Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon) of speeches, panels and debates, with ample opportunity for questions from the floor in all cases, together with formal and informal discussion groups. The lakeside setting encourages casual contact and one-on-one conversations among speakers and participants. Most participants, including many speakers, stay on-site for the duration of the conference.
The Round-Table meetings held from time to time between annual conferences usually occupy an evening session with one or more resource-speakers and about thirty participants. They may deal with aspects of the topic of the forthcoming annual conference or an unrelated matter. In recent years such events have been held in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver as well as in Toronto. A list of topics and (since 2009) podcasts of the speakers' portion of the events, but not the discussion, are found at the Couchiching web site.
CIPA was a registered charitable organization run by a board of directors and committees of volunteers, supported by Zzeem, Inc. Association Management of Toronto. In 2019, the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs was merged into the Canadian International Council, and continues as an annual Couchiching event which the CIC hosts. Former board members of the Couchiching Institute continue to advise the CIC on these events.
- Couchiching Conference at The Canadian Encyclopedia
- "Home". couch.ca.
- http://www.couch.ca/whoweare/index.html The contribution of the Institute to adult education in Canada is described in G. Selman et al., Foundations of Adult Education in Canada (Second Edition), 1998: "Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc". Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- John English, Citizen of the World: the Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau Volume 1, 1919 - 1968, A.A.Knopf Canada 2006, p.276: "[Trudeau] had proudly told Helen back in the summer of 1952 that he had been invited to speak at the prestigious annual Couchiching Conference of the Canadian Institute on International Affairs on the topic of 'The Adequacy of Canadian Foreign Policy.' Of course, he found it inadequate."
- A description of the conference, the atmosphere and some of the topics and prominent speakers over the years appears in the Imperial Oil Review for Autumn 2001, Vol.85 no. 442 under the title "World Reflections", by Barbara Wade Ross. http://www.imperialoil.ca/Canada-English/ThisIs/Publications/2001q3/pages/world_reflections.html Archived 2006-10-03 at the Wayback Machine. The atmosphere in the early 1960s is also described in a chapter of Stephen Vizinczey's novel In Praise of Older Women, revised edition, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986, pp 166-173.
- The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - the CBC - has frequently covered the Conference. For example, here is a CBC Radio clip on a Couchiching discussion in 1967 of the social impact of satellite communications. http://archives.cbc.ca/programs/130-427/page/1/. Here is a CBC TV essay on the 2004 Conference: http://www.cbc.ca/sunday/2005/07/072405_1.html#Scene_1