Based on a Transcript
Thank you so much for this very warm welcome. I appreciate the smiles and the applause. You know, in the House of Commons, when you stand up and you start to speak, you face jeers and heckles and booing. And that’s from your own colleagues. Then there’s the opposition.
So this is a very pleasant welcome. And I echo the words of thanks to our hosts tonight for inviting us here. What a fabulous setting this is. This is beautiful. I love this place.
You know, we are in a time of global recession and global downturn. And in a time like this, there are many areas of the world that are lapsing into protectionism and protectionist activity. And especially in a time of global downturn and financial contraction, that is not the time for countries to be closing doors. It’s the time to open the doors of opportunity. And that’s exactly what our plan is, and has been, under Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper. And we have a clear focus on that plan in terms of looking at Europe, and specifically at Central Europe, the area so many of you represent.
Can I just say that in some of my recent travels in Europe and Central Europe, how inspiring it was for me to be in a variety of countries—Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, of course, Romania—and, as those of you know who have to do diplomatic travels, your officials give you very little breathing time. You know, sometimes the media think these are holidays. They are far from that. And one of the down sides of that type of travel is you don’t get to just get out into the cities themselves and move around and see people and get a sense of the feel of a particular country. And so the way I do that is very early in the morning, before the security officers wake up, I sneak out of the hotel and go for a run through the various cities and villages just as people are waking up.
And what really struck me in so many of the countries from which you come, somewhere in almost every central part of those cities, there was a monument of some kind. And it was a monument to the monumental struggles that so many of you went through, and the victories that you finally achieved, as those unfortunate walls finally came crashing down and you emerged as free and independent nations. And how inspiring that was to me, one country after another, early in the morning, sunshine just coming up, and to read the names of people who had stood tall and had done the courageous things that had to be done so that you could be free and independent today. So could I just thank you all, first of all, for the tremendous example of courage and independence you showed in those years.
And it’s going to take a similar type of courage and independence, because we’re in a different kind of struggle now with this global downturn. And it’s your countries, from which you have come and which you represent, that again are being courageous and bold and even independent in terms of thinking and innovation, and saying, “You know what? We need to open the doors of opportunity, and we need to open the doors of trade.”
And as we go to those various countries and I meet with your present or former prime ministers and presidents, or political officials and business people, Canada has, as you know, a great story to tell. And we tell that story when we go around the world.
It’s great when we can talk about ourselves and say nice things, but it’s even better when people from outside the country are reflecting positively on Canada. It’s one thing for a government to say good things about itself and have its own propaganda—of course our government does not have propaganda; we only deal in truth—but when other countries and international organizations say the things they are saying about Canada and about our government, it’s very fortifying. And so it is that we remind people when we go to different countries that the World Economic Forum has said that Canada has the most stable banking system in the world.
We are not bailing out financial institutions. We put things in place before the downturn that require banks to operate certain ways, with a certain amount of asset base, before they get into the lending side. We have rules that prevented our banks and financial institutions from getting into the subprime mortgage problems that are faced by our friends to the south and that caused such a problem throughout the financial regimes of the world. So it’s outside institutions that say that about Canada.
It is outside institutions—like the International Monetary Fund—that have recently said that, because of our fiscal policies, Canada was the best-positioned among the G7 countries going into the recession, and we will be the first to emerge. These are good-news stories that other people from outside talk about. They talk about our tax structure being the most competitive among the G7. So these are the types of things that we offer to a world that is looking for trade arrangements and trade agreements.
And what has been exciting and encouraging for me, when I met with the various governments in the countries of Central Europe, and I hear about their policies, again it’s those policies that are the bold ones. It’s those governments that are talking about not being oppressive with taxation, not being oppressive with regulation. Let people be innovative. Let them be free in their thinking and the ability to invest and to be entrepreneurial, and things can move ahead. The governments, so many of them, of Central Europe are leaders in that type of discussion. And that provides a great fit for us.
We have much to offer as we work together. I was very encouraged on May 6 to be in Prague [Czech Republic] with our prime minister as he signed the formal beginning of negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union.
This is a very positive development. We have run the economic models. Once fully implemented, a free trade agreement with the EU could increase our GDP by $12 billion a year. And so we look at the broader EU, but we have a special focus on Central Europe. The opportunities are there. The investment possibilities back and forth are there; the technologies that we can share.
In many of the countries from which you and your relatives and families come, Canadian companies are already there in significant ways. And we need to broaden the base of that. And I believe that we can do that.
Another area in which we need to progress—and I believe we can, through trade—is the sharing of technology. Student exchanges, research and development—these are all areas that lead to long-term relationships and long-term opportunities on the business side. We have much that we can accomplish together.
I plan to be in Kyiv [Ukraine] about 10 days from now.
In the area of energy, I don’t have to tell you about the energy needs that you face in Central Europe. I don’t have to remind you about what happened last winter with the interruption of natural gas. And so, quite rightly, many of the countries that I visited only some months ago want to see an expansion of their nuclear-energy capabilities-clean energy, long-term energy supply.
We discussed this—the possibilities and the need—in Lithuania; I looked at their reactors in Romania—two that definitely need to be replaced right away; Poland is asking and moving and wanting to move, quite rightly, in that direction; Ukraine—and on it goes. And Canada occupies about 10 percent of the world share of nuclear energy. So we have great possibilities there. And through AECL [Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.] and our CANDU reactors, we are doing what we can to promote that. We’re in competition, we realize that, with other countries. But there is, again, great opportunity that could be achieved.
So we are clearly wanting to move ahead in that particular area also.
I was last in Kyiv in the early 1990s. And the walls were just coming down. And I saw first-hand what happens when people are deprived of the opportunity to be innovative, to be creative, to have capital, to be entrepreneurial, to be rewarded for their hard work, to enjoy the fruits of their labour. And I was moved by that. So much has changed today, but there is so much still that we have yet to do. And we will do it.
The Olympic Winter Games are coming up in Vancouver. We invite you all to be there. They take place in February. Your countries always send superb athletes in any of those winter sports. So we want you to come. We want to see the athletes from the countries that you have formerly come from. We don’t want any of those athletes taking any gold, especially in hockey. But we do invite you also to Vancouver for a fantastic time at the Games, where again we will spread the message about why it’s good to do business in Canada and why we want to do business with the countries that you represent so well.
Thank you for being an inspiration to us. Thank you for showing us that courage and individual initiative and innovation can bring results. We are committed to working with you when it comes to trade and investment in those areas.