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Published on Huffington Post .
On October 19th, 2015, Canadians voted to change their government. Prime Minister Trudeau has been in office now for about eight months. The first sitting of Parliament has wrapped up. As MPs head back to their ridings for the summer, this is a good time to assess how real change has been taking shape.
It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a different kind of government when the new Cabinet was unveiled on November 4th. For the first time in history, there were equal numbers of women and men around the table – setting a new world standard for gender equity.
Strong signals about evidence-based decision-making were sent very early with the restoration of the long-form census and the unmuzzling of federal scientists. A more constructive tone was struck in intergovernmental affairs with the start of regular meetings between the Prime Minister and the Premiers, Indigenous leaders and municipal governments.
As promised, the government’s central focus has been the economy – investing in the most effective drivers of jobs and growth, bolstering the middle class and all those working hard just to get there, and battling inequality. Three key initiatives are particularly important in this connection:
First, effective January 1st, the middle class tax rate was reduced by close to 7%, benefitting more than nine million taxpayers, while we asked the wealthiest one-percent of Canadians to pay a bit more to help offset the costs.
Secondly, effective this July, a new Canada Child Benefit (CCB) will help parents defray the costs of raising a family. Compared to the complex maze of previous programs, the CCB is simpler, entirely tax free and better targeted toward those who need the most help. And it’s more generous – nine out of 10 families will be better off with the CCB. It will help lift some 300,000 children out of poverty.
Third, we have reached a vital consensus with provincial governments to enhance the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
The CPP was created 51 years ago by the Pearson government. In the 1990s it was rescued from financial peril and made actuarially sound by then-Finance Minister Paul Martin. Now Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau and their provincial counterparts have agreed on a series of gradual steps to boost the amounts the CPP can pay out. I want to thank my own province of Saskatchewan for playing a strong role in achieving the necessary national consensus.
At a time when three-quarters of those employed in the private sector don’t have a pension plan at work, when the average 30-year-old is saving less than half of what his/her parents did, when two-thirds of those nearing retirement have set aside less than $100,000 to take care of themselves and one-third have no retirement savings at all – it’s clear that an improved CPP must be a national priority. And now it is.
We have also returned the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 65, reversing the previous government’s plan to slash more than $30,000 from Canada’s lowest income seniors. We have increased the Guaranteed Income Supplement for the most vulnerable, helping some 900,000 elderly Canadians. And we have started restoring services and benefits to Veterans .
On another front, Canada Student Grants have been boosted by 50% – making it easier for close to 400,000 young people from low and middle income families to pursue post-secondary education without a crushing debt burden. We’ve also doubled the federal investment in summer jobs for students – generating 77,000 youth employment opportunities this year.
Going forward, the central pillar in Mr. Trudeau’s drive to restore a decent Canadian economic growth rate is an unprecedented investment of more than $120 billion over the coming decade in essential community infrastructure.
Beyond the basics of building new and better streets, roads, sidewalks, bridges, water projects and sewer systems, we have added new federal funding for public transit, social infrastructure (including things like child care spaces, facilities for seniors, affordable housing and emergency shelters), “green” projects to help mitigate and adapt to the consequences of Climate Change, and strategic educational upgrades. Investments like these are the single most cost effective way for the federal government to help drive jobs and growth in the period immediately ahead.
To begin bridging the painful gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, the government has earmarked $8.4 billion for better education, healthcare, housing, clean water and infrastructure in Indigenous communities.
After a decade during which not a single project was approved to get Canadian energy products to tidewater, the new government has bolstered the integrity and credibility of the regulatory process to produce science-based, fact-based decisions that Canadians can trust and rely upon.
In the international arena, immediately upon taking office, we launched our promised efforts to rescue more than 25,000 Syrian refugees and bring them safely to Canada. We also re-shaped our country’s participation in the coalition against vicious ISIL terrorism. Canada’s new whole-of-government approach is more comprehensive and effective, including increased intelligence operations, more humanitarian and developmental work, and a far larger training effort.
Other important strides have been taken to regain a place of value and respect for Canada in international affairs, through the United Nations, NATO, the G7, and elsewhere. We have also successfully shed the debilitating label of world “laggard” in the fight against Climate Change.
We have entered into new arrangements with the United States on border security to enhance safety, while respecting privacy rights and facilitating the efficient movement of 400,000 people and $2.4 billion in trade back-and-forth across that border every day. We have also introduced legislation to establish a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to better scrutinize government departments and agencies to ensure they are being effective in keeping Canadians safe and, at the same time, safeguarding our values, rights and freedoms.
Another dimension of national security is responding to sudden emergencies. The governments of Canada and Alberta worked seamlessly together to mobilize local, national and international resources to battle that “Beast” of a wildfire that consumed some 600,000 hectares of boreal forest and forced the evacuation of 90,000 people from the Fort McMurray area. The courage of the folks in those communities, the strength and skill of all the First Responders, the leadership of the provincial government and the generosity of Canadians everywhere were truly inspiring.
