Royal King Palace and Convention Centre
Surrey, British Columbia, CANADA

Distinguished Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia,
My fellow Fijians,
Friends of Fiji,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

First let me begin by saying thank you for the traditional ceremony of welcome you’ve accorded myself, my wife Mary, and my delegation. I can’t fully express how much it means to me personally to share in our traditions with all of you this evening, so far away from our shores.

Your practice of this traditional ceremony is testament to the bonds that bind us together. Bonds that do not diminish in the face of the vast ocean that separate us. Because no measure of distance can change the simple fact that Fiji is still your home, as much as it is mine. So it means a great deal to me that we can all pay homage to our shared heritage here in Canada.

As you all know, our friends and family back in Fiji are preparing to recognise Fiji Day on 10 October, but I’m happy we’ve been able to move forward our celebrations here in Vancouver to celebrate the 47th Anniversary of our Independence tonight.
After my trip to North America, I will be returning to Fiji on 10 October to attend our national Fiji Day celebrations. And for the first time ever, those celebrations will be held in the West, in Nadi, at the Prince Charles Park. That has never happened before, as those celebrations have always been restricted to Suva. And I very much look forward to celebrating our 47 years of Independence alongside those Fijians residing in our Western Division.

Every year, Fiji Day is our chance to reflect on the ties that connect us as members of the same extended Fijian family. Let us all remember that those ties are not defined by our ethnicity, our religion, our gender or our status in society, but rather they are defined by the love we share for our great country and our commitment to one another.

The darkest parts of Fijian history are those times that we failed to recognise these common bonds—something that many in this room are all too familiar with. There are few greater tragedies than that of a citizen to feel like an unwelcome stranger in their own home.

The events of 1987 and 2000 that drove many of you away from our home left a gaping hole in the heart of our nation and set us back decades, threatening the future of our beloved Fiji and the prosperity of every Fijian. Those events stripped us of many of our best and brightest, causing lasting damage to the character of our nation and to the prospects for our economy.

When I was here two years ago, I offered my sincere apologies, on behalf of all of Fiji, for the pain that you’ve endured—the pain that drove you to leave the place you knew as home to uproot and restart your lives an ocean away. I know that depth of that pain does not fade with time so, again, I ask that you please accept our apologies for what you’ve suffered.

I know that words only do so much. Without action, words are hollow. Without action, we cannot apply the lessons of history, and we risk slipping back toward the mentalities of division and communalism that drove so many to flee Fiji. Over the last decade that I’ve led our nation, I’ve made it my personal mission to assure that no Fijian has felt cast aside in their own country. And abroad, I’ve made special efforts to reach out to our diaspora communities and reconnect with our extended Fijian family.

The times that I’ve spent with your community here in Vancouver are some of my most treasured moments as Prime Minister. I am inspired by what all you’ve achieved, despite the difficult circumstances in which you’ve arrived here in Canada, and I’m extremely proud of all your success.

Tonight, I carry the same message that I brought with me two years ago: the dark days are over. You all belong in the new Fiji. You are all part of our Fijian family and, as we chart a path of unprecedented progress for Fiji, we welcome all of you to join us. I am prepared to whatever is necessary to right the wrongs done to so many of you, that is why I am here today and why I hope to work side-by-side with all of you to continue our work to build the new Fiji.

Much has happened in the two years since I was last here with your community. In February of last year, we can all recall the devastation wrought upon Fiji by the strongest cyclone to ever strike in the Southern Hemisphere, Cyclone Winston. I know many of you still have family and loved ones in Fiji, and anxiously awaited any news about their safety after the cyclone struck.

I’m sure many of you have seen the photos of the destruction, or have had it described to you by families and relatives who lived through the devastation. Tonight, I’d also like to extend a very gracious vinaka vakalevu to those Fijians in Canada who came forward to support their fellow Fijians who badly needed assistance in the aftermath of the storm.

Then later that same year, we all had our spirits lifted when our rugby Sevens heroes took home the gold at the Olympics in Rio. And I’m sure that every Fijian household in Vancouver joined us all in celebration when we took the gold medal.

These past two years we’ve also grown our economy, marking eight straight years of economic growth, despite the challenge posed by Cyclone Winston. And, we’ve assumed global leadership on two of the most pressing issues of our time, the perseveration of our oceans and the global campaign against climate change.
This past June, Fiji co-hosted the first-ever UN Conference on Oceans in New York and, under our leadership, close to 1,400 voluntary commitments were submitted by governments and other organisations for the preservation of our oceans and marine resources – an issue the strikes at the heart of the Fijian people as it does for the people of Vancouver.

As you likely know, Fiji is also set to assume the Presidency of the ongoing United Nations negotiations on climate change, COP 23. As COP23 President, I will lead the global effort to confront the growing threat of climate change in Bonn, Germany this November, a responsibility I have taken on for every Fijian – regardless of where they are in the world – and for every global citizen.

