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Economy

Speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

Posted on February 27, 2009

Edmonton, Alberta

Thank you Joanne (Beaton) for that gracious introduction.

I am delighted to be back in the City of Champions.

In 1872, my great-great-grandfather, the Reverend George Grant, joined his lifelong friend, Sir Sandford Fleming, in travelling across Canada to survey a route for the transcontinental railroad.

After arriving in Edmonton, my great-great-grandfather wrote:

Looking fairly at all the facts, admitting all the difficulties, and what country has not its own drawbacks, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that we have a great and fertile North-west … capable of containing a population of millions. It is a fair land; rich in furs and fish, in treasures of the forest, the field, and the mine; seamed by navigable rivers, interlaced by numerous creeks, and beautified by a thousand lakes; broken by swelling uplands, wooded hill-sides and bold ridges … The air is pure, dry and bracing all year round.

He put those words into a book, Ocean to Ocean, which provided many Canadians with their first glimpse of the future province of Alberta.

Seventeen years later, in 1889, 33 Edmonton residents launched this Chamber of Commerce.

Your Chamber has had quite a lively history since, including owning Edmonton’s first racetrack, but there are three particular facts that I would like to cite.

First, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce was the first Chamber in the world to accept women as members.

I guess that’s not surprising in the city of Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, and the province of the Famous Five.

And as Anne McLellan, and Senators Fairbairn, Banks, Tardif, and Mitchell would want me to point out, Nellie McClung was a Liberal.

Secondly, during the height of the Great Depression, when some other business people in the world were calling only for lower taxes, the Edmonton Chamber strongly advocated public works – including the Jasper and Yellowhead highways.

And thirdly, I want to quote the response of the Edmonton Chamber to the Prime Minister’s flawed and failed economic statement in November.

In your words, the Prime Minister’s policy was:

Politically charged and … weak …the Chamber questions the value of fuelling political anxieties … We’re concerned that the update may create a false sense of hope.

You nailed that one on the head.

The Prime Minister was wrong.

He said we wouldn’t have a recession.

Then he said if we were going to have one, we probably would have had it by now.

He told Canadians that the economy was strong and he told us he was the only one we could trust to manage it.

The Prime Minister misled Canadians.

He failed to see reality when everyone else, including the members of your Chamber, could.

He was the last leader in the G-8 to take action.

He failed to buffer our economy or act to ameliorate the downturn.

He unwisely spent the budget surplus and left the country with no “rainy day” fund and limited room to manoeuvre.

And then he disappeared for two months while he got his act together.

I am concerned that Mr. Harper says there will be no new help for the economy—even if the situation continues to worsen—while his Minister of Finance says the exact opposite.

It was a bit much this week to see the Prime Minister appearing on American television saying that he saw no end to the recession—this from the man who saw no beginning to the recession.

That’s not the kind of leadership that Canadians are looking for during a once-in-a-generation economic crisis.

And that’s why we’ve put Mr. Harper’s government on probation.

If the Prime Minister fails to deliver the help that Canadians urgently need, the Liberal Party of Canada will be ready to offer Canadians—all Canadians—a smart, compassionate, truly national alternative.

I know that we have work to do here in the West.

In the past, our Party has fallen prey to the temptation to run against the West. Against Alberta. Against the oil patch.

I realize how hard it will be to regain the trust and confidence of Westerners.

But I’m ready for that challenge, and I’ll tell you why.

Here in the West is where the destiny of our country’s economy will be played out.

I want our party to be at the centre of that adventure—that drama.

I want Alberta to be at the centre too.

But it’s not just up to me. It’s about what the people of this province want to do.

Alberta has so much to offer – world-class universities, groundbreaking research, centres of excellent that attract talent from around the world, a true gateway to the North.

Edmonton alone has the country’s fastest growing airport – looking to grow even more through “Port Alberta,” and some of the world’s top research in cardiac care and nanotechnology.

Now, I know that Edmontonians are notoriously self-effacing, so let me point out a couple of fascinating things.

Edmonton is not just Canada’s most northern major city. It is the most northern city of size in the Americas.

Greater Edmonton has more people than the combined population of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska.

And Edmonton has a far more diverse population than any other northern city in any other country encircling the Arctic.

Residents of your city have more than 200 ethnic origins.

Nearly 200,000 people in Edmonton are immigrants.

More than 50,000 Aboriginal Peoples live here.

Those numbers paint the picture of a remarkable city.

A city that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.

There is a dynamism here that is unmatched.

Alberta can lead our country.

