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A Great National Endeavour

A speech delivered by Ken Dryden — January 2006

I don't want to talk about health care or childcare or the GST. Not directly at least. Every election may be about the economy and important issues like these, but really it is about each party's, each party leader's, understanding of the country what this country is, how it works, what it can be and should be in the future.

It's more than a vision, more than words in a platform, more than appearances. It's what's in their bones where that vision comes from. I think this campaign is starting to reveal differences. Big differences, interesting, important differences for Canadians to see, to think about, and then on January 23rd, to choose.

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I want to tell you what I think the election is about.  I want to talk about Canada.

It's my job to think about Canada now. I used to do it just for fun. I grew up in a Canada after World War II that was booming. Our population was only about 1/3 of what it is today. Montreal was our largest city.

It was a country of immense space and distance east and west, north and south. A country of immense resources the wheat of the Prairies; the mines of northern Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec; The oil of Alberta; the forests, lakes and rivers of everywhere. And mostly, it was a country of immense possibilities so much space, so many resources. So much to do. So much yet to be done. It was a country in the becoming. A country in the making. Because we knew that what ever we were then, we would be so much more tomorrow.

That was the story I grew up with. That was the story I learned.

In my life, I have lived in Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa. I lived in the U.S. for four years and in England for one. I've traveled to every province and territory in this country. As a hockey player, I had the chance to go to small places that few have ever heard of, and fewer would ever think of going. As a Member of Parliament, I've had the chance to listen to and experience people of just about every background and interest.

Let me tell you of the Canada I see.

According to the UN Human Development Index, in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, in 2005 Canada ranked 5th among 177 countries, and first among the G7 that is, among the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada, Canada was first.

According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook, Canada has the best overall quality of life among the G7, the lowest cost of living, ranks highest in addressing such environmental concerns as air and water pollution, land protection and greenhouse emissions; ranks highest as a safe place to live and to conduct business, ranks first in providing equal opportunities, first in having the most fairly administered justice system.

According to the Intelligence Unit of The Economist, in terms of general quality of life from a business perspective, Toronto and Montreal rank among the 10 best cities in the world; and over the next 5 years Canada will be the second best country in the world in which to conduct business, after Denmark, ahead of the U.S.

We are a place that, in general, is experiencing pretty good times. Our employment growth is the highest in the G7; our unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 30 years. Since 1997, we've had the fastest rate of increase in living standards in the G7, and the second best growth rate in productivity. We know that lots of things are also wrong. Too many people are poor. We are doing better, but we need to do far better for our aboriginal population, for those with disabilities. In our health care, we need to feel as citizens that if we aren't OK, we can see someone, and soon we will be OK. We say, "Justice delayed is justice denied," but in terms of many illnesses and conditions, treatment delayed is treatment denied. We need to do better.

We need for many more kids to arrive at the kindergarten door ready to learn because, in interesting, stimulating, secure environments, inside the home and outside, in their early years of life, these kids will learn.

We need for many more adults, inside their workplaces and outside, to get the chance to keep on learning, to become better at the next thing — and the next and the next.

We need to do better, and we also need to feel we can. That's why all those surveys and comparisons matter. Not for us to congratulate ourselves. But to help give us a realistic sense of ourselves, of how we are doing, of where we fit in. They remind us of what we really are. Of what we can be.

We're pretty good, and we need to know that. It gets us to take on more, what we should take on, what's in us to take on. Big things, important things, tough things.

Economically, the future is always a test. China, India there's always somebody who can do more, cheaper. How do we stay ahead? How do we keep what we've got? How do we keep from a low cost-low wage devastating race to the bottom? The numbers don't work. But times are always changing and we've changed before. We know how to change. We know we can change. And with our natural resources and our high levels of education, we have as much opportunity as anybody. We can play this game. We know that however good our present is, our future will be better.

Internationally — in a world growing more global, we are a global country. Not just in our trade, our peacekeeping, in the aid we provide, but day-to-day here in our existence at home. With our countless nationalities, the world lives within our borders. We experience its complications, challenges and richness up close in our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, our schools.

In those schools, long before our children ever take one step beyond our country's boundaries, they live a global existence. They experience difference, learn from difference, get used to difference, learn how to deal with difference. Difference matters a whole lot less to us as Canadians than it once did.

