rime Minister Paul Martin’s first speech from the throne contained a number of initiatives of interest for HR practitioners and organizations across the country.
The speech, read by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson on Feb. 2, raised a wide variety of workplace issues including building a 21st century economy and lifelong learning.
“When we look around us at Canada today, we see many strengths, many achievements — a society with an enviable quality of life and so much potential, so much talent,” said Clarkson. “We want a strong economy for the 21st century, with well-paying and meaningful work; ready at the forefront of the next big technological revolution; and built on a solid fiscal foundation.”
Martin’s speech from the throne put an emphasis on investing in people.
“Investing in people will be Canada’s most important economic investment,” said Clarkson. “The government’s goal is to ensure that a lack of financial resources will not be allowed to deny, to those with motivation and capacity, the opportunity to learn and aspire to excellence in pursuing a skilled trade, a community college diploma or university degree.”
Clarkson said workers must have the opportunity to upgrade their skills, improve their literacy, learn on the job and move onto the path of lifelong learning.
“The government will therefore refine and enhance its programs to encourage skills upgrading, in concert with sector councils, unions and business,” she said. “The government will also work with provinces to update labour market programming to better reflect the realities of work in the 21st century, such as the growth of self-employment and the need for continuous upgrading of skills.”
Canada needs to deepen its talent pool by ensuring more successful integration of new immigrants into the economy and into communities, said Clarkson.
“Immigrants have helped to build Canada from its inception and will be key to our future prosperity,” she said. “The government will do its part to ensure speedier recognition of foreign credentials and prior work experience. It will also implement measures to inform prospective immigrants and encourage the acquisition of necessary credentials before they arrive in Canada.”
Overhauling student loans
The government is planning on working with provinces and territories to modernize the Canada Student Loans Program and improve grants and loans to increase access for middle- and low-income families and their children to reflect the rising cost of education.
Plans to change the loans program include:
•increasing loan limits;
•broadening the list of eligible expenses to include new essentials such as computers;
•raising family income thresholds to improve access for middle income families;
•improving loan terms for part-time students;
It also plans to provide a new grant for low-income students to cover a portion of the tuition cost for the first year of post-secondary education.
“The answer to improved access must go beyond simply more generous loans, because a growing debt load poses its own limits, both psychologically and financially,” said Clarkson.
She also said low-income families need to participate more in setting up things like registered education savings plans and called their participation “disappointingly low.”
“The government will therefore create new incentives that truly work to encourage low-income families to begin investing, right from the birth of their children, for their long-term education,” said Clarkson.
Helping the disabled in the workplace
Part of the speech focused on Canadians with disabilities and their ability to contribute in the workplace.
“Many Canadians with disabilities are ready to contribute but confront difficult obstacles in the workplace and in their communities,” said Clarkson. “We want a Canada in which citizens with disabilities have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from Canada’s prosperity as learners, workers, volunteers and family members.”
She said the country can’t turn its back on people who provide care and a life of dignity for family members with severe disabilities. Clarkson said the federal government will start by working with the provinces and territories to fill the gaps in education and skills development and in workplace supports and accommodation for people with disabilities.
“(Ottawa) will lead by example in supporting the hiring, accommodation and retention of Canadians with disabilities in the government of Canada — the nation’s largest employer — and in federally regulated industries,” she said.
The speech highlighted the plight of Aboriginal Canadians and outlined a number of initiatives to help.
“The conditions in far too many Aboriginal communities can only be described as shameful,” said Clarkson. “This offends our values. It is in our collective interest to turn the corner. And we must start now.”
As part of efforts to improve life for Aboriginals, the government will focus on education and skills development because “this is a prerequisite to individual opportunity and full participation,” she said.
The federal government plans to work with the provinces, territories and Aboriginal partners in a renewed Aboriginal HR development strategy.
Building a 21st century economy
The speech looked ahead to what was needed to build a strong economy in Canada and outlined where the country should be a decade from now.
“We want a Canada that is a world leader in developing and applying the path-breaking technologies of the 21st century — biotechnology, environmental technology, information and communications technologies, health technologies and nanotechnology,” said Clarkson. “Applying these capabilities to all sectors to build globally competitive firms, from start-ups to multinationals. And creating high-quality jobs that will meet the ambitions of young Canadians and keep them in this country, working to build an even greater Canada.”
Other points in building a 21st century economy included:
•making Canada a magnet for capital and entrepreneurs from around the world;
•ensuring the increasing number of women entrepreneurs have every opportunity to succeed and contribute a vital new dimension to the economy;
•building on innovation with world-class universities, smart regulation and innovative financing to make Canada a global leader in the “commercialization of bright ideas”;
•ensuring the benefits of a new economy are being reaped across the country — in agriculture, fishing, forest and mining industries and in rural communities where “modern communications are helping to surmount the barrier of distance.”