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Recent speeches and opinion editorials

Bicentennial Address
Feb. 8, 2018


Chancellor McLellan, your Honor Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. LeBlanc and Her Honour Mrs. Patsy LeBlanc, Elder Jane Abram, Dalhousie Board Chair Larry Stordy, Senate Chair Dr. Kevin Hewitt, faculty, staff, students, alumni, guests and dear, dear friends of Dalhousie University.

Two hundred years ago today a university was born in the growing British colony of Nova Scotia, here in the land of the Mi’kmaw people.

It was on February 6, 1818 that Lord Dalhousie received approval from the British Crown to use the spoils of the War of 1812 to augment the Garrison Library, and to establish a new College in Halifax.

That decision was itself bold and visionary. Spending precious public dollars solely on books and a college, recognizing that knowledge and education was the best investment Nova Scotia could make in its future.

From the outset the new college aspired to the highest academic standards. It was modelled on the internationally renowned University of Edinburgh, including its goal of admissions regardless of class or religious belief. It was a radical and ambitious vision for its day, and one that caused the college to struggle, particularly amidst sectarian loyalties in its early decades.

Also there from the start was a commitment to be of service to the community. It was there in the choice of our earliest faculties: Arts and Science, recognizing the importance of a liberal education, and Law and Medicine, to train the professionals to serve Nova Scotians.   

That commitment to service would echo across the years ahead. Together we demonstrated that Dalhousie University would never just be in the community but rather would be part of the community, with a responsibility to teach, heal, build, plan, interpret and discover.

Two centuries later, Dalhousie has grown from that ‘little college by the sea’ to become a national university, and the leading research university in Atlantic Canada.

How did we get here? Simply put, it was because of our people. The history of Dalhousie University has been written by its people, and enriched by their identities, cultures, values, actions, teaching and scholarship.

You have heard many of their names today: Lord Dalhousie. George Munro. Lucy Maud Montgomery. James R Johnston. Art McDonald. Wanda Thomas Bernard. George Elliott Clarke. Rhodes Scholars like Nayani.

We owe our progress to individuals like these, and to their commitment to education and knowledge, to the highest academic standards, and to building a better more inclusive world.

Here today, at the dawn of Dalhousie’s third century, it is our privilege and our responsibility to build on their legacy, to reimagine and recommit to these foundational principles and values.

First and foremost, we believe in the transformative power of education; in its potential to shape and add meaning to our lives and our world.  In the years ahead, it is our responsibility to sustain Dalhousie as a place where those transformations are made possible, attracting the most promising students, faculty and staff, and supporting them to succeed.

We have a passion for the discovery of new knowledge, both as a noble human endeavor and for its application to the broader world. We must continue to forcefully advance our research mission, particularly in areas of unique strength and relevance to our region, and across all of our academic disciplines as befits a world-class research university. If we don’t ask and address the hardest questions, who will?

We are committed to inclusion, because an institution genuinely dedicated to free inquiry and academic excellence cannot exclude anyone based on simply their identity. We must work to create a university where all belong, recognizing our special responsibility to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, especially to the people of Mi'kma'ki, and to the African Nova Scotian community. And we welcome and celebrate our growing community of international students and scholars, whose contributions and identities enrich and strengthen our university.

We believe in service to society, in the potential of Dalhousie to act as a catalyst for the social, cultural and economic development of our communities, country and world.

As we have grown, so has our capacity and responsibility to serve.  With the addition of Engineering and Architecture in 1997, and Agriculture in 2012, Dalhousie University now has the full suite of programs of the American Land Grant universities, and the many Canadian universities that were inspired by them. In their pursuit of both liberal and practical education, these universities aspire to global excellence and local impact– a tradition that Dalhousie now joins.

Finally, we believe in partnership, because nobody does anything alone, and that is as true for institutions as it is for individuals.  The greatest opportunities and challenges facing the world are too large and too complex for any one discipline, institution, or even country to tackle alone.

We know we are far from perfect. Like all human institutions, we have both our successes as well as our very human frailties especially when measured against our high ideals. Yet our story is one of continually renewed commitment to these values, taking our place among the world’s great universities.

When we do succeed, look at what we can achieve together.  Consider our Ocean Frontier Institute, an unprecedented global ocean partnership launched by Dalhousie in 2016. It brings together universities in three of the four Atlantic provinces with four of the top five Ocean Institutes in the world, 19 companies and all levels of government; all fueled by historic public and private investment, and the transformational philanthropy of Mr. John Risley.  All to understand and address ocean sustainability – a topic of critical importance not just to Atlantic Canada, but to the entire world.

Dalhousians, this example illustrates our challenge and our greatest opportunity. To fully achieve our mission of education and knowledge, to better serve our communities, we must strengthen Dalhousie’s connections both within Atlantic Canada and around the globe. Because when we bring together the best of the region with the very best in the world, look what we can do. We can advance knowledge and education that matters deeply to all.

