His Excellency the Right Honourable
David Johnston, C.C.,C.M.M.,C.O.M., C.D.,
Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada
Talk to the Canadian Club of Regina, October 11, 2012
Travelodge Hotel, Regina, Saskatchewan
It was in September of 1905 that banners hung all across Saskatchewan proclaiming “Prosperity and Progress,” “Peace,” or, in the case of one display showcasing a model Saskatchewan infant, “Watch the Baby Grow.”
Saskatchewan was entering Confederation, and the entire province was bursting with dreams.
Both the Governor General and the Prime Minister at the time—Earl Grey and Sir Wilfred Laurier respectively—were delighted to be present to welcome this new addition to Canada. Hundreds of schoolchildren filled the streets here in Regina that day, and Laurier remarked that he wished he could experience the day through their eyes.
There were big expectations and even bigger dreams for the new province, and there was a prevailing thought that the 20th century belonged to Saskatchewan.
In fact, several years later, at the cornerstone laying of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building—which is marking its 100th anniversary this year—Earl Grey remarked how privileged he felt to be there. Already, he said, there had been profound change in the province. He went on to predict that those changes “are not only a proof of your vigorous growth, but an indication of your future strength.”
Of course, as with many provinces and countries in those days, some of those dreams had to be put on hold. Two world wars, the Depression, economic and societal challenges; Saskatchewan has experienced so much, and for so long concentrated as much on survival as on growth. But through it all, the people here have maintained their resolve.
In his book Saskatchewan: A New History, Bill Waiser talks about the people’s “stubborn persistence” and hope in the land to provide.
Today, Saskatchewan has reached a hinge point in its history; the 21st century, for this province, is a time to realize dreams. This is your time to lead.
Simply look at the evidence, of which all of you are well aware.
Saskatchewan’s population growth is one of the highest, and immigration to the province is up by 1.3 per cent, the highest rate in the country. It also has one of the lowest unemployment rates at 4.7 per cent and, according to the RBC Economics Provincial Outlook report, stands ready to have the largest economic growth in 2013.
It is worth saying again: this is your time to lead.
And what especially pleases me is that, as a leader, you also know you have a responsibility to yourselves and to the rest of the country to protect what you have built. Sustainability is one of the most important ways to ensure that this province continues to be a leader.
That word, sustainability, is one we hear often. So often, in fact, that it is in danger of becoming a buzzword, one that loses meaning when it is talked about—indeed, perhaps it already is. Yet, it is a concept we must discuss for this country to become a smarter, more caring nation. And so, when I talk about sustainability, I invite you to think of this as a new term, one with significant implications for the future of Saskatchewan.
But let me give you the definition as outlined in the Brundtland Report of 1987. Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. And regardless of whether or not it is a buzzword, this is the challenge of the 21st century
What, then, are the ingredients for success? I believe that there are three areas that we need to consider for sustainability: social innovation, social inclusion and social enterprise.
Each has historically proven to be both a strength and a challenge for Saskatchewan.
Take, for instance, social innovation.
Innovation is a linear process in theory, from conception to discovery to application. But in practice, it is two dimensional—back and forth from application to conception and vice versa, like a cross cut saw.
In another sense, it is also three dimensional, in that it is not fostered by one person alone, but by several or more people working together. The process of innovation is shared.
I think this is particularly true of social innovation, where ideas are taken from one sector of society to the other, always changing and evolving to fit the needs of the people. And it is these practical experiments that stimulate future innovation.
And that is what Saskatchewan has been so good at: sharing innovation, with each other and with other provinces, and evolving it when required.
In fact, this province is a great crucible of innovation. During its history, Saskatchewan’s citizens have confronted great challenges and, time and again, you have devised clever and original ways to combat them.
Of course, we cannot discuss social innovation without acknowledging one of Saskatchewan’s greatest contributions to our country: Medicare.
Since the very beginning, this province has been concerned with providing its citizens with greater access to medical care. In 1929, it was the first jurisdiction in North America to offer free diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis. Even earlier, a kind of socialized medical system took hold in more rural areas, where a municipality would hire and retain the services of a doctor for the entire town.
All of you here, and all of Canada, know the story of Tommy Douglas. But it is a story worth repeating.
It was Tommy Douglas who first championed the idea of a province-wide medical system that provided access to all. When he was a small child, his family couldn’t afford quality medical care, and as a result, he almost lost a leg to illness. He was spared by a specialist who took him on as a patient pro bono.
As premier, he wanted to make sure that no child or family would have to go through what he did. Like many in the province, he would not let his dream die.
It was 50 years ago this year that Saskatchewan became the first province to have an integrated Medicare policy for all of its citizens. Three years later, it was adopted nationally.
This is perhaps one of the finest examples of social innovation that our country has, and it was birthed right here in the heart of the Prairies.
The creation of Medicare was a sustainable innovation, in that it ensured the health and well-being of all citizens, who could then contribute to the success of the province. In this example, we can see how important social innovation is to the growth of a community, province and country.
The idea that everyone, no matter where they live or their social status, should be granted access to medical care is not surprising for this province. It has a history of being an open and inviting place for newcomers.
By the beginning of the First World War, almost half of the population of Saskatchewan had been born in another country. And those newly arrived in Canada searched out not only a better life for themselves and their families, but also a society willing to accept their heritage.
Saskatchewan did just that, breaking down barriers, eliminating divides and allowing new Canadians to contribute to our nation. That tradition continues today, as many immigrants have decided to make this prairie province home.
I am reminded of a set of paintings by Alberta artist William Kurelek—The Ukrainian Pioneer—showing the arrival of immigrants to Canada. The six paintings depict the daunting task of coming to the Prairies and building a better life.
The last panel could very well be a scene out of any Saskatchewan farm, with a farmer proudly standing in a field of flourishing wheat.
