Our agenda – Our plan for Canada
Date: Tuesday, September 20 2005
Topic: Canadian News
From the Prime Minister's Web Site (http://www.pm.gc.ca/)
Address by Prime Minister Paul Martin
September 20, 2005
It is a great pleasure to be here with you once again. Some of you may recall that we gathered in this hall shortly after I became prime minister. Let me just say -- some 21 months later -- that governing with a minority for much of that time has created its own particular challenges. But through it all, our agenda – our plan for Canada – has remained consistent. The priorities I talked to you about in December of 2003 – they’re the priorities we’ve spent the past year and a half addressing and they’re the priorities we’ll continue to develop into the fall.
This is not to say the past 21 months have been easy for any of us. The issues related to the Gomery inquiry, issues that have reflected on both those who are elected and those who are professional public servants -- these are unacceptable aberrations in a public sector that is honest, talented and committed to Canadians. It is that commitment that must motivate us this fall and beyond as we move to further strengthen the integrity and accountability of government.
Growing up in Windsor, I was probably the only kid in my neighbourhood who knew the difference between an assistant deputy minister and a director-general. As a result, I came to understand something early in life – the value of those in the public service, your love of country, the essential role you play in transforming aspiration into reality. The prime minister may be the face of the federal government. But you are its heart.
And so behind the front-page chronicles of partisan intrigue and political strategy this past year, we have been working hard together to implement the government’s agenda. Ahead of us lies an important fall session during which all of us, politicians and public servants, must continue to make progress. We can’t let up. And we won’t.
Thus, before Parliament reconvenes, before interesting times are again upon us, I want to talk to you about our agenda for Canada – not so much the “what,” but rather the “why.” And I want to do it because, given the sweeping nature of the forces at work in the world, given what they mean for our country, it’s more important than ever that we work together, that your departments not just follow their own course but do so in the context of the direction and focus of the government as a whole.
Let me begin with the role as I see it of government today within our changing nation and a changing world.
At the very core of the idea of Canada is our particular fusion of the values of social justice and economic opportunity – values that will be essential to Canada successfully meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Our values bring us together. They make our country the choice of people the world over. They guide the government in fulfilling its duties as guardian of our unity, security and sovereignty.
We value individual freedom. So we seek to give people the tools to succeed. We believe in our responsibility towards our fellow citizens and for future generations – a responsibility that we express through public undertakings, robust social foundations and an enduring commitment to human dignity.
Canada is at the vanguard of nations committed to the protection of human rights. We celebrate diversity in pursuit of common purpose and aspire to embrace inclusion and equality of opportunity; those things that define a shared citizenship. These values are codified in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document that has for more than 20 years now played a pivotal role. It will continue to do so as we grow as a nation and advance as a society.
Our unique blend of values helps to define who we are, and how we will act to achieve our goals as a nation. These values endure even as time passes and circumstances change. They give shape to the idea that is Canada -- a nation determined to leave no one behind; a nation with the ambition to be the standard against which others judge themselves.
I believe in the good that government can do – that government must be the leader of national undertakings that express our highest aspirations and reflect our deepest values. If that sounds like a prescription for activist government, well, that’s because it is.
I believe that the role of government is to set the national objectives of its time, and then to mobilize the national will to achieve them. In summary, I believe it is the responsibility of government to prepare the country for the world ahead. To meet this obligation, we must understand the forces influencing our country and our world, the tectonic plates moving beneath the surface of our national life. Some – such as Canada’s relationship with the United States, the impact of new technologies, the threats to our security and unity – are long-standing and familiar, even if their specific nature is always evolving.
But there are other forces as well -- new forces at work that are of tremendous consequence. And it is to two of these that I would draw your attention today as we discuss the “why” of our agenda for Canada’s future.
Neither of these forces has emerged abruptly, but each has reached a tipping point that requires the full attention and concerted action of government. One is the changing demographics of the Canadian population; the other, the stunning rise of China and India. How we react to these forces will determine the contours of the Canadian future. Together, they call for immediate and sustained action.
We have to stay on top of the opportunities that will open up before us. We need to prepare now to meet the new challenges they present. In short – we must make it our mission to keep Canada ahead of the curve, so that 15 years from now, even with an older population, even in a world in which much larger nations are competing for political and economic power, our standard of living will continue to be among the world’s highest, our quality of life will be second to none, our country and our confidence will be strong. This is the national objective of our day -- a united and influential Canada, rich in opportunity, a Canada that has risen to meet not only its historic challenges but also the new forces that are manifesting themselves in our time. This is our governing purpose.