Friends, in our first two centuries, we’ve grown from that Little College by the Sea, to a national university and then the leading research university in Atlantic Canada. Now, it is time for us to take our place as a global institution, and as the leading research university for Atlantic Canada.  

We don’t know what the future holds, or what challenges lie ahead. The frontiers of knowledge are endless, and even more vast than the ocean that surrounds us. However, we do know that the decision to invest in education, 200 years ago today, has paid off many times over, leaving a legacy that has shaped our community for the better.  And we know that by working together – propelled by the power of education, knowledge and service – we can achieve great things.

Let us continue to strive to be intelligent, inclusive and inspiring. To be a place where we develop ideas, knowledge and talent to build a better world. Where we reconcile our past and draw on the diverse strengths of all our people. Where we inspire creativity, courage and compassion.  Where we bring together the best of our region with the best in the world, for the benefit of all.

Friends, thank you for your contributions to our great university. As we stand at the dawn of our third century, the best is yet to come.

Happy Anniversary Dalhousie.

Thank you.

[Bicentennial Address - PDF 526 KB]

Op-Ed: Halifax’s clusters of cleverness, creativity

By Mike Savage, Richard Florizone, Jesse Rogers and Ron Hanlon

Oringinally published in The Chronicle Herald, Oct. 7, 2017



You might not know it yet, but one of North America’s most vibrant innovation districts is emerging right here, in Halifax.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based policy think tank, describes innovation districts as compact areas where “leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.”

They broaden collaboration, grow talent, and feature a mix of housing, office and retail spaces.

Consider the corridor that has already emerged in Halifax, moving from east to west:

  • In Dartmouth: Innovacorp’s Technology Innovation Centre is home to groundbreaking companies like Tesla and MetaMaterial Technologies, while the Nova Scotia Community College’s harbourside Ivany Campus is joined by a new neighbour, the Centre for Ocean Venture and Entrepreneurship (COVE), at the old coast guard site, contributing to the growth of Nova Scotia’s ocean-technology sector.

  • Along the Halifax waterfront: From exciting startups like Kinduct Technologies in Purdy’s Wharf, to the waterfront campus of NSCAD University in the port lands, Halifax’s downtown is alive with innovation, design, and new development. It includes the corporate campus of Emera, one of North America’s leading energy companies, and the new Discovery Centre, which is inspiring curious young minds with science and technology.

  • Up the hill: Volta Labs — Atlantic Canada’s pre-eminent tech startup hub — is undertaking an ambitious expansion at the Maritime Centre. Scaling to 60,000 square feet, Volta will be one of Canada’s largest tech hubs, and the anchor for the region’s rapidly expanding tech startup scene.

  • Across the block, Dalhousie’s downtown campus is home to ideaHUB, Canada’s newest and most advanced hardware start-up accelerator. And right next door, Halifax’s landmark Central Library is a daily hive of community activity and learning.

  • A few blocks to the west: Atlantic Canada’s advanced care and health research cluster, featuring the IWK, the QEII, Dalhousie Medicine and Health, the Life Sciences Research Institute, and more than a dozen life sciences companies in the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre.

  • At the westernmost end of the district: the global headquarters of the Ocean Frontier Institute, the National Research Centre labs, the main campus of Dalhousie University, and nearby St. Mary’s University. In these few blocks are thousands of students who come to Halifax from more than 100 countries.

This five-kilometre innovation corridor is fuelled by talent from five universities and the NSCC, from hospitals and research labs, and from Canada’s Navy.

It is home to more than 100 tech companies and is connected to the world.

Marbled with green space, restaurants, coffee shops and great places to live, Halifax has an ecosystem as promising as any in the world for developing advanced ocean technology, health innovations and clean technology.

Why does this matter?

First, innovation districts position cities like Halifax to better address key challenges like slow growth, widening social and economic gaps and sustainable development.

The Brookings Institution notes that innovation districts reflect “the growing preference of young talented workers to congregate in vibrant neighbourhoods that offer choices in housing, transportation, and amenities.”

When they’re closer together, companies, researchers, creators and entrepreneurs can share ideas rather than invent in isolation. Instead of working in silos, innovative companies today are building out networks of collaborators. The density, diversity and openness of an innovation district accelerates connectivity, creativity and economic growth.

Second, smaller cities like Halifax are on the rise all around the world. A robust innovation district will add to Halifax’s competitive advantage.

Cities of fewer than one million people are ubiquitous across current rankings of the world’s top cities for talent and tech.

Fast Company noted about U.S. cities that “the country’s hottest up-and-coming tech scenes... are typically found in mid-sized cities eager to make a name for themselves, offering big-city resources like universities, access to talent, and satellite offices of tech industry titans along with lower costs of living and a greater work/life balance.”

