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2010 Symons Lecture on the State of Confederation

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Charlottetown, Monday, November 8, 2010


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. 

I am delighted to have been invited to speak at this very prestigious event—the Symons Lecture on the State of Confederation. This is a doubly blessed event for me because of my long friendship with and deep admiration for Tom Symons. No one loves Canada more than Tom, no one has studied it more thoughtfully, or served it with greater devotion.

We all know that Prince Edward Island is steeped in history and heritage. This province is known as the “birthplace of Confederation” because its capital, Charlottetown, is where the idea of Canada was born. In 2014, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of those memorable Charlottetown meetings. What will we celebrate?

Over the next 30 minutes, I’d like to expand on a few lines from George Bernard Shaw: "Some people see things as they are and wonder why. We dream of things that ought to be and ask, why not?"

On October 1st, I delivered an installation speech entitled, “A Smart and Caring Nation: A Call to Service.” I spoke about wanting to promote a smart and caring nation. A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to their fullest potential. A nation that increases and applies the knowledge of its citizens to improve the human condition of al—in Canada and around the globe.

I outlined three pillars to achieve this vision: supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.

This is the vision I suggest for 2014, and together we should ask, why not?

But there is much work to be done to fully realize this ambition.

I drew inspiration from the first Governor of Canada. Can you guess when and who that was?

It was 400 years ago, and he was Samuel de Champlain. Recently, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian David Fischer wrote Champlain’s Dream. In it, he asserts that Champlain was a much misunderstood hero. The mistakes? He is usually considered a French hero not a Canadian one. He is commonly drawn as an explorer, a military leader and a conquistador. But Fischer portrays him in quite a different light—as tolerant, inclusive, a builder of permanent settlements that acquire and apply knowledge (evidence based learning), a man committed to creating fraternal relationships between peoples of different languages, faiths and cultures. A man who believed in families and dreamed of a better life for the next generation in sustainable communities.

This was Champlain’s dream—to create a smart and caring society in tabula rasa of the New World. How appropriate it is to recapitulate Champlain’s dream as our ambition for Canada in 2014.

In this dream, my own first pillar is supporting families and children.

When I graduated with my first degree, I went to England to study law with the help of a Rotary Foundation Fellowship. One of my pleasant duties was to visit Rotary Clubs across England to talk about Canada. I used to end those speeches with a song from Newfoundland and Labrador, the chorus of which went:

When I first came to this land
I was not a wealthy man
But the land was sweet and good
And I did what I could

The land was sweet and good, and those early settlers from Champlain onward learned to care for, and collaborate and share with their neighbours—to build the barns and the villages in the hope of a better life for their children. They understood the essence of family building and fostered the collaboration to affect it.

This has been an unwavering theme of Canada’s since Champlain’s time. Wave upon wave of immigrants has come here, giving up everything in the old country, driven by one overwhelming desire—a better life for their children.

Let me tell you about my own family.  I was my wife’s first date when she was 14 in our high school in Sault Ste. Marie. We were married at 20, 21 and had five daughters in seven years. 

When our daughters were growing up, people would sometimes say to me, “Oh! You poor man! You have just five daughters—don’t you wish you had a son?”

My reply: “Alas, you have not yet met my daughters.”

All the important things in life, I have learned from my daughters. All five are in the public service. When I was asked to take on this new position—after spending all my life in a university—the answer was easy, yes. I was simply following them into the public sector.

We have seven magnificent grandchildren. Every one is a miracle.  They bring us great joy.

I tell you these personal stories to emphasize how precious family and children are to us. But so many Canadian families and children do not have the good fortune that ours do. There are so many children who do not have the same opportunities in life that my grandchildren have.  

For example my wife just visited a First Nation’s reservation, of 1200 people in Northern Ontario where there have been three murders in the last year and the school set on fire by an unknown arsonist. Suicide rate for First Nations youth is three times the national average.

I have just returned from Afghanistan where family life has been in disarray during 30 years of war and civic violence.  One of the Canadian signature projects in Kandahar province, is to rebuild 50 schools and train the teachers. Ten years ago, there were less than 700,000 children going to school in Afghanistan. Today, there are more than 5 million, one-quarter girls.  Rebuilding the schools and making the peace to permit boys and girls to attend school is a foundation element in reconstructing family life in Afghanistan. 

