Luncheon with Business Representatives of the Canadian and Belgium Communities
Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I can think of no place I’d rather be today than in this grand palace, and no people I’d rather be among than Belgians and Canadians.
You are businesspeople—men and women who are focused on the present: on today’s share price and bottom line; and on the near future: boosting next quarter’s results and reaching this year’s strategic goals.
I’m not a businessman. As Canada’s Governor General and an educator of long standing, I have the luxury—I would contend the duty—to reflect on the past as well as make ready for the future. So let me start by looking back to an important chapter in our history that took place on this very day in 1944.
Exactly seventy years ago, Belgium dominated the thoughts of Canadians. Across our vast land, we were alive to the latest news from northern Belgium: the German line of defence from the Scheldt River in Belgium to the town of Tilburg in Holland had fallen to pieces; the battle had become a race to reach the bridges that spanned the Maas River inside Holland; divisions of the First Canadian Army were in pursuit of retreating enemy troops.
The news from the region would continue to spread over the next handful of days, as Canadian troops freed Zeebrugge and its people to rid Belgium of the last pocket of occupation, and as British and Canadian forces ended the Battle of the Scheldt, opening up passage from the North Sea to Antwerp.
While it is right that we remember the events of 70 years ago, we must also recognize that our histories aren’t connected through violence and struggle alone. Our bonds date back centuries, and were forged first by promise and opportunity.
Some of the earliest settlers to what is now Canada were Belgians. Then, in the years that followed Canada’s Confederation, thousands of Belgian emigrants arrived, establishing homes and families, and using their skills as farmers to cultivate our vast, fertile lands.
Our two countries have more recently reinforced these human bonds with institutional and commercial ones.
We enjoy 75 years of productive diplomatic relations that show every sign of deepening further.
We work together in numerous multilateral organizations—most importantly as members of NATO and La Francophonie. Our two countries have taken action together in places such as Mali, Libya and Afghanistan.
Our cultural ties are increasingly rich and diverse. Concert promoters and festival organizers from Canada and Belgium regularly play host to our artists in the world of theatre, music, cinema, literature, the visual arts, dance and performance arts.
And we have forged tight business links. Belgium is the sixth largest investor in Canada out of the 28 countries of the European Union, with investments increasing daily in energy, aerospace, life sciences and other key sectors of the present and future.
I saw a glimpse of that future this morning at IMEC in Leuven. Experts from many countries and scientific disciplines are uncovering insights and applications in nanoelectronics, photovoltaics and other vital fields at this independent research centre. The work of IMEC, which has the potential to improve our lives and the health of our world, is exactly the kind of collaboration that Belgians and Canadians must do more of.
When we widen our view from science to look at all industries, we see that some 50 subsidiaries of Belgian companies are located in Canada, and around the same number of Canadian companies have subsidiaries here.
And trade between our countries is diverse and becoming more varied every year, ranging from food to chemicals, diamonds to transportation equipment.
Our commercial ties will become stronger still when the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union is signed, ratified and brought into effect.
The agreement is a monumental achievement for our two countries. It’s the first of its kind between the EU and a G7 nation, and the most ambitious trade agreement either of our countries has ever negotiated.
It marks a new chapter in the relationship between Belgium and Canada—one that is sure to give new momentum to our bilateral relationship.
And it sends a powerful signal throughout the world of the importance we both place in liberalizing trade, integrating markets and strengthening prosperity and security across the Atlantic.
Canada brings much to our deepening trade partnership.
My country’s system of banking and financial institutions is recognized as the soundest in the world.
We have a diversified economy. Not only are we blessed with a rich endowment of natural resources, but we’ve also made investments in our people and institutions to become a leader in science and technology.
We’ve created a deep culture of innovation by understanding that innovation is a responsibility shared by our schools, research groups, philanthropic foundations, all levels of government and all elements of the private sector—from the smallest businesses to big industry associations to the largest multinational corporations.
We not only welcome foreign investment, but we’ve also made the hard decisions necessary to create a low-cost, low-tax environment in which both home-grown and non-native businesses can thrive.
Best of all, our people form a highly educated and skilled workforce, and our cities are safe, smoothly functioning centres for investment and cooperation among nations.
As we look to deepen and expand our commercial relationship, Belgians and Canadians can also draw on some obvious lessons from the history we share.
We must continue to uphold the values for which our forebears fought and triumphed. We must remain open, generous and grateful to each other. And we must work evermore closely together in partnership.
Belgians and Canadians are indeed natural partners.
We embrace multiculturalism at home and multilateralism abroad.
Our people speak many languages and, in French, share an official language that enables us to radiate our rich cultures around the world.
And our systems of governments are federal—which is an expression of the value we place on diversity and compromise.
We have a duty to take full advantage of these shared qualities for the benefit of both our peoples.
As business leaders, you men and women here today are being counted on especially.
You’re being counted on to use the new trade pact to boost trade and investment between our countries; and in doing so, develop innovative products, practices and processes, and create meaningful, high-paying jobs.
You’re being counted on to use our expanding trade as a springboard to forge new relationships in healthcare, science and advanced technology.
You’re being counted on to take advantage of our shared link to the French language to strengthen our collaboration and increase our exchanges in education and the arts.
You’re being counted on to establish more direct links between Belgians and Canadians, especially young people.
To bring my remarks full circle, we Belgians and Canadians have a rich, meaningful history of working together—openly, generously, gratefully—to defend and uphold what we know to be true and important.
Seventy years ago, we showed just what our partnership could achieve, the challenges it could overcome. Let’s pledge here and now to continue that triumphant partnership; to make it even stronger; and to use it to create a more prosperous and peaceful future for us both.