Accelerate 2022: Speech by board chair Meric Gertler

February 8, 2022
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Meric Gertler headshot

On behalf of Universities Canada, I want to welcome you all to Accelerate 2022.

Thank you for being with us.

We have assembled a truly impressive gathering of experts, thought leaders and changemakers from across Canada.

The tasks before us today are of vital importance to the country, as we work together to recover from the pandemic and rebuild, with the aim of achieving a brighter future for all Canadians.

Our goals in convening this event are to accelerate progress toward a stronger economy, a healthier society, and a more sustainable, vibrant and inclusive country.

The economic, social, environmental and political challenges we face require us to form new alliances that bring together business, education, government and community groups in common cause.

And Canada’s universities have an absolutely vital role to play in helping lead our country’s recovery and rebuilding process.

Canada faces an urgent need to reinvent and restructure its economy as it recovers from the pandemic.

We must identify new sources of prosperity, to ensure higher standards of living for all Canadians, and to tackle the post-pandemic public debt.

Canada’s universities have generated the knowledge that underpins exciting new technologies in fields like artificial intelligence and machine learning that are already transforming one sector after another.

They are also leading a revolution in bio-innovation, generating the science that has led to new vaccines, novel therapies, and ever more powerful diagnostic tools, and that is transforming health care through precision medicine and regenerative therapies.

We are also leading the way in preparing a workforce that is equipped to power this process forward.

We are educating the talented individuals needed to lead our country, across business, government and civil society.

Increasingly, we will also be called upon to support adult learners, who will need to acquire new competencies throughout their working lives and careers.

Canada is also facing an urgent need to decarbonize its economy.

Here too, our universities must play a major role in driving the country’s green transition.

Our campuses are already functioning as ‘living labs’ for environmental sustainability, providing hands-on research and learning opportunities for faculty and students.

We are ideally positioned to demonstrate that a green future really is within our grasp.

We are major landowners in the communities where we’re located.

As the landlords of large, contiguous land holdings – and dozens if not hundreds of buildings – we have the ability to make district-wide decisions on a scale that mimics entire communities.

As public institutions with long-term time horizons, we are ideally suited to demonstrating and applying new technologies for sustainable buildings and renewable energy.

And our wide-ranging in-house expertise is generating breakthroughs in green technologies, as well as illuminating the social and behavioural dynamics that will determine how successfully such technologies are implemented.

If Canada is serious about meeting its Paris and Glasgow commitments, its national strategy must leverage and support the leadership of Canada’s universities.

Of course, the foundation for everything I have mentioned thus far – the wellspring of our long-term prosperity – is fundamental, curiosity-driven research.

Canada’s federal government deserves full credit for the major steps it has taken to support research – especially in its multi-year budget commitments responding to the recommendations of the Naylor Report.

But, as the country moves toward a post-COVID world, and as these earlier commitments expire, our government needs to recommit to this objective.

A competitive level of investment in fundamental research will be an absolutely crucial factor in our ability to reinvent our economy, enhance the health and wellbeing of Canadians, and meet the existential challenge of climate change.

The success of our country and our planet, and the hope for an inclusive, prosperous future for all people depends on it.

But to play our part, and to realize our potential, we must keep pace with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and others, which have leapt even further ahead of us in recent years, in their support for fundamental research.

Let me close by noting that the occupation of downtown Ottawa, and the demonstrations that took place in cities across the country this past weekend, underscore the deep social divisions that have been laid bare and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Universities have a crucial role to play here too, as producers of verifiable and reliable knowledge, as sites of debate about the most pressing issues of the day, and as leaders in the national project of Truth and Reconciliation with our Indigenous communities, and in the fight against Anti-Black racism.

Our campuses are also force multipliers for social mobility and inclusion, and we remain committed to providing access to higher education for all academically qualified students, no matter what their cultural background or economic resources.

So, as we engage in these crucial discussions over the next two days, let us consider how we can leverage the assets of Canada’s universities in the national project of rebuilding and renewal.

I am now pleased to turn over the digital podium to Paul Davidson.

Thank you all, once again, for participating in Accelerate 2022.

I wish you a productive and enjoyable conference.

Thank you all.

About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.

Media contact:

Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

Tagged:  Environmental sustainability, Equity, diversity and inclusion, Research and innovation, Strong and healthy communities

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