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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The Ontario Chamber Of Commerce Economic Summit

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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The Ontario Chamber Of Commerce Economic Summit


Office of the Premier

Thank you for that very kind introduction.

It is a pleasure to join you today.

With this conference, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has asked us all -- eloquently and effectively -- to open our eyes to the opportunities and challenges before us.

Leadership means being optimistic enough to see what you've got going for you -- and realistic enough to take a hard look at where you're going.

And the chamber has shown leadership by putting this important conference together.

I want to especially commend our conference co-chairs Linda Hasenfratz, Michael Sabia and Bob Rae.

I also want to acknowledge your chamber's president and CEO, Len Crispino.

Len, I read your speech to the Empire Club.

I was struck by how much we agree on.

You're right to point out that we have a lot going for us: our rich history, our resource base, the diversity and work ethic of our people.

You've noted Ontario's lead role in key sectors such as agriculture and autos, our openness to trade and our proximity to the world's largest market.

Believe me, I meet often with my provincial counterparts -- and many would gladly trade their challenges for ours.

So we agree we have a strong foundation here in Ontario.

But we agree, as well, that we can't consider that foundation a resting place.

It must be a platform on which we build a more competitive economy, a more prosperous province, a higher quality of life.

And we need to do it together.

To me, that's what this conference is all about: finding and building on common ground.

It's just too easy to fall behind by falling back on what we -- business, labour, academia and government -- have in the way of differences.

The people we all serve -- the people of Ontario -- place a heavy responsibility on all of us to work together in their interests.

And all Ontarians have an interest in securing our future prosperity.

Today, I want to propose the first step forward: agreement on the most important priorities.

I believe there are three:

The education and training of our people. The best way to attract investment, and create high-wage jobs that last is to build the best educated, most highly skilled, most productive workforce in North America.

The health of our people. Health care costs are rising at a rate of about eight per cent a year. And the real wave demand is just beginning, as the baby boom retires and becomes a patient boom. We must reform our approach to health care so that we can respond in a caring and cost-efficient way. Jurisdictions across the western world, regardless of their system of health care, are grappling with the same challenge. Those who meet it head on will not only be more compassionate -- they'll be more competitive.

The building of a strong and prosperous economy. Each of us has a role to play, and each of has a responsibility to have our own respective houses in order, so we're strong enough to do our part. Government, for example, has to become more focused and efficient. It must be on a firm fiscal footing so it can finance the job.

I believe these priorities represent the common ground on which we can build together.

I sought the privilege of serving as Premier because I felt all three of these were being neglected.

And I can report that, after one year in office, we have made significant progress.

We have stopped the slide.

But there is a big difference between stopping the slide and securing the future.

So we have work to do. And we want to do it, together, with you.

I believe the most important thing we can do for our future is to deliver high-quality public education.

Tomorrow's workforce is today's student body.

And, to put it bluntly: today's student body is ailing.

Half of our kids are struggling to learn to read, write and do math at a high level.

Provincewide testing in 2002-03 indicated that 44 per cent of Grade 6 students did not meet the provincial standard in reading.

Another 47 per cent did not meet the standard in writing.

And 47 per cent did not meet the standard in math.

We're working to turn this situation around.

We're working to deliver excellence in public education.

The result we most want to achieve in education is higher student achievement in reading, writing and math -- as evidenced by higher test scores.

That's because we know that these skills are the foundation for future success in school.

And we know that students that do well in these early years are far more likely to complete high school and further their education.

It's key to another result we're working to achieve: a higher high school graduation rate.

To achieve these goals, we are putting in place a series of strategies, from smaller class sizes to improved teacher training to expanded intervention programs.

Already, in year one, we have reduced class sizes in the early grades in more than 1,300 schools.

We've done that by training and hiring 1,100 new teachers.

We have placed lead teachers in literacy and numeracy -- trained in best practices -- in each elementary school.

And we are expanding the number of turnaround teams -- experts who are sent into struggling schools.

This year, we have increased funding for public education by $854 million.

We've asked former Premier Rae to propose an overhaul of our postsecondary education system.

I know we all eagerly await his recommendations.

I trust that we all see the restoration of higher education as key to our future.

And I urge all of us -- business, labour, academia and government -- to forge a partnership to support that goal.

Education and training must extend beyond the traditional classroom.

That's why we're expanding the number of apprenticeships offered in Ontario.

