Throughout her mandate, the Lieutenant Governor has made multiple missions to Europe.
UK – February 2015
It is a long-standing tradition for new vice-regals to make an official visit to England to deepen ties with the Crown. My own trip took place in February 2015, five months into my mandate. There, I was privileged to have audiences with Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, to learn more about Her Majesty’s wishes for me and to share with her my approach to the role of Lieutenant Governor. It also was an opportunity to hear about HRH’s initiatives, many relating to sustainability, and to visit Wolford Chapel, which has a strong connection to the history of my office.
A secondary purpose of the mission was to continue my conversations with Ontarians – in this case to engage with those who were studying, working and living away from home.
I was delighted to meet Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace and to benefit from her deep knowledge of, and perspective, about Canada. She was welcoming and generous with her observations about a country that she clearly holds dear. During our time together, Her Majesty shared with me her enthusiasm for the renovation of Canada House, the office of the Canadian High Commission in the UK. As a small token of my appreciation and loyalty I brought her a gift from Ontario: a sculpture by Dundas-based glass artist Paull Rodrigue.
The Prince of Wales has been a champion of sustainable development since well before the term was widely accepted and understood. I was honoured to be the first Canadian lieutenant governor granted an audience with him on a vice-regal visit. I learned how he lends his active support to charitable and social enterprise organizations that foster sustainability. We discussed the workings of the Prince’s Trust, and of its connections with its Canadian division, The Prince’s Charities Canada (PCC), (now called Prince’s Trust Canada) which organizes, promotes, and raises funds for Canadian charities.
To better understand the legacy of The Prince of Wales I visited Poundbury—a town in the county of Dorset. Since 1993, it has been developed according to principles advocated by The Prince of Wales, working in collaboration with architect Léon Krier. It is unashamedly traditional in design and yet ahead of its time in terms of urban planning. There, I met with representatives who set out for me the town’s commitment to the three pillars of sustainability—social inclusion (with 35% social housing), shared economic prosperity (with a diversity of businesses, many of them housed in mixed-used buildings), and environmental stewardship (with carbon-neutral biogas powering its homes). I saw firsthand how architecture and design can lift people up and offer hope for the future.
Another important stop in the southwest of England was to see Wolford Chapel in Devon. The small stone chapel was commissioned in 1802 by Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Four years later, it would be his burial place. Simcoe’s wife, Elizabeth, and six of their eleven children are buried there as well. In 1966, it was donated to our province, becoming an outpost of Ontario in the world.
The Ontario Heritage Trust works in partnership with a group of local British citizens to maintain and promote the site. While standing in the Chapel and listening as local people recounted its history, I truly sensed my role in helping maintain the bond between our two lands. I left a memento: a regimental coin from the Queen’s York Rangers, of which I, as Lieutenant Governor, am Colonel of the Regiment.
Back in London, I attended a roundtable discussion with representatives of four of HRH’s charities: The Prince’s Foundation, The Prince’s School for Traditional Arts, The Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership, and Accounting for Sustainability—all of which were partnering with the PCC on a range of initiatives that drive sustainability. We in Ontario have gained from HRH’s leadership, through the Prince’s Trust Canada the projects that they support.
I was fortunate to be in London at the time of the official reopening of Canada House. To everyone’s delight, prior to touring the office with Prince Philip, Her Majesty paid tribute to two majestic horses which had been gifted to her by the RCMP. She was granted keys to the building—just as her father, King George V, had been when he opened the High Commission in 1925. Canada House’s restoration is stunning, integrating light and wood in design that is both beautiful and functional, with elements of the past and the present interwoven throughout. The work of Canadian artists and artisans is showcased everywhere in rooms named for each province and territory. I was particularly delighted to see the special contributions of Ontarians, many of who were in attendance. The reopening was a very proud moment for everyone present.
It was a privilege to meet Canadians and Ontarians who call London home. These included the Governor of the Bank of England, the Women’s Canadian Club and members of the business community. One of the most dynamic meetings was at Goodenough College, of which Her Majesty is patron. The college is a residence predominantly for international graduate students at universities around London; around 10% of residents are Canadian. There, I delivered an after-dinner talk about the duties and reach of the Lieutenant Governor and Ontario’s role in the world; the students asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and I observed that one truly gets to know one’s country only when one travels and views it from afar.
At the outset of my appointment as Lieutenant Governor, I decided that before choosing a particular theme or themes for my mandate, I wanted to engage with Ontarians, listening to their ideas and insights. One topic that arose from many earnest conversations was sustainability—the three pillars of which are important to Ontarians, although attaining it, in practice, can seem difficult or elusive. The time I spent with HRH and the representatives of his charities while on my first visit to London was very helpful. I learned from The Prince of Wales’ leadership in drawing attention to the need for sustainable development and showing how it can be accomplished—and in Poundbury, I witnessed an example of how places and projects that are sustainable by design can create positive change. Little did I know that this would lead to future opportunities in academic settings, such as a visit in 2018 to the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership to participate in discussions about cutting-edge research in the UK and Canada.
Collaboration continued when in 2016, I introduced Major-General Andrew Ritchie, who at the time was Goodenough College’s director, to Senator Hugh Segal, who was then master of the University of Toronto graduate student residence Massey College. The next year, the two residences formed a partnership, creating reciprocal privileges for members of both institutions and endowing an annual lecture series that alternates between Toronto and London each year.
The week after I returned from my 2015 mission to England, I presented the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Awards, which annually recognize exceptional contributions to the safeguarding of the province’s cultural and natural heritage. I told the recipients about my time at Wolford Chapel and Canada House, and about how their work encourages all Ontarians to reflect on our own roles and responsibility as civic stewards—as I had cause to do on my visit. Heritage can help us all feel connected both to the places where we are now and to the places that have through history shaped our communities.
And as the 13th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario to have served during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, I often think back to the time I spent with Her Majesty; I draw inspiration from her dynamism and wisdom, her grace and dignity in offering guidance to me and to those throughout the Commonwealth.
UK – March 2016
In our time of transformational change, is the pluralism we have nurtured in danger? Disruption brings uncertainty, which ushers in fear. Protectionism is spreading in different parts of the world, as is the rise of an “us vs. them” mentality, whether the “other” is the elite, the expert, or the immigrant. The word “we” must not be eliminated from our vocabulary.
