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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Address at UC Berkeley – The Diplomacy of Knowledge: Innovation Exchange Across Borders (San Francisco, California)

San Francisco, California, Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Thank you for your warm welcome—I am delighted to be here.

I would also like to thank Dr. Robert Birgeneau—a former chancellor of this university and an esteemed Canadian—for his kind introduction, as well as Dr. Irene Bloemraad for her welcoming remarks and her leadership of the Canadian Studies Program here at Berkeley.

Both of you bring great credit to this institution and to Canada, and I am truly impressed by the impact you are having here in California.

Let me begin by offering greetings and best wishes on behalf of all Canadians. It is an honour to be the first governor general of Canada to visit California, and to have the opportunity to speak to faculty, students and staff at this wonderful institution of learning.

Those of you who are familiar with Canada’s system of constitutional monarchy will know that, as governor general, I represent Her Majesty The Queen in Canada and fulfill a range of constitutional responsibilities on her behalf.

One of the great privileges of my role is to represent Canada abroad on visits such as this one, helping to connect Canadians with the world.

What an honour it is to be with you here in the historic Doe Library.

I understand the presence of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, above the entrance is intended to signal Berkeley’s aim of being “the Athens of the West.”

I am impressed by your ambition. As the saying goes in hockey, we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take, so why not aim high?

In fact, I often refer to Canada’s potential to be a “new Athens” to the “new Romes” of the world, as a nation that exports ideas, learning, democratic values, innovations and talent, and that is likewise eagerly receptive to contributions and ideas from beyond its borders.

We have no shortage of questions to tackle as we aspire to become centres of learning and innovation, and as we ask ourselves: why do some nations succeed where others fail?

How do we achieve both excellence and equality of opportunity in education?

How do we work together to increase our shared knowledge, prosperity and resilience in the face of complex problems?

How do we help build societies that are both smart and caring in a rapidly-changing, globalized world?

I would like to do three things in my remarks today, to add my own Canadian perspective to the questions we are asking and to the great work you are doing at Berkeley.

First, I want to reinforce the importance of practicing what I like to call “the diplomacy of knowledge,” defined as our ability and willingness to share our learning across disciplines and borders.

Second, I would like to share some insights with you as to why I think Canada is a great partner in learning and innovation. For all the impressive collaboration that is taking place between Canadian and Californian institutions and researchers, I believe even greater things are possible.

The third and final thing I would like to do in my remarks today is to cut them short, so we can have a conversation and all learn something together.

As my grandmother used to say: Stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard, and sit down to be appreciated! Some advice is timeless.

Allow me to start by asking: why is learning and the sharing of information and experiences so important in our world today? Why must we practice the diplomacy of knowledge?

Let me answer in five brief points.

First, in our modern, globalized world, the well-being of nations is increasingly being defined by the ability to develop and advance knowledge. In other words, knowledge—as opposed to military might or GDP—is the new currency and passport to success.

Second, information has never been so ubiquitous, and so cheaply and easily shared. By practicing the diplomacy of knowledge, we dramatically open up relationships between peoples and foster harmony in an interconnected world.

Third, given the speed and ease of communications today, our world is experiencing unprecedented rates of change. We live in a time of rapid transformations, characterized by risk and opportunity on a global scale. Because of this, we must always look to the evidence to help navigate change and inform our choices.

This brings me to my fourth point: ideas are improved when shared and tested through action. I often draw on Thomas Jefferson’s image of a burning candle when illustrating the importance of collaboration.

The candle symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person or country to another. And when you light your unlit candle from the flame of my lit candle, my light is not diminished, it is enhanced. The sharing of knowledge collectively enlightens us.

Finally, we must promote and defend the practices that have served us well, including the scientific method—one of the truly great social innovations in human history. The fundamentals of evidence-based learning have propelled global leaps in communications since the time of the printing press.

And in fact, it was 300 years of application of the scientific method from Newton to Einstein that laid the foundations for the rise of the Internet.

Now I know I run the risk of preaching to the converted here with this story. Each of you is well aware of the importance of partnerships and an outward-looking perspective.

