Speeches | Speech from the Throne—Motion for Address in Reply

10 December 2015

Hon. Grant Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am very happy that you are sitting in that important seat in this chamber. My colleagues and I would like to extend to you our heartfelt congratulations.

I know that I am supposed to speak to the Governor General and through him to the Queen, but I wanted to acknowledge the presence of the Speaker in the chair and congratulate him for ascending to that position. I know that we all appreciate that he will do a great job, as he has already proven to this point.

I must say, colleagues, that I was struck as I was thinking about responding to the Speech from the Throne that this is the first time in my 23 years in two separate legislatures that I have had the chance to respond to a Speech from the Throne from a government that I actually voted for. There was a moment or two when I was at a loss for words. I turned to my wife and I said, "Teresa, what am I to say?" And she said, "Just say 'all good'," and sit down. We agreed with the "all good," but there are a few things I want to highlight and in fact push the government on to some extent, to raise with the government.

Clearly, those of you who have listened to me speak, and I'm sure it's not all of you over the last number of years, will know I am concerned about climate change and about the environment, and that I am deeply concerned about that. Also, as a representative of Alberta and Alberta's energy economy, I am very concerned about the way in which those two elements could be blended. One of the things I would like to highlight in the Throne Speech is the statement that the government makes very clearly, which is that protecting the environment and growing the economy are not incompatible goals. In fact, our future success demands that we do both.

I think that that is a breakthrough realization on the part of the Canadian government. It's fundamentally important that we understand it and that, as a chamber, we assist in pushing the government to make sure they find a way to do those two things properly and effectively in the context of knowing that if we do the environment properly we can do energy properly, and we can in fact stimulate a 21st century economy perhaps unlike anything in a positive way that we've been able to imagine.

I have said it before and will say it again: We restructured our economy to win the Second World War, and that did not ruin our economy. That created one of the most successful western industrialized economies in the western world and has sustained an unprecedented level of quality of life for most Canadians for upwards of 70 years. Dealing with the environment properly, dealing with climate change, isn't a threat to our economy. Not dealing with climate change is a threat to our economy. In fact, it's an infinite risk. If we deal with it and deal with it effectively, we will stimulate, catalyze, the 21st century economy comparable to what happened after the war in this country, but for a new century at a new time.

I would like to emphasize that there are a couple of things that are very important. I will make a point about the concern that some people have expressed about establishing targets. I would really congratulate the Minister of Environment for the fact that she has established the 1.5 per cent as a working target. There are those who say the target is too tight and the targets are too low and we can't be doing that. As I was thinking about that argument, I recall an interesting seminar I attended with my wife Teresa on a trip to Goldsmiths College at the University of London in London, England. It was a celebration for the opening of a new and creative innovation centre. It was premised upon bringing together people from science, computing science, music, literature and the arts to understand and study the forces and the power that inspires creativity.

It was very revealing because the theme of that celebration, the theme of the many speakers that presented there, was how it is that if we put parameters around ourselves we actually inspire greater creativity than if we just open everything up. It's the pressures of having to overcome certain obstacles and parameters that actually stimulate creativity. They did that in many different ways.

There was one presenter who was a computer scientist and also a very good musician, and he had composed three compositions using progressively fewer notes. He was not allowed to use certain notes. It was remarkable. There was a poem, a five-minute poem, that was presented without any words using the letter E, and it was amazing how creative that poet had become and that musician-scientist had become.

What I'm saying is that I believe that if we embrace and understand that the world is changing on climate change, that people are concerned about it, that markets are changing and that the energy future will not look the same tomorrow or the next day or 10 years from now as it does today, if we want to be part of it, we have to understand that and change with it. I'm not saying we do away with oil and gas. There is still a long time when that will be present and important in our economy. We know that; coming from Alberta particularly, we know that. But I also know that if we are not to be, as somebody said in a blog recently, the last investor in the buggy-whip company, we'd better figure out a way to generate renewable energy, to be competitive in scientific and intellectual property-type pursuits, to be innovative and to think about a new kind of economy for the future.

When it comes to climate change, I'd like to mention two things, through the Governor General, to our government that I think are important for this government to keep in mind.

First of all, it does have a political mandate to do something about climate change. The Prime Minister brought together the premiers to work together — imagine that — to confront that challenge. So the mandate exists, but what we need to be certain about is that there is the political will, the political credit, amongst the population of Canada to allow that to happen because we know that the best of political intentions can certainly be thwarted and stymied by a democratic public that isn't inclined to agree with what the government wants to do or how it wants to do it.

I think there is general agreement, clearly stated by the electorate: 70 per cent voted against a government that wouldn't even talk about climate change; 70 per cent voted for parties that are determined to do something about climate change. I think there is a mandate.

How do we sustain the will? How do we build the credit? How do we build the consensus amongst Canadians so that that mandate can be fulfilled effectively? I believe it comes down to consultation with the public. There are new methodologies. There is a great deal of research, a great deal of practice now with new consultative methodologies. They come under the category of deliberative democracy, and they do two things. They allow governments or other organizations to solicit the public, to solicit experts as well — stakeholders — to get ideas. But they also, in the same process, allow the building of consensus amongst those stakeholders, the public and other organizations, which allows action to be taken and to be taken effectively.

