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Address by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Reply to the Speech from the Throne  

January 31, 2001
Ottawa, Ontario

Mr. Speaker, my first words in this debate are to congratulate you on your election as Speaker of the House of Commons.

I also want to congratulate the mover and seconder of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne. Both Honourable Members, the Members for Northumberland and Laval-Est are new to this House. Judging from their speeches yesterday, both clearly have bright futures ahead of them.

Indeed Mr. Speaker, as one who has been around this place for some years now, I want to welcome and congratulate all the new members whatever their party affiliation.

It is an honour and a privilege to serve in the House of Commons. Whether one is elected for the first time or the twelfth time, it is a humbling experience to be chosen by your fellow citizens to represent them in the Parliament of Canada.

No one comes here for the money. No one comes here for the working hours. All of us, regardless of party, come here for the same reason - to serve our constituents as best we can and to contribute to the best of our ability to making our country a better place. And we all have the obligation regardless of party, by our words and our deeds, to dedicate ourselves to building trust in our institutions and our democracy.

We should remember what Churchill said about democracy: "The worst system of government in the world ... except for all the rest." Of course, improvements can always be made, but there should be no doubt that Canada's Parliament serves our country very well.

Like any human institution, the House of Commons is not perfect. It can be strengthened. Over the years many changes have been made to improve Parliament. And more will be made to bring Parliament into the 21st century. The House Leader is working with his colleagues from all parties on reforms that will make this place work even better for the benefit of all Canadians. For example. Electronic voting. More research support for committees. More bills referred to committee after First Reading.

Last November 27, the people of Canada gave the government a new mandate. I am particularly proud that we Liberals have Members on this side and in the corner, on the other side, from every province and territory. That we are truly a national government.

I recognize, as is always the case in democracy, that many Canadians voted for other parties. In some provinces, we do not have as many members as we would like to have. We will be working very hard as a government to ensure many more Liberal members from Western Canada after the next election.

My pledge is that this government will listen to all Canadians, wherever they live in Canada. We will govern in the interests of all Canadians regardless of who they voted for.

We have been given a mandate by the people of Canada to move beyond old disputes, old fights, old problems, old solutions. A mandate to set ambitious goals and objectives for a strong, united Canada for the years to come.

A mandate to build on the solid foundations that have been put in place since we assumed office. A mandate to prepare the country for the fast-paced change the new economy demands. To bring the best of Canada into the 21st century by building an innovative economy, by ensuring social inclusion, and by strengthening our collective voice in the world. These are the themes I will focus on today. My Ministers will address in more detail other elements of the government's agenda during the course of this debate.

No country can look forward to the new century with more confidence than Canada. We will make this first decade of the 21st century, Canada's decade. A decade marked by the pursuit of excellence and the sharing of opportunity.

When we formed the government more than seven years ago, we came with a vision of the country we wanted to build. Of the values and principles that would guide our actions. A distinct Canadian way. A distinct Canadian model. Our vision and our purpose have not changed.

A society of excellence with a commitment to success. Where prosperity is not limited to the few, but is shared - and indeed created - by the many, and where every child gets the right start in life. Where young people have a chance to grow and to be the best at whatever they choose to do. Where citizens have access to the skills and knowledge they need to excel. Where citizens, regardless of income, receive quality health services. Where families enjoy strong, safe communities and a clean, healthy environment. Where Canadians work together and with other countries to promote peace, cultural diversity and the human purpose and the benefits of the new global economy.

We have understood that it is not possible to do everything at once. That the secret to success in governing is to make progress pragmatically in a step-by-step manner, and with boldness where necessary. To set broad goals and objectives. To make choices based on the values that have made Canada strong. To bring about major change in a manner that is sustainable and affordable.

That is exactly what we have done over the last seven years. That is the approach to governing that has been endorsed by the people of Canada in three successive elections. And that is the approach we will continue to take.

We set out to restore fiscal sovereignty in order to regain the capacity to make choices for the future. We have succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. And we remain unalterably committed as we go forward to balanced budgets, debt reduction and a competitive tax environment for investment and entrepreneurship.

Mr. Speaker, there is obviously uncertainty today about the short-term prospects for the United States' economy. The government will monitor closely developments in the United States and in the global economy and their possible impact on Canada. That being said, the success of our economic policies has put us in a better position than ever to manage in the case of a temporary slowdown in the United States' economy. We have every reason to believe that our economy will out-perform our major competitors and trading partners this year.

Mr. Speaker, a healthy fiscal climate is not an end in itself. It is the essential prerequisite for all the social and economic investments government must make in collaboration with its partners. To build a prosperous country where opportunity can be shared by all.

