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Governor General of Canada / Gouverneur général du Canadaa




Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of the Opening of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference 2004

Winnipeg, Friday, May 7, 2004

It is a pleasure for me to be in Winnipeg to welcome you all to the opening of the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference. As you know, this conference is held only every four years, and is the fruit of a great deal of work by people who volunteer their time, their considerable expertise and their commitment to helping Canada achieve a level of excellence through the recognition and the development of her people.

That's why I want to thank, first and foremost, Paul Desmarais Jr., your Chair, who has used his enthusiasm and organizational skills to bring this conference together.

When I asked Paul, almost exactly four years ago, if he would act as chair and he accepted, I knew that in 2004 we would have a remarkable Conference. He has been ably helped by Ian Anderson, Pierre Leduc and Duncan Rayner. Over the past four years, ever since the end of the conference in 2000, we have been working together to make this the best conference that we could possibly have.

I want to pay tribute here to my predecessor, the Right Honourable Edward Schreyer, whose idea this kind of conference was, and who presided over the first one in 1983. It is significant that Mr. Schreyer should have come from Manitoba, the centre of Canada, which has within its heart all the things that have made and are continuing to make Canada the country that it can be.

We're here in the traditional territory of the Anishinabe. Through the river systems, the Forks became a meeting point with other First Nations, including the Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene, and Sioux, who would use the routes for trade. These rivers also brought the first waves of immigrants: the Francophones, who pushed west to the beginning of the great plains. They were followed by the Anglophones, who came later in such extraordinary experiments as the Selkirk settlement.

So Winnipeg has been a crucible for the meeting of Canada's three founding peoples: Aboriginal, Francophone, and Anglophone. As a result, this is the birthplace and the heartland of the Métis People. In front of the Manitoba Legislature – no more than six minutes from here – stands the statue of Louis Riel saying, at its base, "Founder of Manitoba".

Winnipeg grew as a city of immigrants through the acceptance of people from all over the world. It has become a beacon of the diversity of which we are now so proud, and which will be a powerful source of creative energy in the 21st century. This is a daring, open and innovative place.

So many talented Canadians have given of themselves in this city, and have sent their gifts and themselves across the country and out into the world. Winnipeggers have always added strong measures of resilience, optimism and energy to the sum of our country, helping to forge our most cherished values: hard work, equality, decency, and altruism.

Every time we come to Winnipeg, my husband and I are struck by the architectural character of the Exchange district, the health of the school system, the excellence of the art gallery and the vibrancy of the performing arts scene. Several years ago—it must be almost a decade—we came here to do a documentary on the Victor Davies oratorio that the Fast family had commissioned to commemorate their mother's life. It was 45 below for the time we were here! We thought we would be walking every day from this hotel to the Centennial Concert Hall, but we could not walk that distance in the cold. But every night when we went out to the cultural venues – the Theatre Centre, the Centennial Hall, of course – those places were packed. People in Winnipeg know how to live with this climate – they are true Canadians!

Each time I visit, it is a pleasure and a learning experience. Since I've been Governor General, I've admired such innovations in the Aboriginal community as Thunderbird House, and the practical, compassionate work of Rossbrook House and the St. Andrews Street Centre.

All these are reasons for my original suggestion to Paul that we should have the opening of this conference here in the centre of Canada, and have the "Group of 229" radiate out into the country like spokes from the hub that is Winnipeg. We also wanted to make the purpose of these two weeks very clear, and so the name became The Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference. Leadership is the target, something we must consciously and continually develop in this country. We do a fair job of it, but in our typically Canadian way, we don't want to say that this is what we are actually doing. Sometimes I think we just want to remain the best-kept secret in the world.

When I look out at you, 229 busy and talented people prepared to take 15 days away from your families, occupations and other responsibilities, I feel that there is already a guarantee of success for this Conference. Judging from the experience of previous participants, it will be a life-changing one. If the past is any guide, you can expect that you will stay in touch with your group and that some of you will even marry each other.

It's true, we've had weddings. Not right away, but there was some consideration and then it happened!

You will come out to meetings in other Canadian cities and form alumni groups. Some of you will take up a career challenge in one of the places that you visit on this trip, somewhere you've never been before. All of these things are possible, even likely. I wish you the best of luck with them.

"Leadership." "Diversity." Regarding the word "leadership", one of the strongest challenges I have for you is to put aside what you think you already know about it. You have been chosen partly because of a demonstrated aptitude for leadership, but don't let that confine you. When we say that diversity is the great issue for leaders, you'll have to get your mind around to thinking of it as more than just sighing, "Well, it takes all kinds to make a world." You are in for a learning experience, an exciting and unsettling one, and I envy you that. As American President Harry Truman once said, "The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all." So your minds and your spirits are going to be challenged and, I hope, changed by everything that you experience in these next two weeks.

The very concept of leadership itself has undergone a great deal of change. Before the last few decades, it simply meant a position in the forefront of something, as in "The military leadership met to discuss strategy." It referred to the people in charge, the sacred few. Today, we're so accustomed to speaking of it as a quality and a set of characteristics, a capacity that individuals have and can develop, that we forget how recent this usage is.

