Five Priorities for the Federal Government
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Apr 2004, p. 333-349
Martin, The Rt. Hon. Paul, Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
First, an announcement about Mr. Fadi Fadel who was taken hostage in Iraq. Reference to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's quote. How Canada must belong to the 21st century. Some challenges for Canadians and the Canadian government. Transformative change. Five priorities and a discussion of each: health care, learning, Canada's aboriginal peoples, our communities, our cities large and small, and our role in the world. Remaining committed to fiscal prudence while pursuing these priorities.
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16 Apr 2004
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Full Text
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
The Rt. Hon. Paul Martin Prime Minister of Canada
Co-Chairman: John C. Koopman
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Co-Chairman: Ravi Seethapathy
President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Head Table Guests

Charles S. Coffey, Director, The Empire Club of Canada and Children's Advocate; Gloria So, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Rt. Rev. Peter Mason, Retired Bishop, Diocese of Ontario, and Director of Development, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto; Frances Lankin, President and CEO, United Way and Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Rai Sahi, Chairman and CEO, Morguard Investments Ltd.; Michael MacMillan, Chairman and CEO, Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. and President Elect, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Senator David Smith, Counsel, Fraser Milner Casgrain; Scott Hand, Chairman and CEO, Inco Limited; His Worship Mayor David Miller, Mayor for the City of Toronto; Nick Chambers, Manager, Benchmark Performance and Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Margaret McMillan, Provost, Trinity College and Author and Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for "Paris 1919"; Sylvia Maracle, Executive Director, Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres; The Hon. George Smitherman, MPP, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Province of Ontario; John A. Campion, Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; and The Hon. Joe Volpe, MP, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, Government of Canada.

Introduction by John Koopman

Politicians have been making unthinkable promises to our clubs for over a century.

Almost exactly 100 years ago, early in 1904, Prime Minister Laurier spoke to the Canadian Club. At that address Laurier made his now famous promise: "As the 19th century was that of the United States, so I think that the 20th century shall be filled by Canada."

That claim has resonated ever since, probably because at the time Laurier made the statement, it was so utterly unthinkable. When Jacques Cartier first arrived in Canada in 1534, he said: "I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land that God gave to Cain." As the 20th century dawned, there was not a lot of reason to believe that Cartier was wrong. The economy was unstable, economic growth tepid, and we lacked even a basic industrial base. The country was coming off bitter social and cultural infighting: memories of Louis Riel and the Manitoba School Crisis were still fresh. Migration to the United States was so rampant newspapers suggested that anyone capable of travelling was leaving.

It seemed ludicrous to think that the severely politically divided and under-populated Dominion of Canada with only five million inhabitants spread across a harsh, unforgiving landscape could ever fulfill Laurier's promise, particularly when just to the south 93 million Americans still breathed "manifest destiny."

Laurier envisioned a Canada of 100 million strong and of course that has not happened yet, but the essence of Laurier's vision was realized. By the standards of most countries in the world, today, we are fabulously well off; we were not in 1904.

Almost exactly a decade ago, in March 1994, our guest, then in his capacity as Minister of Finance addressed a joint meeting of our clubs and made a couple of unthinkable promises:

First he would eliminate the federal deficit. After more or less 25 consecutive years of federal deficits this was an unthinkable promise.

He also promised to put the CPP on a sound financial footing. At that time, this was also an unthinkable promise. By 1994 most young people had lost hope that the CPP would ever contribute to their retirement.

As we all know our guest delivered on both promises.

Right Honourable Sir, all of us here hope you have some more promises in store for us today.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Paul Martin, to our joint podium.

