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Harper vows 'major transformations' to position Canada for growth

Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers his address to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, on Jan. 26, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The federal government is poised to transform immigration, pensions and research and development policy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

In a major speech to global movers and shakers at the World Economic Forum, he said the idea is to position Canada as a more competitive force in the global economy and to confront the pressures of an aging population.

"In the months to come, our government will undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation," Mr. Harper said in an address to some of the 2,600 forum delegates.

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He also reiterated a commitment to streamline environmental approvals for major energy projects.

He vowed to press ahead with developing ways to export energy to Asia.

And he chided wealthy countries for being too complacent about ringing up debt that they can't afford, taking their riches for granted and imperilling the entire global economy.

"I ask whether the creation of economic growth, and therefore jobs, really is the No. 1 policy priority for everyone," he said.

"Or is it the case that in the developed world, too many of us have, in fact, become complacent about our prosperity, taking our wealth as a given, assuming it is somehow the natural order of things?"

Mr. Harper said his government has worked to keep financial disorder out of Canada and is stepping up efforts to set the country on the right foot for coming decades.

"We will do more, much more," he said.

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"Under our government, Canada will make the transformations necessary to sustain economic growth, job creation and prosperity now and for the next generation."

While officials said details on some of the initiatives will come in the spring budget, Harper did shed a bit of light on some of what he plans to do.

On immigration, the needs of the Canadian work force will drive reforms, he said.

"We will ensure that, while we respect our humanitarian obligations and family-reunification objectives, we make our economic and labour force needs the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future," he said.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has already made several changes to encourage economic immigrants. Mr. Harper's officials would add no details about additional reforms.

On pensions, Mr. Harper will move to ensure that demands on the Old Age Security benefit don't bankrupt the system.

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"Our demographics also constitute a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish," he said. The Canada Pension Plan "does not need to be changed" because it is fully funded, but officials pointed out that OAS bill will soar as the population ages.

On investment, Mr. Harper said Ottawa will soon act on the recommendations in a recent task force report on how to simplify and improve programs to encourage research and development.

"Canada's choice will be, with clarity and urgency, to seize and to master our future, to be a model of confidence, growth and prosperity in the 21st century," Mr. Harper said.

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