As the party of the centre in Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada spent much of its history building an inclusive country. The Canadian people have been supportive of this pursuit, giving us the responsibility of forming a government in 13 of the 20 elections since 1945. I believe we owe this success to our ability to build bridges and unite Canadians from every province, ethnic background and religion, and to our efforts to reach out to the world and find the common ground that inspires respect and cooperation.
Building strong bridges is what allowed my party to overcome the great challenge of the 20th century, bringing together economic growth and social justice. In the 21st cen- t u ry, we face an even greater challenge " climate change. It is the worst ecological threat facing humanity and we need to fight it as boldly as we have fought for more prosperity and social justice. We need to incorporate the concept of environmental sustainability into everything we do.
As we worked to bring together economic growth and social justice, we Liberals faced relentless criticism from those on the right who insisted that social programs are a burden on the economy. They said it is impossible to have public health care, public education, social assistance and employment insurance without hurting the economy. They said, ”œLeave the market alone and it will create wealth, and wealth will take care of the people.”
But we Liberals knew that market forces alone do not take care of people. And that’s why we fought throughout the 20th century to break down as many barriers as possible to help all Canadians use their talents and their skills, and fully participate in Canadian society. Through the develop- ment of effective social policies, we helped Canadians be healthier, better educated and more confident in life, and in so doing helped them become stronger players in the econ- omy. We found that by investing in Canadians we created a virtuous circle that produces more and more economic pros- perity and social justice as time goes on.
But well-designed social programs were not the only way we brought economic growth and social justice togeth- er. In the last decade, we also took steps to ensure Canada could continue to invest in our people and our future by putting our fiscal house in order and by creating a compet- itive tax environment.
In 1995, total government debt in Canada as a percent- age of our economy was one of the worst of all OECD coun- tries. For every dollar Canadians were sending to Ottawa, 32 cents was going to pay interest on the debt. To make mat- ters worse, the previous Conservative government had left us with a $42-billion deficit.
We Liberals looked at the fiscal path we were headed down " a path of escalating debt and deficits, high interest, high inflation and relatively high taxes " and knew if we continued in that direction we would be placing an unfair burden on future generations of Canadians. We had to take decisive action, and we did.
We started by committing to fiscal discipline, and in 1997 we eliminated the federal deficit, ushering in a decade of balanced budgets and surpluses. We then used our surpluses to pay down the debt " in the end by over $60 bil- lion " and reduce corporate taxes from 28 to a planned 19 percent by 2010. Again we received criticism for our approach, this time from the left. They said, ”œYou cannot afford to give corpo- rations a tax break and still pay for the social programs we need.” They said ”œYou can’t call yourselves a party of the centre if you are going to pursue such right-wing policies.”
But to believe that reducing the cost of doing business in Canada is a right-wing policy is to believe that Sweden, with its low corporate tax rate, is a hotbed of neo-conservatism, while the United States, with its very high corporate tax rate, is a socialist paradise. A low corporate tax rate is not a right-wing policy or a left-wing policy. It is a sound policy.
Today, Canada’s fiscal framework is the envy of the G8 and there are one million fewer Canadians living in poverty than there were only 10 years ago. These two signs of progress have not been achieved in isolation. We have shown that economic growth and social justice are inextricably linked.
In the 21st century, we will need to continue to reinforce the economic and social pillars that Liberals have brought together. That means main- taining strong economic fundamentals by keeping our budgets balanced and our taxes low. It means continuing to invest in people and helping them to achieve their full potential.
We have greatly reduced the num- ber of people living in poverty in Canada, but we still have a long way to go. There are still 3.4 million Canadians living below the poverty line. To over- come the challenges that lie ahead we are going to need all Canadians to real- ize their full potential. That’s why the centrepiece of a new Liberal govern- ment will be what we call the 30/50 plan to fight poverty. It is a plan that includes a full suite of income support measures designed to reduce the total number of Canadians living below the poverty line by 30 percent and cut the number of children living in poverty by half over the next five years.
