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Remarks to the Mississauga Board of Trade

Posted on May 11, 2010

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Mississauga, Ontario

Thank you.

Let’s recognize Sheldon (Leiba) and the team at the Board of Trade.

It’s good to be back in Mississauga.

Today I want to talk about choices—the choices that the Liberal Party is making, and the choice Canadians will face in the next election.

Those choices begin and end with Canadian families. They begin in the evening, after the kids have gone to bed, when mom and dad have to figure out how to pay the bills.

That’s how my party sees the Canadian economy—the way Canadian families do.

Across Canada, 300,000 people who lost their jobs in this recession are still looking for work.

Here in Mississauga, we’ve seen unemployment above the national average and the Ontario average—more than nine-and-a-half percent at the end of last year.

We’ve seen cuts at GSK and AstraZeneca, Hitachi, SKD Automotive, and elsewhere.

In a city that’s been a success story for decades, that’s hard to take.

In every community, families are dealing with the rising cost of borrowing—mortgage payments and credit cards. Rates have already started to rise.

A new report yesterday, found that 375,000 mortgage-holders are already being squeezed by their current payments—and that number will rise to almost half a million if rates hit five-and-a-quarter percent.

Average household debt for a Canadian family is $96,000. Debt-to-income levels are the highest in 11 years—145 percent.

Think about that. The average Canadian family now owes almost $1.50 for every single dollar of disposable income.

The Conservatives don’t see things the way Canadian families do. While they’re declaring victory and the end of the recession, millions of parents are still fighting the downturn at the kitchen table.

This recession has turned Stephen Harper into a whole new man—a born-again believer in Liberal economic management.

Canada is better off today than the United States, Britain, and other countries. But that’s because of steps taken by Liberal governments in the 1990s—steps that Stephen Harper himself opposed at time.

He opposed bank regulation. He opposed paying down debt. He opposed fiscal prudence in the budget.

Remember, it was a certain Stephen Harper, writing in the National Post in 2002, who attacked the government of Jean Chrétien for what he called, “the failure to adapt bank regulation to the needs and challenges of a financial sector that is less and less national, and more and more global.”

He was wrong—and thank goodness he wasn’t Prime Minister then. We’d look a lot like the United States right now, or Britain.

So when Stephen Harper goes around the world boasting about Canada’s economy, what he’s really boasting about is the Liberal record.

And what about his own record?

He promised not to tax income trusts. Then he taxed income trusts.

He promised not to run a deficit. Then he ran the biggest deficit in Canadian history.

He promised not to raise taxes. Then he raised payroll taxes by 13 billion dollars.

He promised small government and in four years, he increased federal spending by 25 percent. He put us in deficit before the recession.

He burned through the prudence factor—the rainy day reserve—that was a hallmark of Liberal fiscal management for a decade.

And when the rains came, we were unprepared—and so was Stephen Harper.

In the last election campaign, he said there would be no recession. Then, he said there would be no deficit. Now, he’s adding more than 150 billion dollars to the national debt, by 2015.

A Liberal government will never default on our fiscal responsibility. We’ll leave this country in better shape than we found it. We’ve done it before, and we will do it again.

We will help families face the challenges of today, while we prepare for the pressures of tomorrow.

That’s what we debated at the Montréal conference, earlier this year. We got some of Canada’s leaders together, both thinkers and doers, and we brought in more than 25,000 people—over the web, and at 70 events across Canada—people from every walk of life and every part of the country.

We talked about the demographic challenge—about an ageing population and declining labour productivity growth, which is now a third less than what it is in the United States.

By 2020, nearly one-in-five Canadians will be seniors. The provinces and territories will be spending between 50 and 70 percent of their revenues on healthcare.

We’ve got gaps in our social care system—and they’re growing. We’re already in a pensions crisis. Our healthcare system is under strain.

More and more families are struggling to care for ageing relatives. More and more people are getting pulled out of the labour force.

