The Land of 10,000 Lakes. The Gopher State. The North Star State. No matter what you call Minnesota, it feels like a home away from home for Canadians.
As Canada’s 28th governor general, I often travel abroad on behalf of Canadians, meeting people from all walks of life and representing our country to the world. Very few of these foreign visits feel as much like a homecoming as a trip to Minnesota.
This is, after all, the State of Hockey! And it was one of my predecessors — the sixth governor general of Canada, Lord Stanley — who lent his name to the most coveted trophy in hockey.
But I’m not coming to the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest region this week to remind you that the Stanley Cup belongs in Canada, with a Canadian team. I wouldn’t dream of it (not at playoff time, especially).
Rather, I’m visiting to learn more about what makes this place so special and to explore the great potential for Canada and Minnesota to deepen our cooperation.
We have a great foundation to build upon. Already, this is a vitally important state for Canada. We have a shared border, shared waterways, and a similar climate and environment. We have close ties in energy, education, agriculture and trade.
You even make your Cheerios with Canadian oats!
Our histories and cultures and communities are closely linked — think of the quarter-million Minnesotans who claim a Francophone heritage, including many of French Canadian background.
And I know I already mentioned hockey, but I can’t help but give a shout out to my old hockey teammate Lou Nanne, with whom I grew up in northern Ontario and who is so very proud to call Minnesota home.
No wonder some people even call this Canada’s 11th province.
But for all of our similarities, of course, Canadians and Minnesotans are distinct peoples, and we each view challenges and opportunities uniquely. And that’s a good thing.
Why? Because that’s where the possibilities lie for learning, for innovation, for growth in trade and diplomacy.
Let me share a few specifics to illustrate our close relationship:
Trade between Canada and Minnesota exceeds a remarkable $19 billion annually. Many Minnesota companies, small and large, have a significant Canadian presence, while Canada supplies Minnesota with 75 percent of its crude oil. Renewable hydropower from Manitoba supplies more than 10 percent of Minnesota’s power. More than a million Canadians visit Minnesota every year, and nearly 175,000 jobs in this state depend on trade and investment with Canada.
These are exciting times, and it’s important that we think and act like a region despite the border that separates us. Why? Because regions are of growing importance in today’s global economy. Talent and capital need a place to call home and they still tend to gather in clusters, or “innovation ecosystems,” as they’re sometimes called. As the former leader of two major Canadian research universities, I’ve had many occasions to observe this firsthand.
Without a doubt, the Upper Midwest and its Canadian neighbors share geographical and climatic features that make for a regional ecosystem in the environmental sense. So why not think of this as an ecosystem when it comes to learning and innovating and prospering together?
We are already working together to learn and to innovate in such diverse spheres as agriculture, health sciences and basic science. In fact, while in Minnesota I’ll be participating in meetings to discuss the idea of developing an “innovation corridor” running from north to south, connecting Canada with the region.
Canadians and Minnesotans have made great strides at every level. We are on the right track. We must work together to leverage our comparative advantage and create reasons for people to choose this region as a place to learn, to do business, to work and live and play. As close neighbors and friends within North America, let’s continue to form partnerships and collaborate in a spirit of openness and mutual respect.
Let’s be stars of the north, and shine brightly together.
David Johnston is governor general of Canada.