Throughout her mandate, the Lieutenant Governor has made multiple missions to the United Nations headquarters and offices around the world.Ontario in the World
April 14, 2020
Throughout her mandate, the Lieutenant Governor has made multiple missions to the United Nations headquarters and offices around the world.Ontario in the World
For 10 months in 2018–19, my office’s art exhibition Awakening served as the backdrop for hundreds of events at the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite at Queens Park; together, they were attended by over 10,000 people. Many visitors picked up free copies of the accompanying publication, which includes essays by experts about each of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Still more people accessed the art and the publication online.
My aim in organizing Awakening was to find a new way to encourage all those who saw the art and read the texts to reflect on sustainability—both the urgent necessity of attaining it and the hope, offered by the SDGs, that we can do so. The art in Awakening evokes our relationships with one another and with the world around us, and I felt it would be valuable to bring this Canadian art to other countries—and in this way, to inspire viewers, as global citizens, to reflect on our mutual vulnerability and responsibilities.
The headquarters of the United Nations In New York presented an ideal second home for the exhibition, and in March 2019, I travelled there to attend its launch. I also took the opportunity to engage in dialogue related to the exhibition’s concerns. In New York, I participated in discussions about sustainability with both established and emerging leaders in the field, and I learned more about how Ontarian and Canadian art can forge links between people and places.
On March 27, 2019, Awakening opened on the main floor of the Conference Building in the United Nations’ Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. One of my aims for the reception had been to convene Canadians working in different departments at the UN, helping to connect them with each other and with our country more generally; it was stirring to see so many of them there. Fittingly, the event was hosted by Ambassador Louise Blais, Canada’s deputy permanent representative to the UN in New York, who has special responsibility for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
I spoke to the gathering about the impetus for Awakening. Having met and listened to people from all backgrounds, careers, and perspectives throughout Ontario, I was—and continue to be—inspired both by their individual stories and the one basic message they have conveyed together: sustainability matters.
Ontarians care deeply about attaining the shared economic prosperity, good environmental stewardship, and social cohesion that sustainability demands. Therefore, the work being carried out by these Canadians at the UN, all of which ultimately aims to advance humanity’s progress towards attaining the SDGs, is both necessary and appreciated by their compatriots. As a representative of our province, I was proud to be in New York to communicate this by showcasing the art curated by celebrated Canadian designer Bruce Mau and generously loaned by the Canada Council Art Bank.
For the rest of my time in New York, I set about exploring how Ontario’s ties to the largest city in the United States, and to the organizations and institutions hosted there, could advance our role in driving sustainability.
My visit coincided with the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Canada’s official presence in the city. Back in 1919, the Canadian Bureau of Information was opened by Colonel John A. Cooper, who was charged with promoting Canadian culture and trade. And in 2019, the Canadian chancery officially opened in Manhattan: on Lexington Avenue, near the UN headquarters, it houses both the Canadian mission to the UN and the offices of the Canadian consul general. The chancery’s inauguration showed much pride and promise, and it provided a wonderful opportunity to mark the strong and continuing partnership between Canada and New York.
The following day, I returned to the chancery to attend a roundtable discussion hosted by Canadian Consul General Phyllis Yaffe. Participants were Ontarians and graduates of Ontario universities who held positions of responsibility in finance and development, and who were all leaders in sustainability, applying their skills and experience well beyond our borders.
At Columbia University, I was granted a glimpse of how a new generation is approaching sustainability when I participated in another thought-provoking roundtable—this time with graduate students at the School of International and Public Affairs. Hosting the discussion was Prof. Glenn Denning, former director of the New York Office of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and currently director of the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice Program. The program nurtures in its students an understanding of the importance of sustainable development, and the UN regularly hires some of its graduates; others join other NGOs, different levels of government, and the private sector. All the students I met demonstrated a clear passion for achieving the SDGs. Their energy and ideas will no doubt be very helpful in building resilience across disciplines and sectors. I spoke with them about the role played by art and culture in achieving sustainability, and I gave them each a copy of the publication Awakening.
A final roundtable during my visit took place at the headquarters of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group. In attendance were representatives of local government and of the various parts of C40, which unites over 90 cities worldwide in a commitment to taking robust climate action. The event was hosted by former Toronto Mayor David Miller, who chaired C40 from 2008 to 2010 and at the time of the roundtable was its North American regional director and global ambassador for inclusive climate action; he is currently the director of international diplomacy for C40. We discussed efforts to drive sustainability across the globe, and the roundtable made clear just how important it is for C40’s collective voice to be heeded. The organization’s work sits at the intersection of two of the world’s critical contemporary challenges: how to navigate the social impacts of increasing urbanization and how to address our shared vulnerability to the consequences of climate change.
