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From a speech by former prime minister Brian Mulroney at Oxford University on May 28.

The fundamental goal of government is to make a better world – a world that is safe from war and safe for democracy, a world that is free from deprivation and free from degradation.

For 40 years, the United States and the Soviet Union were the world's two superpowers, the leaders of the West and East, of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the keepers, in President Kennedy's words, of "a hard and bitter peace."

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And then, in 1985, there came to power in the Kremlin a man named Mikhail Gorbachev, who questioned the assumptions of the Soviet system, ended the arms race and ultimately the Cold War, disbanded the East Bloc, the Warsaw Pact and, finally, the tyranny of the Soviet federation itself. Sitting across a conference table from him in a private meeting in the Kremlin, just hours after he assumed office in March, 1985, I would never have thought it possible.

Flanked by Andrei Gromyko, this new leader of the Soviet Union spoke to me with confidence for the future, but gave precious few indications of the convulsive changes he was about to unleash – so profound, as it turned out, that he and his administration and his federation would be consumed by them.

For Canada and the United Kingdom, the post-Cold War world offered unique opportunities and daunting challenges. We began from a common heritage of democratic traditions and a common defence of liberty. There are reminders of that from the trenches of one war to the beaches of the next, places inscribed in the history of valour, where the Canadians and British have fought together, where the Canadians and British have died together, in the defence of freedom.

And because we and our allies have remained true to those values and had the courage and the strength to defend them in NATO, Korea, the Middle East and elsewhere, within the last 25 years, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited; a trade unionist from Gdansk became president of Poland; a dissident poet sat in the castle in Prague, as communist regimes tumbled like dominoes across Central and Eastern Europe; and, in the second Russian revolution, the people of Moscow made a human wall around their parliament, and Soviet tanks that had crushed each stirring of liberty for seven decades in the past now dared not cross.

Strong political leadership at that time ensured that "we came safely through the worst" – as President Reagan quoted Churchill in a speech to the British Parliament.

If the U.S. is to maintain its role of world leadership in political and security matters – and it is vital it does – it must ensure that its great economy does not falter or fail because such failure would soon jeopardize and ultimately vitiate the American capacity to persuade other nations to share its prescriptions for peace and prosperity around the world.

As we know, our world has changed – perhaps forever – because a handful of terrorists flew planes into American landmarks on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September, almost 14 years ago, killing nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children.

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As The Economist observed, more than seven decades ago, a generation of startled Americans awoke to discover that their country was under attack. Pearl Harbor changed America, and therefore the world. Now, the children and grandchildren of the Americans who went to war in 1941 have suffered their own day of infamy, one that is no less memorable. The appalling atrocities of September 11th – acts that must be seen as a declaration of war not just on America but on all civilized people – were crueler in conception and even more shocking that what happened in Hawaii.

September 11th has changed America, and with it the world, once again.

Today, we face new threats to global stability.

Russia has flagrantly violated international law with its seizure of Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine, threatening the relative peace that Europe has enjoyed for 70 years.

And now, we have ISIL marauding aggressively in Iraq and Syria and spreading its tentacles into Africa and even into Western countries like yours and mine. Radical terrorists are seeking to inflict horror on innocent people and destroy our democratic ideals. From the Middle East, to the streets of Boston, to the media rooms of Paris, to the halls of the Canadian Parliament, an evil and implacable enemy lurks and advances.

This enemy clearly despises Christians and Jews and moderate Muslims and wants nothing less than their domination and elimination from the face of the earth. This enemy decapitates Christians but also burns alive in a steel cage a young fellow Muslim – and murders thousands more elsewhere – simply because his philosophy differs from theirs.

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This enemy must be resisted by all who value freedom. Strongly. Loudly. And immediately.

A word of caution at the outset of the following remarks. As a former prime minister, I am reminded of what Gladstone once said referring to Peel, namely that "former prime ministers are like untethered rafts drifting around harbours – a menace to shipping!"

At least two of Prime Minister Cameron's important challenges resulting from the last election will ring bells with Canadians:

The manner in which the United Kingdom deals with the question of Scottish independence is something Canada has dealt with for 40 years involving a similar initiative from Quebec, our second-largest province and only French-speaking majority government.

Canada is a successful country of 36 million citizens spread over the second-largest land mass (after Russia) in the world. From our beginnings, as a French colony discovered by Jacques Cartier in 1534 to our evolution as a British dominion in 1759 to our roots as an independent nation in 1867, Canada has proven to be a land of tolerance, opportunity and prosperity.

In 1839, Lord Durham described French and English Canadians as "two nations warring within the bosom of a single state." And so we emerged as a federal state to accommodate both French- and English-speaking realities, and compromise and flexibility have been hallmarks of our national character ever since.

For 148 years – through two Quebec referenda seeking independence – we have muddled through and remain today a thriving, greatly admired and united country most of whose citizens view themselves among the most fortunate in the world.

