Prime Minister Trudeau delivers the Symons Lecture in Charlottetown
Good afternoon everyone.
Before I start, I want to thank all the extraordinary young people from the Confederation Centre 2017 Young Company for that incredible performance of The Dream Catchers.
Thank you for making us laugh, nakurmiik for making me cry, thank you for reminding us how we’re in such good hands when we look at the young people today who challenge us, who question us, but who inspire us and lead us in so many ways and that performance, those words, and your sharing of that with the entire country is extraordinary. Thank you very much my friends. Thank you.
I also want to thank Wayne and Claude for their kind introduction, and for giving me the chance to be with you here today. Madam Lieutenant Governor, Premier MacLauchlan, Chief Bellegarde, Chief Brian Francis, thank you for welcoming us onto Mi’kmaq territory;
Your Charlottetown MP and my good friend Sean Casey, distinguished guests, thank you all for having taken the time to be here with us this afternoon. As you may have heard, we’re going to proceed a little differently this afternoon.
I’m only going to talk for about 25 minutes or so, and then I want to turn the rest of my time over to all of you so that we can have a bit more of a conversation if that sounds okay to you.
When I thought about what I wanted to say today, how to share my thoughts about the state of Canadian Confederation, my mind went back to a story I’d read; it was from last winter, and it happened right here in P.E.I. It’s a story of Ted and Janie Kitson. If you’re lucky enough to live here in Charlottetown, you might know them. And if you’re really, really lucky you might live next door to them. Because for the last five years in a row, they’ve helped clear out their neighbours’ walkways and driveways after every snow storm, which I understand happens from time to time on the island. It started with one elderly neighbour, and then they helped out another, and another, and now they’re helping dig out six houses worth of snow. When he was asked about it, Ted said that when he was a kid it was all families helping families. It didn’t matter what it was, we were just all out to help. That’s just the way we are. As Janie puts it, helping out is the Island way.
I love that story. Neighbour helping neighbour, lending a hand when times get tough, being there for each other to help share the load. Yes, that’s the Island way, but long before Europeans arrived, it was the Mi’kmaq way. And today when we’re at our best, it is the Canadian way. And that’s what I wanted to share with you today. This year, as you know, marks the 150th year since confederation. As I said back on July 1st, that’s as good a reason as any to celebrate. But, we all know that Canada didn’t come into being a mere 150 years ago.
Canada, the idea of Canada, goes back a lot longer than that. For thousands of years, people were meeting here in this place that we now call Canada. Sometimes they traded with each other, sometimes they argued: sort of a model for federal-provincial relations, if you like. But what has endured throughout Canada’s history is that people who have lived in this country worked together side by side to build strong communities and ensure a better life for their families.
It’s been a lot of hard work, and it hasn’t always been easy; the sacrifices have been great, we lost tens of thousands of young Canadians to brutal World Wars. At the same time, we gained millions more, waves of immigrants who saw Canadian valour on distant shores, and decided that this is where they wanted to build for themselves a new and more peaceful life.
For good or ill, the Canada we live in today is itself the descendent of the earliest meetings between Indigenous peoples and newcomers. The product of the foundational relationship between English and French, and the beneficiary of every language and culture that came after. For the past 150 years, we have shown the world that diversity can be a source of strength, and it doesn’t matter where you came from, what religion you practise, what you wear, or whom you love. You came here from anywhere in the world that built a good life, you get to be part of our Canadian community and you don’t even need to bring a snow shovel, although it is a great way to make new friends. So let’s take a look now at how we’re doing 150 years in.
For a long time, for decades after the end of the Second World War the promise of progress held true.
This idea that by working hard we can get what we need to build a better life, that we can, for example, get a good job, the type of job that can support a family. A job that allows us to pay the bills and put a little money away for our children’s education, and maybe even for our own retirement.
But jobs like that they’re getting harder and harder to find now. If you’ve looked at job ads lately, you know what I’m talking about. Today’s ads are for new jobs that demand new skills, the kind that need to be updated constantly; and if you’re a young person you’re faced with a vicious circle, it’s hard to find a job when you don’t have any work experience, and it’s hard to get work experience when you don’t have a job. That’s the reality that far too many people are living in today.
But jobs aren’t the only thing that Canadian families worry about these days. They’re also worried about their incomes. You see, Canada’s economy may be doing pretty well these days; GDP growth is strong, right now it’s the strongest in the G7, and if you look at that trend over time, over say the last 30 years, our economy has more than doubled. Unfortunately, not everyone is getting a share of that success. Over the last three decades, total market income, that includes earnings from your job as well as possible investments and other sources, has risen by less than 20% for the vast majority of Canadians, the so-called bottom 90%. In other words, most Canadians saw their incomes grow by less than 1% every year in real terms. No wonder so many Canadians feel that they’re working harder than ever, and not getting any further ahead.
But that’s not true for everyone. If you take a look at Canada’s wealthiest 1%, the fewer than 300,000 people across this country who earn at least $230,000 a year, their incomes are up by close to 50% over the past 30 years. The wealthiest 0.1%, their incomes have doubled over the past three decades, and the wealthiest 0.01%, well, they’ve fared the best of anyone; their incomes have tripled, and they’re now earning close to $2.5 million more every year.
Now, we’re Canadian, and we’re polite and we don’t like to talk too much about money because it might make someone uncomfortable; well, I think we need to get over ourselves, folks. I think we have to start telling the truth about income inequality in Canada.
We’re not going to make the problem go away by closing our eyes. Closing our eyes would just fuel the frustration and encourage people to find excuses or blame somebody. We know what the consequences of that are. We have been witness to it in our own communities, and across the world.
