Address on Multiculturalism at Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam)
Hanoi, Vietnam, Thursday, November 17, 2011
It is a pleasure for me to join you here today at this wonderful institution of higher learning, and to learn more about your vision for the future.
Let me begin with a few words on diplomacy. For decades, the people of Canada and Vietnam have enjoyed strong and friendly relations in many spheres. This includes the important realm of higher education—for example through the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities partnerships with Canadian institutions such as the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Faculty of Arts & Science from the University of Toronto, and Télé-université—Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). I also want to highlight the unique Canadian Studies program the faculty of international studies has developed, and the collaboration many of your institutions have with the Embassy of Canada here in Vietnam. .
And we have a wonderful opportunity—an obligation, in fact—to strengthen and deepen our ties today.
We must practice the diplomacy of knowledge.
The diplomacy of knowledge works on many levels—local, regional, national, international—and when we achieve the right mixture of communication, expertise and creativity, remarkable things can happen.
In Canada, we strive to work together and with others—and we are fortunate to live in one of the most diverse countries in the world. Forty years ago, Canada became the world’s first country to officially adopt a policy of multiculturalism, and today our diversity is the foundation of our national identity and a source of great pride for Canadians. It also gives us a strong global advantage.
The world has long embraced Canada and made us stronger, and we in turn strive to reach out and welcome newcomers. As you may know, our country is home to 250 000 Canadians of Vietnamese origin, who contribute so much to the social, economic and cultural fabric of our society. The presence of Vietnamese Canadians in our communities enriches our lives at home and expands our understanding of this dynamic and important region.
Canada’s diversity has always been one of our strengths, as well as a beacon of hope for the world.
As the authors of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples wrote:
“Canada is a test case for a grand notion—the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”
This “grand notion” of Canada is anything but abstract. Each year, some 200 000 immigrants from around the world choose Canada, drawn by its reputation as an open, peaceful and caring society that welcomes newcomers and values diversity.
Several times since becoming governor general, I have had the privilege of participating in citizenship ceremonies, where newcomers officially become Canadians. It is a wonderful, emotional moment for these individuals and their families, and indeed for all who are present. As my predecessor, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson—herself an immigrant who came to Canada as a refugee from Hong Kong during the Second World War—recently wrote, “Canada took us in, and our real lives began.”
Of course, each newcomer lived a life prior to arrival, but in Canada we try to allow people the space and the opportunity to reach their full potential. Our record is not perfect, but that is the ideal to which we aspire. Perhaps the single most important avenue of success is through our public education system, which aims to ensure equality of opportunity while constantly reaching for excellence.
Canada’s approach to multiculturalism encourages people to integrate and become active participants in society, while maintaining their cultural heritage. The result? Eighty per cent of people who come to Canada take up citizenship—the highest rate in the world—with more languages collectively spoken by Canadians than in any other nation.
Every language provides us with another means of understanding, and every culture another way of being at home in Canada and the world.
With the exception of Aboriginal peoples, who have been at home in our land since time immemorial, all Canadians are relative newcomers. This makes it all the more interesting that our notion of inclusiveness should be so very Aboriginal in nature, as the Canadian writer John Ralston Saul has pointed out.
On immigration and diversity, he wrote: “It is a non-racial idea of civilization, and non-linear, even non-rational. It is based on the idea of an inclusive circle that expands and gradually adapts as new people join us. This is not a Western or European concept. It comes straight from Aboriginal culture.”
Such ideas represent an original contribution to world thought, and are worthy of our close attention and study—perhaps at a future Canadian studies conference here in Hanoi!
The incredible diversity of Canada—and indeed of our planet—is at once a challenge and our greatest strength, and globalization amplifies the risks and the opportunities. As we celebrate our differences, we should strive to limit those that divide us, and not grant them too much sway. Let us focus instead on what we share, and on building common cause and understanding.
Because one thing is certain: our future success as nations will be rooted in the strength we derive from diversity. And to understand our strengths, we must listen to each other and constantly, relentlessly communicate.
For this reason, I am delighted to note the increasing number of Vietnamese students who have chosen Canada as their top choice for international education. Vietnam is poised to join the top 25 foreign student source countries for Canada, and we are delighted to welcome one and all.
I also want to applaud each of the Canadian organizations and their Vietnamese partners that provide such wonderful volunteer opportunities for Canadians in Vietnam. I believe that volunteer and study abroad programs are among the best hopes for our future, for it is these students and young people who will practice the diplomacy of knowledge, and spur the needed social and technological innovations to come.
With our commitments to diversity and knowledge firmly in mind, let us continue to work together to build the smarter, more caring world of which we dream.
Let me leave you with two lines of my favourite poem 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?’”