Canada, like many other coun- tries, is facing the demographic chal- lenge of an aging population. Meanwhile, our Aboriginal population is growing faster than any other popu- lation in Canada. For our country to succeed, we need to address the pros- perity gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians that exist in the areas of education, skills develop- ment, health care, housing, access to clean water and employment. We can- not waste this new generation.
We need to help all of our chil- dren grow, which means mak- ing sure they all receive quality early education and care. That can be diffi- cult in a country where so many par- ents work and there is a scarcity of quality child care spaces. To take better care of our children and to help par- ents have better work opportunities, we need to make quality child care more accessible to all Canadians. Other social programs have taught us a great deal about how to recycle wealth to strengthen our economy and improve our quality of life. We need to apply this know-how to our commit- ment to early childhood education.
By bringing Canadians together, pooling resources, talent and ideas and building bridges that have weathered criticism from the right and the left, we Liberals have created a great deal of shared prosperity. Now we must use this pros- perity to rise to the chal- lenge of the 21st century. We must find a way to rec- oncile humanity with the planet and bring together economic growth, social justice and environmental sus- tainability. This is how we will build a richer, greener, fairer Canada.
The main focus of our endeavour must be climate change. We all know the damage our activities are doing to the planet, to our air and water and health, and to the wildlife and wild places that previous generations took for granted. And the evidence keeps mounting. Increasing numbers of reports show the impact human- induced climate change is having on our planet. They demonstrate that we aren’t doing enough as a society to stop these impacts.
In a new report released quietly in March by the federal Department of Natural Resources, 145 leading Canadian scientists warned that Canada’s changing climate will lead to everything from increased severe storms in Atlantic Canada to drought in the prairies. British Columbia may face retreating glaciers and snow loss on its mountains, causing potential water shortages. There will be hotter summers and poorer air quality in urban Ontario. And the prairies will continue to struggle with drought, affecting agriculture and potentially causing water rationing in urban areas.
Meanwhile, a number of reports are showing that the world must deal with climate change now or pay a much high- er price later. According to the most recent OECD environmental outlook report, in two decades, unchecked envi- ronmental damage could leave half the world’s population without adequate drinking water. It pointed out that we have a window of opportunity now, but that window is closing and we could cause ”œirreversible damage within the next few decades.” It compared the impact on the environment of maintain- ing the status quo with the results of tak- ing strong action worldwide. Economic growth would be nearly the same in both cases, but if we act now we stand to improve the health of our environment.
These reports make two things clear. First, if humanity does not develop a sustainable way of living on this planet soon, we will quickly reach the tipping point for environmental, economic and social catastrophe. And second, there are great opportunities to improve our quality of life and our economy if we take strong action now.
Now, more than ever, we must build bridges. We must build bridges between environ- mental sustainability, social justice and economic growth because only a solution that addresses all of these concerns will ensure success. And we must build bridges among the countries of the world, because climate change is a global crisis requir- ing global action.
So how do we proceed?
I believe the countries with the strongest economic fundamentals and the most inclusive approach to social issues will be in the best position to find solutions to the climate change crisis. Canada is one of those countries " with some of the best educated, most ingenious, most industrious peo- ple on earth. We have access to the best tools. We have top-notch research and education. We’re rich " one of the richest nations on earth. As such we also bear a tremendous responsibil- ity to tackle this challenge as well as the challenges of air and water pollution, species depletion and environ- mental toxins. But most importantly, if we take on this responsibility as a country, if we turn these challenges into opportunities, we stand to become a leader of the coming green revolution.
Other countries such as Norway recognize the inextricable link between the environment and the economy and are already using it to their advantage. This northern nation is the third-largest net oil exporter in the world but remains committed to Kyoto and is close to meeting its targets. By 2050, it plans to be carbon neutral. The Norwegians have not hurt their economy by doing so. To the con- trary, they will become more com- petitive because they are investing now in the technologies that will take a huge bite out of their carbon footprint.
The trend can be seen right across Scandinavia. When the BC forestry industry had to spend billions of dollars on pulp scrubbers to adapt to the pine beetle infestation, why do you think they imported all that equipment from Scandinavia? It was largely because the region’s tougher environmental stan- dards had induced Scandinavian com- panies to invest much more than their Canadian counterparts in eco-friendly technology.