It can be a force of unity, lighting Canada’s road back to prosperity with an agenda that promotes research, health and education, building partners in other provinces along the way.

But it has to be ready for and accept that challenge.

And of course, energy is a major part of Alberta as well.

I want to repeat here what I have said across the country, and in both official languages:

The oil sands are an integral part of the future of Canada.

There is a simple truth about the oil sands, a truth more Canadians need to understand.

Our country has less than 0.5 percent of the world’s population.

And yet, we have 15 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. And 97 percent of those reserves are found in Alberta’s oil sands.

And those reserves are in a province and a country of stability, democracy and respect for the private sector. No other oil nation can match that.

That is a huge Alberta advantage. That is a huge Canadian advantage.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do.

It’s possible to both stand up for the oil sands and work with them to become greener.

Companies in the oil sands are calling for a price on carbon themselves.

Companies operating in the oil sands get it – they get that they’re leaving behind a legacy for our children and the environmental impact of their projects can’t be ignored.

No other country on earth would toss away such an advantage and neither will we.

Anne McLellan played an instrumental role in working with Ralph Klein and a wide range of others to help spur the oil sands.

Today, things are tough in the energy sector and they’re going to get tougher.

Credit has dried up and projects that were breaking ground are back on the shelf.

It takes grim courage to go to work not knowing when you may be laid off.

The recession is causing real misery for roughnecks, derrick hands, and remittance men and their families.

Geologists, leasehands, truck drivers, service rig workers … they are all worried about their loved ones, their neighbours, their co-workers.

They’re worried about how to pay for their kids’ educations and whether they’ll even be able to put food on the table.

Oil industry jobs are physically grueling and intellectually taxing.

More than two-thirds of the jobs require post-secondary education.

The petroleum and gas sectors have been a lifeline to a better future for increasing numbers of Aboriginal young people.

When the oil industry suffers, Alberta suffers.

And when Alberta suffers, Canada suffers.

But as the province’s first Premier, Alexander Rutherford, said:

We have no pessimists in Alberta – a pessimist could not succeed here.

And yes I know, Anne, Rutherford was a Liberal too.

As we seek to protect the jobs of today, we have to be planning for the jobs of tomorrow.

We have to find every opportunity to develop a green and sustainable economy.

Canada should become a green energy superpower, including leading the way in energy conservation, energy alternatives, and measures aimed at green construction for homes and businesses.

We need sustainable oil sands development – in human, environmental and economic terms, with flourishing communities in a flourishing green industry.

I don’t want to step into provincial politics except to say that all provincial parties in Alberta are committed to action on energy conservation, energy efficiency, alternative sources of energy and new technologies.

They want Alberta energy to be clean energy.

The Prime Minister should pay attention.

The Harper budget has no plan for a green and sustainable economy.

The budget actually cut back funding for science and research – an action which is 100 percent counterproductive to a green economy.

Canadians need to work together to reduce barriers within Canada to economic growth and environmental success.

We can never develop a west-east energy corridor … or ensure total labour mobility … or guarantee clean air and water, let alone equal opportunities, for all our children … unless we seek a consensus across Canada.

We need leadership that brings the country together, that works in partnership with the provinces.

And we need an equally productive approach with the United States.

President Obama’s administration offers Canada an opportunity to develop a complementary approach for the sustainable development of natural gas, petroleum and hydroelectric energy.

We should begin working immediately toward a common cap-and-trade system, with a hard cap on emissions and defined reduction targets for industrials.

Our environmental partnership should extend into the far north, working together with other northern countries to:

• Safeguard the region against the impact of global warming;

• Reduce conflict over resource development;

• And improve prospects for indigenous peoples.

Canadian leadership on northern issues is what will mark Edmonton as one of the world’s great northern cities—as the “hub of the new North.”

I know that is a vital objective for the Chamber and for everyone in the region.

The times ahead are not going to be easy—not here in Edmonton, not anywhere across the country.

But overcoming monumental problems together is woven into our national DNA.

The federal government must do everything in its power to see Canada through this recession and ensure that we emerge stronger than before.

Liberals have shown that we are willing to put the interests of Canadians ahead of partisan concerns. All Parliamentarians in each riding of Canada have this responsibility.

In the energy sector, in the north, in Edmonton, in Alberta and in Canada, we have unmatched, nearly limitless, possibilities.

In moving forward, we need to match realism about the year ahead with optimism about our future.

And a determination—even in the toughest times—to make our great country into an even better one…for all Canadians.

Thank you.

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