Canada is an exceptionally large country with a relatively small population. We have an abundance of resources, territory, and bright ideas. One area where we consistently seem to fall short is in comprehensive planning. Unlike other G7 countries, we have no National Energy, Transportation, Environmental or Education Strategies. Instead we rely on a patchwork of different plans laid out by municipal or provincial governments that often doesn’t mesh from one province to the next, or even one city to the next.
The idea of a National Energy Strategy has been pushed forward by provincial premiers for quite some time, with discussions ongoing throughout numerous Energy and Mines Ministers meetings and numerous first ministers meetings. The strategy would work to find ways to bridge power generation of all types across the country to create a streamlined and likely profitable way to ensure electrical security and profitable energy exports. The development of the plan has a number of major holdouts. First, the Prime Minister and Federal Government, don’t see any need for it. Second, the ongoing spat between Alberta and BC regarding oil pipelines and profit-sharing arrangements has led to Alberta’s premier, the one that pushed the strategy the most, to hold any advancement in drafting it hostage.
When it comes to a National Environmental Strategy, the Federal Conservatives couldn’t be more against its development than currently. As a result of Bill C-38 in last spring’s sitting, they’ve effectively dismantled the environmental legislation. They’ve also systematically shut down any research facilities that investigated environmental phenomena, and are quite happy to sabotage the follow-up to the Kyoto accord. To make matters still worse, the Conservatives have given cabinet the ability to ignore data from any Enviornmental Assessments, provided they can claim that it’ll somehow be to the benefit of Canadians. The NDP & Green Parties have both been very vocal on having a single, overarching environmental strategy, and quite surprisingly, so has industry. Many oil producers have been calling for carbon taxes, and much of industry is begging to end the patchwork system so they can focus on one set of rules instead of a dozen.
Education has been the realm of the provinces throughout the lifespan of Canada, and there is precious little of it discussed on a national level. As a result, education in one province (or even in one college/university), can not be transferred to another. For example, if you’re trained as a Teacher in Ontario, you can’t take that B.Ed. to Alberta and teach there, despite the fact that Alberta desperately needs teachers for its booming population, and that you can toss a crumpled ball of paper randomly on a bus in Ontario and there’s a good chance you’ll hit a certified teacher that can’t get a job teaching in the province. A National Education Strategy, including post-secondary, secondary and elementary schooling, would allow for maximum mobility, create base standards, and help rectify many of the education gaps that develop between provinces. Additionally, the strategy could be used to greatly decrease the number of graduates in programs that don’t lead to jobs, while providing additional emphasis on areas where employees are required. Unfortunately, ulike a National Energy or Environmental Strategy, there is zero talk at either the Federal or Provincial levels about developing an education strategy.
Finally, a National Transit Strategy, designed to get cars for which we have no parking spaces off the road, and people using mass transit more often is something that must be seriously examined. The NDP’s Olivia Chow, the official opposition critic for transportation, has a bill going to vote on September 19th concerning the development of such a strategy(1). The bill is designed to determine ongoing funding to assist in developing and maintaining transit systems across the country. Transit has generally been the domain of municipalities, and the bill has garnered a lot of approval from that level. The bill falls short on one major area however: intercity transit. It contains no mechanisms for improving mass-transit possibilities between cities or provinces, which leaves fantastic projects like an Edmonton-Calgary Light Rail, or an Quebec City – Windsor Light Rail system out in the cold. These are areas where we should be greatly encouraging development and where municipalities, provinces, the Federal Government, and the private sector need to work together.
Canada likes to piece together disparate areas, with very different laws and ways of doing things. For a long time this has kept us going as a nation, but as the world continues to become more connected it is starting to hold us back. Without federal leadership in determining the overarching plans for Energy, Enviornment, Education and Transit, we’re starting to fall behind other G7 countries, even though we’re able to tread water during financial storms that temporarily wreck our peers. Continuing without a solid plan is going to begin to hamper us economically, preventing Canada from becoming the great nation it should become. We’ve been focussing a lot on the country’s economic problems, without examining some of the overarching areas that have lead us into this mess. The lack of national strategies in these four areas are a part of our economic problem, and only by taking action and developing those plans can we move forward.
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