We, on this side of the House, believe that an activist government can be a force for good in society. An activist government requires a first class public service. I am proud of our public service. The government will take all the steps necessary to ensure that we continue to have the talent necessary for a public service that is committed to excellence. And we will make the necessary reforms to modernize the public service for the requirements of the 21st century.

We set out more than seven years ago to do our part as a government to build a more innovative economy. The Canada Foundation for Innovation. The Networks of Centres of Excellence. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The 2000 Canada Research Chairs. The increases in support to the Granting Councils. The changes in our corporate tax rates and our capital gains tax rates. Making Canada one of the most connected countries in the world.

We have built a strong foundation. But we cannot rest on our achievements. Otherwise the world will pass us by.

In the 21st century, our economic and social goals must be pursued hand-in-hand. Let the world see in Canada a society marked by innovation and inclusion, by excellence and justice.

To achieve this we have a plan which combines innovation, skills and learning, and a commitment to ensure all of our children are given the chance to realize their potential.

Let me start with innovation. In the new economy, the race goes to the quick - those who are first with new discoveries, first to market, first with better ways of doing things. This is true of high technology, but applies as well to virtually all sectors - from resource extraction, to farming, to merchandising.

Canada must have one of the most innovative economies in the world. A key element in getting there is to ensure that our research and development effort per capita is amongst the top five countries in the world.

To achieve this objective, the government has a five-part plan.

First, to at least double the current federal investment in research and development by the year 2010. The government over the course of its mandate will increase its investment in the Granting Councils. It will do more for Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. And for research within government. This will make Canada to place to be for world-class researchers. It will strengthen our economy and our society.

Second, to build on what we have already done to make Canadian universities the place to be for research excellence. And a place where the best and the brightest want to come. The government will work with the university community to assist our universities so that they have the resources necessary to fully benefit from federally sponsored research activities.

Third, to accelerate Canada's ability to commercialize research discoveries, and to turn them into new products and services.

Fourth, to pursue a global strategy for Canadian science and technology. Canada must be at the forefront of collaborative international research which expands the frontiers of knowledge.

Fifth, to work with the private sector to determine the best ways to make broad band internet access available to all communities in Canada by the year 2004.

But our research commitment as a country must not be that of the federal government alone. It must be a national endeavour. And today, I challenge the private sector and the provinces to devote more of their resources in the years ahead to making Canada one of the leaders in the world in research and development.

Mr. Speaker, the transition to the new economy is not about any one sector of the economy alone. Economic success across all sectors of the economy depends more than ever on human enterprise, ingenuity and creativity. It depends fundamentally on our human talent. In this context, our most important investments are the investments we make in people.

I want Canada to be seen throughout the world as having the most skilled and the most talented labour market force anywhere. That has to be a national goal. And a national effort.

Learning does not take place in school alone. From early childhood development programming, to the public school system, to post-secondary institutions, to on-the-job training, Canada has all the elements of an evolving national infrastructure for life-long learning. All governments, the private sector and educational institutions must work together to enhance this national infrastructure for the benefit of Canadians.

For its part, the government of Canada has invested significantly over the course of our first two mandates to help to make Canada the most talented and skilled place to be in the world. From Canada Education Savings Grants to help parents save for their children's education. To increases in the education tax credit. To the Canada Millennium Scholarships for today's students. To new rules for RRSP's to help Canadians finance re-training and skills upgrading. To new Canada Study Grants for students with dependants, disabilities or very little income.

There is more to do, and this government is prepared to play its full part in this national effort.

We want at least one million additional Canadian adults of working age to be able to improve their skills. And therefore we will create Registered Individual Learning Accounts to make it easier for Canadians to plan for and finance their learning needs.

We will ensure that our youth employment programmes reach out to youth at risk to help those who have the most difficulty in making the transition from school to work.

We will do our part to ensure that those who most need training are eligible for training funds.

A national effort to have the most talented and skilled labour force requires the support and collaboration of the provinces and the private and voluntary sectors. We will be inviting them to jointly launch with us a national literacy initiative. We must raise the level of literacy in Canada because too many Canadians lack the literacy levels necessary for the new economy.

Canada needs more skilled workers. We must do better as a country to attract highly skilled immigrants. As a federal government, we will take the necessary steps. We must all make sure that no unnecessary barriers are placed in their way. In a global economy, Canada must do better to recognize quality credentials earned abroad.

I urge provincial governments to revise their policies with respect to recognition of the foreign credentials of new Canadians. And I urge provinces to give life to the Social Union Framework and to move quickly to ensure the full mobility of Canadian students and other Canadians with Canadian credentials everywhere in this country.

