I have had the great privilege over the past several months to travel our vast and beautiful country. Whether in Nelson, B.C., Brandon, Man., Mississauga, Montmagny, Que., or Sydney, N.S., it has been a thrilling and enlightening experience to engage with Canadians from all walks of life. Since this summer, I’ve travelled to more than 60 cities, towns and villages, listening to the concerns of teachers, truck drivers, farmers and small business owners.
Everywhere I go I’m hearing a yearning for something new, something better.
Canadians asked for open and honest government; instead they have been saddled with secrecy, cynicism and rampant ethical scandals. Canadians wanted a focus on families, jobs and security; instead they have suffered through political gamesmanship and gimmicks. And in the midst of all this, the Harper Conservatives have neglected the most pressing issue facing the country – the fact that middle class Canadians have not had a decent raise in 30 years.
Governments of all political stripes have been elected and re-elected on economic platforms which prioritized openness to trade, fiscal discipline, tax competitiveness, and investment in skills, research and infrastructure. Middle-class Canadians were convinced to support this agenda because they were promised that this growth would create prosperity – for them. Unfortunately, that simply has not happened. The only thing middle-class Canadians have seen grow at a level approaching GDP is household debt.
For wealthier Canadians, an urgent conclusion must be drawn: if we fail to solve this problem, Canadians’ anxiety will grow, and eventually, they will stop supporting a growth agenda. Consequently, we will all be worse off.
The stake is equal or greater for those Canadians who struggle with lower incomes. Central to the ideal of progress is the promise that upward mobility is a realistic possibility for all. Yet Canadians now feel they are more likely to fall out of the middle class into poverty than vice-versa.
And let’s be clear – this is more than just an economic problem. As middle class Canadians grow more anxious, it becomes harder and harder to solve every other problem we face as a nation. This includes issues that stem from a key principle upon which this country was founded – equality of opportunity.
Millions of Canadians share in the belief that in a fair society, their hard work should result in a decent standard of living and better prospects ahead for themselves and their families.
Our seniors have worked extremely hard over the years, and we must ensure that they receive the support they have worked for and deserve. Healthcare, home care, pensions: these items, in particular, must be protected and reinforced.
Likewise, we have a responsibility to do more to support our young people. This means tackling youth unemployment rates – which are twice as high as the national average – and protecting young workers from exploitation via illegal unpaid internships. It also means guaranteeing Canadians access to affordable, high quality, lifelong education, a crucial policy goal because of its importance to creating a strong middle class.
This is why, as Parliament returns this week, I am recommitting to stay focused on the priorities of hardworking Canadians. The Prime Minister may prefer to focus on the politics of the day and on making personal attacks against me, but I will remain focused on Canadians; on finding solutions for families who are looking to get ahead, provide for their children and loved ones; on enhancing and championing the prospects of middle class Canadians, seniors and youth; on raising the bar on openness and accountability; and on fighting for an inclusive, united Canada where our diversity is held up as a strength and never a weakness.
The people whose common values bind this country together have been left out long enough. It is time we had political leadership in this country that is devoted to changing this.
That is my commitment to Canadians: At an early age I learned just how optimistic, compassionate and hardworking the people who live across this extraordinary land truly are. I trust you. And I intend to spend each and every day working hard to earn your trust.
Justin Trudeau is leader of the Liberal Party of Canada