Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sat down with the Nikkei Voice in her office at the Ontario Legislative Building in Queen’s Park to candidly discuss her trade mission to Japan and growing up around the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. Wynne will be travelling to Japan Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is met at Honda headquarters in Tokyo by ASIMO, the world’s most advanced humanoid robot. On the first day of her mission to Japan, Premier Wynne talked with Honda leaders about how to drive growth and support the auto sector. Honda’s Alliston, Ontario location is a teaching plant for the manufacturing of Civics for Honda facilities worldwide. © Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2016
While in Japan, she will be visiting with Japanese business partners, looking to strengthen existing ties and express Ontario’s interest in opened trade borders with innovative business partners. In a time where much of the world is looking inwards, like the United States leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), she says this is an opportunity for Ontario to make new and stronger business connections.
The premier visited the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre to sit in a roundtable discussion with business, trade and community members in the Japanese Canadian community on Nov. 19 to prepare for her trade mission in Japan. Wynne shares what she learned from the roundtable discussion and her plans while in Japan in a candid interview with the Nikkei Voice.
Nikkei Voice: Why did you feel it was important to consult with Japanese Canadian community members?
Kathleen Wynne: Well, I will just say that my connection with the cultural centre goes back a very long time. In 1963 when the first cultural centre was built, just down the road, my father was practicing medicine in Richmond Hill with a friend of his and ours named Dr. Arnold Arai and I can remember as a little girl, going with the Arai’s and with my parents to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. So when I knew I was going to Japan I said to my staff, it was absolutely automatic that I wanted to meet with folks from the cultural centre. Gary Kawaguchi and James Heron have been so good to me and I feel like I’ve been included in so much of the life of the cultural centre, so it was very natural to me that I would want to meet with the community, it was very helpful.
NV: What kind of things did you learn [at the roundtable conference] that you plan to take with you when you go to Japan?
KW: Omotenashi, I really want to understand that, and I think that it’s interesting the conversation sort of started with that. I’m very interested in how that plays out and you know the different feel of the society, and then how that plays into the business culture. I’ll be visiting Toyota and Honda and Subaru and I will be having the opportunity to talk with them about their work here and how we can further expand our partnerships. But I think businesses are an extension of society, so I think it will be very interesting to me to see how the social norms and cultural norms influence the business norms, and I’ll have a better understanding of [Japanese] businesses here.
NV: So your history with the Japanese Canadian community goes back to your father, did you visit the cultural centre a lot when you were younger?
KW: Not a lot, I knew of it and we were there as kids, I grew up understanding that we had not treated Japanese Canadians well. So the Japanese Canadians I knew had been interned, so our friend, Arnie Arai had grown up in a camp and so I felt a responsibility to understand that history better. Because, of course, my father had just been a bit young for the Second World War, but he was a young man, and my mother was a young woman during the Second World War and so, because we had Japanese Canadian friends, that was very much was something that was talked about. That’s one of the reasons that I love the way the cultural centre lays out the history and talks about the intergenerational impacts of the camps. And I have such a deep respect for the way the Japanese Canadian community through the cultural centre has told those stories and included the broader community in their activities so that everyone can better understand that history.
The leadership at the cultural centre is incredibly inclusive, and when I go to events at the cultural centre, you may have heard me say this, but there are people from every different background. So that has always impressed me as a cultural attitude that we could all learn from.
NV: What are some of your plans going into Japan?
KW: I think the auto sector is a really important area of partnership for Ontario and Japan. I think that for a couple of reasons; one is that we already have a relationship and we have strong Japanese companies here in Ontario and I think we can strengthen those ties. But I also think that we have the capacity in Ontario and Japan to innovate. The auto sector is changing so quickly, with artificial intelligence and the new generation of vehicles. I think we need to find ways to be ahead of the curb. We have an educated workforce, Japan has an educated workforce. So I think there are lots of opportunities for us to work together on innovation. So, I’m glad that I’ve got educational institutions coming with me, because those are the partnerships between educational institutes and businesses where we see lots of innovation happening.
NV: You touched on, at the roundtable conference, strengthening ties with established business partners, what does that mean?
KW: What I would like to do for example, is talk with some of the folks at the head offices at the companies that are here to say, what is it that you need to expand your operation in Ontario? We are a province with opened borders, we want free trade to be strengthened. I think the fact that the United States has backed out of the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] should be seen as an opportunity for other jurisdictions to strengthen relationships, rather then a cause for distress. I mean, obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen with president-elect Trump, there’s a lot that’s up in the air at this point, but we have to continue down the path of strengthening our economies, both Japan and Ontario.
NV: In May, Justin Trudeau went to Japan, there was a little bit of criticism that it wasn’t as successful as he hoped it would be, did you learn anything from his trip that you may change on yours?
KW: Well, I think you know we’ve done a number of trade missions now, and my measures of success are a couple of things. First of all, I want to make sure I meet people who have an interest in also fostering strong relationships with Ontario. I want to make sure that we open doors for companies and educational institutions from Ontario in Japan, and that always happens, that people make more contacts. And although I love the agreements that we sign and the opportunities that are already there, I want to see how many more seeds can be planted for new opportunities. For me, those are the measures of success, and there’s another one on this trip, and that is to impress upon the people who I meet that we are open, that we want to be a good partner. I will have the opportunity to meet the princess, Princess Takamado. I’m very much looking forward to that. I want her to understand that as the largest province in Canada, we are very much interested in a strong relationship into the future.
NV: What do you think are some of Ontario’s greatest strengths to bring into Japan?
KW: I think our innovation capacity, the work we’ve done in technology. Japan is a superpower in terms of that kind of innovation, the robotics that Japan has been developing. Hugely important, so we have a lot to learn, but our educated workforce are a young population, relatively young. We have that strength that compliments the Japanese population, which is why I think we can find good synergies.
NV: What do you think are some of the greatest barriers coming into Japan with trade?
KW: I think the greatest barrier right now, that we’re facing in the world, is this move towards protectionism. So I think what happened in the UK, the Brexit process, the fact that the United States has now president-elect who’s really looking inward as opposed to outward, I think that’s the greatest threat to us. I think some of the greatest opportunities come in the fight against climate change. It’s a global challenge, no one can make an argument, well, you can make an argument and certainly some make an argument that climate change is not a problem. But if you believe climate change is a problem, which I do, then you can’t make the argument that it’s not a global challenge. Because it affects all of us, and there are opportunities in that. There are opportunities born in the necessity to work together, to develop the technology that is going to help us reduce greenhouse gas in a short period of time. And we don’t have a lot of time, but we know there are things we can do, and that’s why the innovative culture of Japan is so appealing in terms of partnering.
NV: A little off topic, but some people in the Japanese Canadian community are talking about Donald Trump and the rhetoric in the U.S. People are relating it to how people talked about Japanese Canadians and Americans during the Second World War, do you have anything to say about how Canada is different?
KW: Well, I started our conversation talking about understanding growing up that we had not treated Japanese Canadians well, and in fact we had done horrible things. And I don’t think as a child I understood exactly how horrible that period was, but I certainly had that in my consciousness. So my hope is that we’ve learned from that past and that we’ve learned to be a better and more harmonious society. We talk about multiculturalism and diversity being our strength. I think we walk that talk a lot of the time, but there’s still more that we can do. The divisiveness and the hatred that’s been stirred up in the election campaign south of the border, when we see some of the things that have happened in Ottawa, we feel the Islamophobia that still is part of our culture as well. We need to be vigilant about those things and I think Japanese Canadians can help us by sounding a warning bell and saying we’ve heard this before and we have to be conscious of not letting ourselves buy into that.