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Remarks to Canadian Legislative Conference Building and Construction Trade Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Posted on May 5, 2009

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Ottawa, Ontario

Thank you. Good afternoon.

Thank you Mary (Dougherty).

I’m glad to be back with you this year, and to see so many of you here.

We need a strong labour movement in this country. We need an engaged labour movement in this country, and this conference get bigger every year—you’re advancing your issues, you’re being heard, and Canada is better off for it.

On that note I want to congratulate your Director of Canadian Affairs, Bob Blakely, on another successful gathering.

This year’s conference is about energy jobs—about the future of our economy and how the building and construction trades fit into the work that’s ahead for us as a country.

You’re talking about the right issue at the right time.

Canada’s economy is in crisis. The confidence of Canada’s people is in crisis.

The parent who’s struggling to put food on the table, whose kids are going to school hungry because mom or dad can’t get EI.

The senior who’s retired after thirty years on the job, who’s now watching their retirement savings disappear—and their home and pension collapse in value.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been thrown out of work. Young people are starting off their working lives in the unemployment line. Small businesses can’t get the credit they need to stay in business.

For the first time in a long time, people in this country aren’t sure what our future is going to look like. Once you put the pieces of our economy back together, what will it be?

That’s the central question of our economic recovery. Because getting out of this crisis isn’t just about getting back to where we were before. It’s about surpassing ourselves—it’s about building our nation beyond what we have already accomplished—it’s about reaching for our own potential—about believing again in Canada.

Recovery is about always asking, “Why not a better Canada? And why not now?”

You’re here this week to answer that question—part of it, anyway. And I’m here this afternoon to venture a guess.

This recession forces us to reckon with history. The decisions we make now will shape this century.

We have to decide to create the jobs of tomorrow today.

We have to decide to lead the world in creating the green technologies that will power the 21st century world economy.

We have to decide to work in a renewed partnership between labour, the private sector, and all orders of government to make our vision real.

And we have to back those decisions up with credible ambition—with a vision of what the country we love can be.

Our objectives at the outset are familiar.

We need a coherent national strategy for energy and the environment, one that strengthens the unity of our country.

Right now you have provinces stepping up to fill the void left by the federal government, which has refused to show leadership on protecting our environment and on using our energy resources responsibly.

A national approach means embracing big ideas, national projects to advance our goal of becoming the most efficient users of energy on the planet, and the most sustainable energy exporters.

A national approach means maximizing the immense advantage we stand to gain from harnessing the power in our winds, tides, rivers, and fuels to become a green energy superpower.

If we invest in building the infrastructure that will allow us to take advantage of our resources sustainably, we will create a new generation of jobs in this country.

If we invest in the ingenuity of our people to develop technologies that will do more with less in a resource-constrained world, we will build a new culture of entrepreneurship.

Canada must set an example for the world.

We must lead by example again.

We can lead by example by creating a Canadian cap-and-trade system, with hard caps and targets set according to 1990 levels.

We can lead by example by finding Canadian solutions to build a greener, more competitive auto sector.

Above all, we can lead by example by building a true 21st century workforce to power a 21st century economy. That means investing in learning and training, from top-tier research in science laboratories to the trade apprenticeships you know well in the labour movement.

Make no mistake—none of this is possible without leadership from the federal government, but none of it can succeed without partnerships with provincial and local governments, business, and labour.

We will only succeed in the new global economy, we will only succeed in creating the jobs of tomorrow in Canada, if we succeed together.

Success will require job training, to give people the skills they need to get green jobs and build a green economy. The labour movement has got training figured out—we need to learn from you and work with you to expand existing programs and create new ones.

Success will require a Canadian workforce that isn’t hemmed in by provincial and territorial barriers. We need to work with the provinces and territories to improve labour mobility within Canada.

And success will require a federal government that follows through on its commitments—and that fulfils its role as the compassionate nation-builder of first and last resort.

And that brings me to our current government.

At a time when economic circumstances have issued the most powerful call for government intervention in generations, we have a prime minister who doesn’t believe in what he’s doing.

Just after the federal election last fall, the prime minister sat back and watched as every other country in the G8 took action to protect their citizens from the recession everyone saw coming.

Finally, he tabled an economic update that actually sucked $6 billion out of our economy.

In January, he brought forward stimulus measures, but only because we forced him too. And his budget wasn’t really about helping Canadians—it was about Stephen Harper’s political survival.

When it comes to acting in the national interest in a time of crisis, indifference is the mother of incompetence—if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you don’t do it well.

The Conservative government’s record is littered with examples.

They wasted $2 billion that was supposed to be spent on infrastructure last fiscal year—they didn’t get that money out the door.

They refused to use the gas tax mechanism to distribute funds to municipalities, and millions have already been delayed by unnecessary government paperwork.

They abandoned hundreds of thousands of unemployed Canadians, by refusing to bring forward additional stimulus measures, and by failing to fix a broken EI system.

This is not the record of a government that takes its role in a crisis seriously.

It’s not the record of a government that uses its powers to help shape the future of Canada’s economy.

With its immense procurement powers, the federal government should be insisting on energy efficiency, with green procurement standards. It should be tightening building standards and pushing for energy retrofits.

Instead, from the Conservatives, we’ve had indifference.

That doesn’t become a Canadian government, and certainly not in a time of crisis.

Our greatest achievements as a nation have come when we’ve had the boldness to think big, and our governments have had the courage to do the same.

When we’ve rallied behind the work of building our nation, as one people with unlimited potential.

This crisis calls on us to do the same.

It summons us to rise to the challenge of the circumstances, and to meet it with creativity, compassion, and cooperation, competence.

Together, we will.

Thanks for listening.

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