Dr. David Wheeler Addresses Canadian Coast Guard College Graduates

Commissioner Thomas, Deputy Minister King, Executive Director LeBlanc, Dean McCorquodale, Colleagues, Families and Friends and Graduates of the Canadian Coast Guard College and Cape Breton University.

Pjila’si; Cead mile failte; Bienvenue.  Welcome to Unama’ki, the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq; more recently known as Cape Breton Island.

I am sure everyone here today joins with me in offering sincere congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2016.

Today marks the culmination of many years of hard work for today’s graduates.  Recognising their success is the highlight of our academic calendar.   Speaking on behalf of the College and Cape Breton University, it is why we are all here.

Graduates: you have worked hard, played hard, and you have achieved success in your chosen fields of study.  Your families and friends who supported you in reaching this great day also deserve our recognition and thanks.

The Class of 2016 represents graduates who operate in both French and English and who will in the future protect nearly a quarter of a million kilometres of Canadian coastline.  They are simply the finest men and women Canada has to offer.  And they are joining the distinguished ranks of more than 1000 officers who have graduated from the College since its founding in 1965.

And as a small note of extra pride in your association with Cape Breton University, this was the year that CBU became – we believe – the world’s first carbon neutral university.  We now produce double the amount of green electricity through our 5.4 MW wind farm than we would need to offset carbon emissions through all of our energy use.  Which means you will always be a member of the first ever cohort of climate friendly Canadian Coast Guard College CBU grads!

And so, given the announcement this week by DFO Minister the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc of $32m for infrastructure investments at the College, I think I should also take this opportunity to congratulate Executive Director LeBlanc and his colleagues on reducing the future greenhouse gas impacts of the College by 20%.

This is an important step for the College on behalf of a Federal Government that has signalled a serious intention for Canada to play its full part in addressing climate change.  Since the College was founded global CO2 emissions have trebled and atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from 320 to 407 ppm last Thursday.

According to the OECD, without dramatic political action, during the career lifetimes of today’s graduates, atmospheric CO2 levels could reach a catastrophic 700 ppm.   The grand children of our graduates would then be living in a world 3-6 degrees warmer than today.

While there are some who might say that sounds quite pleasant – especially in the middle of a Canadian winter – we all need to understand that such a dramatic change would make the world an infinitely more dangerous place.

There is absolutely no doubt that man made climate change will fundamentally impact the challenges and duties of today’s graduates – even if we can arrest CO2 emissions growth and keep the world to a somewhat optimistic target of a 2 degree temperature rise.

For example, according to NASA, this year Arctic sea ice reached a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second year in a row. Scientists now predict that within the lifetimes of today’s graduates, Arctic summer ice coverage will disappear altogether.

More severe and more frequent weather-related disasters; pollution incidents in the Arctic; sea level rise; and resource conflicts.  All of these are real threats to Canada and Canadians and today’s graduates will be in the front line.

On a happier note, I am proud to say that today’s graduates are more than ready to meet and transcend these challenges.

And building on the leadership and other skills that today’s graduates have developed, limitless opportunities are now open for them.  The friendships and inter-provincial and inter-cultural connections represented by today’s graduates will allow our graduates to lead more fulfilling family and professional lives while making the oceans a safer and more sustainable environment for future generations.

And it is especially fitting that these bonds have been forged on  Cape Breton Island.   Our Island is a true global village where Canadians from coast to coast to coast and students from around the world come together to share learning and promote global values.

Cape Breton Island has long been a home and a destination for adventurers: first nations, traders, entrepreneurs and dreamers.  Many of those adventurers relied on the maritime, navigation, science and engineering skills that you exemplify, as well as the personal qualities our graduates today represent in abundance.

Everyone at Cape Breton University is proud of our long time association with the Coast Guard College.  It is based on shared values and shared aspirations and we hope to see many exciting developments between our two institutions in the future, including perhaps shared delivery of programs to new cohorts of international students, but here and overseas.

In years to come I know you will remember your time here with fondness and pride.  You will always be part of the Coast Guard College global alumni and part of the wider Cape Breton University family.  You will always be a Cape Breton Islander, wherever you are from.

Canada is blessed by its dedicated and committed public servants.  And none of its public servants is more dedicated and committed to making the world a safer and more sustainable place than members of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Delivering security on three coasts all year round is becoming the norm.  Ensuring the inclusion of our aboriginal and native communities’ rights and wellbeing will become ever more essential, as fisheries, tourism, offshore energy and mineral interests compete for economic advantage in our seas and oceans.

And so developing the ability to champion Canadian values of fairness, sustainability and social justice will be essential to the career of every graduating student today.  I know you will carry that responsibility with steadfast good humour and with courage.

As Jacques Cousteau once said: The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.


We know that boat is in safe hands with the Canadian Coast Guard.


Bonne chance; thank you for your service to Canada.

Merci a tous!

David Wheeler PhD

President and Vice-Chancellor

Cape Breton University