March 2006      
Higher Education Summit in Ottawa

The Council of the Federation brought Canadian Premiers together in Ottawa last Friday for a unique meeting. Will it prove to be historic as well?

A unique meeting as it represents the first time in Canadian history that the Premiers thought post-secondary education important enough to warrant a one-item agenda meeting. This is no small feat!

Unique because it clearly signaled the need to balance the priority given to healthcare with the importance of post-secondary education. If we want to build a future for our children we need to be more than a caring country; we must also be a smart country. Canadians are not just patients in need of care. We are individuals making contributions to the future of our country, and we want to be valued for the differences we are making.

A strong belief in post-secondary education as a requirement to contribute in today’s world also clearly emerges from the discussions. Canadians want jobs that reflect not only their talents but also their ambitions. As they move into the 21st century, they know that yesterday’s best tools are not sharp enough to carve their future and that many long-held beliefs do not correspond to today’s or tomorrow’s challenges.

A unique meeting because of the passion surging from the workshops. No one is asking for favours. Canadians want the opportunity to give this country the best of their passions and talents. They know it is not enough to ask for more. They want to give more. They want to be emotionally, intellectually, collectively, and financially committed to the future.

Canadians want vision. Quoting from Saint-Exupery, Ontario Premier McGuinty expressed it best: “The way to get people to build a boat is to make them long for the open sea.” Not to throw them a life-jacket, I might add. Canadians want leaders. Not just politicians. Not just technocrats. Together, the Premiers developed a vision in Ottawa last Friday. Canada is a caring country, but we will also be a smart country. We will be smart intellectually, emotionally, socially, and economically. It is a vision that is concise, clear, and challenging. A smart country.

If the Federal Government is ready, the Council of the Federation meeting will prove to have been historic. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives now have the right and the duty to act.

Robert Poupart, D.Ps.
Principal & Vice-Chancellor, Bishop’s University
February 27, 2006

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