Now, of course, not every action of every one of your ministries will fit neatly into this framework. Government faces demands that exist within a wider context than I will be dealing with today, and we will have shorter-term demands as well. We will be responding to both this fall. But I believe that a determined focus on foresight – on preparing for the impact of demographic change and the rise of China and India – is absolutely crucial if our expectations for Canada are to be met. Thus, dealing with these forces, preparing to confront and take advantage of them, has been at the core of much of what we have already begun and what we are seeking to achieve as a government as we go forward.
This isn’t the stuff of a seminar or lecture. There’s nothing abstract about this. What we’re discussing today is what these new forces call for as we in this room meet our responsibilities as policy makers.
To begin with – our changing demography. Two important facts: One, we’ve had a relatively low birth rate for the past 30 years, and that trend shows no sign of changing. Two, the baby boomers are now nearing retirement age. The implication of this is significant: fewer workers supporting more seniors. Within 10 short years, there will be only three and a half working Canadians for every senior citizen, down from five today. By 2015, our domestic labour force will actually start to shrink, so all of the net growth will need to come from new Canadians. Think about what this transformation means. Increased demands on health and other public services. Potential skills shortages.
Looking to the international demographic context, we see that surging population growth is concentrated in the poorest countries, straining their capacity to provide even the most rudimentary opportunities. There will be more pressure from migration, more fertile ground for the seeds of terrorism to take root, more pleas for development assistance. Meanwhile, the rest of the developed world will be facing the same demographic challenges as our own – so there will be increasingly fierce competition for skills.
To all of this, as policy makers, it is government’s role to ensure we are ready, that we are prepared – starting now. So, what are we doing today to ensure that we will be?
First, health care: the primary objective of last September’s agreement with the provinces and territories was to ensure the public system stays strong and works well as our population ages and as new technologies and medicines extend the frontier of treatment. What we did was to put in place a long-term, predictable and rising federal financial contribution. This will enable the provinces and territories to better plan ahead for their demographic reality by hiring more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, and moving toward insured coverage for acute home care and a national pharmaceutical strategy.
In the coming months, the focus is going to be squarely on delivering on our commitment to reduce wait times. We made a pledge to Canadians during the last campaign. The premiers made a pledge to their citizens when they signed the health accord. Together, we gave the people our word, and now we must deliver. The urgency of this has of course been underlined by the Supreme Court’s Chaouilli decision.
Unreasonably long wait times are symptomatic of deeper problems in the health care system. Thus, tackling them is the key – the key to kick-starting real health care reform; to improving access; and to increasing the confidence of Canadians in the ability of the public system to provide quality and timely care.
That’s why we appointed Dr. Brian Postl as the federal advisor on wait times – to build consensus on the actions needed to ensure timely access to care. And that’s why, with his guidance and expertise, we’re going to continue to work hard with the provinces to ensure they meet their commitment to put in place wait time benchmarks related to key medical procedures.
Our approach is based on the complementary principles of flexibility and accountability. By flexibility we mean that the provinces and territories will provide services as their particular circumstances dictate, as long as national objectives are respected. This is a long-standing and necessary principle of how Canadian federalism works. Diverse approaches to common objectives generate the innovation that feeds progress. We strengthen the country when we respect those differences.
But the necessary counterpart of flexibility is accountability. We are placing great emphasis on transparent, comparable performance reporting by governments to their respective populations – not only in respect of medical waiting times but also in other initiatives such as early learning and cities, where we want to achieve progress nationally but where provinces, territories and municipalities actually provide the services. Why? Because evidence-based performance benchmarks will focus attention on results. And as every manager knows, what gets measured is what gets done. Transparent reporting is what will enable Canadians to hold their governments, including us, to account.
Second on demography, Aboriginal Canadians. Too many of these Canadians, our fellow citizens, still lack the tools and the opportunity needed to thrive. There are serious problems – in education, health, housing and the environment – and we are determined to get to the root of them.
Starting with the Roundtable in the spring of 2004 and the Policy Retreat this past May – we are working not only to improve living conditions but also to empower the Aboriginal leadership and build governance capacity in Aboriginal communities, for that is the essential path toward lasting improvements in quality of life.
