Honorary Address - James A. Richardson

Spring Convocation 2008

James Richardson

Good afternoon everyone. Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, honoured guests, parents and friends, and most importantly, graduates. This is a special day for all of us and it certainly is a special day for you, the graduates. 

I would like to offer you my congratulations on this job well done. I am honoured to be included in your special day.

When I was asked to address the graduating class, I thought what an opportunity.

I thought about all the topics, all the advice, all the inspiring thoughts I could leave with you. I hoped I would be able to say something that would resonate, something you would never forget. I thought about talking to you about making sure your life has meaning, to know your passion and to make sure you make those things a priority in your life. I thought about telling you about the state of the world you are entering, and challenging you to clean the air and the water, to make the justice system work, to solve poverty, to make wars go away. I thought about asking you to be flexible in your dreams, to welcome change, to change your mind, several times if necessary, about your career. To expect and embrace surprises.

All of these are speech worthy topics. But to me there is something else, something more important which, in a way, captures all of these other topics.

I want to talk to you about home. Where you are going to live, to work, to play and raise your family.

Recently, I read an article by Dave Angus, President of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, who was shocked by one student’s comments after one of his typical sales pitches on the benefits of living in Winnipeg…the student stated “Mr. Angus… low-cost housing isn’t my dream.”

Mr. Angus went on to learn from the students present that pursuing an opportunity in “the trades” was not seen as a failure, that crime and potholes were not even on the agenda of those under thirty, that a whole new and different set of values had developed, different from any other previous generation. And they want to live in a place that respects those values.

Things like living in a healthy environment, in a vibrant community with conscience and culture, being where the action is, having broad entertainment and recreational choices… these came up as the real values, needs and priorities.

These new values, are your values. The values of the graduating class of 2008. These values speak to your lifestyle which is becoming a dominant criteria for choosing where you will live and work, and where you want to raise your family.

So I asked myself “Have we built the Province our young people are looking for?

Share with me the following.

Manitoba’s population rose by nearly 13,000 people in 2007, well ahead of the national average. I personally know more and more, young, well-educated Manitobans who, after a stint away, are returning home here for lifestyle, for family, and for the opportunity that exists here. In fact, there is a huge reversal of the tides underway. A recent survey shows that more than 80% of 18 – 24 year olds currently living in Manitoba expect to still be here in 5 years time. This is good. Why are they staying? Why are they coming back?

Let me toot Manitoba’s horn a bit.

Economic growth has been happening throughout Western Canada this past decade, and has made this region, Canada’s economic powerhouse. Manitoba tied with Alberta in 2007 for the second highest growth rate in the country.

Capital expenditures, forecasted to increase almost 19% in 2008, will be the highest in Canada, creating more growth. All this is good.

And, in April this year, 19,200 jobs were created in Canada, and 9,000, or almost half, were created right here in Manitoba. This is terrific.

We are neither boom nor bust in this province. We rely on a very diversified economy that protects us from wide swings or economic or commodity cycles. Our business leaders are savvy and entrepreneurial. We have the largest financial services centre in Canada outside of Toronto, but we also have a huge number of smaller businesses, businesses which are a joy to work in because of their size, and diversity. Aviation, manufacturing, mining, oil, shipping, visual & performing arts, communications, transportation, distribution and technology. They all need employees, lawyers, accountants, consultants, trades, executives. We have all kinds of choices, we have all kinds of opportunities. We are not tied to a one-industry economy, not a one-pony town. Your skills are valued, needed and relevant here. This is great news as you start your careers.

Winnipeg is known as a Winter City. We complement that with a broad range of cultural institutions. From world renowned theatre, symphony, ballet, opera, to hockey and baseball, countless summer and winter festivals celebrating our unique cultural mix and an MTS Centre with the best line-up of rock and roll concerts and other events anywhere in Canada. This is wonderful lifestyle and all at truly affordable ticket prices. This is good.

Some of the best city and provincial parks in the world, and lots of them, are close at hand. The open spaces of the prairie are only minutes from downtown, and we have world-class fishing, canoeing, sailing, boating on our rivers and 100,000 clear and warm lakes. 100,000 lakes sure beats the heck out of the five lakes Alberta lays claim to, three of them being fed by freezing glacial run off year-round. The year long sunshine, clean air & water, and culture of respecting the environment make Manitoba an easy place to make healthy lifestyle choices.

And while “low cost” housing may not have been important to one youth talking to David Angus, and those of you who were fortunate enough to have the financial assistance of your family during this stage of your life, may not fully appreciate what that means, I can assure you, you will soon. But it isn’t just the housing. It is the fact that your home, your recreation, your future summer cottage, your entertainment and your education are all affordable, all accessible and all near by which means more disposable resources for you, more quality time for family and friends, more quality time for you. And this is good.

And while all of this may not seem important to you today, or maybe even this week, I guarantee you that it will all become important, very soon. 

These are the reasons, the very reasons which are causing so many well educated, mobile youth, to return home, after a stint away.

So, if lifestyle is a priority for you, as you decide where you will start the next phase of your life, think about where the greener pastures really are. Are they beyond the fence, beyond the provincial boundary, or are we standing on them right now? 

So, 40 years from now… when you think back to today, to the day you graduated and you had to listen to Richardson speak, I sincerely hope you will be looking back with satisfaction in your decision to keep your roots in this prairie soil.

You will not be mistaken by choosing Winnipeg, by choosing Manitoba. I hope our paths will cross as you build your careers and your lives in the city, in the Province, I have always been proud to call home.

Congratulations to you all and thank you for this opportunity. 

Thank you very much.