In my role as Lieutenant Governor, I have been very aware of Ontarians’ sense of interdependence, and I have fostered our connections with others across Canada and beyond. I have continually posed the question, “How can we contribute to and learn from the rest of the world?” The Trudeau Foundation, based in Montreal, asks similar questions of Canadians. I travelled to London, England in March 2016 to participate in the conference Diversity, Pluralism, and the Future of Citizenship, run jointly by the foundation and Goodenough College, and also to take part in the foundation’s Pluralism Project, which was studying the economic ramifications of diversity. I was there to support and contribute to these important endeavours, and to learn more from the varied and thoughtful perspectives of the other participants.
The Trudeau Foundation is a non-partisan Canadian organization with an international reach and outlook. I was fortunate to be one of its original cohort of mentors back in 2004, when I was asked to lend my support to doctoral students who had become Foundation Scholars. The foundation aims to foster the development of such scholars as young leaders, and one of the major themes of the research it seeks to further is Canada & the World—exploring Canada’s involvement in international affairs, as related to the evolution of multiculturalism at home.
At the time of my visit, the foundation had embarked on its Pluralism Project, which was co-led by Bessma Momani, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, and Jillian Stirk, of the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue. The project involved consultation across Canada with participants from the private and public sectors, as well as consultations with the Canadian diaspora in the United States and the United Kingdom.
As part of the UK consultation, High Commissioner Gordon Campbell hosted a group of ex-pat Canadians at Canada House, the office of the Canadian High Commission in London. Moderating the meeting, along with Prof. Momani and Ms. Stirk, was John Stackhouse, Toronto-based senior vice-president at RBC and former editor of the Globe and Mail. Together, we discussed how globally connected Canadians contribute to innovation and economic prosperity, touching on the value of international experience, the rights and responsibilities of Canadians living in other countries, and how ex-pats’ ties to Canada can be maintained.
The conference Diversity, Pluralism, and the Future of Citizenship covered related ground, considering the global impact of immigrants and refugees. It was hosted by Morris Rosenberg, then president of the Trudeau Foundation, at Goodenough College, a residence in central London for mainly international graduate students. When I visited it early in my mandate, I learned how the college attracts students of diverse backgrounds from all over the world and facilitates the exchange of ideas and points of view on important global issues.
Approximately 10% of the college’s residents are Canadian, and our country was well represented among the conference’s participants as well. Trudeau Foundation scholar Rebecca Sutton (now a teaching fellow in human rights law at Edinburgh Law School) led a panel about the international crisis of displacement. Nahlah Ayed, award-winning reporter on the Middle East for the CBC, brought vivid examples of displacement and violent extremism. Prof. Momani led a panel on responses to immigration and changing demographics; Toronto Member of Parliament Arif Virani (then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) was part of a panel on citizenship in an age of transition; and John Stackhouse led the concluding panel, on transnational identity, diasporas, and global citizens.
I was so proud of the contributions of impressive Canadian business and thought leaders. Dr. Marie Wilson spoke of her experience as a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Farah Mohamed, then CEO of the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that promotes education for girls around the world, offered her reflections as a social entrepreneur. Other participants were from the fields of journalism, international diplomacy, academia, and the law, and all had significant experience of working and/or studying abroad, in addition to their work on the conference’s issues. The conference yielded thought-provoking insights, and in my address to the gathering, I spoke of my own efforts to encourage Ontarians to learn and share one another’s stories, in an effort to build bridges and foster the embrace of different perspectives. As the culmination of its work, the Pluralism Project published a report in April 2017. It found that the Canadian economy benefits from diversity, with revenues increasing especially in cultural industries, transportation, and business services. The report can be accessed here. Although as Lieutenant Governor, I cannot endorse or prescribe any policies or policy recommendations resulting from these consultations, I can observe and learn from others.
One of the conference’s panelists was Anwar Akhtar, a former director of Rich Mix, an arts centre in a former leather factory in Shoreditch, a rapidly gentrifying area in the borough of Tower Hamlets, east London. After the conference, I had the opportunity to visit the venue, and I learned about its inspiring outreach to residents of the borough, which has the highest rates of child poverty and unemployment in London. It offers free and low-cost arts programming, targeting families, schools, and young people and aiming to reflect and nurture the borough’s racial and ethnic diversity. Rich Mix’s then-chief executive, Jane Earl, and I discussed the important role of the arts in achieving social cohesion in large urban centres—as shown in Toronto, for instance, by the revitalization of Regent Park.
During my tenure, I have continued to host and attend many events that highlight and explore the evolution of concepts such as pluralism, diversity, and citizenship—all of which are crucial to our identities as Ontarians.
The conference and the Pluralism Project consultations influenced my own understanding and articulation of these concepts and the fact that they undergird two of the pillars of sustainable development: shared economic prosperity and social cohesion. Together with my visit to Rich Mix, these events were important elements of the process that resulted in two of my office’s exhibitions: Awakening, which deployed interrelated art and text to spark reflection on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and Speaking of Democracy, which uses creatively presented text to prompt people to think about and help to shape a healthy and enduring democracy in Ontario and in Canada—one that depends on the informed input of as diverse a set of voices as possible.
I have seen and heard many stories as I travel across Ontario of the power of pluralism in this province, including from First peoples, who have stewarded this land for millennia. We have much to learn from traditional knowledge. Many Ontarians shared their accounts – particularly their experience as immigrants – in my Office’s publication 150 Stories, which marked the sesquicentennial of Confederation. And of course, there are the incredible stories of those who have embraced newcomers to the province in ways worthy of special recognition. In 2017, I had the pleasure of investing Guelph’s Jim Estill into the Order of Ontario for his lifelong philanthropic work, part of which encompassed his extraordinary effort to welcome and support Syrian refugees in our province. In 2018, my staff and I volunteered with the Muslim Welfare Centre Canada in Scarborough, which feeds over 11,000 families a year and works with partners as far away as the North West Territories. Some of the most meaningful events over which I preside are Canadian Citizenship Ceremonies. Each one leaves me with a renewed sense of optimism and appreciation for all those who make Ontario the diverse and unique place that it is.
Vimy Ridge – April 2016
The history books told me the facts of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. But nothing prepared me for the majesty of the Vimy memorial atop Hill 145. It simply took my breath away. At first it was a spot on the horizon, poking up through early morning fog. As we drew closer the sheer mass of carved stone reduced human beings to insignificance in its presence. It is an elegant structure and seems to glow in the changing light of day.
It is impossible to describe the sense of calm I felt in the stillness of the surrounding forest. Craters large and small covered in a lush green carpet provide a most unusual undulating landscape where sheep graze. In this pastoral setting I was left alone with my thoughts. How does one reconcile the sacrifice of thousands of young lives and the horror of war with the jubilation of victory and the coming of age of a country?