It's an amazing change.  An amazing achievement.  We don't know quite how it all will turn out, so we are a bit uneasy. But we are proud of this Canada. We know it makes us special. We know it makes us important.And we know it offers us a remarkable preparation, a remarkable rehearsal, for living in the global world ahead.

We connect officially to the world through the UN, the Commonwealth, the Francophonie, the G7, the Asia-Pacific Rim countries and more. But our connection to the world is much more by our attitude, our instinct and perspective. In a global world, everybody is a small guy.  In a global world, we need to discuss, listen, negotiate, compromise, work with others.  As Canadians, that is our experience.  That is us.  And our experience with smallness, with difference and "getting along" means in the future some significant role for us in the world. A role that will also reflect back on us, come to be understood by others as us, engender great pride and confidence in us, reinforcing what we are and what we understand ourselves to be.

In behind all of this are our social programs. And in behind our social programs, more importantly, are our social understandings. Our understandings as Canadians. As Canadians, we expect certain things of and for ourselves. We expect certain things of and for others. We know that, historically, living in a climate that was harsh and unpredictable, on a land that could be inhospitable and demanding, we could not make it on our own. We needed our neighbours, and our neighbours needed us.

We know that from these expectations and circumstances, we have developed certain
understandings of ourselves.  We understand ourselves to be generous. We believe that if someone really needs help, we will offer it.

We understand ourselves to be optimistic. We believe that everyone deserves a chance, and when things go wrong, or are wrong, out of one's own fault or circumstance — poverty, disease, disability, age –— we believe they deserve another chance. And optimistic, we believe the future will be a better place. We do not believe that we live in the ultimate Canada; in the ultimate world.

These understandings are our underpinnings. They are the base we need to succeed in the now-bigger world we live in that is, itself, often harsh and unpredictable, inhospitable and demanding. They're the bedrock of our confidence.

We know that to live longer, healthier, smarter, to live better, our human development system — our healthcare, education, and social programs — are critical.  We know that economic policy and social policy are really part of the same thing. A good economy is our best instrument of social policy. It not only generates more money to go into social
programs, but it means more people able to support themselves without the assistance of social programs, leaving more for people who can't.

We know too that good social policy is critical to good economic policy. Good health care and good education bring people into the country, and keep others here. With our basic needs taken care of, we can focus on the challenges at hand. Economic policy
and social policy need each other.

I was a goalie. At first, I thought my job was to stop shots. Then I realized it was actually to prevent goals — not quite the same thing. It was to stop shots, but it was also to keep as many shots from being taken as possible, by controlling rebounds, by helping my defence in yelling instructions to them, by making good passes.

Then I realized the job of the goalie was really something more. In a game, any game, in everything I did, it was my job to deliver a message to my teammates — that everything's OK back here. We're fine. Don't worry. Think about what you need to do, what you're so good at doing. Move the puck up the ice, drive to the net — score. Keep your mind, all of your mind, on the challenge of that.

My job, in fact, had an offensive purpose, not just a defensive one. It was to give confidence, to give the others the opportunity to go for it, to take a chance, to do the huge and difficult amount necessary to meet the challenge and succeed.

This isn't how we usually think about social understandings and social programs. We think of them as safety nets, something passive, just there, a protection for those too preoccupied with their own safety, who don't want to take chances. That rewards the wrong behaviour, that gets in the way of what we should be as individuals, and as a nation. But think about what a safety net really is. We imagine it most often in relation to the circus, to trapeze artists, who at great heights swing and leap from bar to bar a safety net beneath them. What would it be like if there was no safety net? Who would want to be a trapeze artist? How would they ever learn? And what would that first time even look like? What a safety net does really is encourage more people to try. To fall into the net, but then to get back up on that bar and try again. To learn. To improve. To become good at something. Do you think you can do a double flip off one bar, 40 feet in the air, and be caught by someone else the first time you try?

Without a safety net, you'd better be able to do it, and every time you try. But really, who'd ever get up there? How would anyone ever develop the talent, the skills? And in the future, would anyone try a triple? There's nothing passive, nothing defensive about a safety net. A safety net is an improver. An enabler. An instrument that encourages bigger and bigger ambitions. That allows you to take risks. That makes you better.

But maybe the image of "the safety net" doesn't work any more. Maybe it's too ingrained with the wrong understanding.

