Supporting Early Years Development: A
strategic business investment
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce
Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel
Friday, April 12, 2002
Thank you for the introduction.
I'm delighted to join you at this luncheon hosted by the
Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. Since the city is sometimes
referred to as the "wild, wild north", I'm not quite sure
what to expect from this audience, as it's been a few years
since my last visit here. I do know that Sudbury's vision
is one of a "growing, world-class community", strongly committed
to the future, and I also know that for the past thirteen
years, Cheryl Cecchetto, of Sequoia Productions in California
(and the "Cecil B. DeMille of event planning") has boasted
about her pride in hometown Sudbury every time a guest (often
a celebrity), asks about her background during the Governors
Ball for the OSCARS in Hollywood, and even when they don't
ask! I hope you caught the story in the March 18th edition
of the National Post!
Needless to say, I'm delighted to share some business perspectives
on a topic that's close to my heart - supporting early years
development - a commitment to the future of our children.
As I look around the room, you're a near perfect audience
in terms of talking about strategic investments - the strategic
investment of early childhood development. That's because
I'm speaking to a group of leaders who are already pushing
the envelope on this investment - who are already spreading
the word in the community - who are already leading the
call to action. Starting with.
Mayor Jim Gordon, whose effective leadership
in "refocusing and reinventing" the City of Greater Sudbury
as a community, is evident in everything he does. Moving
Councillor Louise Portelance, who with co-chair,
Janet Gasparini of the Children First Roundtable and Victor
Skot, are examples of what I often call leadership
in action; also,
Debbi Nicholson, who as President and CEO
of the Chamber has set a new tone for the future, especially
for women in business; not to mention an.
impressive group of business, government
and community friends, clients and colleagues.
So yes, the near perfect audience.as this event has successfully
brought together the public, private and voluntary sectors.
Now the question becomes, how do we all become more engaged?
What's the connection between the Early Years and the business
community? How can all three sectors work together more
Thinking about the scope of the early years agenda brings
to mind a story about Angelo Patri, an expert on child behaviour.
One day, he looked out of his window and saw three children
walking on a wet cement sidewalk. He became angry, and was
going to chase them off, when his wife said: "But Angelo,
you love children." "Yes," he replied, "I love them in the
abstract, but not in the concrete." That's like the challenge
we face when discussing the early years. In the abstract,
who can argue against the need to give our children a great
start - intellectually, emotionally and socially? Ensuring
that kids - our own kids - receive positive early influences
simply makes good sense - good business sense. But we need
more than words - we need concrete action.
Let me start by telling you about my personal involvement
in supporting early years, (0-6) development. A few years
ago, I served on the Ontario Government's Early Years Study.
We looked at ways to prepare children for scholastic, career
and social success - from all socio-economic groups, not
just at-risk youth or those with special needs. The study
co-chairs were the Honourable Margaret McCain, former Lieutenant
Governor of New Brunswick and Dr. Fraser Mustard, medical
scientist and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Advanced
After the McCain-Mustard study, Dr. Mustard and I assembled
a group to look further at how the private sector can become
involved in the early years challenge. This included organizations
like the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses,
the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Auto Workers,
and several other businesspeople. It was a tremendous consciousness-raising
session. People willingly volunteered to look at tough issues
- the possible need for tax reform, incentives to build
childcare facilities.the need to develop broader-based community
networks.and how the provincial government's Early Years
Challenge Fund can be structured to encourage matching non-government
I continue to champion the early years, through Ontario's
Promise: The Partnership for Children and Youth.and more
recently via the Early Learning and Child Care Commission
for the City of Toronto. The Honourable Margaret McCain
and I were appointed co-chairs of this Commission last October.
We're proud to be supporting the need for increased funding
to early learning/care services as we help advance national/provincial
policy and action on the early years/children's agenda.
I spoke to City Council about the Commission last night.our
Report will be released shortly.
We've heard much about the "brain drain" - about how corporate
Canada is concerned with the exodus of many talented professionals.
It's time for all of us, especially the private sector,
to think about another kind of brain drain. The 1999 report
of the Ontario Government's Early Years Study was called
"Reversing the Real Brain Drain". What did we mean? It's
clear that society bears a great cost if it fails to provide
young people with the learning and development needed to
succeed - not just at work, in life. We all know that learning
is shaped by early childhood experiences. Because of the
great work in studying and publicizing the links between
early childhood education and subsequent success, the business
community is much better informed about the early years
challenge and opportunity, than ever before.
Clearly, a lack of investment in the early years can contribute
to behavioural and learning problems. Dysfunctional relationships.