This was my first visit to the battlefields of the Great War. I had the privilege of seeing this site through the eyes of 19 Canadian high school students who, for their community service, bravery, and leadership, were given Vimy Pilgrimage Awards to travel to France and study the history of Canada’s contributions. They undertook this mission to understand the legacy left by their forebears, some of them no older than they are now.
On April 9, 2016 we stood together where those before us fought so valiantly. I cannot tell you precisely what these young people were thinking, but I do know that young and old alike were profoundly moved by the experience.
We imagined the German forces looking across trenches and shell craters to the enemy lines—at first the French and British, and then in the spring of 1917, the Canadians.
We marvelled at the courage and determination of those Canadian troops who pushed through the smoke of artillery fire and gas shells to take and hold the ridge, in an offensive initially considered a lost cause by both sides.
And we read, on the Vimy Memorial that now stands there, the names of the 3,600 Canadians who died in the battle, and reflected on how their sacrifice and valour helped shape our nation.
We saw first-hand the dedicated loving care and attention given to commemoration.
We were told that Canadian success relied on innovation, from battle tactics to the wireless transmission of enemy locations from planes to gunners. It also relied on the perseverance required to withstand the harshest of conditions, and on togetherness. The esprit de corps was bolstered by all four divisions of our country’s expeditionary force fighting side-by-side for the first time.
Canada was not quite 50 years old when the battle was fought. One German officer’s account of the conflict states: “Deployed against us were four of the best English attack divisions—the Canadians.” He wasn’t far wrong: Canadian citizens at the time were still considered British subjects. Our country still flew the Union Flag, and yet soldiers wore the maple leaf on their uniforms, and some carved it into the tunnels under the ridge, making their mark for future generations to find. They identified with their fellow soldiers, and with the country that they represented, which was just coming into its own on the international stage.
As Canada approached its 150th anniversary, and the Battle its 100th, it was an important moment to contemplate the values we want to uphold, and the role we wish to play in the world.
The Vimy Memorial, designed by Toronto’s Walter Allard, can help us focus. Its towering pylons, topped by the figure of Peace holding a torch, are awe-inspiring and sombre. And on the corners of the wall at its base are two sets of statues.
The first, Breaking the Sword, shows two figures standing proudly on guard while another bends to destroy a weapon of war. We have long been prepared to fight for our values, but our fighting itself does not define us; instead, we are defined by our commitment to good government and democracy. We reject the forces of hatred and intolerance. And we do this, as we are reminded by the second set of statues, Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless, through our inclusive and generous society.
When the memorial was unveiled in 1936, Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe spoke of how “in their hour of testing the souls of Canadians revealed themselves gloriously at the summit of their national ascendancy,” and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King called Vimy Ridge “one of Earth’s altars, on which Canadians sacrificed for the cause of humanity.”
As we inscribe the fallen soldiers’ names in our collective memory we are reminded of the values that define us as a country. As I placed a wreath at the memorial on behalf of all Ontarians I certainly reflected on those who served and believed in Canada’s future.
UK – February 2018
In 2017, the year that marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I travelled throughout our province, listening to Ontarians’ stories of pride, uncertainty, and hope for the future. Over the course of hundreds of events, I witnessed the province in reflection and celebration, and gained a deeper appreciation for its capacity for generosity and vision. Early the following year, I had the chance to share some of these stories when I returned to the United Kingdom for a working visit, which involved 42 events over nine days.
I had been invited to give lectures and participate in discussions, in both academic and diplomatic settings, offering a perspective on Canada 150. I was able to highlight Ontarians’ perspectives on their proud history, which has equipped them with the determination to seek sustainability and resilience in the very different world of the early 21st century. These lectures also allowed me to connect with Ontarians and Canadians abroad, as well as with many people who had an interest in our country.
This busy and energizing visit was also undertaken with a goal of strengthening ties between Ontario and the United Kingdom, particularly in areas of common interest such as education, research, and innovation. From lecture halls to one-on-one conversations, we discussed the overarching question that had emerged from the robust discourse in 2017: Where do we go from here?
University College London (UCL) is the oldest university in London; it and the University of Toronto—the oldest in Ontario—have a strategic relationship that finds both of these venerable institutions looking forward together. Their partnership involves student exchange, research, and a shared interest in city-building and internationalization.
At The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL’s innovation-focused architecture school, I spoke with professors who were investigating how to create resilient communities. They were eager to detail their research connections with Ontario, including through the innovation fund Grand Challenges Canada, which aims to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by resourcing innovators. During a roundtable with Canadian students studying at UCL, I asked them what they missed about home, and what lessons they would be bringing back to Canada with them. The students were clearly inspired by the dynamic Karen Edge, who holds a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and was then Pro-Vice Provost (International) of UCL. Indeed, the theme of Ontario women making an impact on the world stage continued throughout my trip.
At Canada House, home of the Canadian High Commission in London, I had the pleasure of speaking with a number of young leaders in science from the UK and Canada who were studying or considering degrees in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They were attending a panel discussion addressing how women are underrepresented in STEM fields, hosted by Janice Charette, the Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, and including Dr. Imogen Coe, dean of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University in Toronto; and Dr. Eden Hennessey,research and programs director of the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS) at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. My opening remarks highlighted the exciting opportunities Ontario provides for women to study and work in this area.
At the University of Birmingham, I visited the American and Canadian Studies Centre, which engages in innovative, multidisciplinary transnational research and also provides exchange opportunities for students. There, I met young people who had participated in exchanges and were particularly attuned to the importance of reconciliation in Canada, and some had chosen to study Indigenous culture. This would not be the last time I would see young international academics focus on the work our nation is doing on reconciliation. A powerful reminder that many are watching as we seek a way forward.
At the University of Cambridge, I was invited to speak at the annual dinner hosted by the student-run Cambridge Canadian Club, which was founded in the 1930s. I met several students from Ontario who were keen to express their pride in representing their province at Cambridge; most planned to return to Canada when their studies were over. This historic club continues to connect Canadian students with one another, and also to invite and celebrate Canadians who are trying to make an impact on the world. The most prominent attendee that evening was Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, Dr. Stephen J. Toope, OC—the very first non-Briton to be appointed to that role, having just moved from his earlier post as director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
Also, at the University of Cambridge, I participated in a discussion at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, which focuses on conservation and aims to bring about a sustainable economy. The Institute’s patron is His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Dialogue centred on collaboration and research between Cambridge and the international community. The researchers, from all over the world, spoke of the value of having a student body with such a breadth of lived experience. Together, the students will be well equipped to offer a global perspective on sustainability and problem-solving. I also met Dame Fiona Reynolds, master of Emmanuel College, who regaled me with stories of her time as director general of the National Trust, which has a counterpart in Canada.
