Address before the Members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
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Toronto, Thursday, December 2, 2010
I would like to thank you for inviting Sharon and me to meet with you this morning. Since my installation, I’ve been inviting Canadians to join me in imagining our country as it could be.
We strive for a smart and caring nation, where all Canadians develop their talents to their fullest potential. A Canada that applies knowledge of its citizens to improve the conditions of all at home and around the world.
I ask you: Can we have equality of opportunity and excellence, too? Our task is to make those two objectives not competing but complementary.
To achieve this vision, I have set out three pillars: supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.
Families and children are a central theme in the culture of Ontario. We are all recent immigrants, as compared to our Aboriginal peoples, who have been here for over 10,000 years. We first arrived some 400 years ago, with the vast majority arriving over the course of the last century. Most came with nothing but their determination to build better lives for their children. We want to leave a world for our children that is even better than how we found it.
Let me give one example of where we can do better. In 2008, I chaired a task force for the Ontario government on adoption and infertility, which produced a report entitled “Raising Expectations”.
The report and recommendations outlined an objective to ensure that Ontario is the best jurisdiction in the world in which to raise a family. We have considerable gaps to fill to reach that objective.
There are almost 10,000 Crown wards in Ontario today. Less than 5% have been placed in permanent families, and only a small percentage have a plan dedicated to finding them a permanent, loving family. The social and economic costs of this are enormous, not just for Crown wards but for all of us.
Our laws and processes around adoption and infertility are dramatically out of step with today’s realities. There is much work to be done in Ontario if we are serious about becoming a place that supports people in building their families.
But when it comes to giving children a strong foundation, Ontario is doing well. Ontario has perhaps the finest research in the world on early childhood development, featured in the work of Fraser Mustard, Margaret McCain and Charles Pascal, among others. That research has now been acted upon with an ambitious pre-kindergarten program. And the eyes of the world are turned towards Ontario’s public education system. I understand that earlier this week, McKinsey released a report on the best school systems in the world. Ontario is ranked #4.
In addition to a strong public education system, there are many other world-leading elements in Ontario supporting the learning and innovation theme. These include:
1. a very broad post-secondary education system of publicly funded colleges and universities;
2. one of the highest post-secondary participation rates among OECD countries;
3. a reasonable funding of research and development as a percentage of GDP ranking towards the top of OECD nations;
4. a fiscal regime that encourages made-in-Ontario research and development; and
5. a ministry focused on research and innovation.
But there are some weaknesses:
1. Too few pinnacles of excellence such as the Nobel Prize. And when one-time Ontarians are named for outstanding international prizes, often they have already migrated to US institutions where their work has been better supported.
2. In many international university ranking tables, Ontario does not have a university in the top 50.
3. Our business investment in research and development ranks low among OECD countries.
4. Canadian managers have a lower level of educational attainment than their American counterparts; and our businesses do not demand second and third degree preparation or, if they do, nowhere near the extent that US businesses do.
5. Our productivity levels have dropped from 90 to 75% of US levels over the past two decades and continue to decline.
6. Canadians perform very well on international primary and secondary school tests. But we graduate fewer bachelor’s, doctoral and master’s degree holders—90, 70 and 50% respectively as compared to the US on a per capita basis.
7. Too few of our college and university students go to other countries to study foreign languages to become global citizens, and too few young people come from other countries to study here as they do in Boston.
Let me tell you a Boston story.
I have just come from a weekend in Boston, a city just a bit larger than Toronto. A city that has two and a half times the number of accredited universities than Ontario. Greater Boston has about one-third of the population of Ontario.
And, if you believe quantity trumps quality, I invite you to draw your own list of the best 50 universities in the world.
Probably in the top five—and many would say the top two—would be Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), side by each in Boston.
Many would add at least three more universities in Boston to their top 50 list, such as Wellesley, which is probably the best university exclusively for women in the world; or Brandeis, which grew out of the restriction on places in established institutions for students of Jewish heritage; and Boston University, which filled a need for more professional education. Think diversity here.
And lest you think that downtown Toronto has one too many universities, that the University of Toronto and Ryerson University should be amalgamated, or that Wilfrid Laurier and the University of Waterloo should function as one large institution, MIT and Harvard are in even closer geographical proximity than the University of Toronto and Ryerson, and an independent Harvard has made the distinctly different MIT stronger and vice versa over the years.
Let me turn briefly to the third pillar—philanthropy and volunteerism. We should make these two activities not simply optional and extra-curricular, but part of our mainstream culture.
How do we transform peripheral activities into the mainstream?
Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Across Canada, volunteers and philanthropists are working towards the same goal, transforming their communities through kindness and generosity.
In 2017, Canada will mark its 150th anniversary, and I encourage you to get involved with your communities.
A world of peace. One in which we can all make life better for our children. And being both smart and caring is how we will go about it. That is my challenge to you in Ontario—this especially blessed part of the world.
George Bernard Shaw essentially reflected this same vision: “Some people see things as they are and wonder why. We dream of things that ought to be and ask, why not?” Let’s dream together.