At The Ethnic Press Council
Whatever your beliefs, or your traditions, this is a joyous time of year, a time to be with family and friends. But for all of us who believe in diversity -- and in a free press that reflects that diversity -- this is also a bittersweet time. We recently lost a leader, a man of vision. And I want to express, again, on behalf of all Ontarians, our respect for Daniel Iannuzzi and offer our sympathies to his family, colleagues and community.
It's great to see so many of you here -- especially when the weather has made it so difficult to get around.
Whatever your beliefs, or your traditions, this is a joyous time of year, a time to be with family and friends.
But for all of us who believe in diversity -- and in a free press that reflects that diversity -- this is also a bittersweet time.
We recently lost a leader, a man of vision.
And I want to express, again, on behalf of all Ontarians, our respect for Daniel Iannuzzi and offer our sympathies to his family, colleagues and community.
He is missed by the community of communities that is Ontario.
He has left behind a remarkable legacy of hard work and dedication.
A legacy we all must honour by continuing his work.
You have a role to play by informing your communities, by building bridges between the home your audiences knew and the home they have chosen, by providing a voice to those not always heard.
I want to thank you for fulfilling that role, day in and day out.
I have a role to play, too: to provide leadership that unites instead of divides, that fosters opportunity for all, instead of reserving it for just a few.
Tonight, you make me Honourary Chairman of the Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.
It's a tremendous privilege, but I don't see it as a reward.
I see it as a reminder of the important role you play, the role I play and the need for us to work together.
You know, sometimes we take it for granted, but this diversity of ours is a tremendous asset.
Diversity fosters a wonderful view of the world.
A world where we build bridges instead of walls.
Where we grow together instead of apart.
Where there is no "us" and "them."
There's just us.
It's a view that seems to me to be fundamental to building a strong, caring and cohesive society.
Diversity also strengthens our economy -- our ability to compete in markets around the world.
Because together, as Ontarians, we speak every language, understand every culture and have ties to every market.
Our diversity enables us to do business literally anywhere.
We Ontarians and we Canadians -- we are privileged to call this place home.
And it seems to me that with privilege comes responsibility.
The responsibility to make this home of ours work.
And not just for ourselves, but for the world.
We are a demonstration project for the world.
A world where too many people despair of humanity's ability just to get along in peace.
A world where too many are afraid that maybe, just maybe, we humans are hard-wired to always focus on our differences.
So our responsibility as Ontarians and Canadians is to signal to the world that we can rise above our differences.
That we understand that people everywhere are connected.
That life is so much better for all of us when we support one another, regardless of differences.
That the differences among people, whether they are racial, religious, political, tribal or ethnic, are not nearly as important as our common humanity.
If we are to fulfill this responsibility, then we must do more than simply talk about diversity, or even celebrate it.
We have to support it, nurture it and strengthen it.
I think it was Shakespeare who said: "Action is eloquence."
Our government's action plan for Ontario is all about strengthening our greatest competitive advantage -- our people -- in all their diversity.
To ensure Ontario is the place to be, for years to come, we need every Ontarian at his or her best.
We need to help every Ontarian reach his or her potential.
We need to tap into the talent of every Ontarian.
And that's what we, as a government, are striving to do.
Our plan is to strengthen the education and skills of our people.
The place with the best-educated, most highly skilled workforce will attract the most investment and the best jobs.
And when we get education right, we get good citizens, good neighbours, people equipped to build a stronger, more cohesive society.
We face challenges in public education.
Four out of ten students in Grade 3 and 6 are not making the Ontario standard on our provincial tests.
And an estimated 30 per cent of our kids are dropping out of high school.
So we have our work cut out for us, especially when we want to trade with -- and compete with -- countries all over the world.
So we're investing another $1.1 billion in public education.
Class sizes are down, in the early grades, in 1,300 schools.
We've hired another 1,100 teachers.
We've taken junk food out of our elementary schools
And mandatory physical activity is coming in.
We want every child to succeed.
So we've increased funding for English as Second Language by $64 million -- and we've expanded the program.
When we were elected, eligible children were receiving ESL supports for three years.
But it quickly became clear to us that, for many children, that simply wasn't enough time.
So we've extended ESL for an additional year because "almost" isn't good enough when it comes to equipping our children -- all our children -- with what they need to learn.
We've also increased learning opportunity grants -- money specifically targeted at programs that help struggling students -- by $160 million.
There are funding programs that help kids at risk -- including thousands of children who are recent immigrants or whose first language is not English.
We know that kids who do well in grade school are more likely to complete high school and further their education beyond high school.
We want our young people to keep learning.
In fact, we are working on our plan to require young people to continue to learn 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.
After all, 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 -- all our kids -- and we'll do all we can to help them succeed.
Our plan is to improve the health of our people.
Medicare is an expression of our values.
And it gives us a competitive edge over our closest competitors, who are forced to spend more and more on private health insurance.
