Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Charlottetown.
I read the Speech from the Throne with a great deal of interest. It struck me that the Speech from the Throne looked essentially like a reproduction of the election pamphlet of the Conservative government during the election campaign. This reproduction of the Conservative government election pamphlet essentially could be summarized under the various issues of the federal accountability act, the reduction of the GST, the crime initiative, the $1,200 for child care, and a patient wait time guarantee.
For those of us who have reflected upon the issues of the day, on the real issues that I think we need to address if we are to secure the long term prosperity of this country, then I would have to say that the Speech from the Throne perhaps is a good document if we are into retail politics, which I think the Conservative government is into. But I think that if we are to reflect upon the serious issues of the future prosperity of this country, then we need to look at and keep our eyes wide open as to what the challenges and opportunities are for this country.
It is amazing to note that in the 21st century in a G-7 country in a Speech from the Throne we actually do not read very much about issues that will in fact determine the prosperity of our country. By that, I mean that issues like innovation, competitiveness, R and D, and human capital are virtually absent.
There is a question that I ask myself. If we in this chamber are in fact interested in talking about serious issues that matter to the future of the country, then I have to ask myself, what is really the national purpose? What is the objective? What is the overarching theme of the Speech from the Throne? What is it really trying to achieve? How are future generations to find hope within the words that are found in this document?
I was also struck by the fact that the Speech from the Throne was perhaps written in isolation of what is occurring around the world. What are some of the pressures that we as a country face? Obviously, for those who are following international trends, the pressure is that we have a changing demography in this country, a changing demography that should really ring an alarm bell for the government. There is the low birth rate of the past 30 years. There are significantly fewer workers supporting more seniors. Within 10 short years, there will be three and a half working Canadians for every senior. Today it is five to one.
What does that mean in the sense of our ability as a country to produce, to sustain our social programs? What does it mean for future generations? By the year 2015, which is not far, only a few years from now, our labour force will shrink. If we do not have a plan that speaks to productivity-oriented initiatives, it seems to me that we are going to lack the human and financial resources to maintain the type of citizenship to which we have grown accustomed. These are serious issues.
No, productivity, innovation and competitiveness are not things that we can go out there and sell in the world of retail politics. Focus groups will tell us that words like “productivity” are not something that people respond to very well, but what is this place about? This place is not about being popular. This place is about taking on the challenges that one must face to bring about positive change to people's lives in the future.
This place is the place where we should debate issues that will matter to the future of our country. We can all shrug our shoulders and say that the ratio of working Canadians to seniors is going to be three and a half to one in a few years. We can ask what we are going to do about that and say that there really is not much we can do about it. A defeatist government would do that.
But there are things that we must do. We must look at every single policy through the productivity prism so that we can enhance the standard of living for Canadians, so that we can provide greater opportunities for people--and for our young people as well.
I guess there really are not facile questions for complex issues, but I think that we, within ourselves, regardless of our political stripe, must find the inner strength to address these fundamental concerns. I think there is a strong case to be made that we need to address the eventual skill shortage that we will face as a nation. Governments have the responsibility to come up with those answers.
There is something else going on out there. It is really the realignment of global and political economic strength. We cannot be oblivious or blind to the fact that there are emerging markets: Brazil, China, and India.
There is also the great challenge that we face here within North American economic space. This also goes back to the issue of an aging society. Even within our own North American continent, we face challenges. Why is that? Because there is really one country that is younger than the United States. That is Mexico. We will face economic challenges as a result of that. As Mexico's productivity rises and it invests more money in human resources, as will China, India and Brazil, I think we are getting the picture. I think we cannot stand still and not even, in a Speech from the Throne, address the issue of human capital.
How can we not in this day and age talk about the importance of lifelong learning when we have fewer workers? How do the members as individuals and as a government present a Speech from the Throne that does not recognize these realities?
And then, we need to understand that clearly for us to maintain our standard of living, there is only one way to do it, and that is to increase our productivity. I do not see it. I do not see it in the Speech from the Throne and it is troubling. I do not see it in the Speech from the Throne because it does not provide hope for people. If we are not able to increase the productivity of our country, if we are not able to generate greater wealth for our country, then we cannot take care of our seniors, we cannot invest in infrastructure, we cannot provide educational opportunities for our people, and we cannot provide opportunities to speak to lifelong learning.
We cannot do any of that if we are not focused like a laser beam on generating greater wealth. That in fact should be the focus, not just on the government side but for everyone in this chamber who cares about the future of our country.
The government is in an enviable position. When I came here in 1988 we were in opposition. We formed the government in 1993. I remember that we inherited high interest rates and high unemployment. We inherited conditions that were really poor.
Today, the Conservative government is blessed with balanced budgets, with surpluses. It has the resources to really bring about the type of change that is required to bring prosperity to the country in the future. We need to seize this opportunity and be responsible, because nothing but the future of the country depends on it.
I look forward to debating these issues in the coming months, not just in this chamber but across the country, because the future does indeed matter.