I also held several bilateral meetings about sustainability in New York. Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and I discussed his work in leveraging the strengths and global presence of the UNDP into making positive and enduring change, as well as the relevance of research being done by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), an Ontario-based think tank, on the economics of diversity. At the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, I met with Azeema Adam, principal officer of financing the 2030 Agenda, to discuss the many innovative and inspirational actions being taken at the local level in Ontario, New York, and beyond, to finance development. I met with Ambassador Marc-André Blanchard, permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations, and learned about the leading role he was taking in the financing of Agenda 2030, as well as about how Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is unfolding in an international context.
My visit to New York also afforded me the chance to see how Canadian artists are depicting and advancing sustainability. In Brooklyn, I toured the studio of artist Alex Chowaniec. Originally from Ottawa, she and her sister, Christina, are co-founders of Chowaniec Projects. They are making their mark internationally by visualizing climate action through sculpture, film, and performance, and telling important stories of women’s empowerment. Their work reinforces what Awakening illustrates: that art can play a powerful role in communicating deep and complex ideas.
As well, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian–New York for a screening of the gripping film Edge of the Knife/Sgaawaay K’uuna, followed by a Q&A with Tsilhqot’in filmmaker Helen Haig-Brown, who co-directed the film with Haida multidisciplinary artist Gwaai Edenshaw. Edge of the Knife is the first ever feature film whose dialogue is entirely in the Haida language. The film, which retells a Haida legend, was first screened in Haida Gwaii and publicly premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018. Also at the screening, I met with Sally Kewayosh, an emerging filmmaker from Walpole Island First Nation, on unceded territory by the Ontario/Michigan border, who is developing her first feature film. It was inspiring to see Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous voices, and to see how such voices are increasingly being heeded and amplified across Turtle Island. It was a reminder, as well, of the importance of Indigenous cultural knowledge to any conversation about sustainability.
Awakening was on display at the UN until April 5, 2019. During its two weeks there, it was viewed by people of all nations working at the UN and working visitors including heads of state and their delegations.
Art has a unique way of making us think about our identity—as part of our neighbourhoods, our nation states, and the world. It can connect us to the experiences of people in faraway places and build a sense of allegiance—a recognition that we often have common problems, and that we must ultimately work together to solve them.
This recognition has never been more important than in this time of fragile democracies. In our increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and complex world, we must reject the urge to turn inwards and to isolate ourselves in echo chambers of intolerance and misinformation.
Works of art that engage with Canada’s diversity of ecology and population, such as those in Awakening, can translate widely. From New York, the exhibition has travelled to Geneva, Bonn, and back to Ontario, in Ottawa. As the exhibition continues to travel, it shines a light, for those at home and abroad, on Ontario’s contribution to thinking about sustainability. It is my hope that it fosters in others the determination to build resilience and to see themselves as part of a global project.
My office’s association with C40 continues; in October 2019, I attended the C40 Mayors Summit in Copenhagen and spoke at a panel there. For more on this mission, please see its description here.
My productive meetings with UN officials left me with a sense that Canadian leadership in many fields is recognized and appreciated—something I have looked to communicate back home, especially when encouraging young leaders.
Art and culture can play a vital role in communicating the importance and urgency of finding ways to sustain life on Earth. This idea animated my office’s exhibition of Canadian art Awakening, and I discussed it with Michael Møller, then-director general of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), on my first official visit to Switzerland in 2018. He invited me to bring Awakening, which was curated by designer Bruce Mau, across the ocean.
Awakening has been touring since being shown in the Lieutenant Governor’s suite at Queens Park, where it was viewed by some 10,000 visitors from May 2018 to March 2019. In May 2019, Geneva became its second stop, after the UN Headquarters in New York. The exhibition’s UN connection is well-defined: the accompanying publication contains essays about all 17 of the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), written by experts including UN officials. In June 2019, I travelled to Geneva to host a reception in support of the exhibition and to speak with people from around the world about the issues that it raises.
The exhibition opened on May 21, 2019 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the stately complex that houses the UN headquarters and its extensive collection of art in many media. This collection dates back to the time of the UN’s precursor, The League of Nations, for which the complex was built, and it has grown significantly since. The chronological, geographical, and generic diversity it represents is meant to reflect the idea of pluralism that the UN promotes.