By the time Canada turns 150, in 2017, we’ll have nearly a million people in this country who can’t find a job, because they don’t have the skills they need. And, at the same time, we’ll have 750,000 jobs that are unfilled, because we don’t have the skilled workers to fill them. Jobs without people. People without jobs

The message we heard in Montréal was: Wake up. These things are happening. They’re coming down the track—and get ready, because they’re only getting more intense between now and 2017.

Stephen Harper doesn’t want to talk about any of this. His choice is to live in some kind of eternal present, where what matters are headlines for tomorrow, not jobs for your kids.

His number one economic policy is 6 billion dollars in additional tax cuts for profitable corporations—every single year.

That is a reckless choice.

We can’t afford further tax cuts for corporations when we’re in a 56 billion dollar deficit.

The price of imprudence is impossible to ignore. Around the world, we’ve seen circumstances change for the worse overnight, over and over.

We’re seeing a sovereign debt crisis cut through Europe, threatening to spread. Greece is in a full-blown crisis. The UK is swimming in red ink, as are Spain and Portugal. And the US market is only just beginning to turn the corner—to say nothing of our own economy.

The Merkel government in Germany has just shelved its own plans to cut corporate taxes, because of global and domestic financial conditions. The Harper government should do the same.

A Liberal government will make a different choice—we’ll freeze corporate tax rates until we’ve balanced the budget. And balance the budget we will.

We’ll set a clear, credible target, to reduce the deficit to 1 percent of GDP within two years of taking office, and declining every year thereafter until the books are balanced.

That’s the responsible choice.

The question my party is asking, as we prepare our election platform, is not what could we do, with unlimited time and resources, but rather, what must we do, right now, to ease the pressure on Canadian families, and position ourselves for economic success?

With that in mind, at the end of the Montréal conference, we set out three broad priorities for a future Liberal government: learning, care, and Canadian leadership.

First: learning.

We believe that the single best way that our government can help business and secure economic success is by investing in our people—to build the best educated, highly-skilled workforce in the world.

We need to get to full participation in our workforce. We need to harness the talent and industry of every Canadian citizen. Not just for the sake of our workers, but for the sake of our entire economy.

We will work towards giving every child a fair start, and every parent a fair choice, by investing in the creation of affordable early learning and childcare spaces, in every part of Canada.

We will begin to end the old injustice of learning inequality for Aboriginal youth, by reducing financial support gaps for Aboriginal students.

We will help families save for their children’s education, and we will say to young people who never thought they could go to college or university: you get the grades, you get to go.

We will reward businesses that invest in skills training for their employees.

And we will help the one in four new Canadians who lack competency in English or French, by helping every immigrant get the language training they need.

Because if you’ve got a name like mine, you’ve got to believe that this country must be a land of promise for anyone who comes from another shore.

And finally, we will fight adult illiteracy, because four of ten adults in this country don’t have level-3 literacy, which is what you need to get a decent job. According to the Conference Board, adult literacy is actually declining.

A Liberal government will reverse Stephen Harper’s cuts to literacy programs, as soon as we take office.

These are big goals—part of a pan-Canadian strategy for learning.

But let me be clear: none of this requires big new federal programs that duplicate the work of others. We will work with the provinces and territories, our families, and our students to get it done.

Again, this isn’t something we might do. It’s something we must do. We can’t keep pace with economic superpowers—like China and India—if we fall behind in knowledge, innovation, and productivity.

But we can’t have productivity without compassion. We can’t be competitive without caring.

And so our second priority is care.

We will help Canadian families shoulder the burden of care, at a time when more and more families are getting squeezed between caring for young children and caring for ageing relatives.

A Liberal government will make it easier for people to care for loved ones at home.

80 percent of at-home caregivers are family members who receive no financial support. Many have to leave the workforce, which carries a cost—not just for them, but for our economy.

Meanwhile, hospitals and nursing homes have higher costs and fewer beds. Many families want to care for their loved ones at home—and would do so, if only they had the means.

So there’s a win-win here. Support family caregivers, and reduce costs in our health care system.

We’ll also respond to the crisis in our pensions.

