Remarks of Premier Kathleen Wynne 2014 Heritage Dinner

What Leadership Is, Providing Opportunity and Security: Check against Delivery

Friday, March 21, 2014

Keynote Speech 2014 OLP AGM
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to the Ontario Liberal Party faithful at the 2014 Annual General Meeting held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on March 22, 2014.

Hello. Bonsoir. Ahnee. Bojoo.

Thank you very much for being here tonight. I acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of New Credit. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Bill [Morneau] for that generous introduction and for his extraordinary support. Bill cares deeply about our community ‎and he demonstrates this every day by giving his time and resources to many educational, health care, social and cultural endeavors in Ontario.

Thank you again for making this evening such an outstanding success. And to all of you for taking the time to be here tonight—thank you so very much.  I am very grateful for your friendship—it matters to me enormously.  And I appreciate your support of our democratic process.

But even more than all of that, I am thrilled that you are enthusiastic and supportive of an optimistic, aspirational view of the future of Ontario. I have met many of you and we have talked about the possibilities for this great province. I want you to know that those conversations, your motivation, and your energy are infectious. My commitment is only strengthened every time I have a chance to talk and work with you. So, sincerely, thank you for being the outstanding people that you are.

I’ve just passed my first anniversary as Ontario’s premier. It’s a huge honour to serve in this role and I work every day to live up to the distinction and responsibilities of the office. And for all of the respect that is shown the office, I have found that people are more than willing to assist in the maintenance of my humility—and rightly so.

Je viens de fêter mon premier anniversaire en tant que première ministre de l’Ontario. C’est un immense honneur d’occuper un tel poste, et chaque jour, je m’efforce d’être à la hauteur de cette distinction et des responsabilités qu’elle me confère. Et malgré tout le respect qui est démontré à cette fonction, je me suis rendu compte que les gens étaient plus que prêts à m’aider à rester humble – et à juste titre.

I want all of you to know that I am working hard to represent your interests. To reflect your hopes and dreams in our decisions. And to capture your rich diversity in all that we do. Whether we always agree is really beside the point. We have to disagree and challenge each other to find the best way forward.

As Premier, I have the responsibility to make decisions based on expert advice. On the input of people I have met all over the province. And my own lived experience. My job is to make decisions that will make a genuine, positive difference in people’s lives. There is only one legitimate reason to be in politics in my opinion and that is to help people. To make government a force for good in people’s lives. So, as I make decisions and look at the impact of those decisions, there is only one test that truly matters: Are people doing better? Are they able to put their kids through school?  Will their kids get good paying jobs? Can they afford the things their families need? Are they getting the health care they need? Can they look forward to retiring with a decent income and with basic security? This is the test because these are the questions that are on people’s minds. For that reason, they are the questions on my mind.

I want to make one more point before I continue. I refuse to accept the narrow view that we can separate the well-being of our people from the well-being of our economy. They are one and the same. When I talk about jobs and the economy—and I’m doing that a lot—I’m taking the broad view. Yes, it’s about small businesses that are able to grow and large businesses that are looking to hire. But it’s also about world-class schools and excellent hospitals. 

Decent pensions and communities where you want to raise your family. It’s about getting to work on time and finding work that’s fulfilling. And it’s about providing opportunity for today’s generation – and tomorrow’s. That’s the economy.  And when we create growth, we make these outcomes possible. 

So let’s talk about the ways in which we want to make a difference for the people of Ontario. Let’s talk about our vision. Our plan. To provide opportunity and security.  And how that plan measures up against the approaches offered by our opponents.

I want to start that discussion with these words:  Safe hands. Because that’s what this province needs now more than ever. Safe hands and a steady balance. It’s a turbulent world out there. The global recession that gripped North America starting six years ago continues to cause challenges for Ontario’s families. It hit our province and our manufacturing sector particularly hard. Working our way back has not been easy. Building a renewed and stronger economy has not been simple. 

The Canadian economy continues to grow very slowly -- and is projected to for some time. In our view, the federal government remains inordinately focused on building a surplus it can dispense for political advantage and not nearly focused enough on investing now in a prosperous future.

And things remain challenging as we try to create good paying jobs in Ontario while some US states and Mexico bid down the price of labour. That is the race to the bottom we must avoid in Ontario. 

The task isn’t to create any job. It’s to create jobs that pay a decent wage and provide security.

