Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Speech by Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board of Canada, to the Empire Club of Canada

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Toronto, Ontario

Check against delivery

INTRODUCTION

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here.

First, let me thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I am honoured.

This club has a long history of having some of the most fascinating people in the world address its members. Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Vladimir Putin and many others have all addressed you from this historic pulpit.

I am truly flattered to be included among the luminaries who have helped shape the opinions of our times.

I’m also honoured to speak to an organization, which for 109 years, has proudly defended and promoted the best values of Canada and the world—freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

These values have endured because of the leadership that organizations like yours have shown in keeping the light burning.

And as I am speaking to the Empire Club today, I would like to talk to you about Canada’s journey to nationhood, what that means to Canadians, and how the government is working to ensure Canada’s continued success in the years ahead.

As we enter 2012, we mark the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 was a defining chapter in the history of our nation.

Canada, or what would become Canada, was under threat of invasion by a powerful foreign army.

It took the combined efforts of English and French-speaking militias, as well as Aboriginal Canadians, together with British military forces, to succeed in defeating the American invasion.

From the perspective of 200 years on, we can see Canada would not exist had the American invasion not been repelled.

Had the war ended differently, Quebec’s French-speaking identity might not exist, and the history of our Aboriginal peoples would have been profoundly altered.

That struggle also laid the cornerstones of many of our political institutions and the foundation for Confederation.

Those who defended our country and its values in a time of crisis, and their heroic efforts, tell the story of the Canada we know today—an independent and free country in a constitutional monarchy with its own parliamentary system.

And by the way, the conflict did not end in a tie!

A leading American historian and senior advisor to former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has finally admitted the truth—Canada won the War of 1812.[1]

The year after that struggle came to a close, another Canadian hero was born—the great architect and visionary of the Canadian state, Sir John A. MacDonald.

"We are a great country," he said, "and we shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken."[2]

Sir John A. saw clearly the road ahead. And he formed this country with the values of the Empire in mind—freedom, peace, justice and the equality of people.

Over the years, those values have asserted themselves in Canadians in times of crisis.

We see them in our sacrifices at Vimy, Ypres and Paschendale, in Normandy, Korea and Afghanistan.

And we see them in our compassion and aid for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and disasters in foreign lands.

Canada has come a long way in 200 years. We have grown and evolved into the one of the most successful countries in the world.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Canada last September, he acknowledged Canada’s leadership at the start of this new century.

In a speech to Parliament, he suggested Canada had everything it needed to succeed, and passed the torch.

He noted our leadership in two areas vital to success in the 21st century—innovation and education.

"From Blackberry to Canadarm," he said, "yours is a home of innovation and technology."

He also congratulated Canada on its diversity, saying the way we had “integrated people from many different backgrounds into a mature democracy is a model from which we can all learn.”

And the British Prime Minister is not the only one who believes in Canada these days.

Our economic leadership during the global economic crisis of 2008 has been recognized around the world.

Last year, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasted we would have among the strongest economic growth in the G-7 in 2011, and again this year.

And for the fourth year in a row, the World Economic Forum rated the Canada’s banking system as the world’s soundest.

In addition, three credit rating agencies—Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s—have reaffirmed their top investment-grade ratings for Canada.

And Forbes magazine recently ranked Canada the world’s best place to do business.[3]

By any standard, Canada has weathered global economic crisis and ongoing financial uncertainty well, particularly when compared to most other developed nations.

Since introducing Canada’s Economic Action Plan in response to the economic downturn of 2008, we have recovered more than all of the output and all of the jobs lost during the recession.

And almost 600,000 more Canadians are working today than when the recession ended, resulting in the strongest rate of employment growth during the recovery by far among G-7 countries.

And real GDP is now significantly above pre-recession levels—the best performance in the G-7, according to the IMF and OECD.

But our country is not out of the woods yet.

As we emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we know Canadian families are worried about their jobs and their financial security.

While we understand that the government’s role is to create the conditions in which Canadians will thrive, we also believe that it is the ingenuity, the aspirations and the determination of Canadians that will be the driving force behind economic growth and jobs.

So, in the time I have remaining, I would like to tell you about the things we are doing to help make that happen.

I’ll mention just three.

