Gives Speech to Toronto Board of Trade

SPEECH TO THE TORONTO BOARD OF TRADE

Check against delivery.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming today.  And thank you, Richard, for that warm introduction.  The work that you do with the Toronto Board Trade to advance the policy discussion toward a more prosperous future is un-matched – and it’s an honour to address the Toronto Board of Trade today.

Many people are wondering, after the results this past weekend, what strategy I might possibly have for winning?

My strategy, simply put, is to keep going.

In politics, victory today may mean defeat tomorrow.

And equally, defeat today, may result in victory tomorrow.

What is most important through this process, however, is to have conviction, to know what you stand for, to be driven by ideas, and not by ego.

So here are my ideas:

When I entered politics three years ago after a long career as a doctor and the co-founder of an organization that helps children and women in areas of the world ravaged by war, I did so with three fundamental beliefs – beliefs that have motivated me throughout this leadership campaign, and that will continue to motivate me in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

One – all people, no matter where they come from, deserve access to opportunity and prosperity.

Two – we must to work together to bring about that opportunity and prosperity.

And three – we must ensure, always, that no one is left behind.

And so this speech is a call for creativity and innovation, a call for unity, and a call for compassion.

These are my fundamental beliefs – my values.  And I strongly believe that these are also the values that Ontarians hold close to their hearts.  They are the values that will help the Ontario Liberal Party re-connect with Ontarians, and win their trust once again.  They are the values that we as a party must embrace, the values that our new leader – whoever that may be – must embrace for our party and our province to be strong.

It starts with access to opportunity and prosperity.

Our next Premier must show resolve – an un-wavering commitment to a stronger economy where job creation can thrive, where prosperity is shared by all, where government is more effective and more efficient.

To create jobs in our province, the next Premier must embrace innovation and entrepreneurship.  We cannot limit our support for innovation simply to more research and development.  We in Ontario have some of the world’s foremost scientific minds, and for all Ontarians to share in the prosperity their discoveries promise, we must focus on bringing that innovation to market, especially in biotechnology, water technology, and ground-breaking medical research.  That is how innovation creates jobs, and it’s how we will compete on a global scale.

But for a perfect distillation of what I mean when I say that we must support a growing economy where prosperity is shared by all, we must look to an emerging sector of our economy that combines entrepreneurship with a dedication to the social good.

Ontario, we must embrace social innovation! We must embrace the partnerships between private sector and not-for-profit sector partners that hold so much promise not only in growing Ontario’s economy, but in their contributions to the social good.

Despite a range of exciting social innovation projects that are operating at a small scale right now, Ontario is lagging behind other jurisdictions when it comes to social innovation and entrepreneurship.

One of the things that is preventing us from capitalizing on the incredible potential in our communities is the continued refusal of government to afford the not-for-profit sector the same level of respect that it does our private sector.   As someone who ran a not-for-profit for a decade – this sector is every bit as creative as the private sector, every bit as accountable, and every bit as crucial to the economic health of our province.

But the numbers speak for themselves – one million Ontarians work in the not-for-profit sector.  The economic impact of the not-for-profit sector on our province’s GDP is greater that the construction and automobile sectors combined.

But we are falling behind because we have been too slow to embrace the new tools that are flourishing in other jurisdictions – especially in the area of financing, where social innovators face unacceptable regulatory barriers.

Ontario can lead the world in social innovation.  We can export tools that combine profit with the social good.  But it has got to be a priority for the next Premier.

And while we focus on innovation both in the private and not-for-profit sectors so that we can grow our economy and create jobs, we must never lose focus on what I believe is one of our province’s most urgent challenges.

If we do not face our youth unemployment crisis head-on, we risk creating an economic lost generation in which the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of our workforce is threatened.

The unemployment rate for young people under the age of 25 is currently about one-in-five, or nearly 20 percent.   Compare that to an unemployment rate of about 6 percent among adults.

