(Note: The Minister, Bernard Valcourt, was unable to attend because of an urgent matter requiring his attention. His speech was delivered by the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister.)
It's a pleasure to be here representing the Minister of Human Resources and Labour. I know Mr. Valcourt has a deep commitment to learning and believes it is the key to improving our society and he regrets not being able to be with you.
In bringing you his message, I will stick pretty much to the comments Mr. Valcourt intended to deliver.
As all of us are aware, in both private and public sector organizations, hierarchies and command and control structures are crumbling all over the world. And this is not just true at the level of individual institutions, but at the society level or generally.
Yet, the old ways of a society making public policy choices has yet to be adequately replaced by new processes capable of dealing with complexity, interdependence and dispersed power and as well a newly-informed and activist population which rightly demands control of its common destiny.
The very process of informing and developing consensus itself needs to be the first focus.
And this institute, Couchiching, is just one of the very important examples of the kind of informing and consensus building processes that is essential to our country. Using new technologies, Canada needs both to widen the audience of Couchiching; but also to replicate Couchiching across the country.
As Canadians we also need more intermediary institutions, providing independent and objective analysis of facts and the ability to get them heard.
Canada needs more labour force development; more labour- management collaboration; more industry sectoral partnerships, and more community based economic development efforts, such as those sponsored by the Community Futures Program.
Canada also needs new mechanisms at other levels to bring people together. We all need to ask:
How can Canadians become better informed about the complex, rapidly-changing and interdependent issues of our age?
We also need to ask:
How do we create new opportunities for people to come together to frame anew the issues and choices in a manner which will allow them to hammer out new shared understandings on goals and means?
This is not an issue that gets enough attention, or that turns on many in the media. Yet, nothing else could be as important in a democratic society and in a federal democratic society it is even more critical to invent, innovate and to build new approaches.
Let me turn now to three examples of the government's priority of investing more effectively in human resources.
The learning challenge that Canada faces requires firstly that Canadians become aware of the facts as a precondition to action.
In the Speech from the Throne in May 1991, the government set forward a series of learning challenges. The Speech headlined indicators of performance and they powerfully conveyed the message that Canadians need to act on.
At that time, the overriding importance of learning to our national well being was perhaps less well appreciated than it is today.
Today, the commitment to learning is increasingly on the agenda: parents, students, workers, communities and virtually all of the provincial governments.
After the Throne Speech, the federal government distributed a discussion paper that dealt with issues of prosperity and learning. An arm's-length steering group of leading Canadians that was established was able to distil the collective wisdom of many Canadians and communities and turn it into an agenda for change.
The steering group's action plan is now itself part of the national agenda.
Over the past two years, right across the country, there is a new understanding and an emerging consensus and tangible progress on the importance of learning to economic success, to individual achievement and to social development.
In May of this year, the government announced its general approach to the learning issue in response the action plan. In the most general terms, the strategy has three simple components that focus on results, the importance of mobilizing stakeholders and the importance of building on partnerships.
One of the central outcomes of the major learning exercise, was the Prime Minister's decision to create a new department of Human Resources and Labour, which brings together in one agency for the first time virtually all of the old federal programs and policies that deal with human resources and human resource development.
This will facilitate the design of more effective policies and programs, provide the ability to more fully and holistically respond to the real needs of Canadians at all stages and during the key transitions of their lives.
We now have the tool to improve policy coherence and coordination. Social and economic policy which are different sides of the same coin can become mutually reinforcing. Improved service to Canadians will result. Also, a focal point has been created for relations with provincial governments, creating the opportunity for improved co-operation and coherence within the federation.
This decision to create this new human resource department reflects the resolve of the Prime Minister to make human resource development the government's top priority within that governance framework.
In the years that followed World War II and the creation of the welfare state, there was a heavy emphasis on income security as created by government income support programs.
And income security of a kind was created, although I think it may be clear now that in many cases what we had was the illusion of income security at least in some regions of the country where we have seen the growth of a culture of dependency.
In the past these programs have played an important role, but in the future, I believe there is a growing consensus that genuine income economic security will be a result of investing in people, in their skills, in their knowledge base, and not the income support programs that on their own are insufficient.
All industrial nations recognize that the shifting from passive income support to the active program to equip citizens to participate fully in their society and their economy is absolutely essential.
Thus, Canada must reform programs, must remove barriers and must provide opportunities for all individuals towards self efficiency and self reliance. A job is the best form of income security for virtually all Canadians. And learning and lifelong learning is the key to that.
Canada cannot afford ineffective social programs which trap individuals and families sometimes from one generation to another. But, Canada can afford programs social programs that work; that give people a better way out. So better ways need to be invented within the financial resources available, to help individuals seize new opportunities while providing and enhancing opportunities for those who can not work.
The Ministry has the financial resources a budget of some $70 Billion dollars so the money is there.
The plight of displaced workers in communities experiencing high unemployment rates is a special concern for the federal government and it will further target its efforts to help these workers in these communities be integrated to paid employment.
It is the people and their skills that are the most important factors in determining the competitiveness and prosperity of the nation in the new global economy. And the true measure of the moral standards of any society is its commitment to provide a high quality of life and dignity to those clearly unable to work.
Learning, income security, social development, economic development, are one and the same thing. These are not separate issues.
The federal government has set under way a process for bringing these things together, The Prime Minister has announced her determination to capitalize, to create a process within the country under which income security programs will be reviewed, which will involve all governments, all stakeholder and, perhaps most importantly all citizens.
Canada has to do politics differently; we need to develop shared understandings and shared visions, so that Canadians can move forward with a common view and a sense of common purpose to realize commonly defined goals.
This is not going to happen easily, but it has to happen if Canada as a society is to define responses that work, and deliver results, if Canada is to meet global completive challenge, to ensure long term economic security and the achievement of collective goals.
To do this, Canada must make much more effective investments in people, its own brain power and human resource development.
We are all partners and all individuals and each must share the responsibility to make their investments and tailor their efforts in a collaborative way, recognizing what each of the other partners is responsible for doing. Trough individual action and genuine partnerships, we can get the job done.
In Tom Courchene's words, "A noble goal for an information society would be to commit ourselves to insure that all citizens have the opportunity to enhance and deplore their human capital to the fullest extent."
This is the federal governments' goal and together it should be our collective goal and realizing it must be the defining characteristic of Canada in the new millennium that is coming all to soon.