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Prime Minister's Speech at Italian Dinner


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RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER (Prime Minister of Canada): Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup. Bonsoir. Good evening. Buona sera. (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) Thank you all for that warm welcome. And I also want to thank for that kind introduction my introducer. You know, he has long been the pride of Italian Canadians for his tremendous career in law enforcement, but he is now the pride of Italian Canadians in our nation’s capital. One more big hand for the Honourable Minister Julian Fantino. (APPLAUSE)

Colleagues from the Parliament of Canada, Mayor Bevilacqua, representatives of other levels of government, ambassadors Cornado and McGovern, President Tibollo of the National Congress of Italian Canadians, President Sacco of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, all partner organizations here this evening, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, signore, signori, tonight is a special event, un’ evento. It’s a real honour, and also my tremendous pleasure to welcome here tonight two very special guests who have come a very long way. They’re here on serious business, and tomorrow we’ll be getting down to that business. But that’s tomorrow. Tonight is time for a good time. So on behalf of all Canadians, and especially on behalf of all Canadians of Italian heritage, I’d like to welcome to Canada - and please join me - I’d like to welcome the Prime Minister of Italy, Enrico Letta, and Signora Giana Fregnoara. Benvenuti in Canada. Welcome to Canada. (APPLAUSE) I should also say, Prime Minister, welcome to Vaughan, which, as we were discussing, is the proud home to the largest concentration of Canadians of Italian background anywhere in this country. Prime Minister, looking at this great crowd, it’s easy to see that the residents of Vaughan are very fond of Italy; or is it that Italians are also fond of Vaughan? (LAUGHTER) Perhaps they should be. Vaughan, and much of the Greater Toronto Area, have been to a considerable degree built by Italian Canadians. In fact, Vaughan has three Italian sister cities: Sora, Lanciano, e Delia. Go ahead, anyone from there, give a cheer. (APPLAUSE)

But you know, long before Vaughan, there have been strong Italian communities in many parts of Canada. These were the places Italians went after they landed at Pier 21 in Halifax. Of course, we could go back even further to 1497 and to Giovanni Caboto, the original Italian immigrant, you might say. But for the sake of time, we’ll stick to the Pier 21 years. To get to Montreal and Quebec, throughout Ontario, Northern Ontario, beyond, to western Canada, or to College Street here in Toronto, thousands of Italian immigrants passed through Pier 21. Two years ago, as Julian mentioned, to celebrate the contributions of these Italians, indeed, the contributions of all immigrants to Canada, our government was proud to establish the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Indeed... (APPLAUSE) Indeed, the words of one Italian immigrant are posted on the museum’s website; and I quote: “Canada was seen as the promised land, where opportunity could be found.” He was right then, and he would still be right today. But opportunity on its own is not enough. You have to do something with it. And when Italian immigrants came to Canada, they seized the opportunity and they built on it. Of course, they built buildings. It’s almost a cliché. As one former Prime Minister said famously, looking at Toronto’s skyline - in fact, I have to tell you, my late Uncle Carlo used to say the same thing: “La prima generazione di immigrati italiani in Canada hanno construito (inaudible). Hora, la seconde generazione son e loro proprietaria.” (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) “The first generation of Italian immigrants to Canada built those buildings, and the second generation owns them.” (LAUGHTER) But Italian Canadians built more than buildings. They also built families and they built communities. And my friends, with the values they brought - family and faith, hard work, financial responsibility, living within your means - with these great values, they have also built a better Canada for all of us. (APPLAUSE)

Now, Prime Minister, Italian Canadians have also been instrumental in many unique contributions, including the growing interest and participation in soccer in this country. We all here still remember 1982 and Italy’s victory in the World Cup, another evento when you couldn’t drive down St. Clair Avenue, the corsa Italia, because of the crowds of cheering Italians, and a lot of instant adopted Italians as well. (LAUGHTER) I should also like to mention, Prime Minister, briefly, some of the many Canadians of Italian heritage who have gained special fame. For example, Frank Iacobucci, the first Canadian of Italian heritage to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. (APPLAUSE) Talented artists such as Michael Bublé, Ivana Santile, and the late Bruno Gerusi, band leader Guy Lombardo, the late, great broadcaster Johnny Lombardi, the unofficial mayor of Toronto’s Little Italy (APPLAUSE), and let me just remind you something about Johnny. He knew what it meant to love Canada just as strongly as cherishing his roots. He said it is diversity that makes a community strong, something we should not forget.

C’est la diversité qui rend forte une communauté.

How very true. (APPLAUSE) And friends, chers amis, cari amici, I’d be remiss if I did not mention one son of Italy for the fame he achieved in Canada’s national sport, because we celebrated this just last year: the 40th anniversary, for those of us who are old enough to remember, how he led Team Canada in the hockey summit series against the Soviet Union in 1972. Yes, you know, he led the team in scoring, but more importantly, we are old enough to remember, remember that when things looked hopeless, it was his words and his heart that lifted the entire country and took us to victory. I speak, of course, of Phil Esposito, his brother Tony, sons of Italy, and heroes of Canada. (APPLAUSE)

Now, Prime Minister, I know you’ve been here many times before, but let me just close with this: this is your first trip to Canada as Prime Minister, but you’re going to find that you’re already among friends. Our two countries have helped each other in many difficult circumstances throughout history. For example, recently in the devastation in L’Aquila in 2009, for which the government of Canada and our Italian community were quick to assist with rebuilding, or our joint military mission to Libya in 2011, when Italy hosted the Royal Canadian Air Force, in fact at a base that I visited in Sicily. We also have strong trade and investment ties through companies like Bombardier and Fiat, CAE and CMC Electronics, BlackBerry and (inaudible), the Royal Bank and (inaudible). But of course, the most important ties are those of family. Now, Prime Minister, Canada, as you well know, is a vast country; yet, we also believe that we are much more than the sum of our parts. Tonight the purpose of this event, besides to salute your arrival in Canada, is also to salute the presence and the contributions of the thousands of Italians who have come here before you, the parents and the grandparents and the great-grandparents, and their sons and daughters who have brought honour to themselves, pride to our country, and are at the heart of the tremendous relationship between Canada and Italy. I would therefore ask everyone, all of our guests this evening, to please rise and let us drink a toast to our eternal friendship, eternal friendship between two great nations.

À l’Italie et au Canada.

To Italy and Canada. Al Italia, al Canada. (APPLAUSE)




(1291 words)