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Remarks by David Zussman
to the Public Policy Forum Annual General Meeting
November 21, 2001
Thank you for joining the Public Policy Forum for our 14th Annual General Meeting. With your support, we have grown from a base of nine founding members in 1987 to a national organization with over 175 members from all sectors – government, business, labour, academia and the voluntary sector. I’d like to open my remarks this evening with a quote from George Eliot:
There comes a terrible moment to many souls, when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their lives.
George Eliot could have been describing the horrific events of September 11th, which have shaken all of our lives. I think that probably every one of us has suffered a shock to our psyche, and questioned the future in a way that has not been done since the Cuban missile crisis.
In an Ekos poll conducted in late September 77% agreed with the statement that “our lives will be deeply and permanently changed by these terrorist attacks.”
These events are also having a profound effect on our perceptions of the role of government. During the past several decades of relative peace and prosperity, most developed countries have sought to minimize the role of government in their economies and in the lives of their citizens. Individuals and businesses both came to see governments as increasingly irrelevant to their aspirations for success.
Ironically, even governments’ largely successful efforts to respond to the new dynamic by balancing budgets and rationalizing public services have not halted the denigration of the role of government –-levels of public trust in and respect for governments have plummeted throughout the Western world.
However, the security of its citizens lies at the heart of the role of government, and since September 11th society is again turning toward government for leadership and support. It should not go unnoticed that the heroes of September 11th – firefighters, police and municipal workers – were mainly public servants. And, although many individuals acted with courage and generosity on the 11th, and in the following days and weeks, it is public servants whose jobs require them to continue to work in the public interest on a day-today basis and sometimes to risk their lives in times of crisis.
An IPSOS-Reid study conducted in early October found that 58% of Canadians believe that terrorism threats outweigh the protection of individual rights and freedom – and due process of law – and that everything should be done to provide police and intelligence officials with the tools they need to protect the collective safety of Canadians from terrorism. In the short term at least, these events seem to be increasing both trust in and expectations of government.
I recognize that this level of public support for strong security measures is not shared by all – just follow the current debates over privacy, and civil liberties vs. state surveillance relating to Bill C-36, and the recent protests in Ottawa last weekend surrounding the G20, World Bank and IMF meetings. As a result, I suspect that this support will subside in the coming months in the absence of further terrorist attacks.
However, governments cannot afford to hope for the best – they must prepare for the worst, and federal, provincial and municipal governments have indicated their commitment to measures that heighten security, protect its citizens, and provide a sense of direction and purpose.
This means that there will be a greater presence of government in all aspects of our lives, one of the most immediate and visible being the increase in security surrounding air travel.
As a consequence of September 11th and the growing interdependence of nation states, Canadians are now being forced to take a serious look at new relationships between countries, including issues such as a common perimeter with the US. Many of you will know that the Public Policy Forum has been examining the policy implications of the rising level of North American integration for the past two years, including the question of a common perimeter.
Until now, most stakeholders have approached this issue in a fairly abstract way, and largely from an economic perspective. September 11 has brought border issues to the forefront, and many of you will know that the PPF will be conducting a major conference on border issues here in Toronto next week, as a way of challenging the various stakeholders to take a more holistic or multi-faceted approach.
We also must acknowledge that all of the new security measures have a cost attached, whether the activities are greater security at airports and borders, or purchasing cipro or smallpox vaccine. Governments that have focused on reducing expenditures and cutting taxes will be forced either to increase spending or find other programs to cut. All of this will have to be done during a significant recessionary period.
The change in the business environment over the last few months has been dramatic and profound. Even companies that have long been on record as favouring deregulation and less government intervention are now caught in the uncomfortable position of turning to government for financial support in the face of crumbling markets and uncertain consumers.
Productive dialogue among public, private and voluntary sectors is more important now, than ever, to ensure that the right balance is struck in defining the role of government in this period of uncertainty.
The PPF was founded in the post-NEP environment, when the understanding gap between government and business was at its broadest.
I’m delighted to see that two of the Forum’s founding members, Roger Phillips, President and CEO of IPSCO, and Graham Scott, Managing Partner of McMillan Binch, are with us this evening, and I know they clearly remember the acrimonious environment that led to the creation of the Forum.
If indeed the new reality is that governments will be playing a more direct role in the economy and in society, we must learn from the past. And the lesson is that any new role for government must be defined and implemented in consultation with external partners.
The PPF can play a major role in fostering such dialogue. Over the past 14 years, and thanks to the foresight of our founding president, Shelley Ehrenworth, we have gained respect and recognition for our success in creating a neutral space where leaders from all sectors can come together for open and productive dialogue on complex and controversial public issues.
Our upcoming conference on borders just one example. Other mulitstakeholder projects include a national roundtable on health for the Romanow Commission, an examination of issues of concern to Canadians to be raised at the upcoming G8 meeting in Kananaskis in June, a national dialogue on skills that will integrate what we have learned in seven regional roundtables over the past year, and finally, helping the federal government to achieve its Government of Line aspirations in order to bring government closer to the citizenry.
These are just a few of the many projects the PPF is undertaking to improve public policy and public sector management in this country.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, the members of the Public Policy Forum, for your past contributions to this dialogue, and to ask each of you, whether you represent government, business, labour or the voluntary sector, to work with us to define the appropriate role for government in these troubled times, and to find the best solutions to the challenges facing our nation.
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