But there is also good news. Ontario is on its way back. We’ve got a lot more work to do. We’ve got to make sure that all parts of the province share in the economic recovery that’s under way. But there are positive signs:

In the past year, we’ve created nearly 100,000 new jobs.

In fact, we’ve now replaced every job that was lost because of the global recession …

And employment numbers are more than 180,000 above the pre-recession peak.  

Companies are hiring again, and manufacturing is at the forefront. 

In December, I was with Cisco as they announced the creation of 1,700 new well-paying jobs here in Ontario. And Cisco isn’t alone. Dr. Oetker chose London for its first North American frozen pizza factory. This $70-million project is the largest one-time investment the company has made outside its home base in Germany. It will mean 125 new jobs in London and another 300 in the region. And the company will use ingredients from Ontario farmers and food processors.

Consumer and business confidence are on the rise. Unemployment is on the decline. All five of Canada’s big banks are unanimous in forecasting acceleration for Ontario's growth in 2014. So we can feel a bit better about where we are. And we can feel a great deal better about where we’re headed.

But it’s nothing to take for granted. It took a lot of hard work to get here. It’s a success that we’ll need to work hard to sustain. It’s a moment that could be lost if we make the wrong decisions and choose the wrong priorities.

Donc nous pouvons nous sentir un peu mieux à propos de la situation où nous sommes. Et nous pouvons nous sentir beaucoup mieux à propos de la situation vers laquelle nous allons. Mais ce n’est pas quelque chose qu’il faut tenir pour acquis. Il a fallu déployer beaucoup d’efforts pour parvenir à cette situation. Et il va nous falloir travailler fort pour assurer la pérennité de cette réussite. C’est une réussite qui pourrait être réduite à néant si nous prenons les mauvaises décisions et choisissons les mauvaises priorités.

The truth is -- government matters. The decisions that we make matter. Do we stick with the careful, steady balance we’ve struck, an approach that’s creating jobs, Investment in Ontario’s economy and the expansion of opportunities that help people? Yes -- we must. Now is not the time to veer away from that.

It is not the time to put that performance and that improvement aside. It is not the time to upset that balance. We cannot take our eyes off the road – just as we’re starting to pick up speed.

I believe it would be a mistake to declare war on labour as the Conservatives would have us do here in Ontario. To roll back the clock and return us to a time when government believed its top priority was to pick fights and create upheaval.

We don’t need that kind of risky, radical approach. Not ever. But especially not now.

I also believe it would be a mistake to place Ontario’s still-fragile economic recovery in the hands of the NDP. Who are suspicious of business, untested in governing, and who openly refuse to articulate their plan for our province. Can we really afford that sort of risky indecision and lack of practical, coherent thinking? I think not.

If there’s an election held this year, no one will need to ask what it’s about. It will be a choice between my safe hands and their reckless schemes. In the coming weeks our government will bring forward a new budget. It will include our plan, our program, to keep Ontario’s economic recovery on track. It will reflect our values and our priorities – with a carefully measured and balanced approach. With a focus on fostering economic growth and delivering more jobs. With a priority on helping people. That is what I mean by the need for safe hands. 

The details of that budget are something I intend to speak with Ontarians about over the course of the coming weeks. But in the time here tonight, I want to walk you through the broad strokes. I want to share with you our plan for Ontario’s economy and our program to build jobs and prosperity for all of the people in this province.

We will pursue a policy of growth but we will notdo so at the expense of Ontario’s hard-working families. In the coming budget, there will be no increases on the HST, the gas tax or income taxes for the middle-class. We simply cannot afford it. People cannot afford it. And Ontario cannot afford it. Not at a time when the middle class is just starting to feel the effects of the economic recovery. We cannot take away that dividend.

We cannot grow Ontario’s economy by grabbing more from the pockets of our middle class. I did not need the leader of the NDP to point this out to me. I know from my own experience of the people I have met and talked to in every corner of the province.

In addition, when we consider major infrastructure investments that will benefit Ontario for generations, it does not fall to this particular generation of working Ontarians alone to fund those projects. That’s the starting point. That’s what we won’t do to the middle class.

Now let me talk about our government’s economic plan – our Six-Point Plan For Jobs.  

First -- Talent and Skills. These must be our watchwords -- where we must make our mark. Ontario will never beat the world at low-wage, low-cost production. And we shouldn’t try. Instead, we should be leading on high-wage, high-knowledge jobs. And to do that, we need to continue to develop our best resource – our people. That means a vision for K to12 education built for the 21st century, starting with full day kindergarten, and bringing a new focus on creativity, innovation and critical thinking. Skills that will best prepare young people to fill and create the jobs of the future. It means committing to our 30% off Tuition Grant, which last year alone, helped more than 230,000 students start college or university.

