Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech on Reviving Canadian Leadership in the World

October 5, 2006

Ottawa, Ontario


Mr. Chairman,
Representatives of the Woodrow Wilson Centre
Colleagues from the Parliament of Canada
Distinguished Guests
Mesdames et Messieurs
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you, Gwyn Morgan – one of the most successful, talented and patriotic individuals ever to emerge from this or any other city in Canada.

I’m especially honoured to receive the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. The list of previous recipients includes the names of many people I have long admired and respected.

As someone who has only served Canada as Prime Minister for eight months, I am not sure I’ve yet merited this recognition. But I am proud of the team I work with – the men and women who created the new Conservative Party of Canada, and what they’ve been able to accomplish in a fairly short period of time.

In those eight months, I have observed one thing in particular.  If you tell people what you are going to, and then do it – Canadians respect that.

Since the election, that’s exactly what we’ve done: explain what we believe is important for Canada – and then deliver on it.

We said this country’s entrepreneurial spirit has to be unleashed, and Canadians deserve to be rewarded for working hard.

That’s why we said we would better manage your tax dollars, control spending, cut taxes – and that, along with the biggest debt pay-down in Canadian history, is exactly what we are delivering.

We said that healthy, prosperous families are the cornerstone of a society of opportunity. We said that we would ensure government programs provide real, direct benefits to working families.

And by, for example, replacing daycare schemes that pay advocates and bureaucrats with a direct payment to parents and children, that is exactly what we are delivering.

We said we would strengthen the criminal justice system. By bringing to Parliament legislation to end house arrest, apply mandatory prison sentences to serious crimes, and better protect children from sexual predators – that is exactly what we are delivering.

We said that public confidence in the government had been badly shaken, and systemic changes were necessary to make Ottawa more accountable to Canadians. And that’s exactly what we are delivering.

We brought in the Federal Accountability Act – the largest set of government reform measures in the country’s history. We passed it through the House of Commons in three months.

Now it has been stuck in the Senate for almost four months already. Which is another illustration of why the next stage of our accountability agenda must include fundamental change to that badly out-dated institution, the Senate of Canada.

Still, the actions I’ve just mentioned are only a beginning.

So what I want to talk to you about tonight is something I hope to accomplish in the longer term – if Canadians grant us the opportunity.

That objective is to make Canada a leader on the international stage. We want to ensure that we can preserve our identity and our sovereignty, protect our key interests and defend those values we hold most dear on the international scene.

If there is any one thing that has struck me for the short time I have been in this job, it is how critically important foreign affairs has become in everything that we do.

The globe is becoming a village. And virtually every significant challenge we face – economic, environmental, demographic, security, health, energy, you name it – contains an important, if not critical, international dimension.

I said I admire many people who have been presented with the Woodrow Wilson Award. But the person I want to talk about in this regard is Woodrow Wilson himself.

Now I’m going to ignore for a moment that he was a Democrat and the father of the income tax.

Woodrow Wilson was also an extraordinarily accomplished individual – an academic and a state governor who rose to become President of the United States, the only Ph.D ever to do so.

Most famously, he is known for his “Fourteen Points” – “the program for the world’s peace”, as he called it, and his advocacy of the first world-wide multilateral organization, the League of Nations.

He urged the United States to be a leader on the international stage and the American people to help “make the world safe for democracy.” Today, it is easy to forget how radical a departure this represented from the historic U.S. foreign policy position of isolation.

Canada, by contrast, has never had the luxury or the illusion of isolationism.

While not among the ranks of world powers, we have long been a significant part of important and influential world bodies.

Our membership in the Commonwealth preserves the ties of the worldwide British Empire of which we were long a proud part.

Our position in the Francophonie reflects our cultural and historical ties to France, which remains a country of influence with global visibility.

We belong to the world’s most important military alliance, NATO, due to our disproportionate role in the struggles against both fascism and communism.

We took the lead in the creation of NAFTA, our massive continental trading block.

And perhaps all of these things explain the seat we hold at the table of the G8, one of the world’s most exclusive bodies.

All of these show that Canadians have always wanted a government that plays a role in the world.

But in a shrinking, changing, dangerous world, our government must play a role in the world.

And I believe that Canadians want a significant role – a clear, confident and influential role.

As proud citizens, they don’t want a Canada that just goes along; they want a Canada that leads.

They want a Canada that doesn’t just criticize, but one that can contribute.

They want a Canada that reflects their values and interests, and that punches above its weight.

Do we, as Canadians, have the desire and the ability to achieve all this? 

Just take a look around this room; we’re among Canadians who lead corporations that do business in every corner of the planet. And this is only one corner of our great country.

So, during the time in which I am privileged to serve as Prime Minister, I intend to make this a country that leads.

And if our government succeeds in achieving this goal, then perhaps some day I will be deserving of this prestigious award.

To accomplish such a goal will require more than membership in the various multilateral bodies I have just talked about. Previous governments have had all those club memberships, but they haven’t always been leaders.

We must have more. We must also have guiding values and interests as a country on which we are prepared to act. And we must have the capabilities to act according to those priorities.

We must be committed and capable of protecting our vital interests, projecting our values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and preserving balance and fairness in the international forums to which we belong.

That is the direction in which our government is moving. Let me briefly take stock.

First, the NAFTA summit at Cancun gave us an opportunity to start talking frankly to and starting getting things done with our most important ally, customer and neighbour, the United States of America.

That paid off with an historic softwood lumber agreement and a better U.S. appreciation of Canada’s growing contribution to continental energy security.

It paid off with some very gracious and grateful words for Canada from Secretary of State Rice on the fifth anniversary of 9-11, and, just recently, a reprieve from Congress on their passport plan.

