Opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism

"Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference.  Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society - it strengthens it."


Your Excellency the Governor General
Madame la Ministre
Fellow Directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism
Friends of the Centre

What a great day this is for all of us.  And what a special ceremony, as we honour a beautiful symbol of Canada’s rich past, and rededicate it to the great cause of a pluralistic Global future.         

As you know, the War Museum Building was designed well over a century ago by the great Canadian Architect, David Ewart.  For its first half century, it was the home of the Dominion Archives, and then, for another half century, we knew it as the War Museum.  For over one hundred years, all told, it was a place where the record of Canada’s proud and confident past was preserved and honoured.      

I think you will agree with me that the past still speaks to us in this place.  The architects, designers, engineers and so many others who have rehabilitated this wonderful Tudor Gothic building have taken enormous care to respect its distinctive historic character.  We all join today in saluting the design and engineering team led by KPMB, the construction team, led by MP Lundy Construction, and so many other dedicated staff and volunteers who have contributed to this project.

J'aimerais partager une autre pensée alors que nous tournons nos regards vers ce passé si digne de respect.  Je trouve en effet très approprié que cette cérémonie ait lieu cette année, l'année du 150ème anniversaire de la Confédération canadienne.

Je suis heureux de pouvoir me compter au nombre de ceux qui, cette année, évoquent avec une fierté particulière "notre" histoire canadienne.  La raison en est bien sûr la générosité dont ce pays à fait preuve à mon égard, il y a plusieurs années, en m'octroyant le titre de citoyen honoraire du Canada.

But even as we celebrate the past today, we are also looking ahead, with joy and confidence, to a particularly exciting future. 

That future has also been symbolized by those who have renewed this building, in two compelling ways.   

First, they created a new garden in the forecourt, a tranquil space for contemplating the past and thinking about the future.  And then, secondly, they made a dramatic new gesture for the future by opening this building to the river.

When I first visited this site, I went across the Ottawa River, to see things from the opposite side.  From that perspective, I noticed that many buildings on the Ontario side had, over the years, turned their backs to the river.  But as we began to plan, another possibility became evident.  It seemed increasingly significant to open the site to the water. 

Water, after all, has been seen, down through the ages, as the great source of life.  When scientists search the universe for signs of life, they begin by looking for water.  Water restores and renews and refreshes.  And opening ourselves and our lives to the water is to open ourselves and our lives to the future.

In addition, the Ottawa River represents a powerful connection to other places, nearby and far away.  It is not only a refreshing symbol, it is also a connecting symbol, connecting this site to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world. 

Throughout the history of Canada, the Ottawa River has been a meeting place for diverse peoples, originally the First Nations, and then the British and the French, and more recently Canadians from many different backgrounds.  It symbolizes the spirit of connection.  And the spirit of connection, of course, is at the very heart of the Global Centre for Pluralism.    

The new forecourt garden suggests that the Centre will be a place for contemplation and reflection.  And the opening to the River suggests that it will also be a place for connection and engagement. 

What happens at 330 Sussex Drive in the years ahead will radiate out well beyond its walls, to the entire world.

Let me emphasize a point about the concept of pluralism that is sometimes misunderstood.  Connection does not necessarily mean agreement.  It does not mean that we want to eliminate our differences or erase our distinctions.  Far from it.  What it does mean is that we connect with one another in order to learn from one another, and to build our future together.  

Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference.  Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it.  In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress.

From the start, this has been a vision that the Ismaili Imamat and the Government of Canada have deeply shared.

My own close association with Canada began more than five decades ago, with the coming to Canada of many thousands of Asian Ismailis, essentially as the result of Idi Amin’s anti-Asian policies in Uganda. That relationship has been re-enforced through the years as we have shared with our Canadian friends in so many great adventures, here in Canada and in other lands, including the Global Centre for Pluralism.

The Centre has been, from the start, a true partnership - a breakthrough partnership - a genuine public-private partnership.  And one of my central messages today is how deeply grateful we are to all of those who have made this partnership so effective.    

It was with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, that we first discussed the idea of founding a new pluralism centre, and it was Prime Minister Paul Martin who helped develop the plan.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government sealed the partnership and Minister Bev Oda then signed with me the establishing Agreement. Minister Mélanie Joly has also given strong support to the GCP.  And Prime Minister Trudeau has articulated, with conviction and with passion, the need for pluralism in our world.

I think, too, today of so many other public servants who have helped guide this effort, including Universities Canada, the IDRC and other past and present members of the Corporation of the GCP.  And I also thank  the fine cooperation we have received from the Canadian Mint, who will share with us in occupying one wing of this building.

As we celebrate the progress we have made today, we also recognize the growing challenges to our mission, as nativist and nationalist threats to pluralism rise up in so many corners of the world.  In responding to these challenges, the Global Centre for Pluralism has planned a variety of new initiatives.  Among them are the new Global Pluralism Awards which will recognise pluralism in action around the world, as well as a distinguished series of new publications.

As we look today both to the past and to the future, we do so with gratitude to all those who have shared in this journey, and who now share in our pursuit of new dreams.  Among them is someone whom we welcome today not only as a distinguished Statesman, but also as one whose personal support has inspired us all. 

It is a pleasure and an honour to present to you His Excellency the Right Honorable David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada.

Thank you