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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Honorary Doctorate from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Haifa, Israel)

Haifa, Israel, Thursday, November 3, 2016


How wonderful to return to the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology here in Haifa, and to be with all of you today.

Thank you for honouring me with this doctorate. I accept on behalf of the people of Canada.

I’m so very proud of the innovation links that exist between Canada and Israel. It was a privilege for me to have been part of this relationship during my time at the University of Waterloo and earlier at McGill University, and I have great memories of our collaboration.

I’m also very pleased to be the first governor general of Canada to lead a State visit to Israel. We’re here with a delegation of outstanding Canadians who share my goal of strengthening the multifaceted connection between our two countries.

The Canada-Israel relationship is exceptional. It has economic, cultural, scientific, political and strategic dimensions, all of which are deeply grounded in our people-to-people ties.

And increasingly, our partnership is being defined by innovation, which is among my priorities as governor general.

I know it’s a priority here at Technion as well—indeed, it’s your raison d’être.

Let me add another important area of common ground: diversity.

Earlier, I took part in a discussion on student diversity at this institution, and I want to explore the intersection of diversity and innovation in my remarks today. And then I want to highlight the Canada-Israel opportunity that lies before us.

I’ll cover three points.

One, how diversity and innovation reinforce each other.

Two, Israel’s and Canada’s specific strengths.

Three, how we can benefit from even greater partnership.

Let me start with this:

I believe the future belongs to those who embrace diversity and build cultures of innovation with global reach.

Innovation, in my view, is an economic and social process, a means by which productivity is improved and better ways of organizing and operating are achieved as a society.

It’s about developing new ways of doing things and creating value.

The pace of change and the many challenges facing our world are proof positive: we need new ways of doing things, and we need to gear our economies toward creating value.

Simply put, if change is the new constant, innovation is the new imperative.

You’re all well aware of this, so I won’t belabour.

But what about diversity?

Well, in a rapidly changing, interconnected world, diversity is a great strength.

Think of the competition for talent alone. It has gone global. As others have pointed out, teenagers in Africa with smartphones and the Internet have more information at their fingertips than the President of the United States did 15 years ago.

Think of the implications of that.

Digital technology and the advent of the global village mean that we’re no longer confined to looking within our community or nation-state when it comes to learning or seeking talent. And those countries and institutions that are diverse and outward-looking will have a natural advantage when seeking both talent and markets abroad.

Just think, for example, how a diverse population can help us gain access to global markets and talent. Think of the talent pool we can begin to draw on when our population speaks more than 200 languages and claims more than 200 ethnic origins, as does Canada’s.

Of course, diversity is viewed as a strength at Technion. This is a microcosm of diversity, and it’s also the epicentre of Israel’s “start-up nation” mentality. There is a strong intersection of diversity and innovation here, which no doubt helps to explain your global success.

This brings me to my second point: the specific strengths of Israel and Canada.

I’ve already mentioned this university’s remarkable success as an innovator. Israel as a nation can claim the same.

For nearly 70 years, Israelis have shown the world they can compete with the very best. Israel became an innovator and a start-up nation out of sheer necessity. Israelis needed food, so they turned arid land into farmable land. Israelis needed fresh water so they developed the world’s best practices in water conservation, recycling and recreating. Israelis needed a way to compete, so they developed a rich research and development capacity that is the envy of many countries around the world.

I could go on. Let me just add that Israel also understands acutely the need to plug into the world as a learning and innovating nation.

These are exceptional strengths from which Canada and many others can learn.

What about Canada’s strengths?

They are many. As I mentioned, Canada is a highly diverse and successful society, and we are in the midst of building a strong culture of learning and innovation. 

I was fortunate to be a part of a unique innovation ecosystem in Waterloo region, which hosts one of Canada’s top universities for engineering, science and entrepreneurship. The region is now linked with metropolitan Toronto, Canada’s largest city with a population that is three-quarters that of Israel, to create a 200 km-long innovation corridor. These are exciting times for the region, which aspires to transform itself into an innovation hub on par with the world’s best.

We have a long way to go, but we’re making great progress on both diversity and innovation. One example: there are 30 students enrolled in the master’s program at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo. Fully 21 nationalities from around the world are represented.

Consider that for a moment: 30 students, 21 nationalities!

And as an aside, I should point out that Britain’s Duncan Haldane, who holds a visiting research chair at the Perimeter Instiute, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last month for his work on “exotic phases of matter.”

If you haven’t heard the news, this is what Canada is striving for: to be a beacon of learning for talent around the world.  

Canada is also punching above its weight when it comes to winning the world’s top research prizes. Last year, 24 Canadians won prestigious awards, including Dr. Arthur McDonald, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, and James G. Arthur, winner of the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, which is of course awarded by Israel’s Wolf Foundation.

Canadians are also strong international collaborators. Nearly half of academic science and engineering articles by Canadians were international co-publications. Our researchers understand the power of working together across borders.

One final statistic: Canada ranks sixth in the world as a home for the most highly cited researchers, behind countries with much higher populations. Canada enjoys real “star power” when it comes to top talent, and we’re above average on research citation counts.

So where do we go from here?

I believe Canada and Israel should and must form a deeper and even more dynamic innovation relationship. Think about our shared potential as small countries that think big.

And when I say small, I’m talking population of course—Canada measures almost 10 million square kilometres in size!

Smaller countries such as Canada and Israel have a central role to play in fostering innovation. Harold Innis, one of Canada’s most original and influential thinkers, suggested new ideas and technologies are more likely to take root in so-called marginal regions, where the status quo is less entrenched.

Think of the influence of the comparatively small city of Renaissance Florence on the future course of Western civilization.

I sometimes think of our potential as being analogous to that of Athens in classical times. Canada and Israel can both be nations that export ideas, learning, democratic values, innovation, talent and culture, and in turn be eagerly receptive to contributions and ideas from beyond our borders.

What’s interesting about our context now is our increased ability to work together to achieve this goal. There’s nothing stopping us.

So, let’s go further in our partnerships and extend the limits of our collaboration.

As the saying goes, the most effective form of knowledge transfer is a good pair of shoes, especially if you wear them out in exchanges, internships and partnerships. What other modes of co-operation can we develop? How do we collaborate further? How do we become leading practitioners of knowledge diplomacy?

The basic principle for success in the world today is that the well-being of one nation or community depends to a large extent on that of the others. This is what it means to live in a global village. Let us take our cues from ecology in recognizing how interdependent we are as members of a global community.

It’s up to us to find new ways to share knowledge and work together for mutual benefit. Let’s take full advantage of the opportunities that are open to us. Scientists, researchers, teachers, students, innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders—all can benefit from deeper collaboration between Canada and Israel.

Our challenge is simply this: to take a great foundation and build something even better.

Thank you again for this great honour. I wish you all the very best.