Paul Martin

Thank you very much Mr. Koopman. Thank you for that introduction. Ministers, members of Parliament and the legislature, Senator, Your Worship, members of the head table, the Right Honourable John Turner, ladies and gentlemen:

Before I begin my principal remarks let me just say that there are many politicians who have made, I can tell you, unthinkable promises but most of us as politicians are messengers of one kind or another. Occasionally, we are allowed to be messengers of great joy. I just want to tell all of you that I had an opportunity to speak to the brother of Fadi Fadel, the young Canadian who was taken hostage in Iraq, and I have been informed and he has been informed that young Mr. Fadel has now been released and he is safe and sound. I think we should all stand up and give his family and him a great round of applause.

I want to thank the sponsors for this small intimate dinner and I want to thank the Empire Club and I want to thank the Canadian Club. Perhaps I could pick up on your remarks about Sir Wilfrid Laurier because that banquet, some of you may know, was held just a few blocks from Parliament Hill. It was certainly a different time from today. The walls, I understand, were decorated with Union Jacks, the air was thick with smoke from cigars and pipes which I understand Mr. Mayor is no longer allowed. The women in attendance wore white gloves and, as you said Mr. Koopman, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was at the rostrum. The governor general stood, the leader of the opposition stood, everyone stood and applauded when the great liberal prime minister boldly declared, as you have just said, that the twentieth century would belong to Canada.

We are now 100 years removed from that night and those words but the sense of national optimism, as you have said, is no less grand in our time. We know who we are and we know what we want to do as a nation. The unity of our country is strong, we have social programs that are the envy of so many others, we are rich in cultural diversity, we have a balanced budget, a feat matched by no other nation of the G-8 and we are active in bringing peace and freedom to troubled parts of the globe. Today, Sir Wilfrid's confidence echoes in every corner of this vast land, but the world has changed.

For us to succeed in this generation it is not so much that the twenty-first century will belong to Canada, as it is Canada must belong to the twenty-first century. And this will not come to us simply for the asking. We must work for it. The world is smaller now, the challenges more pressing and the obstacles more formidable.

So what does all of this mean for us as Canadians?

I suggest to you that it means that in all of our pursuits settling for good enough is not good enough. We must push ourselves as a nation to be the very best that we can because the world will indeed challenge us.

Government is not exempt from the realities of modern times. It too must push to be the very best that it can and that's why even though we have been in office only a very short time we have brought significant change to the way that Ottawa works--change in restoring the influence of members of Parliament through free votes and an increased role in the appointment of senior officials, change in the way government monitors and controls its expenditures and change in the way that government is accountable to Canadians.

Well that's fine. This is what government must do. We identified a problem, the democratic deficit, and we took immediate action by implementing transformative change. Let me pause here for a moment. Transformative change--what does it mean? To me it means a fundamental shift in approach and direction. It is not stop-gap measures imposed incrementally. It requires a determined focus. It requires a relentless drive but the reward ulti mately is tangible results, progress that you can see and engage.

Let me just pick up again on your presentation Mr. Koopman. Let me give you an example of what I mean by transformative change. Let me take you back almost a decade to where you began, back inside the Department of Finance, where work was underway on the 1995 bud get. Simply put, Canada's finances were a mess. Succession of governments had for almost 30 years attempted to tackle the problem with incremental measures. The result was a government that had borrowed so much that it found itself having to answer first to its creditors and only second to the needs of its own people. Now that's when we knew it wouldn't be good enough to just reduce the deficit. We knew we would have to eliminate it and to do that we knew we would have to cast aside old approaches, old assumptions and conventional wisdom. So that's exactly what we did in the 1995 budget. It was controversial and it was tough, but in a few years it brought us a balanced budget, diminishing debt and the ability to deliver the largest tax cuts in Canadian history and, most importantly, it brought us the capacity to deter mine our own future and to make our own choices. As a country you said we have not looked back.

Well that was then and this is now. The challenges facing government are different today but I believe that we must adopt the same bold approach. We must be focused, we must be unyielding and we must challenge the status quo.

To that end we have determined that among the very many important responsibilities of government there are five areas in which we must proceed with particular vigour, creativity and urgency; five areas that we will pursue as overwhelming and overriding priorities. These--health care, learning, Canada's aboriginal peoples, our communities, our cities large and small, and our role in the world--are areas in which quite simply we must break new ground.

