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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Presentation of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Awards

Rideau Hall, Monday, February 27, 2012


It is a pleasure to welcome you to Rideau Hall. For years, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has honoured Canadians who have made important contributions to this country and the world.

Every day, your ingenuity benefits humanity in myriad ways. And while each of you has a unique story, there are several commonalities that run through this distinguished group.

Your actions and your work demonstrate the importance of science and engineering. You know the value of education and learning. And you are well aware of the impact of sharing and collaboration.

Allow me to explain.

1.     I recently had the opportunity to speak to scientists in Vancouver representing nearly 60 countries. Like all of you, they came from many disciplines and backgrounds.

Yet, despite their differences, those scientists and researchers, as well as all of you here, rely on the scientific method—one of the truly great innovations in human history—which uses evidence, hypothesis, proof and action in the quest for progress.

It is unparalleled in its ability to discover truths about the natural world, and, as you know, has practical applications in other areas of our lives.

In fact, it was 300 years of discovery in math, engineering and science from Newton to Einstein that laid the foundation for the creation of modern-day wonders, such as the Internet. 

Science and engineering have given us so many innovations throughout the ages, and the award recipients here today have added to this rich scientific history.

You have shown us what we can accomplish through hard work, dedication and ingenuity—but we must not be complacent. 

It falls to each of us to make the case constantly for science and to ensure that it is used as a force for good in our society. In short, we must be advocates for science.

And that starts with education.

2.      Several of the recipients here today are students; others are researchers from universities across the country.

All of you know how important it is to introduce scientific concepts to our young people and how doing so might affect their future choices.

We must encourage children to develop the habit of asking questions, which is essential to learning critical thinking and forms the basis of our understanding of the natural world.

One of my predecessors, Georges P. Vanier, once said that “The quality of their questioning will depend [upon] the depth of their understanding.…For we do not only operate with our understanding of things, we are changed by what we comprehend.”

If, as Vanier believed, we evolve as we learn—if it is the basic building blocks of science, math and engineering that will shape our future—then it stands to reason that we must strive to encourage young people to enter these fields, to ask the difficult questions, and to help us learn more about the world in which we live. And we must do this together.

3.      I often draw on Jefferson’s image of a burning candle when illustrating the importance of sharing our knowledge and experiences. In fact, I have crafted this image, along with that of books, which represent learning, into my coat of arms.

The candle symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person to another.

The sharing of knowledge collectively enlightens our societies and our world. And when you light your candle from mine, my light is not diminished, it is enhanced.

Many of you have collaborated with partners, which led to the discoveries and innovations that brought you here today.

You know that through sharing and dialogue, knowledge is gained and ideas are strengthened.

Roy Mayer, author of Inventing Canada, wrote that “Our innovators have given novelty, variety, and colour to our lives with their great practical gifts, and the world would be an exceedingly boring and grey place without their vitality.”

You are all building a better world based on a shared commitment to science and reason.

I congratulate you on this occasion and hope that you will continue to work together, to be advocates for science and to encourage the next generation.

Thank you.