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  • Investing in post-secondary education

    Let us for a moment imagine a future map of Canada.

    This map will not be dotted with roads and railroads, nor lakes and rivers.  Rather, it will be covered with highways of information, streams of knowledge that crisscross the nation, intersect in large hubs, and swell into giant clusters.  These hubs and clusters will be Canadian cities and regions, filled with Universities, colleges, art schools, technical institutes, laboratories and research centres.  In each of those institutions will be the resource that dictates the prosperity, success and fulfillment of future generations:  the human mind.

    Seeing matters in this light, it becomes easier to understand not only why we must begin to invest in post-secondary education now, but also why all levels of government must be involved.

    As a former educator, I was pleased to learn that the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) presented former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien with the David C. Smith Award for Significant Contribution to Scholarship and Policy. The award recognizes his lifelong dedication and commitment to the advancement of research and higher education in Canada.  What is remarkable is that under Mr. Chrétien’s 10-year watch, funding for research quadrupled – from approximately $500 million in 1994 to over $2.2 billion in 2003. 

    While Chrétien was Prime Minister, his Government established a number of strategies and programs in the areas of Research & Development (R&D), innovation, academic excellence, and student finance such as the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation and Genome Canada.   These programs were intended to augment already existing federal R&D programs to provide Canadian students greater access to post-secondary institutions, and to further escalate and elevate Canada’s position in the global economy.  Some years later, it can be said that each program has been a tremendous success, further allowing Canadians to lead lives of health, security and prosperity.

    These examples illustrate the opportunities governments have to invest in critical areas, even in times of economic uncertainty.  Prime Minister Chrétien and his Government had the foresight to invest in knowledge and innovation, knowing full well that such investment would pay off in the long-term. 

    The formula for Canada’s future success is therefore really quite simple: education equals productivity, and productivity equals prosperity.

    We are now living in the 21st century.  We are fully aware of the fragility of the global economy, and even more cognizant of the power of the human mind to transform lives, communities, nations and societies.   To approach this issue slowly, or parochially, is to ensure that the future of Canada is one of global pretender, rather than one of global player.

    I watched Prime Minister Harper form his new cabinet the other day.  His website claims that this new cabinet has been “charged with protecting Canadians in a time of increasing global economic instability.”

    This to me seems like a reactive stance, rather than a proactive one.

    What is needed now is not only sound economic management, but wise and prudent investments in select areas.  By no means am I an economist, but there is no doubt in my mind that smart investments are a critical productivity driver, and post-secondary education should be one of those chosen areas in which we should invest.

    Interestingly, I recently read some statements made by Minister Flaherty indicating that the Government sees investment in R&D as a priority, even in uncertain economic times.  Prime Minister Harper also created a new junior cabinet position, Minister of State (Science & Technology) and appointed an MP from the Waterloo region (home of the University of Waterloo, Research in Motion, etc).  Presumably, the new Minister will work alongside the Minister of Industry in directing Canada’s science, R&D and innovation strategies.  In my view, both these developments are positive signs that the Government takes these issues seriously.

    But as always, the proof is in the pudding.  

    It’s not enough to just say that R&D, knowledge and post-secondary education are a priority, or to simply create a cabinet position and call it a day.  Rather, what we need are positive actions and an investment in more than simply words and time.  What is most needed is an investment of dollars and other resources.

    Bottom line:  If Canada wishes to remain a significant competitor in the global economy, it must move quickly in implementing public policy aimed at increasing our productivity and post-secondary attainment rates.   The effect of a post-secondary education is no longer just provincial, if indeed it ever was.  The Government of Canada has played an important role in the advancement of post-secondary education in Canada.   This support must continue.  In fact, it must grow.

    Canadian post-secondary institutions have become globally competitive because of federal spending, and yet there is still a long way to go.  The world is in flux, and new paradigms are being created.  The race is on, and we do not have the luxury of letting levels of government sit one out.  

