Rehosted below is a speech by Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister for Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister for National Defence, given to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in February 2016.
Good day ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for having me here today
This is my first time at the Chamber since the wonderful people of Calgary Centre sent me to Ottawa late last year. It was a true privilege to serve my constituents and Albertans in the good old days at the Legislature and I see my role now as MP and Minister as a continuation of that work – with an ever larger and more diverse constituency.
The opportunity to work with my caucus colleagues from across Canada is rewarding, and being a strong voice for Calgary and Alberta at the cabinet table is a tremendous privilege and responsibility that I do not take lightly.
When I decided to do this, a year and 8 months ago, I thought it was very important for this city to have a Liberal in Ottawa. Calgary has 8 Conservative MPs to hold our government to account and I appreciate them being there, but at this point in time, you have two members that are your voice in Ottawa.
We are bringing the regional perspective to our caucus and cabinet colleagues and in that respect, I think it very important that Calgary elected Liberals.
There are three things I would like to talk about today – my work as Minister, our economic plan for the country, and of course, the oil and gas industry.
Prime Minister Trudeau has a very ambitious agenda and has given me an aggressive mandate as Minister of Veteran Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.
I was proud that the Prime Minister put our mandate letters online. This was a small, but very important gesture in my opinion, one that leads to more openness and transparency about what we are trying to accomplish.
Following my appointment, my very first priority was to hire more staff in order to offer a higher standard of service and care to the men and women who have served our country – and their families.
We committed to reopening all of the closed Veterans Affairs Services offices. These are important points of contact, to get Vets the services they need.
We said we would look at new ways to address mental health. And we will create two new centres of excellence, one of which will specialize on this very issue.
We will also work to improve services that help our Veterans find jobs, contribute to the civilian workforce and share the unique skill sets they have acquired during their service.
And, we are reviewing a broad range of benefits to ensure that Veterans are getting the care they need, when and where they need it.
I look forward to sharing more details and milestones on these important priorities in the weeks and months to come.
But what underpins this work, and is really the cornerstone of my mandate is consultation – rebuilding those important relationships with our Veterans and the organizations that represent them.
Within days of my appointment, I reached out to key stakeholders and convened a summit in Ottawa – it was their chance to be heard, to exchange ideas and to share their priorities.
I will continue to consult broadly with Veterans and look forward to hearing from them throughout my mandate.
One of my favourite Remembrance Day events is the ceremony at Western Canada, where we remember the young men and women, often in their teens, who served our country and in some cases, lost their lives. Commemoration of the sacrifices that all Veterans have made for our country is an important part of my job.
I want to make it clear that I do believe we owe a duty to those men and women who have served this country, and I know the majority of Canadians agree with me – and I will ensure that we work harder serve them with the compassion, care and respect they deserve.
I know you came here today to listen to me, but my job as the elected member of Calgary Centre is to listen to you. My door, and my mind, will always remain open to your input and ideas and those of my constituents. We were elected on a mandate of real change, and part of that real change is a commitment to evidence based decisions and consultation with all of you.
As I prepared for this speech, I read the Chambers report about the 2015 federal budget. What I noted, was that the Chamber expressed similar concerns with regards to Infrastructure investment that my party did while in opposition.
During the campaign, we made a very firm commitment to increase infrastructure investment, which contributes to improving and maintaining healthy communities. We know that this leads to greater access to human resources for you and your members and as communities thrive, businesses thrive.
Transit infrastructure investment will also contribute to your bottom line; congestion costs Canadian businesses in excess of $3.7 billion annually, and over $120 million every year here in Calgary alone. Getting people moving better, faster and more cost effectively isn’t something we should do; it is something we MUST do.
We know it has been a difficult few years here in Alberta. Back when your report was written about the 2015 budget, on April 30th, a barrel of oil was just under $60, in July of 2014 it was over $105 a barrel.
It now sits around $30.
Any industry that sees its commodity’s value drop by over 70% over a period of 24 months is going to experience significant losses and the communities that rely on those industries will be devastated. The small businesses, families and individuals who thrived in 2014, may be struggling today.
These historic lows will not be addressed overnight, there are no easy fixes. Alberta has felt the brunt of the impact, with job losses numbering in the tens of thousands and unemployment at 10 year highs. That is the reality. Times are tough and we are acutely aware of this.
But I am here to tell you today, as the Prime Minister did last week, that you are not alone. Canada will not forget the contributions Alberta has made to the prosperity of the entire country.
Last week, the Prime Minister, Minister Carr and yours truly met here in Calgary with the Premier and with industry leaders to discuss how the federal government can help. The Prime Minister is committed to re-establishing relationships with Provinces and Cities that have long been neglected.
