I wish you and yours a joyous and relaxing holiday season. This December, I hope that you get to take a little time off and to share the company of those who matter most to you.
I’m honoured and humbled by the trust that Don Valley West residents have put in me by returning me to office on October 10th and I’m very excited to return to my duties as Minister of Education, and to take on the new role of Chair of Cabinet.
Since 2003, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of LBPA businesses. In the coming years, I would like to continue to visit your businesses to get to know your work and the particular issues you face. As always, if you are interested in having me visit your business or have a provincial-government issue with which I may be able to assist you, please contact my constituency office.
During the recent election campaign, much attention was paid to the possible funding of private religious schools, and we heard a good deal about the province’s relationship with the city of Toronto and concerns about Education, Health Care and the Environment. But, this time out on the campaign trail, I heard very little concern in the electorate about the economy.
Notwithstanding that, for me and for our government, economic issues are very much front of mind as we enter our new mandate.
Although overall job numbers have been good – our unemployment rate is down to a flat 6% for the first time a long time – the high dollar is putting real pressure on manufacturers and exporters. To combat the challenges facing our manufacturing sector, we have committed to expand our Next Generation Jobs Fund to $1.15 billion to support job creation in green technologies, health and biotech research, creative industries, and pharmaceutical research and manufacturing. We will create a second career strategy to help people who suffer job losses build new skills and find employment. And, we have sent a strong message to the federal government that the strength of the dollar is a major concern for Ontario.
We face significant worker shortages in the skilled trades. We’ve committed to increase the number of apprenticeships by 25% over the next four years. But, we need to do more to change the attitude in society that says that a university education is better than a college education, which is in turn better than a trade. There are good jobs out there for people going un-filled while some of our young people are being left behind.
We face an important challenge in finding the right balance between providing affordable energy while encouraging conservation and ensuring that we have the electricity supply we need in the long-term. More generally, as issues of sustainability and conservation take centre stage in the public imagination, there is a need to make sure on the one hand that we are providing the necessary protection our ecosystem in the long-term, while at the same time making sure that our approach doesn’t create immediate term shocks to the economy.
Finally, we face a persistent productivity gap with the United States. The US produces on the order of 20% more per worker than we do. It’s not an issue that has political traction yet, but in many ways, it’s the key to our long-term prosperity. Sustainable increases in the standard of living require sustained increases in productivity.
So, we have to look to unleashing the creative power of industry and providing industry with the best educated, healthiest workforce we can. While maintaining a balanced budget, we have committed to eliminating the capital tax, reducing business property taxes, and reducing red tape with a new requirement that for any new regulation that is put in place, an old one must be removed. Combined with our continued work in Education and Health, I believe that those steps will make a start down the path to competitiveness on the productivity front.
These are challenging and exciting times in Ontario. I look forward to the years ahead.