This convention has shown one thing above all: the liberal idea, the liberal movement, and the Liberal Party of Canada are alive and well.
This convention has been about change, about openness, about basing policies on facts and evidence, about Canada and what it stands for at home and in the world, about transparency, about prosperity, about jobs and justice, about sustainability, about compassion, about innovation.
And these are things the liberal idea, the liberal movement, and the Liberal Party are all about.
In each generation of Canada’s life as a modern country, the Liberal Party has come forward with a vision and a plan.
This is what we need to do today. I see a progressive decade ahead for Canada. I see a country where every child will come to school hungry to learn and not hungry for food, where innovation and change will be watchwords and not things to fear, where our businesses can get the capital they need to create jobs and prosperity, where the search for justice and sustainability will be seen as the friends of this prosperity and not its adversaries, where we see fair and efficient taxes as the critical means to pay for what we need to do together, and where we make the economy a place of change and fairness and not a place of exploitation and greed.
Let us remember briefly our great inheritance. From the age of the great reform governments a hundred and sixty three years ago to today, Liberals have stood for prosperity, change, national unity, a creative Canada, a socially just Canada, a sustainable Canada. We have consistently fought greed, special interests, poverty, complacency, hate and division.
Successful businesses, prosperous enterprises that lead the country into new markets, embracing new technologies, this has always been the Liberal way. We do not resent success and we do not punish failure.
At the same time, we have understood that the prosperity of the few is never enough, that we need to ensure that equality of opportunity has real traction, and that if we achieve wealth by polluting the world for future generations we have done ill, and not good.
So the Liberal story is the story of the creation of old age pensions for every Canadians, of laws to establish minimum wages, to advance collective bargaining, to ensure safety in the workplace, to create hospital insurance and then medicare across the country, to bring in the baby bonus and then the child tax credit, to open up our immigration system, to create the Canada Pension Plan, to establish human rights commissions to ensure diversity has meaning, to create a national flag even when others wanted to stick with the past, to abolish capital punishment to insist on a bilingual country so Quebeckers would know that Canada belongs to them as much as anywhere else, to balance budgets when others said it couldn’t be done, to carrying on the fight of our lives for a Canadian constitution with a charter of rights and freedoms, to working with others for peacekeeping, for a landmines treaty, for an international criminal court, for a Canada that accepts its international obligations, from the UN Charter to the Kyoto Accord on Climate Change, the Liberal tradition is a powerful narrative for our country.
Looking ahead these ideas and ideals, this understanding of who we are and what we fight for is critically important. But let us understand that Canadians want us to keep fighting, want us to make our country better and stronger, and want us to serve Canada at our best.
Canadians know we can’t take our prosperity for granted, but they want us to understand that in the last several years the prosperity of some has left others behind. The historic bargain we made as a country after the great Depression – that we would ensure that the ruination of the most vulnerable would simply not happen, and that hard work would be rewarded with a good wage, with an affordable house and education, with accessible health care and a decent pension, this bargain has come unstuck. Most of the people in Canada feel vulnerable in this country because they are vulnerable, and it is the job of the Liberal Party to replace that fear and frustration with hope, and to ensure that a new and fair bargain between and among Canadians is established, nurtured, and honoured by governments and business.
The answer to fear and frustration is not complacency and it is not protectionism. There is a growing gap between rich and poor, and it is up to the Liberal Party to create policies that will ensure our prosperity is widely and deeply shared.
We shall let others defend greed, protectionism and rampant self-interest. Liberals know we can’t take prosperity for granted, and we can’t assume that the market alone will solve our problems.
We need to get serious about reforming our tax system to ensure that it is the most efficient and the fairest in the world. Too many of our taxes punish job creation. Too many of our tax credits reward those that have, and mean that low income Canadians can”t take advantage of them. Lowering all taxes on big business without requiring they get off the sidelines and start investing is bad tax policy, bad economics, and just plain wrong.
This convention has pointed the way to change and we now have to put that change into action.
We need to get more Canadians engaged in the political process than ever before. We need an Ottawa winter to be followed by a Canadian spring, where Canadians by the thousands are involved as never before in creating a better country.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.