I talk about sharing and collaboration everywhere I go, simply because time and again in my life I have seen how wonderful things can happen when we work together.

In today’s globalized world, where we face such complex, interrelated challenges, the sharing of knowledge across borders and disciplines is perhaps more important than ever before in human history.

A curious feature of globalization is that it not only enables greater collaboration, but that it requires it. 

One never knows from where a new idea or innovation will arise. While many of our greatest challenges arise through the interplay of complex problems, so too do our greatest advances often occur at the intersections between disciplines.

We all know what these challenges are. Our world is facing growing environmental, economic, demographic and political challenges. Who knows what a greater understanding of quantum physics will be able to tell us about genetics, or what a better grasp of ecology can teach us about complex global networks?

Perhaps discoveries in one field will cast very little light on another—or perhaps they will teach us a great deal.

Let me back up a little and talk about the word “innovation.” We hear it all the time now, so much so that it’s no longer anchored in any universal meaning. What truly is innovation? It’s neither about discovering nor inventing, as many people believe—though making discoveries and inventing new methods and technologies are vital to human progress.

Innovation involves making changes in something already established, taking an existing idea and approaching it from a different angle, or combining it with a seemingly unrelated idea to improve the original or even uncover something entirely new.

When we look at the true meaning of innovation, we find that its lifeblood is working across disciplines. So if we’re going to build institutions and economies and societies that innovate, we’re going to need to practice the diplomacy of knowledge. It’s just that simple—and, of course, that complicated.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein: for every complex problem there is a simple—and wrong—solution.  

Globalization and rapid advances in communications technologies have allowed us to transcend borders and disciplines as never before. Working together is key, because new discoveries today are rarely made in isolation. Rather, they more often occur as the result of collaboration between schools and research institutions, the private sector and governments.

Working together makes particular sense for Canada and the United States, which brings me to my second theme today: Canada as partner in learning and innovation.

The scientific and intellectual relationship between Canada and the United States—and indeed our overall bilateral relationship based on people-to-people ties—is unrivalled.

Our trading relationship, for example, is the largest in the world: reaching $734 billion (USD) in 2013. One in seven Canadian jobs depends on trade with the US, while more than eight million American jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada.  

Over the years, our shared commitment to learning and discovery has been a constant, and it has helped to show us the way on broader issues.

Almost 30 000 Canadians study in the U.S., and the U.S. sends 12 000 students to Canada, making it the fifth-largest contributor of foreign students to our country. Berkeley, as you know, hosts Visiting Scholars and a Fullbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies. The diplomacy of knowledge is flourishing here.

I continue to be impressed by the degree of collaboration in learning and innovation that exists between this state and Canada.

Canadians are among the largest foreign student groups in California. A number of Canadian alumni networks are also very active. Canadian universities are eager to form research partnerships, establish co-op placements, cultivate relationships with alumni and fundraise here.

A large number of Canadian students undertake international co-op placements, particularly in engineering with U.S. ICT companies such as Microsoft, CISCO, and Google, especially in California and Washington states. 

As impressive as these activities are, I know we are capable of so much more.

Now let me talk a little about Canada, and why I believe Canadians are such great partners in learning.

Let me briefly identify four key qualities that are prominent.

First, Canadians believe deeply in the intrinsic value of learning from one another and working together. We came to this belief early and of necessity; our climate and geography can be challenging, to say the least, and the first European arrivals were wholly dependent on their willingness to learn from Aboriginal peoples.

Second, Canada has made quality education freely or affordably accessible to all. By doing so, generations of Canadians have been better able to overcome barriers such as discrimination, poverty and social immobility. We have tried to level the playing field in order to create greater equality of opportunity.

We believe creating an educated society is both the right thing to do and the bright thing to do, and Canada’s proportion of the population with a college or university education is, at 51 percent, the highest among OECD countries, as is our current postsecondary participation rate.

Canada is not making efforts towards accessibility just because it’s a nice thing to do. Let me refer to a book you may know called Why Nations Fail—co-authored by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson of MIT and Harvard University, respectively—which emphasizes how important equality or “inclusiveness” is to our prosperity.

