Failure to promote lifelong learning is jeopardizing Canada's future economic prosperity, the Canadian Council on Learning warned in its final report Tuesday.
The report was issued one day before federal funding for the council's work is to be cut off — a decision Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called "an act of vandalism."
"Without the kind of research that the CCL does about the state of learning across the country, Canada's flying blind on learning and training and education," Ignatieff said after the report's unveiling.
The document paints a dire picture of economic stagnation and social upheaval unless more is done to ensure Canadians continue to learn throughout their lives.
"Canada has made little, if any, progress in lifelong learning over the past few years," it says.
"We remain in a holding pattern that contradicts what we profess to know to be true — that securing a sustainable future and quality of life depends on the development of our people."
'How are we supposed to create jobs for tomorrow unless we make investments together in these areas?' —Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff
Council president Paul Cappon said other developed nations are doing much more than Canada, which puts the country's economic competitiveness at risk.
"We must decide now that our learning strategies will be more effective, better organized and constantly monitored or the 21st century for Canadians will be painful," Cappon said. "Better organized competitors will eat our lunch."
Moreover, the report says the lack of concerted action to continuously educate Canadians, from early childhood to adulthood, will lead to more crime and illness.
"If left unchecked, lack of progress in learning at every stage of life could soon translate into increased pressures on many sectors of Canada's economy, including social-assistance programs, the health-care system and the criminal justice system."
Report is likely group's last
With the Conservative government ending the council's funding effective Wednesday, the report was something of a wrap-up of its work over the past six years and a look into the future. The council presented the report to about 20 MPs and senators.
Ignatieff, who has promised to make lifelong learning the central plank of his party's next election platform, said a Liberal government would restore council funding. He said it's a vital tool for monitoring the state of learning in Canada and helping government decide where best to invest money.
"We're at the bottom of a list of 25 countries in what we invest in early learning and child care. We have had a 40 per cent decline, according to [the council's] numbers, in what businesses and corporations invest in on-the-job training," Ignatieff said.
"How are we supposed to be productive? How are we supposed to be competitive? How are we supposed to create jobs for tomorrow unless we make investments together in these areas?"
In the House of Commons, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the council's funding was for a fixed term, which has now expired.
She boasted the country was awarded an A in education and skills training by a recent Conference Board of Canada report and she maintained that the government has made "unprecedented" investments in other mechanisms for monitoring progress.