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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Keynote Address to Students of the Warsaw School of Economics

Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, October 23, 2014


Thank you for your kind welcome. What an honour it is to be invited to speak at this impressive institution of higher learning.

Let me begin by offering greetings and best wishes on behalf of all Canadians.

As governor general, one of my responsibilities is to represent Canada abroad on State visits such as this one to Poland. My wife, Sharon, and I are fortunate to be accompanied on this trip by a diverse and talented delegation of Canadians.

We have only just arrived here in Warsaw, but already we are getting a sense of the great hospitality and warmth of the Polish people.

I have been looking forward to this visit very much. Specifically, I have been looking forward to meeting with Polish people from all walks of life, to discovering something of the rich history and culture of this country and to learning more about the dynamism and potential of contemporary Poland.

Most of all, I hope to advance the friendship that exists between Canada and Poland, and to explore new opportunities for partnership.

Looking out at this lecture hall, I see so much wonderful potential. Many of you are students and young people, meaning that you will play a leading role in the decisions and events to come.

Indeed, many of you are already leading in one way or another. So much change in our world is driven by students and scholars, because you possess the energy, the ideals and the ideas to make change happen.

I would like to outline three main themes in my remarks today.

First, I would like to talk briefly about the strong relationship that already exists between Canada and Poland.

Second, I want to tell you about a particular strength of Canada’s—namely, our diversity and multiculturalism—and why I think it represents one of our country’s important contributions to the world.

Third, I will explain why I think the ability of Canadians and Poles to work and learn together can support our shared success in the years to come.

Let me start with a bit of trivia related to the existing ties between Canada and Poland.

Did you know that nearly one million Canadians trace their ancestry to Poland?

That’s a significant number of people, particularly given the fact that Canada’s total population is just over 35 million.

This large Polish community in Canada is a great asset to both of our countries. It broadens our perspectives and gives us a sense of common cause and friendship.

You can see the results of our close ties throughout our history.

Our troops fought together during the Second World War in Normandy and in Italy, and Canadian airmen lost their lives delivering supplies to the resistance during the Warsaw Uprising.  

In the 80’s, Canadians were inspired by the efforts of the Solidarity Movement.   In fact, a song by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen—“The Partisan”—was one of Solidarity’s unofficial anthems during the dark period of martial law.

Canadians provided political, humanitarian and economic support for the democratic transition in Poland and celebrated with you this year as you marked the 25th anniversary of your renewed freedom.

Today, our two countries are partners in multilateral fora—such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and NATO—and we work together to strengthen democracy, prosperity and the rule of law. We also enjoy growing political, commercial and educational ties.

So much more is possible in the relationship between Canada and Poland, but it is up to us to seize the opportunities at hand. I am certain that both of our countries can learn and gain a great deal from each other.

This brings me to my second theme: what I think is one of Canada’s most important contributions to the world.

I am talking about our commitment to diversity and multiculturalism.

Let me share another bit of trivia with you.

Did you know that, just over 40 years ago, Canada became the first country in the world to officially adopt a policy of multiculturalism?

What does that policy mean in practice?

It means that people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities are encouraged to maintain their cultural heritage, while also integrating and becoming active participants in Canadian society.

It means, for example, that you can be a Polish-Canadian and draw on all the rich traditions of both nationalities, rather than have to choose between them.

Multiculturalism is possible in Canada because diversity is a pillar of our national identity and a source of pride for our country.

An estimated 80 per cent of people who come to Canada take up citizenship, and many, if not most, of the world’s languages are spoken on the streets of Canadian cities.

This gives Canada an important global advantage, and makes us a strong partner to nations around the world. Every language provides us with another means of understanding, and every culture another means of being at home in Canada and around the world.

In a globalized world, where people, goods and information are constantly on the move, Canada’s success as a multicultural country is a beacon of hope for the world.

Let me share with you a quote from Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples which neatly captures the hope I have for a tolerant and diverse world:

“Canada is a test case for a grand notion—the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”

I ask you: can you think of a better prescription for living together peacefully and prosperously on this planet?

This brings me to my third and final theme today, which is to highlight the potential of Canada and Poland to deepen our friendship and collaboration to mutual benefit.

Given our location at the Warsaw School of Economics, let me focus specifically on our potential in the spheres of education and innovation.

Bolstered by strong academic institutions, advanced infrastructure and a highly-skilled workforce, Canada is a leader in science, technology and innovation.

Need examples? The discovery of insulin, the invention of the cardiac pacemaker, and the development of the Java computer programming language can all be considered Canadian discoveries and innovations.

Canadians were also behind the space shuttle robotic arm and the Blackberry smartphone. Poles travel in Canadian Q400 jets and trams in Krakow built by Montreal-based Bombardier. CANDU nuclear reactors are currently operating in six countries around the world.

Canadians are also working hard at developing green technologies to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve air and water quality. These are all areas where Canada has a strong record—for example through our embrace of the LEED certification system for green buildings, or our state-of-the-art carbon capture and storage facilities. Our air pollution prevention and control industry also has a reputation for quality and innovation.

I could go on!

My point is that Canada offers a strong environment for research and innovation, in no small part because of the strength of our educational institutions.

Prior to becoming governor general, I spent many years in academia as a university professor and administrator. I was privileged to work among some of the world’s top scholars and researchers, and I can personally attest to the great work being done in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Key research institutions such as the National Research Council are supporting applied research where business and academic institutions are working together. Other organizations such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are supporting remarkable work. Highly-innovative research is being done in the fields of health, nanotechnology, biotechnology, computing, environmental technologies, energy and renewable fuels, to name a few sectors.

I am pleased to note that hundreds of Polish students come to Canada each year to study. But of course, we would love to see more of you!

Canada is encouraging Polish students, researchers, professors and academics to consider our country as a study and research destination.

Similarly, we hope to increase research and development co-operation between Polish and Canadian public and private institutions in fields including energy, aerospace and information and communications technology, among others.

As governor general, I often encourage Canadian students and researchers to study and work abroad. I know there is a great deal of important learning and innovation taking place in Poland these days, and my hope is that Canadians can contribute and participate.

In fact, this school is home to a wonderful example of learning collaboration between Canada and Poland. The Canadian Executive Master of Business Administration Program is a joint venture between the Warsaw School of Economics and the University of Quebec at Montreal, and an example of the kind of innovative partnership we can create.

This kind of exchange offers a glimpse of the kind of smart and caring nations that Canada and Poland aspire to be in the 21st century. I believe both Canadians and Poles are eager to build societies that export ideas, learning, democratic values, innovations and talent, while also being receptive to contributions and ideas from the rest of the world.

I like to call this exchange “the diplomacy of knowledge,” which simply means the sharing of learning and innovation across disciplines and borders.

In my experience, this kind of exchange is critical to progress in today’s world. Working together is key, because new discoveries are rarely made in isolation, the way they might have been even a generation ago. Rather, they more often occur as the result of collaboration between schools and research institutions, the private sector and governments, and, increasingly, between nations.

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, institution or country to another. 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.

Let me close with this image in mind. After all, in the interconnected, globalized world of the 21st century, our collective well-being will be determined not by simple measures such as GDP or the number of billionaires a nation can claim, but rather by our ability to empower the greatest number of citizens possible to reach their potential and to contribute to the societies in which they live.

Only by enabling and harnessing that potential will we truly prosper, and build the smarter, more caring nations and the fairer, more just world of which we dream.

With this in mind, I wish you the very best and call upon you to help build partnerships and prosperity between Canada and Poland.

Thank you.