I am grateful to the Senate of the University for conferring on me this degree today, and am proud to now be a graduate of Carleton University.
Growing up in Ottawa many years ago now, I had the great benefit of the guidance and friendship of my godfather Davidson Dunton – “Uncle Davey” as I always knew him – and when President Runte called me to tell me of the Senate’s decision of course my thoughts went to him. Davey Dunton served with great distinction as a young man with the Wartime Information Board, and went on to become the head of the CBC and then President of Carleton, where he presided over the remarkable expansion of the university during the “baby boom years” of the 1960’s. He was also the co-chair of the deservedly famous Royal Commission on Bilingualism which reminded Canadians of the challenge we faced as a country as a result of the Quiet Revolution then underway in Quebec. The Dunton-Laurendeau Commission will be long remembered for its wisdom and foresight.
During the year of my childhood when my Dad was in Hanoi, Davey Dunton was the kindest of men, I can remember to this day sitting with him and my friends Darcy and Debby Dunton as he read to us “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and to this day I have a recurring dream of opening a closet and going on a magical journey.
Growing up in Ottawa sixty years ago I realise now what a remarkable group of people my parents and their dear friends really were. They came from mixed backgrounds from all across the country. For them, going to university opened the world, and made all the difference. Whether in the military, or in intelligence, or diplomacy, or public service, they served the public in wartime, and then determined to build a better country in peacetime.
They had a serious purpose in life, but they were not solemn. They joked, they sang, they played music, they argued, they celebrated the achievements of friends and their children.
Some became politicians, or judges, but never lost that key sense of public service and the joys of friendship and the loyalties and values of a lifetime.
Today Canadians are not impressed with politics or politicians. Having spent my working life in politics and public life I feel compelled today to defend that life, and to commend it to you. It does not have to be a mean-spirited, narrow, or twisted calling, even though that is what some of its practitioners might make us believe. Yesterday we lost a fine politician and public servant, Jim Flaherty, and thinking of him I quoted some famous words of Teddy Roosevelt, who reminded us
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…”
Speaking to students at Western University a century later Jim Flaherty commended a life of public service by saying quite simply “it’s good for you”. Jim Flaherty and I did not agree on many issues of public policy. We both said unkind and cutting things about each other in the heat of political argument. But when he defended running up a large deficit in 2009 because to do otherwise would have been irresponsible I sent him a note across the House saying “where were you when I needed you ?” at which he let out a large laugh that startled his colleagues in the front bench. He was not so partisan as to be unaware of the ironies of life or the fact that even in the heat of debate things need to be put in perspective.
If good and talented people retreat from public life, public service, and politics, the void will be filled by others, as Edmund Burke pointed out so many years ago. The common good needs defending, and what we do together demands the best of our talents and abilities.
The great challenge of our time – creating a widely shared, deeply sustainable, prosperity at home and around the world – requires leadership and commitment, and while it might pay less than Bay Street or Wall Street its rewards are many.
These are challenges that are at once local and global. Their solutions will require a commitment to change at every level of society. And, at every turn, they will require good decisions by policy makers, for as important as the marketplace is, the market itself will not be enough. While good public policy has been defined as what happens when all the alternatives have been exhausted, people of experience and good sense will need to help us get to judgment sooner than that. Good policy will be aided by vigorous public debate, which seems almost unmanageable in the age of social media. Debate alone is not the answer, because at some point decisions must be made, and for opinion to jell it must be informed by facts, evidence, and leadership.
Teddy Roosevelt’s speech about being in the arena touched on many subjects, and in it he reminded us that while intelligence is important, it is actually less important than character. Of all the virtues required in public life, the greatest is courage, for it is the one that makes all the others possible. Writing about the courage of two great Canadian heroes, Ken McAlister and Frank Pickersgill, who lost their lives in Buchenwald, Douglas LePan reminded us that courage mixed with human frailty brings sweetness to the heart of the building, and whose courage, after all, is not mixed with frailty ? To bring sweetness to the heart of the building of public life is a mission worthy of any of us, and we have the lasting benefit that the mission is bigger than all of us and will outlast us.
For myself, let me assure you that I accept this degree with the same sense of anticipation that I had when I first graduated in 1969. There are great challenges ahead for Canada and the world and while my hair has changed colour I have lost none of my enthusiasm for the battles ahead. As I become more immersed in the challenges facing the indigenous people of Canada I realise that while I have left parliament I have hardly left politics. As I continue to engage in the law, in mediation, in writing and teaching the joy of controversy, argument, and decision, has simply shifted to another arena.
Let me close by thanking Carleton once again for its momentary lapse of judgment. I am grateful to family and friends for their continuing support.I am grateful to the Senate of the University for conferring on me this degree today, and am proud to now be a graduate of Carleton University.