This address was given by Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, at the national commemorative ceremony for Queen Elizabeth on Monday at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.
For almost nine years I had the privilege of serving as the Queen’s Canadian Prime Minister. As you would expect, that time afforded me a rarefied window into Her Majesty’s role as our head of state in an up-close and formal sense. We had many interactions on a wide variety of matters, and I would like to think that the Queen and I developed a relationship beyond that of just head of state and head of government. There were many issues on which we were keenly aligned – especially in relation to Canadian unity and the Commonwealth in the years when Canada was in the forefront of the battle for the liberation of Nelson Mandela and the destruction of the evil system of apartheid in South Africa.
In an intimate way I was regularly struck by the interest in, and care she demonstrated for Canada and Canadians, beyond simply carrying the title Queen of Canada. She was our Queen, shared with other countries, yet with a deep love for Canada, its diversity, geography and history. Unquestionably, she had an abiding enthusiasm for the future and youthful vigour of her largest realm.
Even during her very first visit, in 1951, she noted, “From the moment when I first set foot on Canadian soil, the feeling of strangeness went, for I knew myself to be not only amongst friends, but amongst fellow countrymen.” To President Reagan in 1983, who asked, as she prepared to leave California for British Columbia after a state visit, where she was going next, she replied: “Mr. President, I am going home – to Canada.”
The Queen’s respect for the bilingual history of Canada was frequently evident: her impressive command and use of the French language; her desire to encourage its enhancement and strength; her high regard for the unique role played by French Canadians in the development of modern Quebec and this remarkable country; and her profound commitment to Canadian unity, in which she saw fairness, opportunity and equality for all.
As one who had the privilege of a significant relationship with Her Majesty for many years, I can simply say this: She was extremely intelligent, a woman of impeccable judgment, resolute, selfless, witty and kind.
Events around the world tell us regularly of violence, political coups and instability, ordinary people in sorrow and distress, as their countries descend into war, devastation and ruin.
Compare that with Canada, now 155 years old: strong, proud, prosperous, united and serene – with setbacks and challenges, of course, but largely unaffected by the major spasms of social and political discontent that have destroyed so many other countries around the world.
The success of Canada – so deeply admired everywhere as a model of civility, fairness, equality and achievement – did not happen by accident. The system of government chosen by our founders had much to do with it – the British parliamentary system led incomparably by the monarchy.
Today, our system might appear anachronistic to some. I understand that. But to others – who constitute in my judgment the overwhelming majority of Canadians – the role of the monarchy and in particular the irreplaceable role played by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II for 70 years, was absolutely indispensable in our country’s hugely impressive achievements and contributions to peace, prosperity and stability at home and around the world.
Her Majesty’s brilliant service and contributions over seven decades did so much to sustain and elevate the golden concepts of freedom, liberty and democracy that have brought such honour to Canada and all of her people.
May God bless the Queen.
And may God save the King.