Address at the Friends of Canada Networking Luncheon (Singapore)
Singapore, Republic of Singapore, Sunday, November 20, 2011
It is a pleasure for me to be here for this, my first visit to Singapore and my first State Visit as Governor General.
Thank you for welcoming me so warmly. I am delighted to begin my visit to Singapore in such good company, and to have the opportunity to learn from your experiences in this fascinating part of the world.
To many, Canada and Singapore may at first glance look like a study in contrasts. But as you know, we have important things in common: our Commonwealth traditions and our roles as smaller but influential nations on the world stage spring immediately to mind.
I am so pleased that Andrew Saxton and Perrin Beatty were able to address our gathering today. Perrin’s advice to “shoot for the gold” is so poignant. It reminds me of our wonderful achievement at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics where Canada won 14 gold medals.
I could also list our strong commitments to multiculturalism, to education and to collaboration. Much of our influence in the world is derived from these shared beliefs, which are the sources of our social, economic and political stability in an increasingly unstable world.
I want to address some of these themes today, but first, allow me to focus on your presence as Canadians in this remarkable city-state. According to the Asia Pacific Foundation, almost three million Canadians currently live abroad, and the expatriate community in Singapore is a great example of the global reach of Canada today.
Each of you is involved in business and finance, in education and research and government, and together, you are contributing not just to Singapore, but to Canada as well.
This morning, I had the privilege of visiting the ArtScience Museum, which was designed by Canadian Moshe Safdie, who is a member of the Order of Canada. Singapore is truly lucky to have such an amazing landmark.
As Jennifer Welsh, expatriate Canadian and professor of international relations at Oxford, recently wrote: “Modern diasporas call on us to imagine our national communities in innovative ways.”
You are very special ambassadors for Canada.
Communities like this one help Canadians to imagine themselves at home in the world, and this is a tremendous advantage in this era of profound globalization. You extend our range and broaden our understanding of this dynamic and important region.
Think of your engagement with Singapore—and that of millions of Canadians living in diverse countries around the world—as the inverse of Canada’s extraordinary multiculturalism.
The world has long embraced Canada and made us stronger, and today Canadians are reaching out and forging new links with countries such as this one, where there is so much potential for learning and innovation.
In the 21st century, a smart nation looks outward to the world with confidence, curiosity and respect.
One of the most important ways we do this is through education. I like to call this the diplomacy of knowledge, because I believe universities, colleges and research institutes can lead the way towards greater co-operation and dialogue between nations. A recent example is the new ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership Program being jointly managed by the Nanyang Technological University and the University of British Columbia, which will help us to strengthen collaboration and to better understand the impacts of regional integration.
One of the most exciting aspects of this new partnership is the maturity it reflects in our relationship. We are moving beyond traditional aid projects to focus on strategic issues such as regional inequality, changing demographics and environmental and energy concerns. I am looking forward to the results of this initiative.
In total, three major Singaporean institutions have exchange programs with more than 25 Canadian universities and colleges. Thousands of Singaporean students have chosen to study in Canada, and many Canadians in Singapore have enjoyed wonderful learning experiences in this country.
Another exciting example of partnership between our two countries is in the Memorandum of Understanding between the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies and the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing. This agreement, between the top two quantum research institutes in the world, allows for the shared use of resources and increased co-operation and exchange between students, post-docs and faculty.
“So what?” you may ask. Consider the following: over the past four decades, humankind has multiplied by a millionfold the information that can be stored on a semiconductor chip, but, as predicted by Moore’s Law, we now need a new platform to continue that remarkable progress. Quantum computing—the next, great frontier in information processing—has the potential to do exactly that. To get there, we must work together.
Prior to becoming governor general, I served as president of the University of Waterloo for many years, and I was privileged to witness first-hand the environment of close collaboration in that city. Waterloo is home to the largest faculty of mathematics and computer science in the world, with over 6,000 students involved in co-operative education and industry partnerships. Waterloo also hosts the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and, again, the Institute for Quantum Computing. As in Singapore, innovation in Waterloo is propelled by the continual exchange of ideas, research, needs and information among all parties.