For a new government just eight months in the saddle, all of this makes for a pretty good beginning. But we know that much hard work still lies ahead. To continue its success, the government needs to keep trusting Canadians, listening to their advice, adhering to their values, and striving to meet their expectations.
As part of my mandate from Prime Minister Trudeau, I will lead an extensive review of all existing measures to protect Canadians and our critical infrastructure from multiple cyber-threats.
This work will be undertaken in partnership with the Ministers of Defence, Innovation, Infrastructure, Public Services and the Treasury Board, among others, as well as other levels of government and the private sector.
Virtually every dimension of how we live our lives is dependent on information technologies. So are the most critical infrastructure systems which underpin our economy and our society. We’re all heavily inter-connected and networked which adds huge value to our quality of life. But it also compounds our vulnerability.
In complex commercial supply chains, a successful cyber-attack on one enterprise can ricochet downstream to impact all their customers and upstream to affect all their suppliers. We’re only as good as the weakest link.
Major corporations – in telecommunications, finance, utilities, information technology and others – are totally engaged in the global cyber security challenge, investing mega-bucks to protect themselves. But others, especially smaller businesses with limited time and resources, cannot. This represents real risk and missed opportunity.
The hackers and scammers who are constantly trying to break into our information systems are a motley, but potent combination of foreign states and militaries, terror groups, organized crime, petty thieves and vandals, and the lonely computer geek in his basement.
Their objectives range from espionage, sabotage and mayhem to theft, extortion, revenge and just sheer nuisance. There are millions of potentially malicious cyber activities every week. Hacking tools are readily available, cheap and prolific.
It has been speculated that cyber abuse could well have played a role in Canada’s loss of Nortel. Innocent Canadian NGOs have had their databases forcibly encrypted and then ransoms demanded to get them back. It’s estimated that cyber-crime globally causes some $400-billion (US) in economic losses every year, and before the end of this decade that figure could exceed $2-trillion.
We’ve seen the harm done in Ukraine when a foreign government cyber-attacked that country’s power grid. You cannot even imagine the consequences if a terror group got access to air traffic control systems or the technology that underpins banking, telecommunications or healthcare.
But while we need to be acutely aware of these massive risks, we should not be driven by crippling fear or defensiveness. I want to approach our Cyber Review as an opportunity to build Canadian strength and excellence, and thereby transform a liability into an asset.
This matters to Canadians. On a per capita basis, we spend the most time on-line of any country in the world – at 41.5 hours per Canadian per month.
If we get really good at cyber security – at every point in supply chains, at every level of government, and in our personal use of the internet – we can multiply our potential and capitalize on all the advantages of new technology in a digital economy. And with justifiable, verifiable confidence in the security of our information systems, we can sell our skill and competence to the rest of the world.
The international market for cyber security products and services stands at some $105-billion today. By 2020, it’s likely to balloon to $170-billion or more. This represents huge opportunities for Canadian science, research and development, for innovation and cutting-edge manufacturing, and for knowledge-intensive jobs.
Cyber security professionals are a highly specialized, highly sought-after and highly paid subset of IT workers. The global job market for cyber pros is expected to rise by some six million over the next 4 – 5 years, and current projections indicate a shortfall of 1.5-million in qualified candidates.
Talk about a career and employment opportunity for young Canadians. A profit centre for businesses. Stimulating possibilities for science. And huge potential for building a powerful Canadian brand!
But there’s no sense of this in Canada’s current cyber security strategy, which dates back to 2010 and is decidedly out-of-date. A Canadian Cyber Review is long overdue.
In this process we will examine cyber structure, governance and funding issues within government.
We will assess existing partnerships and capabilities in the government’s Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre, in the private sector’s Canadian Cyber Threat Exchange, around Critical Infrastructure Tables and through the “Get Cyber Safe” awareness campaign.
But far beyond that, we need to take our cyber game to a whole new level. I hope our review will raise the profile and the understanding of the cyber threats that face our country and the cyber opportunities we might embrace.
I hope we can lay the foundation for a new and stronger strategy:
Our review needs to rethink how the Government of Canada can best provide leadership. It needs to vigorously engage and animate the private sector. It must also stimulate a whole new generation of Canadian cyber talent.
It could also trigger a very useful discussion about where Canadians want the intersection to be found between encryption and absolute privacy on the one hand and legitimate investigations to protect the public good on the other. Where do you draw that line? What safeguards are necessary?
A comprehensive, thoughtful review should also help us define a Canadian interest in global governance issues for the internet.
There is obviously a whole lot to be tackled. I hope Canadians will want to participate vigorously.
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