Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following remarks at the 60th anniversary of 22 Wing, North Bay:
“Thank you, Jay, for that very kind introduction.
“Thank you also to our hosts at 22 Wing, Wing Commander Namiesniowski, Honorary Colonels Cutsey, Clark and Cook, and members of 22 Wing, Ambassador Jacobson and partners from the United States, MPP Fedeli, Mayor McDonald, Sergeant Mike Hunter and all the members of the North Bay Police, the North Bay community and, in particular, the many students 22 Wing’s Honorary Colonels have so generously arranged to be with us today.
“Distinguished veterans, ladies and gentlemen.
“Nine months ago I was honoured to visit Canada’s operating base in Trapani, Sicily.
“Two thousand Canadian military personnel took part in NATO’s Libyan mission, a mission successfully led by a general of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“Today, Armed Forces Day 2012, I am proud to restate what I said to our men and women in uniform in Sicily last year.
“And in doing so, I know I speak for millions of our fellow citizens.
“When it comes to the Canadian Armed Forces they are, soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the best in the world.
“Their professionalism, their bravery and their unity of purpose have allowed Canada to punch above its weight internationally whenever duty calls.
“It is therefore fitting that we are gathered today in North Bay.
“Here was once the front-line in one of the most significant conflicts in which Canadians have ever engaged.
“The fact that the type of monument we see at Queenston Heights, or Vimy Ridge, or Juno Beach, is not found here does not detract in any way from the significance of the work our men and women in uniform did in this place.
“On the contrary, this lack of historical markers speaks directly to the success of the decades-long military mission that took place far below the surface of the base here at North Bay.
“I speak, of course, of the Cold War.
“Over its chilling lifespan, 17,000 servicemen and women rotated through NORAD’s underground complex.
“While the rest of us slept restfully at night and went about our business during the day, these watchers kept constant vigil.
“Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for more than 40 years, members of the NORAD team traveled 60 storeys underground to do this work.
“In a facility cut through the Canadian Shield and built to withstand a direct nuclear hit, they did their duty.
“For members of 22 Wing and their predecessors monitoring sky and space for Soviet threats, there was no time for the chatter about some ‘moral equivalency’ between the U.S.S.R. and the West that became so fashionable in some quarters in the 70s and 80s.
“Just as in our time in Libya, in Afghanistan and in combatting terrorism during the Cold War - let me emphasize this - Canada chose sides.
“The side we chose was very clear to the men and women of 22 Wing.
“Our men and women in uniform chose the side of freedom, the side of democracy, the side of justice, they chose the right side.
“Eventually of course, the Cold War would end.
“Not long after, 22 Wing personnel, not longer after the Cold War, they saw first-hand their efforts to create a more peaceful world.
“In the mid-1990s, they played host to diplomats from the former Warsaw Pact nations.
“And not long after, their leaders would attend NATO summits.
“Sworn enemies had become our partners.
“Today, NORAD’s operations in North Bay are located above ground.
“But the skies remain uncertain in this post-9/11 world.
“And the men and women of 22 Wing are still Canada’s first line of defence and their jobs are just as crucial today.
“And today, Canadians and Americans continue their work in friendship and in firm resolve to keep our continent secure.
“And there is no greater testament, ladies and gentlemen, to this partnership than the fact that a Canadian was in command within NORAD itself on 9/11.
“In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I just want to make one point about national defence in the modern age.
“Both Canadians and Americans live in societies that expect many things from government.
“So many, in fact, that we need to regularly – and deliberately – remind ourselves of the following fundamental truth.
“The first duty of a national government, everywhere and always, is to protect its people and its territory from external threats.
“And our Government takes this responsibility very, very seriously.
“22 Wing, you have my personal gratitude for all the sacrifices that you and your families make for Canadians daily.
“And I am very proud, as we all are, as Prime Minister of Canada to salute all the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, on this, their very special day.
“Thank you for your work.
“God bless all of you and God bless Canada.”