So our system of medicare still makes sense.
But we face some big challenges.
The first is quality.
Far too many Ontarians don't have access to a family doctor. Others are waiting far too long for key procedures.
We are working to reduce those waiting lists by increasing volumes.
At the end of our mandate, we will have 36,000 more cardiac procedures every year, 9,000 more cataract procedures every year, 2,300 more hip and knee replacements every year.
To expand access to doctors and nurses, we're expanding access to medicine and nursing.
We've expanded a training program that helps internationally trained nurses pass the registration exam here.
And we've doubled the number of residency positions available to international medical graduates.
We aren't just putting more money and people into the system -- we're working to transform the system.
That's why we're moving forward with our plan to improve how family doctors work in Ontario, to set up Family Health Teams, to provide care in so many cities and towns where so many Ontarians can't get the family care they need.
We plan to have the first 45 Family Health Teams approved by spring.
This will make our health care system more effective and more efficient.
And that's important, because the other major challenge is affordability.
For the last four years, the cost of health care overall has been growing at eight per cent a year.
Hospitals at 10 per cent a year, drugs at 15 per cent a year and cancer drugs at 35 per cent a year.
When I came to Queen's Park 14 years ago, about a third of the budget went into health care.
Today, close to half of the budget goes into health care.
Today, I'm taking education money and I'm putting it into health care.
I'm taking money for roads and bridges and I'm putting it into health care.
I'm taking money for colleges and universities and I'm putting it into health care.
So to people who say the only thing that we can do to fix health care is to put more and more money into it, I ask you: How much more?
Should 60 per cent of the budget go into health care?
Should 70 per cent of the budget go into health care?
Maybe 80 per cent of the budget should go into health care?
My friends, the status quo is just not acceptable.
So we're doing the hard work now, with our hospitals and with our doctors, to change health care so that it delivers more quality and delivers affordability.
When it comes to the economy, we're placing a very heavy emphasis on the development of our workers -- all of our workers.
We want more highly skilled and educated workers because we understand they can get the best jobs, the highest pay and the highest quality of life.
Our government is adding 50,000 spaces to our colleges and universities.
And we've enhanced student aid to benefit 50,000 more students.
We've also asked former Premier Rae to fast-track a comprehensive review of our post-secondary system.
We're creating 7,000 more apprenticeship spaces and proposing a brand new training tax benefit for business.
If you pick up a new apprentice, we'll pick up 25 to 30 per cent of the cost.
We're working to expand access to trades and professions with a series of changes that are making a real, practical difference.
Our government is working to help employers, universities and colleges understand the academic credentials of the internationally trained.
We've expanded bridge-training programs for nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers and other trades and professions.
Too many of our people have told us they find the appeals process in some regulated professions confusing and arbitrary.
So we've appointed former Ontario Justice George Thomson to recommend an appeals process that's fair and transparent.
We're opening up the process for appointments to our own agencies, boards and commissions by working with communities to identify and appoint candidates that reflect Ontario's diversity.
And some of our recent appointments, I believe, indicate some progress on this front.
We're working with the federal government on a new immigration agreement, one that focuses on enhanced language training and new programs to help immigrants access the Canadian labour market.
We're working on a new information portal, so people considering Canada can get the information they need, from the federal and provincial government, in one convenient place.
It's simply not good enough anymore in the highly competitive, global economy of the 21st century to tell new Canadians to wait a generation for their opportunity.
They can't wait that long for their chance in Ontario, and we can't wait that long for them to make their maximum contribution to Ontario.
We need every Ontarian -- including our newest Ontarians -- at their best.
Let me wrap up with just a few points.
The first is: We are making progress.
In fact, we've published a progress report on what we've accomplished in our first year in government.
The highlights are available online at resultsontario.com, and they're available in twelve languages.
The second is: We can do this.
I've been on this job for more than a year now.
And what has struck me more than anything is how much we have going for us.
Ontarians excel in every walk of life and in every language.
In business, in the arts, in sports, in health care and education and the media, Ontarians excel.
We can overcome our challenges.
We can be even more successful.
We can, by investing in our people, be the place to be, for years to come.
I meet regularly with my provincial counterparts.
And each of them would gladly trade their challenges for ours.
The final thing I want to do is to extend to all of you the best of the holiday season.
On behalf of Terri and our family, but also on behalf of 12 million Ontarians.
However you celebrate, whatever your heritage, or religion, I ask you to take a moment to celebrate what we all share -- the privilege we enjoy living here in Ontario.
Celebrate that we have the resolve to overcome our challenges.
Celebrate the respect we have for one another.
Celebrate that, wherever we come from, we can move forward as one and embrace once again the responsibility we share.
My friends, the Ontario we want for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren -- an Ontario that speaks every language, that accepts every culture, that values every individual, an Ontario that is the best place in the world because it embraces what is best in the world -- that Ontario is ours to deliver together.