Richards earns President's award for service in media

January 26, 2006, vol. 35, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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SFU professor John Richards' views have become commonplace in the national media over the past three decades.

His high-profile presence in the media and high regard among journalists across the country have earned Richards SFU's 2005 President's award for service to the university through media and public relations.

The award is given annually to an SFU faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding service to the university by sharing their expertise with the larger community through media and other public relations activities. In Richards' case, the prize attests to a career that has included numerous forays into journalism. He has written to defend Quebec's Bill 101, to criticize the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), to advocate aboriginal fishing rights, and to analyse fundamentalist Islamic politics, among other subjects.

Whether disseminating his work through such leading think-tanks as the C.D. Howe Institute, where he holds the Phillips chair in social policy, or through the policy journal, Inroads, which he co-founded in 1992, or as a frequently quoted source in the national media (in both English and French), his arguments have influenced the tone for national debates on several issues.

A former Saskatchewan NDP MLA (1971-75), Richards is currently a faculty member with SFU's graduate public policy program. In recent years, he has sponsored several SFU events dealing with aboriginal policy. In 2002, he teamed up with former provincial Liberal leader Gordon Gibson to organize a high-profile public seminar series entitled, The Referendum and Beyond: Fundamentals of Aboriginal Justice Issues in B.C. Last year, he and other colleagues in the public policy program sponsored a major conference on aboriginal education.

“I was elected to office while still in my 20s. I was never a good party politician,” Richards acknowledges. “I lacked the strong sense of loyalty to party.

“On the other hand, I have perhaps a talent for journalistic writing,” he adds.

“Journalism is not high literature, nor is it peer-reviewed rigorous analysis. It's a craft best learned by practice, something necessary for a healthy society.”

Richards is cited by a number of journalists for his contributions and assistance in weighing the issues of the day, including Val Ross, former Globe and Mail deputy comment editor, who calls Richards “one of the most independent, coolly analytical and yet compassionate thinkers in Canada today.”

Richards spends a month each year in Bangladesh and has become increasingly interested in the reform of Canada's official aid programs involving CIDA.
A series of articles on Canadian aid policy is soon to be published by the C.D. Howe Institute and will include one penned by Richards.

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