That Singapore and Canada are now collaborating on research at the international level is very exciting indeed.
The diplomacy of knowledge works on many levels—local, regional, national and international—and when we achieve the right mixture of expertise, creativity, collaboration and communication, remarkable things can happen. Innovation often happens at the intersections between communities, universities and businesses, and all three exist in abundance in Singapore. The quality is very high, and Canadians are poised to contribute. Indeed, you already are.
This reminds me of something I recently read in an obituary for Apple founder Steve Jobs, himself an innovator who married the arts and humanities to technology.
He said: “As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’ not with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and how are we going to market that.’ I think that’s the right path to take.”
Quite apart from the good business advice that is, I think we can reformulate Jobs’ creative question, and ask: What benefits can we bring to the citizen through innovation? Where can we take our society? The value of knowledge must always be viewed in light of its ability to help others, and we must bring to bear the full breadth of our understanding—in the humanities as much as the sciences and technology—if we are to meet the challenges we face.
It is interesting to note that, while Canada is of course widely known as a country with an immense wealth of natural resources, our trading relationship with Singapore is centred in the knowledge economy. Canadians and Canadian companies are making particularly strong contributions in the aerospace industry, biotechnology, clean energy, information technology and finance, and the same is true of our trading relationships with nations throughout Southeast Asia.
We are on the right track. At this point, we may ask ourselves: how can we extend our success in this part of the world and forge closer ties between Singapore and Canada? The answer, I believe, is to work together ever more closely, and constantly, relentlessly communicate our ideas, needs and research.
Communications have long been shaping our world. Singapore’s position on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula is a great example, being located on a geographic line of communication that has historically been—and still is—vital to this country and to the entire region. The same is true of the physical lines of communications that formed Canada: think of the canoe routes that opened up the country, followed by steamships and the railway.
Today, the meaning of communications has expanded to include our ability to connect across vast distances. The revolution launched by the rise of the Internet is profoundly changing our world, much as the arrival of the printing press in 16th century Europe changed the course of civilization.
In fact, I believe the story of the printing press can provide us with a great example of some of the elements necessary for successful innovation today.
Why? Because the printing press would never have seen the light of day were it not for the cluster of innovators who came together to make it happen. In Western Europe, it took Johannes Gutenberg, Martin Luther and Frederick the Elector of Saxony—John, Martin and Fred, I’ll call them—to come together to transform a feudal society. John invented the printing press around 1450, and promptly went bankrupt. It took Martin’s translation of the Bible three quarters of a century later, as well as Fred to shield him from Rome, to truly bring the printing press to Western Europe’s attention by launching the Protestant Cultural Revolution.
Europe was in fact late to “invent” the printing press—the Koreans had moveable type as early as the 3rd century AD, and Marco Polo saw printed books in China in 1215. But those civilizations had only John. They missed their Martins and their Freds. The point is that all three were necessary to bring forth the printing press, which led to the tradition of learning through reading, critical thinking and discussion, and to the transformation of the individual’s role in society.
And so Europe advanced out of the Middle Ages.
This idea of the innovation ecosystem, as it has been called, also speaks to the dynamic, non-static nature of discovery. The opening up of new horizons is not linear—innovation can be messy, slowed by false starts, dead ends and failed experiments. Today, we need new clusters—especially ones that embrace new research and exploit modern communication technologies. Singapore is one such cluster, and you are well-positioned to learn and to lead the way as Canadians and as citizens of the world.
Our ability to communicate now means we can in some ways transcend our geography, and that we need not be in the physical, financial or population centres to succeed. This new paradigm does, however, make it imperative for us to redouble our efforts to reach out and work together, both with our neighbours and partners in our home countries, and internationally.
Looking ahead, as dynamic, open societies, Canada and Singapore face many of the same challenges—but we also share a wonderful opportunity. Our two countries are known around the world as bridge-builders—Canada between the United States and Europe, Singapore between Asia and the West. Let us continue this proud tradition and continue to forge links and practise the diplomacy of knowledge at every opportunity.
As beacons of multiculturalism, learning and collaboration, it is up to us to create the smarter, more caring world of which we dream.