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Blair praises Canada
« on: October 27, 2007, 08:54:13 »
Blair praises Canada in first post-politics visit

Updated Fri. Oct. 26 2007 8:29 PM ET
The Canadian Press
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CALGARY -- Former British prime minister Tony Blair used his first public visit to Canada since retiring from politics four months ago to heap praise on almost everything Canadian -- from its cities and soldiers to its energy reserves and wine.

Blair told a sold-out, lunchtime event in Calgary on Friday that Canada's role on the international stage is destined to grow.

"I often say to people that Canada will become one of the most powerful nations in the world,'' the former leader of Great Britain said to a crowd of 2,400 people who paid $400 per plate for the privilege.

"And with it comes the responsibility.''

Blair's wide-ranging speech touched on a variety of challenges facing the world, drawing on insights from his decade as prime minister and his new role as Middle East envoy for the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia.

He said globalization is happening "at an enormous pace'' and is now a fact of life. He cited a recent $5-billion foray into the Canadian oilpatch by the Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. as proof of the inter-dependence of today's world.

Blair said countries are being forced to engage in the global agenda whether they liked it or not, and predicted that the increasing divide between open and closed societies will become more important than the left and right of the political spectrum.

But predictably, Blair saved his strongest words for the ongoing fight against global terrorism.

He said he fears that global terrorism is not abating and could take a generation to defeat because its roots are deep. And he said his one main regret was that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he'd not done more to prepare his country for a long-haul fight.

Blair, whose most controversial decision in his three terms as British prime minister was to get his country involved in the Iraqi war, said it was important not to give up or even show weakness in the fight against "the forces of extremism.''

He praised the "marvellous'' job that Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were doing and told the crowd that the most difficult decisions a leader faces are the ones that result in the deaths of soldiers. Canada has lost 71 soldiers and one diplomat in Afghanistan to date.

He said enemies such as the Taliban were trying to kill soldiers that were trying to help Afghanistan rebuild after decades of war "because they know it hurts us.''

And while acknowledging that there is widespread opposition to the Afghanistan war, he said there is no negotiating with radical Islamists.

"We should understand that if we give up in Iraq, then we'll be under increasing pressure in Afghanistan. And if we give up in Afghanistan, then we'll be under increasing pressure elsewhere in the region.''

Yet Blair said despite all the challenges facing the world, he remained optimistic. And he attributed the success of achieving peace in Northern Ireland to optimism and refusing to accept the divisions and hatred of the past.

"Optimism is something you get very easily when you come to Canada,'' said Blair, noting there was space to expand, plenty of natural resources, strong alliances with other countries and a "can-do spirit.''

He also gushed about his first experience with Canadian wine the night before: "This is a secret you've just got to get out.''
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