The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Canadian Innovation Luncheon with Business Leaders (Palo Alto, California)

Palo Alto, California, Thursday, May 1, 2014


Thank you for your warm welcome and for inviting me to speak to you today. I am delighted to be here in Silicon Valley among so many of Canada’s friends and partners.

As governor general, I am privileged to represent Canada abroad and to convey the hopes and great potential of Canadians during these exciting, challenging and, above all, fast-moving times.

Silicon Valley is, of course, the world’s leading technology hub. A truly remarkable innovation ecosystem has developed here, with synergies among its many actors, including world class universities, leading venture capitalists, more than 60 business incubators and accelerators, granting foundations and a vibrant entrepreneurial community.

Silicon Valley’s success clearly demonstrates the value of collaboration between research institutions and business.

Prior to being appointed governor general, I served for 27 years as a university president— first at McGill, then at the University of Waterloo. Both universities have emphasized the importance of international education.

For example, many graduates of Waterloo and of other Canadian universities are now working right here in Silicon Valley, elsewhere in California, and indeed throughout the entire United States.

The presence of so much Canadian talent in the U.S. represents not a “brain drain,” but rather a valuable brain trust that strengthens both our countries. We see this, not least, in the growing number of American technology firms setting up shop in Canada in order to tap into our country’s remarkable talent pool. This is being mirrored by the many graduates of excellent U.S. institutions finding challenging careers in Canada. I refer to this as the diplomacy of knowledge, which reinforces the health of both nations through collaboration and the exchange of talent.

In the last year or two alone, announcements of new investments or expansions by Cisco, Industrial Light & Magic, Twitter, Google, Square and numerous others have all served to validate the thesis: Canada produces global talent.

I would like to speak briefly on why Canada is such a good partner for America in the diplomacy of knowledge.

Let me begin with a book you may know called Why Nations Fail—co-authored by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson of MIT and Harvard University, respectively—which emphasizes how important equality or “inclusiveness” is to our prosperity. It has an important Canadian connection, being a product of the Global Economy program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research—an institution that features numerous Canadian and international scholars and whose advisory committee includes several U.S. Nobel laureates.

The basic theme of Why Nations Fail is that societies whose economies and politics are inclusive prosper and strengthen, while those that are extractive diminish.

I quote:

“Inclusive economic institutions create inclusive markets, which not only give people freedom to pursue the vocations in life that best suit their talents but also provide a level playing field that gives them the opportunity to do so. Those who have good ideas will be able to start businesses, workers will tend to go to activities where their productivity is greater, and less efficient firms can be replaced by more efficient ones.”

Let me list some of the elements which make Canada a particularly inclusive society and an effective practitioner of the diplomacy of knowledge.

  1. An historical emphasis on equality of opportunity and a determination to see equality of opportunity and excellence as mutually reinforcing, not competing qualities.

  2. A public education system which has led to 51 percent of the population attaining a college or university education, the highest among OECD countries. Canada has the highest postsecondary participation rates in the world. Canadian primary school students lead all English-speaking nations in the OECD’s achievement rankings.

  3. Three universities in the global top 40 according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

  4. Canadian university researchers are prolific publishers, and their research is of high quality. In 2010, with a share of only 0.5 percent of global population, Canada accounted for 4.4 percent of the world’s natural sciences and engineering publications. This puts us eighth in the world in absolute terms. And we are strong collaborators: 48.8 percent of science and engineering articles by Canadians were international co-publications, and Canadian researchers collaborated most with US researchers (47.6 percent of Canada’s co-publications).

  5. An officially bilingual country with a multicultural tradition. More languages are actively spoken in Toronto than any other world city.

  6. Our largest cities are consistently rated by UN agencies as amongst the most liveable cities in the world.

  7. Strong social mobility. An OECD study that ranked member nations on the degree to which children met or exceeded the educational levels of their parents found that, for the top 80 percent of students, Canada was ranked number one.

  8. A Westminster parliamentary system and a federally chartered banking system that generally produces stable, progressive economic and social policies and the world’s number one banking system. 

I don’t list these facts in any boastful way, but rather as a means of illustrating those inclusive features identified by Robinson and Acemoglu that reinforce the diplomacy of knowledge.

In short, our public education system is an important part of what I like to call the “Canadian competence factor,” which makes our country such a strong partner in learning and innovation.

Now to bring these distant matters to real people, here in Silicon Valley.

As friends of Canada and members of the Canadian expatriate community—including those of you who are part of C100 and the Digital Moose Lounge—you understand Canada’s strengths better than most. What’s more, you are part of a culture that is assisting early-stage Canadian companies through programs such as 48hrs in the Valley, the Accelerate Series, and your support for the four Canadian Technology Accelerators operated by our Consulate General.

The support of the C100 has been instrumental in helping to change the conversation in Canada. I am told that the C100, its companies and its Charter Members are responsible for $800 million of venture investments involving Canada. This from an organization that is four years old. I know we’ll hear from co-founder Chris Albinson later, but I would like to express my thanks for your recognition of the entrepreneurial excellence in Canada.

Your support is a new and important extension of another great Canadian tradition: that of helping one another. The mentoring you provide to the next generation of innovators is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

Your support also speaks to the domestic strength of Canada’s learning and innovation ecosystems. Our country is characterized by strong universities and colleges, each tightly linked to their communities and producing exceptional thinkers and entrepreneurs with global potential.

I am particularly encouraged to see many young Canadians creating world-class technology companies, including Hoot Suite, Top Hat, Shopify and Thalmic Labs, to name but a few.

I am also pleased to note the desire among so many Canadian innovators to find ways of employing technology to improve lives. It is important that we do so and thereby complete the virtuous circle of equality and excellence too.

In a globalized world, there is no such thing as learning in isolation and the only truly sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity. The measure of our success is not the number of billionaires we can create, but rather whether we can apply our learning and innovation to the building of smarter, more caring societies for all.

As learning is to innovation, so equality is to excellence. Let’s call it the Canadian way forward.

Thank you.