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Interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae at his home in Toronto, Ont. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae at his home in Toronto, Ont. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Canada Competes

Bob Rae on how to fix the skills gap: first fix immigration Add to ...

It’s starting to happen, and progressive employers across the country, particularly in northern Canada, are realizing that the aboriginal population is going to be a critical work force. They live in the north, they understand the north and, increasingly in forestry and mining, you’re seeing a lot of employers saying we have to engage here, because it’s in our interests to do so, and it’s in the interests of aboriginal people.

What about the role of women? There are a lot of women who are opting out of careers because child care is so expensive. Is that part of the conversation?

It needs to be. It certainly has been – there was a time when [former MP] Ken Dryden and others were working on a national childcare strategy. Quebec is one province that is taking it very seriously. But even in Quebec, there aren’t enough spaces. It’s affordable, but if you can’t get into the program, it’s just not there. It’s a critical issue. One of the facts that I discovered when I did an education review for [former Ontario] premier [Dalton] McGuinty five years ago is that we have a gap between men and women in high school and university completion, but it’s not the gap we used to have. We actually have a majority of women in law school, in med school, in a great many professions. They’re starting to catch up in engineering in a dramatic way. There is a quiet revolution under way in the work force. Where it breaks down is when women start having children. At that point, it puts a tremendous burden on the family, and on women in particular. And until we have a progressive policy on child care across the country, the gap between the skills that are there and the people who are actually able to work will continue to grow.

What is all of this doing to our place in the world, in terms of our economy and innovation?

There’s no ground for complacency, but we also shouldn’t beat ourselves up to the point of saying we haven’t got anything right and we’re falling badly behind. The fact of the matter is, we start the race with some tremendous advantages. We have a very strong base in natural resources. We have a relatively skilled work force. We have a very diverse population. We have broader access to, and participation in, education than virtually any country in the world. The problem we face is that the world changes so quickly and economies change so quickly and the rate of technological innovation changes so quickly that we can’t afford as a country to say we’re doing just fine. I think we have to be more conscious of the need for some common policies between the provinces and the federal government, much greater dialogue between educators and business leaders, and a much keener awareness of how to meet the challenges of globalization more effectively. Because we’re a relatively small economy. We face these huge trading blocks around us – the Americans, the Europeans, the dramatic transformation that is taking place in Asia that won’t slow down – and we’ve got to do more to get our act together. It’s not good enough to say everything will be fine. Because it won’t be fine.

If you could make a pitch to the young people of today, what would you say?

Do what you really believe in, and don’t let anybody tell you you’ve got to do this or that. I’ve always said to my own kids, don’t let me tell you what profession you should follow. Take your future into your own hands. But never underestimate the value of education. And by that I mean, never underestimate the value of learning skills, whether it’s languages or technical skills or whatever. Because they will serve you well into the future – not only professionally, but also in terms of how much you get out of life.


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