More students in post-secondary means higher incomes for graduates, and more jobs for our province. And today, Ontario has the highest post-secondary attainment rate in Canada and among other OECD countries.

A focus on Talent and Skills means more support for research and development. It means expanding the largest apprenticeship program in the history of our province, with nearly 120,000 apprentices this year alone learning a trade in Ontario… A total we will increase year after year.

It means a Second Careers program that has already helped 74,000 Ontarians to retrain for new careers. Let me emphasize the extent of our ambitions here:

Ontario must be first in North America when it comes to talent, training, retraining and skills development.

Second -- Supporting Key Industries.

Ontario has one of North America’s most diverse economies. You name it, we’ve got it.

But we can’t take that for granted. We have to keep growing. That means continuing to develop our workforce, to focus on those high-skilled, high-value jobs…In auto …

In new technologies …In aerospace …In agri-food …In financial services …  And in so many other areas. That’s playing to our strengths. It also means working with businesses and communities to create the conditions they need to succeed. That means a competitive tax rate. It means helping companies with their energy costs. It means investing in venture capital…

Where every one dollar of provincial money leverages ten dollars of private money to create new businesses. And it means partnering with companies that are looking to invest more in Ontario. I’ve already mentioned Cisco.

It’s a partnership that is already working. In three locations around our province Cisco will create 1,700 high paying jobs, and could create as many as 3,700 new jobs, growing Cisco's workforce to up to 5,000 jobs in the next decade.  Cisco will stay here.

It will invest in our universities. It will create spin-off jobs and prosperity. And as a company, Cisco is committed and contracted to our mutual success.  It’s a great deal that works for Ontario.

And I couldn’t be more proud to have taken part in its creation. We didn’t get it by cutting a cheque. If it were just about money, they’d be in Mississippi or West Virginia. It’s about striking a lasting partnership. And let me be clear …Our government will do deals like that ten days out of ten. Good deals that create great jobs.

And to Tim Hudak and the Tories who reject such an approach and call it corporate welfare … I say ridiculous. In today’s global economy, we have an obligation to forge such partnerships and seize such opportunities. You just have to shake your head at those who say: Keep Ontario competitive but then pretend we’re not in a competition.

And this partnering means a Rapid Response team to aid communities if and when they’re hit hard by a factory or plant closure. We obviously can’t fix everything. But we can’t simply leave entire communities to slip away and suffer. So when the Heinz closure was announced, this government pitched in to support the Leamington community…Facilitating discussions that led to Highbury Canco working with Heinz to take on the plant and save a significant proportion of those jobs. 

Third -- our Three-year, $35 billion Building and Infrastructure program. This will create at least 100,000 jobs right now -- right away.  We’re building schools and hospitals.

Subways and highways and bridges. By-ways and Wi-Fi.  Not only does this make for good jobs now. It attracts investment and keeps us competitive for the future.

And let me tell you – my commitment to transit is unshakeable. It means less congestion and a better quality of life for our people, and quick delivery of goods for business. This is what I love about infrastructure…

It’s for now and in investment for tomorrow. Fourth -- A Youth Jobs Strategy

We need to confront and overcome the challenge of getting younger people into the workforce and into successful careers. Higher rates of youth unemployment threaten to create a generation of stalled hopes and stagnant wages.

Our Youth Jobs strategy will get at least 30,000 young people on the job – working up to their potential and harnessing their desire to work hard. 

Already more than 9,000 youth have had an opportunity for employment placements.

Fifth -- Support for Small Businesses. 

From good ideas come great small businesses. And with great small businesses the sky is literally the limit. We’re helping our entrepreneurs and innovators – who commit their hard work and risk their own savings…To create jobs and grow …With tools to help access venture capital and tap new markets …  With competitive tax rates.

I know the challenge of growing small businesses and I am committed to meeting that challenge. Sixth -- Balancing the Budget. We’ll take a measured and moderate approach and continue to strengthen our fiscal fundamentals. We’ll continue to spend less per capita on government programs than any other province.

We’ve set a target to get our debt-to-GDP ratio back to pre-recession levels. And we are on track to balance Ontario’s budget in 2017-18. But we will not endanger new jobs and our recovery. We will not surrender services that people need --- in a pyrrhic effort to get there a year or two faster. That would not be responsible.

