DAVID WILKINS

KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY US AMBASSADOR DAVID WILKINS ON
CANADA DAY 2008

Thanks, Goldy, for that very kind introduction and for your friendship.
President Khaja…
Association Members…
Mr. Vickers…
Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps…
Members of Parliament…
Honored guest and friends all:

Thank you for allowing Susan and me to share this very special evening with all of you.
I confess we’ve come upon that time in our service here in Canada when moments like this have become bittersweet…
Because they mark for us the beginning of the end of our time here.
For so long Canada was filled with so many “firsts” for us:
Our first Canada Day…
Our first Question Period…
Our first white Christmas…
Our first white Easter.
And now tomorrow, we’ll be experiencing our final Canada Day with all of you…
And in a few days our last July 4 celebration here in Ottawa…it’s so hard to believe how fast the time has flown-by…
And…as Goldy just mentioned…
I guess both Susan and I have really been thinking about time lately with the birth of our first grandbabies…
Watching our son Robert with his new son and daughter…
And our other son James dote on his new nephew and niece really just took me back…
It seems like only yesterday when all James wanted in the whole world was a pet turtle!

Well, unlike that turtle who was a little slow on the up-tick…
I intend to follow the lead of my president and sprint to the finish line in the 7 months or so I have left to serve my country in yours.

As I travel throughout Canada, a lot of folks express concern about how the upcoming elections in the United States might impact our trade relationship – especially in terms of NAFTA.

While no one can predict the future, I have to believe that no matter who the next president is…
He simply won’t be able to ignore the benefits of NAFTA and all it brings to this trade relationship of ours.
And I applaud what your government is doing in advancing free trade in Latin America.
President Bush has worked vigorously to get Congress to support free trade deals with Colombia…
For example…
Because the more markets you open to economic prosperity…
The more opportunities you advance for the values held sacred by Canadians and Americans alike.

Countries that lift themselves out of poverty by engaging in the world marketplace are less likely to become victimized by a host of predators…from terrorists to drug cartels.
Change may not happen fast enough…
But I am a firm believer that when people are exposed to democracy and the principles of justice and human rights…freedom always finds a way.
And free trade can help open that door.
It is but one important tool in a very long and critical war we’re waging in the war on terror.

You know now…it seems like a lifetime ago when I flew to Austin, Texas with a delegation from Columbia, South Carolina to meet with the young and energetic governor of Texas.
It was 1999.
Governor Bush and his Texas team were laying the groundwork for a presidential run…
And I went to Austin to let Bush know early and eagerly that he had strong support in South Carolina.
None of us sitting there that beautiful fall day could have ever foreseen the terror and chaos that would soon shatter our nation’s illusion of invincibility…
Or know that history had much bigger plans for this future president and commander-in-chief.
You could fill libraries with what’s been written about the Bush Presidency since September 11, 2001.
But so much of what’s said and written about George W. Bush is by those who’ve never met him.
Those who don’t know him.

So tonight I’d like to do something I’ve never done before here in Canada.
And that’s offer a bit of a personal perspective on the president I know: the man I’m proud to call my friend.
I’m not asking you to agree with my opinion:
Some of you may.
Some of you will not.
But that’s part of what makes our countries so great – our ability and freedom to exchange different viewpoints and ideas.
And I also offer my opinion as something diplomats rarely present…and that is simply my personal views of a man I respect more today than the day I first met him.
The brown hair President Bush had when he entered the Oval Office is now gray.
But what has not changed in seven years is President Bush’s resolve to thwart terrorism and protect North America.
I visited him at the Oval Office less than two months after 3,000 innocent people…
Including 24 Canadians…
Were murdered in New York…Washington and Pennsylvania.

My country was still deep in mourning after the shock of 9/11…
And as soon as I looked at him…
I could tell the burden he was carrying was heavy.
The thing that had always impressed Susan and me most about George Bush was the sense of peace about him…
Even in the heat of an intense campaign…
He and Laura were always peaceful…
So when I saw him that day in the Oval Office…
He still had that unshakable peace about him…
But there was something else…
Looking back…I guess…I’d just call it a sense of conviction.
Here’s what he told me…

I will never forget the President’s resolve…
And his understanding even then of the crushing decisions yet to come.
And he was so careful to emphasize from the very beginning the enemy is certainly not Islam:
The enemy is anyone who hijacks religion to use as a basis for terror and the murder of innocent people.

