Check against delivery
I’d like to start by saying just a few words about the tragedy that has unfolded in Moncton this week. Here in Regina, we are 3,000 kilometres and three time zones away, but I’m sure that you all feel, as I do, that this horrific event happened not to strangers, but friends, because every one of those officers – in fact, every RCMP officer – has spent time in Regina, receiving their basic training at the RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division. This truly is where Mounties are born.
Just over a year ago, Depot’s long-serving Commanding Officer, Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, accepted a new post as the RCMP’s Commanding Officer in New Brunswick. I know his experience – gained here in Regina and across Canada – will serve the province well as they seek resolution and healing in the weeks and months to come.
The people of New Brunswick are resourceful and resilient, and I know they will overcome their shock and distress in time. For the families who lost children, and partners, and parents, and for those whose loved ones remain in hospital, the grief will be more lasting.
We need to remember these families: their service, and their sacrifice; their heroism, and their heartache. And we need to thank them. Not just when tragedy strikes, but every day, because their love for Canada and their commitment to keep us all safe doesn’t stop when their shift ends. I actually got to say thank you to the current Commanding Officer of Depot, Chief Superintendent Louise Lafrance, and asked her to pass it on to all those under her charge.
Fittingly we were together this morning at the D-Day commemorations, remembering the 5,000 Canadians who, 70 years ago, paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy today.
Today is indeed a day to remember all who serve, and remind ourselves that every day, we must strive to be worthy of the sacrifices they make for all of us.
On a less solemn note, I’d like to thank you so much for welcoming me back to Regina. When I was last here, I attended the Roughriders’ home opener against Calgary. The Green Team – and we know how their season turned out. So it was a good beginning for both of us, I thought.
And so much else has happened in the past year. My own family has grown. Sophie and I learned very quickly that man-to-man goes out the window with three kids. Now it’s all about the zone defense. On the work front, my party gained two new MPs – and lost all its Senators. And I starred in not one, but two rounds of Conservative attack ads.
About those ads. I’m often asked why the Liberals don’t take the same approach. After all, Mr. Harper’s government has certainly given us plenty to work with. My answer there is always the same: I prefer the “sunny ways” championed by our first French Canadian Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier.
When he talked about “sunny ways,” Laurier was referring to Aesop’s fable, The North Wind and the Sun. In that story, the wind and the sun argue about who is stronger, and the two fight to see who can get a traveler to take off his coat.
The wind blusters and blows, but the traveler just holds onto his coat, tighter and tighter. When it’s the sun’s turn, all he has to do to win the bet is shine warmly.
For me, that story perfectly captures some of our core Canadian values: the idea that persuasion is superior to force; and that kindness trumps aggression.
I love that story, and I suspect it’s one that resonates with people in Saskatchewan, too. Not just because your sense of social justice remains steadfast, but also because you’re now home to one of the sunniest economies in the nation.
Your renaissance started about ten years ago, when Saskatchewan first broke free of its historic “have not” position among provinces. You made that leap when my friend Ralph Goodale was Canada’s Finance Minister. In the decade since, thanks to strong commodity prices and your own hard work and ingenuity, your progress has been remarkable.
As much as I want to congratulate you for your economic growth, as the Leader of a national party, I also want to thank you. Your economy is performing at twice the national average. Without the significant real growth here in Saskatchewan, in Alberta, and in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada’s national growth would be almost non-existent.
All Canadians owe you a debt of gratitude for the hard work you’ve done, because the economic success you’ve achieved benefits us all. And some Canadians, I think, owe you an apology. I’m talking about those who would suggest that strong resource economies here in the West are akin to a “disease.” If annual GDP growth that’s nearing 5 percent is a disease, I’d hate to see the cure.
When your local economy is performing so well, it might be hard to believe that you are the exception and not the rule. Let me assure you: your success is exceptional. I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about how Canada’s national economy is performing as a whole.
