September 20, 2017

Remarks by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, at the Atlantic Council’s 2017 Global Citizen Award dinner in New York on September 19, 2017.

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU:  Thank you very much for that warm welcome.

Thank you, Your Majesty, for your kind words, but mostly thank you for your grace and your strength as you engage in the world, care passionately about your country, but also help shape the values and contributions that we each make every day towards bringing better peace and harmony to the world.  Thank you for your leadership, Your Majesty.

And while I’m talking about extraordinary women, I have to highlight someone who just arrived and I haven’t seen yet, but I’m told she is here, someone who just came from a speech on women’s empowerment and women’s issues, which is why she was a little late, but someone who challenges me and inspires me every single day to do better and be better, my wife, Sophie Grégoire.  Thank you, Sophie.  (Applause.)

It is my sincere pleasure to be here with you this evening.  And it’s a great privilege and honor to receive this award.  I am deeply touched by it.

When I was a boy, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet quite a few world leaders while traveling with my dad.  Something that struck me then and still does today is the reassuring humanity of those encounters.  However great or powerful a leader may be, they are still just people.  And the majority that I have met, I have to say with some gratitude, want to do what is right for their citizens and for the world.  If that weren’t the case, it would be a far grimmer world than it actually is.

The challenge of leadership, indeed the very essence of it, is to fairly balance the competing interests of different groups of people who have, at times, quite different aims and needs, but sometimes events coalesce.  There are times when our principal aims and needs become universal.  And I believe we are living in such a time right now.

Some might look at this Council’s half-century-old mission, to promote cooperation across the Atlantic, as the rarified concern of elites or an idealistic throwback to another century.  Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

We live in a time where global peace and security, free and fair trade, human rights and liberty have never been more intertwined or, in this post-war era, at greater risk and in greater need of our active, focused engagement.  Alliances that have underpinned global security and prosperity since 1945 are being put to the test.  And the urgency of the challenges we share in common, climate change and drought, income inequality, violent extremism, civil war and the mass migrations that result, continues to grow.

Allow me to repeat that last bit in French for the folks at home.

(Speaks in French.)

(Continues in English.)  Worldwide, the long-established international order is being tested.  With Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and encroachment in Ukraine, we have seen the first major territorial seizure in Europe since the Second World War.  This is not the time for retrenchment, it is a time for the Atlantic democracies to renew our commitment to universal standards of rights and liberty, enforced through a multilateral rules-based order that has promoted peace and stability and stood the test of time.  (Applause.)

We have to work together on this, which means a renewed commitment to longstanding alliances such as NATO and NORAD, bodies such as the United Nations and the WTO.  Global security requires the ability to project hard power when it is needed.  That is one reason why earlier this year Canada announced a robust long-term reinvestment in our military with significantly increased spending for the tools and training our women and men in uniform need to do their jobs.  (Applause.)

The second major pillar of global peace and security is, of course, free and fair trade.  As you know, as you may know, as you hopefully know, Canada is currently engaged with the United States and Mexico in modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement.  (Applause.)  We are working hard and we’re looking forward to hosting our partners in Ottawa this weekend for round three.  And, as you may have seen in the media, Canada has been very ambitious at these talks, particularly in advancing a progressive trade agenda that puts gender equality, the rights of indigenous peoples, environmental protection and labor standards squarely at the heart of the discussion.  (Applause.)

Now, some appear to have been confused by this.  It’s as though they expect us to do trade exactly the same way it was done by our parents a quarter century ago.  And yet, there is a precedent.  CETA, Canada’s groundbreaking trade agreement with Europe, goes into provisional application in two days.  It is the most progressive trade agreement in the world today.  We made it that way for a reason.

Trade, as it has long been done, though broadly positive for the majority, has not been perfect.  If it were, there would be no political current against globalization, yet there is such a current, especially in places where traditional manufacturing has been disrupted by automation, mechanization and offshoring.  So we need to do a better job of ensuring the benefits of trade extend to the middle class and those working hard to join the middle class, not just the wealthiest few.

We made a deal.  We told people that trade and the things that went with it would lift all boats, would benefit everyone.  And people have been wondering when that benefit is going to hit the majority.  That’s what we need to turn around.  We need to do more to help the people displaced by economic shifts so that they can get well-paying jobs and provide for their families.  A big part of that is upholding labor rights, not just in our own countries, but worldwide. 

And again, that’s an important bit, so I’m going to repeat it for the folks at home.

(Speaks in French.)

(Continues in English.)  In short, progressive trade is not a frill.  In addition to being the right thing to do, it is a practical necessity without which popular support for a growth agenda could not be maintained.

The third pillar of peace and security is the advancement of human rights, liberty and tolerance, the very touchstones of our societies, although even the word “tolerance” is something that I like to think we can get past.  Because you use the word “tolerance” in a sentence – I tolerate that you exist – it doesn’t sound very warming, there’s no religion in the world that says “tolerate thy neighbor.”  I mean, there are places in the world where a little tolerance will go a long way.  But I think in countries like Canada and the United States and Atlantic democracies, we need to move beyond putting up with each other towards words like “friendship,” “acceptance,” and, yes, “love.”  This is both morally necessary and practically vital.

Respect for others, regardless of what they look like, the language they speak, the God they worship or the person they love, makes it possible for the human family to get along.  And getting along makes it possible for humanity to survive.  (Applause.)

In the 1980s when I was a teenager, the fight against the apartheid system in South Africa dominated the global conversation.  Canada, through its leadership at the commonwealth, played an important role in helping coalesce world opinion in opposition to apartheid.  Now, we need to be every bit as strong, every bit as vigilant in opposing the scourges of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ethnic and religious bigotry, neo-fascism, neo-Nazism and the violent extremism of Daesh that confront us in 2017.  (Applause.)

We cannot waver.  It would be unconscionable to take even one step back in upholding the standards of decency of the sisterhood and brotherhood of the human family that won the day in the most painful struggles of the last century.  Many of you here in this room remember those struggles.  We must not relive them.

And this brings me back to where I began.  The thing we begin to realize when we appreciate that all leaders are human is that nothing is guaranteed, that the global order that our grandparents and parents built isn’t cast in stone, it can change for the worse or, as I prefer to think, for the better.  But in order for this to happen, our definition of what constitutes leadership or who gets to be a leader needs to broaden.  Every person here is a leader.  Every citizen in the choices they make, the things they choose to say or to not say, to do or not do, to teach their kids or not teach, is a leader.  It’s not just every vote that counts, it’s every choice that counts.

So I’ll leave you with this.  Let us be good leaders.  Let us be the best leaders we can possibly be.  Together, let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s get on with the tough, entirely achievable, vitally necessary work of leaving this world a better place than we found it.  Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Merci beaucoup.  (Applause.)

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