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Queen’s economist wins second Donner Prize

Award for book on Indigenous rights makes Thomas J. Courchene the first two-time recipient of top Canadian public policy writing honour.

Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)
Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)

Two decades after winning the first-ever Donner Prize for best Canadian public policy book, economist and Queen’s Professor Emeritus Thomas J. Courchene has done it again. On May 1, 2019, his latest book Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens: From First Contact to Canada 150 and Beyond was recognized by award jurors as a “masterful work on one of the most important themes of our country’s public policy history” – securing Courchene the top prize and $50,000.

“The Donner Prize serves as a beacon for aspiring writers, so when I won it the first time it was truly an inspiration,” says Dr. Courchene. “In being recognized a second time, I sincerely hope the publicity will allow my book to contribute to a greater, broader understanding of the challenges and policies that affect the lives of Indigenous peoples of Canada.”

The book, published by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, examines the historical, legal, and socio-economic evolution of Canadian policy initiatives relating to Indigenous peoples. In doing so, Dr. Courchene puts forth a new policy prescription that seeks to reconcile the goal of recognizing Indigenous rights with that of promoting Canadian economic and resource development. Jurors lauded the book’s compelling case for significant change and its vision for a brighter future.

“My work has long been a blend of economic analysis, political reality, and constitutional perspectives, so I always felt that my public policy research had to, at some point, address issues facing First Peoples,” says Dr. Courchene, who is also a founding member of the School of Policy Studies. “In the final chapter of my book I propose we depart from existing models in which Indigenous Canadians are effectively under the control and stewardship of another political authority, and move to one that would give them provincial powers on their own lands.”

The Donner Prize, awarded annually by the Donner Canadian Foundation, encourages and celebrates excellence in public policy writing by Canadians, and acknowledges the role good public policy plays in the country’s success.

“To win the Donner Prize a second time, two decades after being recognized with their inaugural award, speaks to the rich and enduring quality of Dr. Courchene’s academic work,” says David M.C. Walker, Executive Director of the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “On behalf of the School of Policy Studies, I want to commend him for crafting a truly impactful book; one that not only embodies the spirit of our school’s mission, but that can also inform and inspire public policy that advances the well-being of Canadians.”

The award results were announced during a gala at The Carlu event space in Toronto. Dr. Courchene was selected over four other finalists, chosen from more than 70 submissions. Chairing the Donner Prize jury was David Dodge, who served as Queen’s University Chancellor from 2008 to 2014.

Note: This article was originally written by Dave Rideout, in the Queen’s Gazette.