In the past 30 years, Canada’s economy has more than doubled in size, but middle class family incomes have risen only about 15 percent. For Canada’s middle class, the only financial measure that has kept pace with GDP growth is household debt.
In fact, we’re now carrying more household debt than families in the United States and the United Kingdom and consequently we’re saving much less. CIBC estimates that the average 35-year-old now puts aside less than half of what their parents did at the same age.
If we have any hope of reversing these alarming trends, we must create the conditions for sustained economic growth across the country. If you want to appear to balance a budget in the short term, sure – monotone austerity will get you there. But for deep and durable fiscal success, Canada needs a growth agenda – not an austerity agenda. Growth is what we need to give the middle class some confidence that their family’s economic future will be bright.
And make no mistake: that confidence is essential. Right now, too many Canadians are worried about making ends meet. They don’t know if they can afford to send their kids to university, college, or technical school. They don’t know if their kids will be able to find jobs once they graduate. They’re worried about saving for their retirement, and everything that comes after.
And when that happens, when we fixate on our own challenges, it becomes harder to solve every other problem we face as a nation.
We get anxious and argumentative. We feel short-changed and blame others. From one end of the country to the other, the deeper the anxieties, the deeper the divisions. This has real consequences for all of us.
That’s because the growth we’ve seen over the past three decades has been the product of a broadly supported agenda: things like fiscal discipline, openness to trade, the proper development of natural resources. The middle class got behind these ideas because they were promised that everyone would share in the prosperity that would follow. Well, the prosperity came, but the sharing didn’t.
As a result, we risk losing middle class support for a growth agenda. People will become more interested in securing their own future than in improving the quality of life for all Canadians. If that happens, we’ll all be poorer, and not just in terms of dollars.
That’s a pretty bleak – a pretty windy – picture, I know. But there is some sunshine if you know where to look for it.
Here it is: our federal fiscal position is actually quite strong. Because of some tough choices that Canadians made in the 1990s, our government is in a far better position than it once was.
Back then, our federal debt represented 70 percent of GDP, or the total wealth our economy generated. Today, the debt is less than half that. The US and the UK? They can only dream of being where Canada was back in 1995. So you see what can happen when economic growth and fiscal responsibility go hand in hand.
That puts Canada in a unique position. The middle class is tapped out, as are the provinces and territories due to aging populations and rising health care costs. But the federal government does have room to invest.
Now, I don’t believe that governments can solve all problems, and I don’t believe they should try. But the things we do, we must do well. And in particular, I believe it is the Prime Minister’s job to get the big things right; because these are the things that are fundamental to the lives of Canadians, the people we were elected to serve.
That’s why a Liberal government led by me would put a renewed focus on five big things: on our people, on trade, on the smart management of our natural resources, on innovation, and on infrastructure.
When it comes to people, few things can deliver economic success, security, and confidence like education.
Seven out of ten of Canada’s future new jobs will require post-secondary education. If we can raise our post-secondary education attainment rate to 70 percent, we’ll have a workforce ready to meet Canada’s future job market needs. Regina is well-positioned to lead on that front, thanks to its strong academic community with the University of Regina, the First Nations University of Canada, other Aboriginal institutions, the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology, and of course, apprenticeships in the private sector.
Long-term investments in post-secondary education will prepare us for the future. But we’re also facing some urgent labour challenges right now. It affects different parts of the country in different ways, but here in Saskatchewan it’s reflected in an unemployment rate that’s half the national average.
You need workers, and you need them now. Or in some cases, yesterday. While opportunities should always be offered to Canadians first, it’s clear that immigration has a role to play, as it has throughout our history.
For more than 30 years, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program functioned … pretty well. But under the Conservatives’ watch, there has been story after story of abuse, poor administration, little oversight, and no enforcement. The program as it stands has let down both Canadians and those who hope to someday become Canadians.
