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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Gairdner Foundation Annual Gala Awards Dinner

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Toronto, Thursday, October 28, 2010


Good evening everyone! 

Let me add my own words of welcome to our distinguished guests—Ambassador Delattre, of France, High Commissioner Cary of Great Britain. We are honoured you are here with us this evening.

It is always a pleasure to come to this beautiful building. I am told that the Royal Ontario Museum was opened in 1914 by a predecessor of mine—the Duke of Connaught. It is good to see that the welcome mat is still out for Governors General nearly 100 years later!

I want to congratulate the Gairdner Foundation, not only for this event, but for an entire week of celebrating science across the country.  For more than 50 years now, you have recognized the world’s most accomplished biomedical scientists. During that time, the Gairdner Awards have become one of the world’s preeminent—and most coveted—honours.  Indeed, as has often been pointed out, many of the Gairdner award winners go on to receive Nobel prizes. I guess it just proves that Canadians know talent when we see it!

I want especially to congratulate Gairdner on the science outreach.

The quality of your past winners is an impressive tribute to the standards you set and the due diligence you conduct. And that tradition continues tonight as we honour scientists who are truly world class. My congratulations to all of the winners.

A few weeks ago, during my installation address, I spoke about wanting to promote a smart and caring Canada. A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents; where all Canadians can succeed and contribute.

To achieve that vision, I outlined three pillars: supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.

Tonight, I would like to speak for just a few moments about one of those pillars—learning and innovation. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a more appropriate venue.

After all, health research is where smart and caring intersect, the meeting place between heart and head. It is where the best brains pursue excellence in the service of their fellow human beings. And it is where innovation drives discovery.

Similarly, the smart and caring Canada I envision will measure itself by how well it develops the talent of its people—and how it uses their knowledge to improve the human condition. It will provide every opportunity for every child to grow intellectually, to the limit of their ability. And that means paying particular attention to women—because a society that only engages half of its population is a society that will only achieve half as much.

Having built a nation that learns, Canada must also foster a nation that cares, that looks outward, beyond its borders, to the wider world.

But it all begins with learning. Because I believe that in a globalized world, leadership comes from the strength of our ideas and the pace of our innovation.

In this new “flat” world, knowledge is the foundation on which we build a society and innovation is the tool we use to improve it. At its most basic, innovation is about crafting a new idea to do things better. It’s about seeing things differently, imagining the as yet unseen or un-achieved.

That’s why a smart and caring country will support science and scientific research. It will make a solid foundation in science a cornerstone of an educated populace, and part of how we define literacy in the 21st century.

A smart and caring country also recognizes the importance of collaboration—across disciplines, across borders. We no longer live in a linear world, where knowledge is generated in isolation and kept in silos.

Today, the imperative is for horizontal cross-fertilization. Where one field informs the work of another. To take an obvious example—we would never have been able to make the progress we have in genomics without the developments in information technologies to store and process vast amounts of data.

And just as we must work across specialties, we must also work across borders. One of the most important things about the Gairdner Awards is that they are international.

Four hundred years ago, Rene Descartes declared that “truths are more likely to be discovered by one man than by a nation.”  Descartes was right that every discovery is, in some sense, a biography, but today in medical science, truths are more likely to be discovered by men and women who work in communities that transcend nations.

So it is appropriate that these awards celebrate excellence wherever they find it.

History reminds us of the importance of partnerships, of developing clusters of excellence that are used for the betterment of their people and of their times.

Today, we continue to seek excellence. We are still driven by that most ancient of human impulses—the desire to know.

This restlessness drives us to reveal that which is hidden, to turn conventional wisdom on its head and ask, “what if?”, or “what about this?” or “why not that?”.  It’s what drove tonight’s winners to flip open their laptop at one in the morning or rush back to their labs when an idea hit them.

It is what inspired Dr. William Catterall to discover how electrical signals are generated in our bodies and Dr. Gregg Semenza to open the field of oxygen biology to molecular analysis.

It is what animated Dr. Pierre Chambon to explore how genes express themselves; and Dr. William Kaelin to search for cancer therapies by exploring the functions of proteins.

It is what encouraged Dr. Peter Ratcliffe in his pioneering work on cellular oxygen sensing; and Dr. Nicholas White to use modern methods—and ancient wisdom—to fight malaria.

And it is what motivated Dr. Calvin Stiller to be a trailblazer—in the laboratory, in business and in medical research.

Tonight, we celebrate your work and thank you for your example. An example of what a smart and caring society looks like in the 21st century.

Congratulations to all of you.