Innovation and Excellence in the Great Lakes Area

Read Time:8 Minute, 10 Second

Speech by David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, Speech, Special for  USDR.


Thank you for your warm welcome. I’m delighted to be here in Chicago attending this important new  forum.

I know a lot of people have worked very hard to bring the Council of the Great Lakes Region into being. Let me single out council president and CEO Mark Fisher, Canadian ambassador Doer, former U.S. ambassador to Canada Jacobson and current ambassador Heyman for special  mention.

This kind of vision and collaboration is exactly what we need in the Great Lakes region and in the overall relationship between our two countries. This council is a model and an inspiration and I thank and congratulate all of you on what you have  achieved.

This is home turf for me. I’m a Great Lakes native myself, having grown up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, by the shores of the St. Marys  River.

Sault Ste. Marie is, of course, a key Great Lakes hub, sitting right between lakes Superior and Huron on the Canada-U.S. border, and the lakes loom large in my family  history.

My mother was from Soo, Michigan, and my grandfather worked as a lock operator on the Michigan side of the locks along the St.  Marys.

Built in the 19th century, the locks are an engineering marvel and a wonderful symbol of the Canada-U.S. relationship. They run separate but parallel, and they are very much a shared  resource.

Just like the Great Lakes  themselves!

These waters and the surrounding communities are so fundamentally important to the histories of both Canada and the United  States.

From the presence of indigenous peoples to the appearance of traders and explorers to the arrival of entrepreneurs such as Francis Clergue, the American-born businessman who developed the hydro potential of the vast drop from Lake Superior to Lake Huron at the rapids on the St. Marys and became the leading industrialist of my hometown—the story of these lakes is in many ways the story of North  America.

Today, the Great Lakes region continues to be vitally important to our shared  well-being.

This is true both economically and environmentally, because in a world where fresh water is an increasingly precious resource, there really is no separating the environment from the  economy.

It’s not a question of “either/or” but rather “both/and.” This is a globally significant natural ecosystem, and we must treat it as  such.

That’s why it’s so important that we co-operate through bodies such as the International Joint  Commission.

That’s why we must continue to find consensus through such accords as the Great Lakes Water Quality  Agreement.

Now to take the “ecosystem” idea even further, I want to say how absolutely critical it is that we think and act as a region in all respects—not just environmentally, but also economically and  socially.


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 kinds of good  things.

Without a doubt, the Great Lakes region is an ecosystem in the environmental sense. So why not conceive of this as an ecosystem when it comes to learning and innovating and prospering  together?

Already, this is among the most important economic regions in North America. The numbers are truly  impressive.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region has an approximate GDP of $5.5 trillion, which, if it was its own country, would place it as the third largest economy in the  world.

Roughly 40 percent of all cross-border trade between Canada and the United States takes place in this region, which supplies about 30 percent of our combined workforce. And a large portion of our trade consists of intermediate products traded into integrated supply chains. Often, hundreds of companies on both sides of the border contribute components to a single  product.

This region is also a continental centre of learning. It’s home to 19 of the world’s top 100 universities and accounts for about a quarter of the R&D spending in the U.S. and almost three quarters of R&D in  Canada.

Here in Chicago alone, a significant percentage of the city’s trade is with  Canada.

The State of Illinois is Canada’s third most important export destination  globally.

And about 40,000 Canadians live and work in the states of Illinois, Wisconsin and  Missouri.

I could go on, but I think it’s safe to say we have a very good thing going  here.

My questions to all of you are: how do we build on this success and create an even more dynamic, sustainable and globally competitive region for the 21st  century?

And how do we employ all this to advance the common good  together?

These are big questions, but I know one thing for certain: we can only do it by working together  smartly.

In today’s world, regional economies are fuelled by deep engagement. The presence of diversified industries and of collaborative research and investment networks and supply chains is  critical.

The trick—easier said than done—is to harness our regional strengths and amplify them with an eye to creating knowledge and value and exporting that to the  world.

An important paper issued by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation and the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto explored the idea of a “great lakes century” in this  regard.

The authors  wrote:

“The region must undertake a historic intellectual pivot, moving from a mentality where Canadians and Americans make things together for the North American market, to recognizing that they have things that the world wants and understanding how best to offer these goods and  services.”

This isn’t a new idea, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And there are of course challenges to this, including the realities of an international border, regulatory differences and currency fluctuations, to name a  few.

But the potential is so great. These are the “great” lakes after all! Great things can happen  here!

Just this morning, I visited the MATTER Healthcare Incubator and the 1871 start-ups hub and had a glimpse of the burgeoning relationship between Canadian and Chicago-area innovation/accelerator ecosystems. I was so impressed with what I saw. This kind of co-operation deserves our support and  encouragement.

Knowledge knows no borders, and Canadian and American researchers and learning institutions are particularly adept at working together. We can all learn from their  example.

That being said, this morning I met with university leaders from this region to discuss what more we can be doing to collaborate in research and higher  education.

I spent most of my career as a university administrator, and I know that while many American institutions in this region have ties to their Canadian counterparts, these linkages have yet to reach their fullest  potential.

I am also looking forward to meeting with representatives of a number of philanthropic foundations later this afternoon. Many of these foundations already collaborate with their Canadian counterparts, and I see great potential in fostering a deeper cross-border  connection.

All of this is a reminder that Canada and the United States have long demonstrated an extraordinary willingness and ability to work together. This is particularly true of the Great Lakes  region.

We’re on the right track. We must keep going and deepen our partnerships. One area of focus should be our shared border, which of course is of enormous significance to both Canada and the United  States.

How  significant?

Well, it’s estimated that more than $2 billion (USD) worth of goods and services crosses the Canada-U.S. border every  day.

That’s $1.4 million every minute! The biggest two-way trading relationship on  Earth!

The mind boggles, but there’s no doubt that maintaining efficient transit is critical while also ensuring security and the integrity of the  border.

These are key issues all along our shared border and they’re particularly challenging in the Great Lakes region, where so much of our traffic occurs on and over water. The Detroit River, the Niagara River, the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes—all pose challenges for border security, and together we are taking  action.

The new Canada-U.S. Shiprider program is a wonderful example of co-operation. This initiative sees RCMP, U.S. Coast Guard and other bi-national police officers working together on the same vessels in the DetroitWindsor  area.

We need more of this kind of sensible and imaginative  collaboration.

Let me close by going back to the title of my speech: “The Great Lakes  Effect.”

Everyone here knows about the weather phenomenon of the lake effect—Chicagoans certainly do! The dictionary definition states it as “the influence of a large lake on weather  patterns.”

We need to create our own metaphorical “lake effect” in this region. Not a meteorological one—we have enough weather as is!—but rather a stronger and more dynamic culture of collaboration that harnesses the particular strengths and features of this great region to create new  possibilities.

Let’s create a Great Lakes Effect that takes what we do here to the next  level.

That’s my challenge to all of  you!

Long may the Council of the Great Lakes Region do its important  work!

Now let me wrap up so we can begin discussing what needs to be done and how to move  ahead.

Thank you.

David  Johnston


SOURCE Government  House

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