I was privileged to deliver remarks at Lady Margaret Hall, which in 1878 became the first-ever women’s college at the University of Oxford. Since 1979, it has been co-educational, and its eminent fellows include Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai. Every year, it hosts a Canada Seminar, showcasing the great diversity of people and perspectives that Canada embraces.
I shared stories that my office had collected in commemoration of 150th anniversary of Confederation. Called 150 Stories, the publication illustrates the generosity, innovative spirit, and outward-looking nature of Ontarians and their hopes for the future. My observations in Oxford included the importance of social inclusion, one of the fundamental pillars of sustainability; it increases our resilience and responsiveness to the complexity of an interdependent world.
And at Queen’s University Belfast, I delivered the 2018 Eaton Lecture, part of a series sponsored by the Eaton Foundation in Toronto and hosted by the university’s Centre of Canadian Studies, which nurtures the close historical and cultural relationships between the Canadian and Irish diasporas. It was a special occasion for me, not only because I was born in Belfast, but also because my mother was an alumna of the university. The Canadian students in attendance were interested in the tales of an immigrant who has proudly embraced Canada’s open, welcoming, and globally aware culture. Coincidentally, Belfast was hosting the Northern Ireland Science Festival Week, and I was able to participate in a session on How Science Got Women Wrong, meet with the industry-led Matrix Panel (which works towards commercial exploitation of research and development in science and technology), visit the Museum of the Moon and the Titanic Museum, and spend an engaging evening as former astronaut (and Sarnia native) Colonel Chris Hadfield, in a one-man performance, showcased the best of Ontario, and Canada, in the World.
My visit also took me to visit Dumfries House, an 18th-century country estate in Ayrshire, Scotland that had been purchased and renovated by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, with a view to preserving its distinct heritage and regenerating the local economy. Based on what I saw, and the stories shared with me by residents, workers, and craftspeople, the project has been transformative for the community. Dumfries House has been widely embraced as a model of sustainability and has influenced an initiative in Ontario called Clearwater Farm on Lake Simcoe.
The meetings continued back in London, where I visited projects run by the Prince’s Charities and the British Council. Canada House opened its doors once again for a luncheon conversation with Christiana Figueres, who was formerly Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is co-founder of Global Optimism, an organization aiming to drive social and environmental change. Our discussion was attended by decision-makers in sustainability fields, and they were all were keen to hear from a key climate change negotiator about how their organizations could contribute more effectively to meaningful climate action.
As with so many of the visits, events, and initiatives we undertake, this mission to the UK uncovered many lessons and inspiring stories to be shared. Along with my academic engagements, I took part in events marking the launch of the first-ever exhibition of paintings by Canadian painter and Group of Seven contemporary David Milne in the UK, at the historic Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. I was delighted to meet Canadians living in Britain whose contributions had made the exhibition possible, and later, in October 2018, to help welcome it to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. The work of this beloved artist evokes many of the themes that had been discussed throughout my trip, including resilience and sustainability.
In May 2018, after I returned to Ontario, my office launched a project that explored and developed these themes through a combination of art and text: Awakening, comprising an exhibition and a publication. The latter, a book of essays about the SDGs, actually included contributions by three of the leaders I met with in the UK: Karen Edge wrote about SDG 4 (Quality Education); Christiana Figueres wrote about SDG 13 (Climate Action); and Steven Toope wrote about SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
I continue to be reminded of the obligations and opportunities of being global citizens, engaging with people and places beyond our borders. During my trip, it was a privilege to recognize those bringing credit to our province on an international scale: scientists and innovators, who demonstrate excellence in solving some of our most intractable problems; visionaries in arts and culture, who creatively remind us of what makes a civilized society; and academics, who share their passion and findings with the international community so that we may all benefit from the exchange of ideas and research.
And in return, I was appreciative of the many lessons and questions I was able to bring back. There are myriad opportunities for us to engage in genuine dialogue about who we are, and wish to be, as a people. With mutual respect and curiosity, we will continue to see the benefits and necessity of building bridges and encouraging dialogue.
Geneva – May 2018
As Ontario and the rest of the world work towards attaining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, communication is key. All United Nations member states, and jurisdictions within them, can benefit by reporting on progress, learning from each others’ initiatives, and taking stock of what remains to be done.
Geneva is an ideal place for this dialogue. It is home to one of the United Nations’ main offices, and to the headquarters of a multitude of other global foundations, councils, federations, and campaigns. Moreover, Canada’s Permanent Missions to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and to the World Trade Organization are our country’s largest multilateral presence. In May 2018, I visited them and other offices in Geneva to discuss Ontario’s and Canada’s roles in addressing the most significant of all multilateral projects: the UN’s Sustainability Agenda for 2030.
The United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) is housed in a large complex originally built for the UN’s precursor, the League of Nations. There, I met with Michael Møller, then Director General of the office. He observed how the SDGs are uniting the UN’s many agencies in a way he had never seen before—cutting across their various disciplines and providing a framework through which they can align their efforts.
The UNOG houses the SDG Lab, an office set up to encourage the exchange of information and innovation in the service of the goals. I met with advisor Kali Taylor (a graduate of the University of Waterloo) and her colleagues, and we spoke about the message they have been sending out not only to governments and NGOs but also to the private sector, academia, and civil society—that an holistic approach to the agenda is needed, because the goals overlap and should be tackled together. I was reminded that Ontarians working toward the goals, are not working in isolation.
A key UN agency is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In Geneva, its secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, told me of Canada’s work regards SDG #13 (Climate Action), through its longstanding leadership role in monitoring weather and developing a greater scientific understanding of the changing climate as well as being an active player in the Arctic Polar region. He spoke with admiration of the continuing efforts of Canada in support of training and research in developing countries (for instance, by supporting the building of the Haitian weather service in 2017).
At the office of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), then International President Johanne Liu, originally from Québec City, told me about how the organization’s areas of work have unfortunately been growing, due to conflicts and climate-related disasters. Nonetheless, she spoke highly of the potential of UN agencies and other intergovernmental organizations to help address such issues, especially if they are able to engage more widely and harness the energies and expertise of civil society. Through the work of Ontarian Dr. James Orbinski, Canadians are well aware of the continuing efforts of this organization.
