Janice Stein: Baseball, world competition and adjusting to the 20-second clock
The following is a transcript of an acceptance speech given by Janice Stein at the Public Policy Forum’s Testimonial Dinner Awards and Honour Roll on April 27, 2023 in Toronto.
(In French, thanks PPF and team for this extraordinary honour).
And, of course, what a privilege to share this evening with the other honourees. We’ve already heard from three, the best is yet to come. But it is, I think, wonderful for all of us in this room to see Canadians who continue to work hard to make this country better than it is, every day. Now, Yolande told you that I am a Montrealaise, which means that I grew up watching hockey. So, let me tell you, first of all, the most important thing I’m going to say tonight: It is the end of the first period and the score is tied 1 to 1. But full disclosure – this is an evening of full disclosure – from the time that baseball season starts until, hopefully, the end of October, I watch every Blue Jays game that I can. I love baseball.
Now, some of you might have thought that I would say something about where the world is going. John already did some of that. I’m going to get there. But first, let’s talk a little baseball together. Baseball is a game of strategy – that’s why I love it – that unfolds as you watch in real time. There is no more riveting drama, it’s almost Shakespearean, when you watch a multi-pitch duel between a pitcher and an A hitter, and all this goes on at a slow, glacial pace – so wonderful. So, I can second-guess the pitch that the pitcher threw. But this season a revolution happened: The league put the game on the clock. Pitchers can no longer fiddle with their hats and massage the ball and shuffle their feet back and forth and do all the things they do before they actually throw the pitch. The new rules give them just 20 seconds from the time the batter steps in the box.
Now, why would I talk about baseball? Because baseball’s everything, including an apt metaphor for the world that we live in. Like baseball, the pace of competition between the great powers is accelerating far faster than we ever thought it would. And this competition is focused on state-of-the-art technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, synthetic biology, and I could go on. Not for the first time in history, the systems that will be built on these advanced technologies will determine the outcome of the competition that we’re seeing. This is the currency now of who will shape our future world. AIs are already powering the next generation military technology. You’ve probably seen the autonomous drones that swarm the battlefield in Ukraine. That is just the tip of the iceberg. And yes, as these technologies race ahead, we have to move at speed and scale to build the guardrails and prevent the harms that can come from any new technology, so that we can benefit from the good. Now, only great public policy can do that. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention one other thing, ChatGPT-4 wrote this speech.
Now, the metaphor of baseball is helpful in another way. In baseball, strategy and execution are everything. Everything. And that is true for countries in the world in which we live. In this next decade, it goes without saying that Canada is going to need sharply defined industrial strategies and security strategies that build on these new technologies. But even more important, even more important, we have to execute on those strategies. And that’s a stretch. We have to do better than we’ve been doing. And we can’t do that without great public policy at scale and at speed. Anything less, quite frankly, we’re headed for the minor leagues. It’s serious, as John was saying to us earlier.
How do we get this great public policy? Well, here again, baseball is going to help us out because great public policy is a team sport. Everybody has to play and Canada needs to play as one team. Of course we need political leaders and the very best of our civil service, some of whom are in this room with us tonight. But we also need the developers of the AIs and the designers of the robots who are changing our world and understand what it means. We need scientists at the table. We need private-sector leaders who live, eat, breathe and sleep execution every day. We need to learn from them. We need leaders of our civil society and we need our universities.
So, a personal word now about universities. I am receiving this award this evening only because Meric Gertler, the president of the University of Toronto, like his predecessors, cares deeply about public policy and takes every opportunity to encourage me and my colleagues to do something that’s not in our job description. To dig in and dig out the policy relevance of what we’re doing and to share it. In many ways, universities are an unsung resource in this country for public policy. And, let me just say, that the United States, Japan, Singapore, don’t make that mistake.
Now, the decade ahead will be much tougher for Canada than the three we are leaving behind. As the stakes get higher and the game moves faster, that fast-paced, high-stakes stakes is different now from baseball in one very important way. In this world, the old rules are broken. And no new rules are in place. So, we cannot afford the luxury of looking back with nostalgia. That won’t work. But what a moment we’re living in. Sure, it’s terrifying; many of you tell me that. But it’s also exhilarating because we have the rarest of opportunities to build better. But to do that, every one of us in this room has to adjust to the 20-second clock and join together to contribute to public policy and then to execute on it. Now, I could finish tonight with my annual spring prayer, which is Go Jays Go. But in a world where great power competition is back, the rules of the game are at stake. And every single one of you in this room, every single one of you, is on the team. Join with me. Go Canada Go. One more time, join with me: Go Canada Go. Thank you.