Academic failure. And the associated problems.juvenile delinquency,
criminal behaviour, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, chronic
unemployment, poverty, health risks. All of these can be
related to conditions set in the early years of life. All
are costs that we share as a society. Research from the
Child Care Education Foundation, says that today, it costs
Canada $2.5 billion every year for remedial education because
of delayed interventions or negative early experiences.
Work-family conflicts cost businesses another $4.7 billion
This is the kind of language that business understands.
It says that we all bear a burden for failing to provide
the "right start" to our children. We bear it not only as
parents but also as taxpayers and as businesspeople. Quite
frankly, I don't hear enough of my corporate colleagues
talking about their support of early childhood development.
Perhaps more would, if we framed discussions in a language
that the business community can relate to. If you're interested
in return on investment, consider this. Research shows that
for every dollar spent on quality early education services,
two dollars comes back through increased tax revenues and
decreased social, education and health costs.
So what are some of the tangible steps business can take?
First, it starts with having a point of view on early years
development. At RBC Financial Group, the underlying goal
of all our corporate citizenship programs is prosperity
for Canada and her people. To achieve this, we simply must
support education and learning. We must support our young
people - our future. There really is no option. We believe
wholeheartedly that our prosperity will depend on our well-developed
minds - our intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation.
That's the payoff. When we invest in our young people -
in the early years - we're really investing in keeping our
economy strong and competitive. By investing in our children,
we're investing in a strong and healthy Canada. Investing
in youth simply makes sense.
Any business can encourage efforts to expand the body of
knowledge in childhood development. The more we know about
the impact of the first days, the first months, the first
years on human development, the better we are as a society
to craft efforts to ensure healthy starts.
RBC wholeheartedly supports groups like the Canadian Institute
for Advanced Research. Over the past 14 years, a large part
of our funding to the CIAR, some $2.5 million, has been
aimed at research into early childhood development - that's
how important we think research is.
Corporations can also support policy development. For example,
we fund the Canadian Institute of Child Health. It's done
key work in encouraging government to create the right policies
for childhood development, and creating material to help
parents give their kids the best start.
We must support partnerships that work towards these ends.
I can't say enough about the value of partnerships between
business, community groups and government. I firmly believe
that when it comes to making a difference for our youth,
we all have a shared responsibility, and corporations, including
small and medium-sized businesses can play an important
Partnerships - it's amazing what can happen when the private,
public and voluntary sectors put their heads together. When
a business can be a catalyst for change. What a great way
to build a civic and civil society plus promote social development.
Sudbury has led the way on more than one occasion when
it comes to partnerships.EARTHCARE Sudbury is a classic
example of the City, community agencies, organizations and
businesses coming together to chart a course for a "greener",
sustainable community in the future - for our children's
future. RBC Royal Bank is proud to be among valued partners
and clients, including the City of Greater Sudbury, in supporting
this important initiative.
It's clear that the City of Sudbury "gets it" when it comes
to the value of partnerships and putting children first.
As Dr. David Robinson from Laurentian University said in
his December 12, 2001 article."Finance Minister Paul Martin
might have had Sudbury in mind when he selected the motto
for his Budget, "Our economic success, our ability to create
jobs, will be determined by the degree to which we demonstrate
an understanding of the great currents that are shaping
the world of tomorrow".
And we too must "get it" with the early years challenge.
We can't say that investing in children is the domain of
the public sector. For one, governments don't have the resources
to do it all. And that's not to say that governments aren't
In the fall of 2000, the federal government announced new
investments of $2.2 billion over five years for early childhood
development, as part of the National Children's Agenda.
And this provincial government is also committed. A few
months ago, the third phase of the Harris government's Early
Years Plan was announced for 2002 - the locations of the
first 41 Ontario Early Years Centres in 15 communities across
Ontario, with an additional 62 Centres to open in 2003.
I was pleased to hear about the opening of the Early Years
Centre in Sudbury on March 18th.
However, this is also why partnerships involving the private
sector are so essential. Corporations are part of the community.
And the best solutions are community-based. When it comes
to the early years, let's open our minds and talk about
all sorts of possibilities.
Let's talk about how companies could create early child
development and parenting centres for their employees and
receive a tax credit for opening them up to the community.
Let's talk about ways to ensure that all families have access
to child development and parenting programs.
Let's talk about child-care centres that are supported
by employers. These can be either on-site or near site,
in a local school or community centre. Not only do the best
centres offer kids great support, their convenience alleviates
the stress of the company's employees. A number of major
Canadian organizations, from CN to Ontario Hydro, offer
Let's talk about broadening family-friendly arrangements
in the workplace. Here's our approach at RBC Royal Bank.