Too many young people are without opportunity.  The problem is especially bad in neighbourhoods and communities with higher concentrations of poverty.  We see it in the news reports on increased gang violence, and we all know the tragic consequences.  This point was driven home for me in the wake of the Danzig Street shooting, when Premier McGuinty tasked me with the creation of our province’s Youth Action Plan.

Through that process, I saw the systemic barriers that many disadvantaged young people face, especially when it comes employment.  I’m proud that through the Youth Action Plan, we have been able to expand our government’s summer jobs programs into the school year, and increase our investments in the programs and services that help young people find jobs and connect with important mentors.

But this isn’t just an issue for youth in communities where there is concentrated disadvantage. It’s a problem for our middle class families too – how many of you have a twenty-something son or daughter, or know of a family where their son or daughter is living in their parents’ basement, without access to a job that matches their qualifications, or that will lead to a career and later, to independence.

It’s easy to make light of this problem when we talk about kids living in their parents’ basements – but if a young person cannot be independent, if a young person is not able to get their foot in the door (and out of the door) on the way to a fulfilling career, our workforce and our economy will suffer in the long-term.

Our next Premier must address the youth unemployment crisis – she or he must take immediate and urgent action to create a Youth Employment Strategy, in partnership with private sector employers and the agencies that provide our young people with the supports they need to find a job and succeed in Ontario’s workforce.

Bringing innovation to market, supporting social innovation and our not-for-profit sector, tackling the youth unemployment crisis.  These are some of my priorities, and they must be priorities for our next Premier.

But when it comes to an economy that is growing, creating jobs, and firing on all cylinders, we must ensure the swift and efficient movement of people and goods.

Too many productive hours are lost in gridlock.

Our next Premier must take action to improve our transportation infrastructure, and especially to invest in expanding our public transit systems in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.  And I know this is a priority for the Toronto Board of Trade.

I have proposed the creation of a new regional transit body – a strengthened Metrolinx – that would be responsible for transit planning and expansion.  This regional body would be separated from the political bickering that has characterized our transit debate especially at the municipal level, as we all have watched the debate over the future of transit in Toronto with growing frustration.

This strengthened regional body would be able to take the long-view, implementing the Big Move as part of its 25-year transit plan, and with strengthened revenue tools.  In assuming responsibility for planning and funding expansion, it would free up municipal transit agencies like the TTC to focus on operations and improving customer service.

We need subways and we need light rail.  We need buses and we need trains.  Simply put – we need to get it done.

Our government is investing $8 billion in transit projects in Toronto.  That is our record – the largest expansion of surface transportation in North America.  We can’t be shy about running on our record, but we also need to ensure that we build on that record and continue to be the party with the best plan for transit in the GTA.

So, I’ve spoken about how we must support greater prosperity, and how we can ensure that all Ontarians share in that prosperity.  And now I want to talk about unity – about the need for a new governing consensus.

I have spent my career building consensus.

As a humanitarian worker in parts of the world ravaged by war – whether in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan or Iraq – you learn quickly that “going it alone” is not an option.

It is the same in government.  We cannot “go it alone” issuing pronouncements from on high.  The problems are too great, and the need for solutions is too urgent for us to allow partisan bickering to keep us from getting results.

That goes for our own party and how we manage the relationship between MPPs, Ministers, and the Premier’s Office.

And that goes for how we’ve worked with the opposition parties.

Our next Premier must work with the opposition and the communities we serve to get results.  Ontarians gave us a minority government, and said “work together.”  We need to take that to heart by building a new governing consensus.

Consensus is possible.  I believe that we can work with both the Conservatives and the New Democrats to get our budgets passed and improve the lives of Ontarians across the province.