The world is looking to all of us, as Fijians, because we know better than most that the impacts of climate change are already upon us, we understand those impacts are getting worse and we understand the urgency for decisive global action.

But I want to be clear, we haven’t been chosen to lead this global effort solely because it is we Fijians who live on the frontlines of climate change. We’ve been tasked with this responsibility because we have shown ourselves to be leaders in addressing this issue – leaders who have been unrelenting in our work to protect this planet and leaders who understand the value of teamwork in making that happen.

We know that Fiji, and every climate-vulnerable nation, cannot face this threat alone. We need to stand united – side by side – to make decisive cuts in global carbon emissions. That is why, just three weeks ago, I was on the other side of your country, in Montreal, where I met with your Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to discuss our shared commitment to tackling the challenge of climate change.

I took Prime Minister Trudeau the same message for climate action that I’ve taken all around the world, as part of my effort to build a grand coalition for climate action that I intend to lead to the negotiations in Bonn later this year. There, we will seek full implementation of the Paris Agreement – so we can spare this world from the worst effects of climate change and protect the tremendous progress we are making for Fiji and the Fijian people.

So while we may be a small nation, on the global stage we certainly punch above our weight – particularly on the issues that matter most to our secure future. Not only for our sake, but for the sake of every Pacific Islander and every vulnerable citizen on earth.

But we aren’t only looking abroad. At home, we have emerged as the regional gateway for international trade. We are the hub of the Pacific, we are the strategically located link to the 38 million consumers who reside in the South Pacific and we provide the best and most reliable transport in the region, along with world-class telecommunications and a well-established and proven base for manufacturing.

Not only has that game plan for our regional engagement led to eight straight years of economic growth, projections indicate that trend will continue and we are on course to make Fijian history by growing our economy for ten consecutive years.
That record achievement has come about because my Government has bet big on the abilities, ambition and potential of ordinary Fijians. It has come about because we’ve taken bold steps to make every Fijian bigger players in our development. And it has come about because we’ve made Fiji’s success the success of every Fijian by investing back in the Fijian people – the hard-working men and women who are carrying Fiji into the future.

My Government has lived out our duty to every Fijian to expand networks of modern and robust infrastructure to every corner of the country – roads, bridges, jetties and ports that have opened up our islands and opened new doors of opportunity for Fijians regardless of where they call home.

We’ve also expanded services – water, electricity and health and medical services that are making life better for men, women and children all over Fiji, along with networks of telecommunications that are keeping them connected with their fellow Fijians and with the rest of the world.

We’ve introduced free education, free textbooks and free bus fares for students for the first time in Fijian history. So no student in Fiji is held back from pursuing their dreams for a high-quality education by their family’s circumstances.
When many of you left Fiji, you left a nation shackled by dilapidated infrastructure. You left a nation divided along ethnic and communal lines. And you left a nation with no vision for the future and no grasp of its potential. That is not the Fiji I lead today. I invite you to come and see that progress for yourself.

When you arrive, you’ll land at our new, state-of-the-art Nadi International Airport, as you travel on new roads you will see new developments springing up all around you. You will see young Fijians pursuing jobs and opportunities their parents never imagined, you will find low taxes and attractive investment incentives and you will see for yourself that Fiji is well and truly open for business.

Your success and achievement here in Canada has put you in a unique position to financially invest in a country that you are already personally vested in and, more importantly, reap the benefits of riding our wave of economic prosperity.

Make no mistake, there has never been a better time to invest in Fiji. Our nation is stronger than it has ever been, and my Government has ushered in a new era of equality that has paved the way for continued prosperity.
With a unified nation, and under a constitution that guarantees equal rights for all Fijians, merit and merit alone now dictate success across the Fijian economy.

Many Fijians abroad have already begun helping us build our beloved Fiji – and I urge as many of you as possible to do the same. In the room today, we have representatives to ease the process of both integrating and investing in Fiji.
If you are interested in learning more about the many options you have in taking advantage of these economic opportunities, my delegation is here to help, no matter the size of your potential investment. I am joined by the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, along with representatives from a number of other key agencies and organizations, from Ministries of Land and of Agriculture. They are here to answer any questions that you may have about investment and trade opportunities.

My delegation is also here today to make the integration process as easy as possible, whether you wish to return to Fiji to visit on holiday or want to make your voice heard in the upcoming elections. Officials from the Elections Office are also here to assist with voter registration for those who are eligible.

Thank you to the Government and people of Canada, of British Columbia and our Fijian family here in Vancouver for making this celebration such a success. As we celebrate 47 years of Independence, let’s all remember that our mission is never over and we must keep Fiji moving forward. We must stay unified, one nation and one people, dedicated to realising a brighter future.

A very happy Fiji Day celebration to all of you.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.