Round Table Meeting with Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and Ethnic Media Representatives on November 26, 2011 in Vancouver, BC
Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors and Member of Parliament for Richmond, BC chaired the round table meeting that was held with the Prime Minister and Media Representatives of the vast and various ethnic groups in Vancouver, BC. She shared with those present that our government has made reaching out to cultural media a priority.
The Minister went on to say that Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has steered our country through the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s. He is providing strong support for our men and women in uniform and standing up for the rights of law-abiding citizens. He is building a future of hope and opportunity for all Canadians in every region of Canada. Minister Wong also went on to say that serving alongside with him, she can attest to his single-minded devotion to providing good government for our great country. Through his strong, stable, principled leadership Canada is standing tall on the world stage and moving forward with confidence.
Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister thanked Minister Wong and expressed his pleasantries being joined by her and other colleagues of the local constituents offices in Vancouver, BC. The Prime Minister went on to say that the hardworking team in BC does reflect the growing diversity of our Parliament and also specifically of our Conservative team. He added to Minister Alice’s comment and said, ‘I do make a habit as I go around the country, of doing various roundtables with various stakeholders, obviously including media, but including specifically media from cultural communities. And the reason we do that, I think I’ve told some of you before, is we know that many of you have very large and very devoted followers, viewer ship and readership. In fact, in many cases so-called ethnic media are actually larger, have larger audiences and certainly more devoted audiences than many of the so-called mainstream media. So, it’s important for us to get our message out to your viewers and your readers and all Canadians’.
Prime Minister Harper advised the Media Representatives that he was really there to answer their questions but before he does that he will say a couple of words about things the government is doing. He reconfirmed what was said during the election campaign and that was the economy continues to be the focus of this government. He continued by saying we continue to be in very challenging global economic circumstances.
He went on to say ‘I think you are all aware of the fragility of the global recovery, particularly in the last few months. The Eurozone problems are very much having an impact on the world. I’ve been recently, as you know, at three summits, at the Commonwealth summit in Australia, at the G20 summit in France and at the APEC summit in the United States. And there wasn’t a single leader who told me anything other than he had seen, he or she had seen some impact on their economy from the troubles in Europe. So, that continues to be our preoccupation. The Canadian economy continues to do relatively well. Job creation, growth has been significantly higher here than virtually all developed countries. Nevertheless, as you know, we continue to have our challenges and we’re focused on those. The recent economic and fiscal update by the Minister of Finance undertook some specific measures to deal with that, extended work-sharing under EI. We tempered, we slowed the increases of the premiums and we also introduced some, some important, modest but important infrastructure programs to deal specifically with federal infrastructure. So, those are some additional things we’re doing to try and create jobs as we approach the budget. And as you know, I think it was on, it was yesterday the Minister of Finance announced the beginning of pre-budget consultations. So, that will continue to be our focus. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing that I know is of specific interest to you, and that’s obviously the issue of immigration. Some of you may ask some questions on that. I think it’s important to, to not only state that this government is a strong believer in immigration, a strong believer in a large and diverse immigration policy, but – and this is very important – this is the first government in Canadian history to have not cut immigration during a recession. We have maintained a strong and vigorous immigration program because, in spite of the challenges in the labour market, the overwhelming evidence is that Canada will be facing a labour shortage in the future and immigration remains a vital part of our economic strategy. In fact, even now there are parts of this province where there are industries in this province where there are severe labour shortages. So, those remain things that we are focused on’.
Questions from Media Representatives:
The Afro News: Our Canadian youth graduate with Masters and Doctorate degrees every year. We have others who are coming out of trades schools and community colleges. All are destined to be frustrated with the perceived lack of employment opportunities. What is the government plan to address this issue? Is one solution perhaps to use their innovative energy and put their technical skills to use on more internal development within our own borders of industry, manufacturing and development initiatives that will stem the skill and brain drain as well as use our natural resources from raw to finished state?