In Canada, elementary and high school education falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Each provincial government takes this obligation very seriously. Each works very hard to provide high quality public education.

But we all know that in the knowledge economy, those who drop out of school are also dropping out of opportunity. The school drop-out rate remains too high in Canada. We cannot afford the social and economic cost when young people become discouraged and drop out. I want to challenge provincial governments to re-double their efforts to ensure that those who are in school finish school. And that those who have dropped out come back in.

Yes Mr. Speaker, we need literate, skilled, educated, healthy people to be a world-leading economy. But this in turn requires a truly inclusive society. We cannot separate social and economic priorities. Just as a strong economy allows us to pursue our social values, an inclusive society is a prerequisite to a strong economy.

Through our progressive tax system, active measures, and our social safety net, Canada has avoided the worst social and economic costs of exclusion.

While incomes are now rising for most families, there are still too many single parent families, too many visible minorities, too many recent immigrants, too many aboriginal Canadians living in poverty. Canadians with disabilities still face too many barriers to participation.

We are determined to help families break out of the poverty trap. To reverse the cycle of dependency. To help parents realize their hopes and their dreams for their children. We cannot afford the costs, moral, human and economic, of child poverty.

Economic growth and job creation is the most effective way to reduce poverty. Tax cuts put more money in the hands of families. But they do not solve all our social problems. Governments have an important role to play. We need a balanced approach. We must find new and better ways to promote opportunity and to ensure that the basic needs of all are met.

Nowhere is this more important than for our children. And nowhere can we have a greater impact for building a strong and inclusive Canada.

It is not something the federal government can do alone. It is something all of us have to work on together.

We have made considerable progress over the last seven years and we have done so in cooperation and collaboration with the provinces. The National Child Benefit is the most important new social programme since Medicare. The Early Childhood Development Agreement of September 11th is a further important step in the right direction. We must and will do more.

Our goal must be that no child be excluded from opportunity because of the debilitating effects of poverty. That every child be given the right start in life.

The most urgent place to start is with aboriginal children. Quite frankly I am concerned that in the case of aboriginal peoples, we may be spending too much time, too much energy, and too much money on the past, and not nearly enough on what is necessary to ensure a bright future for the children of today and tomorrow.

Too often our spending does not reach those in greatest need. That must change. We must turn the page. From now on, we have to focus and target our investments on where we can achieve the greatest good.

There are never enough resources to do everything. Our approach will be to focus on the future. And most important, on the needs of children. As a start, we will significantly increase resources dedicated to Aboriginal Head Start, a programme our government started, and a programme that is working exceptionally well.

We must significantly reduce the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in our aboriginal communities. And we pledge to be part of a national effort to achieve this goal.

We would be putting our heads in the sand if we did not recognize as a society that there are too many young aboriginals in the criminal justice system. We have to take the steps required in our social and economic policies to reduce this number. Our goal must be to reduce the number of aboriginal people incarcerated or in conflict with the law. Within a generation, there should be no disparity in the incarceration rates between aboriginals and the rest of Canadian society.

These are ambitious objectives. They won't be met easily. Mistakes will be made along the way. All will not be achieved in one mandate. But we all have to be part of this national effort. Its success or failure will say much about the type of country we are.

Mr. Speaker, last September 11th, we had a very successful First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa on health and on early childhood development. Subsequently, we agreed with all the provinces on a Federal/Provincial/Municipal infrastructure program. We have demonstrated time and again since we took office that when we focus on the needs of the future, we can all work together. That our federal system works well.

Canadians see beyond the borders of their province or region. They are part of a larger community and they want their governments to work cooperatively to reflect our common values and give meaning to the Canadian experience. We can, and must, do this in a manner that respects one another's responsibilities - as well as one another.

Our spirit of cooperation and collaboration tells me that we can set ambitious goals. That we can achieve these goals together. That a national effort can succeed in giving every child a good start in life and real access to the opportunities of Canadian society. We are prepared to do our part. And I extend my hand to my provincial colleagues to join in this great national effort.

It took a generation working together to reduce the incidence of poverty among seniors. It happened step by step. But we took lots of steps together. We cannot be complacent. But we have come a long way. We can and must make similar progress for children. We will not do it overnight. There will be bumps along the way.

We must ensure that our children are a national priority. We must make this great national objective a major focus of what are always limited resources. During the course of this mandate, in the budgets that we bring down, we will establish an investment timetable that will allow us to make real progress in ensuring opportunity for all Canadian children.

Essential to opportunity and the well-being of Canadians, young and old, is a modern health system and quality health care. I referred a few minutes ago to the agreement of September 11th on health. We agreed on new investments. But we also agreed on a plan. In the years ahead, we will keep working together to support that plan. Through collaboration, we will achieve our goal of timely access to high quality health care available to all Canadians regardless of their income or place of residence. And we will report to Canadians on our performance and our progress.

