Frank Stronach: Universities should forge a vision for the ideal Canada (2024)

New faculties should consider the age-old question of what constitutes an ideal society, and invite thinkers to come talk about it

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Frank Stronach

Published May 14, 2024Last updated May 14, 20243 minute read

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About a month from now, hundreds of thousands of students will attend graduation ceremonies on university campuses across Canada.

The students will graduate with knowledge of topics such as philosophy, sociology and political science. But one topic they won’t have explored might be the most important one of all — and that’s the age-old question of what constitutes an ideal society.

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Clearly, society expects universities to educate and train people for various professions and careers — everything from doctors and lawyers to engineers, scientists and business managers. These professions are vital to a healthy, well-functioning society and a strong economy.

I believe the main mandate of a university is figuring out how to construct the optimal society for the benefit of its people because it’s the issue on which so much of our prosperity and happiness depends. Universities have great faculties of medicine, law and engineering, but they lack a faculty dedicated to building society.

The Greek philosopher Plato, who lived some 2,400 years ago, established an academy himself. His curriculum included the subject of what constitutes an ideal society. His ideal state — considered far too totalitarian by some — included features such as justice, harmony and the greater good.

But what about us? What do we believe are the essential building blocks for creating a more civilized society, one that brings the greatest amount of freedom, peace and prosperity to its citizens? Universities are ideal for exploring these issues. After all, advancing knowledge and exploring new ideas are two parts of the university’s mission.

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Over the years, I’ve had dealings with many universities around the world. I’ve funded research centres, chairs and programs related to entrepreneurship, business management, engineering and technological innovation. I’ve also served on a number of university boards and given guest lectures on campuses in Canada, the United States and Europe.

But until recently, it never occurred to me to consider the overriding purpose of a university. In conceiving and drafting the framework of an ideal society, universities should look at all aspects — everything from the arts and sports to business and medicine. They should also consider the ideal structure of government — one that ensures individual liberty and places certain checks on the power of elected officials.

One of the ways we currently do that is through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But what about other rights, including, most importantly, economic rights? Why has no society ever enshrined an economic charter of rights, and what should those rights be?

One thing is clear: democratic charters of rights need to be fortified with economic rights, because if a society’s economy is weak, then everything within society will suffer. If citizens can’t feed themselves or don’t have access to medical care because the economy has collapsed, then all the best government programs and philosophies don’t mean much.

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I believe that economic charters of rights will help create economic democracies, and economic democracies — where the greatest number of people enjoy the greatest amount of wealth — are the foundation of democracy itself. I also believe that an economic charter of rights would be one of the cornerstones of any ideal society.

The composition of an ideal society isn’t just something for ancient philosophers to ponder. It’s a noble quest that we should likewise pursue — and universities should be leading the way.

Universities can get the ball rolling by inviting some of the world’s best minds and accomplished people to talk about the framework necessary for building an ideal society. They should convene symposia and open forums and begin mapping out a blueprint for what that society would look like and what we need to construct it. And they should create new faculties solely dedicated to this topic.

That doesn’t mean throwing out many of the features that have made our society a magnet for people from around the world. Instead, it’s a chance to make our society greater yet — to add new elements that would enrich the lives of its citizens while shoring up many of the shortcomings and flaws that are currently holding us back.

The ancient Greeks thought the creation of an ideal society was a noble pursuit and ended up building one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever seen.

We should also take up the same challenge. A society that stops striving for greatness is a decaying society.

National Post

Frank Stronach is the founder of Magna International Inc., one of Canada’s largest global companies, and theStronach Foundation for Economic Rights.

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