Pursuing these goals we will remain committed to fiscal prudence. This does not mean that we are helplessly constrained. By undertaking aggressive expenditure review, as we are already doing, by reallocating resources and by taking advantage of the new revenues presented by economic growth, the fact is we will be able to marshal the funds we require to bring about real progress on the issues that matter most to Canadians. Ours will be a progressive responsible approach but let me tell you as we said in '95 we will get the job done.

Any discussion of our priorities must begin with health care and I'm delighted to see Ontario's Minister of Health here today for there is no other issue of such vital and visceral significance to Canadians. Most of us have experienced anxious moments waiting in a hospital emergency room. Many have endured the uneasy wait for diagnostic tests and some have spent long nights staring hopefully at monitors in the intensive unit. Every day in our hospitals there are moments that alter the course of human lives and this is when people need their governments most.

So what do we want? We want reform that starts and ends with a mind to patients and their families. We want reform that enables doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals to be available when needed and where needed. We want reform that ensures timely access to quality services that improves health-care outcomes. Canadians want and need reform that ensures that diagnostic tests, surgery and treatments are governed by need not rationed by waiting. We need reform that makes it absolutely certain that our system of publicly funded universally available health care, a program that was introduced when many baby boomers were just becoming adults, will be there for their grandchildren and beyond.

Now of course money is part of it. The system has to be properly funded but reform does not begin with a dollar sign and end with a bunch of zeros. The federal government has already committed $37 billion in new money over the course of the next five years. This represents a better than 8-per-cent annual increase in spending, but I'm here to tell you today that we are prepared and quite willing to invest more.

But here's the reality. Canada as a nation already spends more per capita on health than the great majority of developed countries, yet our outcomes while good are not discernibly better. Guided by the work of Roy Romanow and many others who have studied the health system exhaustively and fully involving health-care professionals who are here today and who are on the front lines, Canada needs real reform that will deliver real results; results that can be measured and then reported transparently so all of us can see how well the health-care system is working and where it needs improvement. The challenge before us is to restore public confidence in the health-care system and in our ability to fix it.

Any discussion of health care runs the risk of deteriorating into generalities so let me be very specific. We must reduce wait times. Canadians need to know wherever they live how long it takes to get an MR], how long it takes to see a doctor, how long it takes to get needed hip surgery and how quickly their child will be seen in the emergency ward. And Canadians need to know how governments will bring these wait times down. What can governments do to reduce wait times? Working with the provinces and territories we must find ways to resolve the shortage of medical providers that exists in too many parts of our country.

We must open up medical spaces in our universities, both for young Canadians seeking entry and new immigrants seeking qualification. We must determine an appropriately expanded role for nurse practitioners and other para-medical personnel and we must ensure that our diagnostic facilities are adequate and fully utilized. Working with our provincial and territorial partners, many of whom are in the process of making important steps in the road to reform, we must build on progress we made in primary-care renewal to ensure the right response by the right health-care provider. We must work together to establish a program at home in community-care services. Why? Because appropriate home care will reduce the burden on acute-care resources. We'll make better services available to Canadians which will ultimately result in a less costly and a more sustainable system. The reform plan must also include a national pharmaceutical strategy because no Canadian should suffer undue financial hardship as a result of needed drug therapy.

The implementation of these important reforms will come as part of a 10-year plan that we will seek to work out with the provinces and the territories. Let's be very clear. We are finished with year-to-year scrambles for short-term solutions. What the provinces need and what they have called for is a long-term agreement that guarantees predictable reliable funding. And what we all need is a fundamental commitment to reform.

Medicare is more than just another government program. Medicare is a statement of our values as a nation and that's why I'm looking forward to meeting with the premiers this summer, not just for lunch or dinner or over a weekend, but for as long as it takes for us to agree on a long-term plan for a health-care system that is properly funded, clearly sustainable and significantly reformed.

