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Seeing Canada’s Governor General in person

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This column courtesy of runs here with complete permission.


Canada’s Governor General David Johnston spoke of a “diplomacy of knowledge” between Canada and the United States, to work across disciplines with different yet complementary attributes across relationships.

Johnston, despite being the Governor General of Canada, does have experience observing the United States. Johnston grew up in Sault Ste, Marie, Canada — just across the border from its fraternal twin, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree.

Johnston’s speech in Chicago was the first time in about 100 years that a governor general visited the city. This despite the fact that Illinois is the second-strongest trading partner among U.S. states only behind Michigan.

He talked about what it was like to grow up next to the United States. Johnston noted the “most special relationship in the world” between the two countries, despite the issues and tensions.

Johnston eagerly quoted from President Kennedy’s speech before the Canadian Parliament in 1961 when Kennedy said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.”

I asked Johnston about the idea of portability of people across borders, such as they do in the European Union, and bringing that idea to North America.

Johnston likes the idea and would do it in stages, using NAFTA as a framework to get that done. “Intellectual capital should flow more easily” between the two countries.

He noted that products can have 68 passages across the borders before the product is finished.

“Cherish our teachers” — this is how Johnston described what makes Canadian education distinct. He noted that teachers are well-paid in Canada and how teachers are respected.

Johnston said if it were up to him, Canadians would spend a year abroad to develop intercultural relationships.

When asked about Canada’s role on the international stage, Johnston said Canada should be Athens to the new Romans, meaning that Canada should be known for education around the world.

He did note, and his Harvard experience is only an example, that the United States has the majority of the top universities in the world.

The discussion also covered free trade. Johnston brought up the Trans Pacific Partnership and Canada’s recent trade deal with the European Union.

He also talked about NAFTA and how, as North Americans, we need to look 3 ways in the trade discussion.

Johnston says he is in favor of free trade but with fair rules. Societies have prospered with trade over the years, he noted.

The words Keystone and pipeline were not used, but Johnston tossed out the question about “what if the U.S. got all of its oil from North America?”

Johnston gave a speech followed by a Q&A. He talked about lighter topics such as growing up in Sault Ste. Marie and playing on a 17-and-under team with Phil Esposito and a 14-year-old backup goalie named Tony Esposito. Johnston played hockey at Harvard.

The role of the governor general is an intriguing one to someone who is still learning about Canada. People rose when Johnston entered the room but when he was speaking, he was very down to earth.

Governor General David Johnston is the head of state in charge of the military in Canada. Yet he’s also not a politician or a king. Johnston’s stint as governor general was recently extended by 2 years in great part to show consistency during what should be a significant federal election.

I got a chance to tour Rideau Hall — the home of the Governor General — last summer in Ottawa. But an even better way to learn about the governor general and its role in Canada is to hear the Governor General give a speech.

photo credit: me