The Empire Club of Canada presented its 2020 Nation Builder of the Year Award on Dec. 10, with the honour given to Canada’s frontline workers. The club’s second annual event was a virtual ceremony to bestow the award on “the men and women who kept us safe and functioning during the most severe pandemic to hit the world in over a century.”
As one of Canada’s oldest and most important speakers’ forums, established in 1903, the Empire Club’s decision to present the award to the hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country represented another acknowledgement of the importance of frontline workers in combatting the effects of Covid-19.
Speaking to The Northern Miner, Empire Club president Antoinette Tummillo said the award also reflects the organization’s focus that it should honour the efforts of those who are making a significant contribution to the country.
“As Covid-19 was spreading last year and we were thinking about the 2020 honour, we had discussions about whether we should pick an individual who was working to help [us] get through it, or a group of people,” said Tummillo. “And that’s when the lightbulb went on and it became so obvious that it was the frontline workers that we had to pay tribute to.”
Knowing that awarding the Nation Builder of the Year at a public event with an audience in attendance was out of the question, the organizing committee pivoted to a virtual ceremony, and decided to assemble tributes to frontline workers in the form of an online video.
According to Tummillo, the committee turned to a former club president and key proponent of establishing the award, Gordon McIvor, to spearhead the video. It would take him four months to bring together an array of VIPs from politics, business and the arts, as well frontline workers themselves, to appear in the video.
“Everybody that we approached, from the prime minister to the speaker of the House to the mayor of Toronto, everybody said yes. It was amazing,” said McIvor. “We had opera singers, jazz singers, actors, the head of the World Health Organization. And, of course, we had frontline workers, too. And, by the way, I would submit that before March of 2020, most Canadians did not have the expression ‘frontline worker’ in their vocabulary. It was just not something that we thought about.”
McIvor said that another aspect of the Nation Builder tribute video was to show the scope and the extent of how frontline workers were part of the country everywhere, in every segment.
“From entertainment to transportation to sanitation to retail to healthcare, there’s frontline workers in far more categories than people initially might realize,” he said, adding that this includes individuals in the country’s mining sector.
Seeking the support of that sector, the committee called on Empire Club director and IBK Capital Chairman Bill White, who was looking for sponsors of the award. His firm was already the lead presenter of the award and he had been able to bring a variety of other corporate sponsors aboard, including The Northern Miner. Now, White used IBK Capital’s extensive relations within the Canadian mining industry to reach out and gain their support for the event, certain they would respond positively.
“Oh yes, the mining industry responded,” White recalled. “They were half of the sponsors for this event. They could see how important this was, how important it was to recognize the efforts of safety and health [personnel].”
Eventually, the sponsors of the Empire Club’s 2020 Nation Builder Award would include Agnico Eagle (TSX: AEM; NYSE: AEM), Alamos Gold (TSX: AGI; NYSE: AGI), ArcPacific Resources (TSXV: ACP), AurCrest Gold (TSXV: AGO), Avalon Advanced Materials (TSX: AVL; US-OTC: AVLNF), Cobalt Blockchain (TSXV: COBC), Spruce Ridge Resources (TSXV: SHL) and Teck (TSX: TECK.A/TECK.B; NYSE: TCK).
White also emphasized the role the mining industry played throughout 2020, as the pandemic shut down economic activity, but elements of the sector were able to remain operational.
“You know, mining was blessed in 2020,” he said. “Even though they were shut down for several months, the industry benefited from the higher commodity prices, especially the precious metals – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium – and I’m proud of how they have done what they need to do to maintain the safety and the health of workers.”
He also believes that the mining sector took a leading role in reacting to the pandemic as it affects not just workers, but also communities.
“They’ve gone out of their way to have real compassion for these smaller communities, where they feel real responsibility. This reflects well on what their values are.”
As the virtual Nation Builder award ceremony went live on Dec. 10, plans had already been made to archive the 90-minute video for public viewing. McIvor said that they received permission from the Speaker of the House of Commons in Ottawa to have the video tribute entered into the nation’s archives, so that future generations can hear and see the contributions were like made by the workers.
“I feel enormous pride about this project,” reflected Empire Club president Tummillo. “I hope that a lot of those frontline workers have the opportunity to watch the video and feel good about what we did. Because that’s the audience we really wanted to reach with this. It was really for them.”
IBK Capital’s White also emphasized that the recognition of frontline workers with the 2020 Nation Builder award should not be considered “old news,” pointing out that, “honouring our frontline workers is even important now that we’re in a second wave of the virus, which is looking to be even worse than the first.”
Click here to view the Empire Club’s 2020 Nation Builder of the Year tribute video