Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paul Martin: Invest in early childhood learning now

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.

"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."

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Stephen said...

During 2004, Martin's last full year in power, Canada's level of spending on Early Childhood Education and Child Care was the lowest in the industrialized world, at about one half of one percent of GDP, according to OECD figures.

This was more than a decade after the Red Book had promised significant action on the file.

See page 116, figure 4.6 of the Early Years II report issued in March of 2007.

On March 26, 2007, the Liberals issued a press release on the occasion of the report, noting Canada's dismal ranking.

It said: "According to the report, Canada spends just 0.25 per cent of its GDP on early childhood programs, whereas other developed countries spend up to 2 per cent."

What the press release neglected to mention was that Canada had achieved this distinction under the Liberals.

Jeff said...

There's lots you can do with numbers but yes, the Liberals had a long way to go on this front. But under Paul Martin, we were making real progress.

A challenge has always been getting provincial jurisdiction, and over the course of the Martin governments, Ken Dryden diligently negotiated individual agreements with the provinces that put multi-year funding in place, and built a framework that would have and could have been built on further.

Unfortunately, we lost government so that couldn't happen, the real momentum that Dryden had generated disappeared, and the Cons have done nothing. And now, those Dryden agreements are expiring and the Cons aren't replacing the funding, leaving the provinces to either make up the shortfall themselves or see thousands of daycare spots disappear.

Stephen said...

I agree about the Cons' poor record on this file.

susansmith said...

I'm sure if the liberals are elected they will dust off that old liberal redbook promise and trot it out again - nothing like empty promises.

I'm sorry but really this was a govt in power with 3 majority govts, 1 minority govt and only in the very dying days of a minority govt that it finally trotted national childcare out - sorry - but liberals are a laugh on this.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see Paul Martin push ideals that he had while he was PM.
At least he was sincere - and on early childhood completely right.

burlivespipe said...

Nice to see the defeatist attitudes of Stephen and JanfromBollocks remain intact. There's nothing that can't be done unless it was once promised and not delivered! No doubt they'd like to dust off that ol' CCF party plank and spread that gospel. Some unpleasant truths during those times but then to repeat those would mean i'm just copying Stephen and Yawn's boring spiel.