Meeting with the Polytechnics Canada National Strategy Group

Ottawa, Ontario, Wednesday January 27, 2016

Speech from the Governor General

It’s a pleasure to be here to speak about the role polytechnics have played and will continue to play in the growth of our nation.
First, though, let me just say how grateful I am that all of you have gathered here today. Each of you represents a different school, employer or industry. But what brings you together is the knowledge that this is a critical time in our country’s history. And we must all do our part to keep this country innovative, competitive and successful.

When I look at the accomplishments of polytechnic graduates, I’m quite impressed. They certainly have much to celebrate!

For example, Chris Williams, a Sheridan graduate, received an Oscar last year for the animated film, Big Hero 6.

And NAIT students were recognized a few months ago with a silver medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition for their work in helping to identify proteins more quickly.

These are but two instances where the world has taken notice of Canadian accomplishments arising from their polytechnic background.

You may be interested to know that we’ve been pursuing a global excellence and recognition initiative along with partners in government and academia.

This initiative is about ensuring Canada’s best and brightest compete for awards and prizes on the world stage.

And I’ll continue to do my part at home as well, particularly with a new national award that will celebrate the very best in Canadian innovation: the Governor General’s Innovation Awards. 

These awards will celebrate individuals, teams and organizations whose innovations are exceptional and transformative, and have had a positive impact on society and on humanity.

They will fill a gap in recognizing innovation across all sectors of Canadian society—public, private, non-profit—at a national level.

I expect that some of these recipients will have benefited from a polytechnic school education.

That’s why I’m delighted that Polytechnics Canada is becoming a nominating partner for the Governor General’s Innovation Awards. Your input into nominations and your collaboration will be valuable in fostering a culture of innovation.

After all, our goal is not that dissimilar to yours: to create a climate that allows innovation to grow and flourish. 

In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a “C” rating on innovation and ranked it 9th of 16 peer countries.

The good news is that this ranking is up from the “D” rating and 13th out of 16 placing Canada received in 2013.

The bad news is that this rating is still not up to the standard we should be setting.

And we can do better.

I’ve seen this country at its most innovative, and I know the impact polytechnics have had on innovation—since 2008 alone, students have participated in 8 000 applied research projects and helped to build 3 200 prototypes!

Given these figures, and given what I’ve experienced as governor general, I know what we’re capable of.

The question is how can we improve? Perhaps more specifically, how can polytechnics and gatherings like this contribute to innovation growth?

The first step is to get others to recognize that post-secondary learning is not two dimensional, but three. Alongside universities and community colleges there are the polytechnics.

Polytechnics combine the theoretical practice of a university education and the hands-on learning of a college. They offer trades training and degrees that focus on practical application of knowledge. They are key players in innovation, often approached by companies to bring products to market and refine ideas.

And they do so by finding the brightest, keenest minds and teaching them the necessary skills that employers need.

There’s something that attracts companies to partner with polytechnics. That something is the great potential in the tens of thousands of students who graduate each year.

Nobina Robinson—who was so kind in introducing me here today—wrote in an article published last year: “Innovation without talent is like science without ideas.”

The talent at polytechnic schools is impressive. The challenge is in harnessing that talent, refining it and focusing it to take our country to new levels of success.

But perhaps what impresses me most about polytechnics is your collaborative approach to education.

Let me share with you a story.

One of the projects I worked on during my time at McGill University was to help establish a professional master’s degree program in engineering.

The program was developed along with five other regional universities and the local aerospace industry, which came to us with a specific problem: in the absence of a sufficient number of qualified Canadian employees, companies were being forced to recruit talent from abroad.

Furthermore, after gaining valuable work experience in Quebec, many of those foreign employees soon returned to their home countries or left for other destinations, leaving the aerospace sector facing a constant shortage of workers.

The solution was to cultivate a workforce in Canada able to fill those jobs. Once this goal was identified, we worked toward it through constant communication and close collaboration.

This was a key component in the remarkable success of Quebec’s aerospace industry.

I tell you this story because it’s a familiar one. Polytechnics, too, work directly with industry partners to identify gaps and needs.

I also tell you this story to show that I understand both the challenges and opportunities that result when you open your doors to working together. The results, as you know, are well worth the effort.

Polytechnics and their partners are helping our society engage in a cultural shift, one toward a more knowledge-based economy. We all have a role to play in that regard, and we all have to work together to achieve global success.

As you discuss strategy for the upcoming year and beyond, I hope that you will make strengthening collaboration across all sectors a key platform. Break down the borders that separate you and open lines of communication. Do so amongst yourselves, but also with others who are not in this room, both in academia and in industry.

We must strengthen the climate of innovation in this country, which relies on skilled, knowledgeable, educated Canadians.

For this, we need your help.

We need polytechnics to focus on the trades and industry innovation, thereby rounding out the post-secondary education spectrum. That is the true strength and advantage of polytechnics.

All of you have contributed greatly to Canada’s global success, but there is still so much that needs to be done.

I envision a country that’s both smart and caring, that is known for its creativity, innovation and originality. With your help, I know we can achieve these goals.

I wish everyone here an enlightening discussion.

Thank you.

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