Public Policy Forum honours Peter Herrndorf as a Canadian nation builder

The Public Policy Forum’s 28th Annual Testimonial Dinner & Awards, April 28, 2015 © Public Policy Forum
The Public Policy Forum’s 28th Annual Testimonial Dinner & Awards, April 28, 2015 © Public Policy Forum
The Public Policy Forum’s 28th Annual Testimonial Dinner & Awards, April 28, 2015 © Public Policy Forum

On April 16, 2015 Peter Herrndorf delivered a moving speech about the importance of the arts in Canada in front of an audience of 1,000 people at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto.

He was introduced by the Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne and was honoured as a Canadian nation builder by the Public Policy Forum along with Michael Sabia, Ed Clark, Roberta Jamieson, Serge Chapleau and Terry Mosher.

The following are Peter's remarks that evening:

Thank-you for that very kind introduction, Premier Wynne… and good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s both an honour and a pleasure to be here with you this evening.

It’s also humbling to be among such distinguished fellow honourees: Ed Clark, Roberta Jamieson, Michael Sabia, Terry Mosher and Serge Chapleau – who have all made such remarkable contributions to this country.

I’ve been coming to the Public Policy Forum for many years...and one of the things that makes this evening unique is that it gives those of us who work in the public or not-for-profit sectors a chance to exchange ideas with many of you in the private sector. This event is not only a “world class networking opportunity” – it’s also a wonderful forum for someone like me who has worked in all three sectors at different times over the years.

I’ve been at Canada’s National Arts Centre for more than 15 years, and it’s been the most stimulating period of my career. But I’ve also been fortunate to have spent most of my professional life in journalism, broadcasting, publishing and in the arts. It’s given me an extraordinary gift – the opportunity to work with some of Canada’s most creative artists and journalists. People like stage director John Hirsh, film maker Donald Brittain, broadcaster Barbara Frum, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, dancer Veronica Tennant, Jazz musician Oscar Peterson, actor Jean-Louis Roux and of course, the much loved CBC radio broadcaster, Peter Gzowski.

All of them were passionate storytellers and nation builders… and together, they chronicled our life and times as Canadians. They’ve defined us as a people in the Northern half of this continent.

When you travel overseas, you quickly realize that Canada is best known for its artists – not for its politicians or its hockey players. Whenever I’m in Europe or Asia and I tell people I’m a Canadian, they’ll inevitably ask me about Leonard Cohen, about Cirque du Soleil, about Nobel prize winner Alice Munro, or about Lorne Michaels, the extraordinary comedy impresario who’s run Saturday Night Live for 40 years.

In fact, a recent research project at M.I.T. in Boston confirmed my personal experiences… when it found that the ten best known Canadians around the world were all artists – the only country in the survey in which that was the case.

I think most of you would agree that great artists provide a glimpse into the soul of a nation. But the arts do much more practical work as well. The arts enhance cognitive development in our kids, they stimulate creativity in our young people, they contribute to strong and healthy communities, they’re vital to Canada’s “creative economy”… and they shape the way we’re seen on the world stage.

I got a first-hand look at this last fall when the NAC Orchestra toured the United Kingdom.

This wasn't a tour just about music. This was a tour of Remembrance that marked the centenary of the start of the First World War.... and it would turn out to be largest such initiative in the Commonwealth.

The Orchestra performed in concert halls all over the UK, but the highlight was an unforgettable concert at the 600-year-old Salisbury Cathedral, just a few kilometres away from Salisbury Plain where 60,000 young Canadians first trained for battle in the winter of 1914-15.

Through the latest in technology, we also linked students in the UK and in Canada....we did projects in schools about Canada and the First World War.... and the renowned Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan gave a fascinating lecture on how the Great War shaped our world.

Music was the vehicle. But the real story of the tour was Canada – not just our coming-of-age 100 years ago, but who we are today ... a nation of creators, of innovators, of entrepreneurs who can compete with the world's best ... and a nation that can, through the arts, magnify its image, and deepen its relationships on the world stage.

It has been particularly satisfying to see how well the private sector understands all of this. Our NAC Foundation raised well over $1 million from donors across the country for the tour ... and a large group of donors came along so they could personally be part of it.

The private sector was also the reason our Orchestra was able undertake its ambitious, three-week tour of China in 2013, for which our Foundation raised $1.3 million from individuals and sponsors across the country. Aimia was the lead sponsor, and its CEO, Rupert Duchesne, spoke eloquently about how supporting the tour made good business sense. Aimia was launching a new product at the time, and being associated with culture, he felt, was meaningful to the Chinese.

But Rupert recognized that the Tour was also incredibly important for Canada.

“It was about bringing something that is quintessentially Canadian — Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra — to a market like China,” he said. “All countries have brands, and the Canadian brand has historically has been about nature. To change the perception of Canada to that of a cultural power house is critically important.”


I know many of you here tonight feel strongly that Canada is very much a “hockey nation”… especially at this time of year. And while I understand that what I’m about to say is probably heresy, I would argue that Canada is, in fact, much more of an “Arts Nation”.  Let me give you some statistics to back up that argument.

While the arts, culture and heritage sector contribute $47.8 billion to the Canadian economy on an annual basis, sports comes in at a relatively modest $4.5 billion.

How about jobs?

The arts, culture and heritage sector employs more than 647,000 people. The number created by sports – 93,500.

And if you’re still not persuaded, here’s one that will probably surprise you. Every year, Canadians spend $1.4 billion on “live” performing arts – more than twice as much as they spend on all sports events put together.

Finally, let’s look at how the arts, culture and heritage sector stacks up against other sectors in the Canadian economy.  At $47.8 billion, it’s twice as large as the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry…and significantly larger than Canada’s accommodation and food industry.

So even if I haven’t persuaded you about Canada being an arts nation, I hope you share my view that the arts are critically important to Canada – not only for all of us as individuals, but for our families, our communities, our businesses, our economy ... and our country.

 I’ve been extremely fortunate that so much of my career has been in the service of this ideal. And I’ll be forever grateful for this wonderful honour you have given me this evening.

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