Let's now talk about learning and let's start by putting its importance in context. We all understand that a strong economy is the foundation on which a successful society is built. That's why we strive to reduce taxes and debt. That's why we invest in research and development. That's why we endeavour to commercialize that research and development. That's why we focus on securing trading partnerships around the world and keeping open the border with the United States. That's why sustainable development cannot only be a pious wish. That's why it has to be a fundamental pillar underlying the nature of economic growth. Most critically, that's why we have to understand that competing in the twenty-first century demands a population geared to innovation. Quite simply, Canada's educated talent pool must be among the deepest and the best available anywhere for the sake of our children and for our sake.

In some countries it is not uncommon to hear people speak of the need to restrict trade, to close borders to global competition. I suspect that every one of us in this room understands the extent to which that is clearly a flawed approach. But the truth is that for us in Canada it's not even an option. We're a nation of only 31 million people. We have no choice but to face global competition. We have no alternative but to win. This is why we have to reduce the barriers that exist to education.

It is true that we are among the world's leaders in the percentage of people who receive post-secondary education but we have got to do a lot better than that. We must address the fact for instance that we rank far below the United States in the percentage of students who achieve post-graduate degrees. The federal government has an important role to play in post-secondary education and it begins with access. We as a society cannot deprive people of the opportunity simply because their families don't have money. That's why in last month's budget we set out a number of very important measures, down payments, to address the need of affordability for those who want to go to university or college and we will continue in this vein.

But that being said, we have to broaden our horizons as well. For example we must recognize that as a nation we face a growing skill shortage and that we must start talking about the openings for our young people who apprentice in the skill trades. In short, what we have to do is to work with the provinces, colleges, the unions and the industry sector councils to find ways to enable young people to understand that education has many, many, facets. The last budget was the second major education budget in recent years but it's only the beginning. We have to understand that a Canadian's ultimate success in post-secondary education begins in earliest childhood; in fact pre-natal to age six. Intellectual and emotional potential can be encouraged and nurtured. Literacy must be fostered early. You have to understand that those who require remedial assistance need to be identified early and later on Canadians must have access to a culture of continuous retooling, a philosophy underpinned by a series of life-long learning initiatives that over time become a way of life.

Next, Canada's aboriginal peoples represent the fastest-growing segment of our population. They make up the youngest group in our society. Aboriginal children represent an important part of our future, yet theirs is collectively a story of promises untapped and promises unfulfilled. Decades of well-intentioned government policies have been enacted to insufficient benefit. Our goal is to reverse that path. The federal government has undertaken many initiatives on health care, on housing, early childhood education, and recently on clean water, but we are dealing with problems that can't be solved simply by writing a cheque. We have to be smart enough to do things differently. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Increasingly these days, young aboriginals are moving to our major centres in search of a job and a better life. I ask you to think of the culture shock. Think of a young person from a small and isolated reserve arriving downtown in a major city like Toronto. How could we possibly be surprised to discover that so many have trouble making the adjustment? If young aboriginals are coming to the major cities and they are in large numbers, we have got to make it possible for them to succeed. We have got to remove obstacles and create opportunities and we will. In short, if we talk about helping hope to thrive and we talk about opportunity flourishing on reserves then let's understand that this is also needed in the inner city.

To achieve measurable progress it is clear that new approaches are necessary from all sides. Government must put an end to the paternalistic approach that embodies too much of its activities and aboriginal leadership must now deliver on the principles of open and accountable government. True progress starts with a full partnership with all of the rights and also the responsibilities on both sides of that partnership and that's why I have asked aboriginal leaders from across the country to come to Ottawa this coming Monday, in three days, to sit down with me and more than 20 government ministers. This will be an important summit. Its message must be that the changes we all want to see will not be measured in rhetoric but they will be measured in meaningful improvements of quality-of-life indicators--better health care and housing and in the essential economic indicators--more kids finishing high school, more going to university, more successful aboriginal businesses, all of which lead to more economic development and greater self-sufficiency. Quite simply we need a new beginning. Let it be this Monday.

