Good evening everybody.
Greetings as well to their Excellencies, to the Ambassador, to the Consul General and to all elected officials of all levels of government who are here with us tonight.
I appreciate that so many of my own colleagues are here and were all introduced, I think I should just be fair in mentioning one thing about a few of them that is that, as you probably know, the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Lisa Raitt, Jeff Watson, Eve Adams, all are in whole or in part Croatian-Canadians, so we have four representatives in our caucus representing the community.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin by first thanking everybody here at the Canadian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to speak here this evening and for all that you do to promote youth, culture and business in Canada.
It is great to see so many familiar faces from the Croatian barbecue I attended in Mississauga only a few years ago.
I tell people like most boys who grew up in Toronto in the 1960s, I first learned of the Croatian community when I was cheering for the ‘Big M,’ Frank Mahovlich.
He and his brother, Peter, had played hockey in the same rink I did, in Leaside, where his father was still the skate-sharpener.
Another piece of trivia, that was when I was a boy, later as a teenager I later lived in the Richview area of central Etobicoke, where George Chuvalo resided.
Of course, since those days, and with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the Croatian community in Canada has grown considerably.
And now our country is the proud home for more than 200,000 Canadians of Croatian origin.
The energy and the entrepreneurship of the Croatian community, as exemplified by this organization, has made Canada stronger.
Our government sees Canada’s incredible cultural diversity not only as a remarkable part of what defines us, but also as a real strength in a globalized economy.
Around the world, communities that can link different countries have the capacity to create new business opportunities.
Last year, The Economist reported that diaspora business networks are, and I quote, ‘”reshaping the world”.
The magazine cites three things that such communities do to generate business and create prosperity.
Communities such as yours “speed the flow of information across borders,” they “foster trust,” and, “most important”, according to The Economist, they “create connections that help people …collaborate.”
In other words, this model has the potential to transform business world-wide.
And, ladies and gentlemen, we clearly have a great example of that kind of business success right here, in the Croatian-Canadian business community.
Now, as you all know, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Croatia.
I was actually, I am told, the first sitting Canadian prime minister to ever do so and I was touched by the warmth of the welcome they gave me.
I won’t actually forget the welcome because I remember I was greeted by some pretty heavily armed guys and they told me I had to yell at them “Pozdrav”, more specifically I think it was ‘”Pozdrav Voinici”, and they assured me they would take this well and they did, so they didn’t have to use their weapons, I was relieved.
Anyway, they made sure in Croatia I had a chance to sense something of Zagreb’s deep history, to appreciate, for example, the spectacular, gilded interior in history of the Zagreb Cathedral.
These were unforgettable moments.
There were even a couple of guys who came out to see me wearing hockey jerseys, Habs jerseys as it turned out, I won’t say more.
I also had meetings with the President and Prime Minister of a government that is an important ally for Canada in both NATO generally and our mission to Afghanistan specifically.
We signed a youth mobility agreement so that more young people will have the opportunity to experience both countries.
This built on something, by the way, we had done the year before, when we eliminated the visa requirement for Croatian citizens coming to visit Canada.
There is one more matter in which Canada and Croatia have a common interest.
Now I’m sure that everyone in this room knows that July 1, 2013, will be an historic day for both our countries, Canada’s 146th birthday and the day Croatia will become the 28th full member of the European Union.
Friends, as you know, the European Union collectively constitutes the world’s largest import economy.
That’s why our Government has launched negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada.
The EU countries combined are already our second-largest trading partner.
And I’m pleased to tell you that our negotiations remain on track, with the goal of concluding an agreement this year.
Now if we can do that, that would place Canada in an enviable position.
If we can conclude such a deal, we will be the only G-8 country with secure access to both the North American and European markets.
Together, those are advanced markets of almost a billion people.
Ladies and gentlemen, positioning our country like that is the opportunity of the century for Canada.
But it is only one facet of our government’s ambitious trade agenda.
Let me just say a few more words about trade.
If our Government is to succeed in its number-one priority, and that of course is to secure the prosperity of Canadians, it is not enough to sell only to traditional markets.
We must open new markets.
Now you know, when our Conservative team was first elected in January 2006, Canada, one of the most open, trade-oriented economies in the entire world, had trade agreements with only five countries.
As prime minister, it was obvious to me that we had to start diversifying, and quickly.
So we hit the road.
And I’m proud to say we now have trade agreements with nine more countries.
That’s fourteen countries in total.
We’ve begun negotiating with 52 other countries, including the EU members, India and Japan.
We’re seeking entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
We’re also signing agreements that promote and protect investment.
And we’ve taken action to make Canada the first tariff-free zone for manufacturers in all of the G-20 group of countries.
We are positioning Canada to boost our trade and enhance our prosperity well into the future.
We’re doing this because more exports and more trade means more jobs, not just here in the GTA but in every part of Canada.
It’s just that simple.
You know that, if you look at the numbers, if you combine the magnitude of our imports and exports, that represents an equivalent to 60 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product and one-in-five Canadian jobs are generated directly by trade.
I’m told that an agreement with the EU alone could increase our bilateral trade by 20 percent and create 80,000 more new jobs.
Imagine what we could do with a truly comprehensive global network of trade agreements.
Now of course, friends, even without such a network, Canada has been emerging from the global recession faster and stronger than virtually all other developed economies.
Nearly 700,000 net new jobs have been created since the recovery began in July 2009.
In fact, and you should never forget this, unlike most developed countries more people are working in Canada today than before the crisis.
Unlike most countries, under our Economic Plan, our deficits and taxes are going down, not up.
Our investments in education, skills training, research and innovation are going up while our expenditures on red tape and excessive regulation are going down.
And we continue to open our doors to immigration, with a special emphasis on fine-tuning the system to better serve our labour force needs.
Now ladies and gentlemen, I know that many of you here are new Canadians yourselves.
And you know that our Government wants to give new Canadians the best possible opportunity to succeed in this country.
Our Canada has always attracted people of energy and ambition, because this is a place where people from every conceivable background can pursue their dreams and reach their goals.
That’s what makes this country so special and so unique.
That is, at its heart, why our country and our economy remain the envy of the world.
And as I said before, the business successes of this organization and the cross-cultural networks that you represent give our country a real advantage in a globalized marketplace.
That’s why I’m so delighted to be here tonight and to personally thank you all of you,
Croatia’s sons and daughters, for everything you do to keep Canada growing.
And to thank you once again for the invitation tonight and for your kind attention.