In 2008, I chaired a task force for the Ontario Government on adoption and infertility that I subtitled “Family Matters.” In our report, we wrote that Ontario should be the best jurisdiction in the world in which to raise a family, but there are many gaps. One is the story of Crown wards—children at risk who are removed from their natural families and placed in temporary custody. But the extraordinary tragedy is how few end up in permanent, loving homes. There are almost 10,000 Crown wards in Ontario today. Less than 5% have been placed in permanent families. Only 8% have a plan dedicated to finding them a permanent, loving family. Looking at this one feature of families alone, can we not develop a program that doubles the placement rate across the country every year for the next five years, as many US states have already done?

My second pillar is reinforcing learning and innovation.

St. Augustine once wrote: “If you must judge the quality of a society look to see what it cherishes” I say: “Cherish our teachers”.

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

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

But it all begins with learning. In our 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 a society is built and innovation is the tool we use to improve it. At its most basic level, innovation is about crafting a new idea to do things better. It’s about seeing things differently, imagining the as-yet unseen or unachieved.

Our Canadian question is can we have equality of opportunity and excellence too. To see, that these are not two competing concepts, but instead collaborating mutually reinforcing ones. Let me simply list a number of a glass half empty/glass half full short observations. 

A smart and caring country supports science and scientific research. Why it makes a solid foundation in science the cornerstone of an educated populace, and one of the ways we define literacy in the 21st century.

Yet, our rate of science and engineering graduates is 18th amongst OECD countries and Ph.D. graduates in science and engineering rank in 25th place amongst OECD countries.

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

Yet less than 3% of Canadian university students have an international experience and Australia hosts five times the number of international students compared to Canada on a per capital basis. 

Today, horizontal cross-fertilization is imperative. One field must inform the work of another. As an obvious example, we would never have been able to make the progress we have in genomics without developments in information technologies to store and process vast amounts of data. Yet C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures where those in science know little of the social sciences and humanities, and humanists even less about science, are more present as strangers to one another than when he first told the sad tale 60 years ago.

One of Canada’s greatest strengths is that, internationally, it has the highest proportion of the population with post-secondary education.

Canadians perform very well on international primary and high school tests. We graduate with 90% fewer bachelor’s degrees, 50% fewer master’s degrees and 70% fewer doctoral degrees than Americans per capita.

The children of immigrants integrate relatively well and perform on par with Canadian-born students on international tests.  But new immigrants face enormous difficulties integrating into the labour market, despite being highly educated.

The educational attainment of Canadian Aboriginals while improving, lag dramatically behind other Canadians, resulting in many desperate family and children histories.

Canada has a considerably lower business innovation rate from the US. When we talk about human capital, we learn that Canadian managers have a lower level of educational attainment than do their American counterparts and Canadian business has much lower demand for educational attainment than the U.S.

Canada now has the highest employment rate—the percentage of the population employed—in the G7. In contrast, the productivity performance of Canada has not improved over the last decade and continues to lag behind its G7 peers. 

Canada ranks 6th among 32 OECD countries in research and development spending in the higher education sector. However, we rank 16th in business expenditure research and development.

Our school year is linked to Canada’s agricultural past.  Our colleges and universities are largely closed through four summer months which are the most conducive for learning.

We must recognize the overriding social and economic importance of investing in knowledge, as well as in skilled and learned people—seeing the cost of education as a social investment not an expense and by establishing investment goals. We must narrow the gap that exists between Canada and the best in the world by formulating accountability principles to measure and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our investments in learning and innovation systems and institutions. We must ensure that at least 90% of Canadian students graduate from high school and track programs for the remaining 10% to the age of 21. Finland’s rate is 97%, ours is about 75%. We must create rigorous standards for trade certification, college diplomas, and undergraduate and graduate degrees.

My third pillar is encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.

Let me begin with a quote from Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” For the past 11 years, I have been giving a speech in which I ask, “What’s in the water in Waterloo?”

