News and Interviews

"I am a Listener First" The 2022 Canada Reads Panelists on Keeping Open Minds & Hearts in the Big Book Battle

2022 CBC Canada Reads Panelists Open Book

Canada Reads Panelists (from left to right: Christian Allaire, Suzanne Simard, Malia Baker, Tareq Hadhad, Mark Tewksbury)

The clock is ticking: next week, CBC Canada Reads is back for 2022, with a superstar line up of books that makes it impossible to guess the eventual winner (just the way we like it!).

The 2022 panelist call sheet is just as stacked: Ojibway journalist and Vogue fashion writer Christian Allaire will defend Governor Generals' Literary Award and Amazon First Novel Award winner Five Little Indians by Michelle Good; actor and activist Malia Baker (the youngest ever panelist at 15 years old) will champion Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez; entrepreneur and former Syrian refugee Tareq Hadhad will defend Giller winner What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad; forest ecologist Suzanne Simard will defend Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Müller; and Olympian and LGBTQ2+ advocate Mark Tewksbury will defend the second Giller winner in the mix, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

We're thrilled to be speaking with all five panelists today about how they first discovered their chosen books ("five hours into the flight, I still hadn't put it down"), their debate strategies ("I am confident that I can find strong connections with other panelists to build alliances"), and how they might celebrate if they make it to the winner's circle ("some happy dancing until we get tired"). 

Interestingly, and perhaps as a reflection of how the past two years may have encouraged us all to be a bit gentler with each other, the panelists this year—while fierce as ever in their devotion to their titles—each emphasized the importance of a respectful, open-minded debate environment, where listening is as important as speaking – a suitable sentiment for the 2022 theme of "One Book to Connect Us". 

Catch the 2022 debates Monday, March 28 through Thursday, March 31. Hosted again this year by Ali Hassan, the debates will broadcast each day at 11 a.m. on CBC Radio One and 1 p.m. ET on CBC TV and CBC Gem, and will stream live at 11 a.m. ET on CBC Listen and Each day of the competition, one book will be eliminated by the panellists until a winner is declared the must-read book for Canadians in 2022.

Open Book:

What is your strategy going into the debates? Is "all fair" in books and war?

Christian Allaire:

Open Book Canada Reads_Five Little Indians

It may not be much of a strategy, but I'm going to simply let the work speak for itself. Five Little Indians is such an amazing (and important) read, so I am lucky, in that I don't need much of a decoy. I will go into the debates armed with my points and knowing the material inside-out. I don't know if all is "fair" in debates, but I do enjoy a healthy debate, because books are subjective! Not everyone is going to have the same reaction to reading a book, and I look forward to hearing all of the different perspectives on the book list this year. Not one takeaway is necessarily better than the other.

Malia Baker:

Open Book Canada Reads_Scarborough

I’m going into the debates with a strategy, yes, but am I going to take my chances and share it? Not yet! Is all fair in books and war, however... I think there is a line not to be crossed and that throughout the debates it's key to hold both yourself and the other authors with the utmost respect. It's not my intention to go into this and judge the other players; I’m going into this with the intention of defending and debating for Scarborough. Passion is a necessity whilst being a part of any debate, so to represent Scarborough and all the people both behind it and within it, that is all the fuel I need. I love this book, and truly believe in it, so I won’t be afraid to get my hands dirty... in the most respectful way possible of course!

Tareq Hadhad:

Open Book Canada Reads_What Strange Paradise

I am a listener first. My strategy is to go deeper into each book and uplift the strength and relevance of the book that I'm defending while trying to respect the effort of all the other panelists and authors as well. I feel like my book ticks all the boxes in the debate so I am confident that I can find strong connections with other panelists to build alliances. In my opinion, the debate cannot be unfair because a set of rules should be followed no matter what direction the discussion can go. I am really honoured to be defending What Strange Paradise because I have so much passion for it too so that totally helps.

Suzanne Simard:

Open Book Canada Reads_Life in the City of Dirty Water

Reading and discussing the books with my friend Elenna Hope and my mum!

Mark Tewksbury:

Open Book Canada Reads_Washington Black

I am going to read the books, see what books appeal to me more than others, and follow my heart/gut in the debates. I do NOT think all is fair in books and war. I think we have a duty to respect the five authors that have lent us their creations and to respect each other as we passionately defend our books. I guess my biggest strategy is to stay open-minded and see if anyone can convince me to change my mind as we go through the four days of competition.

Open Book:

Where were you the first time you read your chosen book?


I actually was on a flight for a business trip, and started reading Five Little Indians upon takeoff. Five hours into the flight, I still hadn't put it down—a sign of powerful read. Not even the enticement of free plane movies and snacks could tear me away from the pages.


I was on the bus when I first read Scarborough and before I knew it I was being transported right next to the characters in their community. Catherine Hernandez made sure this novel read as authentic as possible, forcing you to not only hear every word, but truly listen.


I was in multiple places in Nova Scotia, and I finished it at a cottage by the ocean to connect deeper to the story that is very similar to what my family has been through 10 years ago.


In my wee house in snowy Nelson, reading then skiing in the mountains, then reading and skiing again. In this way, I could deeply breathe in and absorb Clayton’s perseverance in helping Mother Earth.


I was staying in a hotel in Toronto. I started reading Washington Black at 8pm and it was just after midnight when I forced myself to turn off the light and go to sleep. It was clear to me that this was the book that I wanted to defend.

Open Book:

If the book you're defending wins the competition, how might you celebrate?


Michelle Good and I would celebrate together, because that would be a bigger win for her than it would be for me. She deserves the celebration! I am merely a vessel for her work. But yes, I would definitely have a glass of champagne. :)


If Scarborough wins I’m sure there will be a call with the author, Catherine, and some happy dancing until we get tired. This is her win, and the story's win in itself. This isn't a story that's out of reach, it's a story that many people have lived, and for the people who have lived them it would be a victory for all. Other than that, celebratory ice cream is a must!


I will donate copies of my book to people across Canada to celebrate with me. It will be a big moment and I am sure I will spend some time with the author Omar El Akkad to celebrate together afterward. If my book wins or loses, I am glad that I am part of this experience and honoured to be spreading awareness around such a noble cause.


Going for a walk with Clayton in the misty, vibrant rainforests of the Pacific Coast.


I think every defender wants to celebrate with their author and I am no different. In a perfect world I would have a lovely dinner with Esi Edugyan and toast her incredible book. But since we live in different cities and she is on the west coast, it may have to be a heartfelt celebratory virtual toast.


For more information on CBC Canada Reads, check out their website, and don't miss the debates next week, Monday, March 28 through Thursday, March 31.