Let me now turn to the places where we live. As a government we've already made a priority of helping communities find new sources of predictable long-term funding from our biggest cities to our smallest towns. By giving municipalities full relief from the GST we will be handing over $7 billion to them over the course of the next decade. We see this as an important beginning but it can only be the beginning. The fact is our municipalities are in the front lines of every social problem and every economic opportunity in this country. The problem is that they are working off a nineteenth-century blueprint for a twenty-first century economic reality and therefore the federal government will ask the premiers and municipal leaders to start discussions on how our cities and our towns should be provided with the resources they need. We will be talking about more innovative partnerships that would enable us to better deal with the huge infrastructure deficit the country and its municipalities confront. We will be talking to Mr. Mayor about the gas tax and we will be doing that before the end of this year.

Our major cities are the focal point around which economic, social and cultural innovation take place. As they go, so does the country and that's why we are committed to making available for the benefit of the cities and communities new sources of revenue. But there is more to it than just money. It is a coming to grips with the reality of how we as a country must organize ourselves to face the future. A community is where every government program of every level ultimately meets the citizen. When we talk about ensuring clean air and clean water, when we talk about housing for low-income families, when we talk about care for children, for senior citizens, or those with disabilities, when we talk about the need to address greenhouse gas emissions or to clean-up ground fill sites, when we talk about community-based health promotion, when we talk about immigration and our need for more people, when we talk about the need to fight racism, these are issues of great and overriding national importance and we will address them far more wisely and far more comprehensibly if the federal and the provincial governments do it hand in hand with municipal governments for these are the people who know their communities best.

When I was in Toronto with Mayor Miller two weeks ago for the transit announcement, I talked of the weight of responsibility now being born by our biggest cities. They are indeed our signatures to the world and as they succeed so do we. But today, let me mention our smaller municipalities whose problem of urban gridlock may not be as acute as yours, but whose need for economic development may well be greater. I've spoken with a lot of leaders in the smaller communities across our land in the last little while. They understand that high tech and R&D are essential to their ability to grow their economies and all of this is crucial if their children are to come home. Economic opportunities have to be created in the places where they were raised.

That's why we have to help these smaller communities address their most pressing issues by giving them the tools to help themselves. This is why we must ensure that research and development is supported in regional universities as well as in our biggest universities and why we must encourage the flow of venture capital into the economic clusters that they engender.

In summary, then, municipalities are creatures of the provinces and we respect this, but as well municipal governments large and small are real and mature players in the national give-and-take. This must be recognized in the way the federal government deals with them. The achievement of great national objectives requires that everybody be at the table. This is why we are working with the provinces to ensure that communities have a say when national decisions that affect them are taken, not only because it's in their individual interest as cities or municipalities but because it is in our collective interest as a nation.

Finally, our role in the world. Hereto Canada must belong to the twenty-first century. The government is currently undertaking a wide-ranging international policy review, the results of which will be made public later this fall. Without pre-empting its conclusions, there can be no doubt about our goal--to ensure that the Canadian perspective grows in influence on the global stage and for that to happen old habits must be broken. I ask you to turn your thoughts to the Cold War. We knew who the enemy was; we knew where the enemy lived; we could predict a front line and no conflict was ever closer to us than a full ocean away. Well this is not the world that we live in today where the unexpected is to be expected. From the regional instability of failing states to the intensification of infectious diseases, clearly we must be more vigilant close to home and we must be prepared to do more far from home. Now what does this mean?

