Opening Remarks By HFX President Peter Van Praagh - Halifax
Opening Remarks By HFX President Peter Van Praagh
November 18, 2022


HALIFAX, NS — The following remarks were delivered this afternoon by HFX President Peter Van Praagh to welcome guests to the 2022 Halifax International Security Forum.

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Minister Anand, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of the Congressional Delegation, Distinguished officers, Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues, and friends:

My name is Peter Van Praagh.  On behalf of the HFX board of directors, and everyone who worked to make this event possible, welcome to the 2022 Halifax International Security Forum.

Last year, 2021, in Halifax, we marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  It was not an auspicious anniversary.  Just months earlier, the United States and its allies withdrew their troops from Afghanistan and discarded the hopes and dreams of so many Afghans, who, for twenty years believed that American and Western presence guaranteed for them a secure, and perhaps even a modern, future.

August 2021 was a low point for Afghanistan and indeed, for all of us.

No individual person, no single government, was responsible for getting to that low place.  It was a group effort.  It was all of us.  It was the culmination of 20 years of good intentions.  And bad results:

The decisions made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, North Korea going nuclear, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, the Great Recession, Iran, the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war, the surge of refugees–more than at any time in human history, the successful rise of populist politics, the higher than necessary death toll from coronavirus, Hong Kong losing its freedoms, January 6 and its wake, climate change disasters, and our withdrawal from Afghanistan …

It was a tragic end to a 20-year tragic era.

On February 24, 2022, this year, a new era began.  Putin’s Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor, Ukraine.  And Ukraine fought back.

President Zelenskyy inspired his nation to defy, to resist, to survive, to win.

Counter to the conventional narrative, it was not Russia’s attack on Ukraine that brought unity of purpose to NATO and the allies.  No.  It was Ukraine’s defiance.  It was Ukraine’s sacrifice.  It was Ukraine’s fight that gave the rest of us what we had lost over the past 20 years.

It was Ukraine’s fight that gave us OUR unity of purpose.

Had Ukraine surrendered, as some European leaders urged President Zelenskyy to do, it’s not difficult to imagine where we would be now:  a much-weakened Europe, a divided NATO, a humbled America: all confronting an empowered Russia, backed by a smiling Xi Jinping.

That is not where we are.  Quite the opposite.

Because of Ukrainian sacrifice, Ukrainian courage and Ukrainian ingenuity, the era that began on February 24, 2022, now has the potential to be the most positive era yet for freedom and democracy.

President Zelenskyy’s Ukraine has given all of us an opportunity for a do-over.

It’s not often that you get a do-over; a second opportunity; a chance to correct past mistakes.

But thanks to Ukraine’s resolve, that is what we now have.

If we needed reminding, Ukraine taught us all over again:  Our democracies are worth fighting for.  Our democracies are worth saving.

And that is what we’re going to do.

In a few minutes, you will hear from Canada’s Minister of National Defence, and your host for the weekend, Anita Anand.   Minister, welcome back.

But before that, if you’ll bear with me, there are a few people here who I would like to introduce and welcome:

Senator Shaheen, welcome back.

Senator Shaheen has been coming to Halifax International Security Forum since it began in 2009.  If you have been paying attention, you will know that Senator Shaheen has been warning about Putin for at least that long.  Senator, your leadership is so meaningful, and we are all proud to host you here again.

Senator Risch, welcome back.  We are delighted to see you here again.  To anyone–inside the US or abroad–who is eager to emphasize American division to advance their goals, your leadership, together with Senator Shaheen, of this Senate delegation, sends an important message of unity of purpose to Americans and to the world.

Senator Coons, welcome back. It is great to see you here again, thank you for coming. Senator Gillibrand, Senator Rounds, Senator Rosen, welcome to your first Halifax International Security Forum.  And thank you to each of you for making the trip.

And a special thank you for bringing the United States Secretary of Defense along with you as well.

Representative McCaul, Representative Jacobs, Representative Crow, welcome.

United States Secretary of Defense Austin, welcome to Halifax.  We are thrilled to have you here with us and we are all looking forward to your remarks from this podium tomorrow.

Also with us this weekend, for the first time, is President Alar Karis of Estonia, and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus. Welcome.  Thank you for being here. I also want to welcome Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro who is with us for the first time.  Secretary General, welcome.

I am very proud to welcome the 2022 class of the Halifax Peace With Women Fellowship and the 2020 class that was not able to travel that year because of the pandemic, but who is with us now.

Senior officers from the UK, France, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Norway, Spain, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada are concluding their three-week study-tour with us at the Forum this weekend.

2022 marks five years of the Fellowship.  Members of the 2018, 2019, and the 2021 class of the Fellowship join us here this weekend as well. Building and nurturing this talented network of leaders from allied countries is something that we are very proud of, and you will hear more about the Fellowship at dinner tonight.

Fellows, welcome to Halifax.

I want to take a moment to thank the people who make this weekend work.  The true secret of our success is the gorgeous venue here at the Westin Nova Scotian, and the warmth of the people who work here.

Adding to that warmth are 13 refugees from Ukraine working here at the Westin Nova Scotian, all of whom are simultaneously feeling the pain of being far from their home while the people they love are in danger, but proud to be welcomed warmly to Nova Scotia, to Canada.  Thank you.

We also have many young local volunteers from the Halifax community.  They are identifiable by their white lanyards, and I know are looking forward to helping you.

I want to thank CLUB HFX, the group of pro-democracy businesses that most generously supports our work.  Nancy Southern, Calgary-based ATCO Group Chairman and CEO, welcome back.

Sir Michael Arthur, President of Boeing International, welcome back.

Bill McCaffrey, founder of Calgary-based MEG Energy who started CLUB HFX more than 10 years ago, welcome back.

And although they can’t be here this weekend, I want to thank Istanbul-based Ahmet Calik, Chairman of Calik Holding and Ankara-based Savas Erdem, CEO of OYAK for their steadfast support.

Together, Club HFX ensures that the work we do here this weekend, and throughout the year, will continue.  In short, without them, there would be no Halifax International Security Forum.

Nancy, Sir Michael, Bill, and senior members of their teams will be identified this weekend by their gold lobster lapel pin. When you see them, please do take a moment to stop and say thank you to them for their very generous support.  Nancy, Sir Michael, Bill, thank you for your very generous support.

Thank you to our silver sponsors.   Thank you also to NATO.  Your support has been fundamental and I’m glad to have Admiral Bauer with us this weekend.

Thank you IPSOS for your generous cooperation.

Thank you Politico and Foreign Affairs Magazine, our media partners.

Thank you to the Government of Canada, the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, for your enthusiastic support.  Quite simply, we wouldn’t be here without you.

Deputy Minister of Defence Bill Matthews, thank you.

General Eyre, Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff, thank you for your confidence in us, too.

And I want to give a special thank you to Jeff Mullen from ACOA who steadfastly supported Halifax International Security Forum since it was only an idea.  Jeff is retiring at the end of the year, and we’re all going to miss him.  Thank you, Jeff.

Thank you to our Agenda Working Group who worked with me during the summer months to ensure that the issues that need to be on our agenda this weekend, are on the agenda this weekend.

Earlier today, we launched HFX Conversations.  HFX Conversations will be our on-line publication and I am proud that we launched today with essays corresponding to the agenda by President Karis, Secretary General Almagro, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala and President of Israel, Isaac Herzog.  HFX Conversations will begin publishing essays and interviews regularly with global leaders in January.

HFX Conversations and the entire agenda, along with your picture, can be found in this gorgeous book, featuring Ukraine’s national colors.

During the weekend, if Twitter is still open, please use it and other social media to convey your thoughts throughout our on-the-record sessions.  Our hashtag is #HFX2022.

Please don’t use social media during our off-the-record sessions.

The chair of our board is Canadian icon Professor Janice Stein.  US Ambassador Mark Lippert is our vice chair. Janice, Mark, thank you for your leadership.

Treasurer Ahmet Tacyildiz of Türkiye, President Kolida Grabar-Kitorovic of Croatia, Dr. Luis Rubio of Mexico and J.J. Omujuwa of Nigeria:  our entire board of directors is here.  Thank you, each of you, for your wisdom, guidance and support.

I want to thank my team, many of whom are new to HFX this year:  Michael Svetlik, COO; Susan Markham, Director; Mekayla Tucker, Program Associate for the Peace With Women Fellowship; Sari Houston, our Event Director; Madison Galdi, Program Manager; Emily Law, who runs our China Program; and Katya Barannik, my EA.  Dan Dugas, our Director of Communications, thank you Dan. Steve Markle, our filmmaker, thank you Steve.  I also want to acknowledge Laura Bridge, our Managing Director, who once again will be celebrating her birthday during Halifax International Security Forum weekend.  Happy Birthday Laura and thank you.  I have a great team and I am grateful to each of them.

Recognizing who is with us in the room makes us realize who is not with us this year.  One of Russia’s bravest democrats, Vladimir Kara-Murza, won’t be able to join us this year because he is in a Moscow prison cell, serving a sentence for treason.  Treason these days in Russia is called telling the truth.

In absentia, we will recognize Vladimir at dinner this evening with our HFX Builder Award.

Tomorrow morning, we will again miss having Senator John McCain with us as we award the 2022 John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to the women of Ukraine.  We are fortunate to be joined, however, by Jack McCain, Senator McCain’s son, who will be awarding the Prize.  Jack, welcome.

Recognizing Ukraine’s fight for freedom here at Halifax, there are a few things that are a little different this year.  For example, you will see camouflage netting down some of the hallways.  This isn’t decoration.  This is actual camouflage that local Nova Scotians are making and sending over to Ukraine to protect civilian infrastructure from Russian missiles.

As well, instead of the Saturday lunch that participants at Halifax have received in the past, tomorrow’s lunch will be a simple meal, similar to what Ukraine citizen soldiers are receiving on the front lines.

Of course, there are some Ukrainian officials who planned to be here but could not leave the country at this time.  I know that everyone in this room also traveled a long way, and so I thank you for your understanding as we will accommodate some Ukrainians with virtual presentations, the first ever here at Halifax International Security Forum.

But also different this year, I am proud to say, is that we have with us more than two dozen Ukrainian heroes who have traveled a long way to be here.  Leading the official delegation is Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister.  Thank you for coming.  President Poroschenko, welcome back, thank you for coming.  Your being here is an important reminder that Ukraine is fighting for more than survival.  Ukraine is fighting to preserve its democracy.

I want to take a moment to introduce one member of the delegation, my friend Andriy Shevchenko, Ambassador Andriy Shevchenko.  Last year, Andriy was here representing Ukraine as Ambassador to Canada.  When Russia invaded, Andriy created Media Center Ukraine to help Ukraine’s government get its message out to Ukrainians and to the world.  Media Center Ukraine has done an amazing job getting people the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.  It’s important work.  Andriy, you are a hero.  Andriy’s brother was also a hero. Yevhen Olefirenko, nom de guerre, Elvis, was a platoon commander with the international legion, killed in action in July next to Bakhmut, in Donetsk.  Yesterday, ‘Elvis’ was awarded with the order for courage to President Zelenskyy.

Among the delegation of Ukrainians with us this weekend are journalists, civil society leaders, business people, veterans and POWs, politicians, and experts.  And all of them are heroes.  You will hear from them on panels and see them in the hallways.  Please talk to them.  Introduce yourself.  Hear their stories, as painful as they are.  Learn from each other.  That is why we are all here at Halifax.  To learn from each other.

So, let’s take the time we need to listen, to understand, to learn.

Every issue in the world is now connected to what happens in Ukraine.

Energy Security; Food Security; Human Security; the very future of freedom itself is on the agenda.

Thanks to Ukraine’s leadership, Ukraine’s will and Ukraine’s sacrifice, Ukraine’s partners have found renewed purpose.

Canadians, Americans and their allies and partners should be so very proud of the material support, lethal and non-lethal, that their countries moved to the fight in Ukraine.  It has made all the difference.

Now, as more Russian missiles fall on Ukraine than at any time since February, let us — Canada, the United States, and the democracies of the world — stand together with Ukraine to build a new era, a strong era, of democracy, opportunity, and peace for all.

Thank you.