At The Ontario Business Achievement Awards
It's great to be part of another successful Chamber of Commerce event. Just one month ago, I was part of one of the most constructive, forward-thinking gatherings I've seen in our province: the Chamber's summit on Ontario's economy. And I want to commend you, again, for bringing us together, to work together, on behalf of this great province.
It's great to be part of another successful Chamber of Commerce event.
Just one month ago, I was part of one of the most constructive, forward-thinking gatherings I've seen in our province: the Chamber's summit on Ontario's economy.
And I want to commend you, again, for bringing us together, to work together, on behalf of this great province.
Tonight we're reminded that there are many arenas in which Ontarians compete, win and excel -- and business is one of them.
I want to congratulate all of tonight's award winners.
Thank you for the risks you take, the investments you make, and the jobs you create.
Thank you for making Ontario even better.
Tonight, we pay tribute to organizations and businesses that excel.
But what we're really doing, when you think about it, is celebrating the people who make those teams successful.
Even in this technological age, our people are our greatest competitive advantage.
The place with the best-educated, most highly skilled people, the healthiest people, the most prosperous people, will be the place to be -- long into the future.
Our job, one you and I share, is to ensure Ontario is that place.
That's what our plan for Ontario is all about.
It's a plan to strengthen the education and skills of our people.
It's a plan to improve the health of our people.
And it's a plan to ensure prosperity for our people.
This evening, one year into our mandate, I want to report to you on the progress we're making in each of these areas.
Delivering high-quality public education is the foundation for a bright future.
Tomorrow's workforce is today's student body.
And, to put it bluntly: today's student body is ailing.
Provincewide testing indicates that barely half of our Grade 6 students are meeting the provincial standard in reading, writing and math.
It's no wonder that 30 per cent of our kids drop out of high school -- and half of them don't bother to keep learning beyond high school.
It's high time we turned this around.
The result we most want to achieve is higher student achievement in reading, writing and math -- as evidenced by higher test scores.
So, funding for public education is up this year, by $854 million.
Class sizes in the early grades are down in more than 1,300 schools.
Lead teachers in literacy and numeracy, trained in best practices, have been placed in each elementary school.
Junk food is out; mandatory physical education will soon be in.
And soon we will introduce one of the most important pieces of our plan -- a bill requiring our young people to keep learning until age 18, in a classroom, or an apprenticeship, or a job placement program.
No longer will they be able to walk out at age 16.
We can't hang our hopes on the future -- if we're content to let the future just hang out at the mall.
We want the best for our kids and we'll do all we can to help them succeed.
Our plan for a healthy economy depends, as well, on our plan to improve the health of our people.
Medicare is an expression of our values.
We look out for each other.
It also gives us a competitive edge.
The fastest rising business cost in the U.S. is the soaring cost of private health insurance for employers.
Last year, those costs rose by 13.5 per cent -- the third consecutive year of double-digit increases.
So our system of medicare still makes sense.
But let's not kid ourselves -- there are problems to overcome.
There are two big issues facing medicare.
One is quality.
Far too many Ontarians don't have access to a family doctor.
Others are waiting far too long for key procedures.
The other is affordability.
In recent years, overall health care costs went up eight per cent annually, hospital costs were up 10 per cent, drug costs up 15 per cent and the cost of cancer drugs was up 35 per cent.
Obviously, this is not sustainable.
We're taking action with our plan for health care.
To reduce wait times, we're increasing the volume of key services.
There will be 2,300 more hip and knee replacements, 36,000 more cardiac procedures and 9,000 more cataract procedures each year by the end of our mandate.
There will be nine new or expanded MRI sites.
But we're not just expanding the system -- we're working to transform it.
For example, our tentative agreement with the province's doctors is the first one that doesn't give doctors an across-the-board increase.
Instead, we are providing incentives for doctors to:
- Take more time with seniors
- Help patients better manage chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes
- And do more to keep people healthy in the first place.
We're extending home care to over 95,000 more Ontarians by the end of our mandate.
And there are new, higher standards of care for our nursing homes.
By investing in and improving community care, we can reduce the burden on our families -- and on our hospitals.
Last year, we picked up hospital deficits run up under previous governments.
This year, we increased hospital funding by 4.3 per cent.
Then we asked hospitals to sign accountability agreements, to ensure every dollar went into better results for Ontarians, results like more full time nurses and shorter wait times.
And now we're working with our hospitals to balance their budgets over the next two years, without compromising care, so that the tremendous service they provide Ontarians is sustainable over the long run.
I'm proud to report more than 50 hospitals are on track to do just that -- and we're working closely with the others to reach the goal of quality care that's affordable care.
