When the Canadian Government asked my wife and myself to visit Canada to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I began to consider ways in which our tour might perhaps help to make a difference. I wanted to find practical opportunities to celebrate how Canadians are serving their local communities, the country and, indeed, the wider world. Service to others is the central theme of the Diamond Jubilee and it is this that guides The Queen and my family in all that we try to do.
Service takes many forms. Our tour will rightly begin by recognizing the vital contribution that Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces make in promoting international peace and stability – and the sacrifice made by those families whose loved ones have not returned from their operational service. At C.F.B. Gagetown, which I remember so well from time spent on exercises in Canada while serving with the Royal Navy in the 1970s, my wife and I will have the opportunity of expressing our greatest respect and enduring gratitude. As the father of two sons serving in the Armed Forces, I appreciate only too well the anxiety of knowing that our loved ones are in harm’s way – and the pride we take in their commitment to serve. It is for this reason that I am so delighted my Prince’s Charities Canada foundation is supporting a project called “Operation Entrepreneur” which will help Canadian Armed Forces men and women, including wounded personnel, to retrain and broaden their opportunities for a successful transition to civilian life.
Service can also mean thinking about how we can use our own positions to help others, especially in these times of economic uncertainty. In this regard, I am so pleased to be playing a part in bringing people together in Canada to help share and spread good ideas through a process I call “Seeing is Believing.” Over many years, I have seen how a good idea or example of best practice in one region or one part of a community can inspire others if they see it in action at first hand. This can have a tremendous multiplying effect. So often scepticism, resistance and deadlock in one area or community can be overcome by enabling people to meet and to discover from those who have already been through a process of transformation that there really can be better opportunities and returns by doing things differently. Next Tuesday, in Toronto, I will be joining C.E.O.s, inspirational youth leaders and young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods who have been listening to each others’ perspectives and discussing, as a group, how they can best work together for mutual benefit. It is already delivering results, including new internship programmes to equip young people with the practical skills they need.
Working on these issues over the past twenty seven years has led me to think more broadly about ways in which we can build social cohesion by encouraging many more opportunities for people to contribute their particular skills to others. Many of the engagements during this tour are deliberately focussed on highlighting individual cases of success which tell a wider story so that they might inspire others to become involved in similar ways. This can only strengthen social fabric and enhance Canada’s enviable reputation as a country where people think beyond themselves to the needs of others to build a tolerant, open and outward-looking society.
I have long believed that one of the most effective ways to foster cohesion in a sustainable way is to build partnerships between the public, private and N.G.O. sectors. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts and it exemplifies the basis of what I can only describe as “community capital” – that invisible, but vital element which holds communities together. When you think about it, at the end of the day it is communities, in all their forms, which are actually at the heart of everything and I believe they function at their best when people have real identity, a sense of belonging and a commitment to each other.
When my wife and I last came to Canada in 2009 I remember recalling something I had said on a much earlier tour, back in the 1990s: “Every time I come to Canada … a little more of Canada seeps into my bloodstream – and from there straight to my heart.” That is why I am so looking forward to returning to Canada in this special Jubilee year, to renew my own pledge of service and to encourage others to consider how they might contribute their own particular talent.