The crucial element of achievement in the long run is progress in the short run. We made a good start on Aboriginal health last year. And this fall, with the Aboriginal and First Ministers’ Meeting coming up, we’re going to focus on making progress on housing, economic opportunity and education.
Education for young Aboriginals, a generation whose future remains wide open to possibility: this must be our priority. Their success is Canada’s success. To turn away, to resign the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population to a cycle of despair – well, that’s just not on.
Third, immigration. In light of our history, our values, and our impending demographic challenge, Canada’s immigration policy, particularly as it relates to the selection, integration and regional distribution of new immigrants, is obviously of key importance.
Canada needs more immigrants, plain and simple, and we need them to succeed. Too often, today’s new Canadians, despite higher levels of education on average, are not achieving economic success as quickly as in previous generations. We will keep, indeed we must keep, our doors open to immigrants of all classes and refugees from around the world. But as the numbers increase we also must be more active in recruiting immigrants who meet Canada’s evolving needs – needs that are identified in consultation with provinces, communities and those in labour, business and academia.
At the same time, we need better social and economic integration of new Canadians, including language training, credentials upgrading and recognition. On this last point, we cannot allow entrenched interests to continue to block progress. And we need to get funding where it’s needed most, as was seen in our recent agreement to substantially increase financial support to provinces for immigrant settlement. Quite simply, our approach to immigration can and must be something that distinguishes Canada – a central component of the Canadian advantage.
The second new force shaping our future – and which we must prepare for now – is the realignment of global political and economic strength, and specifically the rise of China and India. Politically, the balance of power in the world will shift toward a new equilibrium in the coming years. Tensions could increase, and there will be pressure on our international organizations to reflect this sea change. Economically, China and India – and others in their wake, such as Brazil – are rapidly developing a vast new middle class. A brand new consumer society, two billion strong, is coming into being in the historical equivalent of a snap of the fingers. Consider that in 2004, as measured by purchasing power parity, the U.S. accounted for about 20% of the global economy with less than 5% of the world’s population. Together, China and India also accounted for almost 20% of the world’s economy, but with 40% of its population – so it’s clear where the growth potential lies.
Globalization is a buzzword of some maturity now. But it has taken on a powerful new significance with the emergence of these huge new powers. We are in the infancy of a fundamental reordering of our world. For many established nations, the emergence of these new powerhouses is a double-edged sword of promise and predicament. For Canada, the competitive challenge is real. But given our small domestic market, our significant export capacity and our wealth of resources, the changing world places within our grasp tremendous potential. It is government’s role to help ensure we seize it.
Obviously much will depend on our fiscal and economic strategy to build competitiveness. I will come to that in a moment. But think first – what are the crucibles in which that competitiveness will be forged? Statistically, economic performance tends to be judged on a nation-to-nation basis. But the fact is that, more and more, competition is being waged among major metropolitan centres. In a world in which talent, capital and ideas are globally mobile, it’s Toronto and Montreal vs. Shanghai and Bangalore; Ottawa vs. Helsinki; Vancouver vs. San Francisco. It’s every one of our major cities versus every one of their foreign counterparts. Our real advantage will come from communities that are diverse and tolerant, culturally dynamic, environmentally healthy, great places to live. They anchor the entrepreneurial clusters in which talent flourishes. Helping to foster these conditions is what our New Deal for cities and communities is all about.
We also know that as people and economic activity continue to concentrate in major urban centres, economic disparity has become less a regional or provincial phenomenon, and rather a reflection of the rural-urban split. It is in Canada’s smaller communities, and their linkage to the rural economy, where the opportunities and downsides of globalization and demographics are most challenging. We have to deal with that -- and we will continue to do so this fall, in part as we work with more provinces to sign agreements that will bring the New Deal to municipalities right across the country.
The environment. We have a moral responsibility and an obligation to act to preserve a healthy, sustainable environment for generations of Canadians to come. So what can we do? Certainly we have to do our share at home. We’ll be working this fall to achieve tangible early progress on Project Green and our climate change plan.
But let’s not kid ourselves – the growing prosperity of China and India, combined with the undiminished appetite of the United States and other nations, comes today at a very big environmental cost. And this brings still more responsibilities for Canada. The simple fact is that to truly make a difference, we not only have to think globally, we have to act globally. We have to try to build a truly international platform from which to combat climate change, a platform that includes not only the Kyoto signatories but all major nations.
