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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Community Foundations of Canada Conference – Belong 2017

Ottawa, Ontario, Friday, May 11, 2017


Canada: a nation of losers.

That’s right—losers!

I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to hear that from the governor general of Canada 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.

For prosperity.

For tolerance.

For opportunity.

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.

Now let me say that I also know that many international guests are attending this conference. In fact, I understand 34 countries on 6 continents are represented.

Welcome, all of you! As all of you know, tolerance and opportunity are critical to our success worldwide. You are very welcome here, and your perspectives are valued. Canada aspires to be a nation that not only goes out into the world to learn and exchange, but that welcomes the world at home.

As the Canadian poet and lawyer F.R. Scott wrote:

The world is my country /
The human race is my race

Today, the world is our country, the human race our race. And without tolerance and opportunity—without a spirt of inclusiveness, in other words—there can be no peace or prosperity.

All of you are well aware of this. After all, the key themes of this conference are belonging, reconciliation and inclusion. I would like to commend you on this important focus.

As you know, we all have much work to do.

Here in Canada, we’re very fortunate to be part of a society that largely values diversity, but Canada remains a work-in-progress.

We are not immune to racism, to hatred, to violence, to inequality and exclusion and alienation. So we cannot be complacent.

Your work is so important. Community Foundations of Canada exists to build a better country through better communities.

In fact, when I became governor general and called on all Canadians to join me in building a smarter and more caring nation, the Community Foundations went above and beyond in answering the call.

How? By establishing Smart and Caring Community Funds to help people across Canada to develop their talents and communities and succeed to their fullest potential.

At the beginning of that initiative, 72 per cent of Canadian communities had access to a community foundation.

Today, the number is 90 per cent! Bravo! This is remarkable and cause for celebration.

Even more exciting: you now have a strategy in place to reach the other 10 per cent. And you are working with people in northern communities to reflect northern culture, values and aspirations. This is so important.

Throughout my mandate, I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing the results of these funds in communities right across the country. And I’ve met so many wonderful people who have made change possible. It’s inspiring!

So inspiring, in fact, that the office I represent partnered with Community Foundations of Canada in creating the Rideau Hall Foundation, an independent, non-partisan charity intended to amplify and broaden the reach of the office.

The goal of the Rideau Hall Foundation is to gather, align and mobilize ideas, people and resources to inspire Canadians and move this country forward. Establishing it out of a tradition-based office was a new direction, but thanks in significant part to the expertise and enthusiasm of our community foundations partners, we have succeeded in creating something special and powerful.

This is what community foundations do across Canada and around the world: work with partners to create something special and powerful. You understand a community and a country is more than the sum of its parts, and that above all, we’re stronger when we work together.

So again, inclusiveness is the key. It’s at the heart of everything you do here.

As a side note, I also understand you have all received a copy of The Idea of Canada from supporters and friends of the Community Foundations of Canada!

What you may not know is the royalties for the book go to support the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers program of which the Community Foundations has been such a strong supporter .

Thank you all. 

Now, I would like to talk a little more about this spirit of inclusiveness in Canada, how important it is to our future both here and worldwide. Because while Canada is not perfect, where we have succeeded in the past, 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.

And 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.

Community foundations understand this. Canadian society is at its best when it mirrors its geography: broad, expansive, inclusive.

Now let me add, the wonderful thing about Canada—and the truly innovative thing—is that we have an advantage when it comes to building an inclusive society.

In Canada, more than in most parts of the world, 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.

I quote:

“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.”

How do we help shape this change, rather than merely react? That’s our challenge.

One thing is certain: as a vast but relatively small nation in terms of population, we are going to need to draw on the talents of all Canadians. And that means it is imperative that we build strong communities.

The same goes for communities around the world.

That’s your challenge as community organizers and philanthropists. Communities are changing, giving is changing, and your task is to harness that change for good.

I know you’re up to the task.

So my challenge to you is this:

Let’s not waste our moment.

Talk to each other.

Stay open to new ideas.

Be curious.

Take risks.

Bring others into the conversation.

Many of you are among the leading lights of your communities. You come from right across the country and around the world. You’re ambassadors for your cities and towns and regions, and I know you will go to the next level. 

I know you will be ambassadors for tolerance, for openness, for collaboration, for  an inclusive world.

We have to advocate for the kind of communities, the kind of country and world, we want.

We have to articulate it. Words matter.

We have to build it. Actions matter.

We have to live it. Conviction matters.

We have to share it. Inclusiveness matters.

Communities matter.

Let’s correct the mistakes of the past and build a more inclusive country and world.

Let’s encourage partners to work with us and to learn together.

The time is now, and the task is yours!

Thank you, as always, for answering the call.