This is not an uncommon depiction of the immigrant experience in Canada in general and in the Prairies specifically, but the series reminds us that the work, and our success, require constant vigilance.
Above all, Saskatchewan has created a more inclusive province through its generosity, opening doors through kindness for immigrants and for anyone in need.
Take, for instance, the story of Gordie Howe, one of the best hockey players in history and a Saskatchewan native. Gordie would never have received his very first pair of skates were it not for his mother’s act of kindness.
The Howe family was not well off, often struggling to survive. Yet, Gordie’s mother had a good heart and a strong desire to do the right thing. She gave a neighbour in need some money and in return received a sack of odds and ends. In this bag, Gordie, just five years old, found his first pair of skates.
This story reminds me of my own experience. One winter’s day in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, my teammates and I learned that a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be coming to watch us play.
At that time, I had never owned a new piece of hockey equipment. But when word got around that a scout for the Maple Leafs was in town, a local sporting goods store owner—not a man of great wealth—came to me and said, “I have something for you.”
It was a brand new pair of skates.
I scored three goals that night, which I attribute to the skates, at least in my own mind. I will never forget the generosity of that man.
Reflecting upon his act of kindness, I believe that, as much as those new skates propelled me on the ice, it was the confidence that was placed in my abilities that inspired me that day.
Gordie Howe’s mother, the kind store owner from my youth, and so many other Canadians have engaged in random acts of kindness that change lives and make people feel included in society.
Can you imagine a world in which Gordie Howe never laced up a pair of skates? Now can you imagine a world without giving? I think that we can all agree that either scenario is unthinkable.
When we are generous towards others, when we make them feel welcome, we are encouraging inclusion, which is necessary for a province to thrive.
But inclusion goes far beyond generosity. It includes recognizing and addressing vital and long-standing issues.
By 2045, Aboriginal people will make up one third of the entire population of Saskatchewan. And yet, there is a large discrepancy between this segment of society and the rest.
Métis unemployment is approximately double that of the provincial average. The number of unemployed First Nations people is also on the rise.
A recent article in The StarPhoenix by Jordon Cooper made mention of lost opportunities and suggested, perhaps, that many Aboriginal people feel marginalized. So much so that many do not finish high school or pursue a career.
Social inclusion, particularly when it comes to education, can go a long way towards eliminating racism and stereotypes, and can lead to renewed hope for Aboriginal people.
Two fellows with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research—James Robinson, from Harvard, and Daron Acemoglu, from MIT—
We can see how much potential is lost when we don’t encourage inclusion, which leads me to social enterprise and the example set by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.
Recognizing the need for change, nine First Nations bands joined together in the 1980s to provide programs, deliver services and help with community development. One of the ways it did so was by forming NorSask Forest Products.
This company employs many First Nations and the profits are reinvested in the community in areas such as infrastructure and housing. Now, the council is embarking on one of its most ambitious projects to date: the $150-million Meadow Lake Bioenergy Centre.
The waste produced by NorSask’s sawmill will be converted by this centre into energy to power some 30 000 homes. That is an impressive target. Already, the council has improved the lives of those in the community, and now it turns its attention towards a sustainable and renewable future for the environment.
The people of Saskatchewan have been good stewards of resources. You recognize that an economy dependent on something finite cannot continue indefinitely, and you have taken many steps to be more sustainable with your resources. But there is still so much more that could be done.
When we look around us, we can see so many examples of different enterprises dedicated to community sustainability. What can we learn from them?
The Meadow Lake example is but one in the province, but we can also look outside of Saskatchewan, and Canada, to learn.
Norway, also a resource-based economy, has had great success in creating a sustainable culture. Today, it has taken its success global, championing Energy +, an initiative involving many countries that promotes access to green energies for developing nations to combat climate change.
I say again, let us learn from these different enterprises and, most importantly, let us move from discussion to action.
Tommy Douglas once said, at the opening of a long-awaited bridge in 1951, that the project “should remind us not to forget our dreams and also remind us to take off our coats and make these dreams come true.”
I have talked about social innovation, social inclusion and social enterprise, but there is one final piece that cannot be overlooked: social conviction.
Let me go back to Medicare for a moment. Today, we cherish universal medical care as a uniquely Canadian value. And yet, 50 years ago, this was a deeply divisive issue. Many opposed this system and the debate was fierce. Those who supported this issue could have easily turned back from this road, taken the easy path.
But they believed in what they were doing.
Their conviction led to the adoption of this new way of delivering medicine, and ushered in a new age for Canada.
Conviction can lead to great innovation. Conviction can lead to more inclusion. Conviction can lead to a focus on new enterprises.
Saskatchewan can lead by conviction.
All of you here in this room and across the province have built a great province and have contributed to a strong Canada. Since that day in 1905, you have always put Canada first, you have understood that you are part of a whole, stronger together than not.
We have started to count down to the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, and I cannot help but wonder what Saskatchewan will bring to the celebration. What will be the legacy you leave for subsequent generations? What will be your gift to Canada in five years’ time?
Saskatchewan is at a crucial point in its history. The momentum of this province is opening the door to new opportunities. It is up to all of you to make sure it does not swing shut.
But I have faith. I have faith in you and I have faith in the history of this place.
I would like to go back to Mr. Waiser, who writes at the end of the retelling of the history of the province: “Saskatchewan has a history of dealing creatively with challenges, disadvantages, and obstacles. That is what has made the province so special—a gritty resolve to focus on local issues, while maintaining a clear sense of the wider world, and coming up with new strategies in keeping with the irrepressible Saskatchewan spirit.”
The Saskatchewan spirit is what attracts us. It is your conviction to do better—even in times of great success—that keeps our attention here. And it is this conviction that will guide you well into the 21st century—your time to lead.