Well I would suggest to you that it means in a world where adversaries are unpredictable and difficult to identify, that we can no longer view our security through distinct domestic continental and international lenses. In an age of indiscriminate carnage perpetrated by small terrorist cells, today's frontline stretches from the streets of Kabul to the raillines of Madrid and on through Manhattan to the cities across North America here in Canada. The conflict is not over there. There is no longer a major problem in the world that does not affect us. Our approach to Canada's security must reflect this altered reality. Canada's presence in Afghanistan has all the hallmarks of the new type of operation that the Canadian forces will be expected to lead. The multilateral mission--Afghanistan--is aimed at reviving a failing state for humanitarian reasons but also so as to deny it to terrorists. Elements of defence, diplomacy and development are woven tightly together in the fabric of the Afghan mission. This will serve, I'm sure, as a model for Canada's involvement in international crises of the future. We want to be people who help secure and keep the peace in troubled nations so we will design and fund a military that is capable of doing that job. We want to be a nation that's involved in institution building and this is why we're creating the Canada corp to marshal Canadian skills combined with the energy and idealism of our young people to help nurture democracy and the rule of law in fragile states.

Our strategy to raise Canada's voice in the world is premised on the plain fact of growing global interdependence. That's why we must think beyond the G8S. It's why we must include as full partners in the dialogue such emerging powers as China, India and Brazil. There can be no solutions for tomorrow's challenges of environmental sustainability, liberalized trade, financial stability and peace and security unless these nations are at the table. This is why the Government of Canada has been advocating for a leaders' G20 to build on the success of the group of 20 finance ministers that was established in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.

At the same time, we are determined to maintain and advance our most important association--the one we share with the United States. Because it is so central to our respective interests, we must develop the more sophisticated relationship based on informed dialogue, shared values and respect for our differences. All politics is local. The United States is no different from any other democracy. For example, it is U.S. regional interests in Congress that have led to the stalemate over BSE and softwood lumber. That's why we are establishing a new secretariat in Washington, one that I will open when I meet with President Bush at the end of the month; a secretariat that will facilitate invaluable contact between elected representatives in our two countries helping to forge closer ties among federal and provincial members of Parliament and their congressional counterparts.

Canada is a sovereign independent nation. We are envied. We are ambitious and we are resolute. We are confident of our place in North America and in the world. We are cognizant of the benefits of multilateralism, of the need for reform of many of the great international institutions, including the United Nations. We are cognizant that for too many people the benefits of globalization are a myth seen through eyes closed by disease, by famine, by war. We are cognizant that we can make a difference. We are cognizant that Canada will make a difference for there can be no greater manifestation of our sovereignty than to seek to leave the world in a better place than we found it.

These are our priorities. In some of the five areas that I have just mentioned, the provinces have the primary jurisdiction and we respect that. Some may see this as a reason to downscale our efforts. We on the other hand see it as an opportunity to foster a new cooperative relationship to prove to Canadians that their governments share the goal of achieving real progress on the issues that matter most; to prove to Canadians that their governments understand that the Canada of the future is being formed by the actions and the priorities of governments today.

When Wilfrid Laurier stood before the nation in 1904, he could not have known the success that Canada would achieve in the century to come. He could not have known the progress it would realize nor the valour as a nation we would demonstrate. But he was a man of great vision and he embodied the progressive beliefs that have been integral to our national accomplishments. "I'm a Liberal," he said, early in his political career. "I'm one of those who think that everywhere in human things there are abuses to be reformed, new horizons to be opened up and new forces to be developed." Laurier knew as we do today that new horizons are not opened up overnight; the realization of our goals lies ahead. But the vision is now. A nation able to meet the challenges of an uncertain time. A people who follow a path of change to ever strengthen nationhood. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Ravi Seethapathy, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto and Chairman, Engineers Without Borders.

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Five Priorities for the Federal Government

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
First, an announcement about Mr. Fadi Fadel who was taken hostage in Iraq. Reference to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's quote. How Canada must belong to the 21st century. Some challenges for Canadians and the Canadian government. Transformative change. Five priorities and a discussion of each: health care, learning, Canada's aboriginal peoples, our communities, our cities large and small, and our role in the world. Remaining committed to fiscal prudence while pursuing these priorities.