- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Mar 2003, p. 381-393
- Stewart, The Hon. Jane, Speaker
- Media Type
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- Issues addressed at the Empire Club of Canada. Turning our attention to social policy. The speaker's responsibilities as Minister of Human Resources Development Canada. Views around why a continued investment in social policy is so important for Canada as we enter the new millennium. How good social policies should be developed and implemented in a modern Canada. Policy and programs in support of Canadian families and their children.
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- 27 Mar 2003
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- The Hon. Jane StewartHead Table Guests
Minister of Human Resources Development, Canada
INVESTING IN CHILDREN IS AN EXCELLENT RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Chairman: Ann Curran
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Anne Fotheringham, Owner, Fotheringham Fine Art and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; John Zheng, Senior Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; The Reverend Vic Reigel, Christ Church, Brampton; Veronica Lacey, President, The Learning Partnership; Charles E. Pascal, Executive Director, The Atkinson Charitable Foundation; Professor Bonnie M. Patterson, President and Vice-Chancellor, Trent University; Bart J. Mindszenthy, APR, FCPRS, Partner, Mindszenthy & Roberts Communications Counsel and 2nd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; David Pecaut, Chair, Toronto City Summit Alliance; The Hon. Margaret N. McCain, Former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, Co-Chair, "The Early Years" Report and Advocate for Children and Families; and Charles S. Coffey, Executive Vice-President, Government and Community Affairs, RBC Financial Group and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by Ann Curran
Years ago when my father was growing up in Ireland the Jesuits used to say: "Give me a boy till the age of seven and I'll show you the man."
Well, that was a long time ago. Societies and the role of family and education have changed significantly since then. During this time, there have been many reports and scientific studies tracking the development and education of children.
One excellent example is "The Early Years Report" and we are privileged to have one of the authors, The Hon. Margaret McCain, with us to day.
These studies are worth every penny because they enable us to better understand our children's development so that we can nurture and help them along the way. This is the warm and human approach to many of these studies. However there is another side, one that doesn't usually pop up first in people's minds but is just as important. Investing in children is an excellent return on investment."
Business leaders know that people are a company's greatest asset. This is no less true for our country. Because the children of today are the employees and business leaders of tomorrow, there is a strong return on investing in their future. Evidence is mounting that if Canadian businesses are to have the skilled workers they need to grow, we need to continue investing in our children.
Today our guest speaker will argue that investing in sound social policy has a profound and positive effect on our country's economy. First however, let me tell you more about Minister Stewart.
On August 3, 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chretien appointed The Hon. Jane Stewart Minister of Human Resources Development Canada. This department is at the cornerstone of the Government of Canada's social-development agenda.
She is convinced that our youth and adults need higher levels of skills than ever before and that lifelong learning is the key to individual and national prosperity in this knowledge-based economy. On February 12, she launched Canada's Innovation Strategy with Allan Rock, Minister of Industry. Ms. Stewart strongly believes that our ideas and knowledge are the driving force for innovation and the future of our economy and social development.
She also believes that we need to invest in the development of all Canadians, especially our children and youth. For example, in September 2000, an historical agreement was reached with the First Ministers on early childhood development, stressing the importance of supporting families in their efforts to ensure the best possible future for their children. Minister Stewart was also instrumental in
extending the Employment Insurance parental benefits from six months to one year.
Minister Stewart has represented the Ontario federal riding of Brant since 1993.
She served as Chair of the National Liberal Caucus from February 1994 until being called to Cabinet as Minister of National Revenue in 1996. As Revenue Minister, Ms. Stewart's reforms increased fairness in tax administration, streamlined the department's operations and made it more transparent to ordinary Canadians.
Appointed Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in June 1997, Ms. Stewart helped bring government closer to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by allowing them to shape their own destiny through bold new initiatives including Gathering Strength and the creation of Nunavut.
On the international front, Ms. Stewart chaired the G8 Labour and Employment Ministers' Conference in April 2002. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss common approaches to ensure citizens of the G8 countries have the tools they need to hold better jobs, gain higher incomes and maintain greater individual, social and economic security.
Ms. Stewart graduated from Trent University in 1978 with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree. Before entering public office, she worked as a human resources professional in both small and large companies across Canada and in the United States. Ms. Stewart's interest in public life came to her at an early age. Her father, Bob Nixon and her grandfather, The Hon. Harry Nixon, represented the provincial riding of Brant for a combined 70 years. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Minister Stewart.
Thank you for that generous introduction.