What about our social understandings, our social programs, as a trampoline? Something that looks like a safety net, but when we come back down after flying through the air, we come down safely, and with a new knowledge, a new learning of what those heights are really like. We get a taste of those heights, a feel for them and what it takes to get there.

Then putting down on the solid footing of social understandings, social programs, education, training, we bounce back up again. But higher this time because coming from a greater height, there's more energy springing us up, and more self confidence that we can find comfort and success at the higher elevations.

A trampoline, a safety net this, I think, is what our social understandings, what our social programs, do for Canadians. Just as with a goalie, they have an offensive purpose and a defensive purpose. That is why they matter so much for a Canada that has an always evolving, always emerging future.

In a time of government-bashing, all this is easy to forget.  All this must not be forgotten.

About ten years ago, I went back to high school for a year to write a book on education. Day after day, I just sat in class. I wanted to know who was learning and who wasn't, and why. I wanted to know who was a good teacher, who wasn't and why. Some students were doing very well, some were not, many were just there. The central question was how can they do better? The student who has a 60 in math, how does he get to 70? He has a history in math and everyday he walks into class, he brings that history with him. It's a history that says: I hate math. I've always hated math. I can't do math. And why do I have to take it anyway? I'm not going to be an engineer or scientist. Why do I even have to be here?

And every day, that's what the teacher has to teach to. A little humour and enthusiasm will help, but it won't get the student from 60 to 70.

But if that teacher sits down with that student, if she goes over his last exam perhaps Let's take a look at this question, she might say. It's algebra so you start with some knowns and some unknowns. You use the knowns to figure out the unknowns. And here, in this line, that's exactly what you did. You weren't intimidated by the fact you had those unknowns, by what you didn't know. You just chipped away and figured out this part, and that — and yes, you got the wrong answer, but look at how you worked through this — you have a math mind.

The student has the wrong story about himself in math. And unless the teacher can get into his story and help him find a way to write it another way, nothing will change. But if she does, who knows? It is crucial for students, for hockey players, for countries — to have the right story. To have the right understandings about themselves. That's what gets them, gets us, to what we can be.

What is that right story for Canada?

Our country grew up in small pockets of population widely separated, each made different from the other by the land and climate around them, by their proximity or distance from Europe, by the century in which they developed, and by who settled them first. Depending on all of those things, we became what we could be. We created different lives, different ways of doing things, with different understandings of ourselves and where we fit into the world and into Canada. We made our lives where we were and we made them work for us. At times, we can seem a fragmented place. But beneath the sometimes rancour, we have Canada in common.

As regards Quebec, the strength and success, the sustainability, of the language and culture of six million French-speaking people in the midst of 300 million English-speaking North Americans, is a remarkable achievement an achievement almost unique in the world. It has happened because of the ambitions of Quebeckers, their pride and belief in themselves, because of their determination to fight.

It has also happened because of the "live and let live" understandings and instincts, traditions and institutions of Canada; of all Canadians, Quebeckers included.

Whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, each of us has been a big part in making the other.  And whether we know it or not, admit or not, like it or not, together we have built a pretty good country. In an election campaign, it can seem that everything is wrong. In the sour, nasty, charge and counter-charge, never-ending election campaign of the last 20 months, it can seem everything is bad. It isn't. We cannot, we must not forget that.

Today, Canada's population is about three times as large as it was when I was born. Toronto is now our largest city. Yet today what I see is a place not much different from the Canada I learned about as a child. It has a dramatically different mix of cultures, races and religions. But it is still a country of immense space and distances east and west, north and south. It's still a country of immense resources. And most importantly, it's still a country of immense possibilities. A country that is still in the making, still in the becoming. And now enough in the making, enough in the becoming, to know what we are; just beginning to know what we can be.

We knew then, we know now, that whatever we once were, whatever we are now, we will be much more tomorrow. After more than half a century of great change, of the rise of Japan, China, India and the Far East, of the rebirth of Europe, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, of the advance of globalism, of rises and falls everywhere, this is still our story.

As well there has been much talk lately about a Pacific Gateway. With all our trade with China and India and all the trade to come, we have a challenge before us to improve our transportation infrastructure and our ports to make the most of these opportunities. Of course, the Pacific Gateway is really about something bigger. History —— our early explorers, trade and settlement may have made Canada first an Atlantic country, but our timeless geography and our history-to-be will make Canada a Pacific country as well.

