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In a nation of innovators, it’s time to foster a culture of innovation

David Johnston is Governor-General of Canada.

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Are we, or aren't we? Innovators, that is. Depending on who you ask or where you look, you'll get a different answer.

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Those who say, "Yes, Canada is a nation of innovators," will point to the wealth of social, political, technological and economic innovations pioneered by the people of this vast, challenging land. Think of the tepee, the telephone, the electronic synthesizer, Imax film, the snowmobile, instant replay, the Yukon gold potato, the prosthetic hand, medical insulin, the cardiac pacemaker, the kayak, the Canadarm.

Those who say, "No, Canada is not a nation of innovators," will point to our ranking among our peers – for example, Canada's current 16th-place standing in the World Economic Forum's global innovation rankings or our 22nd-place finish when it comes to private-sector innovation capacity.

So which is it? Are we innovative, or aren't we? The answer is, both. And what this tells me is that while Canadians are innovative, we lack a culture of innovation in Canada.

That's why we're presenting the inaugural Governor-General's Innovation Awards to some remarkable individuals in a ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 19. Our goal is to foster a culture of innovation that honours our most creative, caring and entrepreneurial citizens. We dream of a country that celebrates those who create value, who build more compassionate, inclusive communities and who improve our quality of life. We want a Canada that celebrates those who reject complacency, instead putting their ingenuity and skills to use in addressing important challenges of our time.

That's why we honour Christi Belcourt of Espanola, Ont., for her inspiring artwork and creativity that demonstrate models of partnership and principled adaptation of indigenous culture for a more fair and just society.

It's why we honour Robert Burrell of Edmonton, who developed dressings for burn victims that reduce bacteria and inflammation and speed the healing process.

It's why we celebrate Jeff Dahn of Halifax, who is pioneering better and longer-lasting batteries to help us make the shift to renewables.

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It's why we recognize Breanne Everett of Calgary, for developing a shoe insole that helps diabetics to maintain blood flow to avoid long-term side effects of their disease.

It's why we honour Kinova Robotics of Boisbriand, Que., for developing robotic arm technology to help people with physical limitations or those who work in industrial settings.

And it's why we celebrate Mark Torchia and Richard Tyc of Winnipeg, for an innovative treatment that gives people with brain tumours quick access to safe and less invasive surgery.

These individuals epitomize the spirit of innovation and excellence that exists in Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast. By celebrating their achievements and sharing their stories through the Governor-General's Innovation Awards, we thank them for their hard work and aim to inspire future innovators to put their creativity to use. Some of the world's most innovative people live among us, yet we don't share their stories or celebrate that fact enough. Let's foster a culture of innovation in Canada that recognizes the creativity and caring that exist in our communities. Let's end the debate on whether Canadians are innovative or not with a resounding, "Yes we are."

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