And we've set up a fund -- in the key automotive sector -- to help train our workers for the next generation of automotive technology, the next generation of jobs.

These are investments in our future prosperity.

We need your help.

We need you to embrace apprenticeships, to help us ensure job placements and co-op programs are meaningful.

I know government has often been the partner that has lagged behind in this regard.

This government is determined to catch up, and we want to work with you.

Let's turn to the second priority I identified earlier: the health of our people, and the need to reform their health care.

I agree with Len, who told the Empire Club that it's our duty to make sure affordable and reliable health care is maintained.

And I certainly share his concern with rising health costs.

They do threaten our ability to invest in the things that ensure future prosperity: education and training, research and development, transportation and other forms of infrastructure.

But I don't agree with those who suggest the solution is for government to offload its responsibility for health care to the private sector.

I believe that's bad social policy. Medicare is integral to Canadians' values.

And I believe that would be disastrous economic policy. It would mean massively higher business costs.

Unions would demand employers pick up the tab for purely private health insurance because their members would demand it.

Businesspeople would have to consider paying that tab because competition for the best workers is fierce.

If you doubt this downloading would mean higher business costs, just look south.

The fastest-growing business cost in the U.S. today is the soaring cost of health care.

In 2002-03, U.S. premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose by 13.9 per cent, the third consecutive double-digit increase.

That doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from other jurisdictions, including the U.S.

And it certainly doesn't mean we can settle for the status quo -- not by a long shot.

It does mean we need to save medicare, not by scrapping it, but by reforming it.

We are working to shift the focus of our system towards keeping as many Ontarians as healthy as possible, so they require less care in the long run.

That means encouraging healthier lifestyles, as well as improving things such as water quality, which is why we've hired more water inspectors.

It means improving other determinants of health, including economic status.

Which is one reason why we've increased, for the first time in a decade, the minimum wage and rates for welfare and disability.

We are working to reshape the current health care system so that we deliver more care in the community and at home, reducing the pressure on hospitals, which provide the most expensive form of care.

We are not going to bail out hospital deficits year after year after year -- at the expense of improvements to home care and primary care.

The result we're most focused on in health care is shorter wait times for key medical services: MRIs and CT scans, cataract and cardiac procedures and joint replacements and cancer care.

Already, in our first year, we have opened the first of nine new MRIs, provided funding for the hiring of new full-time nurses, and introduced a Budget that will provide home care to 21,000 more people this year.

We know shortening wait times starts with improving access to primary care.

That's why were we're working to increase in the number of families with access to a family doctor, a nurse practioner or a team of health professionals working together.

The federal government has agreed to play a bigger role -- and I'm proud of the role I played in forging a new health care deal.

The money will help, but it's not a substitute for reform of the system.

We'll do our part. We invite you to work with us.

Do what you can to help your employees -- or your members -- stay healthy by promoting nutrition, exercise and early detection of potential problems.

That will make your organizations more productive.

It will also help make our economy more prosperous.

I've dedicated my time, so far, to education and health care.

I've done that because they're so important.

But I've done it as well because they constitute a huge piece of this common ground I believe we share -- common ground that I believe is relatively new.

You know, I can remember, not so long ago, that I would talk about these things in front of business groups and someone would complain: "That wasn't a business speech."

Not anymore.

We're more sophisticated now about understanding how much we share.

Leaders in business, and labour, and academia, now agree that health care reform and education and skills training are not simply social programs -- in today's world, they're key economic strategies.

Which brings me to the third priority: the need for each of us to do our part to build a prosperous economy.

Let's look at an obvious example of our need to work together, to build on common ground -- one that also didn't seem so obvious even a decade ago.

The most valuable resource in the world today isn't silver or gold, or nickel or lumber.

The most valuable resource in the world today ... is an idea.

But even the best idea is only a raw material.

It takes all of us, working together, to develop it into jobs and prosperity.

Our universities should be mining ideas.

Business and labour should be working with our universities to commercialize those ideas, to turn them into viable, innovative products.

And we all have a role in selling those products to the world, in telling the success story.

Government's job is to ensure this common ground is fertile ground, by investing in state-of-the-art research.

I'm pleased to announce today that we're committing at least $300 million over the next four years for equipment and other research infrastructure.

And this amount will be matched by another $450 million from the federal government and other partners.

To bring advances to market, last year's Budget committed $27 million over four years to establish a new Ontario Research Commercialization Program, to test, prototype and turn new ideas into commercial reality.