Most of these works of art are donations from member states, and Awakening was presented in the same spirit, its touring a gift from Ontario, and Canada, to the world. The reception I hosted was on June 3, by which time the exhibition had on display for two weeks; I was very touched to hear from so many Canadians in the UN system who had been proudly sharing it with their friends and colleagues from other countries and continents.
Although it was not possible to transport a few of the larger pieces across the ocean, the exhibition still showcased a diversity of art, by creators both renowned and lesser-known who are both Indigenous and settlers, and that depicted scenes and stories from across North Turtle Island. Besides communicating aspects of culture from the lands we now call Canada, the art evokes our relationships with one another as humans, and with the world around us. The art invites all who view it to reflect on how we can strengthen these relationships for the good of humanity and the planet we call home.
Tara Lapointe, Director of Outreach and Business Development at the Canada Council Art Bank, which so generously loaned the artwork and assisted us in transporting it, spoke at the reception. So, too, did Michael Møller, whose support for the project was particularly meaningful given his support for the arts (as honorary president of the NGO Art for the World) and his leadership in advancing the SDGs.
It was Mr. Møller who established the SDG Lab, which I had first visited during my 2018 Geneva mission, and whose team I had the opportunity to reconnect with on this trip. Previously, I had learned about the lab’s promotion of a holistic approach to attaining the goals. This time around, I was given an update on its “So What?” project, which brings together people from across the UN (and others watching online) to hear experts from varied fields speaking about the often unanticipated ties between different goals. Just prior to my visit, the lab had hosted a discussion about the intersection of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with another UN agenda—Sustaining Peace. The discussion, which showed how the SDGs unearth and attempt to mitigate the root causes of conflict, reinforced how the goals cut to the heart of the UN’s very raison d’être.
Also delivering remarks at the Awakening reception was Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s then-permanent representative to the UNOG. As her guest in Geneva, I was briefed by a representative of the World Economic Forum about sustainable investing in developing nations and in those with large refugee populations. Ms. McCarney also invited me to join her and others working at the Canadian mission for a discussion about Awakening and my work in Ontario. Having worked at the UN myself, I was happy to have the chance to encourage other Canadians who are representing our country, and to discuss Canada’s role as a bridge-builder and champion of multilateralism—a role that I hoped Awakening, as it toured different countries, might help to advance.
If there is one thing that I wanted to use my office for, it was to inspire ordinary people (not only governments, academics, and NGOs) to come to understand sustainability as an appropriate policy and action platform and to see themselves as part of a global project.
From art can emerge the stories of a people–stories of who we are and what we envision. Art causes us to think about our identity. And doing so has never been more important than in these times of fragile democracies. In our increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and complex world, it is essential that we reject the urge to turn inwards and to isolate ourselves. Reasoned and inclusive debate and compromise can ensure that the great challenges, instead of dividing us, will actually unite us.
Awakening was on display at the Palais des Nations until June 6, 2019, after which it moved to Bonn, Germany at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, and then to Ottawa in March 2020 at the Canada Council for the Arts’ Âjagemô art space. The positive way the exhibition and the Awakening publication were received from the start inspired my office’s next exhibition, Speaking of Democracy, which uses a creative, artistic presentation of text—in this case, quotes from various sources about democracy—to spark viewers’ engagement with both the idea of democracy and the practice of democracy in Canada.
The Awakening reception in Geneva was attended many young Canadians who were interning at the UN for the summer, and I was particularly encouraged by the way they were energized by the exhibition. I continue to attend and host events that explore how a new generation can contribute in creative ways to advancing sustainability, and since my return from Geneva, I have been able to relate the stories the Canadian interns told me to other young people who are eager to hear what exciting possibilities there are for them to help make change, as representatives of Ontario, and Canada, in the world.
In June 2019, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hosted its annual intersessional conference in Bonn, Germany. Some 4,000 people working in climate analysis and policy around the globe were accredited to the event, which provided an ideal setting for the third tour stop for my office’s art exhibition Awakening.
This exhibition of Canadian art, curated by designer Bruce Mau, seeks to evoke reflection on the urgency of taking climate action and sustainability. It is accompanied by a publication of short essays about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—the 13th of which is Climate Action—written by experts including UN officials. By displaying the art in the conference hall, we encouraged conference attendees to view their work through a different lens, and to enhance their sense of its impact on Canada and throughout the world.
