Good to be here in Nova Scotia-home of the blue nose, home of Sydney Crosbie, home of Canada's navy-and I say with great pleasure and congratulations to Darrell Dexter and the NDP, Nova Scotia is now the home of the first social democratic government in Atlantic Canada!
You have come to Halifax from every region and every province in Canada, on the probable eve of the next federal election. In the midst of an economic crisis we are at a crossroads in our history. As a people, we Canadians can use the occasion to move decisively forward. Or we can stand still or even take two steps backwards. The choice will be ours to make. Today I want to show why, as a social democratic party, the NDP has never been more relevant to the hopes and desires of all those millions of Canadians who want both practical answers and social justice.
Before doing so I want to say a few words about our leader and my friend, Jack Layton. When elected as leader six years ago, Jack brought to the federal party not only a commitment to social democratic values and immense energy but also a record of leadership in driving health, housing and environmental agendas in Canada's largest city. He brought that energy and experience to national politics. And since then there have been three federal elections. During this time the NDP has been the only party to increase its standing in percentages and MPs in all three elections. Jack began with 13 MPS and brought us up to 37. When I left, we had a record 44. I want to say today that I have no doubt that either in the fall or the coming spring, under Jack's leadership we will break that record and elect the largest number of MPs in our history.
I now want to talk about ideology and practical politics, and I want to start by saying that for us, there's never been a time when our social democratic values have been more practical. This is a social democratic moment. It's a moment when governments of all stripes in advanced economies around the world have been forced by the economic crisis to acknowledge things we have always known, what we've always known about how the economy works and the important role of government. Even governments of the right, who created the current mess in the first place, have now had to adopt the kinds of policies we social democrats have advocated all along. So if ever there was a time for discussing the relevance of our values to practical politics and the daily lives of Canadians, it's now, when the whole world has experienced the disastrous consequences of three decades of an ideologically based attack on equality of citizenship and social programs, complemented by a general denigration of government and the virtual worship of markets.
I graduated from university 50 years ago this summer. For the first half of the period since then we Canadians created one of the most productive and equitable societies in the world. We ensured high economic growth rates were accompanied by a wide-ranging set of social entitlements. Under prodding by both the CCF and the NDP, it came to be understood that, left to its own devices, the market would be inherently unstable and produce a distribution of goods and services that was profoundly unfair. If most Canadians were to have half a chance at a good life of dignity, then governments had to act.
What emerged from this thinking was a Canada characterized by government pensions, universal health care, trade union rights, comprehensive unemployment insurance, the expectation that every boy and girl with ability could go to university-and all were paid for by adequate levels of progressive taxation. Achieving more equality in our everyday lives, we became a nation of greater social cohesion, made up of citizens who for the first time began to describe themselves as "sharing and caring". Having achieved greater social cohesion and equality, we became more tolerant and reached out to provide new freedoms, to women, to First Nations, to gays, to ethnic minorities and to the artistic community. These freedoms were best symbolized in the provisions of our new Charter of Rights and Freedoms.