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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Keynote Address at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Canada’s Governor General on U.S.-Canada Relations

Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Thank you, Adele, for your very kind introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm welcome.

I discovered today that warm welcomes are standard in Chicago. I have been bowled over by the kindness and generosity shown by the people of this city. Thank you.

My visit here is brief. Yet what it lacks in duration, it more than makes up for in activity.

I have visited several places in Chicago, talked to many people and seen some central elements that make yours one of the world’s great cities. For example:

  • your leadership in higher education and academic and scientific research;
  • your desire to reshape the world through digital innovation and entrepreneurship;
  • your commitment to the security, prosperity and environmental stewardship of the Great Lakes region;
  • your understanding of the role and value of philanthropy in the modern world; and
  • your eagerness as scholars and artists, engineers and entrepreneurs, investors and businesspeople to expand knowledge, nurture prosperity and improve lives.

My visit to your city is the first by a governor general of Canada in quite some time—more than 100 years in fact.

That being said, the presence of governors general has not been entirely absent from your city in the recent past. A certain silver cup bestowed by my predecessor Lord Stanley, Canada’s 6th governor general, has found a home in Chicago five times, including twice in the last half-dozen years. I’m sure that, with the exception of our guests from St. Louis, hockey fans here tonight are cheering for a return visit from Lord Stanley’s cup this June, even though I hope a Canadian team will win it this year!

While mine may be the first visit to Chicago as governor general of Canada, I have come to your city many times over the years as a professional. And I knew much about this place even before I set foot within city limits.

As an athlete, I celebrated your city through the sporting talents and achievements of Ernie Banks, Bobby Hull and Gayle Sayers.

As a university person, I drew insight and inspiration from the unparalleled degree and concentration of knowledge found in Chicago’s universities, research institutes and philanthropic organizations.

And as a man who is seldom without a book in his hands, I marvelled at your city via the creative perspectives of novelists Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell and Saul Bellow. Theirs wasn’t always a glowing portrait, but who can forget Augie March’s greeting to open his adventures, “I’m an American—Chicago born…” His declaration isn’t one merely of fact. It’s also one of temperament—of himself and his city: big-shouldered and big-hearted.

My connection to Chicago and the entire Great Lakes region involves an even more tangible human link.

My mother was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where her father worked as a lock operator on the American locks along the St. Mary’s River, which joins Lake Superior and Lake Huron. These five locks—engineering marvels first built in the late nineteenth century—symbolize the relationship between our two countries: they may be separate, but they run parallel.

I grew up on the Canadian side of the locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As a child, I would spend hours watching the huge lake freighters float majestically through the locks and along the river, bringing ore and grain from deep within the continent to the industrial cities of the Great Lakes, the Eastern seaboard and even Europe.

Growing up in the Soo—a physical part of the Great Lakes region and its huge commercial and transportation network—made me feel I had as much in common with people in Duluth, Detroit, Cleveland and, above all, Chicago as I did with my countrymen in, say, Toronto, Windsor and Montreal.

I have been incredibly lucky to be a citizen of this trans-border region. Don Peddie, an executive at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, recruited me to attend Harvard when I was a teenager. Don was a legendary recruiter of scholar-athletes from throughout the region on both sides of the border.

So I went to an American university. Yet it almost didn’t happen. My high school principal—a good man—refused to write me a reference letter. He thought talented people should stay close to home and serve their community and country. His was a well-intentioned thought but a woefully short-sighted and misguided one, for I had every intention of returning to Canada.

Thankfully, two other men thought differently than him. One was the dean of Harvard College—Bill Bender—who decided the school must be a meritocracy and not an aristocracy, so he dispatched recruiters such as Don Peddie across the continent. The other was my high school football coach, who eagerly gave me the vital reference my principal had refused.

My studies in the United States were a formative part of my life. I learned so much; my debt is so great that I have continued my association with my alma mater throughout my life.

Many Canadians have stories similar to mine—of having our lives enriched and enlightened by time spent in the United States and with Americans.

They highlight the fact that people—individual men and women—matter. We tend to get all tied up into thinking big departments and agencies and organizations drive growth and prosperity on autopilot. Yet all learning, trading and innovating is spurred by much more intimate relationships—two people, two businesses, two groups getting together to achieve something much greater than they could do alone.

What we the people of the Great Lakes region have accomplished is remarkable. The proof in the form of trade, jobs and investment is staggering.

In the state of Illinois alone, some 350,000 jobs depend on trade with Canada and investment by Canadians. Even more directly, 24,000 men and women in Illinois are employed by Canadian-owned businesses.

Illinois by itself is Canada’s third-most important customer in the world, after the United States as a whole and the state of Michigan. The states of Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin represent a larger trading partner for my country than the 27 member countries of the European Union combined. Energy alone represents some 70 percent of all my country’s exports to Illinois. In a very real way, Canada keeps people moving and businesses humming throughout the region.

The striking depth and complexity of this relationship is a result of something I call the diplomacy of knowledge. The diplomacy of knowledge is our willingness and ability to work across disciplinary boundaries and international borders to uncover, share and refine insights.

