Suzanne Fortier on a Smart and Caring Nation


FortierSuzanne Fortier, Principal of McGill University


Interviewed on November 13, 2014 by Brenna Atnikov.

Atnikov: What energizes you about Canada?

Fortier: Having the privilege of living and working with the new generation of our country. Students are concerned about things happening here in Montreal and in Canada, but also about issues we are facing as a planet. They are reimagining things like engagement and community. They want to be leaders, and it is our responsibility as a society to nurture them and give them the opportunity to develop the skills they need. Right now, it is too easy to isolate yourself, to just observe what’s happening around you through the Internet, to be a critic. We need our youth to be people of action, to be builders. Hockey people say, “At the end, you need time on ice,” that is, you need to get in the arena, play the game, and be part of the action. Our young Canadians need to have their time on ice.

Atnikov: What kind of leadership qualities will Canada need to be successful?

Fortier: The Governor General called for us to create a smart and caring nation. That’s a good intersection: we need people with aspirations and ambitions who want to put their talent and efforts towards bettering both themselves and the community. To make the necessary leaps in terms of knowledge and creativity, our leaders must be open to new ideas and be able to hear diverse points of view from people from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures.

Atnikov: If you could ask a clairvoyant anything about the future of Canada, what would you want to know?

Fortier: What role will Canada play globally around some of the huge challenges that the planet is facing? Canada is well positioned to contribute, because it’s been privileged with what it has in terms of resources. Because Canada is made up of people who come from everywhere in the world, people here are concerned not only about issues right next door but also about those that are more global. They understand that whether we’re a businessperson or an agriculture expert, we aren’t going to solve issues by working alone; we’re going to do it by bringing people with different expertise together. Given these things, I wonder if we’re going to seize the moment and become a place that is central to the well-being of the planet.

Atnikov: If things turn out badly over the next 20 years, what will Canada look like?

Fortier: We will be a more divided, less tolerant, and less safe country. There will be increased disparity in terms of people’s conditions, and that will cause a lot of social unrest. We will waste our precious resources.

Atnikov: And if things turn out well over the next 20 years, what would the story be?

Fortier: We’ll be a country that has a high quality of life for all people, something we haven’t achieved yet. We take it for granted that we can be born from a very modest or difficult environment and still succeed, but we need to continue to offer equality opportunities for all.

We also need to continue to make room for several Canadas to co-exist. This is something that we’ve done quite well—we’ve been able to accommodate a range of interpretations and perspectives. People from different cultures come here and give the country its unique character. We’re beginning to see that this is part of our richness as a country and that some of the opportunities we have come from the fact that we are not defined by just one role. To me, part of our success will be come from continuing to define ourselves in ways that accommodate different points of view.

Atnikov: What is an example of when Canada has been most successful?

Fortier: Over the past few years, most places in the world have been under the shock of the brutal economic crisis. We have the right dose of smarts and prudence, so we built some really solid bases here. Although it wasn’t exactly an easy period, it was not as bad as what many others have faced. There’s a sense of solidness about Canada. We’ve done a good job with the fundamental things that are important in society. Of course, we always have to think of how we can do better, but we’ve got a strong foundation.

Reos Partners

Thought leader interviews were conducted by Reos Partners, led by project editor Adam Kahane. Kahane is a best selling author and facilitator who has led dialogues in more than 50 countries including post-Apartheid South Africa. Les entrevues auprès de leaders d’opinion ont été réalisées par Reos Partners, sous la direction d’Adam Kahane, rédacteur de projet. Kahane est un auteur et facilitateur à succès qui a mené des dialogues dans plus de 50 pays, notamment en Afrique du Sud après l’apartheid.