HARPER: Sure. First of all, I might quarrel a little bit with, with the assertions in the question. There’s no doubt that youth unemployment has gone up during the recession and it is a significant concern and we’re trying to do some specific things to help that, obviously trying to increase educational and training opportunities for young people. We, during the depth of the recession we had specifically a summer jobs program we were running through the federal government to give youth more experience. But, I think the truth of the matter is still that that rising unemployment tends to be concentrated among youth who are not highly skilled and not highly educated. You know, I’d have to see the figures on university graduates. But I know, you know, this government has made a series of specific investments in granting councils and a range of new scholarship programs. And we’ve had no difficulty in take-up. In fact, we’re actually seeing applications from around the world into those kinds of programs in Canada. And I know that specifically in the trades areas, those young people who are technically proficient, trades educated, there is no way anybody like that should be unemployed. There are many parts of the country, including parts of British Columbia, where there is a desperate shortage of people with those kinds of skills. So, any young person with those kinds of skills should be getting hired. In fact, this government has put in a number of incentives to try and encourage more young people to go specifically into trades and technical training because the job opportunities are so good and will be so good for the next couple of generations. So, you know, I’m confident we’re on the right track. There are obviously, for those young people who are not skilled, we obviously encourage them to take advantage of all the opportunities they can because that is the best way to ensure long-term employment.
Philippine News Today – How has the federal government prepared Canada against the effect of the financial troubles of Europe? Should we worry about the economic fallout?
HARPER: Yeah. Well, the truth is we are worried. In an integrated global economy large troubles in a large part of the world like Europe inevitably have impact everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, every leader I’ve met in the last month have said they have seen some impact of the European crisis on their own economies. The most important thing we can do in the short term to insulate ourselves is continue to maintain a solid banking system. The, the first effect and the most immediate effect of these kinds of troubles are through the banking sector, and that’s what we’re seeing in Europe right now. The banking sector is under considerable stress because of debt and because of bad debt, sovereign debt and other bad debt. In Canada we continue, according to the World Economic Forum and others, to have the strongest banking system in the world. We have very little financial sector or government exposure to the problems of Europe. So, that’s one important thing we’ve done to insulate ourselves. In terms of the overall impact on slowing of economic growth in the emerging economies and elsewhere, there’s obviously nothing directly we can do about that. But we are working with our European counterparts and we’re giving them some specific suggestions on how they can deal with this problem. But they need to deal with this problem because it is affecting all of us and it’s going to get worse unless drastic action is not taken.
Post Group – At the recent Commonwealth summit in Perth, Australia you mentioned that you would boycott the next meeting in Sri Lanka if the nation did not allow the independent international investigation into the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Has Sri Lankan leadership done anything since the Perth summit to change your call for boycott of the Colombo summit? What does Sri Lanka have to do to gain your support?
HARPER: Yes. Good question. First of all, we happen to believe that one of the great values of the Commonwealth, really the great strength of the Commonwealth is that this is a collection of countries from all continents, east and west, north and south, that not only share a heritage from membership in the British Empire, but more importantly share a series of values, share the English language to some degree, but more important have tended to share a series of, really, political and democratic values that have flowed from their history, certain types of institutions, certain types of legal system, the rule of law and democracy. Now, certainly not all Commonwealth countries are models of freedom and democracy. But as a collection of countries and relative to many others, standards of freedom and democracy are relatively very high in the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth has set in the past some minimum criteria. You know, the Commonwealth has always suspended countries where governments essentially are unlawful, where there are military coups or where there has been no sense of a rule of law or a constitutional foundation of government. I think those things are important. I remain concerned about the Commonwealth holding a summit in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the Commonwealth’s made that decision, made the decision some years ago. But I am concerned that that does not reflect well on the image of the Commonwealth. We are looking for a number of things from Sri Lanka. We’re looking for action on looking at the events around the conflict in that country. We’re looking for action on refugees and displaced persons. And we’re looking for action on political reconciliation. I understand and I’ve said repeatedly the government understands that the government of Sri Lanka, its decision to take on the Tamil Tigers, our view was that this is a terrorist organization. We’ve listed it in Canada as such. But there’s not enough to dealing with the ethnic conflict in that country. There’s more than just simply taking on the Tamil Tigers. There actually have to be positive steps to reconcile the Tamil population in the national, in the national democratic process. So, those are the concerns I’ve raised. And to this point the Sri Lankan government has done nothing to reassure.