Former Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke this week at a conference on early childhood development in New Brunswick, where he made a strong pitch that now is the time to invest in this important area:
"Governments are going to tell you that early learning is something they simply cannot afford at this time. When they do, I might suggest you'd like to reply as follows," Martin advised.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers
"First, early childhood development should be an essential part of any economic stimulus package," he said to raucous applause. "More than anything else, it's the gift that keeps giving."
He compared today's situation to 1945, "when governments were broke because of World War II."
"They also feared a return to the depression of the 1930's," he said. "So they began to invest in the social infrastructure we have today -- better health care, better pensions, better education -- and the confidence this gave Canadians set Canada on the longest unbroken period of prosperity we have ever known in our history."
Saying the US economy will continue to grow in the future, but will "no longer be alone as the engine of growth," Martin said it will be joined by countries like China, India and Brazil and an expanding Europe, regions with whom Canada does not share an economically beneficial border.
"The world is about to get a heck of a lot more competitive," the long-time federal finance minister noted, saying in a world where China graduates more engineers each year than are working in all of Canada, an educated populace is crucial to maintaining prosperity.
"We are not going to compete with countries with populations approaching one billion on the basis of the number of people we have. We're going to compete with them on the basis of skill and innovation."
That's why early learning is the pathway to the future, Martin said. "We cannot afford to waste the talent of even one young Canadian."