That, in light of the rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar, high global energy costs, the overhang from huge budgetary and trade deficits in the United States of America, the rise of new economies such as China, India and Brazil as major global players, and the unprecedented demographic change that is about to take place in Canada with the imminent retirement of the Baby Boom generation, in the opinion of the House, future Canadian economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand--in addition to a competitive tax regime (especially in relation to income tax rates and brackets) and the strategic positioning of Canada at the centre of global commerce and networks--focused and immediate investments by the government in:
(1) measures to reduce financial barriers that now stand in the way of students seeking greater access to post-secondary education, including most particularly grant programs aimed at offsetting the high costs of tuition;
(2) labour market partnership agreements with provincial/territorial governments to help promote a culture of lifelong learning and workplace skills development in conjunction with business and labour;
(3) targeted initiatives to strengthen skills, job-readiness and successful workplace participation among First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples--as envisioned as part of the Kelowna Accords--as well as among new immigrants, older workers and people with disabilities;
(4) a suite of measures, including more adequate support for the indirect costs of university-based research, for graduate studies, for Canada’s three major granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada, to strengthen Canada’s hard-won global lead in publicly-funded research and development;
(5) the accelerated commercialization of new technologies and the practical adoption of the best advanced technologies by Canadian business, industry and academia.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.
One of the most vital roles of government is to respond to the challenges of its time, to empower Canadians to meet those challenges, to prepare the country through strategic investments and sound policy, and to show true leadership and a clear vision.
Over a decade ago, the government in place brought forward a bold, new vision for the future of Canada, one that provided the economic conceptual framework which governed policy decision making during a decade of progress and growth.
Canadians remember the daunting challenges facing their government at the time. Unemployment was above 10%. The national debt was nearly 70% of national revenue. There had been one deficit budget after the other for over a quarter of century. A sad state of affairs was threatening to turn our country into an economic disaster.
However, what a difference a decade makes. Today Canada has emerged as a global leader: strong, proud and prosperous. We now enjoy the best job creation performance of the G-7.
Since the deficit was eliminated, Canada has ranked first among all G-7 countries for growth and living standards. The average standard of living has risen faster in the past eight years than in the previous 18 and the incidence of child poverty in this country has declined.
Canadians are proud of their achievements, but it is not enough to sit on our laurels. It is time to build on our successes, not implement a handful of priorities that look more like an election platform than a path forward.
It is time to set out a real vision for the future and offer Canadians a plan to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. Since the Conservative government came to office, we have seen no plan, no vision for the future, not in the throne speech, not in the budget.
Nowhere have we seen measures to deal with productivity. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with the rise of new economies like China, India and Brazil. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with high global energy costs or the rapid increase in the Canadian dollar.
These are the responsibilities of this government. Without a comprehensive strategy to meet each of these challenges our country will be like a rudderless boat, doomed to flounder on the rocks.
The focus of the motion before the House today is to ensure we remain on a steady course and to ensure we take the measures which our future economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand. Canadians expect their governments to stand firm as unmistakable champions of balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility and declining debt.
Only then will we be in a position to continue enjoying the benefits of a healthy economy and general prosperity, increased employment and better jobs, higher disposable incomes, a better standard of living and a continually improving quality of life.
As a nation, we must continue to invest in the talents, brains and creative powers of Canadians and bring higher education and innovation to their highest levels ever, not only for economic reasons, but also to ensure that every member of society—students, aboriginals, people with disabilities, new Canadians and older workers— maximizes his or her potential.
We must achieve the smartest possible marriage between Canada's economic success and environmental sustainability. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see our country from a new perspective. It is a new perspective from this side of the House as well, as my hon. colleagues have laughingly noted.
As the Liberal critic for human resources and skills, I have had the pleasure of discussing the future with a wide range of Canadians. I have met with student groups like the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students and with nurses, labour leaders, university presidents and others, and a clear theme ran through each of these discussions. The prerequisite for entry into the global economy of tomorrow is education, quality education that gives Canadians the skills not only to survive in a competitive world but to thrive in it, to seize their potential throughout their lifetimes.
I think we all agree on the importance of lifelong learning. It is important to individuals themselves to enhance their quality of life and their employment options. It is important to employers who want the well educated and skilled employees who will contribute to productivity and prosperity. A determined focus on the future, on preparing for the impact of demographic change and the rise of emerging economies, is absolutely necessary to allow Canadians to succeed.
Canada approaches today's world from a position of strength. We have the highest proportion of people with some form of post-secondary education, but here is the crucial thing that the government fails to understand: when we can identify a strength, when we can identify our competitive advantage, we build on it.
Rather than truly expanding access to higher education, the government has chosen to tinker around the edges of the tax system, with a minor tax cut here and a rebate there. That is a short-sighted approach. It does not come close to recognizing the potential of our greatest resource, our young minds. Too many Canadians, particularly those from low income or modest income families, are not pursuing post-secondary education because of high financial barriers.
Canadians need expanded access to higher education and real support for undergraduate students, more opportunities for Canadians to study abroad to learn about the world outside our borders, and more opportunities for foreign students to study in Canada and experience our country and our culture. We need to increase the support to graduate students in science, engineering and other disciplines.
Instead of a far-reaching vision that prepares us for the future, all the government has offered are tax credits for textbooks and tax breaks on scholarship income. These measures do not go nearly far enough. We see the same nearsightedness from the government when it comes to lifelong learning. It has walked away from labour market partnership agreements, agreements that would increase workplace-based and employer-led training and apprenticeships and that would improve literacy and essential skills, develop workplace skills and enhance workforce participation of aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and new Canadians.
It is time for this House to look beyond just the next election, and to look to the future, to admit to and embrace the challenges and opportunities before us, to build on Canada's progress over the last decade and to ensure this kind of progress for generations to come.
The diligent work of the previous government has given this nation the freedom to plan and the strength to succeed, to improve access to universities, to promote a culture of lifelong learning, to live up to the Kelowna and Kyoto agreements, to strengthen Canada's hard-won global lead in university research and development, and to make Canada a leader in transforming R and D into new technologies.
It is time for the government to step up to show Canadians a plan for the future. We need a government that recognizes these clear objectives, that mobilizes Canadians to reach them, that is truly committed to a country of economic and technological excellence, a country of fairness and equal opportunity, a country that is ready, willing and able to take its place in an ever-changing world. We have yet to see that from the current government, and this is worrisome, because what is at stake is Canada's continued leadership in a new world of giants.
Therefore, I ask my colleagues to support the motion before the House today and call upon the government to take action today.