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Many times during the past seven years, I've been asked by reporters what I've learned about this country. To borrow a phrase from John Buchan, Canada's 15th governor-general, I sometimes replied in "governor generalities," stating that, while I've always known Canada was a good country, I didn't realize just how good it was until I had the opportunity to meet with so many Canadians in communities large and small. And while it's true that serving as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief has given me a whole new appreciation for how very smart and caring Canadians are, I have, of course, learned much more about this country than simply how good it is.

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What I've also learned is that Canada is a more complex country than I thought. It's even more diverse than I thought. Change is occurring more quickly than I thought. And the world in which we live is more complicated than I thought. We are living at a hinge point, not just in our own history but in the history of the world. It's an age of disruption marked by powerful global trends. Globalization, the fourth industrial revolution, climate change, demographic change, challenges in governance and the rise of distrust in many of our institutions are reshaping our world in fundamental ways.

It's a world in which I've had the opportunity to travel extensively during my mandate. I have led delegations of distinguished Canadians on a total of 56 missions to 35 countries in the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia to represent Canada and help open doors with our global partners in spheres including innovation, education, business, trade, culture and sport. In reflecting on these visits and on the nature of Canada and its place in the global community, I am convinced that this country has a unique opportunity to lead in today's rapidly changing, complex world.

A predecessor, Vincent Massey, once said: "Canada is not a melting pot. Canada is an association of peoples who have, and cherish, great differences but who work together because they can respect themselves and each other." Today we call this pluralism, and I believe Canada's opportunity lies in its ability to show the world how pluralism is a viable path to lasting peace and prosperity. Canada is a social innovation, a constantly evolving work-in-progress based upon the notion that diverse peoples can live and work together toward an ever-more inclusive, fair and just society.

Of course, we have no cause for complacency. Intolerance does exist here and it is essential that we resist efforts to reduce diversity and restrict inclusiveness. Canada's progress as a country has always grown from a commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and pluralism. Success in such a vast, diverse and challenging land requires that we work together. This is the story of our country and it's important that we know and understand its uniqueness, significance and how embedded the principles of partnership and compromise are in the very fabric of Canada. This is the path forward.

There are two related, critical elements that Canada should pay close attention to in the years to come: learning and trust. As a lifelong student and teacher, I believe education is the key to ensuring equality of opportunity for all Canadians and to achieving the pinnacles of excellence that allow us to innovate and lead in a technologically advanced world. From early-childhood education and literacy to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to research at the outer limits of knowledge, we must make learning a central part of our lives. Doing so will reinforce the second critical element – trust – by which I mean trust in one another and in the institutions which are the glue that binds Canadians together. Inequalities and the rapid changes brought about by globalization have undermined trust in Canada and throughout much of the world, but a society that learns and works together in an inclusive manner will see the basis for that sense of mistrust replaced by a sense of hope.

So, what have I learned as Governor-General? One, while Canada still has much work to do in building a more inclusive society, our diversity is a strength and a comparative advantage in the world. Two, in Canada, past, present and no doubt future, we're stronger and more prosperous when we compromise and work together. And three, despite our many cultures, ethnic origins and languages spoken, we all have a great deal in common – a great deal called Canada. Let this be a country that draws on the diverse talents and abilities of all its peoples in steering a course through this complex, changing world.