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Toasts at the State Dinner for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada

March 18, 1986

The President. Did you think I'd never get here? [Laughter] Well, Prime Minister and Mrs. Mulroney—Brian and Mila—distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to welcome you to the White House. A year ago almost to the day, I celebrated one of the most enjoyable St. Patrick's Days in my memory, and I can assure you that my memory goes back a long way. [Laughter] And the recollection of that beautiful day at Quebec City is not the only thing that Brian Mulroney and I have to commemorate in connection with his visit to Washington this time. In just 2 days, if my calculations are correct, Brian will be 47 years old. And, kid, I wish you the very best. [Laughter] You know, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm beginning to notice that every time they bring out my birthday cake, the top of it's beginning to look more and more like a torchlight parade— [laughter] —and I have a feeling that I'll be signing a disaster proclamation the next day. [Laughter] But seriously, though, Mr. Prime Minister, we wish you a very happy birthday, and we're so pleased to have you and Mila with us this evening.

I enjoyed our discussions today. I worked with Canadians long before I ran for public office. The contributions Canadians have been making on our way of life and every profession is incalculable. The bond of affection between us is truly a treasure. We drew upon those historic bonds, Mr. Prime Minister, when last year at Quebec we laid the foundation for what I call the new partnership. We've continued today, fully recognizing that the long-term stakes are high. We can work together to resolve the issue of acid rain, as we've worked together to resolve so many environmental issues before. We can ensure that our joint defense remains so strong that no aggressor will ever attack us. And we can reach a new agreement on trade that would help us achieve unparalleled prosperity for our citizens.

I strongly endorse a prompt start to formal negotiations in the fullest possible scope to those talks. Before I leave the White House, Mr. Prime Minister, I hope that we can bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion. We can lead our people into the light of prosperity, freedom, and good will. Nothing less, of course, should be expected of two free peoples who live so close. Freedom is the fountainhead from which mutual respect and amicability flow. And freedom is what America-Canada and the United States—is all about.

A story that reflects this love of freedom concerns a young man, John Magee, whose father was rector of St. John's Church, which is right across Lafayette Square from the White House here. In 1940, in the dark days of the Second World War—the United States was still not in the fight—Canada, responding to the pull of ancient loyalties, had joined the struggle the year before. So, like thousands of others, John Magee crossed the border to join up. He became Pilot Officer Magee of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1941 his squadron was sent to fight in the Battle of Britain. A few days after his arrival in England, he sent a letter back home. "I am enclosing," he said, "a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet and was finished soon after I landed." But on December 11, 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was killed at age 19. He had lived just long enough to see his own country join the struggle at the side of his foster land.

Well, that verse he sent back is called "High Flight." And the day we lost the valiant seven of the space shuttle Challenger, it came instantly to my mind: "Oh, how I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out my hand, and touched the face of God." "High Flight" was a beloved favorite of the Royal Canadian Air Force, whose motto was "Through Perseverance We Reach the Stars." As a matter of fact, it was adopted by our own Air Force, and it was—I don't believe there's an Air Force installation in this country that did not have someplace-displayed his poem. It resonates in the hearts of all who cherish the twin values of faith and freedom. And it resonates in the hearts of North Americans. And so, we remember Pilot Officer John Magee—American poet, Canadian pilot, North American hero.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a threefold toast to Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, to my good friend Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, to his lovely wife, and to the enduring bond between our two North American peoples.

The Prime Minister. Mr. President and Nancy, chers amies Americains, etchers constitues h Canadiens—I learned that from President Reagan last year. [Laughter] Make a fine candidate—Canada. [Laughter] It is with a particular mix of pleasure and pride that Mila and I have come to this great capital and to this celebrated house; pleasure at being among such friends again, particularly Ron and Nancy Reagan—to find you looking, as is said, Mr. President, in French—dangereusement bien—so dangerously well— [laughter] —I'll mention that to Tip tomorrow— [laughter] —and pride in the occasion to renew and toast the friendship between our two countries, our two peoples, and if I may say so, ourselves as good friends. I hope that my brief reference in French will not lead to the suspicion that I am attempting to capitalize on the well-known regard which Americans have had for the French since Lafayette took his position beside George Washington in the Revolution.

