Podium: French culture is a worldwide asset

Jean Chretien From a speech by the Prime Minister of Canada to mark La Journee Internationale de la Francophonie

I AM pleased to be with you once again to celebrate La Journee Internationale de la Francophonie.

This day is first and foremost an opportunity to take pride in celebrating one of the fundamental elements of our national identity: the French language and culture.

We have 7 million French Canadians in Canada, and hundreds of thousands of other Canadians who are learning French so that they can play a full part in la francophonie of our country.

Today is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to celebrate the wealth and diversity of Canada's francophone communities, communities that have retained their special character through their history, and the manner in which they have chosen to live and flourish in different environments and circumstances.

So today I believe that we should give a special thought to the men and women who have worked hard to build Canada's French-language communities.

We have ensured that the promotion of the French language, which is a fundamental element of Canada's identity, is no longer the responsibility of a single department but, rather, a responsibility shared by all federal departments.

In the cultural field, we have to continue to build on our very numerous successes.

Over the years Canada has established institutions that have made a major contribution to the promotion of francophone culture, and the influence of that culture here and throughout the world. We have only to think of Radio-Canada or the Canada Council and organisations such as Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.

This shows what an asset la francophonie is to Canada. And its development is opening up an ever-expanding window on the world for Canadians. During this period of globalisation, a time when borders are opening, Canadian francophonie is a major strength for our country, linking us to the francophonie throughout the world.

What is more, Canada was one of the first to associate itself with the international francophonie. In 1970 we were a founding member of the Cultural and Technical Co-operation Agency. We have since continued to play a primary role in the organisation.

More recently, we supported efforts to give the international francophonie a wider political mandate. This mandate is very much in line with Canada's concerns, particularly at a time when we have a seat on the UN Security Council.

The extended mandate focuses on promoting peace by preventing and resolving conflicts, promoting human rights and supporting the process of democratisation. This component of the activities pursued by the international francophonie is a useful and relevant one.

The organisation has, so far, led nine observation missions, including one joint mission with the United Nations. Canada is proud of its participation in these initiatives, which enable us to continue to advance our priorities on the international scene.

Our membership in this network of 52 countries and governments that share the French language also brings other benefits.

In September the city of Moncton, New Brunswick, will have the privilege of hosting the Sommet de la Francophonie. The agenda for the summit will be very diverse. We will have an opportunity to discuss issues relating to youth, new technologies, culture, education and the economy.

We hope that the summit will enable us to promote a number of issues that affect not only Canadians but people throughout the world. Thus, we want to work with our Summit partners to find ways to promote and ensure the safety of young people in countries wracked by armed conflict. Canada's objective is to ensure that these youths can grow up in an environment that meets their needs and fosters their development.

We also wish to pursue our efforts to promote cultural diversity. These efforts are starting to bear fruit. And the member countries of la francophonie contributed to this success.

The challenge facing the heads of state meeting in Moncton will be therefore to reaffirm their determination to become involved in issues that go beyond the geographical boundaries of la francophonie and which affect the international community as a whole.

With a few months to go before the summit, we are celebrating today the last Journee Internationale de la Francophonie before the new millennium. I wish you all an excellent Journee Internationale de la Francophonie.

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