Economic Club of Minnesota Luncheon Address on The Diplomacy of Knowledge: Innovation Exchange Across Borders

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Monday, April 27, 2015


Thank you for your warm welcome.

What a pleasure to be here in Minneapolis-St. Paul and to have this opportunity to talk about innovation exchange between Canada, Minnesota and the entire Upper Midwest region.

But first, let me offer best wishes on behalf of all Canadians, who have such deep and enduring ties to this part of the United States.

I myself am an example of this and have a number of fond memories of and connections to Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

In fact, one of my formative experiences from my youth began right here in Minneapolis when I was in grade 9, or a freshman as you say here. I travelled here from my hometown in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to take part in a tour that ended with a visit to the United Nations in New York.

It was an early example of what I like to call “the diplomacy of knowledge” in action.

But I’ll come back to that theme later.

Fast forward to another Minnesota connection: my later recruitment to Harvard by a man named Don Peddie, who lived here and worked for the Star Tribune.

And then there’s my old friend, Soo neighbour and hockey teammate Lou Nanne, whom you all know and who is so proud to call this city home.

And rightly so—this is the State of Hockey, after all!

These are just a few examples of the remarkable people-to-people ties that exist between Canadians and Americans in general, and Canadians and Minnesotans in particular.

The same is true for the entire Upper Midwest region and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

These truly are the heartlands of our respective countries, so it’s no exaggeration to say the quality of our relationship here goes a long way towards determining the quality of the overall Canada-U.S. relationship.

Let me highlight a few specifics as to just how strong our relationship is. Let me talk about Canada and Minnesota.

Without a doubt, this is a vitally important state for Canada.

We have a shared border, shared waterways, a similar climate and environment.

We have close energy ties, educational ties, agricultural ties and trade ties.

Our histories and cultures are closely linked, to the extent that many Canadians think of Minnesota as the 11th province!

Dare I say that many Minnesotans think of Canada as simply a natural extension of the state?

Perhaps that has something to do with all the Lake Winnipeg walleye you eat here!

Or the fact that you make your Cheerios with Canadian oats!

But seriously, folks, let me talk about Canada-Minnesota trade for a moment.

It exceeds a remarkable $19 billion annually, which means that Canada exports more to Minnesota than we do to the UK, Japan or Mexico. This is most impressive, given Canada’s status as a trading nation.

And Canada is by far Minnesota’s largest export customer. We buy more Minnesota products than your next three largest foreign markets combined.

Let me give just a few examples of our economic interdependence.

Canadian Pacific, based in Calgary, Alberta, employs about 1,300 people in this state and has its U.S. headquarters in this city.

The Mosaic Company, headquartered in Plymouth, owns one of the largest potash mines in Saskatchewan—and that’s saying something!

RBC Wealth Management, from Toronto, has its American headquarters in this city, and in fact my friend, Lou Nanne, who I mentioned earlier, is a leader with RBC. I’m so pleased that its president, John Taft, is with us today.

Toronto-based Thomson Reuters employs almost 6,700 Minnesotans in Eagan. That’s a truly impressive number of jobs.

I could go on.

So, with all this good and encouraging news, where do we go from here?

I think the answer is simple: we go further.

Let me rephrase: we must go further.

By that I mean, we have to look at our relationship and reflect on what’s working well and what needs work, and move towards an even broader, more vigorous engagement.

If you remember anything of what I say today, remember this: I’d like all of you to think of my visit to Minnesota as a threshold moment, or to use another vigorous metaphor: a trampoline opportunity.

Let this mark the beginning of an even richer and more dynamic phase in the relationship between Canada and Minnesota and the Upper Midwest states.

It’s so important that we succeed in strengthening our ties in this part of the continent.


Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that regions will be key factors in our well-being and prosperity in the years to come. Indeed they already are.

Why are regions important?

They’re important because in spite of our ability to communicate instantaneously around the world, talent and capital still need a place to call home. And they still tend to gather in clusters, or “innovation ecosystems,” as they’re sometimes called.

Creating these kinds of innovation clusters can lead to all kind of good things, economically and socially.

Without a doubt, the Upper Midwest and its Canadian neighbours share geographical and climatic features that make for a regional ecosystem in the environmental sense. So why not conceive of this as an ecosystem when it comes to learning and innovating and prospering together?

I want to return now to something I mentioned earlier: the concept of “the diplomacy of knowledge.”

I had a taste of it with a group of high school students catching the bus in Minneapolis and heading off to visit the United Nations for one week. That trip was eye-opening, and I learned a lot—the same way a kid from the States would learn a lot about Canada on a visit to northern Ontario!

What is the diplomacy of knowledge?

Well, it’s just a way of saying how we stand to gain so much when we form partnerships in learning, in innovation, in business and culture and society.

It’s about our ability and our willingness to work together, across disciplines and across borders, to share knowledge, expertise and resources to improve our lives.

There are of course many great examples of how this is occurring already.

In fact, just this morning, I participated in a discussion at the University of Minnesota on teaching and research partnerships between Canadian and American schools.

