Canada 150/2017 Starts Now Conference
Ottawa, Ontario, Thursday, June 27, 2013
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am simply delighted to take part in this conversation on Canada’s 150th anniversary—truly a wonderful milestone for our nation.
Today’s gathering marks the end of a series of conferences on this theme held across Canada over the past few months. In my capacity as governor general, I too have the privilege of visiting communities across this country, so let me start by saying what we all know to be true:
What a remarkable country this is!
Despite the very real challenges we face, Canada is one of the most successful and enduring federations in the world. We are very fortunate to call ourselves Canadians.
With this in mind, let me set out three key questions we can ask as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
First of all, the question we are all focused on: how do we best pay tribute to Canada on this milestone anniversary?
Secondly, let us ask: what role can communities play in celebrating this occasion and building on its promise?
And finally, how do we connect and leverage our sesquicentennial celebrations to create a smarter, more caring nation for the future?
Those of us old enough to remember will recall how Canada’s centennial in 1967 inspired a great deal of optimism and pride in this country. The celebrations took root at the grassroots level, and I think we would do well to continue to focus on the great potential of communities to guide our efforts.
I say this for several reasons.
One is that it does justice to our history and multicultural traditions. Canada was built from the ground up, by people living and working together in specific circumstances, cultures and environments.
Indeed, Canada is nothing if not a bold experiment in diversity, and a community-based approach to our 150th anniversary is entirely in keeping with this fact.
Local communities can also help us turn this milestone into a lasting legacy because of their incredible reserves of talent, caring and energy.
When I was installed as governor general, I issued a call to service to all Canadians to join in the building of a smarter, more caring nation— keener minds and kinder hearts. And it has been so interesting and inspiring to see how well this message has resonated at the local and regional levels.
The call has certainly been answered by the Community Foundations of Canada which, aside from being one of the sponsors of this event, has taken its long-standing program of community support to a whole new level.
I am delighted and inspired by this development. We build a smarter, more caring Canada by creating smarter, more caring communities. Those communities, in turn, help us to reinforce our values, to replenish and renew our institutions and to strengthen our nation. There are now over 191 community foundations in communities across the country.
It is important to note that the wider effects of change at the community level are exponential. Good ideas and initiatives spread across the country, improving lives in other towns and cities in ways often never imagined.
Put another way, the impact is more akin to multiplication than simple addition. As you know, one dynamic and compassionate community can have an impact far beyond the city limits, just as one individual can make a difference far beyond their immediate circle of friends, family members and co-workers.
That is why I am convinced that our communities can show the way to 2017 and beyond.
Now to our challenges. Our cup is certainly at least half full, but far too many Canadians are disadvantaged and living in need. I won’t try to be comprehensive in listing the problems we face, but again would point us in the direction of our neighbourhoods and communities for insight into the work we must do.
Having travelled to every province and territory in this vast country, I am struck by how often great success and great need are found side by side.
Canada is a country of considerable wealth and of far too much poverty. Ours is a land of learning, but also of insufficient access to quality education for all. We are incredibly diverse, yet we also suffer from persistent barriers to equal opportunity.
We know our strengths, but we also know the challenges we face. The 150th anniversary of Confederation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Canadians not only to celebrate our country, but also to take a clear-eyed look at where we can and must improve.
Let me share with you one of my favourite stories of a community coming together to use its strengths and generosity to overcome adversity.
The story is set in the small farming community in southwestern Ontario where my wife, Sharon, and I lived on a farm before our move to Ottawa.
One day, our neighbour, Edgar—a kind and generous member of the local Mennonite community—was over at our house while Sharon was going over the budget for our farm. At one point, she asked Edgar, “How much would it cost to replace the barn?” Edgar replied, “Why do you need to know?” To this, Sharon explained that she was trying to reduce our farm’s operating costs, and so was going over the insurance portfolio.
For this, she needed to put a price on the barn in the event that it burned down. Edgar replied that there was no need to put a price on the barn, because if it burns down, the neighbours and community members would volunteer their time and recycled lumber to come together to replace it, free of charge. He then hesitated for a moment, before adding, “Put $2,000 down because we’ll need new shingles.”
Now, I’m aware that in one sense, this story is extraordinary. But on the other hand, everywhere I go in this country, I see evidence of this impulse to help others, and how it is both generous and practical. It has led me to see “barn-raising” as a metaphor for how we can build a smarter, more caring Canada.
Our 150th anniversary can be a nation-building event on par with 1967, a year that gave us the Order of Canada and our Canadian Honours System, Expo 67 and multicultural celebrations across the country, to name just a few legacies of that year.
As individuals, as communities and as a nation, we can leverage this milestone to engage in widespread “barn-raising” wherever want and deprivation exist.
By engaging in local initiatives that honour our past, speak to present needs and look to the future, we can pay a lasting tribute to Canada, our common ground.