And I know that my economic development and trade minister, Joe Cordiano, will work with you to ensure Ontario experiences some real breakthroughs.

We also need to work together to tackle two crucial elements of our infrastructure: electricity and transportation.

Our predecessors mismanaged the energy sector to the point where little new supply was built in the past ten years. Nuclear generation was allowed to become less and less efficient, and the price of electricity did not reflect the cost of production.

We believe it's critical to our future prosperity to upgrade our existing nuclear plants and replace our aging coal plants.

We have moved to realistic pricing of electricity. Work is underway on nuclear retrofits. And we are heartened by the huge expression of interest from the private sector in generation projects.

We need your help to develop a culture of conservation, because the cheapest way to generate electricity is to save it in the first place.

Our economy depends, as well, on trade. We need to ensure that our border crossings can be navigated as quickly as possible, without sacrificing security.

Ironically, in this age of free trade, border delays now function as a quasi tariff on Ontario goods and services heading south.

We must be creative in our efforts to keeping our borders both secure -- and open.

Since becoming Premier, I've travelled to Washington twice to raise the issue.

I've met with Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, Senator Clinton and others.

I've talked about establishing a bi-national zone for pre-clearance at the border -- in essence, shared common ground -- where Canadians can be Canadians, Americans can be Americans, and we can all get where we're going quickly, safely and securely.

We're working to ensure the joint programs we have to accelerate clearance -- such as NEXUS and FAST -- are being fully utilized.

In partnership with our federal government, we're proceeding with a $748 million infrastructure package to improve road safety, speed up the flow of cross-border traffic, and improve transportation corridors at three of our busiest crossings, including the all-important Windsor-Detroit Gateway project.

But I know that, once again, you and I would agree more has to be done.

We simply must overcome the political challenge of dealing with so many levels of government on both sides of the border.

If there ever was an example of common ground, it's our border, and we simply must do more to develop a shared approach that will protect security and keep trade moving.

We are doing our part within our borders, to speed up transportation, investing more than $3.3 billion this year on infrastructure improvements -- to fix our highways and bridges, create jobs and keep our economy moving.

We need to a little construction work within government, too.

We need to modernize government, so that it:

  • Invests in Ontario's future prosperity, not just present day consumption
  • Delivers improved public services and
  • Achieves a sustainable fiscal position that can support these investments and services over the long-term.

We inherited a structural deficit of $5.5 billion.

We have chosen to responsibly and prudently eliminate it over the course of our mandate.

We have set tough fiscal targets, and we will need your support as we meet them.

It's not just a matter of balancing the Budget for the sake of balancing the Budget.

It's a matter of paying for the results I've talked about today -- results that are key to securing our future prosperity.

It's a matter of being in a strong position to do our part, as a government, to find common ground and build on it.

There are three areas where we need to focus much of our effort.

The first is the pressing need to work together to develop our workforce -- to invest in and improve education and training.

The second is the need to reform and modernize medicare so it can meet today's and tomorrow's challenges, so it can continue to give us a compassionate approach and a competitive edge.

And the third is the need for each of our sectors to do its share to build a strong economy -- the need to get our own respective houses in order, so we're able to do what matters to the economy.

I want to conclude with a few facts that put this trio of pachyderms into some perspective:

There are 3.3 million of us, Ontarians born between 1947 and 1964.

That's 40 per cent of workforce.

They're the baby boomers.

And they're getting set to retire.

As they age, they'll stop generating a massive amount of wealth -- and start consuming a massive amount of health care.

In the 1960s, when we invented many of our social programs, there were almost eight people working for every senior.

Today, there are five.

By the year 2030, there will be three.

We had better make sure those three -- kids in school today -- are educated and trained to their maximum potential.

We must do all we can to ensure they have access to good, high-wage jobs.

We must make sure the social programs that keep us strong are as modern as the challenges they face.

We must make sure our economy is strong and prosperous.

We can only do these things, my friends and colleagues, but only if we work together.

We have to strive to find common ground, and build on it ...

If we do that ...

If we work together ...

Look at what the business leaders in this room have accomplished for their companies and their communities ...

Look at what labour leaders have accomplished for their members and their movements ...

Look at what our learning institutions have accomplished for their students and their province ...

And consider what we can do, together, if we find common ground, and build on it, together.

We can do anything.

We can build an economy that's strong and prosperous.

We can build a quality of life that's second to none.

We can build a future that's worthy of the people of Ontario.

Thank you.