First, with the Progressive Conservatives – I believe that we can work together to make government more efficient, eliminate red tape for our businesses, and grow our economy in new ways.  We can do this by:

  • Re-committing ourselves to our deficit-reduction timetable, with the goal of eliminating the deficit by 2017-2018, a timetable we share with the PC Party.
  • By introducing greater accountability in our relationship with the agencies that receive transfer payments from the government to deliver services.  Too often these organizations continue to receive funding year after year simply because that’s how it’s always been done, without an eye to efficiency or proven, measurable outcomes.
  • By working collaboratively with businesses of all sizes, but especially small businesses, to eliminate red tape through an expanded, collaborative “Open for Business” model that has already seen excellent results.
  • And by paying more attention, and showing more respect, to rural Ontarians.  That means giving local communities a stronger voice in new energy projects.  And it means creating a workable plan for Ontario’s horse racing and horse breeding industry so that this sector, one that employs so many in rural Ontario, can be sustainable and can thrive.

And second, with the NDP – I believe that we can work together, and in fact, we must work together to address the unacceptable levels of poverty in our province.

With that in mind I’d like to turn to my third fundamental belief, that we have a responsibility as Liberals and as servants of the public good to ensure that no one is left behind.

Too many children in this province go hungry.  Too many people are stuck on social assistance with no hope of employment.  Too many people work full-time at minimum wage and struggle to support their family.  Too many of the working poor are unable to afford prescription drugs for themselves and their kids.

I first introduced my plan to reduce poverty in a bit of an unlikely place – the Economic Club of Canada.  And there were some raised eyebrows in the room.  Why is this guy talking about poverty?  Shouldn’t he be talking about deficits?

But I believe reducing poverty must be a core part of our governing consensus.  It’s who we are as Liberals – and Ontarians -, and it’s absolutely crucial for the health of our economy.

And we must start with children.  As a government we’ve lifted more than 40,000 children out of poverty.  That’s an important achievement but there is much more work to do.  We must continue to raise the Ontario Child Benefit.

We must provide a path to employment for people on social assistance.  This means implementing the reforms recommended by the Social Assistance Review, authored by Francis Lankin and Munir Sheikh and supported by an impressive and broad coalition of private sector partners.

We must be prepared to raise the minimum wage so that no adult working full-time at minimum wage falls below the poverty line.

We must create an income-tested prescription drug program so that the working poor can afford medication for their families, and so that individuals receiving social assistance find it easier to transition to the workplace knowing that their drug benefits remain.

These four actions will make a real and immediate difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.  It’s something we can agree on.  It’s the right thing to do in an economy and a province that leaves no one behind.

So there you have it.  My three fundamental beliefs:

One – all people, no matter where they come from, deserve access to opportunity and prosperity.

Two – we must to work together to bring about that opportunity and prosperity.

And three – we must ensure, always, that no one is left behind.

Over the next ten days, I will continue in this leadership race, right into the convention.

I will continue because even if victory ends up being out of reach, you don’t need to win to make a difference.

I got into politics after working for twenty years in places where governments had failed their citizens; because I believe in the power of public service; and because I want to see a strong, vibrant and prosperous Ontario within a strong, vibrant and socially democratic Canada.

I have seen the flip side of these realities…

Twenty years ago, working in Sudan, I saw my friend and colleague arrested, tortured and murdered by his government. I saw children starving to death because of their government’s inability – and unwillingness – to put its citizen’s welfare above its own political interests. And I saw hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered by a regime that could not even begin to understand the concepts of responsible government.

I have since built a career around public service – creating employment for youth where none had previously existed; strengthening communities; designing social programs; investing in infrastructure that improves, promotes and protects people – including health care and education.

I am in this race to effect change, to help this province achieve its potential to be a progressive voice at a time of political disengagement and disillusionment.

And I hope, together, we will keep this vision going.

There is no shame in not winning. There is only shame in not trying. I am a voice for change, and I will keep going.

I am proud of the campaign we have run.  I am proud of my team, my volunteers, my delegates, and those who put their name forward to stand.

We have come a long way.  And we did it together.

And now, on to the convention!