Below is an article that was published in Mill Woods Mosaic (July 15, 2016):
On June 29 I took my seat in the House of Commons for the first address to parliament by a sitting American president in 21 years.
The presence of President Obama in our nation’s capital was unmistakable: security was heightened, streets were closed and cleared, an enormous motorcade rolled through Ottawa, and the House of Commons was packed with Senators, MPs, and a gallery of onlookers who had come to hear the President. And what a speech it was.
President Obama’s speaking ability is well-known. Maybe less known is his command over the shared history of our two countries and the special relationship that we enjoy. He noted that we share the longest border between two countries in the world, and we do so peacefully. We have citizens living and thriving in each other’s countries, sometimes surprisingly so when Americans realize their favourite actor is actually from Canada.
At a time when some countries are turning inward and flirting with dangerous ideas based in xenophobia, President Obama understands that Canada’s embrace of diversity and multiculturalism is a source of strength rather than something to be feared. As an immigrant myself, it resonated strongly with me when the President said “we must not waver in embracing our values, our best selves, our histories as nations of immigrants.”
The President went on to praise Canada’s efforts to settle Syrian refugees and those who have opened their “hearts and their homes” to these new arrivals. Happy as I was to see our country’s compassion recognized, I was even happier that President Obama made a point of speaking about my colleague, Minister Maryam Monsef. She is an amazing person who – as President Obama said – “fled Afghanistan by donkey and camel and jet plane. And who remembers being greeted in this country by helping hands and the sounds of robins singing.” Coming to Canada at 11 years-old, she is now a fellow cabinet Minister and someone who inspires me every day.
In his closing, President Obama reached back to quote from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in saying as he had earlier that “a country is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids. A country is something that is built every day, out of certain basic shared values.” The President continued, “how blessed we are to have had people before us day-by-day, brick-by-brick, build these extraordinary countries of ours. How fortunate, how privileged we are to have the opportunity to now, ourselves, build this world anew. What a blessing. And as we go forward together on that freedom road, let’s stay true to the values that make us who we are, Canadians and Americans, allies and friends, now and forever.”
Inspirational words by the leader of the free world and of a country with which Canada shares an unbreakable bond.