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The Group of Seven – Nation Building for the 21st Century

by Randall on January 14, 2014 · 6 comments

Posted in: Entrepreneurism,Public Policy,Randall Howard,Social Enterprise,Social Innovation,Society


Last year, I signed up for a wonderfully ambitious initiative spearheaded by our Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston. I was invited to join a Group of Seven who will serve as catalysts to rolling out David Johnson’s vision of a Smart and Caring Nation built by a set of Smart and Caring Communities, ultimately aimed to be a major national initiative to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial, in 2017.

I was very much honoured to be asked and, although it is a dauntingly large not to mention a somewhat unspecified, goal, as a proud Canadian who knows first hand David Johnston’s unique ability to lead and motivate, I quickly agreed to this call. I’ll share more about this initiative in order to seek your input. Since no small group can be representative of our huge and diverse nation, it is important the we engage in much dialogue from Canadians of all ages and demographic profile, in order to achieve maximum impact and relevance.

As a way to start that conversation, I’d like to share some of my perspectives on Smart and Caring 2017.

David Johnston’s Smart and Caring Vision:

This whole project starts with a great foundation in our Governor General’s Smart and Caring vision for Canada. And here is why his singular leadership is so critical to this initiative.

David Johnston has a long track record of motivation. Back in 2006, as President of Unviersity of Waterloo, he challenged the already ambitious and successful business, community and government leaders in Waterloo Region to reach even higher. Issued in November 2006, his Ten Goals to Make Waterloo Region Canada’s Knowledge Capital are a blueprint that inspired and motivated real change and continue to have an impact today.

Similarly, on 1 October 2010 at his installation speech as Governor General in the Senate Chambers in Ottawa, David Johnston laid out his vision for nation building in Canada, challenging us to build  a Smart and Caring Nation:

“We are a Smart and Caring Nation.
A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to the maximum.
A nation where all Canadians can succeed and contribute.
But there is much work to be done to fully achieve our vision of a Smart and Caring Nation. I believe it is essentialTo support families and children,
To reinforce learning and innovation, and
To encourage philanthropy and volunteerism.” 

To build on that vision as we near the sesquicentennial of Canada as a country in 2017, His Excellency has challenged Community Foundations of Canada and the growing network of 191 grass roots Community Foundations across our country. He wants them to lead a groundswell movement, in each and every community and nationally, for Smart and Caring 2017.

Canada – A History of Evolutionary Nation Building:

With that vision as inspiration, and as a passionately proud Canadian, here is my perspective on Canada as a nation. We were not formed by revolution, as is the case in many other countries like the USA or France. True to our character, our particular style of nation-hood opted instead for  evolution at a slow almost glacial pace. You might almost say that Canada pioneered nation building by committee. Specifically, a series of  meetings commencing with the Charlottetown Conference, 150 years ago in 1864, led  to Confederation on 1 July 1867.

I would argue that, as a nation, we were more defined by what we were not — ie. no tea parties or revolutions to overthrow a king. Instead, via peaceful change we enjoyed a tabula rasa upon which to architect a unique nation in those lands north of the growing United States of America. The process was slow. We remained essentially a colony with large parts of the country feeling more British than Canadian for many years. Consider how long it took us to have a non-British Governor General (Vincent Massey, 1952), our own flag (1965, replacing the Union Jack) or our own constitution (repatriated from Westminster in 1982).

Until the late 20th century, innumerable British colonial vestiges remained. Many people argue that Canadian heroism and sacrifices for the motherland in World War I, just 100 years ago, started the modern trend of a strengthening Canadian identity both internally and as a nation on the global stage.

Gof7 WAG 2013-06-06 19.57.00Shortly after WWI, an influential group of painters, the original Group of Seven artists, created a truly Canadian vision of our country through direct contact with nature and our awe-inspiring landscape. Their work was notably distinct from the prevailing British styles of Turner, Constable and later British or European artistic styles.

Canada’s Centennial in 1967 marked a major inflection point for Canada. We had come through two world wars with a strong sense of national identity, supported by the burgeoning post war economy. Canada proudly led on the world stage with the likes UN Peacekeeping, Expo ’67 in Montréal and the uber cool federalist Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Set right in the middle of the swinging 1960’s, our centennial celebrations in 1967 were a wonderful time to be alive. Besides Expo ’67 and the quaint historical “centennial” costumes people wore, today we are left with innumerable Centennial arenas, parkways, libraries, etc. These major investments in infrastructure are present with us today. I recall that time with pride and fondness.

CFC Smart and Caring Project:

Because the 21st Century seems so different than the previous, what kind of movement should honour Canada’s 150th birthday. It is a complex question, but I believe that if we can mobilize almost all communities across Canada into activities and projects inspired by the “Smart and Caring” mantra, like a national pot luck dinner we would effectively crowdsource some of national, and even, international significance.

Once again, we have a unique opportunity to make positive changes while setting a positive example for the world.

It is important to understand that, because each and every community is unique, communities must have the freedom to launch initiatives that directly suits their unique needs.  Nonetheless, with diverse initiatives considered collectively, I believe that, taken as a whole we can shape and inspire the Canada of the future.  We have so many advantages and the time is right to embark of nation building for the 21st century.