Then, the G-8 summit in Russia gave us an opportunity to tell the rest of the world about Canada’s phenomenal potential as a producer of energy and natural resources.

On the way there, I stopped in London to tell British investors about energy, especially about the oil sands, and to let them know what you all have known for a long time: that Canada is the world’s only growing producer of this strategic commodity with a secure, stable government.

Canada is, as I have said, an emerging energy superpower.

It is one reason why Canada will increasingly be a leader and why Alberta is a leader within it.

But here in Alberta, where that energy power can almost be felt, something else must be equally appreciated. That with power comes responsibility.

Given the environmental challenges that energy production presents, Alberta must also become a world leader in environmentally-responsible energy production. 

On the way home from the UK, I stopped in Cyprus to make a symbolic contribution to the biggest overseas evacuation of Canadians in our history. Canada was ultimately able to evacuate as many of its citizens and as quickly as the great powers that have immensely more military reach.

That was a testament to the coordination and results of which the public service of Canada is truly capable – capabilities that were also on display when it broke up the alleged terrorist plot in Toronto earlier this year.

I also took a few days this summer to tour the North. The trip had a twofold purpose.

I wanted to encourage northerners to embrace the jobs and prosperity that will come with private sector energy resource development.

But, by visiting Alert and observing Operation Lancaster, I also wanted to underline our government’s commitment to rebuilding our military and to asserting Canadian sovereignty – to asserting sovereignty over all of our territory, including the islands and waterways of our Arctic.

Asserting sovereignty means a presence.  And let me assure you, we intend to be there.

At the Francophonie, we were able to stress our support for the UN Convention on Cultural Diversity, a document that reflects the unique history and eclectic identity of this country.

We were also able, in once again addressing the situation in the Middle East, to show that our international positions are not based on tailoring our views to the crowd we are in front of, but on sticking to principle and working to forge consensus.

And let me just briefly mention how our Fisheries Minister, the Honourable Loyola Hearn, did just that recently at the meetings of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, where, by standing firm and making clear we are prepared to act, he managed to get real progress on our goal of ending international overfishing off the Grand Banks. 

But one thing stands out above the rest. That was my visit to the United Nations.

In that forum, I addressed our role in the mission where our security interests, our values and our capabilities come squarely together.


Five years ago, that long-suffering country was ruled by the Taliban – brutal tyrants bent on rolling back any vestige of civilization.

Men lived in oppression; women in bondage; and children in ignorance.

Some might say that’s not Canada’s problem. 

Well, it is. And September 11th, 2001, shattered any illusion that it isn’t – the day when the Taliban were revealed as accomplices in the horrific attacks against innocent civilians on this continent, including on citizens of this country.

Canada and our allies joined the United Nations mission to meet the Taliban challenge at its source and eliminate it once and for all. 

The mission is being conducted on several fronts. 

We are providing security to the Afghan people. 

We are helping them in reconstruction and development.

We are working with them in building the foundations of a sustainable democracy.

And we are delivering on all fronts.

A democracy has been put in place. Presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections have been held - and women now hold a quarter of the seats in the Afghan legislature.

The economy is growing. GDP has doubled in the last five years.

Education is spreading. In 2001 only 700,000 children were in school, and all of them were boys.

Today 7 million kids are in school, and a third of them are girls.

Reconstruction is happening. With Canada’s help, over 13,000 communities have started or completed new schools, medical facilities, and water, sewer and electrical systems.

But we all know it hasn’t been easy. And it isn’t going to be. Canadian Forces have the lead in Kandahar province, the stronghold of the Taliban, the toughest in the entire country.

The Canadian men and women who serve there are the best we have to offer. They have gone willing, knowing that not all of them will return. And when I went to Afghanistan and visited our troops, I saw – as anyone can see firsthand, there on the ground – just how dedicated, professional, skilled and courageous they are.

We have seen just how proud Canadians are of our soldiers and their families. 

And we have also seen how difficult it is to bear the sorrow of their losses.

But, ladies and gentlemen, that is the price of leadership.

It is also the price of moving our world forward. I recently met with the leaders of Latvia and Romania. In my lifetime, these nations were stuck in what we all believed were hopeless futures of oppression and stagnation.

But we never gave up our opposition to the Soviet empire, and they never gave up hope, and today those countries are growing democracies, serving alongside us in Afghanistan.

When I look ahead a decade or so from now, I still have great hopes for that country and its place in the world. But it’s not going to happen unless countries like Canada step up, make sacrifices and provide leadership.

That is not new for this country. That is how this country was built. We were not built by the services we use, but by the sacrifices we made. Or more accurately by the sacrifices, big and small, of our forbearers.

This summer Laureen and I visited Vimy Ridge in northwest France, the scene of some of the most terrible fighting in the First World War. It’s the last resting place for her great uncle, James Teskey, and literally thousands of young men like him. 

Most died in a few short days, in a battle where Canadians, considered backwater colonials, led the successful final assault.

But the monument at Vimy Ridge is much more than a remembrance of a victory or a memorial to the carnage of war. 

Instead, placed as it is in a modern, democratic, prosperous, peace-loving nation, it constitutes a reminder of the abiding values on which our country is based, of the aspirations we share for other peoples, and of the actions we are prepared to undertake to make this a better world.

Let me conclude by thanking the Woodrow Wilson Center once again for this award, and by pledging to pursue a course of action which would fully merit the honour.

I have been privileged to lead a constituency, to lead a political party and, now, to lead a government.

But we will only merit this honour if we lead the country – and if we lead it in understanding that all nations of the world will share a common future for better or for worse.

We will lead Canada toward that better world.

We will build the relationships and the capabilities which will allow us to preserve our sovereignty, to protect our interests, and to project our values – just as Woodrow Wilson wished for all of our nations.

Thank you again. Merci beaucoup. God bless Canada.


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