One-third of Canadians don’t have enough retirement savings to maintain their standard of living. Another third don’t have any retirement savings at all, beyond what they’ll get from the government.

These problems will only get worse as our population gets older.

We’ve proposed a Supplementary Canada Pension Plan, a new Stranded Pensions Agency, and changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, to protect pensioners on long-term disability.

These are changes we can make right now that will take some of the pressure off of Canadian families. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And we will do it.

Our third priority is Canadian leadership.

Under Stephen Harper’s leadership, we’ve become a big country that acts small.

We’ve seen it with his G8 maternal health plan, which he’s derailed with his own ideology, and that put us out-of-step with our allies—not to mention 25 years of hard-won Canadian consensus on women’s reproductive rights.

We’ve seen it with his approach to trade. He snubbed China for four years, and was rebuked when he finally showed up.

We’ve failed to substantially increase our share of the Chinese import market since 2006, and we’re now far behind countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia. It’s the same situation in India.

In the countries whose growth is powering the global economy, Canada has fallen behind.

We can reverse this trend. We can restore Canadian leadership. But we have to become the most open, most curious, most international society on the planet.

Nearly two million Canadians work outside the country at any given time. There are Canadian students studying abroad on every continent—and we need more students going abroad, not less. More Canadians out in the world, not less. More connections for trade and tourism, not less.

Forty percent of the people in Mississauga have a mother tongue other than English. More than thirty percent speak at least two languages.

This is an incredible asset for Canada. Friendship and kinship across borders is the gold standard of the new world economy.

My opponents criticise me for having worked outside the country. They say it makes me less of a Canadian. But I’ll tell you something—I’m proud of what I achieved.

I want more young people out there testing themselves against the best the world has to offer. I want more Canadians to be enriched by the world, and to come back with a renewed sense of pride in being Canadian.

Let’s work with schools, colleges and universities to make international training a part of every young Canadian’s learning experience. That’s a goal worthy of this great country.

In no single area has the lack of Canadian leadership been more total than in energy and the environment.

We’re the biggest supplier of energy to the United States, and yet we still have no coherent policy from the Conservatives on how to manage that relationship.

We’ve got provinces doing their own deals to get into American markets—and who can blame them? There’s been no leadership, none, from the federal government.

Piecemeal solutions will yield piecemeal results.

We can leverage our position to build a strategic partnership with the United States—but we need a coherent Canadian approach.

At the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, last December, we had provinces saying one thing, NGOs saying another, and the federal government sitting on its hands.

We don’t have to speak with a single voice, but we do all have to say the same thing.

We have to work together to get the right public and private investments in clean energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

A Liberal government will create a new generation of clean energy jobs, with landmark investments in clean energy.

We’ll provide incentives that help Canadian families cut their energy bill, by becoming more energy efficient.

And we’ll develop a cap-and-trade system with absolute targets, to reduce pollution and restore Canadian leadership in the fight against climate change.

The Conservatives say: Wait for Washington to come up with a plan. We say: We can’t wait. We need to act now. So we can get ahead of the pack.

Our goal is to have the most energy-efficient economy on the planet. That’s where the productivity advantage is, and that’s where we have to be.

These are the choices we’ve made. Learning. Care. Canadian leadership. These are the priorities we will take to the Canadian people.

In the next election, you will have a clear choice.

On one hand, a Conservative government that offers further corporate tax cuts we can’t afford.

On the other hand, a Liberal alternative that freezes corporate taxes, fights the deficit, and makes targeted investments in our future—learning, care, and leadership.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will work to earn your trust. We will make the case for change. We will make the case for a Canada where every child gets an equal shot, and every family a helping hand. A Canada that leads by example.

The Canada we imagine when we are at our best—compassionate in our prosperity, united in our leadership.

That’s what we’ll celebrate in 2017, the 150th anniversary of our federation, when we will stand together, as one great people, sharing one great country, certain that this is our moment. This is Canada’s time.

And together, tous ensemble, we will inspire the world.

Thank you.