I would further hope that we would see collective action and partnership, both at the community level and national level, to increase the impact and effectiveness of the Smart and Caring 2017 initiatives. We must speak to and be meaningful to all Canadians:

  • young and old
  • recent immigrants or multi-generational Canadians
  • from east to west to the most northern reaches
  • Aboriginal, English, French or any other heritage

Because no group, no matter how large, can be sufficiently inclusive, that is why it is absolutely imperative that we, who have been honoured to help make this happen, hear from as many Canadians as possible.

Please weigh in here with comments or find other ways to get involved. And, I hope to provide more updates and opportunities to engage, participate, shape and drive Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations – Smart and Caring 2017.
Please start by sharing your thoughts on what Smart and Caring 2017  means to you.

A J Casson – The White Village


About Randall

Randall Howard is a serial entrepreneur and long term technologist with a passion for social innovation.

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  • StaciB

    Hi Randall, great article. Right here in our mutual community a little oven you are somewhat familiar with fits into each and every sentence of your mantra for seeking out examples for your Smart and Caring Community Initiative :
    kippelora.com Kitchen in the Park Project (KIPPelora)

    1) We are a Smart and Caring Nation. -yes our community built our oven, strictly through volunteers. Further, where the community builds a sense of ownership helping to keep the oven and the site safe. Where people become curious about how to keep it successful by finding creative means for running events out of it. I would say very Smart and very Caring.

    2) A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to the maximum.- we assist our young, old, widowed and rehabed by teaching new skills in the art of baking, rolling, selling bread, building the oven, splitting wood, resourcing across the Township for supplies through contributions from the community.

    3) A nation where all Canadians can succeed and contribute.- everyone has a place at the oven, even if they don’t like to bake. There is no ‘you did that wrong’. Only ‘I learned this today’.

    4) But there is much work to be done to fully achieve our vision of a
    Smart and Caring Nation. I believe it is essential To support families
    and children, – curriculum based programming teaching children to bake, both young and old and with their families. (family day in the summer)

    5) To reinforce learning and innovation -bake workshops where participants meet for the first time and go on to open their own bricks and mortar businesses (Elora Bread Trading Company)

    6) To encourage philanthropy and volunteerism.” -running unique fundraisers for 3 years that try to include all financial demographics so that everyone feels like they can contribute, rich or poor. We learned that literally even if you have nothing, you have something to donate- like time. We then built the most beautiful donor wall to honor everyones contribution, big or small because in the end, every little bit mattered.

    I look forward to seeing how other communities fulfill the mission.
    Staci Barron
    Co-Founder KIPPelora.

  • fauvebuddy

    Hi Randall,
    What about a Richard Florida, “Creative Communities” award? The submissions to gov’t. regarding the celebrations, from interest groups have been not holistic. Your suggestions are refreshing and current. For me the rubric for effective use of social and time maleable technology, applied to creative imaginings would be a fine reference.
    As well I can envision the Trans Canada Trail coming past Knox church and art centre
    Moving along Mill St, over a replica steel pin truss walking bridge. With the cooperation of developers moving along the riverside, then passing over 7. After moving through the Elora gorge park connecting to the continuation of the Canada trail at the Cottontail Trail towards Guelph. The nature of gov’t funding seems restrictive due to the nature of the economy.

  • David Singh

    Hi Randall,

    This sounds like a fantastic initiative and look forward to staying connected to it. Having spent some in the corporate world (working for Deloitte’s Consultancy) I left 18-months ago to help build a start-up business. I’ve been amazed and totally in love with the Canadian start-up community. While we have many miles to go to get to a valley-like promise-land, we have some fantastic “smart and caring” things to be proud of.

    In my opinion, truly great start-up companies are smart and caring at their core. Ultimately they care about ver large, unaddressed problems and hopefully make the world a better place by innovating or driving productivity. Canada is a leading nation in creating start-ups and I love to see the thriving tech and innovation communities sprouting up around the country.

    My company, Kira Talent, helps companies hiring using video. We’ve worked with many Canadian and global companies to see the personality and potential in their candidates using video. I think there could be an amazing application to help solicit the opinions of Canadians from far and wide using Kira Talent’s platform. I will follow-up off-line to share more specifics.

    For now, thanks for energy you are putting toward this and I look forward to staying in touch.

    David Singh
    (PS I’m also an SJK alum)

  • Thanks for the many, many comments in so many places – directly on my blog, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. One major problem with this proliferation of social media platforms is that the two-way conversations get siloed into sub-discussions within each platform.

    At this very early stage of architecting the Smart and Caring Nation 2017 initiative, it is a time of lots of dialogue and sharing. I’m been pleasantly surprised by the number and passion of responses.

    To that end, I will mostly be listening. Today, we finished up a two day meeting of the Group of Seven at Banff Centre, and am still digesting the multitude of great ideas we explored there. Once these thoughts are more organized, I hope to share a summary of the basic narrative, ideally to help focus the discussions and engagement with Canadians.

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