The UN conference on climate change, which will be held in Montreal this December, will be the key opportunity to take the necessary steps to build that platform. That’s why we’re hosting it and why we’ll be assuming the presidency of the Conference of Parties for the next year. Our goal is to help impress upon all nations the need for concerted, prompt and global action on a global issue.
All of which leads me to the government’s broader international agenda. Today, global engagement is no longer the purview of only the traditional external departments. Now almost everyone is in on the act –Environment on climate change; Canadian Heritage on cultural treaties and promotion of Canada’s artists abroad; the RCMP in Haiti; Agriculture on trade, especially the Doha round; the Department of Justice on human trafficking; Fisheries and Oceans on high seas conservation; Finance on global capital flows; and so on. As our world gets smaller, it touches on more and more of what sovereign governments do. We find that we must engage in the world not only to make a difference internationally, but in order to stay strong at home.
Even if we could withdraw from the world, we wouldn’t want to, especially not now. We are a trading nation, reliant on exports and eager to benefit from the birth of a new middle class in Asia. We are a multi-ethnic nation, eager to attract more immigrants to enrich our diversity and bolster our prosperity. We are a progressive and fair-minded nation, eager to raise people up, to help those who need it most. Moreover, the proliferation of international terrorism is representative of a world in which the orthodoxy of conflict has been shattered, along with any notion that a country can hope to protect itself by shutting itself off from the global community.
Today, we need to think of local security not only in a global context but in the widest possible way. Consider: if the avian flu virus does mutate to be readily transmissible among humans, it will not remain local for long. The world will have a global pandemic on its hands. That’s one of the reasons we created the new Canada Public Health Agency. It gives us world-leading capabilities and the influence that excellence creates. That is why the WHO has turned to Canada for help in mobilizing defences against pandemic influenza. That’s why in October we will convene a meeting of health ministers from some 20 nations, a meeting focused squarely on prevention. We have learned the lesson of SARS, just as we have learned the lesson of 9/11.
Clearly, we are living in a world where national security must be addressed in a broad context that encompasses threats ranging from deliberate acts of violence and terrorism to natural disasters. That is why we established the broadly mandated Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Whether in quick response to domestic terrorism or emergencies like Hurricane Juan or forest fires in B.C. – or just now to bringing Canada’s help to New Orleans and other victims of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation – we need the capacity to mobilize and coordinate national resources to respond to urgent human need. There is no place here for jurisdictional rivalries. There is only the responsibility of governments to provide seamlessly for the safety and security of people. Together with our colleagues in provinces and municipalities, and beyond our borders, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
There are some who have felt it’s time to write a eulogy for Canada’s influence abroad. Well, we don’t agree – and that’s why we wrote the International Policy Statement, which lays out a framework for our engagement in the world. Canada will play a proactive role in keeping international organizations relevant. We were obviously pleased last week when the United Nations agreed to enshrine Canada’s initiative on the Responsibility to Protect. But the failure to achieve the UN’s broader reform agenda means that Canada will, in the months and years to come, continue to press for more effective multilateralism. Quite simply, that is why we are determined to pull our weight in the world, sometimes more than our weight. We have some catching up to do, but if we are to make a difference in a world of new powers, we need this to be Canada’s proud future.
Canada has an important part to play that goes well beyond the traditional role of mediator, and we are going to play it – in terms of foreign affairs, our military capacity and development aid.
We have announced investments in defence of an additional $13-billion over the next five years. This is crucially important not only for our obligation to do our share in the defence of North America, but because without basic physical security there is no way to foster democracy in failing states on which we focus or put in place the systems of education and health that are prerequisites for poverty reduction. As you know, Canada will command a multinational force in southern Afghanistan. This hazardous new mission is part of sharing the global burden of confronting terrorism in one of its prime breeding grounds; of giving a fledgling democracy the chance to find its footing; of bringing hope to embattled peoples. It may also be the first test of what we described as the “three-block war” – combining combat, stabilization and relief.
On development assistance, we have committed to substantial annual increases in international aid. But until now our dollars have been too thinly spread. As announced, we will sharpen our focus, direct more aid to fewer nations and be sure the aid makes a difference. At the same time we will focus on democratic governance -- and a key vehicle to assist in capacity building is Canada Corps. There are no better, and no more different, examples than Haiti and the Palestinian Authority to illustrate the wide range of needs for Canada’s expertise in helping to build governance.
