PM addresses British Columbia's Legislature on Eve of 2010 Winter Olympics

Victoria, British Columbia
11 February 2010

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following remarks today at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia:

“Mr. Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, The Honourable Bill Barisoff; Premier of the Province of British Columbia, The Honourable Gordon Campbell; Leader of the Opposition, The Honourable Carole James; Distinguished Members of the Legislative Assembly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is an enormous pleasure to be here with you today, at this moment of great celebration for your province and our country.  I’ve often said that the best thing about being Prime Minister is the unparalleled opportunity I have to travel the length and breadth of this land and to meet the wonderful people who call it home.

“Today, in these travels, I am undertaking a first.  In all the years since 1871 when British Columbia made that momentous decision to join the new Dominion and truly make it a country from sea to sea, no Prime Minister has ever formally addressed this great Assembly.  And I want to thank the Speaker of the house for providing me with this special opportunity.  All of you do me, and your country, a great honour.

“So here we are in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.  British Columbia.  Canadians from coast to coast to coast have known you for decades by the slogan on your licence plates: ‘Beautiful British Columbia.’  It is no exaggeration.  The natural beauty is almost always the first thing people notice about this province when they arrive.

“The famous Canadian historian and essayist, Stephen Leacock, put it rather well a long time ago.  Describing his maiden trip to B.C. in his book, My Discovery of the West, he recounted a question that had been posed to him at a Canadian Club function in Vancouver: ‘[I was asked] why I had never visited the province before.  I [said] that, like so many other people, I had never come to it because I didn’t realize how wonderful it was.  If I had known what it was like I wouldn’t have been content with a mere visit.  I would have been born here.’ 

“B.C.’s unmatched beauty and its promise of a better life have never lost its power to enchant and to enthrall and to draw ever more newcomers to its sparkling Pacific shore.  It began with the myriad nations of our First Peoples whose spirit has animated this land for thousands of years.  It continued with the great explorers:
John Finley, Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson – those who sought to connect it to the wider economic forces of the continent.

“It captured the imagination of the generation of adventurers who travelled enormous distances when gold was discovered on the Fraser River.  And it was in Craigellachie where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway – the single most important nation-building project in the history of our country was driven.  And, ladies and gentlemen, British Columbia is still calling out, now to all the peoples of the world.

“From a sparsely populated outpost of our country, B.C. has become the third-largest province boasting one of the most cosmopolitan and liveable cities on Earth, still growing fast and leading Canada’s way into a new century that will be defined by the opportunities in the Asia-Pacific, for which British Columbia is Canada’s Gateway.

“How the generation of 1871, John Foster Mccreight, Amor de Cosmos and all the rest, must marvel at the British Columbia of 2010 – the British Columbia with the talent and the energy and the capability to host huge, world-class events like the Olympic Games that will be opened tomorrow.  Events like these have a significance beyond themselves.  They serve as historic markers of where a community is going, of how its people see themselves.

“For instance, to visit British Columbia and Vancouver even now is to be reminded of Expo ’86.  Most of you will recall that World’s Fair and what it meant at a time when Asia was beginning to demonstrate its capacity to become a future economic powerhouse.  That event put your province and our country on the map of the Pacific.  That World’s Fair showcased this part of our country and we all remember the surge in investment and population that followed.

“But, it also changed British Columbia.  British Columbia became bolder, stronger, possessed of the shining confidence that is the consequence of success, and so necessary to scale even higher summits.  Now, you are calling the world back once again and in even more spectacular fashion.  During the Olympic and Paralympic Games, sixty-eight hundred athletes and team officials, ten thousand reporters and a quarter-million spectators will gather in Vancouver and Whistler.  By any measure, these are remarkable gatherings.  Yet, a mere recitation of the numbers hardly does them justice.  The 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games have been an unparalleled organizational and logistical undertaking.  They will be simply the most ambitious sporting event ever held on Canadian soil.

“The work of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, in conjunction with its partners at all levels of government, is itself a feat worthy of the ancient Olympiads that these Games honour.  Like the earlier Expo, this is a tremendous accomplishment.  And also like it, we cannot yet know how these Games will change us all or what their legacy will be.  But we do know this, ladies and gentlemen: British Columbia has made enormous strides in the early years of the 21st century.  It has grown exponentially, gathered economic strength and become more important in Confederation than at any time in our history.

“And it is not hard to predict that, in some distant year, when British Columbians reflect upon these Games, you will see them as an affirmation of what you have achieved and as your point of departure into a new and exciting era.  On behalf of the Government of Canada – and indeed all Canadians – I’d like to thank everyone involved in the organization of the 2010 Olympic Games and those who have supported them, including you right here in this Chamber, for a job well done - For a job very well done!   