Today, I reaffirm our commitment to work together with the provinces and Canadians to bring Medicare into the 21st century to ensure its relevance to the needs of Canadians. We will work with and support provinces to make our health system more integrated, more effective, more responsive and more transparent.

We will do more on aboriginal health. On new technologies and other strategies to assist people with disabilities. On promoting healthy living. On strengthening health research. And on ensuring that we do everything necessary to provide a modern system of Medicare for the years ahead.

A safe, healthy environment is essential to the health of Canadians and to the future of our children. We will accelerate our efforts at home and internationally to foster a clean environment. We will focus on air and water quality and on the preservation of our natural heritage.

Mr. Speaker, all of us have vivid memories of the last election campaign. Partisan rallies. Visits to homes and factories. But for me, one event stands out above all the others. It was a visit on a beautiful Saturday morning to the Conservatory of Music in Victoria. To listen to performances by extraordinarily talented young Canadian musicians. To reflect on the importance of the arts and culture as central to the Canadian fabric.

In a globalized society, in a universe of hundreds of channels, in the age of the Internet, it is more important than ever to support Canadian culture.

In this mandate, the government will provide significant new support to ensure that our cultural institutions, our performers, our artists can play the critical role of helping us know ourselves. And as ambassadors to the world, sharing the best of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, we have developed over more than a century a distinctive Canadian way. We have pursued a flexible approach that recognizes the importance of individual and collective action and responsibility. We have learned the value of working together in common purpose in a federal system that permits diversity and experimentation. We have recognized the advantage of our linguistic duality and multi-cultural society. We have developed a deep commitment to democracy and human rights. We have become a model for the world.

During the course of this Parliament, we will be playing an active role in the international community. Whether through the chairmanship of the G-20, hosting the G-8 in 2002, or the very important meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April of this year, we will be working to strengthen multi-lateral institutions for dialogue and cooperation.

We will increase our international development assistance. To expand opportunities for more countries to participate in the benefits of globalization, while promoting peace and human security in the world.

We will be working very closely in North America with the new administrations of President Bush and President Fox. The United States is our most important trading partner. Our closest ally. I will be travelling to Washington next week to meet with President Bush. To reaffirm the importance of our relationship.

To discuss with him the importance of secure and efficient access to each others markets. And I will be talking about accelerating the joint work that has already begun to modernize our shared border. To facilitate trade and investment. While ensuring security for both countries. And, also, to express the strong position of the Canadian government that our farmers should be able to compete on a level playing field. That subsidy wars are in no one's interests.

We have a great story to tell to American and overseas investors about the success of the Canadian economy. About Canada as a place to invest. About Canada as a place of action and excitement. We will be devoting a lot of effort with the help and cooperation of the private sector and the provinces to promote Canada as a highly innovative and skilled economy that attracts and keeps talent.

Mr. Speaker, the agenda of this government for this Parliament is a positive one. It is moderate and forward-looking. It is balanced. But it is also ambitious. It builds on what has made Canada the country it is today.

Mr. Speaker, last fall after the death of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canadians were moved to reflect and discuss not only the Trudeau legacy but the meaning of Canada and our attachment to it. His vision was of a mature and confident Canada shaping its own destiny, tied together by a common citizenship based on shared rights and mutual responsibility. A bilingual Canada in which citizens could enjoy and benefit from our rich French and English heritage. A country respectful of the special place of aboriginal people. A multi-cultural Canada, open to the world and fully seized of its global responsibilities. A just Canada in which opportunity is truly equal. We will take steps to commemorate his legacy in a way which both reflects and furthers these values.

This vision has shaped how the world sees Canada. It has helped to define the Canadian model. But increasingly the world is seeing a new Canada as well. A Canada built on this rich foundation, but also a Canada of exciting opportunity, advanced science, leadership in new technologies, excellence in education. With a skilled and innovative labour force. A place to invest and do business. That is the Canada we must also build in the weeks and months and years ahead. A Canada with a dynamic new economy and strong, healthy communities. A Canada of innovation and inclusion.

Mr. Speaker, we are more than citizens of a single province or a single region. We are more than just tax payers. We are citizens of a great country. We have responsibilities to each other. We need a national government working in partnership with all Canadians to assure our strong voice in the world. To assure a strong economy. To protect and strengthen the social fabric of our society, and the unity of our country. We on this side of the House will provide that government.

And as for me, Mr. Speaker, I've been fighting for Canada all my life ... and I'm just getting warmed up.