The annual World Affairs Conference (WAC) drew more than 450 private school students from across the Greater Toronto Area to Upper Canada College on Feb. 4 and 5 to hear experts speak on a range of topics related to the theme of “20/20 Vision.”
“We are closing out a decade of radical change,” says WAC co-chair Shaan Hooey. “As we approach the next one, it’s important to pause and reflect on some of the more prevalent issues that we leave this decade with so we can thoughtfully solve them in the future.”
Canada’s oldest student-run current affairs conference opened on Monday evening in Laidlaw Hall with a keynote address by environmental advocate, scientist and professor Dr. James Hansen. He’s considered by some to be the father of climate change science, and his talk reflected that.
You can watch his opening address at the bottom of this article.
The opening address the next morning was provided by Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Mitzie Hunter and Toronto Sun editor-in-chief Adrienne Batra.
“We have never had two speakers give the opening address before,” says Hooey. “This political discussion was well-informed and not biased towards one side on the topic of immigration, which was very engaging for all students.”
WAC’s six plenary sessions followed, and this year’s topics covered: an examination of the European Union; how businesses can balance the quest for profit with striving for a healthier planet; creating ethical frameworks for technology, automation and artificial intelligence; the plight of workers’ rights; the role of Canadian society in the truth and reconciliation process with its Indigenous people; and how the power of social media has impacted political thought and activism.
“The plenary sessions fit in with the theme, as they represented six completely unique and relevant changes happening along technological, social, cultural and political fronts,” says Hooey. “We have made an attempt to sway from the association being made with WAC and technology by representing a broader spectrum of issues this year, and general feedback has been very positive towards this change.”
WAC concluded with a closing address by Diana Tesic, a lawyer with experience working in sports arbitration, commercial law within the sports industry and sports investigations. She spoke about performance-enhancing drugs in sports, fair play and the “McLaren Report,” which examined allegations and evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia.
UCC and Branksome Hall students jointly organize WAC, and Hooey and Branksome co-chair Eve Cavanagh began selecting team members and setting deadlines at the beginning of last summer. Plenary heads began working on securing speakers in the second week of September, while the WAC technology team developed a fully digital registration system. Faculty adviser Gregory McDonald was instrumental in ensuring that everything was taken care of.
“I think all those that were involved in the organization of WAC obtained very practical experience pertaining to event-planning,” says Hooey. “It’s so much more work than one originally anticipates to successfully run an event of such magnitude, and effective communication is the only way to accomplish the otherwise insurmountable task.
“All those who attended WAC with an open mind will surely be thinking about what they have learned at WAC for quite some time in the future, and some might even be motivated enough to turn their ideas into action in their communities. At the very least, WAC is such an amazing tool to educate oneself on the most prominent and relevant global discussions today, which will serve all those who attended in many arenas well into the future.“