“I also want to tell you that all Canadians are proud to be partners in these Games. Be it in the form of venue infrastructure, legacy funds, cultural events or the essential security arrangements, all Canadians – through the Government of Canada – have made the investments needed to ensure a world-class event.             

“Because while Vancouver and Whistler may be the staging grounds of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, let there be no doubt, as Premier Campbell said himself in December when we welcomed the Olympic Flame to Parliament Hill – ‘these Games are Canada’s Games.’  For, ladies and gentlemen, while British Columbia will have on display during these Games everything of which you are so proud, the thing most visible, once our national teams and athletes appear on the stage will be B.C.’s greatest attribute and its great asset, that is, that British Columbia is part of Canada. 

“It is all of Canada that will be cheering our athletes on.  It is all Canadians, from Cape Race to Nootka Sound, to the men and women standing on guard at Alert in Nunavut, who will be glued to their television sets, not just cheering for our athletes but feeling with them every step of the way.

“In this great striving among the nations that is no less serious or determined for being undertaken in a spirit of goodwill, Canadian athletes will create the yesterdays that we shall all savour in our tomorrows, the stories of which we shall remind each other, the feats of courage, commitment and fair play that we shall offer to our children and our children’s children as examples when they ask: ‘what does it mean to be Canadian?’  And then we shall feel that warm glow of pride, as we should, as Canadians.

“Patriotism, ladies and gentlemen, patriotism as Canadians should not make us feel the least bit shy or embarrassed.  I know that thoughts of grandeur and boisterous displays of nationalism we tend to associate with others.  And, over the centuries, things have been done around the world in the name of national pride or love of country that would have been better left undone.  Yet, we should never cast aside our pride in a country so wonderful in a land we are so fortunate to call home, merely because the notion has sometimes been abused.

“There is nothing wrong, and there is much that is right, in celebrating together when our fellow citizens, perceiving some splendid star high above us willingly pay the cost and take the chance to stretch forth their hands to try to touch it for that one shining moment.  For, no good thing is without risk, no ideal can be reached without sacrifice.  Ask any Olympian who wears the Maple Leaf.  But that Maple Leaf, we must remember, symbolizes more than just the athletes who wear it symbolizes the country we love.

“It symbolizes the Canada, our Canada that has shown during this global recession and will show during these Games that it can compete and win against the very best.  The Canada – our Canada – where those other citizens who wear the Maple Leaf – our Armed Forces – serve, never for conquest and advantage, but simply to spread our gifts of freedom, democracy and justice to make the world a little safer and a little better; as they are doing in Afghanistan, and to give some hope to others and to rescue our fellow citizens; and as they have done so spectacularly in Haiti.  That Canada – our Canada – that has given so generously to Haiti, not because we think we will gain some power or some return, but because our country is at its heart compassionate and generous, not only with our fellow citizens, but with our fellow human beings as well.

“And we recognize this, not to claim that our Canada is perfect, but when we have done wrong, and we truly have on occasion – the Chinese head tax and the Indian residential schools – we have tried to learn from those wrongs and to make amends.  And, that, my fellow Canadians, learning from our history, we have discovered is the better way to build our country.  It has made us history’s benefactors instead of its prisoners.

“Canada, our magnificent land, to which we are welcoming the world, not just for the Olympic Games, but as part of our very identity.  Because all nations, when they come here will already find their brothers and sisters among us – Canadians who have arrived from every corner of the planet and continue to come to put aside old quarrels and to embrace a common future together.

And so, when we, in our national anthem, ask God to keep our land glorious and free, we mean all of us – all men and women who choose to be Canadians of equal worth, not just in his eyes, but in each other’s.  Canada, our Canada is truly worthy of our pride and our patriotism.

“So let us hold our flag high at our embassies and our aid bases, our outposts and our vessels, our stadiums and our venues, even our homes, during these Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Games.  But not just for these Games, also for the G-8, the G-20, the North American Leaders’ Summit, the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and any other great occasion, not only as a symbol of how appreciative we are for all we have, but also as a sign of welcome to the world.

“Let it be a cheerful red and white reminder of a quiet and humble patriotism that, while making no claims on its neighbours, is ever ready to stand on guard for itself.
We will ask the world to forgive us this uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism, of our pride, to be part of a country that is strong, confident and tall among the nations.

“And we will let our flag wave here in British Columbia – Beautiful British Columbia – over the podium of the 2010 Winter Games.  This truly is British Columbia’s Golden Moment.  And it is also Canada’s time to shine.

“Thank you, and God bless Canada.”