So that’s our approach. It does not oversimplify the challenges but it is a set of straightforward priorities…All focused on the common goal of building a stronger economy, with more and better jobs.

The Tories and the NDP think the way to build an economy is to divide businesses and workers.  I disagree.  In our plan, we are united.

We’re focusing on the partnerships we need to build… With business, government, educators, labour, the not-for-profit sector and communities…Working together to create jobs.

A six-point plan that is practical -- not ideological. It’s steady. It’s balanced. It’s both workable and working. It’s a plan that lets Ontarians be sure that our economic recovery remains in safe hands.

And it stands in stark contrast to the risky, recklessalternatives offered up by the Opposition. Il s’agit d’un plan en six points qui est pratique, pas idéologique.

Il est équilibré. Non seulement est-il fonctionnel -- mais, il fonctionne.C’est un plan qui permet aux Ontariennes et Ontariens d’être certains que la reprise économique reste entre des mains sûres. Il contraste radicalement avec les options risquées et imprudentes proposées par l’opposition.

One issue we must confront if we’re truly to prepare Ontario for the future …Is the importance of pensions and a decent retirement income. People in this province should not find that their reward for a lifetime of hard work is to be faced with financial insecurity the moment they retire. And yet, that is a very real possibility for far too many of today’s working Ontarians. In fact, it is causing many people to question whether they ever can retire. 

No matter where you come from on the political spectrum. No matter your opinion on any number of policy matters. Surely we can all agree that this province is facing a pension income crisis. It’s been brewing for decades. Company pension plans have disappeared … And those that remain are more often defined contribution -- rather than defined benefit plans. 

Having not had a raise over that entire period of time, middle-class working people have not had the resources to save adequately for retirement  … Especially with adult children still at home and parents and grandparents needing help. This is a reality that we are living with today. And it will only become more acute tomorrow.

We are about to see people who were middle class in their working lives retire with fewer resources.  It’s unacceptable. It’s offensive. Especially when we have the tools to do something about it.

And for those who are unmoved by the emotion – who say ‘it’s all their fault, they can look after themselves’ – consider this: The economic loss of seniors’ decreased spending power and the cost of providing assistance could easily undermine our long-term recovery. So if you’re thinking this will be someone else’s crisis -- think again. It’s ours. Ours to manage. Ours to fix. And it’s already upon us.

The solution to the problem is obvious.  Expand the Canada Pension Plan to provide a larger pension benefit.  Not so long ago it seemed that even the recently retired Jim Flaherty agreed.  But Stephen Harper has an ideological aversion to the CPP, so there is no federal leadership in this area.

I think ultimately there might well be an appropriate national response… But we cannot wait for that here in Ontario. We must act now to stave off crisis in our retirement income system. Too many people in their forties and fifties already know they can’t put away enough savings on their own.  And too many people in their twenties and thirties can’t save at all. We will act to help them.

We will create an Ontario Pension Plan to create security for people in retirement. I will not stand still – knowing that we have an opportunity and an obligation to act.  This is a test of our mettle as leaders. When great challenges arise we must meet those moments with conviction.

Tackling those problems:  that’s what Leadership is.

Quand surviennent des défis importants, nous devons les relever avec conviction. S’attaquer à ces problèmes, c’est ça le leadership.

Before concluding, I want to add one more thing. Something a bit personal. During this past year as Premier, I’ve had the chance to travel Ontario. I’ve been to every corner and community of this province.I’ve seen what the people in Ontario are experiencing. I’ve seen the tough times they’ve been through. I’ve seen the promise of better times starting – just starting – to take hold. And I’ve seen how smart, how skilled …How unbeatable the people of Ontario can be.

So I feel a genuine sense of optimism about what we can all do – provided we work together. We’ve got to have government pulling with the people. We’ve got to have government that gets it …That, on the one hand, understands people and what they’re looking for. And that, on the other hand, appreciates the importance of putting a smart plan in place to keep the recovery on track.

I believe in Ontario. I believe in our approach. I believe in this plan. And I believe in our people.  And I KNOW that government has a role to play. And I can assure you that as long as I’m the premier of this province, I am determined that we play that role with courage and integrity.

Ontario’s best days lie straight ahead. Our job is to carry our province forward.

To create the conditions for that success. I know Ontario is up to the challenge. I know our people are up to the challenge. And I want you to know that I am up to the challenge.

Thank you so much. Merci. Meegwetch.