At the Duncan Cameron farewell to Ottawa in late January, one of the speakers got a laugh by noting that, despite the small size of the room, all of Ottawa’s left was present.

Mind you, they pretty well filled that small room at the National Press Building. Academics, activists and NDP staffers were there, along with think-tank operatives and former students, all there to pay tribute to a man described as “that rarest of persons, a public intellectual.”

Cameron, who has moved to Vancouver, has been a central figure in progressive thought and progressive politics in Ottawa since 1975, when he began teaching political science at the University of Ottawa, a position he held until retirement last year. He has written, co-written or edited 11 books, and was particularly active in the free-trade wars which, to read his latest writings, are still going on.

“Public intellectuals,” as Cameron defines them, “use common language to report to their fellow citizens on what they have observed.”

Many are connected not to universities but to social organizations, think-tanks and even banks, and their influence has been strongly felt in Ottawa on several important occasions, according to Cameron, who passed along some of his thoughts on e-mail. These include the free-trade debate, where the ideas of the opponents were adopted by the Liberal party, however briefly, and the struggle for equality rights under the Charter, “when the Trudeau government ended up adopting the ideas of the critics.”

University professors sometimes “sign on to speak out in favour of the status quo,” Cameron darkly suggests, drowning out “the real public intellectuals,” but there has never been any danger of Duncan Cameron being drowned out. He has lectured in every Canadian province and in the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico. He was written for This Magazine and for most major newspapers in this country, in English and French.

In addition, he was editor of the left-wing political and literary journal, The Canadian Forum, from 1989 to 1998, helping make it a centre for progressive ideas. The magazine, which has played a useful role in Canadian society going back to the ’30s, is now defunct — or perhaps merely in hiatus, if you’re an optimist.

In tributes paid at the gathering, Cameron was variously described as “a talent scout for progressive organizations” and “an impresario of the left.” His role as editor of The Canadian Forum fits those categories, as well as his 12 years as president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one of Canada’s most productive think-tanks.

His friend, the economist Mel Watkins, told the gathering about Cameron’s habit of making outlandish statements that turn out to be right and it has always been fun to watch him do that, with regularity, at a Tuesday lunch over which he has presided for many years at a modest downtown restaurant. The dozen or so left-wingers assembled would watch him as he, usually with a smile, delivered some bombastic pronouncement, accompanied by a prediction.

The lunch has been going since the mid-’70s, off and on, and some of those predictions must surely have been wrong, but no one can remember them.

Cameron has moved to Vancouver because his wife, Yolande Grise, is taking on the new office of director of francophone and francophile affairs at Simon Fraser University. In Vancouver, in addition to moving B.C. to the left, as one of his toasters suggested, Cameron will be writing and trying to help the left-wing website establish a financial base.

Characteristically, Cameron devoted the bulk of his leave-taking remarks not to sentimental thank-yous but to politics, economics and yet another chapter in a long-running critique of capitalism, which he described, with his usual understatement, as “exhausted.”

These remarks would precede by only a few days the second inauguration of perhaps the most capitalist-oriented administration in the history of the United States, but this did not stop Cameron from a typically confident and typically over-the-top prediction: “The end of capitalism will come with the collapse of the American dollar.”

Then he resumed the role of impresario, making a pitch for for which he writes a weekly column. You can check in there from time to time to see how the end of capitalism is going, keeping in mind that Duncan Cameron is always right.