Why Build a Case for a Sustainable Future?
February 10, 2021
Remarks by The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
“Hello everyone, bonjour, boozhoo! I am delighted to be back in your region, although I wish I were there in person this time, instead of over your screen, but this invitation was intriguing, and it allows me to shine a light on the work that you are doing because this really is an exciting initiative covering a good part of the geography of your region. I think it’s poised to have a real and positive impact throughout the Southern Georgian Bay region and beyond.
Despite the ways that we’ve all been separated by this pandemic, we are learning every day how interconnected we really are. And as the Collingwood World Summit impressed upon us last September, we know that if we’re going to recover and to develop resilience, we must act together for the good of all. The only future worth building is one that’s sustainable.
As Lieutenant Governor, I have a bird’s eye view of Ontario, and I have great hope that we’ll actually reach that condition of resilience and sustainability. Early on in my mandate when I was traveling throughout the province and listening to people’s stories of what they were proud of, what they were successful at, and what they were challenged by, it became clear that Ontarians were attuned to the concept of sustainability. They may not all use the term ‘sustainable development’, but the things they talked about made me sure that they were convinced of the importance of shared economic prosperity, responsible environmental stewardship, and of course, social and cultural inclusion. And it was because of that that I really made sustainability a key priority. So, to raise awareness I’ve used the platform that my office provides to convene people and create a dialogue around the SDGs. I love, by the way, referring to them as the world’s to-do list. Somehow, that resonates with most people. But if we can achieve those sustainable development goals, that’s certainly well worth doing. And I’ve tried to support many community and academic initiatives as well. The stakes have always been high, but this COVID-19 outbreak has given renewed intensity to this conversation. And I guess today, speaking to some of you who have been converted, some of you who have been involved in exercises already, and some of you who are new to the conversation, I would just say it’s worth thinking about sustainability and what it means in a post-COVID period of time because I think there are several things that we have learned, and certainly that I have learned, during the last ten months.
So, I offer you three insights; first, the SDGs do provide an effective blueprint for addressing our many challenges. They are as good a policy framework as any that we have, and that includes those longstanding systemic ones that we’ve only now seen in such sharp relief during a pandemic. These issues that we’re facing now, we always faced but they weren’t as obvious. The importance of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development targets has been clear, and they’ve always been valuable in aligning everyone’s efforts. But I think what’s different in the time of COVID is that we are much more knowledgeable about the needs of the most vulnerable among us in our communities and how those can be met. Indeed, we know that even before the pandemic, in a place as beautiful and popular as Southern Georgian Bay, there has been poverty and hunger. So, the goals are not just for developing nations, but they’re for right here, where we live, and the underlying issues they address will help us both today and tomorrow.
The second insight is that to attain resilience (and by that I mean how are we going to cope with such significant and transformational change, be it geo-political, be it environmental, be it demographic, be it technological?), we’re facing amazing change. And if we are going to be resilient, it seems to me that it is essential to think and act holistically and systemically. In the report, Mapping Our Road to Recovery, your Institute recognizes the value in breaking down those silos and bringing sectors together. And indeed, one of the lessons that I’ve heard in my conversations with Ontarians is that we’ve seen all orders of government working together in common cause. I’ve heard heartening stories of creative collaborations, and isn’t it wonderful that we hear talk of science-based, evidence-based policy making? So, we really are relying on groups of people that perhaps were not as evident in times past, and yet there is so much more to be done. We have to identify those fundamental linkages. And I think particularly of the relationship between economic productivity, childcare and education, and then move swiftly to forge cooperative efforts from shared priorities. And perhaps for the first time, we will come to realize that the distinction between the economic and the social sectors is somewhat an artificial construct. Because it’s at the nexus of those two sectors that we really start to see the opportunity for significant and lasting change. Such an endeavour actually starts with people. And that brings me to my third insight because I think this is the perfect opportunity for municipalities and local governments to take the lead.
Citizens feel most closely connected to local government, and during a crisis, it’s crucial for building cohesive communities. And if my conversations with leaders around this province have shown me anything, it is that there’s a lot of building community that’s going on. I think for instance of Collingwood’s RallyPoint Initiative, a virtual hub offering residents online experiences relating to physical activity, wellbeing and education. So long as the imperative of social distancing remains, so too does the necessity for maintaining community spirit and culture. And you will have heard Rosalyn say how much we rely on the arts, for example, to help us heal. By working alongside the local museum, library and theatre, along with various community groups, the town has demonstrated leadership to address this vital need. And I know that all of you will have similar examples. So by collaborating on the “to-do list” as I call it, offered by the SDGs, municipal government, with the help of local entrepreneurs and activists, can have a transformative impact across a region like yours. The dialogue this webinar series will engender presents an invaluable step in that direction.
And so, on behalf of all Ontarians, I salute the leadership and the members of the Institute of Southern Georgian Bay, as well as all of the affiliated organizations for really taking this initiative to learn about, discuss, and eventually implement sustainable programs. By thinking globally and acting locally, you’re really setting a truly inspiring example. You may think that this is just what you need to do, what you should be doing because it just makes sense. But I can tell you as someone who has a broader landscape from which to draw examples, it really is something quite exceptional that you’re undertaking. So, thank you for that. On behalf of so many more than just your region, merci, miigwech, and I hope you’ll all stay safe and well until we are through this. Thanks very much for the opportunity.”