The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Ottawa – 18 December 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech in Ottawa made on Friday 18th December 1992.


Forty years ago, my family nearly emigrated to Canada. They did not at the last moment do so and so my first visit here has been somewhat delayed. I began to think as our plane moved from one airport to another and our car moved from one road to another that the delay might be even longer than I first imagined it to be but nonetheless, I am delighted to be here this evening and most grateful to you Brian and to you Mila for the very warm welcome we have received.

We meet this evening in the Province of Quebec and we do so on the 200th anniversary of the first meeting of the parliaments of Lower Canada and Quebec City and I wondered when I uncovered that nugget of information what our forebears who fought over this place might have made of this meeting today. Were you to believe some of the accounts you occasionally read of European relations within the memberships of the Community, you might have thought that little has changed, that I was General Wolfe and Jacques Delors was General Montcalm. I must tell you that would be a misleading impression.

Jacques Delors and I come here today to scale a different set of heights, a different set of heights in a different cause, partners in what we believe is a great enterprise – the building, the construction of the European Community and a new and wider Europe and as we debate from time to time the details of this directive or that piece of legislation, it is all too easy to forget what the principal aim of the Community is and all to easy to forget that the Community is unique amongst international organisations; unique in its shared framework of law among nations; unique in the way in which it has turned traditional enemies into firm friends in a matter of two or three decades; unique in the way in which it is breaking down economic and political barriers across Europe. It is a mixture, our Community, of vision and of shared self-interest.

On this very day when you Prime Minister, George Bush and President Selinas have completed the North American Free Trade Agreement I should like to pay tribute to those same qualities which you have shown in bringing that agreement to fruition. [Applause].

As so many times in the past, my country marches arm-in-arm in our instincts with Canada for in a fortnight’s time our Single Market in Europe will be fully open for business and since we faced the task of breaking down barriers among twelve countries, I think we too can take some small pride in that achievement.

Both developments are welcome but there is a greater prize and both of us must continue to work together to secure the greatest free trade prize of all, a successful outcome to the Uruguay Round and a successful outcome as speedily and as comprehensively as we can get it. [Applause].

Why do we need it? Not because of some free trade philosophy, some ideal; we need it for the most practical of all reasons, because of the boost it will bring to our economies, to the world economy at a time when that boost is sorely needed from one end of the world to the other. On both sides of the Atlantic we face similar problems, problems of recession, problems of recession leading to higher unemployment. In Canada, as in Britain, the burden of corporate debt has held back recovery. Many businesses have cut back their workforces, many people today are without work because of the depth, severity and length of that recession and yet productivity is rising sharply and that is vital to our success in today’s increasingly competitive markets, a success that can only be earned and will only be retained by those prepared to take tough decisions often unpopular at the time and often unpopular for many months after they are taken.

In Canada, you have achieved exemplary success in controlling inflation. We too recognise the danger of that particular scourge. In Britain, we have now brought our inflation down below the European average, a dramatic change over the last two years. Our interest rates today are the lowest in Europe and even, Prime Minister, a touch today below yours.

New growth is desirable in itself, desirable for prosperity but essential to bring unemployment down again in our countries. It will take time to reverse the trend so in Britain and at our Edinburgh Council across Europe as a whole we have announced initiatives to boost investment, reduce burdens on business and redirect government spending towards projects which will encourage long-term growth and short-term employment as that growth is built.

These, I think, are shared instincts we have between Europe and Canada but let me say a word perhaps for a moment about Canada and the United Kingdom because your country of Canada and mine have a relationship which goes far beyond economics. We share a bond that comes from membership of the Commonwealth and from having the same Head of State. It is a deep bond, a lasting bond, an enduring bond and as we have developed a new relationship between the Community and Canada neither we the British nor for that matter the French have had to suppress our national ties of history, culture and shared interests. Indeed to the contrary, we have built upon those traditional ties and somewhere I suspect in that mix in Canada, somewhere Brian I think there has been an added ingredient – that tiny speck of Irish ingredient that may have given it perhaps a special flavour in your country. [Applause].

We speak of ties, of shared links. I should like to say this evening to you, Brian, thank you for what you have done to strengthen those ties between Canada and Europe. I believe you can take pride in those achievements and also in the world role that Canada increasingly plays. Wherever you may look, look around as you will in the world’s trouble-spots, be it Yugoslavia, Somalia, Cambodia, you will find Canada is there and in Yugoslavia and Cambodia British forces are there alongside yours. In Somalia, our humanitarian agencies will be enabled by you and the United States to carry through their tasks and the European Community collectively is making an all-out effort to try and bring peace to the former Yugoslavia. That can only be done in partnership with others and in that partnership Canada’s role is both valued and crucial.

So we, Britain and Canada, are partners in several enterprises. Today, Jacques Delors and I have approached Canada in a new guise, in the European Community-Canadian relationship and no European Presidency these days is complete without adding to that relationship with Canada. The strength and scope of it was very clear even in the brief discussions the President, the Prime Minister and I have been able to have since we arrived a couple of hours ago.

I say tonight with total certainty that I confidently expect the same result in this new relationship as Britain has had over many years in all its dealings with Canada. Canada is a valued ally. More than that, Prime Minister, it is a close friend; it has been, it is and it will remain so in the future.

You began this evening in a most agreeable way as we all await our dinner and I must say I think it is a very attractive trait to have the speeches before dinner – we will all enjoy our meal more, you will be more hungry and we will be more relaxed and we will all benefit. You began with a toast. Let me propose another, a toast I think of great importance, if you can reach for your glasses, one I propose with an immense degree of pleasure. I would like you to rise and drink to the further strengthening of cooperation between Canada and the European Community. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the toast – Canada and the European Community. [Applause].