Although my schedule did not permit my attending the launch, I was represented by my office’s director of strategy, Robin Rix. Also speaking at the launch event were UNFCCC executive secretary Patricia Espinosa and the Hon. Stéphane Dion, ambassador of Canada to Germany and special envoy to the European Union and Europe.
The exhibition was on display until June 27. Its next stop took it back home to Ontario, where it was shown in March 2020 at the Canada Council for the Arts’ exhibition hall Âjagemô. Our gift to the world keeps on giving.
A defining image of 2019 was 16-year-old Greta Thunberg sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a racing yacht on whose sails were printed, “UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE.” Her destination was New York City, where in September of that year, the United Nations held its 74th General Assembly, which included both the Climate Action Summit (on September 23) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit (on September 24–25). These were set to be the most significant UN meetings about sustainability since 2015, when the 193 member states agreed on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs—one of which, #13, is Climate Action. Ms. Thunberg’s voyage captured the imagination of people around the globe, as reflected in the Climate Week NYC events built around the Assembly.
The 2019 Climate Week was by far the most ambitious ever, featuring 350 events including conferences, summits, forums, award presentations, and festivals; many events addressed multiple SDGs. I travelled to New York for the three days of the two summits to contribute to Ontario’s Climate Week presence. There, I looked to highlight the work of Ontarians attending and participating in the events and to build bridges between global and local initiatives and organizations.
Greta Thunberg’s intense, powerful speech to the General Assembly on September 23, 2019 set the tone for both the Climate Summit and Climate Week as a whole: It imparted a sense of urgency to the proceedings, and made clear that a young generation would not be swayed by empty words. Echoing the challenge Ms. Thunberg posed, President Emmanuel Macron of France, in remarks I observed at the General Assembly, spoke forcefully about combatting climate hypocrisy: “We give young people the possibility of speaking their minds, but then we act as we have in the past. That cannot continue.”
An important aspect of my mission was meeting with young leaders from Ontario and around the world to support their efforts and learn their stories. On the first day, I was delighted to have the chance to sit down with Dominique Souris and Ana F. González Guerrero, the Ottawa-based co-founders of Youth Climate Lab. They told me about their exciting slate of recent projects, which encourage young entrepreneurs (or “greenpreneurs”), artists, and community activists to advance effective climate policy and green innovation.
Another organization that engages youth in advancing sustainability is the New York-based Nature Conservancy, which works with its Canadian affiliate, Nature United, to protect lands and waters. At the conservancy’s offices, I met many emerging young changemakers and listened intently to their thoughts on our collective potential for building resilience.
I also attended and participated in a number of events hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network(SDSN) and by its sister organization, SDSN Youth, which fosters youth innovation in the service of the goals . SDSN Youth also runs the Global Schools Program to educate elementary and secondary students about the SDGs and what they can do to help achieve them. I participated in a livestreamed video chat with members of SDSN Youth in which we discussed their SDG-related work in different countries. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and I was particularly proud of the Canadian branch of SDSN Youth for its members’ focus and commitment.
SDSN itself is a worldwide network comprising 850 post-secondary institutions and research centres—including students, their instructors, and professional researchers—which share information and collaborate on finding ways to advance implementation of global initiatives such as the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. By reaching across borders and encouraging learning, the SDSN offers much hope for an inclusive approach to achieving the SDGs. At Columbia University, I attended the network’s Global Solutions Forum, in which international branches of the SDSN presented their work in the form of engaging stories. The event was a kindred spirit to my own office’s Stories of Sustainability project, and it was inspiring to hear how others around the world are developing local sustainability solutions.
I also attended the SDSN’s insightful discussion “A 360 Look Towards 2030: Taking Stock of the SDGs,” at which World Bank officials and representatives from European governments and the private sector discussed the need for better data to track progress towards the SDGs. Subsequently, I met with the chair and manager of SDSN, respectively Jean Andrey (who is also the dean of the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment) and Jon Beale. They told me about SDSN Canada’s Waterloo-based efforts to produce an SDG Index for Canadian municipalities, which will provide the kind of benchmarks needed to track progress towards the goals at the municipal level.
My mission also included meetings focussed on the role of the private sector. Melissa Powell is another Ontarian driving progress toward sustainability within a global organization; she is chief of staff of the UN’s voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). The UNGC seeks to align business goals with sustainable development goals, and its Canadian division runs the SDG Leadership Awards for organizations and businesses, an annual event my office supports. At the UNGC’s office, Ms. Powell and I discussed ways to get more small-to-medium-sized Canadian companies, many of which have already implemented sustainable practices, to sign up to the UNGC.
