DiverseCity Event at the Canadian Club of Toronto
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DiverseCity Event at the Canadian Club of Toronto
Toronto, Monday, May 10, 2010
Thank you so much for your warm welcome and thank you all for being here this afternoon.
It feels so good to be back in Toronto, and I am very honoured to join you today.
I feel particularly touched because the Canadian Club of Toronto has been instrumental in enhancing the scope and quality of public debate in Canada.
Like you, I recognize the importance of open dialogue, critical thought, and freedom of expression, ideals you have helped to promote and cultivate across our country for over one-hundred years.
You must be commended for your contribution.
I am also delighted to have been invited to open the DiverseCity panel discussion, which will shed new light on the kind of leadership Canada needs to prosper in the 21st century.
We are a society of pluralism, and diversity is one of our greatest strengths.
Just look around the room for a moment.
We are of Indigenous descent.
We are of European descent.
We are of African descent.
We are of Arab descent.
We are of South Asian descent.
We are of East Asian descent.
We are of Caribbean descent.
We are of Latin American descent.
Dear friends: we are Canada.
And Canada contains the world.
According to Statistics Canada’s projections, the number of foreign-born and indigenous people in Canada will more than double over the next twenty years.
And this is particularly true for Toronto, which has already been heralded as one of the world’s most multicultural city.
So as we look to the road ahead, let us ensure that the new generation of leaders, of all backgrounds, is fully empowered and integrated into our efforts to build a stronger, more prosperous and more harmonious Canada.
Given these demographic projections and the current turmoil shaking the global economy, I believe our discussion on leadership is both timely and crucial.
And who better to pursue this conversation with than you, the movers and shakers of Canada’s business community.
Many would agree that it is in part, thanks to your openness to bold, new ideas, thanks to your flexibility in the face of shifting market conditions, and thanks to your willingness to embrace financial responsibility, that we were able to weather the worst of the global recession.
It has now become clearer than ever before: Canada’s economy is a model of stability amidst the volatility of the global market.
And I salute you all for your contributions.
Yes, we have many reasons to be proud.
Yes, we have many reasons to be more optimistic.
But pride and optimism should not make us complacent.
For as many economists are warning: the storm may not be over yet.
Economic turmoil abroad may undermine economic recovery at home, adversely affecting the lives of many Canadians, and potentially straining the very fabric of our society.
So as we strive to regain our footing in the midst of an uncertain world, let us draw strength from the creativity and dynamism of all Canadians, and let us find comfort in the values of solidarity, inclusion and caring that define us as a nation.
Over the last five years of my mandate, I have met thousands of Canadians of all backgrounds and persuasions who live by these very values.
As I traveled across the country, I was not very interested in exploring our differences; because I believe we have already undertaken that exercise.
What fascinated me was discovering all we have in common.
Whether I was in the North Point Douglas neighbourhood in Winnipeg, Thetford Mines in Quebec, Clyde River in Nunavut, Edmonton in Alberta, Summerside in PEI, Timmins in Ontario, or Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan, one thing became very clear:
We Canadians care!
And we are prepared to go the extra mile to help anyone in need!
Just look at our unprecedented outpouring of support for the people of Haiti, in the aftermath of the earthquake, which devastated so many parts of their country.
Just look at the women and men who are casting their differences aside to pursue homegrown solutions to some of Canada’s most intractable problems.
When I ask Canadians:
“Why are you so engaged?
They tell me that it all boils down to refusing to be indifferent.
Taking ownership of ones responsibility as a citizen.
Renewing a spirit of hope within our communities.
And using the spark of compassion to ignite the hearts and minds of all those who surround us.
Let us be clear: every gesture counts.
And everyone has a role to play.
You name it: ordinary citizens, public officials, law enforcement representatives, faith communities, non-profit organizations, and, of course, you: the private sector.
Please understand that in the places I have visited, Canadians have lauded the role corporations are playing in supporting community-based initiatives.
Whether it is in reaction to in-kind support, to mentoring and internship opportunities, or even to financial donations, corporate engagement is being trumpeted as an integral part of the drive to inspire change in our communities.
I have seen how it has given rise to new friendships and synergies, how it has brought companies closer to the communities in which they operate, and how it has helped Canadians understand that no matter what the naysayers say, business can be a force for social good!
It is because I too recognize that you can be a catalyst for change that I would like to speak to you directly about an issue that is very dear to my heart: empowering young leaders.
As many of you probably know, one of the main reasons I accepted to become 27th governor general of Canada is because I wanted to give a voice to the dreams, the aspirations and the perspectives of Canadian youth.
When I worked as a journalist at Radio-Canada, I discovered an almost untapped wealth of talent and creativity, as well as a refreshing outlook on the world, coming from youth.
For numerous young people, the old grudges and prejudices of the past are moot points.
Canadian youth are growing-up in an era in which having friends from a variety of backgrounds is increasingly de rigueur.
Learning about different cultures and languages is cool.
Embracing a more cosmopolitan identity is popular.
And thinking globally to bring about local change is crucial.
I find great pleasure in this new culture of respect, openness, and action.
I can relate to it.
It is the story of my life.
Then as now, I am convinced that young people constitute a vital force in our society.
And everyone wins when we nurture, enhance and leverage their full potential.
That is why as governor general, I have dedicated so much time and energy to engaging youth, from every corner of the country, in a dialogue on building a stronger, more prosperous and more harmonious Canada.
We live in a country of many possibilities, and our history reflects the very triumph of hope over adversity.
Yet, our society is not sheltered from the scourge of social exclusion.
During several of my Youth Dialogues, many youth have reminded me that even today: some people are rejected because they are Indigenous.
Because their parents were born in a different country.
Because they are of a different faith.
Because they are female.
Because they have a partner of the same sex.
Because they belong to a linguistic minority.
Because they have a disability.
Because they are poor.
And it is important to listen carefully, as young people invite us to follow their lead by embracing diversity in all sectors of society.
Because it is then, and only then, that we will unleash the full potential of our country.
To me, investing in diversity makes sense.
It makes business sense.
Let’s think about it for a moment.
Having people from diverse backgrounds in senior management positions can confer better access to lucrative local and international networks and markets.
Maintaining a plurality of perspectives and life experiences in an organization can boost creative and innovative output.
Employing a greater number of people from diverse backgrounds can help to raise the overall consumption power of a broader proportion of the Canadian population.
It is simple.
Saying yes to diversity is saying yes to modernity, to opportunity, and to the very future of our country.
But saying no carries a huge price.
For each time social exclusion closes a door, another door is opened to desolation, frustration, and despair.
We have only to look to our streets, to some of our neighbourhoods or “hoods,” or to some of our more isolated rural and northern communities, to encounter a youth, who has lost faith in society, adrift and sinking.
He once had a big dream that lack of opportunity simply snatched away.
His father may have suffered because his PhD from a university abroad is not recognized in Canada.
His mother may be an Indian Residential School survivor, who still bears the scars of her harrowing experience.
His entire family may be unable to find decent and affordable housing, and must scour the streets for a place to sleep.
These situations of vulnerability are fertile ground for predators to sneak in, like thieves in the night, to steal the alienated into their fold.
If anything, the existence of criminal youth gangs and juvenile prostitution testifies to organized crime’s determination to prey on feelings of powerlessness and solitude.
This can shatter dreams, bring explosions of violence, and even scare capital and investment away.
So we cannot afford to be indifferent, nor can we risk turning a blind eye.
This does entail welcoming diversity with open arms at all levels of our institutions.
But it also requires opening our hearts to the new generation, in its entirety, and investing adequately in developing and harnessing its potential.
Let’s be honest.
Those of us in this room, who have children—like me—know that it will be very easy for them to find promising internships opportunities, scholarships, and well-connected mentors.
But there are tens of thousands of children and youth who may never have access to these networks, who may never have the right role models, or the right internships.
So how do we fix this imbalance?
Once again, I must turn to the insight of our youth.
When I visited the Remix Project— a Toronto-based creative-arts organization that teaches business skills to underprivileged youth—I asked them what they thought the solution was.
Some of them are here today.
Their answers spoke volumes.
“We need mentors,” they said.
“We need access to more networks in the business community.”
“We need more support from the private sector.”
“We need corporate executives to visit and teach us.”
“We need more scholarships.”
“We have a lot to offer, but we need professionals to help us hone our skills and expand our knowledge.”
And guess what?
I think they are right.
When I chose “Breaking down Solitudes” as my motto, I sought to remind us that we must build more bridges of solidarity over the troubled waters of fear of the Other, misunderstanding, and apathy.
We need to take more time to get to know each other, to talk to each other, to support each other, to believe in each other.
This is all about shared responsibilities.
And particularly today, it is about corporate social responsibility.
For if the current economic crisis teaches us anything, it is that our future is inextricably linked to our willingness to abandon the excesses of the past—or what I like to call the “everyone for himself and for his clan” mentality—and cleave tighter than ever before to our most precious, most durable, and most productive resource.
What is that?
Dear friends: It is each other.
So you may be wondering:
“What can I really do?”
“Where can I even start?”
“How can I relate this to the strategic priorities of my company?”
Take the time to meet young people and emerging leaders.
Listen to what they have to say.
Mull over their suggestions.
Take their requests seriously.
Integrate them into your teams.
Build new partnerships.
Realize that in the long run, the new relationships you are forging will pay off, exponentially.
Because, empowering youth, enhancing diversity, and investing in our communities, make sense.
And let me say it again.
They make business sense.
So as the world prepares to celebrate the International Year of Youth, which begins on August 12, I encourage you and all Canadians to play your part in reaching out and empowering the new generation of leaders.
Our future, as much as theirs, depends on it.