Liberals believe that the program needs to return to its original purpose: to fill jobs on a limited basis when no Canadian workers can be found. We need greater transparency and accountability in the program, driven by accurate, community-by-community data. And we must have genuine enforcement of its rules, in partnership with the provinces.
But most importantly, we need to re-commit ourselves, as a nation, to welcoming more permanent immigrants and providing them with legitimate and lasting paths to citizenship.
Minister Boyd and the Wall government have been requesting that from the federal government for several years. They asked that Saskatchewan’s allotment under the provincial immigrant nominee program be raised by 2000 people per year.
What did they get? Just a few hundred: 450 more last year, and 275 more this year.
Think of how much pressure could have been taken off the Temporary Foreign Worker Program if this reasonable request for more permanent residents had been accepted. If the federal government was sincere in its desire to help Saskatchewan’s employers, Mr. Harper and Mr. Kenney would have granted the request – not blocked it.
I’m similarly skeptical about Mr. Harper’s ability to build trust and respect with First Nations and other Aboriginal peoples. His mismanagement of these critical relationships began with his senseless cancellation of the Kelowna Accord and continues to this day, with the collapse of the latest First Nations’ educational deal and his failure to appreciate that while governments issue permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.
Clearly, I’m of the opinion that when it comes to our greatest strength – our people – Mr. Harper is getting a lot of things wrong. But let’s get back to the other four things the federal government needs to get right.
Foreign direct investment and trade; to quote Prime Minister Laurier again, the Liberal approach to trade involves “seek[ing] markets wherever markets are to be found,” and that’s a fair description of my party’s position today. We are passionate supporters of free trade.
That’s why we chose not to play politics with the recently announced free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea, as well as the agreement in principle with the European Union. We are broadly supportive of those agreements.
Properly negotiated and implemented, they should be good for Saskatchewan, a heavily trade-dependent province. The bottom line is that jobs in competitive, exporting sectors pay 50 percent higher wages than industries that are not trade intensive – that is good news for the middle class and the communities they call home.
And for people living, as you do, smack dab in the middle of the country, you know it is a fundamental responsibility of government to make sure growers, producers, and extractors can access those markets.
We’ve seen this government fail our farmers on this with the grain-by-rail debacle of the past year, but we are also watching them fail on another file critically important to Saskatchewan: our natural resources, which is the third opportunity I want to talk about this morning.
Unlike the current federal government, we don’t see economic growth and environmental stewardship as incompatible. In fact, pretending – in the 21st century – that we have to choose between one or the other is as harmful as it is wrong.
Last October, I surprised a lot of people by going to Washington, D.C. and telling a room full of Democrats that this Canadian Liberal supports the Keystone XL pipeline – and I do. Having examined the facts, and accepting the judgment of the National Energy Board, I believe it is in the national interest.
Keystone would create jobs and growth, strengthen our ties with the world’s most important market, and generate wealth.
Most of all, it’s in line with what I believe is a fundamental role of the Government of Canada: to open up markets abroad for Canadian resources, and to help create responsible and sustainable ways to get those resources to those markets.
But at the same time, I understand our U.S. partner’s reluctance. A lot of it stems from the fact that Keystone has been treated like a foregone conclusion rather than a complex international project that calls for careful, nuanced negotiation –and environmental credibility.
It doesn’t help that Mr. Harper’s government has stubbornly refused to consider stronger environmental policies, including some means to price carbon pollution.
This week, the White House revealed a new proposal targeting greenhouse gases, as part of a broader plan to tackle global climate change. The message we send to Americans about our own environmental priorities? In French, it’s “Ce n’est pas grave.” In English, “Don’t worry about it.” In either language, it’s an embarrassment.
A week after I returned from Washington, I told the Calgary Petroleum Club that if Canada had stronger, more credible environmental policies in place, the Americans would have approved Keystone XL a long time ago. I stand by that statement.
It’s increasingly clear – to everybody but Mr. Harper, it seems – that consensus building is the only responsible way to turn resource opportunities into economic realities. We need to draw on our intelligence, our scientific expertise, and our ability and willingness to solve problems, as much as we draw on the resources themselves.
