Royal Society of Canada’s Annual Gala
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Ottawa, Saturday November 27, 2010
I am honoured to join you here tonight for the Royal Society of Canada’s annual induction and awards ceremony.
I want to congratulate all of you on your outstanding work in the arts and humanities, and in the natural and social sciences. As Canadians, we are truly fortunate to have such accomplished scholars, artists and scientists in our midst, and we are grateful to the Royal Society for its efforts to encourage excellence.
Let me begin by pointing out how fitting it is that we have gathered here, in the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Canada, to celebrate your achievements.
As you know, members of the Royal Society of Canada were instrumental in establishing this gallery, which has done tremendous work in promoting visual arts and culture in Canada and abroad.
My predecessor, the Marquess of Lorne, was ahead of his time when he founded the Royal Society in 1882. In so doing, Lorne helped lay the foundations of many important institutions dedicated to the arts, humanities and sciences in this country.
As historian Carl Berger points out, the Society’s history has “mirrored in microcosm” major themes in the intellectual development of Canada itself.
So you can understand why I’m excited to be here tonight, as I begin my mandate as governor general.
Since my installation, I’ve been inviting Canadians to join me in imagining our country as it could be. We strive for a smart and caring nation where all Canadians can succeed, contribute and develop their talents to their fullest potential. We want Canada to be a nation that increases and applies the knowledge of its citizens to improve the condition of all—at home and around the world.
To achieve this vision, I have set out three pillars: supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.
Tonight, I would like to focus on one of these pillars: reinforcing learning and innovation.
I believe that knowledge is the foundation upon which we can build a smarter, more caring society.
Through learning, people gain a sense of pride that empowers their families, their communities and their country. I have seen this throughout my own life, as a student and educator, and I know that you all share similar convictions about the power and wonder of knowledge.
A society that supports lifelong learning and the pursuit of knowledge brings hope to its citizens.
And, as ethicist Margaret Somerville reminds us, hope is “the oxygen of the human spirit.”
Innovation, in essence, is about crafting new ideas to improve the way we do things. Innovation is about seeing things differently, and imagining that which could be.
Innovation drives discovery. For a reminder of this, we need look no further than the statue of Samuel de Champlain on nearby Nepean Point. Champlain is looking westward, up the Ottawa River, astrolabe in hand.
And what was the result of his discovery? Canada: an experiment in peace, tolerance and inclusiveness that continues to this day.
But the journey began with learning.
Joseph Howe, a great Nova Scotian, said: “The triangle is a simple figure, yet by its properties oceans are traversed and planets measured.”
Let me extend the mathematical metaphor further: what can we do to encourage learning and innovation as we pursue our vision of a smarter, more caring Canada? How can we square the pursuit of excellence with equality of opportunity for all Canadians?
I can think of no other nation that has worked harder than Canada to ensure equality of opportunity. Through our public school system, Canadian students have universal access to primary and secondary education, with opportunities to learn in both official languages. But we must do so with a clear sense of achieving quality, excellence and originality.
I believe we must continue to innovate socially, and technologically, to give people the education, skills and training they need to thrive in our globalized world and do so with a spirit of originality.
And how do we do that?
First, we must find new ways to recognize and cherish our teachers, as they have taken it upon themselves to inspire, encourage and challenge us.
Anyone who has achieved any degree of success in their lives can point to the many teachers, mentors and coaches who have helped make them better people along the way.
Second, we want to highlight the importance of supporting science and scientific research. A smart and caring nation makes science a cornerstone of education, and part of how it defines literacy in the 21st century.
Finally, we must foster an appreciation for the arts, humanities and social sciences. I believe that imagination and shared understanding are key to crossing disciplines and furthering our knowledge of ourselves and our societies.
A smart nation recognizes that we no longer live in a linear world where knowledge is generated in isolation and kept in silos.
Einstein once said, for every complex problem there is a simple—and wrong—solution.
The most interesting entangled problems for study in our universities today are ones that cannot depend on the expertise of a single discipline for their solutions.
Members of the Royal Society of Canada know that, ultimately, all knowledge is interrelated.
I too believe in the interconnectedness of knowledge, and in the vital importance of sharing it.
On the crest of my new coat of arms, there is the image of a burning candle. The candle symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person to another. The sharing of knowledge collectively enlightens our society.
I would like to extend my warmest congratulations and sincere gratitude to tonight’s award winners and inductees.
I encourage all of you to continue your hard work and collaboration. You have answered the call to service, and your efforts are helping to create the smarter, more caring Canada to which we all aspire.