Members of the Empire Club, let me say thank you for this wonderful invitation to be here with you in this year's Centennial.
As I was signing the guest book and looking at the names in that extraordinary document, I noticed how year after year you have provided a venue for open public debate that allows us to explore together public-policy development here in Canada and right around the world.
Just recently, this group has been able to discuss the issues of the economy, justice, Canada's position in the world and the issues that the world is facing and their impact on us here at home. It's really an extraordinary opportunity and something to celebrate.
I am here as the Minister of Human Resources Development Canada. Today, I want us to turn our attention to social policy. In case you don't know it, as the Minister of Human Resources Development Canada, I'm responsible for administering close to 70 billion of your very hard-earned tax dollars every single year.
Seventy billion dollars. That's about half of the program spending of the Government of Canada. And it goes to vitally important social programs like our pension program, our Employment Insurance system, and other programs that we've been discussing here at the head table that are focused on people.
What I'd like to do is share with you some of my views around why a continued investment in social policy is so important for Canada as we enter this new millennium. Furthermore, I'd like to talk a little bit about how I think good social policies should be developed and implemented in a modern Canada. And then, of course, I want to talk to you about a particular area of social policy that we've had some pretty good success in over the past few years, and the programs we've developed in support of Canadian families and their children.
So why and how does social policy continue to be an important part of a vibrant growing Canada? Well today, as in the past, we think of our social programs and our social services as those which ensure social cohesion. This is still tremendously important for us in the modern world. We think of these programs as the glue that bridges the differences between the haves and the have-nots. And it's through social programming and social services that we exercise our belief in humanity and in democracy.
I mentioned our pensions' programs. We created those programs 75 years ago. And they have evolved. But, as a
result of those programs, we've been able, along with a good economy and more people in the workplace, to reduce poverty among Canadian seniors from 28 per cent in 1981 to about 8 per cent last year. We believe that we should show respect to those who have given a lot to our country, and allow them to live in dignity in their later years.
These ideas--compassion, generosity, sharing, fairness and equality--are what motivate us as individuals and really, I believe, motivate our country. A great example of equality and fairness is our health-care system. In Canada, you have access to quality health care because you're sick, not because you're rich or poor. These aspects and bases for historical investment in solid social programming are as important today as they have been in the last 100 years.
But what's interesting is there's a changing dynamic about the importance of investing in people and our social programming. Seventy per cent of Canadian families are dual-income families. Building strong family policy is not only good for society, it is also good for our economy. The level of stress in the workplace is increasing unfortunately. But that means balancing work and family life is not only good social policy but good economic policy.
We are now in the knowledge-based economy. It is people and our ability to create and innovate that will drive our new economy. Investing in people, education, public education, and hoping that we can have more and more students like John to build the economy of the future. Social policy not only touches on our traditional values but is equally important to the values of competition, innovation and economic prosperity.
As I was sitting in the House last night thinking about what to say today, I realized we were voting on important pieces of social policy I was signing a letter back to Hugh Segal in his capacity as president of the Institute for Research and Public Policy and writing to Andrew Sharp who is the head of the Centre for Studies in Standards of Living. I was writing to thank them for sending me a copy of their latest document entitled "The Social Understanding of Productivity."
Social policy and economic policy marrying together. For those of you who have been in the field of social policy for years, you understand that social policy and economic policy are two sides of the same coin. It's essential today for us to continue investing in programs that some people in the past thought about as being nothing but a drain. Not any more. Never were they. But even more they are all about a gain.
I'm sitting here with Charlie Coffey, Executive Vice-President for RBC Financial. A businessman. A banker. But Charlie's figured it out. When I was the Minister of Indian Affairs, Charlie was encouraging and supporting investing in Aboriginal people so that they could connect with the economy. Now he is sitting beside Margaret McCain and the two of them are driving--along with so many others in the audience--a children's agenda. Recognizing that if we invest in our youngest citizens the payoff will be extraordinary. If we get it right in the early years, we have reduced costs to programs like health care, education and the justice system later on. It also ensures kids that when they get to school, they are ready to learn, and when they get a job, they're ready to work.
That's why I believe so strongly in the importance of social policy. Always have. But even more so today. I'm now Minister of Human Resources Development. I've been Minister of Indian Affairs, and started out as your tax collector. How lucky I feel having had those opportunities to get to know this great nation.
But in that context, ladies and gentlemen, I've crystallized in my own mind some fundamental principles that I believe we have to consider when we are developing and implementing good social-policy programs and services
here in Canada. First and foremost, it comes down to sustainability. This comes from recognizing the importance of your tax dollars.