You know, in many languages, of which French is one, the English word is imported – it's "le leadership" – because they have no existing word of their own. And with this relatively recent development of the concept, the qualities we mean when we say "She has what it takes to be a real leader" are regularly being called into question, revised and expanded.

Consider what leaders themselves have said about what they think leadership is. It can leave you in a bit of a quandary. MacKenzie King, who spent twenty-two years as our Prime Minister, said: "I really believe my greatest service is in the many unwise steps I prevent." The determined caution of such a statement leaves us much to think about. On the other hand, we have the great Dr. Norman Bethune, an extraordinary figure in Canadian history, a hero to the Spanish people and revered by the Chinese for the sacrifice of his life during the Revolution. He said, "Every leader starts by first leading himself." This is a powerful idea that I'll come back to.

What kind of leaders do you admire? What would you like a leader to be able to convince you of? What kind of leadership benefits different sorts of organizations at particular times? In what ways does the world stand most in need of inspired leadership? As many people are arguing today, I think that the most important thing is to think of the ethical platform from which all leadership must be practised and judged, and then to look into our hearts and see if we can commit to it.

W.B. Yeats' 1921 poem "The Second Coming" is one of my great favourites; I used to know it by heart and still know parts. It spoke of a world – and this is between the two World Wars – in which "the best lack all conviction / and the worst are full of passionate intensity". By becoming true leaders, you help to reverse his elegant but pessimistic characterization of humanity. This is the most important purpose to leadership which, as the Canadian educational leader Michael Fullan says, "must tap the energy that comes from moral purpose". Leaders do the right things, whereas managers try only to do things right. And we too often see people who do the wrong things very well.

People talk a lot about charismatic leadership, the woman or man who is going to lead our government or company out of the wilderness by dazzling all with his or her brilliance, or by "making the tough decisions". This is the model of the leader as saviour, dynamo, hero. Actually, though, it has been found in studies of business that there is a negative correlation between this brand of leadership and sustained success. Leadership is not as solitary, as independent a function as we often think. There are wonderful leaders who watch where people are going and gently, insistently herd them from all sides, even from behind, rather like a good sheepdog.

Leaders have to know what they can ask of the people that they are leading—their strengths, their weaknesses, their level of commitment, and whether they are sufficiently motivated to remain for the long haul. Leaders deal with moral issues, many of which are not particularly valued by those elements of our society that emphasize competition at all costs and winning right now. Good leaders, I believe, have to give the people who work with them reasons to love, rather than excuses to hate.

Modern leadership is founded on people being able to talk to each other, to listen to each other, and eventually to come up with some answers. It's certainly true that asking the right questions is important, but pushing toward a simple and premature answer is counterproductive. It's easy to become impatient with the lengthy discussions that are sometimes needed in genuine consultation, as opposed to appearing to listen and then proceeding with our own plan. It's easier to learn manipulative techniques, off-the-shelf management tricks to make people do what you want them to, conditioning them so that when you ring the bell, they salivate. The trouble is, they won't do that for long and they'll resent your condescension.

As Governor General, I've spent the last four and a half years going to over 300 communities, towns, and villages in this country. Everywhere, I have had the privilege of talking to people. The hope, always, is to be a source of encouragement, but also to fashion opportunities for Canadians to get together in the places where they live and to talk about what concerns them.

This has sometimes been called "slow knowing", a reflective group-learning process that invites the commitment of people who are being heard, and that also broadens the range of prospects and insights that are available as the fuel for progress. And you know, the faster life gets – and it's certainly getting extremely fast – the greater must be the capacity of leaders to know when they must act quickly, and when an appreciation of complexity should lead them to proceed like the tortoise rather than the hare. There's no question that life is accelerating. The other night we happened to see Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, made in the mid-70s I would say, judging from the sideburns and the bellbottoms. The movie is full of shots that are 2, 3, 5 seconds longer than the rapid cuts in most North American movies now. There is a kind of breathing space in the way the film proceeds, which really accentuated to me what is happening today to our attention spans. We have come to expect that movies—and daily life, for that matter—should "leave you breathless!"

Long before Three Days of the Condor, Gandhi said: "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Some values, which seem pragmatic and useful in the short term, are neither sustainable in the long term nor inherent to the human spirit. One value, however, is proving to be of immense and lasting benefit: the diversity of our country, with its rich opportunities for us to participate in it and grow because of it.

You are going off, in groups of about 15, to 15 different parts of the country. You will be travelling to remote communities like Old Crow or Haynes Junction in the Yukon. You will be meeting Suncor's union leaders and touring the Syncrude complex in Fort McMurray. You'll go to the west coast of Vancouver Island and tour Clayoquot Sound. You'll meet, at the Carnegie Centre, with the incredibly diverse population of the lower east side of Vancouver, which encompasses an old Chinatown and is also the living room for drug addicts and street people. You'll discover Arviat, Rankin Inlet and a Hutterite colony. You'll discuss Mennonite business in the town of Altona, which boasts one of the most successful printing companies in North America. You'll serve at a children's breakfast program and have casual dinners with mayors and MPPs. You'll see the flourishing Canadian wine business in Niagara, eat dim-sum with Toronto's new mayor and visit the headquarters of the Royal Bank. You'll have a chance to talk to the Quebec Minister of Immigration and the Mayor of Quebec City. You'll visit Thetford Mines to discuss chrysotile asbestos.

