SFU Public Square 2013 Community Summit - An Evening with Robert Reich

October 03, 2013

Introductory Comments
Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver

Andrew Petter
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University

Good evening and welcome to SFU Public Square’s second annual Community Summit.  I am delighted you could join us for our second annual Community Summit entitled in Charting BC’s Economic Future.  I’d also like to welcome those who are joining us on our live webstream.  

Let me begin by thanking everyone who submitted video clips, pictures and stories to help create the “We Are BC” video that was launched tonight.  And thanks especially to director Sarah Van Borek who conceived this project and brought these stories to life.

SFU Public Square is a product of our Vision to be Canada’s “most community engaged research university.”  That Vision makes it our goal forcommits SFU to be “BC’s public square for enlightenment and dialogue on key public issues” – to be “the institution to which the community looks for education, discussion and solutions.”

We are working hard to realize that goal endeavour to do that year-round at all three of our campuses – in Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver.  But for one week, we do it with even greater focus and gusto in our Community Summit.

A public square is a forum for democracy – a place to gain information and to voice one’s views about the pressing issues of the day – as well as to listen to the views of others.

British Columbians are famous for the energy and the intensity we bring to discussions of public issues.  We are, perhaps, less well known for our propensity to listen, to ponder and to seek shared solutions.

Yet that surely is what we must do if we wish to thrive in today’s world. If we hope to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, we must devote less time and effort to exposing our divisions and venting our differences, and more to identifying mutual interests and reaching shared solutions.

What John F. Kennedy said of America and its allies in 1961 might well be said of us today:  “United there is little we cannot do in a host of co-operative ventures. Divided there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”

With that in mind, we have resolved this week to seek common ground upon which British Columbians wemight can begin to construct an economic agenda that fosters prosperity, equity and sustainability.

The good news is that there is growing recognition that these three values are not only intertwined, but are also interdependent.

Most British Columbians today regard environmental sustainability as a precondition for any major economic initiative.  We are united in our belief that we cannot achieve real prosperity by degrading our natural beauty or passing environmental costs onto future generations.

Similarly, an increasing number of British Columbians are concerned that rising inequality and declining social mobility threaten prosperity – as Robert Reich reports is already happening in the United States.

Just last week, the BC Business Council issued a report calling for “A BC Agenda for Shared Prosperity” – an agenda predicated on the belief that a robust economy requires a vibrantproductive middle class.  And that business will gain support for measures to create wealth only if all British Columbians are convinced that they will share in the bounty.

And, of course, we all understand that our province’s capacity to address issues such as child poverty, inequality and Aboriginal rights is tied to our ability to generate wealth.

Thus if ever there were a time to seek a shared strategy for a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable British Columbia, that time is now.

That is why we decided to make the pursuit of such a strategy the subject – and the challenge – of this year’s Community Summit.

Our ambition is to embrace the benefits of collaboration over confrontation.  By seeking common ground, we hope to redirect and harness energies that would otherwise be dissipated in opposing each other – and through this process discover not only that we are better placed as individuals to achieve our individual goals, but that we are better equipped as a province to thrive on the world stage.

I particularly look forward to Robert Reich’s perspective on this, in part because the depth of his concern for the negative impacts of inequality is matched by the strength of his belief in the positive power of education to generate wealth, increase social mobility and ensure prosperity in an increasingly competitive global knowledge economy.

It is a belief that I hope British Columbians can also unite around.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge Vancity, our partner and co-sponsor for this evening.  Vancity is one of Canada’s largest and most successful credit unions, and a global leader in values-based banking.  Over the years, Vancity has supported this community – its residents, community groups and, yes, its educational institutions – to be the best we can be.

Vancity’s President and CEO, Tamara Vrooman, is a visionary leader in the business community and a strong advocate for this region.  Under her leadership, Vancity has shown how it is possible to generate wealth, promote social equity and protect the environment.

We are fortunate indeed to have such a financial institution in our community.   Please join with me in thanking Vancity and welcoming Tamara Vrooman to the stage.