Speech before the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
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Edmonton, Monday, November 29, 2010
Thank you for inviting me to share some of my ideas with you today.
Since my installation, I have been inviting Canadians to join me in imagining our country as it could be. We strive for a smart and caring nation where all Canadians can succeed, contribute and develop their talents to their fullest potential. We want to be a nation that increases and applies the knowledge of its citizens to improve the condition of all—at home and around the world.
To achieve this vision, I have set out three pillars; supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.
I have five daughters and seven grandchildren. Sharon and I call them our miracles. Supporting families and children is very important to me.
We all know that Canada’s early settlers learned to care for, and collaborate and share with, their neighbours—to build barns and villages in the hope of a better life for their children. They understood the essence of family building and fostered the collaboration to effect it.
Wave upon wave of immigrants has come here, giving up everything in the old country, driven by one overwhelming desire—a better life for their children.
We know that the pioneer spirit is very much alive in Alberta. You understand the importance of helping your neighbours and for this, I commend you.
Sharon and I have started meeting families from all across the country, and listening to their stories. And we are looking forward to meeting more and more Canadians families, from all walks of life and all backgrounds, and to hearing even more stories.
I am telling you this to emphasize how precious family and children are to us. But so many Canadian families and children do not have the good fortune that ours do. There are so many children who do not have the same opportunities in life that my grandchildren have.
For example, Sharon visited a First Nation’s reservation in Northern Ontario of approximately 1,200 people where three murders took place in the last year and the school was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. The suicide rate for First Nation’s youth is three times higher than the national average.
I visited Afghanistan, where 30 years of war and civic violence have left family life in complete disarray. One of Canada’s signature projects in Kandahar province is to rebuild 50 schools and train teachers. Ten years ago, there were fewer than 700,000 children going to school in Afghanistan. Today, there are over 5 million, and twenty-five per cent of these students are girls. Rebuilding schools and re-establishing peace to allow boys and girls to attend school fundamental to reconstructing family life in Afghanistan.
In Alberta, you have incredible programs for children and families because you believe that children and families are our future.
As many of you know, I have spent most of my career in the university world. As an educator and administrator, I had the privilege of spending much of my life around students, and I often felt that they were the ones who were teaching me.
St. Augustine once wrote: “If you must judge the quality of a society, look to see what it cherishes.” I say: let us cherish our teachers.
The smart and caring Canada that we envision will measure itself in terms of how well it develops the talents of its people—and how it uses their knowledge to improve the human condition.
It will provide every child every opportunity to grow intellectually, to the best of their ability. Canada must build a nation that learns, but it must also foster a nation that cares, a nation that looks outward, beyond its borders, to the wider world.
But it all begins with learning. In our globalized world, leadership comes from the strength of our ideas and the pace of our innovation.
Knowledge is the foundation on which a society is built and innovation is the tool we use to build and improve it. At its most basic level, innovation is about crafting a new idea to do things better. It’s about seeing things differently, imagining the as-yet unseen or unachieved.
We must ask ourselves, can we have equality of opportunity and excellence too? We must see that these are not competing concepts, but collaborating ones that reinforce each other.
We must continue to support science and scientific research. Alberta is well known for its universities. You are also known for great innovations in medicine, science and technology.
We want to be a smart and caring nation—a society that innovates, embraces its talent and uses the knowledge of each of its citizens.
Albertans have a long history of coming together to help one another. You place great importance on community, and this can be seen all across the province, in your rural communities, and in your cities and towns.
You are also an extremely generous province, as evidenced by your volunteer associations and philanthropic endeavours. Albertans are known for caring and supporting their neighbours and I encourage all of you to continue your efforts as we move towards a smarter, more caring Canada.