Another example of both our approach to development assistance and our commitment to engage more deeply in the world is our involvement in Darfur. If developed nations like Canada can help by supporting the African Union, then we will have taken a major step toward not only resolving conflict in the south of Sudan but also in our greater capacity to help people in need more quickly and definitively in times of crisis.
Let me turn now to our strategy for the economy. No single aspect of what government does will so clearly influence our ability to confront both our changing demography and the changing balance of power in the world. Canada will have to improve on its already excellent economic performance – and then keep on improving. Economic performance that is consistently among the world’s leaders must be at the core of Canada’s response to these new forces of change.
It all begins with financial responsibility. Those dark days of 1994 – a rookie Finance Minister sitting across from international creditors, being lectured about how we were headed for the fiscal wall – for me, they serve as an unforgettable reminder that nothing we want to do in our country, nothing we want to help do in the world, can be accomplished if we allow ourselves to be caught up in the vicious circle of fiscal irresponsibility.
Financial discipline is a guiding ethic that has led us to eight consecutive years in surplus. Our commitment to balanced budgets equips Canada to build the economic strength needed to succeed in tomorrow’s world. It gives government the flexibility to lower taxes, strengthen social programs and handle the unexpected, such as the costs of BSE and SARS, without breaking stride. Even with the pressures of a minority government, even with the agreement we reached with the NDP to ensure the budget would be passed, we have never strayed from our dedication to fiscal integrity. We are the only G-7 nation not in deficit. That’s a tremendous advantage for Canada. We will stay out of deficit.
Our sound financial management, including the reform of our public pension system, positions Canada, far better than most countries, to address the impending maturity of our population – fortunately so, I must say, for there will be strain enough to cope with the costs of an ageing society without the extra burden of excessive debt. A mere dozen years ago, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio was almost 70% – and growing. Now it’s at 38% and shrinking. Over the next nine years we’re going to get the debt-to-GDP ratio down to an acceptable 25%. This isn’t about a number on a page; this is about ensuring the freedom of the Canadians of tomorrow to make their own decisions.
It is no coincidence that Canada’s economic turnaround gained momentum with the elimination of the deficit eight years ago. What was true then is true now: if we are going to meet the twin challenges of an ageing population and new rising economic powers, we will do so only if our debt levels continue to drop so that we can shift government spending from debt servicing to the nation’s growing needs and lower taxation. On this, our fiscal plan, let no one have any doubt: the die is cast. We are going to stay the course.
That being said, a sound balance sheet is not in itself sufficient to deal with what the future holds. By virtue of history and geography, Canada is joined at the hip economically in North America. That isn’t going to change and we wouldn’t want it to. However, all three countries – Canada, the United States and Mexico – need to work better together to build a more competitive continent – a North America able to rise to meet the challenge inherent in the growth of China and India. That is the rationale behind the Security and Prosperity Partnership launched last March with Presidents Bush and Fox. It’s not a business agenda. It is a people’s agenda. It is an agenda for good jobs, safer communities, and a better quality of life.
Considerable integration of our economies in North America is a fact -- so we all win when we cooperate. We are all made stronger. That’s why it is so counterproductive when one nation decides to flout the rules. NAFTA is not something to be ignored when it suits narrow domestic interests. Free and fair trade depends on a dispute settlement procedure that is respected by all parties, in letter and in spirit. Unfortunately the reaction of the U.S. in the face of the latest NAFTA panel decision on softwood lumber mocks that basic principle, and in so doing sends the wrong message to the world. Free trade is obviously important to Canada and to Mexico. And it’s essential to building a more competitive North America. But ultimately the fact is that in and of itself the United States will depend as much as we do, as much as any nation does, on a liberalized global economy governed by rules that everyone can rely on.
There are important lessons to be gleaned from our trading relationship with the United States these past couple of years, especially in the context of the growth of China and India, with their huge populations and the equally huge opportunity they present. We all know that the American market is critically important for Canada – and always will be. At the same time, surely we have learned how important it is for Canada to develop other options as well – and with a rising Asia, the opportunity to do just that is greater than it’s been at any time since the end of the Second World War. For instance, the silver lining in our BSE experience is that now we have more made-in-Canada processing capacity and a new incentive to aggressively develop the world market for Canadian beef. More than ever before, we need to pursue as a nation the opportunities inherent in vast new markets very much in need of Canadian resources, products and know-how.