    This leads me to ask one simple question:  Will Stephen Harper’s government, in this economic climate, have the foresight and vision to continue to invest in post-secondary education? 

    Let us hope so.

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    The Progressives
  • Putting Health First

    What would you expect from a family-doc-turned parliamentarian people-watching at New Brunswick’s Parlee Beach on a hot summer day?  Jelly fish counting?  No, what really jerked me out of my holiday reverie was fat – not omega-3’s, but the kind on our bellies. If you want to study our country’s ongoing battle with obesity, let me tell you a crowded beach is the place.

    Obesity is a topic right up there with the economy and the environment as a national crisis.  Heart attacks waiting to happen, salt-induced strokes, kids being told they won’t live as long as their parents.

    We need to tackle obesity just like we tackled smoking, and it has to begin with parents and their children. Unless we raise healthy children, we will never have a healthy nation, and there will never be enough money to make our health care system meet the needs of Canadians.

    Our Health Act sets Canada apart, even today, as a country where you go to a doctor because you are sick not because you have a gold card.  The Act is as sound today as it was in 1964, but the rising health-care costs mean that governments can’t keep up with demands and expenses. The question is this: can we use the billions we spend in health care more efficiently and more effectively? Can we do more to make our health care system patient-focused?

    Back at the cottage, two locals are complaining about this very system and about waiting. One has had to wait months to get the necessary referrals for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The other can’t get into his family doctor to get his knee checked.  He’s really mad because his golf is suffering.  Waiting, waiting, waiting! The system is great… Once the waiting is over…  At least until the next time.

    So far, what we’ve achieved on wait-times is pathetic: we are a little better when it comes to cataracts, radiation therapy, and hip and knee surgeries in some provinces.  Far too many Canadians are far too angry with all the waiting.

    That is why Canada has to commit to finding 5000 more family doctors.  Young ones, not old ones like me sitting on the beach!  Family doctors, nurse practitioners, health care professionals and medical specialists in most categories are needed urgently.  You can see how tough this might be.

    That’s why the delivery of health care has to be smarter.  We need the brains of some of Canada’s best CEO’s and other experts to advise our Health Ministers and our hospital administrators on innovative ways to solve this problem. And it’s not just care in hospitals and doctors’ offices that needs greater efficiency. It’s also long term care and home care. Just look at New Brunswick (the province I have the honour of representing in Parliament) for a system where in-hospital care merges seamlessly with homecare and the result is a system that works reasonably well.

    Physicians have to change too. We need a vast reformation of the system using new technology in every way imaginable.  Every possible health care professional must work with their colleagues in genuine collaboration, putting patients first. The ‘me’ in the system has to become the ‘we’ because the old ways are not getting the job done. We have the brains in the system; what we lack all too often is the vision and the willingness to let change happen.

    Healthy children or healthy Canadians?  Where do we start? Where did we start with smoking? The answer is simple: in the media, in our schools, on the streets, in the workplace. It isn’t easy to change lifestyles – to get Canadians moving literally and figuratively towards leaner and fitter bodies. Like everything worthwhile it will take national will, national leadership and buy in by millions of men and women, girls and boys from coast to coast to coast. Let’s do it!

    We Canadians are not doing our part. We are not putting health first in our lives and in our homes. We cry for help when our bodies say enough is enough. We expect the “all-you-can-eat buffet” of ‘free’ health care to be there on demand.

    Average Canadians, health care professionals and governments have to find new ways to live healthier lives. Building a healthy nation begins with raising healthy children from the moment of conception. Lifelong health requires lifelong learning and vigilance.

    Beside the salty water on Canada’s beautiful east coast is a fine place to reflect on life. Salt is a killer on one hand, a preservative on the other, but always something to be taken in moderation. The lesson in all of this is that life is precious, health is precious and our health care system is precious, worthy of our best efforts to protect it, individually and collectively.