I suppose, Mr. President, that Canadians most admire, of all things, your uncanny ability to forecast the future. When you became aware what television was going to do to the movies, you decided to try something easy— [laughter] —you chose politics, and we're glad that you did. Nearly two centuries ago, when John Adams took up residence in what was then known as the "President's House," he composed a prayer that is today carved in the mantle of this residence: "May none but honest and wise men," he concluded, "ever rule under this roof." We feel not only among friends but, in a very real sense, among family.

In 1939 Winston Churchill said of our two countries: "That long frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, guarded only by neighborly respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world." For just as we share a continent, just as we have jointly inherited our precious environment, we are bound up inevitably in one another's economic interests. I speak, of course, Mr. President, in response to your observation of the trading relationship between our two countries, a relationship already uniquely important in the affairs of the world.

I speak also of a new challenge—further trade liberalization between us. On October 1 last, I advised the President of the Canadian desire to pursue a new trade agreement with the United States. On the following day, Mr. President, you welcomed the Canadian initiative. In these first days of October I think that we issued to our respective countries an historic challenge, one of historic proportions, by expressing the wish to enter into negotiations. I, for my part, was responding to some questions that are asked at home. Are we in Canada confident enough in our ability to maintain our political sovereignty in a process that will lead to closer relations? And the answer is yes. Have we in Canada a cultural identity strong enough to live and grow in this process? And the answer is yes. And have we in Canada developed the economic and commercial enterprises necessary to prosper under greater competition? And the answer, again, is emphatically yes.

I think, Mr. President, the challenge for your country may well be to show understanding of our concerns as we shall for yours. With you as our only immediate neighbor, we have developed as a distinct nation. Let's continue to grow stronger, each in our own ways. Let's continue to reinforce one another by exchanging what we produce that is best. This was the key to our success in the past and this, I think, is the promise of our future. Because if we have the wisdom and forbearance to succeed, then the whole world will be the beneficiary, just as Churchill foresaw.

A half-century ago Canada and the United States blazed a new trail towards lower tariffs and quotas—the world was very different then. But the imperatives of liberalization are more compelling than ever in our increasingly interdependent economies. Neither of our countries was built by the fainthearted. We've already achieved much together, from commerce to communications, from sea to space, in joint ventures based on mutual interest and mutual respect. Earlier today I had the pleasure of informing the President that Canada has accepted his invitation to join in the manned space station project. This venture symbolizes our joint confidence in the future, our commitment to shared technology, and Canada's pride in joining you in the exploration of space.

I know Ronald Reagan to be a man of warmth and wisdom, of grace and good will. We, in Canada, know we have a true and valued friend in President Reagan. Friends may sometimes disagree, friends may diverge in opinion, friends speak frankly, but they give each other the benefit of the doubt. There can be no doubt, however, about our common commitment to freedom, Mr. President, and our common commitment to peace. We concur wholeheartedly with your view that not only is nuclear war unwinnable, it must never be fought.

Canadians, no less than Americans, were deeply relieved when the President of the United States met last fall with a leader of the Soviet Union. In honest dialog there is a beginning of understanding. You, Mr. President, have broken new ground in your offer to the Soviet Union last week to exchange information and technologies with the Soviets for verifying limits on nuclear testing. We remain confident that the spirit of Geneva will carry over into your next meeting with Mr. Gorbachev and your visit to the Soviet Union. The hopes of the world ride on the outcome of your discussions with Secretary Gorbachev. Our prayers and our support go with you. Mr. President, your entire career has been a testament to courage and conviction, to your desire to do the right thing for America and for the world. That determination will prevail in your pursuit of world peace.

At this time, colleagues and friends, I am privileged, honored, to propose a toast to a friend—and a very distinguished friend of Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, for Nancy and for the President of the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 9:46 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts at the State Dinner for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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