It's a given. We are going to deal with carbon, and it's pretty clear that we're going to have a carbon price one way or another, in some cases with a carbon tax and, in other provinces, with cap and trade. Either way, there is going to be a carbon price in this country. It's also clear that the government is committed to funding renewable energy, funding conservation, funding green projects for the future, green infrastructure. But the question is, once we've accepted that these things are on the agenda — and they are — how do we get the best ideas from the public and from stakeholders so that we know we're doing them in the best possible way? If we consult properly, if we use modern technologies and other techniques that allow for that input, we also create a national debate, perhaps a passionate national debate, about that. We can bring people together, and we can set direction and build consensus around ideas about the way to do that most effectively. That's the first thing that I say to the government, that we need to structure a public debate across this country, based on consultative techniques. There are very modern, effective technologies, techniques and methodologies for doing that, and I would push them and encourage the government to undertake those.

Second, a feature of confronting a new energy future is new technologies. There is a very interesting model in Calgary, based in southern Alberta, called TECTERRA. I don't know whether Senator Tannas is aware of it, but he might well be. Perhaps Senator Black and others from Alberta would be. TECTERRA is a group of business people and high-tech academics who got together voluntarily and said, "What is one area where Alberta has advanced in technological development, for example?" They came across one, among many others. It was geospatial technology, basically GPS used in sophisticated ways, for example, used to make sure that when you're tunneling 32 metres under the ground for a sewage tunnel, you don't have to keep adjusting to make sure you're going straight. There are many success stories now in Alberta with that kind of advanced technology. So they said, "Okay, we have some kind of advantage there. We have advancement there. We have a base in academia and a base in business. We have a tech sector that has already embraced that particular area — geospatial technology. What can we do to facilitate that? Rather than have government pick winners and losers, what if we set up a group, called TECTERRA, of business people, scientists, academics, people who are high-tech specialists in this area, who could take grant money from the Alberta government in this case and from the federal government and decide where to put that and make judgments, on a business basis, on where to put that, rather than having government doing that directly? So they set up this remarkable group and a remarkable process that operates like a business, is non-profit, screens their applications extremely carefully with expertise and ensures that the way that they contribute the money to the business meets two criteria: one, it has to go to a project that the business wouldn't otherwise do but has the expertise in and interest in doing — so it's new; it's breakthrough — and two, it has to be structured in a way that doesn't limit that business's ability to go to the capital markets to get more money. It's very carefully done and very smartly done, and what's happened is that they have had a tremendous amount of success.

Over the five years that they have existed, they have put out about $35 million. They have had $139 million of actual economic impact, with new projects, new technologies, developments and companies in Alberta, and $157 million in Canada. They think that the projects that are now in place will have a $300 million impact by 2018. Two hundred and forty-three new jobs have been created and supported in Alberta, and 303 have been created in Canada. Two hundred and eighty-three professionals are engaged in technological development and commercialization as a result of these projects, almost 400 in Canada. Also, 121 small and medium-sized enterprises — that's the area that they focus on — have been supported, 182 in Canada. I could go on, but the point that I want to make is that it has been extremely successful in the way that it has developed technologies, inspired business and not been a waste of money. All the projects don't necessarily work out. But most have worked out, and they have returned development and income and jobs well beyond the money that has been invested and would have otherwise been invested in different ways by governments. That's a model that could be used more broadly for green technology and renewable energies, not just for geospatial technology, and it's something that I encourage the government to consider.

Underlining both of my points about the improvement of the environment really is the fact that the environment and dealing with climate change will be essential to the economy and my idea for generating effective investment in green technologies and renewable energies and technologies of the future.

Underlining both of those things is another point that is made in this Throne Speech that I want to emphasize. That point is the emphasis that the government is placing on supporting young Canadians and their effort to get post-secondary education, to make that post-secondary education more affordable. Any of us who have had — Could I have a few more minutes, Your Honour?

The Hon. the Speaker: Do honourable senators agree that Senator Mitchell be granted an additional five minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Mitchell: Thank you very much.

I want to emphasize that clearly the kind of economy that I am contemplating, that I know colleagues are contemplating and the government is contemplating for the future will be premised upon having the best educated population in the world. We probably do already. If not, we're awfully close, but we can do better.

It is a struggle for young people to afford post-secondary education. There are many cases, I expect, where young people are making the decision not to pursue that because they are concerned about the cost and the burden of a debt they may carry for many years to come. That is something that I am very happy for the government to emphasize.

I will close simply by saying that I was very encouraged to see that it's clear in the mandate letter to the Minister of Public Safety that there be a focus on cleaning up the culture of the RCMP.

It is not fixed. I don't receive cases daily, but I receive many cases of harassment, sexual harassment, of harassment of women and men.

Yesterday the Commissioner himself admitted that there are racists in the RCMP, and he doesn't want them there. He's been there for four years. What is he doing about it?

I don't think there is enough being done about it, and I am very glad to see that it is clear in the minister's mandate letter. I am extremely glad to hear that. I believe it was the first thing he mentioned publicly that he was going to deal with: harassment and the culture of the RCMP. That venerable institution, which is the epitome, the icon, of Canadian values, needs to be a place where Canadian men and women feel safe when they go to the office each and every day.

I know we've had some cross-house cooperation on that. We did that great study in the Senate committee. There is still much to be done, and I encourage the government and minister in their efforts to do it.

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