    Every one of us who waits too long for the excellent care that our doctors, nurses and health care professionals can offer us, suffers because we haven’t done enough to make the Canada Health Act work. We haven’t done our part to keep ourselves and our families healthy.  We haven’t taken time on the beach to resolve to reshape our lives with solid benchmarks and with moderation in all things. Let’s do it now!


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    The Progressives
  • The Art of Tax Bills

    Who would think that legislation dealing with the
    intricacies of the thrilling world of tax amendments would manage to draw, in a
    way I’ve never seen before, the ire of the Arts and Culture community?

    In my previous life, I was a piano player, and involved in
    other aspects of the entertainment business including, believe it or not, film
    production.  I love the entertainment business
    (okay, arts and culture), and I like to think that I understand it a bit.  Taxation matters, on the other hand, make my
    eyes glaze over.  When I was asked to
    temporarily sit on the Senate’s banking committee, I wasn’t expecting to be
    elbow deep in a murky pit of tax law with accusations of impending censorship.

    Bill C-10 is a 560 page monster piece of legislation.  It’s a tough read.  It deals with amendments to The Income Tax Act.  It is difficult and time consuming work to
    peel back the layers of this kind of legislation.  Our representatives in the House of Commons didn’t do that, so they
    didn’t notice that in Bill C-10, some of the amendments are not good
    ones.  So the House of Commons passed it, almost sight unseen, and sent it
    over to your friendly neighbourhood rubber-stampers, the Senate. 

    Some crotchety
    old sharp-eyed senators though, have noted that there are a couple of
    questionable tax measures (having to do with possible taxation of education
    trusts, university endowments, pension funds and the like) that need to be
    fixed.  The Government doesn’t want us to fix them in the Senate though. 
    They promise that they’ll “fix them later”.  Right.    

    It also
    turns out that deep in the bowels of the Bill, there’s a little amendment that
    would give the power to the Minister of Canadian Heritage – ANY Minister of
    Canadian Heritage – to decide, after a film or television show has been
    completed, that it’s not eligible for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax
    Credit.

     

    That is de facto after-the-fact censorship, no
    matter how you cut it.  It concerns me,
    it concerns creative artists, film producers, bankers, workers in the Canadian
    film industry, and it should concern every Canadian.

    The
    Government of Canada officials and some witnesses who appeared before the Committee
    have stated that these amendments are necessary to make sure that “offensive” films
    are not financed with public dollars.  Well, I’m not sure that I want bureaucrats and
    a single politician deciding what’s “offensive”.  What’s offensive to you might not be
    offensive to me.  And there are all kinds
    of checks and balances in place to ensure that filmmakers don’t get financing
    of any kind – not just public funding – to make films that would offend against
    the Criminal Code.

    No such
    film has ever received public funding or tax credits.

    If the present
    amendment were passed, it would let the Minister, and the Minister alone,
    decide whether a film or TV show is contrary to the public interest
    Let me say that again – contrary to the public interest!!!

    If that’s
    not an alarm bell, I don’t know what is.

    When one
    person gets to decide what shows or movies should receive labour-based tax
    credits on the basis of the public interest, it’s time to hit the
    barricades.  Films or shows that are critical of, or that promote
    controversial subjects; that push the edges a bit; that raise uncomfortable
    questions; all of these might, in somebody’s view, be contrary to the public
    interest
    .

    It is the
    business of creative arts to push the edges.  To make us think about
    things.  And in some cases, to change the way we think.  Literature,
    drama, journalism, movies, TV shows have all, at one time or another, changed
    the way we think.  Archie Bunker and DaVinci changed the way we
    think.  And if the Arts don’t do that, it
    generally doesn’t get done.  Some people don’t think that pushing those
    edges is in the public interest.   

    The
    Government has said that if we in the Senate vote to amend the Bill, they’ll
    regard that as a confidence matter that could send us into an election.

     

    There is no
    constitutional basis on which the Government can say such a thing. The Senate
    is not a “confidence” House; the Government cannot be brought down by any
    action of the Senate.  So I’ll be voting
    to amend Bill C-10.  

     

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    The Progressives