And I'm happy to say that I can share the experience of the next ten days with you, even though you're divided into groups of 15 during this time, because John Ralston Saul and I, during my mandate as Governor General, have done 90% of the things that you're all going to do. So I know you're going to really enjoy them.

When you see all of this, you'll be better able to think about how diversity feeds into the things that our country says it is all about. You likely know that our official immigration policy is to attract one percent of our population per year as immigrants, potential citizens of Canada. We never quite make the 310,000 but we hover near a quarter million annually. This is an enormous commitment by our country to open itself to the world.

Around the country, when I look out into school auditoria and community centres, I see the changing face of Canada. When I was a child, this was a white snow, "white bread", white people kind of place. In my lifetime, our burgeoning diversity has given me enormous and unexpected satisfaction and joy. Of course, it has not all been smooth, and it has not all been easy. There are still reasons to feel apprehensive about the future. We have done well, but we need to do better, because in some ways we have been quite lucky that things have worked as well as they do.

Recent studies show some disturbing signs about the economic progress of our immigrant population, or the lack thereof. Immigrants and the families they raise here are taking longer to catch up with the rest of us than has historically been the case. The same can be said of the Aboriginal peoples of this land. There must be efforts made, in cooperation with them, to make sure that they are not left behind, that they participate with all Canadians in the new world of our dream. If we combine social and economic hardship with a feeling of alienation, of not-quite-belonging, among immigrant communities and among our Aboriginals, we will have a time bomb on our hands.

Therefore, one of the urgent calls in Canadian leadership is to be able to foresee these problems. We need, as a society, to understand the benefits and the challenges of diversity. We must encourage and involve people who are in danger of marginalization. We have to ensure that they have their own paths toward the goals that we have been taught are worthy and possible in a country like ours.

Up until fairly recently, our immigration was from countries that, in somewhat different forms, also have democratic institutions, the rule of law and a constructive civil society. But now many of our immigrants come from places where they have been virtually stateless people. They have lived their lives in an atmosphere of fear and deprivation. We must make sure that we help to bring them along to full participation in Canadian society.

Recently I was at York University when the first group of Somali students received their B.A.s. There were about nine of them, and there was much rejoicing from their thirty relatives who had all crammed into the hall to cheer and take pictures. Canada is like that. Our population is acculturated in waves. And you, as present and future leaders, must be certain that you can ride those waves to the shore.

Accommodating different cultural values, appreciating the depth of other people's religions and their commitment to them, are only the beginning steps. I often say at citizenship ceremonies that one of the marks of a civilized society is that you can operate in it with people whom you don't like, whom you may not even respect, but with whom you will work to make a country that works together. It's very easy to deal with people we like, people we already identify with, but we have to make a country with people with whom we have, often, very severe disagreements, and know the bond we have in common.

We have the ability, the responsibility, to create a society in which each little unit—an ethnic group or a company, a neighbourhood, a trade union, a government department or an artistic community—can find its place. To do this requires collectives that can grow, organizations that can learn. This means, then, that you, as leaders and as individuals, must pay attention to your own learning, to your ongoing personal transformation. Eric Hoffer said this: "Learners inherit the earth, while the learnèd find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." This applies to all of us and to all the institutions with which we are associated.

As you perfect your skills and hone your talents, you must be able to put that into the context of the society in which you live. On this tour, I hope that you will learn about other people, perhaps with ideas very different from your own, who are helping to shape and reshape Canada. It will help you to be part of them, to link to them, to love them, to have compassion for them, but not to see yourselves as above them. An ancient Hindu text says: "There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self."

You are being given a chance here, in these two weeks, to shed a previous self, to effect a personal transformation. I have no doubt that you will gain knowledge, but if you are truly learning, then you will be changed. You should be happy about that. You wouldn't have applied to come here if you weren't ready to embrace such intense and rapid growth.

One final thing that we're coming to understand about leadership. You lead best when you leave behind, in other people, the commitment, the courage and the skills to carry on the work. One of the marks of outstanding leaders is that "they build enduring greatness—they leave other leaders behind in numbers." We need more leaders than ever, in all facets of life, and we will need you to spread this wonderful infection!

So don't wait or waste a moment. You've been selected for fifteen days of "brain-forming", as the conference slogan has it. And that doesn't mean just doing something private and individual. You're going to have to work with each other in these groups, and it will be a powerful experience with which you can inspire and empower others.

I will be joining one of your tours in about ten days and then I will meet you all again at the end of this tour. I look forward to the learning and the fun of hearing your reports on what you have seen and done, and to the stimulating discussions and creative controversies from which many sparks of understanding and resolution will fly. I wish you a wonderful time – fifteen days of committed connection to each other and to all the kinds of Canadians, in all the places that you will find them. All the best to you in your discoveries!

Thank you.

Updated: 2004-10-15
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