The Germans are leading the world in wind power and have managed to save their steel industry in the process. Their wind turbine production now uses more steel than their automobile industry. In 2020, there will be more workers in environmental technologies in Germany than in the automobile industry. The land of Mercedes and BMW is opening a new chapter.
As is Britain. The British govern- ment’s climate change initiatives have created a market for eco-friendly tech- nology estimated at more than $30 billion over the next decade by implementing credible and stringent eco-targets, particu- larly for buildings. And they are now in a position to export this technology to the world.
And the private sector is beginning to recognize and seize these opportunities as well. The first movers of today " who understand that green technology and energy efficiency are the way of the future " will be the leaders of tomorrow’s economy. Green trade shows across this coun- try are full of examples of innovative companies and ideas, and this field is only growing.
According to Goldman Sachs, the amount of international capital to be invested in environmental technolo- gies and clean energy has skyrocketed from $400 billion in 2003 to $3 trillion in 2006 " more than a seven fold increase in just three years! Those numbers are only going to grow and Canada stands to lose out if more isn’t done to earn our share.
But the economic effects won’t come just from productivity or trading opportunities for our companies if we act now, but also from the competitive threats if we do not. European Union leaders recently held a summit on global warming where they talked about putting EU trade sanctions on countries that are laggards on climate change. The threat to our competitive- ness comes from failing to act, not from acting!
The US federal government has a new law that prevents its departments from using fuel that produces espe- cially high emissions over its life cycle. Fuel from Canada’s oil sands emits about five times more green- house gases (GHGs) than convention- al fuel and would likely fail to meet the new US standards.
Now there are two ways to deal with this kind of threat to our exports. Either work to ensure Canadian pro- duction has the lowest possible GHG emissions, or work to ensure the US has the lowest possible environmental standards! Guess which route the cur- rent government is taking: the Canadian Ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, has written a letter to the US administration asking for a very limited interpretation of the rule so that the Canadian oil sands can be excluded from it. This is looking back- ward, not forward.
The three presidential candidates hoping to replace US President George W. Bush are all proponents of decisive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emis- sions. Congress is looking at cap and trade systems that will put a serious price on carbon. Our biggest trading partner is moving toward a greener future and we need to be there too.
So when it comes to trade, are we going to stand with the green leaders " the Europeans and the next American president, who may boy- cott high-carbon products " or are we going to stand with the laggards, and suffer the consequences of being boycotted?
I think I know how Canadians want to answer the challenge of the green revolution. The Canadian people want to do more. Over the past year the environment has consistently ranked as the number one issue for Canadians. You can see this eagerness at the grocery store, where more people bring reusable bags with them to shop. You can see it on our roads, where more hybrid cars are showing up. And you can hear it in conversations in our schools and offices, coffee shops and public places. Ideas like carbon offsets and footprints no longer seem strange.
Many provincial governments are leading the charge by implementing comprehensive climate change poli- cies. Some have ambitious targets in line with our Kyoto commitments. Some are bringing in new regulations for buildings and transportation. Some have started to put a price on carbon, either through cap and trade systems to limit industry emissions, or through carbon taxes.
In British Columbia, Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government has introduced a revenue-neutral carbon tax and devoted a significant part of its most recent budget to environmental initiatives. My party and I are very inter- ested in seeing the impact of BC’s car- bon tax. I commend the government of BC for being courageous and serious about this challenge. With this kind of leadership, BC may be on track to do for climate change what Saskatchewan did for medicare. A Liberal government will be equally courageous and serious when it comes to putting the appropriate price on carbon.
The concept of pricing carbon " through either a cap and trade system or a tax"is a work in progress. A number of groups are telling govern- ments we need to put a price on car- bon and that it doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as the price is high enough to drive the change we need. A coalition of 11 top environ- mental groups, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives have all recently called for a price on carbon, through either a cap and trade system or a car- bon tax.
Economists increasingly point to the benefits of taxing things we want less of " like pollution " while lower- ing taxes on things that we want more of " like productivity and income. Noted economists Jack Mintz and Nancy Olewiler recently proposed con- verting the existing tax on vehicle fuels into a broader, environmentally based fuel tax, and using the revenues to reduce other taxes. They said this could contribute to both a better environment and a better economy. This kind of thinking deserves careful consideration.