After our meeting, I observed as Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the UN, delivered a keynote address to the Global Compact’s fourth SDG Business Forum. She spoke about the need to intensify efforts to achieve the SDGs and how business leadership is crucial. In attendance were representatives of the Toronto-based Canadian SDG Award-winning solar energy company SkyPower Global.
Of course, the UN headquarters was the place to learn from world leaders’ presentations about sustainability—I listened, for example, to the heads of state of Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Finland, Portugal, and Rwanda. And of the hundreds of delegates networking, many were Canadians seeking to address our shared challenges.
Among them were two mayors who are furthering a development that my office has championed in recent years: the growing importance of local government in driving sustainability. Montréal Mairesse Valerie Plante, who had just addressed the General Assembly, told me of her city’s ambitious plans to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050. And Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, who is treasurer of the organization United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), presented me with a copy of Kitchener’s Strategic Plan for 2019–2022. We discussed how each of its action statements relates directly to at least one SDG. The role of subnational governments on the world stage was also underlined by the presence of provincial delegates like George Heymen, British Columbia’s minister of the environment and climate change strategy.
I was pleased to meet with Toronto’s Peter A. Singer, special advisor to World Health Organization Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus, and with the Rt. Hon Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada and former secretary-general of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie—to whom I wished a happy Franco-Ontarian Day.
Climate Week carried on into the evenings as well. On September 24, I was delighted to deliver remarks at the inaugural STRONG Climate Dinner in honour of late Ontarian Maurice Strong. With uncommon energy and dedication, Mr. Strong pursued a multilateral vision of justice, solidarity, and respect. In 1972, he became the first executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, and 20 years later, I became the third. An award has been established in his name, and its first recipient, announced at the dinner, was U.S. Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That evening, I spoke about building on Mr. Strong’s legacy with Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
On September 25, I was so proud to attend the American premiere of the climate-focused documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, by Ontarians Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, and Nicholas de Pencier. I was moved by the response of a new audience to this remarkable film, which serves not only as a warning about the effects of human-made pollution and waste on the environment but also as a prime example of how art can enhance our connections with the natural world. At a reception afterwards, I spoke with Toronto entrepreneur Vikas Gupta about his company AVARA Media, which uses augmented reality to strengthen these very connections and to impress upon viewers the urgency of seeking sustainability.
Having met with so many people in New York who are dedicating their time and efforts to addressing climate change and driving sustainability, I was left both with a sense of hope and with renewed energy to share the stories of Ontarians on the world stage. Clearly, much still needs to be done to attain the SDGs; as made clear by Amina Mohammed in her address to the SDG Business Forum, we need to “nurture more ambitious global action, local action, and people action.” I was pleased to receive Ms. Mohammed’s contribution to my office’s Awakeningpublication, an essay on SDG#2, Zero Hunger.
I have continued to support the efforts of local government to attain sustainability, including by speaking about the SDGs at the inaugural Urban Economy Forum in Toronto, which was attended by city leaders from Canada and the U.S. At the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, I spoke about the effects of climate change on Ontario’s rural and Indigenous communities. Upon my return to Toronto, my office hosted mayors from across our province to discuss the outcome of the summit and to share their own initiatives for climate action.
The mission to New York left me convinced that much of the power for change rests with young people. At the General Assembly, we heard from world leaders who described the challenges and difficulties involved in meeting the sustainability goals. But the loudest and best-informed voices, and the most passionate, were those of the young attendees, many of whom were from Ontario. They weren’t simply talking about the problems: They were proposing solutions.
Inspired by their energy and devotion, I have shared their stories since, with groups of dedicated young people who are themselves working hard to learn about and foster sustainability. I think, for instance, of the student finalists at the STEM Fellowship Big Data Day in Toronto, who were analyzing municipal, federal, global, and humanitarian data to develop innovative ideas to address climate change and safeguard water resources. I think of the budding young climate leaders from Halton at the Generation Green Youth Un-Conference, who were developing programs to reduce carbon emissions in their communities. And I think of the elementary and secondary students, including winners of the Forests Ontario Envirothon and Tree-Bee competitions, who visited my office at Christmas time to celebrate their work.
Informed by science and motivated with a determination for a better future, young people are driven to meet the Sustainability Agenda’s 2030 deadline. They represent a force that should not, and will not, be ignored.