Thomas Axworthy

Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
Axworthy, Thomas


Main bio

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy has had a distinguished career in government, academia, and philanthropy. He served as an assistant to the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, then the Minister of National Revenue, before joining the Prime Minister’s office as Senior Policy Advisor, and then Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where he was a key strategist on repatriation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. From 1989 to 1996, he chaired the Arctic Advisory Steering Group of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, working on the creation of the Arctic Council. In 2006, he chaired the Renewal Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada. In 2009, Axworthy chaired the Advisory Panel on the Creation of a Canadian Democracy Promotion Agency, reporting to the Hon. Stephen Fletcher, Minister of Democratic Reform.  

Axworthy is the author of numerous books and articles, of which the best known is Towards a Just Society, co-authored with Pierre Trudeau. He taught for many years at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as visiting Mackenzie King Chair of Canadian Studies, and in 2003, he was appointed Chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, pursuing the themes of expanded human rights and responsibilities, democratic reform, Canadian-American relations, and modern liberalism that characterized his research, teaching and advocacy career.  

His career in philanthropy began in 1986 with his appointment to the CRB Foundation where he initiated the Heritage Minutes and the National Heritage Fairs Programs. He continued that work at the Historica Foundation of Canada, where he facilitated a partnership with The Canadian Encyclopedia.  From 2001 to 2006, he was a member of the board, then chair, of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. In 2009, he became president and CEO of The Gordon Foundation. He has also worked extensively with the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government, drafting, along with noted theologian Hans Kung, “A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibility” (1997). He was appointed Secretary General of the organization in 2011. 

To recognize his achievements in heritage education, civics, and citizenship, Axworthy was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada (2002).   

Updated July 2023