A message from the Governor General of Canada
By His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada
Excerpted from The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation by David Johnston.
When I visited the imagiNation 150 office in Calgary during one of my first trips as governor general, I was captivated by that organization’s raison d’être: Canada’s special birthday in 2017 calls for Canadians to give their own special gifts to our country – gifts that kindle our collective spirit and make our country even better. Since that day, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to ask Canadians, “What will your gift be?” It’s my way to encourage Canadians to start thinking about the gifts they will give their country when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and to make sure they follow through on their thinking when 2017 rolls around.
Canadians shouldn’t be content only with erecting cultural monuments or other publicly funded infrastructure to mark this occasion. Nor is there any reason why Canadians should wait for their governments to encourage and mobilize them to give. Pierre Berton, in his book 1967: The Last Good Year, outlined the many ways Canadians marked the centennial of our country. What struck me most was the message cbc personality John Fisher gave during his cross-country tour of Canada leading up to the event. “The Centennial belongs to you!” he said. “Do something. It doesn’t matter how small your effort is!”
An occasion as momentous as Canada 150 comes along once – maybe twice – in a lifetime. This anniversary is a rare opportunity for Canadians to do something special for their country, to give a gift to Canada. As governor general, I’ve crisscrossed the country, meeting and speaking with Canadians of all ages, and backgrounds, and I’ve asked them to think deeply about what their gifts might be. Now is the time to put plans in motion. Now is the time to turn ideas into action. Now is the time to act. The country we dream of won’t build itself.
Each Canadian has the power within him or her to give something special to our country and help build that country we dream of. Big or small, complex or simple – it doesn’t matter what Canadians give. The gift each Canadian chooses is as unique as the person who shares that gift. I especially like the range of opportunities the 150th anniversary offers to young Canadians to express their imaginations and creativity. I would go so far as to say that young people in our country have a special responsibility to lead our country’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation – for two reasons. First, our country will be theirs to shape in the 50 years from 2017 until 2067 – our country’s bicentennial. Second, birthdays belong naturally to the young. In our country’s Centennial year, 55 per cent of Canadians were under the age of 30, so young people then were in a perfect position, by virtue of their sheer numbers, to influence the celebrations. That percentage is now 36. Our country is nearly 50 years older, and so are Canada’s people as a group – and getting older on average with each passing year. Young people in Canada today are going to have to work much harder and think much deeper if they are to guide our coming party.
I know they are up to the task. In fact, I have on many occasions challenged these young people and all Canadians to come up with three truly special gifts for Canada. I’ve challenged them to take their knowledge, skills, and experiences, their ambition, drive, and intelligence, their personal and professional connections and use them to carry out three giving moments to celebrate this special anniversary of their country.
I know that, in approaching 2017, all Canadians will draw inspiration from the challenge laid before them by Lord Byng many years ago. Our country’s twelfth governor general called on Canadians “to be as big, with minds as large and souls as great as the land in which we live.” I echo my predecessor’s evocative words and the ambitious spirit behind them.
What will your gift be?
Copyright © 2016 David Johnston. Published by Signal, an imprint of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.