Address by Minister Fantino: The district Rotary Peace Forum

February 23, 2013

Richmond, British Columbia

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for the kind introduction.

After hearing about my career path, you can see I went from police department to police department and job to job; I seem like someone that just couldn't keep a steady job, so I just kept on moving on.

And nobody ever caught up with me!

But in any event, on a serious note, I want to thank you sincerely for the invitation and for the opportunity to come and spend a little bit of time with you.

It's nice to be here in beautiful British Columbia. You truly do have a wonderful province here as well.

And ... this particular occasion, hosting the district Rotary Peace Forum, is really a very timely event, in that in other parts of the world there is not much peace really, and there's a whole lot of trouble going on.

But it is ironic that you're celebrating 100 years of Rotary in British Columbia, and what a great celebration that is.

Reaching a milestone of this magnitude is much to be proud of ... But certainly I think it's the product of good people doing good work. The kind of work you are involved in is really outstanding.

So congratulations to all of you folks who are making Rotary International, and local and regional, the success that it is and the success that it has been.

And since we are on the subject of milestones, I also want to wish Rotary International a happy anniversary, My congratulation on your 108-year history of contributing to quality of life, to community, to peace in the world.

I was interested to know that Rotary started in Chicago.

And you can say a lot about how Rotary has evolved over the years ... and how your work, your mission, the purpose for which you exist, has really, I think, amplified and grown exponentially.

I've been around to different places in the world and I'm always fascinated that no matter where you go, there's always a Rotary Club in the area that is active, that is working diligently, that's contributing greatly to the kinds of issues that are happening not only locally but certainly internationally.

And, as you know, the Rotary movement has since gone global with over 1.2 million Rotarians involved in some 200 countries. That's quite remarkable.

Rotarians embrace the "service above self" motto and they make a remarkable difference in the world and in communities.

On a local scale, the Rotary movement is about engagement and you know better than anyone else that it's about building communities and contributing in a meaningful way to their growth and, of course, their development.

And I can speak from personal experience, having been in law enforcement for almost 40 years, and having worked very closely with Rotary Clubs, the kind of partnerships that happen in so many worthwhile undertakings, are all really focused on achieving optimum results with young people, and I'm really gratified to see young people here.

This is really the future. Congratulations to the leadership of Rotary for advancing opportunities for young people to engage, to become involved; and that again is a tribute to your success. You are welcoming, you're strategic, and you're certainly very much a "doing it right" kind of organization.

But globally, the Rotary movement is also about fighting hunger; it's about health and education. It's about promoting peace but, above all else, the Rotary movement is about volunteering for the greater good of communities.

What began in the early 1900s as a club created for commercial trade and community and fellowship has now evolved into a global movement that includes over 700 clubs and over 25,000 Rotarians right here in Canada.

I can speak about the Rotary in my own community and nearby communities, and how involved they are in so many threads that contribute to the quality of life in communities.

And these Rotarians, like all of you, contribute to humanity in ways that make a real and tangible difference in the lives of so many people.

Nowhere has Rotary International's global engagement so intersected with the Government's commitment on international assistance than in our own combined efforts to eradicate polio.

Through the Rotary Polio Plus Program, more than one million club members have volunteered time and resources to protect more than two billion children from polio.

By the time the world is certified free from the disease, Rotary International will have contributed more than $850 million to the global effort.

It is truly outstanding, remarkable indeed, and no doubt beyond even the wildest expectations of the first Rotary Club members who took part in the organization's initial meeting in 1905.

Canada was the first country to donate to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative back in 1988. And since then, the Government of Canada has been a key player in supporting the global effort to reach the world's most vulnerable children.

For example, in Afghanistan, where the virus is now largely contained to the country's southern parts, Canada has been the single-largest donor to polio eradication.

Our support has allowed more than seven million children to continue to be vaccinated against polio every year.

Today, the disease remains endemic in just three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Canada stands firmly behind all efforts to eliminate the disease.

