15th Annual Board of Directors Dinner of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce

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Remarks by the Clerk of the Privy Council
And Secretary to the Cabinet

December 4, 2006
Ottawa, Ontario


Good evening. I'd like to thank Nancy Hughes Anthony for that kind introduction and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce for the invitation to say a few words at this the 15th Annual Board of Directors' dinner.

This annual dinner, with Chamber business leaders from across Canada and public service leaders from across government, is both a useful opportunity to exchange views on current issues, and a good example of private sector- government engagement and dialogue.

I want to begin by paying tribute to the work of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I have been a federal public servant for more than three decades and during that time, your organization has played a role in advancing public policy and advocating for measures that will help Canada's business community in building a stronger economy.

As you well know, governments are, by their nature, required to prioritize, to make choices, to select among competing views. As governments are discussing these choices, and as public servants are weighing their policy advice, I want to assure you that the Chamber's voice is heard and your views are respected.

For example, the Chamber has long advocated tax reductions as a way to stimulate consumer spending, to increase competitiveness and to enhance productivity, thereby boosting the Canadian economy.

And the government clearly agrees. In both last May's federal budget and last month's Economic and Fiscal Update, the government made tax reductions a key focus. Budget 2006 contained approximately $20 billion in tax reductions over the next two years, including the elimination of both the corporate surtax and the federal capital tax, as well as a commitment to reduce the general corporate tax. In late October, the government took decisive action on the income-trust front to re-establish corporate tax fairness. And, in the fall economic plan, the government signaled that reducing the tax burden on Canadians was one of its chief priorities going forward.

The Government unveiled its economic policy priorities in its new economic blueprint for Canada on November 23, 2006. This plan, entitled Advantage Canada, is not a series of short-term measures, but a long-term plan designed to improve our country's economic prosperity well into the future. The objective is to create five key Canadian advantages in today's increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace.

  • A Fiscal Advantage, including continued debt repayment, dedicating all debt servicing savings from 2005-06 onwards to personal income tax reduction, resolving the fiscal imbalance in a principled way and a new Expenditure Management System.
  • A Tax Advantage, including, as part of reducing taxes for all Canadians, establishing the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G-7.
  • A Knowledge Advantage, including world class research and development and a better skilled and more flexible workforce.
  • An Entrepreneurial Advantage, including a more competitive business environment, a stronger economic union, more trade policy links with countries, and a more efficient regulatory environment.
  • And, an Infrastructure Advantage, including a multi-year approach to infrastructure renewal that focuses on major projects that enhance Canada's economy.

In implementing the Advantage Canada plan, the Government has indicated it will focus on how it can best create opportunity for Canadians, and where it can best create the right conditions for business to compete. This is very much in line with your organization's longstanding call for government to do more to promote the development of a flexible, dynamic and productive Canadian economy. But making Canada more flexible, dynamic and productive will take more than government action---this is a market-driven economy and Canadian business leaders need to ask themselves whether they are at the leading international edge of R&D, product development, marketing, training and seeking out new markets.

The Chamber has also long argued that we need to improve our relationship with the United States at all levels: government-to-government, Parliament-to-Congress and business sector-to-business sector. The government has moved to do so on a basis of a shared understanding of each country's interests, and mutual commitment to, as the Prime Minister said in his speech to the Economic Club of New York, "forging a solid partnership, so as to establish a prosperous, competitive and more secure North American continent." Moreover, Prime Minister Harper in this speech went further and signaled that Canada is a stable and positive force for good in this world, and it intends to be a player.

Putting this new approach into action, the government negotiated a settlement of the longstanding softwood lumber dispute which had increasingly soured Canada-U.S. commercial and political relations. And, the Government of Canada is engaged intensively with the U.S. on the WHTI, not taking issue with the importance of stronger border security, but stressing that the implementation of WHTI be done in a pragmatic, workable manner and on a realistic timetable. A secure and efficient border is an issue of interest to both the Canadian and American business communities, and I would encourage the Canadian Chamber to engage more actively and regularly with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other business associations to do likewise, to build greater U.S. business understanding of WHTI, and what possible border disruptions could mean for business on both sides of the border.

Up to this point, we've been talking essentially about public policy, and its importance for the long term success of our country. And, for these reasons, the business sector has an understandable interest in, and views on, what public policy is best for the country. But this leads me to a related point, the correlation between good public policy and an excellent public service. In his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman argues that "in the globalization system.one of the most important and enduring competitive advantages that a country can have today is a lean, effective, efficient and accountable public service".

This has certainly been Canada's experience. Indeed, the fact of the matter is that the democratic values, the ethic of serving the public good, the professionalism, non-partisanship and commitment that characterize the Public Service of Canada underpin its role as a fundamental national institution.

But we need to ensure that the federal public service is as strong in the future to serve Canadians as it has been in the past. This is the challenge of renewal. And the business community, as well as the broader Canadian public, have a stake in this renewal as it is all of you who benefit from an excellent public service. To get more external voices involved in the longer term renewal of the public service, the Prime Minister recently appointed an Advisory Committee on the Public Service comprised of nine outstanding Canadian leaders, co-chaired by the Right Honorable Don Mazankowski and Paul Tellier.

In this spirit, I hope business leaders, from the Chamber and elsewhere, will get more involved in public policy issues and the public service. I think it is time for more of Canada's business leaders to step up to the plate and make their voices heard in areas that have a direct impact on the future of this country, particularly the longer term issues that all countries and societies are facing, not just the issues you believe are important for business or for your particular sector. Governments at every level cannot undertake such discussions alone; and they cannot identify problems and propose solutions in a vacuum. The creation of good public policy needs business leaders' perspectives and insights as well as those from other segments of society, as part of engaged public dialogue.

And, in reflecting on the public service, I would draw your attention to the 2500 committed women and men of the Canadian Forces and the women and men of Foreign Affairs and CIDA who are today serving their country in Afghanistan on a UN- sanctioned, NATO mission to bring security, development and democratic institutions to a people who for too long, have seen too little of any of these basic rights we take for granted.

To conclude where I began, my colleagues and I in the public service value engagement with business leaders. We, like you, care deeply about our country and the public policies that will allow Canadians to prosper and excel in this great country. We also look forward to your ongoing and active support of a strong Public Service of Canada.

Thank you.