A speech I'll never give

February 4, 2023 • Reading time: 3 minutes

There's a speech that has been bouncing around in my head, fully-formed, for years. I suppose it's inspired in part by the late great Tommy Douglas's Mouseland speech. Wherever it came from, I do know that I'm unlikely to ever have the opportunity to deliver it, since I'm effectively done with politics. So I share it here for posterity.

I want to tell you a story about a little girl. Sharp as a tack, but too young to know that some things are simply impossible. One day, this little girl has an idea. It's a big idea. In fact, it's so big that she realizes right away that she's going to need help. And she knows just where to turn.

So she reserves a room at her local library, and she invites – Canada. And Canada answers. All 39 million of us, young and old, Canadian-born and new Canadians, we all file into a small room in the basement of a community library in Lloydminster, or Jonquière, or Iqaluit.

The girl stands on a chair, and the room falls silent, save for the occasional cough or cry of an infant. "Thank you all for coming," she says, pitching her voice to be heard from coast to coast to coast. "I have an idea, but I need your help. There's a thing I want all of us to build, together, for all of us." Or maybe it's a thing for us to do, or a thing for us to become. I'm not sure.

And we there assembled look to our left and right, at our neighbours and family and friends and friends-to-be, and with one voice we say, "I'll help."

"I'm an engineer. I'll help you design it."

"I'm a welder. I'll help you build it."

"I'm an artist. I'll help you make it beautiful."

"I'm a farmer. I'll feed those who help you."

"Thank you," says the girl. "I knew I could count on you. Let's get to work."

The reason this story feels uncomfortable is because we're already booked. We already work in service of a grand ambition, something larger and more complex than we are. But it is not greater than we are. Shoulder to shoulder, we work to build a GDP. Through our labour, we keep prime interest rates low and stock market indexes high. And we think that makes us mighty.

I am here to remind you that we are exactly the sum of our parts. We are many, and we are capable. And our dreams, those endeavours that better us all, should be our first focus, not some begrudging pittance that we squeeze out around the margins.

I want you to take a moment to reflect, to dream of the possible. What was her idea? How big can we as a nation, or indeed as a world, afford to dream? But really, the question we should have been asking all along is: can we afford not to dream, or to dream small?