Finally, our plan is about ensuring prosperity for people.
Our economy is strong.
We're on track for another year of steady growth.
But this is a competitive world, and if you rest on your laurels, someone will come along and pull them out from under you.
China is forging steel, India is doing computer programming and Brazil and Mexico are building more cars than ever before.
The competition is fierce.
We have to keep moving.
In today's economy, the jurisdiction with the best educated, most highly skilled workforce gets the best jobs and the most investment.
Despite our impressive academic heritage, Ontario is being challenged here.
On a per capita basis, in comparison to Ontario, the United States has twice as many grad students, twice as many students going to business school and 30 per cent more doing their PhDs.
We need to aim higher when it comes to higher education in Ontario.
Our government is adding 50,000 spaces in our colleges and universities.
We've enhanced student aid to benefit 50,000 more students.
And we've asked former Premier Rae to fast track a comprehensive review of our post secondary system.
We're adding 7,000 new apprenticeships.
Our Budget creates a 25 per cent refundable tax credit on wages paid to new apprentices.
To keep our business climate competitive, our plan proposes to phase out the capital tax by 2012.
I'm also pleased to report we are now working with Ottawa to develop a single corporate income tax collection system for Ontario business.
For years, business has asked the provincial and federal governments to get their act together when it comes to corporate tax collection.
Business has to deal with two sets of forms, two levels of government, and two audits.
That's too much red tape, so we are going to cut it.
For us, it's not about moving Ontario to the right, or the left.
We're here to move Ontario forward.
And that means playing an active role when and where we can make a real difference.
You saw an example a few weeks ago when Ford Canada announced a billion dollar state of the art assembly plant in Oakville.
Ford chose Ontario because we chose to invest $100 million from our auto sector investment fund.
Ontario decided to compete for thousands of high value, high paying jobs -- and Ontario won.
We're taking the same aggressive, confident approach to research and development.
The most valuable resource in the world today is not silver or gold or diamonds.
The most valuable resource is an idea -- one that is developed and turned into a highly sought after product or service.
We're proud to commit $300 million over the next four years for equipment and other research infrastructure essential to developing new ideas.
We're investing $3.3 billion on infrastructure improvements because repairing and modernizing our highways and bridges helps create jobs.
Government has to modernize its approach, too, by bringing greater transparency and accountability to the work we do.
To ensure taxpayers' dollars are invested wisely, we have introduced legislation that would ban the waste of taxpayers' dollars on partisan political advertising.
We've also introduced legislation that would expand the powers of the provincial auditor.
He would still audit government ministries each year, but our legislation would empower him to also audit -- for the first time -- school boards and hospitals, universities and colleges, and Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.
I'm proud to report that our new Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act would require that the state of our finances also be audited -- and made public -- before an election.
This would be the first law of its kind in Canada.
We have also introduced legislation to bring fixed election dates to Ontario.
We will have an election every four years.
The next one would be on October 4, 2007.
These two changes mean there will be no more playing around with the numbers and no more playing around with election dates.
Everyone will be on the same page.
In order to bring transparency, as well, to the results we're working to achieve, we've set up a new Health Quality Council.
This council and the Education Quality and Accountability Office are independent bodies that will report to Ontarians on our progress in getting student achievement up and health care waiting times down.
Our plan is straightforward: strengthen the health of our people, the education and skills of our people, and the prosperity of our people, because our people are our greatest competitive advantage.
I want to wrap up with one simple message: we can get this job done.
Just look at what we have going for us.
No one can match what we have in Ontario: our combination of economic clout, business savvy, natural resources and people power.
We do business, day in and day out, with the world's only remaining superpower, and we come out on top with a trade surplus worth more than $23 billion.
We make the best cars, grow the finest produce, develop the highest technology.
Recently in London, they did something that's never been done before -- the first closed chest, robot assisted, beating heart bypass surgery.
And 1.7 million people carry a Blackberry today because a company in Waterloo revolutionized wireless technology.
In this great city, I can walk in any direction from my Queen's Park office and bump into academic geniuses at U of T, or some of the best surgeons on the planet on University Avenue, top retailers on Bloor, or business leaders from Bay Street.
Tonight's awards are yet another example of one simple fact: Ontarians excel.
That's our competitive advantage.
We take pride in who we are, take stock of the foundation we have built, and then take aim for something even better: an Ontario that's healthy enough to compete, skilled enough to win, and strong enough to prosper long into the future.
An Ontario with a quality of life, that's second to none.
An Ontario that is the place to be.
That Ontario -- the one we all see in our mind's eye, the one that's worthy of our rich heritage, the one that is worthy of the dreams we dream for our children and grandchildren -- is ours to deliver.