In this regard, we have a unique opportunity to capitalize on Canada’s energy endowment and the potential of our mining industry. In an insecure world, short on energy, short on commodities and becoming more so as China, India and others multiply global demand, Canada’s energy and mineral endowment is one of our greatest comparative advantages. That’s why, as well, we need to join forces with the provinces, territories and others to facilitate the development of our energy resources. We have enormous opportunities in oil and gas, hydro and nuclear. And Canada can be in the vanguard of exciting new green technologies ranging from carbon sequestration to wind power, biomass, clean coal and more. We just have to get moving faster.
It is against this imperative as well that we are bringing Canada’s North to the forefront of policy development, a task that will continue in earnest this fall. We simply cannot take the North for granted. As shrinking ice cover gradually leads us to toward a commercially viable Northwest Passage, as growing demand for resources increases interest in exploration and development, others will look longingly at our northern reaches. We must, and we will, reaffirm our sovereignty as part of a broader Northern Strategy to create prosperity and safeguard the fragile Arctic environment.
All of this being said -- even with a strong North America, even with new emerging markets for our resources, we cannot be lulled into a sense of complacency. Our natural resources are finite, but talent and its potential are not. That is why we need to focus so intently on our most important renewable resources – the skills of our population, innovation, and investment. These are the basic drivers of increased productivity, which in turn means better jobs, higher incomes, and improved living standards.
The prerequisite for entry into the global economy of tomorrow is education – quality education that begins early in life and prepares people to thrive in a competitive world. We have to put in place conditions in which Canadians can fully seize their potential throughout their lifetimes – which is why we are focused on improving literacy, upgrading workplace skills and providing more generous access to post-secondary education. We need to ensure that Canadians right across the country have the tools to succeed because the strength of our federation is directly linked to the opportunity everyone has to share in this nation’s prosperity and its future.
That is what the early learning and child care agenda is all about. We could focus on having the finest post-secondary education system in the world, but if we leave children behind early in life, we are not only shortchanging them – we are shortchanging tomorrow’s Canada.
The program we’re creating with the provinces and territories isn’t only about quality day care. Indeed, primarily it’s about development and learning during the crucial time in life when potential is most readily nurtured and developed. A successful head start is important for all Canadians, but it is crucial for many children of Aboriginal and new Canadians, who face particular challenges of adjustment and transition. I am convinced that when future generations look back they will recognize in our pan-Canadian approach to early learning, a project of nation-building in the same sense as universal medicare.
What it comes down to is this: in the future, Canada will succeed only if Canadians succeed. The specialists refer to it as developing “human capital” – whatever you call it, it has got to be our driving motivation. Canada’s greatest resource isn’t found deep within the earth. It’s found in the minds of those who walk upon it.
We need to understand that the bar is being raised. Many of you have read Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. What sticks with me is a story he tells about a changing Asia. He points out that when Bill Gates goes to China, young people line up for hours and hang from the rafters just to listen to him. In China, he says, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In North America, Britney Spears is Britney Spears. There’s still a nonchalance here about the magnitude of the change we’re undergoing and the challenge we’ll be facing. Too many have yet to come to grips with the fact that China isn’t just about cheap labour anymore. They won the race to the bottom by virtue of a massive low-wage workforce. But now, along with India, they’re in the race to the top. They’re putting up dozens of new universities. They’re training and equipping students who have a great thirst for knowledge and a great desire to compete in the world.
Today, we don’t just want our children to succeed in school. We need them to. We don’t just want them to get the right training and develop the right skills to land a good job. We need them to. We’re investing in lifelong learning, so that Canadians can keep up, keep ahead of the curve, as technology progresses and as the demand for specialized skills evolves. We’re working to ensure that a university education is accessible to all, and that income does not stand as a barrier. And we’re working to ensure sure that Canadians start learning and developing at an early age, and that income does not stand as a barrier.