And Mobeen…if you’ll indulge me for just a moment here…
I’d like to digress and take this opportunity to personally thank you…
This Association…
And the Muslim Community across Canada…
For all you’ve done for not only Susan and me…but for the entire U.S. Mission.
Whatever the issue…whether it’s public or cultural affairs…economics or border issues…you have always extended a hand of friendship and understanding to our Embassy Team.
I know I speak for all of us at the Embassy when I say our dealings with all of you has enriched our lives and made us especially appreciative…and aware…in this post 9-11 world.
Thank you for your friendship.

They say that time is a great healer…and often it’s good and healthy to let go of the past.
But those who lead us cannot afford to forget the lessons born in great tragedy…
Because history can and often does repeat itself.
In the immediate wake of 9-11…we were all living with so many fears…fears we don’t think much about anymore:
· Anthrax…
· The unexpected package in the mail…
· Bio-terrorism…
· Bin Laden’s next move which back then we anticipated every day.
· Remember when just getting back on an airplane was an act of faith?
· So was stepping into an elevator…or climbing to the top floor of a high-rise building.

George W. Bush was just 7-months on the job when he was called to lead our nation through these fears…
Through the single worst domestic attack in U.S. history – more destructive and deadly than even the strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
And now less than a decade later…two fragile democracies have been born where terror and tyranny were once the rule.

The road in Afghanistan continues to be riddled with danger against a vicious enemy who understands this is his last stand…that is why the fight is so bitter…and so vital.

And while the march to freedom in Iraq has been particularly difficult and controversial…by any measure the military surge there has been a success…
· Roadside bomb attacks and fatalities in Iraq are down by almost 90% over the last year…
· Daily life has improved as al Qaeda has been all but devastated across the provinces…
· And the Iraqi currency and government are both showing tangible signs of strength…
In the words of one official with the Council on Foreign Relations…Iraq has moved from that of a “failed state” to at least that of a “fragile one”.

And I’m also reminded that:
· With the strength and fortitude of our allied and NATO partners committed to fighting terrorism…
· The smarts and dedication of law enforcement agencies worldwide who have thwarted dozens of terrorist attacks — including the planned strike on two Air Canada flights in 2006 –
· And the grace of God…

There has not been another terrorist assault on North America since 9-11.
Certainly, this could not have been accomplished without our friend Canada.
Right now Canadian heroes are stationed in Afghanistan with our NATO partners fighting the Taliban…
And helping to rebuild that country in a thousand significant ways:
· Through new schools that Afghan girls are attending for the first time…
· New roads and safe drinking wells…
· Trained Afghan police and military personnel…
· And countless other humanitarian and relief efforts.

I saw Canada’s efforts first hand when I visited your troops in Afghanistan with General Hillier and Minister MacKay at Christmas time simply to thank them for their service to your country.

I saw first hand that building a democracy is demanding.
But we all know that allowing terror and tyranny to breed is devastating.
And that is why we do not turn away.

Just after my visit to the Oval Office in 2001…
And only a few miles away from the still-smoldering tomb of New York’s Twin Towers’…
President Bush delivered an address to the United Nations’ General Assembly:
“We’re confident,” he said, “that history has an Author who fills time and eternity with His purpose.

We know that evil is real, but good will prevail against it.
This is the teaching of many faiths, and in that assurance, we gain strength for a long journey…
We did not ask for this mission, yet there is honor in history’s call.
We have a chance to write the story of our times…
A story of courage defeating cruelty and light overcoming darkness…
This calling is worthy of any life…
And worthy of every nation…
So let us go forward, confident…determined…and unafraid.”

This week as we celebrate both Canada Day and Independence Day in the U.S…
May it be in honor of all those men and women of our Armed Services who have bravely answered freedom’s call…
They are indeed worthy of our deepest devotion and praise.
May God bless all of them…and all of you.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you this evening…
But more importantly thank you for sharing your beautiful country with Susan and me these last three years.
It has been our honor to live here among you and to call you friends.
May God bless Canada and God bless America.

Translate »