We need only to look at a map: the distance between Montreal and Toronto, and London, Paris and Rome is not much different from the distance between Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, and Tokyo. Perfectly situated, we are a country that is able to move to the west just as easily and comfortably as we move to the east.

We are a real global country, maturing, developing, just beginning to think like and act like a real global country. And we are a country that understands that whatever may happen in the world — good; bad — whatever the trends or circumstances, with our space, our natural resources, our human resources, with our institutions, our stability, our peace, with our "find a way" attitude, with our "get along" instincts, we can make any future work.

A "Canadian" — modest, self-deprecating, with an inferiority complex a mile wide. A style, a self-image that slides off our tongues so easily, with head-nods, laughs and never a comment to the contrary — a myth we repeat so often we believe it. "Typically Canadian, eh?" Garbage.  A comfortable guise, but really an unfortunate disguise that hides us from ourselves, that allows us to escape too easily our bigger roles, our bigger responsibilities, our bigger possibilities.

We can't let that happen.

As Canadians, how do we deal with health care, with child care, with public transportation, post-secondary education, Quebec, the US, and so on, and so on? We've got to have what we are inform everything we do and every way we do it. We've got to understand what we are, think what we are, act what we are, be what we are. Now, today, and in the future.

It is this understanding of Canada that is me, that I take into what I do and how I do it. I can't stop myself. I couldn't if I wanted. It is why these — announcements we've made are so exciting. For people with disabilities — an inclusive Canada, an accessible Canada what would that look like?  In the workplace, in colleges and universities, on the streets, in parks people who can do much more than they can't do. Now with a real chance just beginning. Caregivers, so defined by their commitment to those they care for, now with a better chance to live a life beyond these responsibilities.

Seniors, their incomes more secure, living healthier, longer, now living one-quarter of their lives as seniors; their quality of life much more a matter of "purpose."  How do we help them find that purpose? Big, tough, important, worthy tasks. Too big and too tough for any of us to do by ourselves. Maybe they're beyond us — but maybe they're not.

That's why early learning and child care has been so great to work on. $5 billion over five years but to build a system, a system of early learning and child care in every province and territory in the country. To give kids, all kids, in those first years of life a better chance a better chance to enter kindergarten ready to learn, which gives them a better chance to enter Grade 4 ready to learn, which gives them a better chance in Grade 7, and Grade 10, and university. A better chance for them to be in a job where they can learn even more, and more.  And more. What is just about the most exciting thing for any of us to see? In anybody, but especially a kid, when the light goes on in their eyes. When they "get it," and they know it.  And that little smile.

And what is just about the worst thing? When they don't.

So, as parents, the big question for all of us: how can we put our kids into the best possible circumstances and situations and places where they can learn best?  In the home, in our families, but outside as well.  In their schools, in their after-schools. With their friends. Not to take away from the home experience, but to add to it.

Parents are central to their child's development always have been, always will be. Every kid needs somebody who is not just crazy about them, but who really understands them. Who can think along and feel along with them. Who can then shape them and guide them and get them going more often in the right direction. And parents who, then, for the other hours of a day, can explain their child to a teacher or coach or leader so that they can understand their kid too.

What's in every parent's mind?  I want the best for my kid. I can't draw. I can't dance. I can't swim. I'm not so good working/playing with others. It's not whether I work at home or outside. I could spend 24 hours, 48 hours a day, it wouldn't matter. I want something more for my kid than I can give myself.

That's what's in their mind. That's what this is about.

I want to give parents a better chance to be the parents they want to be. I want kids in rural and remote areas, kids whose mother or father or grandparents are at home, or in the workplace it doesn't matter I want them to have something more.

Have you ever been to a good pre-school or nursery school?  A good family child care home or child care centre?  For five kids, or 50. Go. Look. Watch those kids doing, exploring, adventuring in their heads and all around them, dealing with others learning. It's so exciting. Watch for the light, the little smile. Then the big smile, when they're just so pleased with themselves. And you think now they don't want more? They're hooked. This is what learning feels like.  And these kids are shouting through that smile, "Give me all of that 'learning stuff' you've got."

That's what really bothered me about the Conservatives' announcements. Put money into parents pockets fine. Be proud of that if that's what makes you proud. Just don't call it early learning and child care.  So limited. So limiting. Same words completely different story.

