Thank you very much, Judge Janega. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s wonderful to be here with you. Morning or afternoon? Afternoon. When I got here, it was morning. It’s fantastic to be here in Dartmouth, and thanks to the Dartmouth North Community Centre for hosting us today.
I think it’s the first time a citizenship ceremony has taken place in this venue, and what a fantastic opportunity it always is – moving, inspiring, uplifting – for all of us to welcome 50 new members to the Canadian family, from 20 different countries. Once again, as Judge Janega has said, thank you for the sacrifices you have made and for the choice you have made in becoming part of this slightly larger family. We’re 35-million strong now, but there’s always room for new members, and we are so proud of the ability Canada continues to have, in unusual measure, to welcome newcomers from around the world.
I’m grateful to the two gentlemen standing behind me as well: Staff Sergeant-Major Latour and our Constable from the Halifax Regional Police. When I’m on a stage with representatives of our police, of our law enforcement services, and of our distinguished military, I am reminded of just what a powerful message Canada has to send to the world – a message of opportunity, but also a message of responsibility, the responsibility to live under our democratically chosen laws in respect for our neighbours, and respect for the differences that make us stronger as Canadians.
I am also delighted to be here with partners such as the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, which has helped to remind us in government, even as we deliver programs to welcome new citizens, to attract immigrants, to help them become citizens, that citizenship isn’t only about what we do principally in our work, or even what we do principally in our families, though those are important aspects of citizenship. It’s what we do beyond that, in our communities, in our neighbourhoods, in our provinces, territories, across this country, to link ourselves together to build a country that is much more than the sum of its parts, that is much more than about punching the clock in a job in the morning and the evening, pursuing a career and building a family, however much importance we attach to those things.
Being a citizen has always been, in its fundamental sense, about being a member of a political community that has to make choices together. One of those choices, as you all know, as you’ve been reminded in the Discover Canada guide and I’m sure in all your preparations, is to vote. We hope you will do that municipally, provincially, federally. There is no more powerful way of continuing to make that choice that you have made to come to Canada, but in the service of building a better Canada, choosing the best candidate, choosing the best party at every stage in our country’s history.
Citizenship obviously involves much more than that. It involves, for some of us, being the candidate or being the supporter of an idea, of a policy, of a party whose time you think has come, and giving your time above and beyond what you give to family and work, to make that idea a reality through the democratic process. It involves volunteer work. It can involve any number of efforts to help young people, to help newcomers, to help those facing health issues, facing sickness, facing disability in one way or another, to lift themselves up and become part of the community.
If Canada has certain distinguishing characteristics, one is the fact that we have one of the highest levels of participation as volunteers in the life of our community of any country in the world. That is what makes us strong. That is what brings us together, because it takes us beyond our families and our workplaces to discover those who are in need, those who are vulnerable, and those who are out of work and deserve to have the helping hand of their community, of their fellow citizens.
This is why we’re celebrating this citizenship week. These are things that Canadian citizens embody every day. They give the world a model of citizenship that is more generous, broader and more open than ever. It’s all of these things that we celebrate this Citizenship Week in Canada.
I’m very proud to be with you for my first citizenship ceremony of this week, when we as a country take not just one day, but seven full days, to remind ourselves how important citizenship is, how citizenship distinguishes us, marks us out because of our history, because of the level of opportunity that Canada offers today compared to other countries, because of our diversity, and the ability of Canadians to live under one political framework, under one set of laws but with literally hundreds of different backgrounds – linguistic, ethnic, cultural – coming together in ways that often take our breath away, because we reflect the world in a way that I think no other country does, and draw strength from the world’s diversity in a way that no other society does in this day and age.
That too is an achievement that deserves to be protected, deserves to be celebrated, but needs hard work to continue on the scale that we as Canadians have now achieved it. We are welcoming, as I think many of you know, 260,000 new immigrants, potential new citizens, every year to this country and we still have a naturalization rate of 85 per cent plus, the highest level in the world, the highest rate of newcomers who immigrate who go on to become citizens, to take on that full responsibility, that full level of participation, as you are doing today.
We know it’s something we need to safeguard. We know it’s something we need to protect. That’s why earlier this year, all of us across the country and those of us who have a particular role to play in Parliament, were very proud to see our Citizenship Act updated for the first time in more than a generation with new tools that will allow us to process citizenship applications faster and to ensure that new backlogs don’t arise in the future with a slightly longer residency requirement.