There's no point in us implementing new programs that we can't sustain. We want to avoid going ahead too fast, too soon, at the risk of maybe having to pull back because we can't financially afford the programs we've implemented, or because they aren't doing the job we expect. Canadians demand and deserve, as we introduce new programs, that they will be there for them, and that they can continue to rely on them.
In that context of investing, we know how research is foundational in the development, implementation and testing of the social programs and policies that we choose to make. Research is essential to assure us that we are working towards a need and a public good. But, as we implement the programs, we can test them and make sure they are giving us the outcomes that we expect to receive--sustainability, research and development and flexibility.
Gone are the days of one size fits all. We have got to build programs that are as flexible as the Canadian public is dynamic and different. I can tell you, because we built in flexibility, Canadian moms and dads can choose which parent is going to stay at home with their newborn or newly adopted child for a period of a year.
You may be interested to know that, after one full year of implementation, we have three times the number of dads spending some time with their newborn. I think that is an exceptional change in our circumstances.
Not only do we have to build flexibility into our programs, we've also got to be flexible in our service-delivery mechanisms. Canadians want those programs delivered in a way that makes sense for them--by telephone, in person, on the Internet, or through the mail. We've got to be able to respond, and we need to build programs that fit that kind of model.
Now listen, for me our programs have also got to be inclusive. It drives me nuts when we develop public policy for the majority and then, some time after, maybe never, recognize there are additional things that we have to do.
So, for example, Canadians with disabilities, Aboriginal people and new immigrants need to participate as much as other Canadians. I'm telling you, ladies and gentlemen, I would far rather go slowly so we all walk together than get the majority of Canadians much further ahead than other citizens who demand and deserve their full rights with members of this great country.
We also look at our programming and realize that it consists not only of passive measures such as income support. They have to be part of our programming, but we also need active measures. We see that in Employment Insurance, for example, where individuals through no fault of their own can find themselves out of work and, through the government, can find some income support so that these individuals can continue to be self-sufficient and provide for their families while they look for a new job.
But there's another piece of that puzzle, of course. And that is providing those individuals the opportunity to learn, to retrain and to continue their lifelong learning cycle to find a new job. That active/passive balance from my point of view is critically important in the development of good social policy.
Something else has changed in our approach as well. It's not acceptable nor is it practical for the ideas to be developed, created and then implemented solely by the Government of Canada or any other government for that matter. We have to do it in partnership. And we have to start right from the very beginning of the partnership. I'd far rather take more time in the early going when developing new social policy and get it right so that our implementation stage is faster and smoother than do it
the other way around and risk never getting a piece of public policy implemented.
It takes those partnerships between and among governments, government departments, the private sector, the not-for-profit voluntary sector, educational institutions and individual Canadians to identify and then develop the appropriate strategies to respond to an issue of public need and public good.
Finally, we have to be responsive. It's incumbent on us to understand, to listen to Canadians, to appreciate what it is that they need, and back this up with good research and partnership and, in a sustainable fashion, build new programs that are flexible, inclusive, and make sense. With that said, I'll segue into sharing with you some of the results that we have had in the area of family and children's policy.
I know the table over here has been concentrating on the importance of early learning and childcare for a good long time. And they will remind me that it's about time we respond to the issues facing Canada's families and their children. Ten years ago it was our party in our first Red Book that talked about the importance of increasing the number of early learning and childcare spaces.
In the ensuing years there's been a lot of coalescing happening. In the context of research and development, people like Margaret McCain and Fraser Mustard have developed and provided us with the research that talks about the importance of the early years. And how critical it is for us to help our children have what they need in those early years while their physiology and their cognitive processes are developing.
We've got research that has been following child poverty. As you know, in the course of the '90s, our record was not good. But that research is pushing us to act. Research in the area of family work balance is telling us that Canadians are waiting for childcare and we have got to move the yardsticks. The research is there. And so is the awareness.
But something else has changed too. And it is partnerships. When you're in government, if you don't want to make investments, one of the best things that can happen is if your stakeholders are not coalesced or aligned and you can say, well we can't do that because that's not what this group wants. But, man oh man, when the partners and stakeholders come together and decide jointly that they will push an agenda (as they did in the area of children and family policy), boy, the sky is the limit.
There was a partnership forum that actually encouraged and led us to the creation of the National Children's Agenda. It included government, stakeholders, other professionals and individual Canadians. That agenda, if you get a chance to look at it, is extremely comprehensive as well as inclusive.
