Queen's University Fall 2008 Convocation

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Remarks by Kevin G. Lynch
Clerk of the Privy Council, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service of Canada

October 31, 2008
Kingston, Ontario

Chancellor Dodge,  President and Vice Chancellor Williams,  Rector Jackson,  Members of the Faculty,  Members of the Graduating Class, Honoured Guests,  Ladies and Gentlemen.

It's a special honour for me to be here at Queen's - a university which has done so much, over many decades, to put Canadian universities on the global map, and which has educated so many public service leaders. 

Indeed, there was a remarkable period, when a group of Queen's graduates had a profound impact on Ottawa and helped to change the way Canada is governed.   People like O.D. Skelton, the leading civil servant of his day and founder of the Department of External Affairs; W.Clifford Clark, a Deputy Minister of Finance who helped create the Bank of Canada; and
Jake Warren, who helped shape Canada's postwar trade policy, and was a leading architect of the Tokyo Round of World Trade Negotiations.
And, David Dodge - someone whom I am grateful to call a friend and colleague and who I think is quite simply the most outstanding public servant of his generation.  So, thank you Queen's, thank you David, and congratulations on your investiture as the Chancellor. 

Now, when I asked David how long he thought I should talk today he said that if I spoke for 15 minutes he'd be aghast - and if I kept it under five minutes, he'd be grateful.   So in deference to a grateful David - and all of you - I'll be brief!

But I do want to share with you just a few thoughts on the importance of the university - to our economy, to our society and to our world.

Now, I don't need to tell any of you that we are living in extraordinary times.  Today, globalization is re-shaping how nations compete, how economies succeed and how societies organize themselves.  It has created a level of interconnectedness unlike anything we have seen before, ushering in complex new interactions among individuals, groups and nations.  And, as the current global financial crisis makes clear, that interconnectedness brings with it new risks, and the need for a better understanding of its workings.

Amid such a torrent of change, the central question is no longer, “what worked in the past and how do we repeat it?” but “what is necessary for the future and how do we create it?”.  

Well, I would suggest that one of the most important ways we create it is through research, with much of this coming from our universities.  Why?  Three reasons. 

First, in a world powered by ideas, research provides the fuel.  More than two-thirds of the global economy is already a knowledge economy, with invention and imagination creating whole new industries on the strength of an idea.  This brings real benefits to all of us.

In fact, Canada depends on the university sector for over one quarter of its research effort.  No other G7 country counts so heavily on its universities.   What's more, this research can have an enormous impact on innovation, technological development and patents awarded in regions where universities are centered.  It can be a catalyst for innovation and a driver of economic activity.  And we can do better.

Second, because today's research is tomorrow's technology.  It's a new software application or a new treatment for disease, or a cleaner form of energy - but only if it's commercialized.  So it's important that the ideas in our heads get translated into products and services in the market. 

And, research today provides a better understanding tomorrow of what happens when cultures clash in a flattened world.  Globalization is about far more than just the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas.  Many of the big issues of the 21st century are going to be social and cultural and institutional - and that's why we need disciplines that can integrate knowledge from many sources and distill wisdom from many traditions.

Research, in short, is about pushing forward the frontiers of human knowledge in all its dimensions, and enlarging our understanding of the world.  That's something Queen's University has always understood -- four of your professors have recently been recognized by The Royal Society for the research they've been doing; expanding the foundation of knowledge on which others can build.

Third, excellence in research matters because of the quality of students - and graduates - you produce.  In a speech a couple of years ago, Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of RIM said, quote, “Students drive innovation in our companies.  Students are the most prolific, most efficient, most practical form of commercialization known to man.  And how do you get the very best students?  By teaching them with the best professors and researchers.  And how do you get the best professors and researchers?  By funding their research.  It's simple.” end quote.

These graduates, in turn, will go on to build the industries and institutions of our society.  Others will stay on in our universities to teach a new generation, setting in place a virtuous circle of excellence. 

But it all begins with first class university research.   It matters to our economy, to our society and to the kind of future we can build together.

Because when it comes to enhancing Canada's place in the world, we're not going to succeed by enshrining the status quo.  We're going to do it through rising our productivity, through new products and services and new ways of thinking.   And that means valuing and investing in the things that drive productivity - including university research.

To do that we have to make excellence our standard.  Being “average” just isn't good enough; not when the best researchers can go anywhere in the world where the best research is being done. 

That's why universities, like Queen's, must always aim to create an atmosphere of global excellence, where curiosity is stirred, talent is fostered, experiment encouraged and blue-sky thinking promoted.   It's why Canadians must embrace the importance of research.  And it's why Canada must be at the leading edge of knowledge creation. 

For as Queen's motto reminds us, “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”

It's been an honour sharing this important day with you.   

Thank you [- and Cha Gheill (kay-yah!]