The first is reducing the deficit and balancing the budget over the medium term.

The second is freeing businesses to grow by cutting red tape that can stifle productivity.

And the third is creating opportunity through our move to Open Government.

REDUCING THE DEFICIT

Throughout our history, Canadians and their government have learned valuable lessons from economic crises.

Today, Canadians understand the necessity of reducing the deficit and returning to fiscal balance in the medium term, finding savings within government spending, and taking targeted actions when necessary to support the recovery.

This is our balanced approach that will boost our efforts to achieve a sustainable and prosperous recovery, and preserve our Canadian economic advantage now and in the future.

Canadians understand this. And in last May’s federal election, we received a strong mandate to eliminate the deficit, keep taxes low and continue creating jobs for Canadians.

In the Budget that followed, we announced our plan to return to a balanced budget while keeping taxes low.

Building on previous efforts to reduce government spending, we launched our deficit-reduction initiative.

This review is about more than finding savings. It is about modernizing government.

It’s about retooling for the future—and providing the right programs and services at the right cost to support Canadians’ success in the years ahead.

FREEING BUSINESS TO SUCCEED

But as a country, we need to come at the challenge of creating economic growth and jobs in Canada from several different angles.

That’s why, in addition to getting our fiscal house in order, we are making sure the people, businesses and communities in Canada have the tools they need to succeed.

That brings me to our second key initiative—cutting government red tape to free businesses to grow.

We believe red tape impedes economic productivity by taking up precious time and resources, and curbs the entrepreneurial spirit.

Cutting red tape helps business focus on what they do best: sustain the economic recovery by creating jobs and generating wealth.

It also spurs innovation by leaving a clear regulatory picture for entrepreneurs, and a marketplace that is easier to understand.

Prime Minister Harper set out to realize all these benefits when he set up the Red Tape Reduction Commission last winter.

This Commission issued its final report earlier this month.

And as a sign of our commitment, we are taking action to implement a “One-for-One” Rule to control administrative burden on business.

This work is just one example of how we are helping businesses grow and invest for the future.

OPEN GOVERNMENT

The third initiative I’d like to mention is Open Government.

Open Government allows Canadians to not only learn about, and participate in government, but also to create new products using government data and information.

Last spring we launched this initiative through three main streams.

Open Data, which is about offering Canadians Government data in a more useful format to reuse in innovative ways.

Open Information, which is about proactively releasing information, including information on government activities, to Canadians on an ongoing basis.

And Open Dialogue, which is about giving Canadians a stronger say in Government policies and priorities, and using Web 2.0 technologies to expand citizen engagement with government.

By tapping into the ideas and talents of our citizens, we can be more responsive to meeting their needs.

In fact, earlier this winter, we held an Open Government on-line consultation, and Canadians gave us some great suggestions.

We also held the first-ever, Government of Canada tweet chat to generate discussion about Open Government.

Open Government can also strengthen transparency and accountability in government, and a strong democracy is essential to a nation’s economic success. I’m a true believer in this.

CONCLUSION

Let me conclude my remarks today with one final observation about our need for economic growth and jobs in these challenging times.

Over the years, Canadians have learned that chronic deficits are a mortgage on our future. Chronic deficits create higher taxes, less opportunity and less freedom for our children and our grandchildren.

Ultimately, they squander the opportunities that have been given us.

That’s why we must stick with our low-tax plan for jobs and growth—a plan that has worked and served Canadians well.

I believe Canadians can overcome any challenge. We always have—as long as we never waste our treasure or lose faith in ourselves.

As Winston Churchill said when he addressed our Parliament during the bleakest days of the Second World War, “we have not journeyed all this way across the mountains, across the Prairies, across the centuries, because we're made of sugar candy.”

Freedom, hard work and sacrifice have got us where we are today, and leadership, fiscal prudence and helping Canadians achieve their dreams will take care of tomorrow.

It’s not always easy, but as history shows, it is doable.

And the benefits for us and for future generations will be immeasurable.

Thank you.


[1] Cohen, Eliot, Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War, Free Press, 2011.

[2] Sir John A. MacDonald, 1861, quoted in E.B. Biggar, Anecdotal life (1891).

[3] Forbes, October 3, 2011.