What's interesting is that, as the agenda was being developed, there were some other interesting partnerships evolving. The one I think about most is the partnership between the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories. One of our real challenges in the area of social policy is that often the services lie in the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Rightly so. How does the Government of Canada influence that without getting into a battle, creating duplication and overlap?
Well, in the context of children and family policy, we found a solution that led us to what is arguably one of the most significant new social programs in Canadian history. And that's the National Child Benefit, which is basically a system where the Government of Canada provides income support to take children off the welfare rolls of the provinces and territories.
With their savings, the provinces then invest in services for low-income families with children. This spares them the moral dilemma of leaving social assistance for a low-paying job because, in so doing, their children lose
the services they can get under the social-assistance program.
With this partnership between the Government of Canada and the provinces we have been working to pull down the welfare wall. To make work pay. In the context of our traditional values showing compassion, making sure no one gets left behind, we are encouraging the economic value of attachment to the workplace. It's quite honestly a simple model that is working.
It allows us to be responsible and reflective of the great Canadian federation. We have different levels of government working productively together for the sake of our common citizens, in this case, our youngest citizens and their parents.
I was thrilled in this last budget that significant new monies were identified, reaching $965 million per year by 2007, to again incrementally add to the National Child Benefit. For those of you who have been worried about the clawback, and not all of you will understand that, these new monies will get us to the point of having 90 per cent of children off welfare. And, at that point, I don't have any problem saying to the provinces we expect you to integrate your benefits to take some of these new monies, provide them to your social assistance recipients, all the while being cognizant of the fact that we don't want this welfare wall to go back up. But, in the context of fairness, let's build a stronger system.
I am very proud of the fact that we have doubled parental benefits. And here again we've got a classic example of doing good social policy because it's right for humanity. We are looking after our children and making sure their parents are there. But it's also good for the workplace. As I mentioned at the outset, 70 per cent of Canadian families are dual-income families. Parents today have 40-percent less time with their children than they did even in the early '80s.
Our research tells us that while early learning and care is good for children's development, the bonds formed between parent and child in the first year of life are critical. And so this model responds to that kind of research and the needs of Canadian parents.
We've also been working with the provinces to expand to a broader platform of services for all families and children. In the year 2000, we did sign a landmark Early Childhood Development agreement again with the provinces where the Government of Canada provides money for the provinces to invest in the four priority areas of servicing. The process requires accountability and reporting, reflective of the principles that I discussed in terms of developing good social policy. But again, over the course of time, we found there's an area where we can really turn on the jets. And this brings me to the case of early learning and childcare.
One of the biggest challenges that families face in the workplace is ensuring that their children have reliable, safe care. It's an expensive proposition to create new spaces, to pay our very valuable childcare providers, and to provide the subsidies so all parents have access to childcare. The Government of Canada recognized that this challenge was under provincial jurisdiction, but it was also important that it should make a contribution.
A few Thursdays ago I sat at a table with provincial and territorial ministers and we got a deal: $900 million will be transferred to the provinces and territories to help them expand regulated early learning and childcare. For me, that is a fundamental breakthrough. The table will tell you it's a foot in the door, but it's a great foot in the door. It is important for us to have a system in place that is responsive to parents, and ensure that our kids, whom we know are able to learn at a very early age, can get those early opportunities to socialize, to learn and to develop.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very proud of the infrastructure, the human infrastructure that we have been building
together in support of our children and our families. For me, in the context of the role people play in our new economy, that investment is as important if not more important than investing in streets and roads, and the other kind of traditional infrastructure that businesses rely on governments to provide so they can do their work.
I'm thrilled that we have been able to encourage a larger partnership from really all walks of life to focus on our children and our families, and to focus on the importance of social policy. Because, in my mind, it is critical to our success and our future as a nation. Now, in closing, I know these are very difficult times. Believe me, I feel the pressure as one of your representatives in Ottawa about the discussions and the decisions that we face every day in the global context.
But when we get a minute, a quiet minute, to reflect on where we are and what we have and our knowledge that by continuing to invest in our values and support humanity and democracy and also see how those investments put us in a competitive position in improving our quality of life, increasing our standard of living and our economic prosperity, we can breathe easy. It's not simple work. It will never be over. It's going to take every single one of us to keep pushing the agenda. But it's worth it. Because it will ensure that we continue to live in what is arguably one of the best countries in the world--our Canada.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Charles S. Coffey, Executive Vice-President, Government and Community Affairs, RBC Financial Group and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.