Friday, March 26, 2010

Liveblogging Canada at 150

9:54 AM: Hi everyone. I'm settled into press row at the Liberal Canada at 150 policy conference in Montreal. It's actually overflow seating here on press row, big media turnout for day one. Liberal Arts and Minds is to my right, and fellow National Poster Don Martin is to my left. They should really switch spots, shouldn't they?

I'll be live-blogging the proceedings with this post, so check back and refresh it throughout the morning.

Just shot some video with Jean Chretien, will try to get it up soon. Also spotted: Paul Martin. John Turner has also been spotted, and Stephane Dion is supposed to be here.

10:06 AM: Don Martin has moved, now Leslie McKinnon from CBC is to my left. Hope I didn't scare Don off.

The conference co-chairs are now opening the conference. We had a media technical briefing earlier this morning. Among the highlights: the media (and bloggers) will be fed lunch. That's important, because a hungry media is an angry media.

Other more pertinent briefing details, though: the theme of the day is jobs. The keynoters will set the stage, then we'll get into the nitty-gritty. Michael Ignatieff will make a keynote, but then he'll be sitting in the room and listening like all the other participants.

Over the weekend, 70 satellite events will be held by local Liberals in ridings across Canada. Today, 20 are underway. One of the more ambitious is in Peterborough, which is holding its own three-day event, including townhalls with local speakers.

Much has been made of the presence of MPs. I'm told 1o to 12 will be here at different points during the weekend, all with policy or platform responsibilities. The rest are organizing riding-level satellite events to bring the event closer to local Liberals across Canada.

Also, a team of 10 party live bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers will be at at the event. It`s all being webcast at the Canada at 150 site, and I`m told they`ll be doing regular pre and post-game shows as well, so if you`re at home, tune in.

10:12 AM: A very nice welcome from a local First Nations chief, including an accapella rendition of O'Canada in what I believe was Mohawk. Hope Stephen Harper won't fiddle with the lyrics, it was very nice.

10:21 AM: Michael Ignatieff is giving the opening address now. He says he looks out at this room and says you’re described as intellectuals and thinkers, but you’re much more than that. You’re doers, man and women of action that have lived the dilemma of passing from reflection to action. That’s the challenge of this weekend. Reach out, be bold, but ask what’s doable and practicable.

An interesting bit of expectation-setting there, I think. Practicality is important for political parties, obviously, but so is thinking big, I belive.

He says the party held 50 public hearings during prorogation. What was incredible was the deep longing and learning of Canadians to speak to and demand more of their political representatives. Engage with us more, and more honestly.

10:27 AM: We’ve been here before, says Ignatieff. Lester Pearson called the Kingston Conference, which set the stage for a government that gave us medicare, pensions, and more. And Jean Chretien called the Alymer Conference, which helped set the challenges of the economic crisis Canada was then facing, and that the Liberal government conquered.

We’re here for our children, to leave them a better county.

Setting an objective, 2017 is very close. Ignatieff says it allows us to focus on what kind of country we want at age 150. He wants the most educated, the most green, and above all the most international, interested and engaged in the world. Competing, thriving, never settling for second best.

“I’m here to welcome controversy, I’m here to welcome passion, I’m here to welcome debate,” says Ignatieff. It can’t be a mutual admiration society, he wants heated debate and challenging ideas. “You can’t lead if you don’t listen, you can’t learn if you don’t listen, and if you don’t like hearing opposing ideas you shouldn’t be in this room.

10:41 AM: I’m backed, popped out of the room after Michael’s speech so I could get a simultaneous translation do-hickey and understand the French speakers. Such as Marie Bernard Meunier, a former Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands and Germany who is speaking now on the evolving global reality.

10:50 AM: Meunier makes a good point when, talking about the increasing about of information we have available to us in the digital age, we know more and more but understand less and less. As Oscar Wilde said, we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

She says he hopes after the next wave of austerity measures we’ll still have a foreign policy, and enough resources to implement it. We need a more robust foreign policy, and it needs to start in Canada. If we can’t get our act together internally, we won’t be taken seriously on the global stage. We need to engage diversity of stakeholders across Canada.

We also need more robust, or new, international organizations. But meat on the bones of G8, G20, make them real and relevant.

10:55 AM : Now speaking on emerging pressures and approaches in social policy is Sherri Torjman,Vice-President, Caledon Institute of Social Policy. Talking of advances such as medicare, she says a social agenda can’t be a trade-off for an economic agenda. We need both.

Speaks to importance of access to education, both economically and socially. Fighting poverty. Availability and spread of EI has narrowed, we should consider a guaranteed annual income, and welfare reform. We have many of the policy levers to address poverty issues, but she says there’s a poverty of interest and a poverty of will to really address the challenges.

Speaking to the importance of early childhood and learning. She points out (without mentioning the Liberals) that we had agreements in place across the country in 2003 that have now been allowed to lapse for a cash payments scheme that is a lot of money for not creating a single childcare spot. Also need to consider in-home caregivers, both for children and for seniors.

Should consider a modest caregiver allowance like in the UK, or build on existing programs. Don’t be distracted by low-hanging fruit, just topping up existing programs. Need targeted help where needed.

Pensions, and lack of retirement savings, is a major issue. Reform needed. Mandatory savings, perhaps?

Cost, how do we pay for it? She wants to look at boutique tax incentives to the wealthy going away, as well as, basically, corporate welfare. Also, look at preventative measures (such as crime prevention) to reduce the money we spent on prisons and incarcerating criminals.

11:10 AM: The wireless here at The Hyatt officially sucks. Apologies for the updates getting sporadic. I’ll take notes and upload as able.

11:12 AM: The phrase “fiscal imbalance” makes an appearance, and half the Liberal Party groans. Not in the room, though. Metaphorically. But she’s right that the challenges at the municipal and provincial levels are vast.

11:24 AM: There’s another speaker now but I’m still trying to get the Web to stop sucking, it’s really aggravating. I can’t post anything. Also, John Turner just sat down in front of me. He’s looking a little better than when I saw him last in Vancouver for convention.

11:43 AM: Web may be cooperating a bit again, fingers crossed. I'll try to get caught up.

11:39 AM: Up now is Rick Miner, professor emeritus at Senneca College. He’s giving a statistics-heavy presentation, focusing on changing demographic trends, and how the boomer retirees, birth rates and immigration impacts labout availability and the talent shortage. Basically, how many people do we need for the future economy, and are they out there? Right now, he says there’s a major gap. We have increasingly unemployable people, and growing the population alone isn’t enough. We need more education and a larger labour pool.

There’s no silver bullets, he says, no easy answers. But something has to change, or we face a future of jobs without people and people without jobs. Immigration also isn’t the answer, he says, and by and large it takes an immigrant 10 years to reach Canadian workforce participation levels. We need to work on that though, as well as Aboriginal participation rates. Also, we need to leverage disabled Canadians to raise their participation rates.

11:54 AM: Miner says we should consider bringing back more three-year bachelor programs. But says there needs to be an attitudinal change that post-secondary education must now be mandatory, it can no longer be optional for the new jobs.

Also, mentions the need to address adult literacy seriously.

We need 4 million more workers by 2031. Need to seriously invest in re-training, but it will pay off-long-term. The recession may have bought us a year, but we need to act now. And it can’t be left to the provinces, we need national leadership and a national strategy on education, it can’t be dismissed as a provincial issue alone.

11:59 AM: Miner will be wrapping shortly. So I will too. Expect a new blog shortly, or maybe tweets, for Ignatieff's press conference starting around 12:15.

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