A family friendly program doesn't just mean maternity or
parental leave - which, in our case, has always exceeded
the minimum - but a host of other policies. Job sharing,
flex hours, and paid leave for family responsibilities are
all ways that we help our people meet their family responsibilities,
including the nurturing of young babies. We know that helping
employees (many of whom are mothers with young children)
deal with the challenges of the early years, through family
friendly programs, is a sound business strategy.
Let's talk about how the private sector can serve as a
resource for questions/concerns on family issues. Across
the country, our staff can access professional consultants
who provide information and referrals regarding work/life
issues. This encompasses support with child development,
effective parenting skills, childcare arrangements, school
selection and special services for children. This information
is available over the phone, online, or face-to-face.
Let's talk about private sector advocacy for financing
of early child development initiatives. We need to make
the link between the financial well-being of corporations,
shareholder value, and the need to invest in the early years.
Let's talk about corporate and government support for social
entrepreneurs. Like other entrepreneurs, they act as intermediaries
between capital and labour - in this case to create social
institutions and instruments to build our child development
Now let's take a quick look at what's happening in Sudbury.
The momentum for the early years is impressive. With the
Chamber hosting an event such as this one, you're generating
more interest in supporting early years development. Here
are some ways for local business to get more involved...
The Big Brothers Pre-school Mentoring Program
is a pilot project through the Early Years Challenge Fund
that matches young children with an adult mentor for visits
in a community setting. The program has identified many
kids (2-5 year olds) who would benefit from positive support
from an adult role model. Yet Big Brothers is experiencing
difficulty in recruiting volunteers who are available
during mornings/afternoons for visits to daycare or early
years centres. Here's an opportunity for partnerships
with business in this first-of-a-kind program. Dave Battaino
and Jackie McCullagh of Big Brothers are both here today
- I hope they make some connections.
Another project that could benefit from
community/business support has been developed by the Healthy
Babies, Healthy Children Network. Through one of its programs,
the parents of every newborn receive a package in the
mail, which includes information about local services
and early child developmental stages. This group would
love to establish partnerships with business to assist
with printing, design and delivering information about
organizations that offer services for families with young
children. Several people from the Healthy Babies, Healthy
Children Network are here, so once again it would be great
to see some connections made today.
I understand that Cybermoms is a program
that connects/supports teen parents through home computers
and the Internet. The project is a good example of how
business and social services could work very well together.
Computers and Internet time are just two needs that immediately
come to mind. Both Janet Gasparini and Lois Mahon are
also here to make connections.
These initiatives are all about the possibilities of partnerships
for the early years - for our children. And there's many
more.I can't thank Kate Barber (City of Greater Sudbury)
enough for sharing some of these stories with me and for
coordinating my visit. I hear Cora Hayden and Juliana Ornella
from the Chamber have also been supportive. Thank you all!
In closing, early childhood development shouldn't be a
controversial notion. Given the economic benefits down the
road, it's very much a strategic initiative. It's in the
national interest to do more. It's in the business interest
to do more too.
At RBC Financial Group, we'll continue to make youth one
of our priorities and give even greater focus to the early
years. Please don't hesitate to talk with my local colleagues,
several of whom are here today, including George Nelson
and Tony Corallo. I also urge my colleagues in business
to look for ways to partner with the public and voluntary
sectors, and to speak out on the importance of early childhood
development. And I also urge you to help the private sector
see the light. Make yourself visible at events that include
the business community, to do your networking and lobbying.
Remind people in the private sector of the strategic importance
of this issue - not once, but over and over again. Use workplace/community
venues to talk about the early years - to get people interested
and involved. Let's get the business of early years development
in the boardroom!
The more we invest in our children - not in the abstract,
but in the concrete - the better off we are as a society.
Sudbury is well represented by champions this afternoon.
Let's ensure we check out what Cambrian College is doing
with its Early Childhood Education Program - and chat with
some program students who are also here today. Let's work
with the likes of Audrey Dugas of Science North, Tina Hall
of Norguard Industries, Brian Hein of PCL Constructors Canada,
Lynne Philion of Childcare Resources, Dawn Chew of the Rainbow
District School Board, Eve Kremyr of Jubilee Heritage Family
Resources, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe of the Sudbury & District
Health Unit and Kathryn Irwin-Seguin of Northern Regional
Recovery to help make things happen (if there was time,
I would single out each and every one of you in this room)
Let's continue to put the children's agenda on our agendas.
In the wake of an uncertain environment that continues to
send shockwaves around the world, it's even more important
that the City of Greater Sudbury - that all of us - become
champions and ambassadors for the early years.