What does this have to do with me "talking about Canada"? Just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister talked about building a system of early learning and child care across the country and described it as a "great national endeavour." Like Medicare.

But to take on a "great national endeavour," you have to think in those big terms. It has to be in you.  In your bones. It has to be part of your understanding of this country, what it is, how it works, what it can be and should be. The railroad, Medicare, the education system Canada was built on "great national endeavours." In which Quebec was an immense part; in which Alberta and B.C. and Nova Scotia and Ontario were immense parts. Great national endeavours that made Quebec better, that made Quebec more "Quebec." That made Alberta more "Alberta."

Two founding languages and cultures, multicultural transformation it's not that Macdonald or Pearson or Trudeau or even Mulroney always succeeded, but they had big dreams, that made us dream bigger, that made "great national endeavours" possible.

I have spent more than a year in Parliament. I have watched and listened. I've watched and listened in this campaign. I don't think Mr. Harper thinks in terms of "great national endeavours." I don't think that's part of his understanding of Canada. I don't think that's what's in his bones. Listen to the announcements they've made. On child care some money into our pockets to help make things a little easier — for any purpose. These aren't vouchers. This is money for any purpose a new brace for your child with a disability, a night out for your parents who never get a break. Important, worthy, real life things.

But how does that help your child learn better?  How does it attract and keep someone who can really excite your child, so they want to peak around every next corner?  And how does someone who is poor or lower middle class or middle class afford that for their child?  The average cost of child care in this country is $8,000 a year. The answer to the question is — they can't.

Their campaign ads suggest: "Stand Up for Canada" but what Canada? What Canada are they standing up for? Take child care or public transit or Quebec or the U.S. think ahead 10 years. How will that approach, that understanding, play out? What will Canada be? What will we be?

Think hard. Really hard.

It's always easier to do things separate and apart from others.  It's less complicated. It's human nature.  I think, given a choice, most of us would go things alone if we could. Then every triumph, every defeat, every satisfaction and pain, would belong to us, to me, fully and completely.  And in a time where divides are greater between young and old, rich and poor; between the educated and super-educated — it is even easier to go it alone.

To Mr. Harper, it's about what's in my pocket, in my backyard, giving people the chance to make choices for themselves, the collective good emerging out of that. And there's something to that. But there's something not. Has he ever been on a team?  Does he know what it feels like? Does he know how it works?  Part of bringing out the best in people is coaxing, nudging, inspiring them to get together, to work towards something bigger, bigger than themselves, that stretches their imaginations, that gets them to do more than they ever thought was in them.

And really, there's not much of any importance that can be done alone. What if, 100 years ago, government put $50 in every family's pocket and told us to build a school system — if that's where we'd like to put our money. What if, 40 years ago — here's $100 for a health care system, if that's where you want to spend it. Where would we be today? Just because our schools and our health care are not all that we'd like them to be —imagine where we'd be without them. We can't build something great by divvying up the building fund and going our separate ways; just fending for ourselves.

It's so limited. So limiting.

Government-bashing, bashing of any kind, is too easy. We've made this country by doing big things together. As Canadians, as anybody, we need our neighbours and our neighbours need us.  We always have. As Saskatchewan, as Alberta, as Quebec, as Ontario, we are successful. Together, as what we have made, as what we promise to be, we are special.

The railroad, Medicare, the education system Canada is a great national endeavour. To me, more than health care, child care, same-sex marriage and the rest, this is what the election is about.

I once played for the Canadian National Team. I played for Team Canada in the 1972 series. People often say to me that I should speak about "wearing the jersey," about playing for Canada. I've earned the right, they say. I haven't done that because it seems a little too easy. And I haven't done it because really the feeling wasn't as transforming as they want it to be. It wasn't because, as you can tell in what I've said, really I wore the jersey long before I ever wore the jersey. I'm a Canadian. I like lots of other places. But I really like this place. I want big things for Canada. I don't want anything less.

That's why I'm here. That's why I'm running. That's why I chose the party I did.

From now until January 23rd, listen hard. Think hard.

The Canada I see is of immense space and distances, immense possibilities, that is still in the making, still in the becoming.  It's a country whose greatest national endeavours are still ahead.

For Canada, for the future, all the elements are there. We have the right story — we need the right storytellers to tell it.

Thank you.


Approved by the Official Agent for Ken Dryden