Hand in hand with this focus on education is a commitment to innovation. Innovation is the result of basic research, its commercialization and the adoption of best practices. In recent years, we have built a solid foundation through university- and hospital-based research that has become a real magnet for world-class talent. We will keep investing to sustain that advantage and promote its commercial application. The fact is we are doing better, but not nearly well enough. The reason we have to improve is not simply to generate more research and more start-ups, important as that is. The primary benefit is the training of larger numbers of graduates with the advanced skills that will be needed to keep Canada at the forefront of the knowledge economy. I repeat – Canada will only be as successful as its people, and people will only be as successful as their education and skills empower them to be.
Finally, to amplify the talent of Canadians, we need robust private sector investment. This is the primary vehicle by which technological innovation enters the economy. Our objective is to ensure that when investors think about where best to seize tomorrow’s opportunity, they will think first of Canada.
We are doing a lot of the right things to encourage investment growth – to help Canada compete for the foot-loose investment dollar. We are making our business taxes competitive and we will keep them competitive. We are going to continue to upgrade our border infrastructure and security procedures to ensure that if you make an investment in Canada you will have access to the U.S. market.
And we are working with governments in the western provinces to take advantage of the fact that for Asia, the closest major deep-water ports and the closest major international airport in North America are located in British Columbia. It makes geographic sense that British Columbia become the nexus of trans-Pacific trade, the gateway to Asia. But make no mistake: the further development of the Pacific Gateway will benefit not only B.C., and not only the West, but all of Canada. Indeed, when we say that Canada is much greater than the sum of its parts, this is the kind of example we can point to.
In summary, I’ve spoken today of the key elements of our plan to prepare for a changing Canada and a changing world. The need to address two new and consequential forces – our evolving demographics, and the rise of China and India. The imperative to act now to ensure Canada stays ahead of the curve. The need to respond broadly, across government departments, to succeed.
And we will succeed – we will stay ahead of the curve – if 15 years from now we have an early learning program that ensures our children enter school ready to progress; if we have an education system that, regardless of income, nurtures our talent and gives Canadians the tools to compete. We will succeed if we have strong, vibrant and sustainable cities able to take on the best that other nations have to offer; if we have provided real and lasting opportunity to new and Aboriginal Canadians. We will succeed if we have a publicly funded health care system that delivers quality and timely care, and if we are a Canada, proud and influential, that has again proved to the world that we are willing to do the hard work required to make a difference.
That’s the plan, both the long-term goals and the priorities we’ll be primarily focusing on this fall. That’s what we’re doing to address where we’re going. Our job together is to get there – to ensure the policy becomes the practice. We’ve made considerable progress over the past year and a half but the job of building Canada, of protecting and strengthening the values we share, is never done. It is a public trust, taken up by each new generation. Our accomplishments, our triumphs and so too our failings will become part of the collective legacy of our time.
Together, recognizing the forces shaping our country and our world, we can ensure that Canadians, all Canadians, are ready to confront them.
Canadians have reason to tackle the future with confidence, with optimism. We are a country that has overcome challenges that have paralyzed others – balancing the budget; welcoming immigrants; keeping employment growing buoyantly. Our natural resources will be in great demand. Our people are among the best educated. Our linguistic duality and our ethnic and cultural diversity make Canada a global microcosm, open to the world. We understand that the strength and success of each province or region is to be celebrated, for it makes Canada stronger; recognizing that together, united, Canada is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Fifteen years from now, our older, increasingly multi-ethnic population will have altered the face of our nation. Canada will look very different. Fifteen years from now, China and India will have altered the face of global power, politically and economically. The world will look very different.
Canada is certainly not alone in facing these changes. But what matters – what will distinguish us – is how we respond. A half century ago, many were inspired to join the public service by the sense among Canadians that the social foundations of our country needed to strengthened – that government could and must play a greater role in helping to ensure equality of opportunity, in being there for those who needed help most. There was a sense then – even as it was happening – that they were in the midst of what would prove to be a seminal moment for Canada. They were nation building.
I deeply believe that today, we have as a country arrived at a similar juncture. It falls to us to make sure Canada emerges stronger and more influential, that Canadians emerge more prosperous and confident.
We will ultimately be judged not by the conventional wisdom of today but by the Canadians of tomorrow. They will look back. They will understand that we had the means to plan ahead, to prepare for the change that is coming. And they will see that we acted – that we reinvested in the great shared project we call Canada; that we were up to the challenge of using opportunity in our day to build for us and for them an even brighter future.
This is the job of government. This is the job we undertake together.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on September 20, 2005]