So why the thrust for independence and separation? For reasons of language, culture and politics – the argument being that only Quebec independence can protect a flourishing culture and language, uniquely French among a sea of 365 million English speakers in North America.

But if that were true, how did the French-language population of Canada grow from 90,000 in 1759 – the year of the British Conquest – to over nine million today? This is a long way from the Louisiana experience.

The answer is leadership and a sensible approach to federalism, making intelligent and thoughtful decisions designed to accommodate differences while keeping the country united.

The Canadian approach and experiment – with its setbacks and limitations – is one that Prime Minister Cameron may want to examine closely as he contemplates the challenges of Scotland.

Why would he do this? Because it has worked.

Canada today is a wealthy, modern united G7 nation, a leader of both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie that makes an enormous contribution to the well-being of its own citizens and to those in developing countries around the world that need ongoing assistance and support.

The challenges the Prime Minister faces with the European Union bear some resemblance as well to Canada's ongoing relationship with the U.S. – our closest neighbour, friend and economic partner – on whom we depend for much of our prosperity but who – at 10 times our size – sometimes causes us problems with attitudes of distance and indifference to Canadians sensitivities and customs.

I dealt with our delicate situation with the U.S. not by withdrawing, but by deeper involvement and leadership.

I decided in 1985 to negotiate a comprehensive free-trade agreement with President Reagan and the U.S. It was the opposite of protectionism and withdrawal and, we hoped, a leadership decision that would enhance Canadian sovereignty and strengthen Canadian prosperity. Now, some 30 years later, how did it all work out?

From the start, our basic objective had been to secure and enhance access to our major market. At a time of rampant protectionist actions by the U.S. Congress, securing that vital access on a more confident platform for Canadian exporters was essential. That is why a binding dispute-settlement mechanism was the crunch issue for Canada.

How could it be otherwise? With an economy 10 times the size of ours, the U.S. could crush us in any dispute unless we were assured of fairness by some recognized instrument of judicial equality in resolving disputes. I had told our team: "No dispute settlement process, no deal." This was our bottom line.

A key objective for any free-trade agreement is to improve competitiveness. We knew that, if we wanted to compete successfully in the world, we had to compete first and foremost on our own continent with our largest trading partner. Throughout the two-year negotiation, the other fundamental instruction I had given our negotiating team was that the agreement had to "significantly improve" our trade relationship with the U.S.

Equally, we had resolved that "no deal would be better than a bad deal" and that certainly guided our tactics up to the very end.

We, of course, also recognized fully that such an agreement had to be good for both sides or it would in the end fail in any ratification process or the court of public opinion.

Does this not sound somewhat similar to the general negotiation posture Prime Minister Cameron has articulated vis-à-vis the European Union?

In a decision that startled the U.S. administration, I recalled our chief negotiator, signalling our deep discontent with the progress of negotiations. The appointment of Secretary Baker was President Reagan's response and this was a godsend for both parties.

In the final moments on Oct. 3, 1987, Baker had been networking strenuously with key congressional players and several on his own negotiating team to accept a formula for dispute settlement that would meet Canada's bottom line. He was under no illusion that we would accept a deal that did not include binding, binational dispute settlement.

At about 9:30 p.m. – with fast-track authority set to expire at midnight – Baker called me in my Langevin Block office in Ottawa to tell me that, while we were very close to an agreement, he doubted that he could get the dispute-settlement mechanism because congressional leaders argued it would dilute their constitutional sovereignty in matters of international trade.

I thanked Baker and told him that, as the talks were now in danger of imminent collapse and failure, I was going to call President Reagan, then at Camp David, to ask him one question.

"And, what is that?" asked Baker.

"Well, Jim," I replied, "I'm going to ask the President how it is that the U.S. can negotiate a major nuclear reduction treaty with its worst enemy, the Soviet Union, and can't negotiate a free-trade agreement with its best friend, Canada."

"Prime Minister," Baker replied, "can you give me 20 minutes?"

At about 10 p.m. that evening, Secretary Baker burst into the anteroom to his Treasury Office in Washington, which was being used by the senior Canadian delegation. He flung a handwritten note on the table and declared: "All right, you can have your goddamned dispute-settlement mechanism. Now, can we send the report to Congress?"

To say that the free-trade negotiations had been controversial in Canada would be the understatement of the evening. Debates about the pros and cons were unrelenting all across the country and culminated in a riveting and fiercely fought 1988 election campaign.

One of my predecessors, Prime Minister Pearson, eloquently described a chronic problem facing any Canadian chosen to negotiate with Americans. It resembles somewhat the similar characterizations heard in parts of the United Kingdom today as you open discussions with Europe. "The picture of weak and timid Canadian negotiators being pushed around and browbeaten by American representatives into settlements that were 'sellouts' is a false and distorted one. It is often painted, however, by Canadians who think that a sure way to get applause and support is to exploit our anxieties and exaggerate our suspicions over U.S. power and politics."

