Podium: Canada - the best nation on earth

From a speech to mark Canada Day by the country's Prime Minister, delivered at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

MY FELLOW Canadians. Canada Day is a celebration that comes at the perfect time. As we feel the first real warmth of our precious summer. As we hit the beach or the cottage. And as young Canadians right across the country are still feeling the glow of their school graduations. It is, in short, a time to party. And every year, rain or shine, we do. In a big way!

But this Canada Day is truly unique. And very special for everyone gathered here on Parliament Hill, and from Vancouver to St John's to Iqaluit. Because it comes at the halfway point of the last year of the 20th century and of this millennium. We are down to the final days of a century that began over 36,000 days ago. A century in which the awesome human potential for good and bad has been on full display. A century of extremes. Of terrible savagery and tremendous progress. Of deep poverty and the creation of untold wealth. Of heartless cruelty and touching acts of compassion. A century in which Canada, by some measures a small nation, has made a very large noise! It is my great pleasure to address the Canadian graduating class of the 20th century. The class of `99 - men and women who have eagerly taken up the challenge issued by Wilfrid Laurier to make this century the Canadian century.

I am pleased to report that if Laurier were here today, he would be very proud. For his challenge - his dream - has come true in ways that even he could never have imagined.

We have built a nation that is among the most prosperous and diverse in the world. Our founding partnership of the French and English cultures, along with our proud Aboriginal heritage, have been steadily enriched by the contributions of people who have come here from around the world.

As a people, we have come to understand that our country is made up of different communities. Each with a unique identity and unique values; welcoming, generous values. That enrich and strengthen us. And which we have fostered through our genius for accommodation and flexibility.

The vibrant optimism of this conviction has been demonstrated by our selection of 1999 as the Year of La Francophonie in Canada, by the recent creation of our newest territory, Nunavut, and our joyous celebration of 50 years of Newfoundland and Labrador being a part of our Canadian family.

On the world stage, Canada has been an abiding force for freedom, justice and peace. In the spirit of leaders like Lester Pearson, we have worked to build international institutions and laws that put human security above all else. A tradition highlighted by the entry-into-force this year of the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines.

Time and again, our sons and daughters have freely put their lives on the line to give force to our values. In two terrible World Wars, in Korea and in countless troubled spots around the world.

And I want to say a few words, today, about the most recent of those struggles, the conflict in Kosovo.

Within the short space of its duration, we saw, in sharp contrast, the best and worst of this century. On one hand, the terrible resolve of a regime to settle, by raw force, a conflict that is as old as the millennium. In which the terror of ethnic cleansing was unleashed against defenceless men, women and children. On the other, the collective will of the community of nations for simple justice. Our common refusal to stand by as the slaughter and dispossession continued. This was a test of wills that humanity could not afford to lose.

The courage and skill of our pilots and their crews, who did us so proud in dangerous skies over Yugoslavia. And in wishing Godspeed to the Canadian troops who are in the vanguard of K-For.

Class of `99. Congratulations! By the sweat of our brow, the courage of our vision and the generosity of our values we have answered the call of Laurier. We have written the name of Canada across this century - in bold strokes. We have succeeded as few other nations because we have never been afraid to dream large. And that is what Canada has always been: a great dream, full of promise, that is always coming true!

Our common obligation as we look to the new century is to keep faith with the great Canadian dream. To bestow it on the children of the next century so that they can take it even further - just as Laurier did at the beginning of this century. To build a nation for them in which the dreams that we cannot imagine in our time, will come true for them in their time. A Canada that remains - now and forever - the best country in the world!

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