And that's why Prime Minister Harper reaffirmed Canada's support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in October 2011 at the Commonwealth meetings in Australia.

And as you may already know, the initiative aims to strengthen systems that track and detect polio and to guide immunization campaigns in countries where polio is still endemic.

The initiative provides immunization against polio for millions of children. It also supports the provision of key health services to mothers and children including bed nets, nutrition, supplements that help them in their everyday lives, and of course the rehydration salts that are very often lacking in their foods.

It goes without saying that one of the greatest innovative areas in combating polio is the Pennies and More for Polio campaign.

And as you know, in September, the Harper government committed to match donations dollar for dollar, up to $1 million in this particular campaign. Our donation, along with the same contribution from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will go to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Together, we set our sights on reaching the goal of $1 million. We all knew it was a challenge but it was worth it. By December, you, Rotary International, had met that goal. But you didn't stop there.

Over the past several months, Rotarians here have raised more than $1.4 million, and I believe today it's probably $1.6 and counting.

So here again, Canada is on the map big time. And this is really a remarkable accomplishment; all of you certainly deserve to be applauded for your efforts.

And I do that, day in and day out, whenever we are able to partner with such great organizations in achieving the greater good for those most in need.

This generosity is yet another example of the importance of Rotary and the tremendous impact you have around the world.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that we will not be capping our contribution at $1 million.

Instead, we will match the total amount that you have raised up to March 1, 2013.

... Speaking with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation folks, they are so enthusiastic about these partnerships where we can triple the effort, if you will, and that's exactly what's happening here because their foundation is matching what we raise as well.

So it's a win-win-win situation for all of us.

And congratulations to all of you. I'm so glad that we're able to work together on these very fine initiatives and we'll continue to do that.

And while this funding will help further the world's efforts, we know that money alone cannot eradicate the disease.

In many developing countries, Rotarians provide valuable field support but in some cases, risk their own lives and well-being in order to do so.

Despite our best efforts and intentions, some in the developing world would destroy and intervene in the progress by targeting innocent aid workers and civilians.

And that's why I believe that today is about honouring not only our efforts, but also the brave efforts of those who are no longer with us.

We also pay tribute to those on the front lines that combat poverty, ideology and warfare on a daily basis trying to eradicate this debilitating disease.

We remember the nine health care workers killed in the last two weeks in Nigeria. This attack bore an eerie resemblance to the cold-blooded attack against nine workers last December in Pakistan.

At the same time, I welcome the Government of Pakistan's denunciation of this violence. I urge all of our governments, any of the governments in the free democratic world, as well as community and religious leaders here at home and abroad, to make clear that such senseless attacks against development workers will not be tolerated.

I call on the leadership in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as I've done in times past ... to promote science-based information and ensure a safe environment for polio immunization workers.

You can be assured that I will continue to raise these basic requirements in my meetings with my counterparts around the world.

After all, your efforts not only produce real results in the developing world but also, by extension, are making a real difference in the lives of Canadians.

Let me conclude by saying that as a Rotarian, and as Rotarians, you are engaged citizens. You are global citizens and truly an inspiration for your fellow Canadians and, I would also add, for your fellow American Rotarians.

Rotarians like you have left a mark on the world for generations, with compassion and with conviction and without ever compromising the exemplary moral values that have been the Rotary Club's trademark in over a century of service to the world and humanity.

The Harper government is proud to partner with an organization that is recognized for its engagement, not only here in Canada but also in areas of the world that count on Canadian assistance.

Once again, congratulations on reaching your century milestone and thank you for your continued commitment to the local and global community.

God bless. Keep up the good work. We need you in the trenches.

I should also mention that yesterday, I co-authored a piece, an op-ed piece, that appeared in the local Vancouver Sun here, with Dr. Scott. I think it's played out very nicely.

It's another partnership in educating the public about not only about the issue of polio but also the wonderful work that Rotary International, Rotary here in Canada and in the United States and everywhere, really is doing.

So thank you all.