Make no mistake; our city is part of this global trend. In 2015, Halifax was home to more top tech startups than any other city in Canada. In 2016, Halifax was ranked fifth among Canada’s top tech hubs to live and work in. This year, Halifax has been recognized as one of the top-10 mid-sized cities in North America for talent and lifestyle. And the Conference Board of Canada has described Halifax as one of this country’s fastest-growing cities.

Third, Halifax’s growth will help spur economic activity across Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.

Halifax’s Economic Growth Plan 2016-2021 identifies a value proposition based on our ocean advantage, our educated/innovative community, and our excellent rural/urban lifestyle.

Combined with cost advantages relative to larger cities, Halifax’s emergent innovation district will amplify our attractiveness for talent, immigration and investment.

How do we build on this momentum?

We don’t have all the answers, but we know it takes a community to find and implement them.

The Nova Scotia team in the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (REAP) is learning from global best practices how progress in innovation-driven entrepreneurship can be sustained by an integrated approach and healthy partnership between higher education, entrepreneurs, venture capital, established companies and governments.

Guided by insight from the world’s best, and inspired by all that is happening in Halifax, Dalhousie University, the Halifax Partnership, Volta Labs and others, are coming together to start an open conversation about how Halifax can build one of the world’s great innovation districts based on our incredible history and our exciting progress.

Let’s draw on our advantages as a leading ocean city with an incredible quality of life and a reputation as a great university and college town that’s also a wonderful place to visit.

Let’s build an even better Halifax, one ready to participate fully in the knowledge economy today and long into the future.

Mike Savage is mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality. Richard Florizone is president of Dalhousie University. Jesse Rogers is CEO of Volta Labs.

Ron Hanlon is CEO of the Halifax Partnership.

[Op-ed: Halifax's clusters of cleverness, creativity - PDF 276 KB]

Op-Ed: Reinvest in research, for Canada and Nova Scotia

by Richard Florizone, Dale Keefe and Rob Summerby-Murray

Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, Sept. 14, 2017.

What do we all want for our communities, our province and our country?

A sustainable environment, better health, economic growth and a culturally rich and just society – these are issues that not only dominate the headlines but also directly impact the lives of all Nova Scotians and Canadians.   

Less well recognized is just how vital university-based research is to those issues and to the lives of Nova Scotians. And how the future of this research is at risk.

Earlier this year, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, better known as the Naylor Report, showed that Canada’s investment in R&D relative to our GDP has been declining over the past 15 years, such that we no longer rank among the top 30 nations. Released in April, the report’s recommendations risk being sidelined as other issues like small-business tax changes dominate media and federal budget discussions this fall.

Why should this matter to Nova Scotians? Because the research at our Nova Scotia universities makes a real difference in our lives, transforming our health, environment, economy, and communities. Examples include:

  • Dr. Christine Chambers, together with colleagues from across Canada, is developing real, practical tools to reduce children’s pain from needles and surgery, and bringing them to the public through the “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt” social media campaign.

  • Dr. Mathhias Berenstiel and Prof. Tuma Young are mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge of birch-bark oil to treat skin conditions like eczema.

  • Dr. Lucie Kocum is improving the reintegration of breast cancer survivors into the workplace, ensuring that our Nova Scotia workplaces are as productive and respectful as possible.

  • Dr. Michael Ungar, with collaborators across Canada and internationally, has launched the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition, to identify how Canada can ensure the long-term success of Syrian refugee children.

  • Dr. Jeff Dahn and his team lead the world’s only university partnership with Tesla, improving the lifecycle of lithium-ion batteries and generating spinoff companies like Novonix in the process.

What do all of these diverse projects have in common? Every one of them relies on both federal research funding and provincial operating dollars for our universities.  Without this continued support, the jobs, training, and spin-off benefits of these research projects — and hundreds more just like them across Nova Scotia — will be lost.

That is why, together with our counterparts across the country, we are calling on the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the Naylor Report and to reinvest and reverse Canada’s decline in research funding.

The province has a role to play, too. Even allowing for the size of our economy, Nova Scotia’s provincial investment in research has been among the lowest in Canada. The province’s recent creation of Research Nova Scotia, with $25M in the spring budget, is an important step in the right direction.

Implementation of the Naylor Report will take time, and getting Canada’s research investment back to international levels will take a phased approach over several years.  However, now is the time to act.

Science and technology are changing the world, and the regions with the greatest investments in research are also the most economically dynamic — places like Silicon Valley, the Boston corridor, and Toronto-Waterloo. The Ivany Report recognized this when it called for a doubling of research funding in Nova Scotia. Uncertainty in the U.S. and elsewhere creates an opportunity for Canada to assert our values and ambitions.  Let’s seize the moment, for Nova Scotians and for all Canadians.

Richard Florizone is president of Dalhousie Univeristy. Dale Keefe is interim president, Cape Breton University. Rob Summerby-Murray is president of Saint Mary’s University.

[Reinvest in research, for Canada and Nova Scotia op-ed - PDF 74 KB]