Address at The Empire Club of Canada – Towards 2017: What Are We Giving to Canada?
Toronto, Ontario, Friday, June 19, 2015
Where were you in 1967?
I see a few fresh faces out there. You’re too young to remember that special year.
I also see some people here today with grey hair like mine. Most of you must remember 1967.
I sure do.
During Canada’s centennial year, I was a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston.
I was a very green teacher at the time, it being my second year as a professor.
I was also a fairly green husband. My wife, Sharon, and I had been married for three years, and we had just started to plan the arrival of our first child.
An inexperienced professional and fledgling spouse, I was like many Canadians at the time.
Our emerging generation of men and women shared some important qualities.
We were confident, forward thinking and ambitious, and we expressed those qualities in many ways during our Centennial year.
I still have some vivid memories of that time.
Canadians built hundreds of arenas, schools, libraries and community centres in which young athletes, students and families could play, learn and grow together.
And who alive then can forget Expo ’67?
More than a celebration of Canada, it was our gift to the world.
Why did we celebrate, why did we give so visibly and generously?
Our centennial was an unprecedented opportunity for our entire country to reflect, take stock and imagine our future—a future that would see us stride continuously closer to fairness, equality and justice.
Looking back over 100 years together gave us the power to look forward and focus all of our attention and energy on bringing about that kind of Canada.
Much has changed since our centennial year.
For one thing, Sharon and I have now been married for more than 50 years. We have five children and 12 grandchildren.
Much has also changed in our country.
We’re a much more diverse country now—a fact that puts increasing emphasis on our ability to remain tolerant of our differences and inclusive in our outlook.
We’re a more urban country than ever. And we’re grappling with the difficulties of living in, working in and getting around our growing cities.
Much has changed in our world, too.
We’re living through an extraordinary moment in time, a hinge point in history.
A time of profound globalization.
Of disruptive technological changes.
Of major demographic shifts.
Of momentous concerns related to our natural environment.
Of changing attitudes toward—and expectations of—governments and public services.
With these challenges at home and beyond our borders staring us straight in the face, I have a question for all of you here today: What are we giving Canada on its 150th birthday in 2017? More broadly, what are we doing to make Canada a truly smart and caring nation?
An occasion as momentous as Canada one-fifty comes along once—maybe twice—in a lifetime. How are you going to use this rare opportunity to do something special for your country, to give a gift to Canada?
As governor general for the past five years, I’ve been criss-crossing the country—meeting and speaking with Canadians of all ages, regions and backgrounds. And I’ve asked them to think deeply about this question of their gift to Canada.
We’re now just a year-and-a-half from 2017. Canada one-fifty is fast approaching.
Now is the time to put plans in motion; to turn ideas into action; to act.
Because the country we dream of won’t build itself. It requires strong wills and innovative actions.
What do I mean by innovative? It’s a word that gets bandied about quite often. So much so that it’s no longer anchored in any real meaning.
Being innovative is not being inventive. Innovation is a process, a means by which we improve productivity and—this is essential—create better ways for people to organize, operate and live. Such improvements and adaptations are vital to maintaining and advancing our quality of life in Canada.
Just as we must innovate in science, engineering, medicine and education, we must innovate in how we give.
We must use giving to reach marginalized people and unaddressed collective needs.
We must give in ways that ensure every single Canadian can reach his or her full potential, and enjoy a life of dignity and meaning.
We must give using increasingly effective and more ambitious methods to overcome the daunting challenges we face right now in our time.
What does innovative giving look like? Here’s an example. I was here in Toronto earlier this month at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. Members of the G7 Social Impact Investment Taskforce were also there, gathered in Canada for the first time.
Those men and women were working together to gain a better understanding of how to harness private capital for public good while generating financial returns for investors. This kind of investing recognizes that Canada, like its G7 partners, faces significant social, environmental and financial challenges.
The scope and gravity of these challenges call on us to be innovative, because governments sometimes lack the ability or the flexibility to respond adequately. It’s not that there isn’t enough money in the world to address these challenges; it’s that the money is tied up in financial markets, held as interest-earning investments rather than being deployed where it’s needed most.
But when we invest in helping people, communities and countries overcome challenges—all while generating returns for investors—that’s innovative giving.
That’s just one example of unlocking our assets for the greater good. Our task in the next year-and-a-half is to uncover and start carrying out more such examples of innovative giving.
I have no doubt we can.
I’d like to emphasize the importance of being smart in our giving, as well as caring. Smart giving means two things: being innovative, as well as constantly measuring our impact. Both are so important.
Social finance is a great example of smart giving, not least because of its focus on measuring impact. Measurement allows us to chart progress, improve performance and communicate value. It also allows us to avoid unnecessarily duplicating efforts and administrative costs.
So, for example, if you want to support a good cause, job #1 is to find a charity with the same aim. If there isn’t one, job #2 is to ask whether you might help an existing charity innovate to fulfill that aim. And, if you still can’t find a match, job #3 is to fill that gap.
With limited time and resources available, smart giving is so key.
We want to form partnerships and find synergies to amplify our giving and make it more effective.
We want to build on the good things Canadians are already doing.
We want to be smart in our caring—that means innovation, and that means measuring impact.
Our country has a long and storied history of innovation—technological, economic and political.
In fact, Canada itself has been called an innovation in diversity and multiculturalism—an experiment to test the proposition that all the peoples of the world can live together in harmony.
We must bring our knack for innovation to giving.
And because both innovation and giving are profoundly human processes, we must foster a culture of giving at the community level.
All giving is local, and community-based initiatives are so important. My Giving Moment, the social media campaign we inspired at Rideau Hall, features thousands of such individual and neighbourhood acts of caring. The campaign aims to give voice to those acts, to build up and amplify the great work being done by individuals and charities.
There are stories about Canadians donating money to charity; volunteering at animal shelters; tending community gardens; and offering their professional skills to those in need.
One woman—Alyson Fair—marked her fortieth birthday by undertaking 40 acts of giving during her milestone year. Not only did she follow through, but these giving moments also inspired her to keep giving. What an amazing feeling it is, she says, to have someone smile at you and say, “thank you, you made my day.”
Such simple but meaningful acts can inspire us to make our nation’s 150th anniversary one for the ages. Let’s rise to the occasion!
That is my challenge to the hundreds of Canadians here today and to the millions beyond these walls.
A few years ago, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi challenged citizens to do three things for their city. I’m happy to borrow a great idea and challenge you—Empire Club members and guests, leaders all—to come up with three truly special gifts to Canada in 2017.
They can be big. Or they can be small. But make them special.
Take your knowledge, skills and experiences.
Take your ambition, drive and intelligence.
Take your personal and professional contacts and use them to carry out three giving moments in 2017.
And then find a way to tell the country. Share with all of us what your giving moments are and what inspired you to give them. Do so not out of arrogance but in a spirit of confidence, optimism and altruism.
Lord Byng of Vimy, our country’s twelfth governor general, once called on Canadians to have minds as vast and hearts as big as this land we love. I echo his evocative words and the ambitious energy behind them.
As we look toward Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, I ask you to take advantage of this momentous occasion and come up with smart ways to give. Remember, that means being innovative, and measuring impact. Find three of your own special giving moments that will help make ours a better nation for our time and for generations to come.
With minds as vast and hearts as big as this land we love, let’s make these special giving moments the great celebration project of Canada one-fifty.