And finally, at the Permanent Mission of Canada, I witnessed Canadian leadership in action whether it be with regard to the implementation of the SDGs in the multilateral context or the role of women in advancing peace and security. I co-hosted a roundtable on Canada’s contributions to the SDGs with Rosemary McCarney, then Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament. Participants included representatives from the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Canadian Society for International Health, the government of Canada, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, IRIN News (now known as The New Humanitarian), and the World Bank.
The meeting opened with greetings from the then Canadian Minister of Health, Ms. Petitpas Taylor who presented me with a #Convoplate – a hand painted stoneware plate that is circulating around the community to get people talking about mental health, breaking the stigma. Upon return to Canada, I in turn passed the plate to George Cope, former CEO of Bell Canada in support of their ground breaking Bell Let’s Talk campaign.
Our roundtable discussion focused on recent progress—and shortfalls—in implementing the SDGs and achieving resilience. As a matter of urgency it is still necessary to raise greater awareness and support. There was also a consensus that the world is poorly structured to deal with crises such as the recent Syrian crisis and the necessary resettlement efforts. It was obvious to all that telling stories of catastrophes and those affected by them was crucial in order to humanize events that might otherwise seem abstract, and to galvanize action. This remains sage advice.
Mention was made of the role of UN special rapporteurs who can often prompt change among senior decision makers. The participants considered that Canada might benefit from such visits to promote additional progress on such matters as mental health and Indigenous living conditions. In fact in the following year, in May-June 2019, a special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes did visit Canada and report on Indigenous living conditions (among other issues); his end-of-visit statement can be found here, with a full report to follow.
This very brief visit to Geneva reconfirmed for me the value of spreading the word to Ontarians about the SDGs themselves, and also about sharing with others the stories of businesses, groups, and individuals in Ontario who have been finding innovative and effective ways to help achieve the goals. To read about some of these wonderful people and projects, please visit the Stories of Sustainability section of my website.
A very tangible outcome of our visit was the opportunity to showcase our efforts to enhance the public’s understanding of sustainability through the arts. In our meeting, UNOG’s Michael Møller and I discussed the power of art and culture in transmitting the importance of sustainability. With this in mind, he invited me to bring my office’s SDG-based art exhibition Awakening to Geneva. Curated by designer Bruce Mau and originally displayed in the Lieutenant Governor’s suite, the exhibition gathered work from Canadian artists that invited viewers to strengthen their relationships with one another and with the world around us. The accompanying publication featured essays by many in the UN community. The exbition travelled to Canada’s Permanent Mission in Geneva in June 2019. At the launch, I thanked the assembled staff members—who represent many different Canadian departments and agencies—for their leadership in fostering the ideals that informed the exhibition. Together, they are championing Canada’s role in charting productive ways forward for humanity.
Venice – May 2018
For the process of reconciliation to advance, the voices of the Indigenous people of North Turtle Island – the name by which many Indigenous groups refer to North America – must not only be heard and heeded; they must be amplified at home and abroad. Over the past several years, the Venice Biennale of Architecture—the world’s most prestigious showcase of architecture—has provided an important platform for artistic expression of global and national challenges. The entries representing Canada in 2014 and 2016—respectively, Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15 and Extraction—both featured Indigenous work and perspectives. And then in 2018 came a milestone: the first Indigenous-led entry representing Canada, UNCEDED: Voices of the Land.
The exhibition was selected through a nationwide competition run by the Canada Council for the Arts to be one of 65 entries showcased in Venice. It incorporated the work of a collective of 18 Indigenous architects, several of whom work in Ontario, and was presented by the legendary Douglas Cardinal, who is based in Ottawa. Cardinal worked with co-curators Gerald McMaster, Canada Research Chair at OCAD University, and David Fortin, director of the School of Architecture at Laurentian University. The exhibition’s stated purpose was to “show the world that Indigenous cultures inscribed within the laws, customs, and traditions of our peoples have a great contribution to make to the world.”
As honorary patron of UNCEDED, I had the privilege of seeing the exhibition and noting how it was being received in Venice. While I was there, we organized a round table on “Building for the Sustainable Development Goals,” attended by the UNCEDED team and designed to spark reflection on the relation between Indigenous architecture and sustainability.
The exhibition was housed in the spacious Corderie dell’Arsenale, a former rope factory built in the 14thcentury. Strikingly, UNCEDED did away with the models and blueprints that normally dominate architectural displays. With walls made of curving video screens, it presented the voices and life-sized images of the architects, speaking directly to viewers about their lives and their work. It was organized into four thematic sections: indigeneity, colonization, sovereignty, and resilience—the last of which expressed hope for the future in the wake of disruption and disturbance.
Also, unusually, the exhibition featured architects who work in the United States; it reached beyond national borders to present a truly multifaceted gathering of Indigenous perspectives from throughout Turtle Island. With its sweeping approach, UNCEDED powerfully put forth the values of respect, understanding, and peaceful co-existence among people and between them and the environment.
The brilliant creations of these Indigenous architects, to quote Canada Council director and CEO Simon Brault, “force us to question the neutrality of our built environments and the land where they rest.”
On the same day I visited UNCEDED, I attended the launch of the newly renovated permanent Canadian pavilion (where ongoing construction had made it impossible for it to host UNCEDED) on what happened to be the 60th anniversary of its inauguration. The nautilus-shaped pavilion, located in the Giardini di Castello—public gardens created by Napoleon Bonaparte—is truly international: It was originally designed, and then sensitively restored, by Milanese architects, and two Vancouver landscape architects worked on redesigning its landscape: Bryce Gauthier of Enns Gauthier and the amazing Cornelia Hahn Oberlander—who was 95 at the time. Douglas Cardinal has offered praise for how the building and the site work “in harmony with nature” and thus resonate with an “Indigenous worldview.” I also was reminded of the reach of Canadian excellence when I saw the brilliant work of Canadian architect, Alison Brooks now working in the UK.
After visiting the Biennale, I hosted a roundtable called “Building for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). It aimed to explore the ways in which Indigenous architecture exemplifies characteristics of sustainability, and to consider how they might be adopted throughout Canada and the world. In addition to the architects from UNCEDED, participants included the Canadian ambassador to Italy, Alexandra Bugailiskis, and representatives of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Museum of History. More than anything, the event showcased how important it is to listen and to bear witness. Many participants were overcome with emotion by the magnitude of what UNCEDED had achieved and by the visibility that the Venice Biennale provided on a global stage to Indigenous voices and achievements.
Seeing UNCEDED in Venice was an unforgettable experience. It reinforced for me how the voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples are crucial to any conversation about sustainability and sustainable development in Ontario and in Canada—something I have tried to communicate at every opportunity, in the many events related to the SDGs that my Office has hosted and participated in. As we seek to contribute to a global agenda with its vision of social cohesion, inclusive economic prosperity and environmental stewardship, we would be wise to build upon the ancient and enduring insights and wisdom of Indigenous peoples.
