L. Jacques Ménard on Fulfilling Our Responsibilities
L. Jacques Ménard, Chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns and President of BMO Financial Group, Quebec
Interviewed on November 15, 2014 by Adam Kahane.
Kahane: What do you see going on in the country that needs paying attention to?
Ménard: As Canadians, we have certain rights. We also have duties and a responsibility to contribute to the public good, especially if we are blessed with a certain level of influence. That’s also true of the country. We have a country that’s blessed. We moan and groan about some of our shortcomings, but when we look at the news, we can see how Canada is the envy of the world. We are blessed because we happen to be in this hemisphere and because our culture allows us to govern ourselves in the way we do. The 2008 crisis did not have the impact here that it did elsewhere. How can we share our expertise, experiences, and values in a way that shows solidarity with other folks in the world that have not been blessed as we have?
We aren’t contributing inside our country and outside to the world to the extent of our potential. Being social democrats, we tend to defer too much, partly out of a sense of respect but also out of a kind of passivity that says, “Let’s wait until we get guidance.” The way we can do better is by taking responsibility for what Canada is to become. We have to remind ourselves that it’s not going to come from government and it’s not going to come from elsewhere: Canada will be what we make it. Caring, fairness, solidarity, resourcefulness, and innovativeness are all Canadian values. Canada will be a better place if our leaders and citizenry take more responsibility for practicing those values and creating better opportunities for people to succeed.
Kahane: If you could ask a clairvoyant about the future, what would want to know?
Ménard: Has Canada become a model in the realm of education? Canada is one of the fastest-aging countries in the world. If we are to continue with our Canadian social and economic model, the generation of workers 25 years from now will need to be much more productive than my generation or that of my father. Therefore, we must become a leader in education and in our ability to stimulate innovation and creativity in sciences, healthcare, and service areas. Economically, we are a small country, and the only way we’re going to grow is by becoming much more effective and by regaining our role as a powerful exporter of ideas, services, and certain products. We need to wean ourselves off of being totally dependent on our national resources. We can still be a resource-based country, we can still ship oil and minerals, but we need to have a more balanced economy.
Kahane: If things have not turned out well over the next 20 years, what would the story have been?
Ménard: We will have kept shrinking the resources we devote to higher education and research at our universities and institutions. We will have chosen to give all the money back to citizens and forgone our collective responsibility to foster a better educational system. That would have an impact on our record of achievement in the realm of innovation and patent development. Canada will have eroded and missed an opportunity to focus on our talents.
How do you miss an opportunity on talents? You do two things: you don’t develop them and you don’t retain them. We compete in the world, and the fewer unique skills we develop, the poorer our country will be. We can’t shrink ourselves into greatness. At some point, we have some collective responsibilities to one another generationally. Future generations will pass a tough judgment on today’s generations, saying, “Look at what they did through their obsession with an individualistic way of thinking.”
A lot of our imaginative, energetic, and highly schooled kids would have left the country. Many smart kids have already left Quebec. In response, here in Montreal, we’ve realized that we can do one of two things: we can keep harping on our weaknesses or we can decide to work on our strengths. We can wait for someone else to define us and our potential and our calling as a city, or we can act on the leverage that we do have as a community and as citizens. There is energy and creativity and talent in this city, and one of the challenges is figuring out how to retain, attract, and develop it.