Conversations lead to understanding and collaboration, and we know that we are stronger together, than we ever could be apart. I assure you that the current economic trend is not Alberta’s challenge, it is Canada’s challenge, and we will meet it together.
This Friday will mark the 100th day since our cabinet was named and I want to highlight some of what we have already done.
One of our first acts was to reduce taxes to the middle class. This was a commitment made during the campaign, to help middle class Canadians and those working hard to join it. This tax cut will put more money in to 9 out of every 10 Canadians pockets. We know that close to 80% of your businesses rely directly or indirectly on consumer spending and a thriving middle class will lead to thriving small and medium sized businesses.
We quickly restored the long form census for 2016, and once again, communities have access to the high-quality data they require to make informed decisions that will truly reflect the needs of their people, businesses, institutions and organizations.
Last week, the Prime Minister confirmed that $700 million in Infrastructure funds would start flowing to Alberta in the weeks ahead. Those investments in projects identified by our Provincial partners and their municipal partners will create thousands of jobs and generate economic benefits for many of you.
There is more to come post-budget, so stay tuned.
Our commitments and participation on the international stage have already been praised. Our return to the forefront of the fight against climate change in Paris will have long lasting and significant economic and social benefits here in Alberta. Our Prime Minister is looking for more international trade opportunities and foreign investment in Canada, his success at the Davos economic summit will pay dividends in the years ahead.
I often say that the Liberal Platform was made for Alberta, and as our government continues to roll out what we promised in the platform, what was set out in the speech from the throne, and what will come out of Budget 2016, it is my sincere hope that Albertans will share my view.
Albertans are coming around to the idea that infrastructure investments are wise investments and a prudent approach for governments to be taking at this time. The economy is sluggish, the bank of Canada is keeping our interest rates low, and economists have said – this is the time for investment, this is the time to borrow money, this is the time to get some important work done.
We are talking about LRT, housing, water supply management, flood mitigation; these are projects that need to be done. These are not make-work projects. Let’s do them now, and ensure when the economy picks up, that we have a strong infrastructure that will support our industries.
Speaking of industries, some in this room may be concerned with what is happening in oil and gas. On this topic, I’ll say this;
This government understands that we need to get our product to tidewater and not only that, but we need partners overseas to buy our product. We also need access to the United States.
But for success, we need a process that allows for communities, first nations and people who are concerned about the environment to take part. I truly believe we are on a path to get our product to market with science, reason and common sense.
There was a time three years ago when the European Union was one vote away from saying no to Canadian oil. I think it is important to remember that fact. So what we are doing now is showing the world – we have a government who recognizes that climate change is real and that we are committed to having conversations at the community level, to build public trust in our approach so that we can move forward in a thoughtful manner that will see success for our industry in the long run.
Our government cannot control the price of oil, but what we can do, is work together, build partnerships, listen and share, and build the nation for the long run.
The oil and gas industry brings in $130B in GDP to this country and 40% of oil and gas jobs are in provinces other than Alberta. That is not lost on us. We are working towards the ability to get through this, and towards a stronger economy.
But even if a pipeline was built tomorrow it would not be a quick fix for this problem – simply because of the price of oil. The oil and gas industry is not just important to Calgary, it is also important to Alberta and it is very important to the whole country.
For those of you who think my caucus colleagues don’t understand this, I can tell you this, if they didn’t before, they do now. I am making sure of that.
And so what lies ahead you may ask; what will Budget 2016 bring? I can tell you that this budget will be one that has input from more Canadians than ever before.
Just yesterday I was in the beautiful city of Lethbridge at the Chamber listening and learning from them, what their concerns are, and what they would like to see in the Budget.
The Finance Minister will work with his provincial counterparts and continue to engage with Canadians before presenting the budget in the weeks to come.
It is an honour and privilege for me to be here, to have served for the last 8 years in the Alberta Legislature and to then be elected to a National Government has been a sincere joy. I was always the kid in the elevator who wanted to talk to people and now people want to chat back.
I am in this business for two reasons, one – hopefully good public policy in the long run, and I think we are on the right track. Two – getting to share my life with people. I truly enjoy the work I get to do, and I thank you for being here and part of the process.
Last week I said that the best is yet to come for Canada and for Alberta, and I was pleased to read that your President Adam Legge echoed those sentiments here, he said “Anything is Possible” about the challenges we face. I will close with a quote from his speech as it seems so appropriate to what else lies ahead and sums up my thoughts.
“By thinking that anything is possible, we are not waiting for the bottom. We are defining the bottom. We are Alberta. The place that does not let the world happen to us. But the place that takes its future in its own hands. By doing so, we will find our way out. It will not happen overnight. But it will happen.”
It will happen, we will do it together, let’s get to work.
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