65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference

August 23, 2022

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First, with great respect, allow me to acknowledge the Mi’kmaq people, who have lived on and cared for this part of the world for thousands of years. I thank them for welcoming us to their homeland.

And thank you for inviting me to speak at the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. To all those who have travelled here from across Canada and around the world, it’s a pleasure to see you in person.

This is a historic gathering. It’s historic both because we couldn’t come together like this for so long and because we’re sitting at a crucial point in history. And our actions will dictate the way forward.

We face many challenges, not least of all are the conflicts around the world. Of late, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has captured our attention, with good cause. And there are many other countries where wars, oppression and discrimination are driving people from their homes.

I encourage all of us to look at the people suffering from the effects of such conflicts, in Ukraine and in other places. Let’s work together to ensure their plights are not forgotten and to offer more humanitarian support.

We must also do more to encourage dialogue and peace. Because we need stability to combat issues such as food insecurity. The invasion of Ukraine has shown us how reliant we are on each other. Ukraine and Russia supply 36 countries with more than half of their wheat imports.

In fact, less than 10 countries count for about 90 per cent of key commodity exports, such as wheat, corn, rice and soybeans.

Recently, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that we are facing an unprecedented global hunger crisis. In the last two years alone, the number of people facing food insecurity in the world has doubled.

We have seen that when there is a shock to the system, the impact is felt around the world. The end result is lower availability of and higher costs for food.

We have work to do ourselves here in Canada. Just a few statistics of our own:

  • 7 million Canadians experience food insecurity.
  • In Canada, there has been a 20 per cent increase in food bank visits since the beginning of the pandemic. One third of people accessing food banks are children.
  • In the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, the rate of food insecurity is eight times higher than the national average.

What do we do to solve this complex issue? We look to innovation and the hope provided by people every day.

With climate change, for example, people are rising to the challenge.

In British Columbia, Dicklands Farms is helping design and develop a low-emission dairy barn that will lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Here in Halifax, CarbonCure, a recipient of the 2022 Governor General’s Innovation Award, is working to recycle and remove carbon dioxide in the concrete industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

In addition to innovation, we must also be willing to listen to traditional knowledge.

The Mi’kmaq have a word: Netukulimk.

This refers to the use of the natural world for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community. It’s about achieving adequate standards of nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment.

In other words: sustainability in the traditional sense.

Across the country, we are beginning to listen to our Indigenous voices, an important step on the road to reconciliation. Indigenous peoples are still healing from painful policies that devastated language, culture and identity. The residential school system was one such policy, meant to strip away their belief in themselves.

We still have so much work to do, but Indigenous peoples, like our planet, like humanity, are resilient.

Every country is unique, but I believe that reconciliation exists in all places because, in essence, reconciliation means listening to people.

There are many diverse voices in this world and too often we are defined by the colour of our skin, by the language we speak, by who we love, by who we are. We must look beyond judgment and lead with understanding and respect for all peoples.  

Give voice to the marginalized and the disenfranchised, to minority and Indigenous communities. Those displaced, tossed aside, forgotten or ignored.

Listen to them. Hear what they need.

Infuse your policies and your decision-making by looking to the people impacted by what you do. Consider how your actions will benefit not just the majority, but the totality of your populations.

With food insecurity, with climate change, with intolerance, we can’t wait. Discussions and meetings are vital, but so is action. To accomplish the work, we must do the work. Many people, including those in this room, have already started to act. Let’s all follow their lead. We cannot do this alone.

Look to your neighbours across the oceans.

Reach out your hands in friendship to those you have never worked with before. The Commonwealth is not merely a name, but a goal. A society of nations that work together with common objectives.

As I said, this is an important moment in our history, where our scales can tip one way or the other. Seeing all of you together, in this room, I have great hope that we can emerge stronger, healthier, more united, more diverse, more inclusive and more accessible. We owe it to our planet and to our children, the next generation who will tell our story, the good and the bad. Each of us has a role to play in making this a better place for everyone.

Let us all strengthen our connection to each other in the coming years.

Thank you.