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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Building prosperity, bit by bit

Wow. Work is really starting to pile up for me. Between my day job (which, as always, is challenging and fulfilling) and my after-hours work for the Bob Rae campaign, the days are getting long and the nights are getting short. I’m beginning to understand why they say in politics, sleep is a luxury…

What keeps me running? I guess it’s my sense that public service matters. Sure, much of my work has a partisan bend to it. Such is the nature of politics. But whether I’m working on a file for the Minister, or organizing my region for a leadership candidate, I’m making a difference. Bit by bit, things move along. Bit by bit, goals are reached. Bit by bit, we make a difference. That’s what public service is all about.

I firmly believe that moving incrementally can lead to big changes. Since I was a child, I’ve been taught to dream big, to set high standards and to be ambitious. But I’ve also learned, through my own experience, to be both reasonable and methodical in the way I approach challenges. I admire people who share this view. It should come as no surprise, then, how happy I was to hear of Bob Rae’s speech yesterday to the Economic Club of Toronto.

I wasn’t able to attend the address, but I was told it was fantastic. As I’ve seen him do so many times before, Bob set aside his prepared text and delivered his entire speech without notes (this guy really has a knack for public speaking). He outlined his agenda for a prosperous Canada. No doubt, the critics will be skeptical, but most of you will be pleased to know that his is indeed a Liberal agenda. His plan rests on four pillars: 1) Education, training and innovation; 2) Green infrastructure; 3) Income security; and 4) Improvements to the tax and regulations system. It is definitely a progressive agenda with some big goals and aims. Some specifics:

• As per the Rae Report on Postsecondary Education, more funding for colleges and universities;
• Improved student grants and loans;
• Recognizing apprenticeships as a postsecondary destination;
• Considerably more funding for university research;
• Big investments to improve connectivity and broadband access;
• More and better mass transit systems for our cities;
• Tax credits and enhanced child support to help low-income families work their way out of poverty;
• Restoration of the Kelowna Accord;
• Restoration of Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Accord;
• Improving the EI system to help women business owners gain access to parental benefits;
• A commitment to broad-based income tax cuts (WOW! Did you ever think a former NDPer would stand for that!?!?!);
• A commitment to corporate tax cuts (DOUBLE WOW!!!)

A long list of items, to be sure. A fiscal conservative would even argue it’s a very expensive list, and s/he would be right. But most promising was Bob’s pledge to fulfill his commitments within the framework of a balanced budget. “Balanced budgets are the foundation of a prosperity agenda,” he says. In other words, his plan would be implemented, as he notes, “at a pace we can afford.” Bob said it best himself: Economic policy and social policy need to be intertwined and mutually reinforcing. It makes no sense to have big goals and aims unless you have the means to fulfill them. I guess he’s learned a lot from his days as Premier of Ontario…

This is not to say that Bob Rae has abandoned his progressive ideals. He hasn’t. He’s still the socially conscious man he always was. He still strives to end child poverty. He continues to work to build better opportunities for aboriginal Canadians. He’s always aiming to create a more equitable society that respects women, minorities and immigrants. It’s just that now he realizes the importance of being prudent, of making incremental changes. He understands that caution is important, not because it slows down progress, but because it makes our goals sustainable and achievable. Experience has taught him this lesson. Experience as a lawyer, experience as an arbitrator, experience as a consultant to states, governments, groups and organizations worldwide. Experience as a Premier, having led Ontario during tough times, having made some difficult decisions and yes, having made some mistakes. Bob Rae has experience, and a lot of it. At the end of the day, that’s what Liberals need in a leader, and that's what Canada needs in a Prime Minister.

PS: For those of you who were wondering, the event in Sudbury last weekend was great! About 30 people showed up to a 7:30am breakfast with Bob on Saturday morning….Talk about commitment! I’m sure most of them left the meeting just as excited about his candidacy as I am.