Thank you so much, Ambassador [Michael Calcott]. It is wonderful to be here. This is the first time that I have had the honour and the joy of visiting Prague, and I certainly hope it will not be the last.
When we arrived, people were complaining—or not complaining, but rather people were apologizing—about the cold weather. But Ottawa right now is 28 below and western Canada is about 38 below, so I am thankful that I can be here during this heat wave.
We flew throughout the night to get here and then had a marvellous—but unfortunately too short—tour of the area. We saw the building where they used to throw the political people out the window! I wasn’t sure why they showed me that particular...! But it was very historic, and the building and the architecture are absolutely stunning.
Historically, the Czech people have set a proud record for the rest of the world to see the importance of standing up and speaking for truth, speaking for what is right. We—my generation and the younger generation—have admired you so much, especially with all the events that have taken place over the last 40 years or so. You have our full admiration and respect for the example you have set for the rest of the world.
The fact that it is the Czech Republic that now has the presidency of the European Union is a moment of great opportunity for us in Canada because of our desire to move ahead with a free trade agreement with the EU.
I have been overwhelmed this evening to meet so many people here who have lived in Canada or who go back and forth doing business. It’s amazing to see the connections. Just as an example, I met a gentleman who left here at a time of adversity in 1948 to escape from communism. He went to Canada, and with the things he developed there in the pharmaceutical trade, he has come back to the Czech Republic and now has a great business here. He learned lessons through adversity, and now the work he is doing is helping many people in the health-care industry.
Another gentleman I met tonight has brought a product that is manufactured in a town in Canada that I lived in when I was just a small boy, and he is now selling that product to many towns in the Czech Republic. I don’t know if the product itself will make you happy when I tell you what it is, but he is very successful. He’s selling parking meters.
Those are just two examples of the many opportunities between our two countries. Our banking system in Canada has been ranked the most stable in the world, and yours is also stable. Our two countries are affected by what is going on globally—we recognize that. But working together and sharing our products and services—for example, in health care, science and technology, and education—we can proceed through this time of economic turmoil better than if we didn’t have these strengths. So I’m glad we have these shared strengths.
The only area where we have hurt you in trade has been through the number of your good hockey players that we have brought to Canada—and we appreciate those! In fact, in my own constituency there is a young Czech hockey player in the junior league who will soon be a professional. In North America, there are over 50 Czech players in the National Hockey League. So we thank you for that area of exchange. We appreciate that very much.
I will now conclude my remarks by again thanking you for what we can do together in the future, thanking you for your support in terms of a Canada-EU trade agreement. And once again, from my heart, I thank you for the example you have set for the rest of the world: of a people who know what it is to stand tall in times of adversity and how to move ahead in times of opportunity.
We thank you for that great example and thank you for your friendship.