Here, again, is something your province does so well. Your commitment to innovation has always seen you through. From sod houses in the South to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron in Saskatoon, to the groundbreaking work being done by the Petroleum Technology Research Centre right here in Regina. That’s the kind of resourcefulness Canada needs as we settle into this new and uncertain century.
I’m very proud of the fact that Wilfrid Laurier shares space with Canadarm2 and Dextre on our new $5 bill, but I’m also eager to find out what technology might be featured there ten years from now, 20 years from now. Those new ideas, and the high-paying skilled jobs that come with them will be critical to our future growth.
I have tremendous faith in Saskatchewan’s ability to remain an innovative leader in science and technology and, well, just about any other endeavor you set your minds to. This is a province of winners. You’ve got the Grey Cup to prove it.
And though he didn’t come back home with the other big cup, how proud you all must be of Dustin Tokarski, from “sockball” in his parents’ basement to the Stanley Cup playoffs. I’ve been a Habs fan my entire life and his games in net against the Rangers were some of the most exciting hockey I’ve ever seen. No one who has spent any time in this province can be surprised at the kind of tenacity he displayed, and the hope he brought to any entire country.
But back to the reason you’ve invited me here today. I’ve mentioned higher education and skills, frer trade, natural resources and the environment, and innovation.
The last of the five big things the government needs to get right is infrastructure investment. As I said to a gathering of municipal leaders last week – one that included Mayor Fougere and several of your city councilors – federal funding needs to be substantial, predictable, and sustainable. If we want a strong country, filled with neighbourhoods, towns and cities we can all be proud of, the Government of Canada must build better partnerships with municipalities.
That starts with addressing the problems in the new Building Canada Fund. The Conservatives boast that the total of this new tenyear fund has never been bigger. And yet, they’ve slashed the available funding by nearly 90 percent in its first year. Last year, the fund made $1.7 billion available for infrastructure projects. This year, the Conservative government is only investing $210 million.
And not only has that fund been slashed, it’s been delayed. We’re now well over two months into this year’s construction season. The new fund limits what the money can be used for and how. And municipalities are being forced to compete against universities, colleges, and other “government entities” for the same smaller pool of funds.
More of the fund’s money will be available down the road, but according to the government’s own plan, you’ll have to wait another five or six years before you see it. More than 70 percent of it is locked away until after 2019. I believe it’s irresponsible, at a time when our towns and cities are starved for capital, to cut, delay and distort our core infrastructure program so badly.
It may move the government closer to a balanced budget in an election year, but does nothing to generate economic growth, stimulate job creation, or improve the quality of life for Canadians.
Even over its tenyear lifespan, the government’s plan is too timid. If we want transformative results, we must do more: more to help our cities build safe and reliable water and transit systems; more to help folks who are struggling to find an affordable place to live.
And more to help our businesses and our farmers get their products to their customers when expected. Ralph Goodale showed tremendous leadership in response to this winter’s grain shipment crisis, but it’s a crisis that could have been – should have been – avoided.
We’re talking about positive, constructive ways to move this country forward; by focusing on our people, on trade, on the smart management of our natural resources, on innovation, and on infrastructure investments.
These are some of core policy areas you can expect to see in our election platform. By getting these things right, we can strengthen the middle class and, as a result, our entire economy.
That, I believe, is what politics should be about: rallying Canadians around a greater vision, reminding them of what we can accomplish when we work together, and inspiring them to help build an even better future.
Listen, I’m aware of what the attack ads say. And I know there are cynics who argue that anyone who favours dialogue – who talks about things like understanding, unity, and compassion – is naïve. But I will always believe that when it comes to getting the big things right, persuasion and goodwill are the paths we should choose.
And I will always believe – because Canadians have shown this to me at every opportunity – that with a little hope and a lot of hard work, there’s no problem that we can’t solve, together.