Having reached a largely international audience in Venice, UNCEDED then travelled to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, QC—which was itself designed by Douglas Cardinal—a year later, in May 2019. I spoke at the launch about how the exhibition gave insight into what our world could look like with a more inclusive understanding of our cultural heritage. In encouraging the learning and sharing of Indigenous stories, and in immersing viewers in Indigenous perspectives, it has provided much-needed inspiration for bringing about such a future.
The exhibition has also helped shine a light on the work of the architects involved, including that of Ryan Gorrie and David Thomas, whose Indigenous cultural markers were first depicted at UNCEDED, and which are now permanently installed on the campus of Humber College in Toronto. I was humbled to be able to attend and speak at their unveiling, where I acknowledged how the markers can ground us, allowing us better to understand our place in the world, in relation to one another and to those who have come before.
Architects shape our world with their visions, creativity, and technical skill, but above all through their empathy for the physical and social environments they inhabit. They understand intuitively that place matters and that beauty enriches the soul. Those who developed UNCEDED chose a thematic metaphor about resilience that expresses a hope for the future that arises from Indigenous teachings of spirituality and respect for the oneness of people and all life-givers. May we continue to celebrate these lessons in Ontario and share them with the world.
Germany – June 2019
Canada and Germany share close ties indeed. We are key trading partners, cultural co-operators (going back to an agreement signed between Canada and the former West Germany in 1975), defenders of human rights, and members of the G7, NATO, and other multilateral organizations. Moreover, in the 2016 census, nearly 10% of our population reported German ancestry.
Specific links between Ontario and Germany are significant as well, and over the course of my mandate, I have had the pleasure to meet with representatives of the country and some of its 16 states, exploring ways we can work together, share information, and open up our cultures to one another. All were eager to strengthen existing ties, and it was with this goal in mind that I travelled in June 2019 to Germany, where I visited Frankfurt and other cities in its vicinity. I had the chance to learn about the extent of our cooperation in areas such as medical research, education, manufacturing, and the safeguarding and advancing of democratic ideals.
Frankfurt, like Toronto, is a diverse international hub, and 2019 was the 30th anniversary of the two cities’ “economic and friendship” partnership agreement; it was signed in the year the Berlin Wall fell. I also visited Ludwigshafen, best known as the home of BASF, the world’s largest producer of chemicals. I have often engaged with BASF Canada, whose head office is in Mississauga, because of its recognized corporate leadership in driving sustainability.
As well, I visited the state of Baden-Württemberg, whose formal ties with Ontario are extensive. Since 1986, when our province and the German state signed an agreement to encourage business and trade, the relationship has evolved to encompass areas such as scientific research, clean technology, culture, and education. The Ontario-Baden-Württemberg Student Exchange (OBW), founded in 1990, brings students from 15 Ontario universities to study at nine institutions in Baden-Württemberg, and vice versa; faculty researchers joined the program in 2011.
Like Ontario, Baden-Württemberg is inclined to look outward. It is one of the “Four Motors”—a network of European regions that collaborate to drive economic development and innovation, and are focussed on sustainability and addressing climate change. Ontario is a signatory to the Under2 Memorandum of Understanding, a climate agreement for subnational governments devised by Baden-Württemberg and California, and co-chaired by the German state’s minister-president, Winfried Kretschmann, whom I was proud to welcome to my office on an official visit to Ontario in 2018.
My mission to Germany aimed to deepen these connections and to forge new ones—especially with a younger generation.
The city of Heidelberg, in Baden-Württemberg, is home to The German Cancer Research Centre, or DKFZ (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum)—the country’s largest biomedical research centre. Its researchers collaborate continually with those at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, one of the world’s top fivecancer research centres. The two institutions have agreed to share best-practice information and support innovation in research, establish a joint program for clinicians and medical scientists, and promote exchange visits for faculty, students, and trainees.
At the DKFZ, I visited the laboratory where researchers were carrying out cutting-edge work; they had just recently announced the discovery of a cell protein that is directly related to the growth of glioblastoma tumours. As well, I toured the radiology facilities, where I learned about the centre’s new method for using artificial intelligence to analyze magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain tumours. My visit was both sobering and enlightening. As we continue to discover more about the causes of, and treatments for, cancer, it is clear that collaboration to share research and build on one another’s discoveries will ensure the best possible outcomes.
In Ludwigshafen, I toured the BASF plant and sat in on a high-level roundtable about its chemical recycling program, which is closely linked to that of BASF Canada. I was impressed by the firm’s vision and motivation in having co-founded the global Alliance to End Plastic Waste earlier in the year, and in continuing to make sustainability central to its business operations. At the same time, I acquired an appreciation of the challenges a company of this size faces in bending its production patterns toward a more sustainable trajectory. BASF’s efforts to do so are commendable, especially given the company’s impact on so many areas of manufacturing. I was inspired to see the many ways the work being done in Canada—including using green electricity at their headquarters and production facilities—was supported by the main offices in Germany.
Across the Rhine river from Ludwigshafen, and back in Baden-Württemberg, is the gridded city of Mannheim, home to the University of Mannheim. Its main campus is housed in an eighteenth-century palace, and in this historic setting, I met young Ontarians who were studying at the university and other nearby institutions, all participating in the Ontario-Baden-Württemberg Student Exchange program. The students shared with me their stories of navigating the differences between the German and Ontario university systems, and we discussed the value of exploring different languages and cultures in order to help us better understand our sense of identity. The students were excited to have a representative of their home province visit the school and very proud to represent Ontario in Germany.
Similarly, in Frankfurt, I visited the Carl-Schurz-Schule, a high school that partners with University of Toronto Schools (UTS) in the Global Urban Citizen Program run by Maximum City, a Toronto-based global education and exchange organization. At the Schule, I met both students who had participated in the previous year’s exchange and some who were about to leave later that month for Ontario. The former group shared their observations from visiting Toronto, remarking on their welcoming host families and the friendships they formed with Ontario students. I was heartened by all the students’ determination to look outward and their hope to forge collaborations to tackle issues such as climate change, which affect us all, regardless of borders.
Democracy is an important theme for my mandate, and it was the focus of the 2019 Association of German Community Foundations conference, whose opening (Foundation Day) I attended in Mannheim. More than 2,000 representatives of community foundations were in attendance to explore how they can encourage a healthier democratic system and provide support for open and productive dialogue and debate. The First Deputy Mayor was eager to share his perspectives about democracy and what it meant for his city.
