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Chancellor Wilson receives lifetime achievement award

Honoured by the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians

Tony Fell, Hon. Michael Wilson, Hon. Bob Rae, Léo Duguay (photo by George Pimental)

U of T’s Chancellor, The Honourable Michael Wilson, received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, on May 21, 2014. His long-time friend and business partner, U of T honorary graduate Tony Fell, presented the award, saying the Association’s decision was “a home run”.

Reflecting on Wilson’s most famous accomplishments as one of Canada’s longest-serving finance ministers, Fell said, “These two issues, the GST and Free Trade, were a triumph by Prime Minister [Brian] Mulroney and Michael Wilson of good public policy over good politics, which is such a rarity…. Michael was always focused on doing the right thing.”

Fell also surveyed Wilson’s record of volunteer leadership in the non-profit sector, highlighting his longstanding commitment to the cause of mental health. “Michael, with his high political and business profile, took on this challenge in the 1990s, and, I think, almost single-handedly provided the leadership in those very early days to raise the profile and public awareness of mental health in Canada to a new and much higher level.”

On accepting the award, Wilson spoke of how his experiences in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors have been mutually enriching, opening doors and providing unique learning opportunities.

“Politics opened my eyes to life around me in a way that changed my perspective on many things,” he said. “As Minister of Finance, I was also a privileged observer to an important window into the challenges of my colleagues in other portfolios who were dealing with issues that affected the lives of Canadians in many, many ways – a perspective that would simply not have developed for me had I stayed in the private sector.”

Wilson began his career in investment banking, and is currently chairman of Barclays Capital Canada Inc. Between 1984 and 1993 he served as Minister of Finance and later as Minister for International Trade and Minister of Industry, Science and Technology. From 2006 to 2009 he was Canada’s ambassador to the United States. He has been a key volunteer leader for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one of U of T’s partner hospitals, for many years, and is currently honorary chair of Brain Canada and vice-chair of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Wilson said he sees a “very bright light shining through” in the treatment of mental illness, in the form of personalized medicine, which he said “has the potential to dramatically improve care for patients and reduce costs to health care.

“A vast majority of patients with mental illness must balance the serious side effects that their medication produces and still others try medication after medication with no result. Genetic tests and brain imaging are enabling physicians to offer more effective, personalized treatments. This means patients will get better mental health care but also reduce the risk of other critical health conditions like obesity, heart disease and chronic pain.”

Speaking of his work in support of advanced research, Wilson said, “Through strong collaborations and a commitment to excellence, both CIHR and the University of Toronto are helping to position Canada as a source of world-class research and a leader in developing innovative solutions to global problems. I am proud to be associated with these two powerful institutions.”

U of T was well represented at the event. Among others in attendance were President Meric Gertler and Vice-President Advancement David Palmer, and alumni The Honourable Bill Davis, former premier of Ontario, The Honourable Dr. Kellie Leitch, federal Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, and The Honourable Senator Hugh Segal, who will take office as Master of Massey College on July 1. Dr. Catherine Zahn, U of T alumna and President and CEO of CAMH, was also present. The Honourable Bob Rae, U of T alumnus and co-chair of the committee that organized the dinner, gave the parliamentary tribute to Wilson.