What is true of Canada and the Upper Midwest in learning is true of Canada and the United States as a whole. Almost 30,000 Canadians are studying in American schools, while about 12,000 American students were studying in Canada at last count.

This is one of the statistics I really love, because each of those students will have a lifelong connection to their host country—just as I have.

It certainly worked that way for me, and for many members of my family.

Let me share another number, on academic publishing.

This is an area where Canadians are very strong partners.

Almost half of the science and engineering articles published by Canadians are internationally co-authored, and by far our most common partners on these papers are U.S. researchers.

There are many reasons why Canadians are such great collaborators in learning and innovation, but I’ll just list four of them:

First, Canadians believe deeply in the value of working together and learning from one another. We came to this belief early and out of necessity: as in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, our climate and geography can be challenging, to say the least. The first Europeans were wholly dependent on their willingness to work together and to learn from Aboriginal peoples.

Second, Canada has tried to make quality education more affordable to all. Because of this, generations of Canadians have had a better chance of overcoming barriers such as discrimination, poverty and social immobility.

We have tried to ensure a level playing field, and I know that this is something people here care about, too.

This is, after all, the home of the fabled Minnesota Miracle!

The third characteristic that Canada possesses that makes it a great partner in learning is our success in combining accessible education and excellence. It’s not a case of “either/or,” but rather of “both/and.”

Fourth, new Canadians are encouraged to retain and celebrate their culture and language, while embracing the values of Canada. This approach fosters social harmony and makes our country more outward-looking and global.

Fundamentally, Canada’s approach is an inclusive one. It’s not perfect, of course, and we struggle to reconcile our differences like any other society. But most Canadians are remarkably open and willing to work across borders, cultures and disciplines, and that includes when looking south to our American friends and neighbours.

Later this afternoon, I’ll be taking part in another discussion, this one on Canada-U.S. agricultural innovation.

I’m looking forward to this discussion, because I know how important agriculture and agricultural innovation are to both of our countries. The Midwest, together with the Canadian prairie provinces to Minnesota’s immediate north, is among the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

In this sphere as well, we are trading and collaborating. In 2013, Minnesota-Canada bilateral trade in agriculture reached about $2.1 billion, and Canada is the top market for this state’s agriculture and agri-food exports.

Despite this great record, we must do more to innovate in order to meet the pressures of growing populations and finite land and resources.

We have a great deal to gain from working together on this. This region is emerging as a national hub for agricultural innovation. I’m aware of the research, development and investment being done in areas including crop genetics, animal science, precision agriculture and bioscience. This is creating the potential for breakthroughs in food security and safety, energy independence and resource preservation.

Let me tell you that Canada can be a strong partner for this region. From Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s world-class research centres in places like Saskatoon, Lethbridge and Winnipeg, to the multitude of agriculture-focused venture capital firms popping up across the country, Canada rivals the Upper Midwest in its dedication to agricultural innovation.

Together, we can achieve so much. Joint efforts between Canada and the Upper Midwest would help people in this region and increase North American competitiveness overall.

I am encouraged by the idea of an innovation “corridor” connecting the Upper Midwest and Canada. That’s the kind of imagination and initiative we need in order to create a true regional innovation ecosystem.

I say imagination because a region is much more than simply a geographic or political entity. A region is a social construct that requires people to think, feel and act in a shared way. And to be frank, I think that’s a bit of a challenge for both Canadians and Americans, not only because we’re separated by an international boundary line, but because we still tend to imagine our countries in terms of an east-west orientation rather than a north-south one.

In this case, we need to think north-south, and we need to act on it.

One major reason why we need to act is because we live in a dynamic, rapidly changing world and we need to compete. To give just one example I’ve seen from my international visits as governor general, southeast Asia is thinking in north-south terms with the building of a high-speed rail network running from Hong Kong all the way down to Indonesia, with tunnels connecting Malaysia and Indonesia—a 21st century Silk Road.

It’s expected that this extensive rail network will transform the politics, culture and economy of Asia in a manner similar to the interstate highway system’s effect on the United States in the mid-20th century.

But you don’t need me to tell you the competition is fierce out there!

Canadians and Americans likewise need to redouble our efforts to forge new links and partnerships. In some ways, I think our great friendship has perhaps allowed us to become complacent, which is exactly what we cannot afford to be in this hyper-connected, rapidly changing world.

Let me close with an image of my vision of the diplomacy of knowledge in action, borrowed appropriately enough from the third president of these United States, Thomas Jefferson.

President Jefferson used the image of a burning candle to illustrate his Enlightenment values and the importance of sharing knowledge and working together.

The candle symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person to another. We could also say from one country to another.

And it’s important to keep in mind that when you light your unlit candle from the flame of my lit candle, my light is not diminished, it is enhanced. The sharing of knowledge collectively enlightens us.

Now, having stood up to be seen and spoken up to be heard, let me take my grandmother’s advice and sit down to be appreciated!

Thank you for your time and attention and for being contributors to the precious relationship between Canada and Minnesota.

I wish you the very best.

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