Why must we work across disciplines? Because the great advances of human civilization have come not wholly from within certain disciplines but at the intersections of different ones. Your country is full of examples of this fact.

Think of the famous Bell Labs in New Jersey, which spawned some of the twentieth century’s most influential communications technologies—the transistor, integrated circuit, cellular telephone and satellite.

Leaders there were acutely conscious of the need to cultivate teams of specialists from a variety of fields. Some were obvious—physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, electronics and metallurgy. Others weren’t so plain—physiology, psychology and meteorology—but were nonetheless necessary for success.

Today, the city of Chicago is an innovation hub to be reckoned with. Just this morning, I visited the MATTER Healthcare Incubator and the 1871 start-ups hub and had a glimpse of the burgeoning relationship between Canadian and Chicago-area innovation/accelerator ecosystems. I was so impressed with what I saw. This kind of co-operation deserves our support and encouragement.

Knowing that progress comes most rapidly and profoundly when people from various specialties and backgrounds join forces, I am delighted to know that men and women from an array of fields with vastly differing experiences are here this evening—entrepreneurs, investors, educators, philanthropists and more.

The diplomacy of knowledge also requires us to operate across borders. While such actions can be conducted locally, regionally and nationally, they are most potent when people of different countries use their different yet complementary attributes to uncover new knowledge and generate innovative approaches to the challenges we all face.

Your history as the hub of a massive transportation and commercial network shows you appreciate the value of reaching across borders of the mind and of geography. That appreciation is vivid and alive today. I got a glimpse of it in the ambitions and activities of your city’s finest educators, investors, researchers, philanthropists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is another perfect example of your desire to work across borders and disciplines. For almost 100 years, the men and women of this organization have looked beyond your city to share knowledge and search for partners to uncover fresh insights.

Many of these partners are Canadians. We cherish these relationships. We know that working closely together—among ourselves and with our neighbours—has always been the secret of success on this continent.

Right at the time I was studying in the United States, President John Kennedy, addressed a joint session of Canada’s parliament and described impeccably and poetically the enduring ties that bind our two peoples. He said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.”

Back then—some 55 years ago—we defined necessity primarily as our shared need to safeguard ourselves, our friends and our way of life at the height of the Cold War. What chief need animates us today?

For the answer to that question, I take guidance and draw inspiration from John Buchan, a novelist and historian who came to Canada from England and became governor general in 1935. He used the final words of his biography of the Scottish patriot Montrose to press home humankind’s eternal duty to infuse old truths with new passion: No great cause is ever fully lost or fully won, he wrote. The battle must always be renewed and the creed restated.

That rallying cry remains alive for us today. Canada and the United States are special. Our countries are the first two nations in the long history of civilization that have been built on an experiment: to test whether all the peoples of the world—regardless of origin, colour, religion, culture, class and wealth—could live together and grow, build and prosper in a shared land.

During the course of our histories, we have met that test with enthusiasm, deepening and accelerating our commitment to pluralism—so much so that our individual nations themselves have become testaments to the diplomacy of knowledge; so much so that many of us take our respective successes for granted.

Such complacency is now our enemy. We have inherited a great legacy. We must now restate our creed with renewed passion. We have a responsibility to our citizens, to each other—Canadians to Americans, Americans to Canadians. That duty extends to future generations here at home and to people throughout the world: to work with growing determination to achieve greater security and prosperity, to improve the health of our people and our environment, and to tackle and overcome the most daunting challenges of our times—not just for ourselves but for all the peoples of the world.

Unprecedented opportunities await American scientists, researchers, investors, entrepreneurs and businesspeople to build partnerships with Canadians so that together we can find clear approaches to regenerate rusted cities, rejuvenate physical infrastructure, move beyond the internal combustion engine, retool our schools for the economy of the future, and help those in need enjoy lives of dignity and meaning.

To do so, we must deepen the existing bonds between our two nations. Not just by doing more of what we have always done, but also by searching to expand our relationships in wholly new ways. Not just between businesses, but between businesses, schools, research organizations and philanthropic groups. We must broaden our partnerships beyond the conventional and into the truly extraordinary. We must practice the diplomacy of knowledge as only trusted friends can and use the discoveries and innovations that arise from our partnerships to solve our most profound problems and create the smart and caring countries and world that all us dream of.

I look forward to responding to your questions and comments about our shared task. But before I conclude, let me leave you with this. I told you how I became a student at Harvard. What I didn’t tell you was how homesick I was in my first year there. Mine was a homesickness born in large part out of the apprehension that maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe I didn’t belong.

One day, thankfully, I discovered Longfellow House in Cambridge. While visiting the historic home of the great American poet, I learned about his famous poem The Song of Hiawatha. It was a paean to the place where I was raised, and featured characters who arose from the same land as I did. Longfellow’s mythic, romantic verse reminded me that I came from a real place, with a real history and with a richness of experience that is meaningful to even the most sophisticated and erudite.

This revelation grounded me, gave me confidence and filled me with the sense that I was wanted and appreciated even though I was hundreds of miles from home. I have never lost that feeling; and it is rekindled for me every time I visit your welcoming country.

In that same spirit, I want you all to know that you are always welcome and at home in Canada too.

Thank you.