Before leaving Germany, I visited Frankfurt City Hall to meet with Honorary Councillor Ursula Fechter, who shared with me the successes and challenges of her beautiful city as it celebrated its 30th anniversary as a partner city of Toronto. She and her colleagues were particularly interested to learn about the role of the Lieutenant Governor. Together, we looked forward to the Frankfurt Book Fair scheduled for October 2020, at which Canada is scheduled to be the guest of honour. A walk in the City Square provided encouragement to return and learn more of such rich history.
Throughout my time in Germany, I was struck by the eagerness with which people embraced their relationships with Ontario—whether through world-class collaborative science and research, business dealings, educational exchanges, or cultural events. Since my return, my office has looked to further those relationships.
Later in June 2019, I was delighted to welcome to my suite at Queen’s Park the Carl-Schurz-Schule students I had met in Frankfurt. They were joined by their Ontario counterparts from UTS, and I showed them the exhibition Speaking of Democracy, which we had launched the month before. We discussed the project they were working on together, which involved developing and pitching their own ideas to assist Ontario’s efforts to make cities more sustainable. Clearly, the partnership between Toronto and Frankfurt is paying dividends and inspiring the next generation of leaders to be creative and civically engaged.
In September 2019, my office hosted the inaugural cohort of German and Canadian participants in the Young Transatlantic Leadership (YTL) initiative. Through this program, leaders who are 27–37 years old and have made an impact on their communities and professions undertake a guided program of study in each others’ countries. I met with the group at the end of its visit to Montreal and Toronto, and together, we discussed global issues facing young professionals from our two countries. I felt that our discussion reinforced just how much transatlantic dialogue fosters a sense of understanding and reveals the great value of sharing knowledge.
And in November 2019, I was honoured to be the special guest at the Canadian German Gala Ball presented by the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. It was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the warm relationship between our countries, as we work together toward a more resilient future.
UK – July 2019
An important and rewarding part of my mandate over the last five years has been the Official Civic Visits I have made to 85 communities across Ontario. At each of these visits I am met by a robust and engaged local media, whose curiosity about my reasons for being there and reflections on their towns and cities adds an important element to the dialogue my presence creates. The significance of telling local stories, both positive and negative, is vital to a healthy democracy from the municipal to the national level.
Freedom of the press is at the heart of democracy. When this freedom is threatened—as it often has been in recent years, in many countries—so, too, are democratic ideals. Especially in these times of echo chambers and “fake news,” it is imperative that journalists everywhere be allowed to work independently of political control and foster an informed, engaged citizenry.
Maria Ressa, a high-profile Philippine journalist and CEO of Rappler online news start-up, is quoted in my office’s art exhibition Speaking of Democracy:
“A lie told a million times becomes the truth.”
This art exhibition was launched in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite in 2019 and hangs on the walls today. To support journalists and media outlets around the world, Canada and the United Kingdom co-hosted the first annual Global Conference on Media Freedom, in London, England on July 10–11, 2019. Over 100 countries were represented as journalists, diplomats, lawyers, scholars, and activists gathered to establish common ground and to discuss and launch a series of initiatives to protect the work of reporters.
I was invited to join the Canadian delegation at the conference and to host a roundtable discussion where journalists from countries with poor records of supporting press freedom could tell their stories. I was told that Canada wanted to demonstrate its commitment to a “whole-of-government” approach. As democracy is a key theme of my mandate, I have championed the essential work being done by journalists, and I have looked to shine a light on Ontario-based organizations such as the Ontario Community Newspapers Association, the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, and Journalists for Human Rights, whose executive director, Rachel Pulfer, moderated the discussion I hosted. It was important for me to be present, in my non-partisan role, supporting journalists who face often highly politicized attacks.
The conference’s venue, Printworks, used to house printing presses for newspapers with large circulations such as The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard. Its transformation into an events space (and a nightclub) is indicative of how so much journalism has moved online. This change has globalized the delivery of news, but it has also left many outlets financially vulnerable, as social media outlets attract the bulk of ad revenues. Fittingly, Media Sustainability was the one of the conference’s themes, that also included: Protection and Prosecution, National Frameworks and Legislation, and Building Trust in Media and Countering Disinformation.
Throughout, speakers expressed solidarity and the need for multilateral agreements to create and enforce standards for press freedom and to counteract the forces of isolationism and creeping authoritarianism. At a plenary session, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister for foreign affairs and Jeremy Hunt, then-foreign secretary of the UK, along with international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, announced the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, of which Ms. Clooney is deputy chair. Convened at the request of the governments of Canada and the UK, the panel’s members are lawyers and legal scholars from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa; among them is Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. The panel has since (in February 2020) produced a report advocating the use of targeted sanctions to protect journalists.
Among the other initiatives launched were a joint declaration on challenges to freedom of expression by special rapporteurs from the United Nations and other organizations, as well as the UNESCO Global Media Defence Fund for assisting journalists who are under attack, announced by the Canadian and UK governments.
Foreign ministers from around the world—including Chrystia Freeland—signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, which commits their countries to fighting abuses of media freedom and human rights. Together, they formed the Media Freedom Coalition, which now counts 35 member countries. Canada is part of the executive group, which in April 2020 signed a report decrying the way some states have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to place restrictions on media.
The conference offered an important opportunity to listen to journalists’ stories of prosecution, perseverance, and hope – to provide a “safe space for conversation”- much as I do in Ontario. The sessich on I hosted, on media freedom and democracy, included journalists and civic educators from Guatemala, Myanmar, Thailand, Montenegro, Hungary, and South Sudan—where seven journalists were murdered in 2015 alone.
It was clear from the conversation how vital cross-border dialogue can be. For instance, Elijah Alier Kuai, managing director of the media authority in South Sudan, gave an account of how in the mid-2010s, when there was open conflict between the government and the media in in his country, he took the government’s side unreservedly—until he attended a JHR-sponsored conference in Nairobi, Kenya. There, he spoke with his counterparts in neighbouring countries about they could interpret the function of a media regulator in a more positive sense, championing journalists instead of arranging to have them deported. From then on, Mr. Kuai used his political capital to enforce the media laws the government had been ignoring. These laws had in fact been written by the chair of the union of journalists, Oliver Modi, who was also at the conference.
Other journalists spoke up about the challenges they had faced and solutions they had found. The session fostered helpful discussion about what could be done to help journalists help themselves. I was glad to contribute to Canada’s support of oppressed and brave journalists from around the world who are speaking truth to power.