Starting next summer it won’t be three years out of four years. It will be four years out of six years so that we can be sure that those who are choosing Canada really have developed that connection to the country that we all want to see. In fact, on average, most of you and most Canadians across the country are already waiting four years before they apply to be citizens. It used to be five years. We’re striking a balance between the last couple of decades and what was a longer term requirement in Canada up until the 1970s.
We’re also choosing to honour Canadians who serve. We’re saying to those who work in our embassies as police, as diplomats who serve abroad in many parts of the world, in our military, that they have the right to pass on Canadian citizenship beyond the first generation regardless of the fact that their children weren’t born in this country. We are also saying that those who choose to come to this country as permanent residents and then join the Canadian Armed Forces have a special place in our hearts because they are taking on one of the toughest duties that we as Canadians ask of anyone among us, literally to stand on guard for us; to be prepared to go to any part of the world on our behalf to answer the call when international peace and security is under threat as—regrettably—it is today again in Iraq.
We’re fast-tracking those permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces. They will have a three-year requirement instead of the four-year requirement and today it’s already one year less than it was for the rest of you. I’m proud to underline the fact that last month, Lt. Michael Stuart McGuinty—originally from the United Kingdom—became the first person to become a Canadian citizen under this new provision which only came into force this summer.
I am delighted that—on my behalf today—my colleague Ron Canaan (also a Privy Councillor) is welcoming him as a new citizen at a special event in Kelowna, British Columbia. We have a special guest among us today who embodies service to Canada in this unusual degree, who has benefited from this new provision. It was at a ceremony less than two weeks ago right here in Nova Scotia that Lt. Commander Michael Cornish—also born in the UK—became the second-ever person to receive fast track citizenship in honour of his service to our country.
Michael, congratulations to you, Lt. Commander, we are grateful for your service. We are absolutely delighted to be able to make the connection between that service in the Canadian Armed Forces and the citizenship that we all prize so highly. Thank you for being with us today and congratulations to you and your son on achieving Canadian citizenship in record time. He is an expert in the Royal Canadian Navy on surface warfare. If anyone wants to discuss that broader citizenship of the seas in war and peace you’re welcome to speak with Lt. Commander Cornish afterwards.
Let’s be clear. These things have always gone together for Canada. Service in the defence of our country, in the defence of our citizenship has always been foundational to who we are. Why is that the case? Because as many of you know from your countries of origin, conflict is still too often a reality in today’s world, not just in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, many parts of Africa, Iran.
I’m taking suggestions from the audience here. In far too many parts of the country, low level conflict, interstate conflict, separatist movements that have turned violent in one way or another. We have to remind ourselves of that sad fact and often we do this best when newcomers speak up to underline how unique Canada’s experience is. We’ve been celebrating for the last two years the War of 1812, not because we’re all such huge fans of naval history—with all due respect—or because we celebrate these bloody, pitched battles that happened near my hometown in southern Ontario or Toronto.
Toronto was an occupied city for a good part of 1813, but the achievement we have with the United States from late 1814 to today is unique in the history of the world. We are the only country of this size to have had peace, to have had no invasion, to have had no civil war, to have had no major conflict in its borders for 200 years. That is part of what makes us special as Canadians. That is part of what has made us prosperous as a country. That is one of the reasons why our citizenship is prized by us and by others in a way that few other countries can boast.
Let’s not forget the special role of Nova Scotia in building that citizenship, in building our democracy, the first responsible government achieved here, as I’m sure you all know. The first representative assembly, elected assembly chosen here, a tradition that then quickly spread across the other colonies in what was then British North America and gave us the basis for our confederation, whose 150th anniversary we will soon celebrate.
Let’s remember the history of immigration to Nova Scotia, those exiled from the Highlands who first came here to Cape Breton, Pictou County and other places; the refugees from the American Revolution, black Americans who became black Nova Scotians, black Canadians but the whole panoply of loyalists sailing from New York to this harbour in 1783 and providing one of the absolute foundations for earliest foundations for English speaking immigration to this country (not to mention Pier 21, which I’m sure you’ve all visited). That unique showcase of our immigration history, through whose doors almost one in five Canadians can trace an ancestor having passed.
You, living in this great Atlantic gateway, are living the history and the reality today of Canada’s immigration and Canada’s citizenship in a very direct way. We’re proud of that legacy. We’re very proud of you, and I’m delighted to be celebrating this Citizenship Week with you here in Dartmouth. Congratulations. Well done.