In far too many places, hateful graffiti, cruel comments, senseless violence; we need to be united, and courageous, and relentless in standing up to those who think that pointing fingers is some kind of solution. But at the same time, as I said, we have to tell the truth about income inequality and what it means for Canadians. Because as uncomfortable as it might be to talk about it, it’s a lot more uncomfortable to live it, to be in the position where you have to decide which one of your two kids gets to get a new pair of winter boots this year. To put off paying your bills again because no matter how carefully you budget, there’s always that one thing that you didn’t plan for. And to be faced with those choices when you know that the CEO of your company is getting million dollar bonuses, that gets sent offshore so they can avoid paying their taxes, people won’t stand for it and they shouldn’t.
So business leaders, bear some responsibility here, and I’m one of the first to remind them of that. That they need to look beyond their short term interests of their shareholders, and remember that they have a long term responsibility to their workers and to the communities that support them. And that means paying a living wage, paying their fair share of taxes, giving workers decent benefits and the peace of mind that comes with stable full-time contracts; and making sure that workers are able to keep their skills up to date so that if the worst should happen and the company should go under, at least those workers will have a fighting chance of getting another job. That’s what business leaders can do.
Governments also have to act to help people more, and that’s been one of our priorities for the past two years: lightening the fiscal burden on the middle class, offering a new Canada Child Benefit, one that will be in fact even more generous by next summer. Investing in infrastructure, entering into new trade deals to help create even more good, well-paid jobs. More money to make postsecondary education more affordable for a greater number of young people.
We’re exploring ways to help Canadians get the skills they need for good quality jobs and we’re holding multinational corporations to account to make sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes. And those offshore accounts I mentioned earlier? Well, we’re taking action there too. In the last two budgets we’ve set aside nearly a billion dollars to help fight offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. But, let’s let that sink in for a second; there are people in Canada who are so wealthy that not only do they think they don’t need to pay their fair share of taxes, they’re forcing us to spend a billion dollars to go after them just so that they’ll do the right thing and pay what they owe. A billion dollars to make people do the right thing. I’m not happy about that, and nor should you be.
The good news is, we’re starting to see a return on that investment. In just the last year, we reviewed all large money transfers between Canada and four specific countries of concern, that’s 41,000 transactions worth a total of $12 billion that merited closer scrutiny. Working closely with partners in Canada and around the world, we now have underway close to a thousand offshore audits, and more than 40 criminal investigations with links to offshore transactions.
We’re also aggressively going after those who promote tax avoidance schemes, and so far have imposed $44 million in penalties to those third parties. And we’re on track to recuperate $25 billion in tax revenue thanks to those efforts. That’s a fraction of what we’re owed, but it’s a start. And I want to be really clear on why this is important to our government and why it matters to you too;
This isn’t about penalizing those who succeed. We all agree that we want people to be successful, but if we want Canada to prosper, the public interest has to come first. In other words, all of us have to do our part. You, me, everyone here and everyone listening.
It’s a privilege to live here and to call this country home. It is our responsibility as Canadians to care for each other and that’s exactly what we’re doing when we pay taxes. Now, I have some political opponents who like to use the word taxes like it’s an insult. Now, I don’t take that stuff personally, but still it’s frustrating. I just wish they’d be honest about it, you know? About the fact that the taxes we pay as Canadians build the highways, and sea ways, and the airports, and the rail lines, and get our goods to market. The taxes we pay help to set broken bones and push cancer into remission. The taxes we pay mean that if you lose your job you might not have to lose your house. The – we’ve got a Q&A session so I’m sure we can get into more of this, so I don’t want to lay it on too thick, but you see what I’m getting at. It’s not because we’re Liberals that we defend the common good, but because we’re Canadian.
It’s not because we’re a Liberal government that we’re defending the public interest, it’s because we are a Canadian government. It’s our duty to embody and defend the values of those we serve, the values of the people we work for. Your values, your optimism, your sense of compassion, your real desire to help your friends and neighbours. That’s what motivates me every day. That and the understanding that for all we’ve accomplished since confederation, from universal healthcare to peacekeeping, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, much more work lies ahead of us.
Our job now is to make sure that every person in Canada has a real and fair chance at success. Yes, that means the middle class, but it also means everyone who is working hard to join the middle class. We need to create more opportunities for those whose voices and perspectives were absent or shut out in 1867.
That includes, obviously, the Indigenous peoples, many of whom consider this year of celebration to be just another step in a relationship marked by betrayal and neglect. It includes the women and girls of Canada, whose situation has slowly but surely improved over the past century and a half, but whose contributions remain undervalued and underpaid.
It includes you young people already leaders in your communities, who have so much more to give. Canada needs all that you can offer; we need your ideas, and your idealism, your strong sense of social justice – that’s what will see us through the coming tough years of reconciliation. But we need to amplify these voices and many others because the diversity that thrives here in Canada is a source of tremendous strength. For a century and a half we have succeeded culturally, politically, economically because of our differences not in spite of them.
My friends, I started with a story and I will end with a challenge; it’s not my idea, actually my friend the Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi came up with this concept. The challenge is this: think about three things, three things that you can do, three acts of service, large or small. Maybe you want to help sponsor a refugee family, or volunteer your time at a local school, hold open a door for someone who is loaded with groceries or kids – kids are often heavier than groceries… or take a cue from Ted and Janie and just show up. Do what needs to be done. It’s how we’ve made it through every tough winter in our country’s history, it’s how we’ll make it through the next 150 years too, by taking care of each other. It’s the Island way, it’s the Canadian way.
Thank you for being with us today, thank you for this honour.