We can talk about what the best model for putting a price on carbon across Canada might be, but the fact is we need to just do it. That is what some provincial governments have done, and that is what a Liberal gov- ernment will do.
I am struck by the contrast between the climate change debate today and the one we had in this country only a few short years ago. When I was environment minister and listed greenhouse gases as toxic substances under Canada’s Environmental Protection Act, the Conservative opposition questioned the very exis- tence of climate change and claimed any regulation would destroy our economy. They even said, ”œCarbon dioxide is in babies’ breath " how can you call babies’ breath toxic?” They just don’t get it.
Industry suggested that climate change wasn’t such a big problem, and threatened that actions to fight it would lead to a mass exodus of companies from Canada. Well, they have changed their tune. I was very pleased to see a statement last fall from the CEOs of Canada’s largest companies that climate change is a real crisis that requires action, and that action will strengthen Canada’s competitive advantage and economic performance, not weaken it. What a refreshing change!
So we can say today that in Canada we have public and private will to help our country become green- er. What we are lacking at the moment, I’m sorry to say, is leadership from our federal government.
Under the current Conservative gov- ernment " a government that as late as 2006 was talking about ”œso-called green- house gases” " Canada is not doing enough to tackle these challenges. The Prime Minister is trying to revive the old way of thinking that says you cannot have a strong economy and a clean environment. But as with previous chal- lenges, we Liberals see many ways to bridge this divide and transform these challenges into opportunities for growth.
We see that we need to put a price on carbon. We need to make the costs of damaging our environment immedi- ately visible and let polluters know they can’t continue to dump pollution into our atmosphere for free. The price of carbon pollution must increase over time to encourage industry to change its behaviour and make greener choices so it can thrive in the 21st century.
We see that we need to significantly increase our green, renewable power generation. And to this end, we have announced incen- tives to encourage the devel- opment of clean energy sources such as wind and solar so by 2015 these sources will account for at least 10 percent of Cana- da’s total electricity output.
We see that every commitment we make needs to have a green aspect to it, whether it’s supporting our manufac- turing sector " helping it to use and produce green technology and prod- ucts " or overhauling our national and urban infrastructure " ensuring we invest first and foremost in environ- mentally sustainable designs that will help us both fight and adapt to climate change. Green decisions will help us tackle environmental challenges, keep us competitive and protect the health and livelihoods of Canadians.
And finally, we see that we need to play a bigger role in the interna- tional efforts to solve the climate change crisis. We need to participate in the setting of international goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and international rules to put a price on the cost of inaction. We cannot ignore the science of climate change simply because we don’t like what it forecasts. We need to work together to bring together the environment, the economy and social justice so we can lead the way toward a sustain- able future.
Sadly, based on our government’s performance at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, last December, and at other interna- tional discussions on the environment, I don’t think our current government understands this imperative.
As former chair of the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal in 2005, I went to the Bali conference in Indonesia. I was saddened when Canada and the United States jointly received the ”œColossal Fossil” award as the coun- tries that did the most to block progress at the talks.
We should have been among those doing the most to get everyone on board to take real action to save the planet. That’s what I tried to do when I was chair in 2005. It is not easy, but it is our moral responsibility to do so and it’s in our own long-term interests " if we want to have a society that provides opportunity and good quality of life to all our citizens, we have to act. If we are to hold our heads up high in the inter- national community, and influence other countries to do their part, we need to do our share to build a sustainable economy and a sustainable world.
We Liberals have a vision of a richer, greener, fairer country for all Canadians " for ourselves, our chil- dren and the generations to come. It is the vision I asked my party to sup- port when I ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, and it is the vision we Liberals will ask Canadians to help us realize when the next election comes. Every decision we will make as a government will have this objective at its core. Every cabinet minister will have it as her or his mandate, from our minister of industry to our minister of foreign affairs. For we Liberals know that we must build the bridge to the future together and we need the thr ee pilla rs of economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability to make it strong.