Here’s to the Canadians who make us great


December 31, 2012

As we welcome the New Year, we want to pay special tribute to those exceptional Canadians who make Canada the great nation that it is.

There are many unsung heroes who show the “right stuff” in our midst. Some are young. Some are middle-aged. But they share a common trait: They are high achievers. They are not merely good at what they do — they excel at it. They also understand that “blood, sweat, and tears” come with the pursuit of excellence.

They are role models for others who strive to be the best. In a media-driven age of celebrity culture, these are the people who aren’t looking to grab the spotlight or draw attention to themselves. They just get on with it.

We have drawn up our own short list of outstanding Canadians. Our list is illustrative and by no means exhaustive. And we invite readers to do the same. Look around you. Who inspires you the most?

At the top of our list are those men and women in our armed forces who have served with honor and at great personal risk in Afghanistan. It is already Canada’s forgotten war. It should not be that way. Their contribution to defending Canadian values and honor must not be forgotten with our disengagement from this troubled nation. Nor must we forget those who gave their lives in the most supreme and selfless act of all.

Chris Hadfield, who will become the first Canadian to command the International Space Station when he takes over in March 2013, is a Canadian hero with all of the right stuff. Most Canadians don’t know that as a test pilot Hadfield won the Liethen-Tittle Award for being the top gun graduate at the US Air Force Test Pilot School. He has since enjoyed a meteoric career at NASA serving as director of operations and commander of NASA’s extreme environment missions operations to ready a mission to Mars.

Someday soon, Canadians will be able take pride in the fact that one of their own played a key role in getting to the red planet.

Canadian business has many fine leaders. Vision, entrepreneurship and industriousness are generally not in short supply. But we need more leaders like Rick Waugh who just retired as head of Scotiabank, or Serge Godin of the Montreal-based information technology and business processes firm, CGI.

A Winnipegger, Waugh moved up through the ranks the Canadian way to lead Canada’s most global financial institution. He played a key role bringing greater sanity to global finance during turbulent times. He is also a major contributor to each of the communities in which Scotia operates.

Godin founded CGI at the age of 26. CGI has grown to become the fifth largest independent IT firm in the world. Godin, who now serves as chairman of the board, and Mike Roach, CGI’s current CEO, both deserve high praise for keeping Canada prominent in this 21st century business.

Waugh, Godin, and Roach are leaders who understand what it takes to make their companies into national champions on the global stage. With the rapid rise of emerging markets we are going to need more men and women like them who know what it takes to succeed globally.

The same holds true in the field of higher education, where the University of Alberta’s president Indira Samarasekera is a standout. Not only is she a first-class academic in the field of engineering, but she has led the U of A to become one of Canada’s top research-intensive universities by forging critical partnerships with top universities and research centres around the globe. She has made her university a magnet for world-class research in sciences, ensuring the highest quality teaching and learning environment for students.

As an adviser to government and business, Samarasekera also understands that universities cannot simply be ivory towers of learning. They also have to engage the wider community if Canada is to be a global innovation leader.

The political realm is often a difficult one to assess because of partisanship and political rancour. The ranks of truly outstanding political leaders are thinly populated. Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan is exceptional. He has attracted major investors to his province and boosted the local economy through visionary economic and educational policies. He also has not hesitated to take bold and courageous decisions to defend the interests of his province as the situation warrants. He demonstrates clearly the advantage of having a vision or plan to guide policy, coupled with a genuine commitment to lead and not simply steer.

In sports, the Canadian women’s soccer team which captured the bronze medal at the summer London Olympics — a Canadian first — is an inspiration to all young women and indeed all Canadians. The team’s captain, Christine Sinclair, also rightly called out an inept or biased referee for flawed decisions. At a time when Canadians are jaded by the greed of hockey billionaires and millionaires, Sinclair offers a refreshing example for all of true grit in sports. Hats off to Canada’s female athlete of the year!

In the arts, Canada is blessed with many talented writers, painters and musicians. But for the young and aspiring, this is a harsh and difficult time to be pursuing a literary or artistic career.

Ottawa-born Fraser White is a good example of what it takes to succeed. After graduating with a BA in English Literature from King’s College in 2010, he had ambitions of finding a well-paid job and writing the next great Canadian novel.

However, like most of his university classmates White soon found himself unemployed. So, with little else to do, he found a job in a restaurant and began writing, finding some success when a short story he wrote entitled “Thirst” was shortlisted for a Canadian Authors Association Short Story Award. Buoyed by the modest success of “Thirst,” he enrolled in the Scriptwriting Program at Algonquin College and landed a script-reading internship with Abbot Entertainment in Los Angeles, where he began work on a few short film scripts, one of which went on to win first place in the New York City Midnight Screenwriter’s Challenge.

Last but not least, let’s look at the media itself. We cast our vote for Rex Murphy, who combines original wit and wisdom regularly and deliciously for the National Post and the CBC, offering welcome balance of a sort to the latter in particular. He is a voice of reason on some of the most sensitive policy issues. And unlike so many of his media colleagues, he never preens, poses or struts.

Young and old alike, these are Canadians who have the right stuff. The New Year is a good time to toast them all!

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

About the Authors

Derek Burney was Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993. He led the Canadian delegation in concluding negotiations of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement.