Opening Remarks by HFX President Peter Van Praagh - Halifax
Opening Remarks by HFX President Peter Van Praagh
November 19, 2021


HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — The following remarks were delivered this afternoon by Peter Van Praagh, Founding President of the Halifax International Security Forum to welcome guests to the 2021 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 and on behalf of the HFX board of directors, and everyone who worked tirelessly to make this in-person event possible, welcome to the 2021 Halifax International Security Forum.

The last time that I stood at this podium was November 2019– two years ago.

It’s been a long two years.

During that time, we lost Joe Hall, our founding Vice President, and my partner in crime in building Halifax International Security Forum into what it is today.

ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency lost John Kavanaugh, the distinguished and entrepreneurial civil servant who played a big role in keeping Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax.

Canada’s Deputy Minister of National Defence, Jody Thomas, lost her role-model, her mom, Maxine.  And also, her only sister, Megan.

Our revered Board Chair, Janice Stein, lost her best-friend and husband of 55 years, Michael.

And I lost my dad, David.

It’s been a long two years.  And we’ve all lost something.

Some of us have lost people.

Some of us have lost time with the people we cherish most in this world.

Some of us have lost jobs and income and opportunities.

Some of us have lost elections and lost power and influence.  Some of us lost perspective.

We’ve all lost something valuable.

And it weighs heavy.   It is altogether fitting and proper to acknowledge the weight of the past two years.

Since the first time we met here in November 2009, I’ve considered the Halifax agenda to be like an LP, looking back at the past year and forecasting ahead to the next year with an optimistic arc.

This year is different.  Before we emerge from this dark period with any credibility we have to look back, to reflect, with honesty.  The 20-year anniversary of 9/11 gives us that opportunity.  It gives us that responsibility.  That duty.

The decisions made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Great Recession, our reaction to 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.

This weekend, we will reflect on how we got here.   It is too important not to.

And at the same time, there are too many challenges before us to let reflection become unending naval-gazing.

We will look ahead to the threats to our democracies, both external and home-grown.

We will ask Americans and non-Americans alike what responsible internationalist American leadership should look like at this time.

We will search the post COP26 environment for urgent solutions for our planet.  And we will explore how the neo-liberal international order left millions of people behind, and how interruptions caused by coronavirus might lead to new opportunities to mend it.

And we’ll look at China. At its tech prowess, even as it significant regresses politically.  We’ll look closely at China.
But before we do, there are some individuals who deserve a special welcome.

The Honourable Anita Anand, Canada’s brand new Minister of National Defence, welcome.  I know that everyone here is looking forward to meeting you.  And it is my privilege to formally introduce you in a few moments.

Senator Shaheen, thank you for rounding up some of your closest friends and bringing them with you to Halifax this weekend.  Welcome back.  Your support for Halifax since the very beginning is invaluable to us:  thank you. We all benefit from your leadership.

Senator Risch, welcome back.

Senator Kaine, welcome back. Senator Coons, welcome back.  Senator Wicker, welcome back.  Senator Ernst, welcome for the first time:  we will make you feel welcome and next year, we hope to be welcoming you back, too.

There is no substitute for American leadership. The United States is present, and it’s engaged.  Your presence, the Senate delegation, together with senior commanders from the United States military and dozens of influential experts from Washington, sends an important message to the world about just how present the United States is.

With us this weekend for the first time is President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu of Kosovo and former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull.  Welcome.

I am very proud to welcome the 2021 class of the Halifax Peace With Women Fellowship.  Senior Officers from Australia, New Zealand, Lithuania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands, Turkey, France, the UK, the US and Canada are concluding their 3-week study-tour with us at the Forum this weekend.  Last week, the Fellows met with Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Anand in Ottawa.

Members of the 2018 and the 2019 class of the Fellowship join us here this weekend as well.  Because of the pandemic, the 2020 class will experience the Fellowship next spring.  Next year at this time, we will host 5 classes of the Peace With Women Fellowship here at Halifax International Security Forum.

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.  We feel your presence.

And now, a few words about China.

Back in 2019, a different era, we held a series of meetings in London intended to address what the group viewed as the world’s most pressing challenges.  They didn’t start off dedicated to addressing issues related to China.  But China is what this dinner serious became about.

And I am grateful to Baroness Neville Jones for hosting us at the House of Lords throughout that year. Thank you Pauline, and thank you for being present.

The result of those dinners, and the more than 300 Zoom interviews that followed, is Robin Shepherd’s “China vs. Democracy: The Greatest Game.” We released this ‘Handbook for Democracies’ at our virtual Forum last November and we are re-releasing this weekend.  It is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was published.

And it forms the basis of our #StandTogetherOnChina social media campaign that you will hear more about during the weekend.

Next spring, HFX is expanding its mission to strengthen strategic cooperation to East Asia.  HFX Taipei will be our first major event outside of Halifax.  And we look forward to welcoming many of you there.

When we released the Handbook for Democracies last November, China had been holding two Canadians hostage for years, the two Michaels, Michael Kovrig, and Michael Spavor.

I am delighted to welcoming Michael Kovrig to Halifax International Security Forum this weekend.  Michael, welcome home.

At this point in my remarks, I want to thank the people who make this weekend work.  The true secret of our success is this gorgeous venue and the warmth of the people who work here.

We also have many local volunteers from the 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 of International, Welcome back.

Bill McCaffrey, founder of Calgary-based MEG Energy who stared CLUB HFX 10 years ago:  Welcome back.

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 membership in Club HFX.

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 have a chance, please thank them for their very generous support.

Like this: Thank you for your very generous support.

Thank you also to NATO.  Your support since the beginning 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 CAE, Strider, MDA, AWS, General Atomics, Maritime Launch and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for your very significant support.

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.  Your agencies have believed in what we do since the beginning and we are very grateful.

Deputy Minister of Defence Jody Thomas, thank you.

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

This program is not only beautiful.  In this program, you will find short opinion pieces by distinguished authors—many of whom join us this weekend.  They set the stage for the plenary panels:  please take time to read them.   I want to thank our Agenda Working Group who worked with me during the summer months to ensure all major issues were addressed.

Please use social media to convey your thoughts throughout our on-the-record sessions. Our hashtag is #HFX2021.

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

I want to thank our board of directors. Janice Stein, our Chair, thank you for your leadership.  Ambassador Mark Lippert, our Vice Chair, Ahmet Tacildiz, Treasurer, thank you for your commitment and for being here this weekend.

I want to introduce new board members Kolinda Grabar-Katorivic, the 4th President of Croatia, Dr. Luis Rubio, Founder of the Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs and Japheth Omojuwa, author and Founder of Alpha Reach in Nigeria.  Each of these leaders has been committed to the Forum’s work for years and I am so proud to have such a strong board of directors.

I also want to thank Maj General Tammy Harris and Cindy McCain both of whom recently concluded their terms as HFX board members.  Thank you.

Tomorrow morning, we are so proud that Cindy McCain will honor the Afghan Female Tactical Platoon with the 4th annual John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service.

Tonight, at the Gala Dinner, we will be honoring Cindy McCain for her unwavering support of the Forum’s mission and its work.

Cindy has dedicated her life to improving the lives of those less fortunate both in the US and around the world.  Cindy has traveled to every corner of this earth, including during conflict, to support vulnerable civilians.  She is a tireless humanitarian and working with her while she was on our board of directors was an honor and the most rewarding signal we could have that Halifax International Security Forum’s work is having an impact.  Cindy:  thank you.

Tonight, you will join other distinguished people and organizations here this weekend, who, like you, are committed to our mission to enhance cooperation among the world’s democracies. They include: The Canadian Forces, Nancy Southern, Senator Shaheen, NATO, Senator Kaine, Peter MacKay, Bill McCaffrey and Senator John McCain.

As many of you know, Halifax International Security Forum was a close friend to Senator John McCain.

His memory here at Halifax gives people everywhere, not least of all in his home state of Arizona, the courage to stand for freedom and democracy.

In the packet you would have received in 2019, there was a pencil inscribed with the words: Present, Not Permanent.

It was our reminder not to take our freedoms for granted.  They must be cherished and they must be protected.  Keeping our way of life permanent requires all of us to show up, to be present.

The message on this year’s pencil is both larger and more direct.  It’s a call to action.  Be Present.  So that what we hold dear will, has its best chance of being made permanent.

It’s been a long two years.

The world has changed.  We’ve changed.

We’ve all lost something.

But this is Canada.

This is the United States of America.

This is the global community of democracies.

Together, we’ve carried much heavier loads.

And we are meeting in person.  In Halifax.  We are not going to lose confidence as we make up for lost time.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You’ve traveled here during a pandemic and entrusted us with your personal well-being.  The local community has entrusted us with its well-being.  We don’t take that responsibility lightly and I want to tell you about the safety protocols that are in place.

Everyone you meet, participants, staff, volunteers, hotel servers, restaurant servers, everyone is fully vaccinated.  Fresh air is being pumped into this room all day.  The program is designed for giving you as much space as you need, but you must wear a mask at all times except when you are eating, drinking or speaking on stage.  And please, please be mindful of others as you enter and exit this room.  Keep your social and polite distance.  It is our priority to keep you safe.

And now, it is my distinct privilege to introduce to you the single individual for keeping millions of Canadians safe during the pandemic.

The Honourable Anita Anand was reelected in September and appointed Canada’s Minister of National Defence.

Before entering politics in the 2019 election, Minister Anand was a law professor at the University of Toronto, Canada’s leading university, where she held the JR Kimber Chair in investor protection and corporate governance.  She is the author of a number of books on corporate law and has taught at the Yale, at Queen’s and at Western.  She represents Oakville, which is just outside Toronto, but she was born and raised in Nova Scotia.

Between 2019 and 2021, she was Minister of Public Services and Procurement of Canada.  What does this mean?  It means that a) she has experience in procurement and b) during the pandemic Minister Anand was responsible for successfully procuring life-saving vaccines against the coronavirus for 38 million Canadians.  She is personally responsible for saving thousands of lives.

Saving lives.  Procurement.   Minister Anand is very well prepared for her new assignment as Canada’s Minister of National Defence.

It is my privilege to invite Minister Anita Anand to the podium.

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