Following Mawlana Hazar Imam’s lecture at the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium in October 2010, Sheherazade Hirji of The Ismaili Canada magazine met with former Governor General of Canada the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and Mr John Ralston Saul to discuss the lecture series, and the work of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
Former Governor General of Canada the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul spoke with Sheherazade Hirji following Mawlana Hazar Imam’s lecture at the 2010 LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium. Photo: Moez Visram
The Ismaili Canada (IC): This is the 10th anniversary of the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium. What were you hoping to accomplish in the 10th anniversary? And how did His Highness’ speech contribute towards achieving your objectives?
John Ralston Saul (JRS): Well, we started the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium in the fall of 1999. I did the first one in 2000, literally 50 yards away from where His Highness gave the 10th anniversary lecture. The idea was to launch a whole different kind of debate on the public good and to use as the basis for that, the people who invented the idea of the public good in Canada. Increasingly, we realsed that they put out an idea that was so strange for its time, that it was amazing that they were so successful. Over the last nine lectures, speakers have included two Aboriginal leaders, the Chief Justice, and Adrienne, of course. We wanted the 10th to be both national and international and we wanted somebody who was an absolutely convincing voice about pluralism and diversity as we understand it. And who has many years of experience, not simply advocating but understanding what can be done, what is difficult to do, how it can function in the world and what are the risks of not doing it? What are the opportunities if it does happen? And frankly, when you make the list of people who can do that, it’s a very short list. In fact, there’s just about one person on it.
Adrienne Clarkson (AC): Yes, His Highness the Aga Khan. He’s unique in the world in that he is a spiritual leader, he is a leader of some 14 million Ismailis in the world, and he is also the head of the largest non-governmental organisation in the world. And he is a businessman. So he has all of these qualities within him. He bridges the East and the West. I think that made it possible for him to understand exactly what LaFontaine and Baldwin stand for in Canada. So for 10 years we’ve had very interesting Canadians. To have somebody like His Highness who, in the world, represents something extraordinary, is a wonderful step forward for us because of the message of LaFontaine and Baldwin — that you have responsible government, that democracy works if people are involved in the common good — that is a Canadian message that can be brought into the world. His Highness understands that and knows that it is meaningful. I think there’s been a message through all the LaFontaine-Baldwin speeches, which is that we are looking always not from a basis of what we believe in, which is democracy, but we are looking forward to making a world in which those principles are held as a given, and we expand it. I think His Highness is expanding our LaFontaine-Baldwin idea into the world for us. And sometimes we’re so short-sighted in looking at the history of immigration. We think of some of the sadder parts of the 20th century when Canada didn’t behave very well in terms of accepting immigrants but we forget that LaFontaine, in the 1840s, made a wonderful speech to his electors about how we will accept immigrants who will come to this country: “We don’t know who they will be yet but they will become Canadian as we are Canadian.” And of course, that ideal has come into play now, because “as we are Canadian”, is not the same “as we are American.” (…)