I quote:

“Inclusive economic institutions create inclusive markets, which not only give people freedom to pursue the vocations in life that best suit their talents but also provide a level playing field that gives them the opportunity to do so. Those who have good ideas will be able to start businesses, workers will tend to go to activities where their productivity is greater, and less efficient firms can be replaced by more efficient ones.”

End quote.

Perhaps the single greatest equalizer in creating a “level playing field” is a strong public education system.

As an aside, there is a Canadian connection to Why Nations Fail, which has been compared to The Wealth of Nations by Nobel Prize-winning economists. The book was in part produced by the Global Economy program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, where Drs. Robinson and Acemoglu—both of whom are Americans—are senior fellows—another example of Canada/U.S. research collaboration.

Our public education system is an important part of what I like to call the “Canadian competence factor,” which makes our country such a strong partner in learning and innovation. The OECD PISA tests show that Canada leads all English-speaking countries in achievement levels in primary and secondary education systems.

My third point about Canada as a partner in learning relates to our success in melding accessibility in education with excellence. It is not a case of “either/or,” but rather “both/and.” The applicable metaphor is not a teeter-totter but a synchronized gear. The equality in our system reinforces the excellence, by allowing the most capable students—as opposed to the most well-heeled or well-connected—to pursue the vocations to which they are best-suited. A meritocracy, not an aristocracy.

In this, Canada has done well, but we can do better. An OECD study that ranked member nations on the degree to which children met or exceeded the educational levels of their parents found that, for the top 80 percent of students, Canada was ranked number one.

However, for the other 20 percent of students, Canada ranked in the bottom third, which tells us that a significant portion of our population has less access to education than their parents.

I am convinced that countries that recognize and address gaps such as these will be better-placed to succeed in today’s world.

Fourth, and this is a great asset in a globalized world, we encourage new Canadians to retain and celebrate their cultures and languages, while embracing the best values of Canada. This approach fosters social harmony and makes our country a truly outward-looking, global microcosm.

Fundamentally, Canada’s approach is an inclusive one. It is of course not perfect, and we can and must do better, but I believe the Canadian approach to learning represents one of our great contributions to the world. We also benefit from the considerable learning of immigrants to Canada, who are often highly-educated. Forty-five percent of the 1.9 million permanent residents that were accepted into Canada from 2001 to 2010 had at least an undergraduate degree.

An inclusive approach to learning and innovation is a pillar of a successful society. Canadians by and large welcome the world to Canada, and we are eager to learn from others—including from great American institutions such as Berkeley.

This helps to explain why many students and graduates of Canadian institutions are now based in California, and making a significant impact here. Drs. Birgeneau and Bloemraad, two distinguished Canadians, are cases in point.

Canadians are contributing not just in education, but in high tech, health care, culture, finance and energy—I could go on.

In fact, it is estimated up to one million Canadian expatriates are living and working in California. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to more than 250,000 of them. This area is also the home of C100, a business association of 100 of the most influential Canadians in the technology and venture capital communities. 

Let us go further in our partnerships and extend the limits of our Canada-U.S. knowledge chains. Find innovative ways to break down barriers between disciplines.  As the saying does, the most effective form of knowledge transfer is a good pair of shoes, especially if you wear them out in exchanges, internships and co-op programs. What other modes of co-operation can we develop? How do we collaborate further?

The basic principle for success between Canada, the United States and our other key partner on the continent, Mexico, is that the well-being of each depends on that of the others. These are the terms of the North American community or, to invoke an environmental term, the North American ecosystem. Let us take our cues from ecology in recognizing how interdependent we are, not just as living beings but as neighbours in a globalized society.

It is up to us to find new ways to share knowledge and work together. Let us take full advantage of the opportunities that are now open to us. Many possibilities await our scientists, researchers, teachers, students, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Our communities and cultures will be enriched by a diversity of perspectives and ideas.

And so, I urge each of you to continue your important work together and to extend your collaboration to even greater numbers of Canadians and Americans. Our challenge is to take a great foundation and build something substantially better.

Thank you.