Converge 2017 – The Possibility of Canada: A Call to Action
Ottawa, Ontario, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Canada: a nation of losers.
I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to hear that from the governor general today!
But that was the opinion of Hugh MacLennan, a five-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award and one of Canada’s greatest novelists of the 20th century.
He said it as praise, not an insult.
By calling us all losers, he meant that many Canadians—with the notable exception of indigenous peoples—came to Canada from abroad out of necessity.
They were fleeing war.
They were fleeing hunger.
They were fleeing oppression.
They were fleeing lack of opportunity.
But what were they fleeing to?
Well, the opposite of those things:
They came for peace.
This is what Canada stood for to so many of our parents, grandparents and more distant ancestors who came here.
Peace. Prosperity. Tolerance. Opportunity.
Pretty attractive, no?
All four ingredients are essential, but I believe the last two—tolerance and opportunity—are the foundation of Canada’s success, past, present and future.
Without tolerance and opportunity—without a spirt of inclusiveness, in other words—there can be no peace or prosperity.
An inclusive country
Where Canada has succeeded, it has been through a commitment to inclusiveness—an understanding of and respect for difference.
More than that, our success stems from our diversity. It gives us strength.
Where Canada has failed in the past—for example, the disastrous residential schools policy—it has been in trying to reduce diversity and restrict inclusiveness.
Canadian society is at its best when it mirrors its geography: broad, expansive, inclusive.
The wonderful thing about Canada—and the truly innovative thing—is you get to be many things at once.
One of my predecessors, John Buchan, recognized it early on. He had the perspective of one who came here from abroad. He was born in Scotland, and served as Canada’s governor general from 1935-40—years which saw the outbreak of the Second World War.
Despite those difficult years, he was optimistic about this country. And he was among the first to articulate an essential theme of Canada: inclusiveness.
He understood that being comfortable with diversity is a strength. He knew it was our best hope for peace and prosperity. It still is.
In 1936, Buchan told a group of people of Ukrainian origin who had settled in Manitoba that “You will all be better Canadians for being also good Ukrainians.”
Think about that for a moment.
Not merely, “you can be both Canadian and Ukrainian,” but “you will be a better Canadian for honouring your Ukrainian identity.”
The same applies to any hyphenated identity you can think of. Respect who you are and where you’ve come from, and respect where you are and where we’re going together.
In Canada, you can do both.
Think about how that respect for and encouragement of diversity anticipates and is suited to the world we now live in.
Our world is complex, diverse, globalized and changing very fast. The Fourth Industrial Revolution—the one that comes after digital—is all about emerging technology. It’s the stuff of science fiction.
In fact, science fiction writers are having trouble writing science fiction these days, because it’s become science fact!
The Internet of Things. Artificial intelligence. Robotics. 3D printing. Biotech. Self-driving cars. Nanotechnology.
And like the first, second and third industrial revolutions, the fourth is having profound effects on our lives. It’s what revolutions do.
In such times, our thinking, our behaviour, our laws and institutions and learning must adapt and keep pace. We have to accept that change will happen, whether we like it or not.
The only question is: to what extent do we shape that change? Or put another way, how do we avoid becoming its victims?
The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas Friedman calls this “the age of accelerations,” when people and societies are being challenged by the rapid circulation of ideas and change in virtually all spheres of life.
How we respond, he writes, will determine our success in navigating this historical moment.
“Those societies that are most open to flows of trade, information, finance, culture, or education, and those most willing to learn from them and contribute to them, are the ones most likely to thrive in the age of accelerations. Those that can’t will struggle.”
The title of this conference, Converge, is very apt. That is exactly what’s happening in this age of accelerations: rapid, profound convergence on a global scale.
How do we help shape that change, rather than merely react?
That’s our challenge.
That’s your challenge.
It’s our 150th birthday, and I believe Canadians have a unique opportunity to thrive and to make our voices heard in the world.
This is a diverse, open country. As we all know, tragically, terrible things can and do happen here, but we are by and large comfortable with our diversity.
And this is a diverse, globalized world, full of ideas and differences. We embrace that, too.
Canadians are poised to engage with the world and to succeed anywhere.
This is Canada’s moment.
The call to action
My challenge to you is this:
Let’s not waste our moment.
Get out there.
Be part of it.
As participants in this conference, you’re among the leading lights of your generation. You come from right across the country. You’re ambassadors for your communities and schools, and I want you to go to the next level.
I want you to be ambassadors for this Canadian experiment: for reconciliation, for tolerance, for inclusiveness, for openness, for collaboration, for the possibility of Canada.
I want you to champion this Canada wherever you go.
That means defending and improving our open, inclusive society, and demonstrating to the world that this is what Canada stands for.
That means training yourselves to think creatively. It means learning new languages and skills. It means speaking up for what you believe in. It means considering the perspectives of others—especially those with whom you disagree or don’t understand. Engage with them in dialogue in good faith.
Inclusiveness means all members of a society matter. At last count, Canada was home to 36 386 425 people.
Every single one of them matters.
This is a land of possibility for all, and that is the possibility of Canada.
But we can’t take it for granted. We can’t assume success is inevitable.
We have to advocate for the kind of country, and the kind of world, we want.
We have to articulate it. Words matter.
We have to build it. Actions matter.
We have to live it. Conviction matters.
I’ve worked with young people my entire life, and I have complete faith in all of you.
And I want to call to action all those who can provide opportunities to these bright, capable and energetic young people:
Give them a chance to lead us.
They are ready.
In this our 150th birthday year, let’s recognize Canada’s unique nature.
Let’s correct the mistakes of the past and build a more inclusive country.
Let’s encourage the world to learn from us and to work with us.
It’s 2017. This is the year to celebrate Canada for what it is: a country of losers that is in so many ways the envy of the world.
The time is now, and the task is yours!
Thank you for answering the call.