Victoria Foundation’s Smart and Caring Community Fund
Victoria, British Columbia, Thursday, July 19, 2012
It is an honour to join you here today as you celebrate the launch of the Smart and Caring Community Fund in Victoria.
When I became governor general, I hoped that by visiting with Canadians, by highlighting the importance of giving and by sharing your stories, I could inspire others to take action to improve the lives of those around them.
I could not have anticipated that community foundations across Canada would so willingly and enthusiastically take up the cause. Today, we celebrate our smart and caring communities and your efforts to build a better Canada.
But what do we mean when we talk about smart and caring communities? Our history has shown us how important community is to the very fabric of our nation and how vital it is for us to work together to build a better Canada.
Confederation is perhaps one of the best examples of this, uniting us under common goals. And since that day, every student of Canadian history has learned about the British North America Act of 1867, which states that Canada is a country of peace, order and good government. And yet, that is not the complete story.
In his book, A Fair Country, John Ralston Saul tells us that the word “order” was substituted in the final draft, taking the place of another, more commonly used word of the time: “welfare.”
The original wording—peace, welfare and good government—gives us an insight into our history. While the word “order” was substituted for “welfare” in the final version, the concept of welfare lay at the heart of the original vision for Canada.
I won’t dwell on peace, order and good government, but permit me to explore the word welfare, and the specific connotation it had all those years ago.
“Welfare” appeared in many legal and official documents in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, leading up to Confederation. However, to truly understand the word, we must look not at the context, but instead at the French translation, which was closer to the true meaning.
There are two definitions that I would like to touch upon. First, “welfare” would often be translated as bien-être or well-being, specifically the well-being of the public.
For example, when talking about the issue of immigration, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine said that like all who live in this country, those who come here looking for a better life, must have in mind the “…welfare and prosperity of Canada.” In other words, all who come here must contribute to the well-being of the people of this country.
This is what the founders of this great nation had in mind. As a country, we should look out for each other, accept each other, and create opportunities for everyone to be happy and to succeed.
Or even earlier in our history, we can look at the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774, both of which were precursors to the legal basis of today’s Canada. In these documents, the phrase “peace, welfare and good government” appeared, reinforcing how fundamental this concept is to our national identity.
Mr. Saul posits that this concept was not imported from England, France or any other country. Instead, we can look to the Aboriginal people as those who helped us define what we want our Canada to be. He uses the example of Witaskewin, a Cree concept that means harmonious living.
In this country, we take this to heart. Our communities have been built as welcoming places, where people are invited and encouraged to settle. We help them find their place in the community and encourage them to get involved. And in this way, we are simultaneously fulfilling another Aboriginal concept, that of the great circle that can grow to include others.
Samuel de Champlain was one person who understood the importance of the Aboriginal lesson. When he first came to Canada, he knew that his people would not survive without the help of the Aboriginal population. He not only accepted their help, but could see the value of being not two disparate people, but one society, working together for the well-being of the whole.
The second common translation of the word “welfare” was bonheur, or happiness. Mr. Saul explains that the concept of happiness descended from the idea of fulfillment and accomplishment, itself based on the well-being of others. As he puts it: “Today we often describe this as volunteerism, that is, doing something for others on a continuing basis. So happiness today might describe an engaged citizen or an active volunteer.”
Not coincidentally, this can also describe, quite accurately, what community foundations do. They are in existence not just to help communities succeed, but also to urge others to take up the cause.
I am delighted to see that the concept of “welfare” as defined hundreds of years ago has not disappeared from our national conscience. In fact, I would say that community well-being—defined as bien-être or bonheur—is deeply-rooted in Canada’s DNA.
All of you here are engaged in a way that would make the founders of this country proud. You build communities upwards and outwards. One program builds on another and another to create a smart and caring community. And beyond that, you work together with other communities, each one a little different, but each one having smart and caring as its cornerstone.
Here in Victoria, you are practising this very idea. The Victoria Foundation’s new Smart and Caring program, The ABCs of Physical Literacy, is a great way to support children, to help them battle inactivity and gain confidence. In turn, they might be inspired to help others throughout their lives, building on the kindness that they were shown early on. And who knows what they will think of to transform our communities in the future? And when this happens across the country, a better Canada is the result.
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. But taken a little farther, we can see that it takes a series of smart and caring communities, with engaged citizens at the core, to build a healthy and inclusive country.
I mentioned that as governor general I share your stories, and I am eager to do so. Everywhere I go, in Canada and abroad, I talk about what I have seen, the people I have met and the great strides we as Canadians have taken to improve our country.
At the beginning of this month, we began our five-year countdown to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As we approach this milestone, I want to leave you with several questions: what can we do, in Victoria, in British Columbia, in Canada, to create a smarter, more caring nation? What will our gift to the world be in five years’ time? And how will we work together to get there?
With the launch of the Smart and Caring Community Fund, the Victoria Foundation is well on its way towards answering these questions.
As you say in your Vital Signs report, and as I see everywhere I look across the country, “caring” is what you do, “smart” is how you do it.
But we cannot remain complacent. We must always push ourselves to do better, to think creatively, to resolve the challenges facing our people, to involve everyone in our communities, to build a better Canada.
Wilfred Laurier once said: “I think that we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.”
Today, I think that it is the community that will drive our success in the 21st century, that will define what it means to be Canadian. Our communities have always been sources of change, of innovation, of giving within Canada. But modern communities have greater responsibilities and opportunities in an increasingly globalized world. Better technologies and great access means that you have a longer reach and a better chance to work with each other to create a lasting legacy for generations to come.
Individual communities may prosper, but only when we work collectively can we realize our greatest potential: to be a smarter, more caring nation.
There is so much more to explore about smart and caring communities, their evolution and what they mean for Canada. I hope that, throughout my mandate, I will have more opportunities to speak to community foundations across the country to see what more we can do together.
Congratulations to all of you on your successes. As Canada’s second oldest community foundation—having just celebrated your 75th anniversary last year—you are helping to ensure that community well-being is an integral part of Canada’s DNA. I cannot wait to hear how you will continue to create the communities and the Canada to which we all aspire.