World won't wait for Canada to aid in progress: Stockwell Day

Canada can play a part in the phenomenal development taking place around the world - but the world won't wait. They will get the energy, resources and human talent they need from other places if Canada can't deliver, writes Stockwell Day.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last month. A Chinese consortium is planning a massive copper mine in Afghanistan, although security concerns have stalled development. Development faces challenges all over, but Canadians must make sure they are making reasoned decisions about projects, Stockwell Day says. (Lintao Zhang, Pool/Associated Press)

On a recent trip to China, I heard the president of that nation make a startling announcement.

China will rebuild the centuries' old trade route known as the Silk Road, a 3,000-kilometre trail spanning from the Northeast of China to the Middle East.

They will declare it a free-trade zone through previously disputed borders in countries that desperately want growth and health for their citizens.

Canada can play a part in this phenomenal project and similar ones around the world.

But the world is not waiting. They will get the energy, resources and human talent they need from other places if we can't deliver. They already are.

Some commentators make the wry observation that countries like China move swiftly on project approvals because of the "efficiency" of totalitarianism. There may be some grim truth to that.

However, don't blithely surmise that China makes decisions which ignore the needs of its people. Its government is acutely aware that its burgeoning mass of more that 1 billion citizens is pushing for a standard of living that approaches what we enjoy in the Western world. And they have many of the tools to get there, even environmentally.

In our democratic nation we quite rightly go to great limits to acquire the social license for development project approvals as well as environmental and other requisite permits. We can take pride in that.

What we also need to for our citizens is more of a climate of sober consideration — less charged with uninformed emotion, more endowed with fact and fair analysis.

For instance, much reporting is thankfully done in instances of mining companies whose operations in some countries are socially or environmentally harmful.

However, far less coverage goes to the many examples of operations that bring locally approved improvements in health, education and long-term employment. All sides in a decision-making process need all the facts.

Global progress

The march of growth and progress in Asia and Africa means millions of people per year are moving out of abject poverty into lower-middle and middle-income status.They too need the resources and talent to get there.

But even as I tap these words onto the glassy surface of a small device that has more computing power than the tanker-sized computers of 30 years ago, I can almost hear a familiar twitter. It is the response of those who sincerely believe that the partners of development must always be deprivation and degradation.

Their unfortunate view of today's universe is lacking other dimensions. They need higher vantage point.

Yes, of course there are problems, and sometimes tragic missteps along the road to higher standards of living. We must do all we can to reduce those realities. And we are.

Yes, there are sweatshops that still must be closed and toxic dumps that still must be cleansed and slums that still must be remedied. However, the overall global picture is one of improvement at a rate not seen in all of history.

There are local governments in China that oversee municipalities whose growing populations rival the entire population of Canada. Increasingly, the mayors and governors of these gigantic growth regions are demanding and implementing higher standards in every area of endeavour. I am witness to this personally as I consult with some of them.

I am seeing this evolving picture around the world, despite horror stories such as North Korea and Somalia.

Safe, modern, low-income condos are replacing sprawling, disease infested slums. Life-enriching power lines, gas lines and water lines are reducing unemployment, smog ovens, and malaria. Life-saving wireless technologies are empowering doctors and nurses in remote health clinics. On it goes.

This world-changing progress requires energy, natural resources and the value-adding technologists and tradespeople who produce and transport it. Canada has all of the above in abundance, but so do other countries.

Yes, we must have world-class standards and reviews and consultations at every level. But unnecessary delays mean we ourselves will suffer unnecessary losses of standard of living and less hope for the future for our own young people. It's already happening.

I suppose there is a consolation prize if we miss the chance to get our products and energy and people to these emerging nations. When those countries are fully developed with resources which they can get elsewhere they might send help to our nation.

It's time to raise our heads and hearts together and get a better view.

About the Author

Stockwell Day


Stockwell Day, a senior federal cabinet minister from 2006 to 2011, when he chose not to seek re-election, has been minister of public safety and international trade, as well as head of the Treasury Board. He is a regular contributor on the CBC News Network's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.


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