Critics of the initiative in Canada went to bizarre lengths to try to scare Canadians into believing that the sky would fall under free trade. Medicare, old-age pensions, our water resources and culture – all were said to be at risk. We faced a toxic cocktail of latent anti-American and narrow, protectionist sentiments. They really pulled out all the stops on this one. As a prominent opposition spokesman said at the time: "We will blame every sparrow that falls on free trade."

Canadians were also told repeatedly that we could not compete with a country 10 times our size. My government had more confidence in the ability of Canadian firms to compete on an even playing field and we contended further that, if we could not compete successfully in North America, we certainly could not compete in the world.

I had to call a general election on this issue – one of the most brutal in our history.

Fortunately, when confronted with a clear choice, Canadians rallied to our position and we won the election with a strong majority.

My government saw these negotiations as a major building block for our future prosperity. We wanted an agreement that would provide conditions for trade and investment that were significantly better for Canada in the American market than the status quo. Most of all, we wanted to restrain the forces of protectionism in the U.S. Congress, where every trick in the book was being used to restrict legitimate flows of goods and services from Canada into the U.S. market.

The statistics alone speak to the success of the FTA. Trade volumes more than tripled in less than 20 years – from $235-billion in 1989 to $743-billion two decades later. Trade exploded into the largest bilateral exchanges between any two countries in the history of the world, creating millions of new jobs and record prosperity on both sides of the border.

The FTA proved to be precisely the jolt out of complacency that our firms needed. The economic results were even more positive than anyone envisioned at the time: 4.9 million new jobs have been created in Canada due to trade and the size of our economy has more than doubled in the same period.

In the two hours or so that we will be together this evening, more than $200-million in goods and services will be exchanged by Canada and the U.S. That is more than $1-million every minute of every hour of every day. Almost $2-billion in total, each and every day of every week of every month of every year.

Of course, the best compliment of all is that many of our harshest, political critics became, in time, fervent champions of both the FTA and NAFTA.

Free trade was one in a suite of economic policies that worked in tandem to better situate Canada in the world. It wasn't a panacea on its own. However, the psychological fact of free trade was enormous, as it touched our historic uncertainty about identity, ability and sovereignty – the kinds of sentiments one sometimes hears in the United Kingdom these days from those fearful of progress.

That's why free trade fuelled such an emotional national debate and why, ultimately, its adoption was so critical to Canada. Yes, it brought Canada into a much larger economic space, essential to our long-term prosperity. But it also cleared the air of the old doubts and fears about our capacity to grow and prosper as a mature, distinctive country living as we do cheek by jowl next to the richest and most powerful nation in world history. It required a change in our mentality – from defensive and fearful, to confident and ambitious.

That is why we were able to conclude both the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU and the free-trade agreement with Korea last year with minimal opposition in Canada. That is also why the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has generated very little, negative debate. The fears about liberalized trade have been expunged. The benefits are now a fact of life in Canada.

Thirty years means that a whole generation of Canadians has grown up in the context of free trade and investment, and in the context of this more confident and ambitious identity. The impact of free trade on our character and working assumptions is as profound as anything it specifically did to our economy.

The most essential ingredient for any "Big Idea," however, is leadership.

Leadership that not only anticipates the need for change but is determined to implement change. Not in pursuit of popularity but to serve the national interest.

The test of true leadership hinges on judgments between risk and reward.

Change of any kind requires risk, political risk. It can and will generate unpopularity from those who oppose change. The choice for Canada or the United Kingdom in a fast-changing global environment is either to adapt quickly and take advantage of the changes happening or watch from the sidelines.

If we truly deliver, we will not only enhance our economic prospects but I am confident will also enable Canada and the United Kingdom to play more relevant and effective roles on geopolitical issues of the moment.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the most eloquent Father of Canada's Confederation, in his last speech in the House of Commons before his assassination, 147 years ago, famously said: "He who seeks after popularity builds upon a shifting sand."

Prime ministers are not chosen to seek popularity. They are chosen to provide leadership. As President Clinton once said: "Leadership is the capacity to look around the corner of history, just a little bit." Leadership is the process, not only of foreseeing the need for change, but of making the case for change. Leadership does not consist of imposing unpopular ideas on the public, but of making unpopular ideas acceptable to the nation. This requires a very solid argument for change, and a very strong ability to make the argument, over and over and over again.

The impact of significant public policy decisions is often unclear in the early years. It sometimes takes a considerable period – frequently decades – before the full consequences of an important initiative become apparent.

As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us: "Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing fine or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith."

It is in this perspective that great and controversial questions of public policy must be considered.

History tends to focus on the builders, the deciders, the leaders – because they are the men and women whose contributions have shaped the destiny of their nations, here and around the world.

From the bloodied sands of Afghanistan to the snows and waters of the High Arctic, the Canada of 50 years from now will be defined by the leadership we are given today.

If all of us remember that freedom and liberty are the very pillars of our national democracies, we can collectively made a contribution to the well-being of mankind that will bring honour to Canada and the United Kingdom and peace and prosperity to all her citizens.

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