From meeting Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, journalist Maria Ressa, to conducting interviews with trainees of the Journalists for Human Rights Indigenous Reporters Program, to speaking with female journalists in Thunder Bay, the right to tell stories and to share information remains for me, a crucial project.
In December 2019, my office hosted a panel discussion on media freedom sponsored by Journalists for Human Rights. The discussion was aimed at setting an agenda for the second annual Global Conference on Media Freedom, which is scheduled for September 17–18, 2020, in Québec City. In attendance were not only members of the media but also representatives of civil society, whose presence reflected how everyone has a stake in the issue of media freedom. Actually one of the most significant moments was when an audience member asked if there were human rights issues in Ontario that were going under-reported.
Addressing the group, I mentioned a main message I took away from London: that even as we grapple with challenges here at home, we in Canada and in likeminded nations have an important role to play in holding each other accountable. The dialogue that followed yielded productive ideas about how Canada can advance its role as a leader in safeguarding press freedom, as well as how we might create a more sustainable journalistic ecosystem—one that is economically feasible, unrelenting in its search for the truth, and reflective of the diverse voices in this country and around the world.
C40 Mayors Summit – October 2019
As Lieutenant Governor, it is an important part of my job to visit Ontarians where they live. From Thunder Bay to Tobermory, from Cornwall to Cat Lake, I have made 85 official visits and visited all 124 ridings, as well as 18 First Nations. I have seen first-hand how mayors and their councils are realizing that, to create a community where people want to work, study, pray, and play, sustainability must be a top priority.
Roundtable discussions I have attended during official visits have focused on issues such as sustainable agriculture, the protection of waterways, green planning, and building resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. And while federal and provincial governments have a role to play in addressing these issues, municipal governments, which are closest to the people, have been devising their own plans with direct input from those who are being affected.
It was with this in mind that I attended the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen. My goals were to share stories of how Ontario’s communities have been affected by, and are dealing with, climate change, and in turn, to bring back related stories and experiences from other parts of the world.
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership group is a network of more than 90 cities representing over 650 million people—one-twelfth of the world’s population—which together produce 25% of the world’s economic output. All have made commitments to addressing climate change and delivering the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Toronto, Ontario, is one of these cities, and its former mayor, David Miller, chaired C40 from 2008 to 2010.
C40’s biennial world summit was hosted in October 2019 by Copenhagen, Denmark, which used the occasion to detail its own plan to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025. In this inspiring setting, leaders of 94 world cities attended plenary sessions on how to bring about an inclusive, resilient future fueled by collaboration on environmental issues. There were also “deep dive sessions” covering topics such as green investing, overcoming air pollution, and eliminating waste.
Many city leaders spoke about the difficulties they are facing due to climate change, putting a human face on complex issues. For instance, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone described the effects of severe, damaging storms. A representative from Singapore spoke about how the rising waters that surrounded his city are creating an existential crisis.
I myself had the chance to speak at a panel called City Leadership for Inclusive Action on the Climate-Migration Nexus. I told the assembled international audience about the ice roads that connect Cat Lake First Nation to the rest of the province, and on which their citizens depend for food, medical supplies, access to healthcare, and secondary education; these roads are disappearing due to climate change. Such upheaval can lead to regional displacement—which is, indeed, happening not only across borders, but inside them as well.
At the summit, we also heard about forward-thinking plans to stave off disaster—including Paris’s efforts to reduce traffic; Hangzhou, China’s placing tens of thousands of electric buses on its roads; and Tel Aviv’s commitment to planting one tree an hour for an entire year.
Particularly inspiring were the collaborative projects and agreements announced and launched in Copenhagen. The signatories of C40’s Green and Healthy Streets Declaration launched their Mayoral Guidebook for transitioning to fossil fuel-free streets. Mayors from 14 cities, including Toronto, signed the Good Food Cities Declaration, pledging to support the consumption of “healthy plant-based food” and to reduce food loss and waste.
Most significantly, all 94 cities represented at the summit agreed to a Global Green New Deal, in a coalition with youth climate activists and representatives from civil society, business, and labour. The agreement commits cities to doing their part to keep global heating below the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal, focusing on lowering carbon emissions from buildings, industry, transportation, and waste.
The event closed with a keynote by congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the architects of the proposed Green New Deal in the United States. In a moving, impassioned address, she stressed to the gathered municipal leaders how, in her words, “Our greatest choice is to move towards a cooperative, collaborative world that aligns with scientific consensus.” The applause that greeted her words proved that for the leaders of many of the world’s largest cities, such a world is desirable—and perhaps achievable.
On the summit’s second day, we were supposed to hear from Eric Garcetti, incoming Chair of C40 and mayor of Los Angeles, at a panel chaired by former Toronto mayor David Miller. Just before the panel was to start, Garcetti announced that he was having to return to Los Angeles immediately, to deal with the hugely destructive Saddle Ridge fire—in other words, as Mayor Miller noted, “because of the impact of climate change.” If further evidence of the scale and urgency of the matter at hand were required, this was it.
The day before, Mayor Garcetti had delivered an address, and his positive words are worth heeding: “I believe cities can win this fight. Why? Because it’s what cities do. Cities build economies … cities protect their people … and cities can collectively save the earth … and we as mayors have no choice but to get the job done.”
His words were an emphatic reminder of the importance of municipal government—which is often forgotten considering the power and sweep of national and subnational jurisdictions—but which has tremendous potential for bettering citizens’ lives, and to reach beyond borders and forge alliances with other municipalities for the greater good.
Garcetti’s use of the word “collectively” is significant. Here in Ontario, it is clear that much can be accomplished when our communities commit to working together and sharing their ideas and expertise.
This is why, on December 17, 2019, I welcomed mayors from across Ontario to Queen’s Park to discuss the outcomes of the C40 Global Mayors Summit and to exchange ideas and innovations aimed at mitigating and combating climate change.
Over the course of the afternoon, Mayor Miller spoke about the history of C40 and its goals, and how municipal leadership is vital if we are to act on large-scale climate-related issues. Patricia McCarney, President and CEO of the World Council for City Data, located in Toronto, explained the value of standardized data for resilient and sustainable cities—how it can draw connections between Ontario municipalities and build bridges not only between them, but also with other communities around the world.
The meeting at Queen’s Park drew out larger connections as well. It gave a timely reminder how, when municipal governments take on a leadership role on an issue such as climate change, they can bolster democracy and advance the cause of sustainability. When we empower municipal governments at home and encourage them to collaborate with others beyond our borders, we strengthen Ontario’s role in the world.