In it, the first slide I show is of the Grand River flowing through our region. The second slide is an overhead shot of the farming neighbourhood where we live depicting a Mennonite barn raising, with dozens of Mennonites on the scaffold of a new barn, using their diverse talents and energy to help a neighbour in need.

The third slide shows the second slide in the first slide—the symbol of barn raising in the water. It is that collaboration—neighbour helping neighbour, university helping industry, business helping business—that makes the community of Waterloo flourish, whether as the most welcoming community in Canada for immigrants or supporting the creation of the latest BlackBerry.

The metaphor of barn raising brings us back to that historical Canadian theme of land, and of people making a living from and settling the land.

It reminds us of the bounty we enjoy in the gift of so much precious land.

It reminds us of Canada’s indigenous people, who were here tens of thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived over 400 years ago and who shared their land with others.

Today, we are learning how to share again, through new lessons of collaboration and accommodation.

Champlain said that his first settlement in Port Royal, in 1605 and his subsequent one in Quebec, in 1608, would not have survived their first winters were it not for the generous help of the Aboriginal peoples.

Just as we say, “What’s in the water in Waterloo?”, we can rearrange a few letters and ask “What’s in the DNA in Canada?” 

A program now hosted by the University of Waterloo may provide an answer. CIW is in the DNA. CIW is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. It uses seven portals, or columns, with subsets to measure the health of Canada and of Canadian communities.

The portals are:

- community vitality
- democratic engagement
- education
- healthy populations
- leisure and culture
- living standards
- time use

Each portal has 6 or 8 subsets, or criteria, that reflect our health in each category and are used to calculate a total score.

Can we imagine a national project that takes the CIW from community to community, all across Canada, and show an upward trajectory year by year? Can we show an upward trajectory for every community of 25,000 or more, and create a permanent community foundation with an endowment for each? By 2014, we could transform the CIW into a GIW—a Global Index of Wellbeing.

Some two decades or so ago, Mother Teresa came to Montreal for the annual Prayer Breakfast. One of our neighbours, moved by her work with the poor in Calcutta, asked Mother Teresa how she could help. She replied: “Just look around you. In your own neighbourhood there is a family who needs your care and love”.

Shortly afterwards, I read a criticism of Mother Teresa’s work. Her shelter in Calcutta gave succour to perhaps 200 poor people in a city where millions and millions lived in abject poverty. Her work was described as one small drop in an ocean.

A few weeks later, I realized that criticism was looking at her work from a physics point of view and instead of a chemistry one.

My children, aged 2 to 9 at the time, would criticize the entertaining I was providing at their birthday parties. They would ask me “Why can’t you do a magic show like Dean MacFarlane instead of telling us stories?”

Andy MacFarlane was the Dean of Journalism at Western University where I was the Dean of Law. Feeling rather competitive, I attended the next birthday party at the MacFarlane household, where Andy was dressed as a magician, with a long cape and flowing sleeves. He was performing a magic trick, turning water into wine. He took a glass of clear water, raised it in the air, and uttered that magic phrase, “Abracadabra!” He then swept the glass into his sleeves while whirling 360 degrees, and surreptitiously slipped a few drops of red vegetable dye into the glass, emerging with a glass of a lovely rose hued liquid.

At that moment, I realized that Mother Teresa was changing the culture of Calcutta, and, at that time, that of Montreal. It was the transformation of the water—not the addition to it—that was changing the world for so many different families. It is this same goal that so many families and villages across Canada are working towards. A world of peace. One in which they can all make life better for their children.

In modern business strategies, there is a methodology know as gap analysis. Simply put, it asks where you are now and where you want to go. What is the gap and what measures must be taken to fill the gap?

I suggest we do our own gap analysis, that we create and implement initiatives to make Canada a smart and caring nation, one the whole world looks to as a model, by 2014—the 150th anniversary of the remarkable, promising dream that began right here in Charlottetown. In 1864, the Fathers of Confederation uttered a call to service, one we must continue to answer today. Champlain dreamed of a society in the New World that would serve a shining example.

George Bernard Shaw essentially reflected this same vision: Some people see things as they are and wonder why. We dream of things that ought to be and ask, why not?  Let’s dream together.

Thank you inviting me here today.