Building future prosperity: Investing in the right start
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Limited
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Fraser, thank you very much for the warm
I'm delighted to join the Adventure Place
family today - to share some thoughts about building
future prosperity: investing in the right start for children.
Three weeks ago, I co-presented a workshop at the Family
Resource Programs (FRP) Canada National Biennial Conference
in Mississauga. The objective of our session was to help
delegates develop a better business case for family support
programs - to help raise the volume and the bar when it
comes to building family support partnerships, particularly
with business leaders and elected officials.
My closing comments (just before we opened
the floor to a Q/A), went like this, "As Dr. Fraser
Mustard says, if you want an idea of what your economy will
look like in say 15 or 20 years
if you want an economy
that's vibrant, citizens who are productive and a workplace
that's innovative - think about the investment you're making
in very young people today. At the start, I shared with
you the business case for my involvement in supporting early
years initiatives and family support partnerships. However,
there's more to the story
since in large part, I'm
here today because of Fraser Mustard, what does this tell
you about building and selling the business case?"
This last question resonated with the
delegates as getting the ear of business leaders on the
topic of early childhood development, is no easy feat. They
came to understand that if Fraser Mustard was my wake-up
call to action, he must have pushed the right buttons. And
if knowing what buttons to push - how to sell the case (and
it's somewhat different every time) - is a key element to
success, then working smarter to make and deliver the business
case is a high priority. So how did Fraser get to me? Ask
Fraser, as only he knows for sure. In the meantime, I'll
tell you my "why is this banker involved?" story
- the short version.
I'm involved in supporting early years
development because it's an economic investment that requires
more federal, provincial and municipal government action.
RBC has a vested interest in this issue and can help influence
government policy and public opinion. The development of
human capital at an early age is key to a successful economy.
I'm involved because it's an economic
investment that needs corporate/business action. As a business
leader, I have a responsibility to push the envelope on
high priority issues - and what's more important than children?
Businesses "should strive to be family and child-friendly
employers; to provide enriched child care that connects
to elementary schools where appropriate; to have policies
that are sensitive to the involvement of employees in the
education of their children; and to be bold and creative
regarding the importance of parental leave for new parents."
And I'm also involved because it's an
economic investment that requires more community action
- kids are everybody's business. Integrated early years
programming is one of the best investments that communities
can make. As a children's advocate (and parent), the only
way to make a difference is to get involved and get others
involved! There's the cost of doing nothing
the cost of not doing enough.
From the Ontario Government's Early Years
Study and the post-Study group that looked at how the private
sector could become more involved in the early years challenge,
to Ontario's Promise and the Commission on Early Learning
and Child Care for the City of Toronto, two names are an
intrinsic part of my initial connection/ongoing commitment:
The Honourable Margaret McCain and Fraser Mustard. I thought
of them, other champions and Canada's children while listening
to Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson read the Speech from
the Throne on September 30th, especially the following:
"Five years ago, Canada's governments launched the
National Children's Agenda, engaging Canadians in every
part of the country on how to ensure that all Canadian children
have a good start in life; that families with children have
the tools they need to provide care and nurturing
government will work with its partners to increase access
to early learning opportunities and to quality child care,
particularly for poor and lone-parent families."
Madame Clarkson went on to say: "The
government will take additional measures to address the
gap in life chances between aboriginal/non-aboriginal children.
It will put in place early childhood development programs
for First Nations, expand Aboriginal Head Start, improve
parental supports and provide aboriginal communities with
the tools to address fetal alcohol syndrome and its effects."
So when The Honourable Ethel Blondin-Andrew,
Secretary of State (Children and Youth) announced a "funding
allocation of $320 million over the next five years for
a strategy to improve and expand Early Childhood Development
(ECD) programs/services for First Nations and other aboriginal
children" last Thursday (on a day for children - Halloween),
it was apparent this action plan picked up on the Speech
from the Throne commitment and recommendations of the Sub-committee
on Children/Youth at Risk (chaired by John Godfrey) - the
June 2002 Building on Success Report. It was also
reassuring to note that Ministers Anne McLellan (Health),
Jane Stewart (Human Resources Development Canada) and Bob
Nault (Indian Affairs and Northern Development) are working
"towards the development of a single window approach
to ensure better integration and coordination." Do
we still need to nudge government action on this issue?
Absolutely. Is this a positive step forward? Absolutely.
Given this positive impetus, how do we become more engaged
with building future prosperity: investing in the right
start for children? What's the strategic and competitive
advantage for business to invest in children? How can all
three levels of government, as well as the private and voluntary
sectors work together more effectively? I'm very much preaching
to the converted here
what would happen if this room
was also filled with CEOs from the GTA?
Perhaps I would tell them that 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
a year. We all bear a burden for failing to provide the
"right start" to our children.
I could also tell CEOs about a new study
published in the May 2002 issue of the American journal
Psychological Science; it finds that "better caregiver
training and lower staff-child ratios in child care settings
lead to improvements in children's cognitive skills and
social competence." And what about various model programs
in other communities and countries - the child care and
education systems in Scandinavia and France, as well as
municipal schools for children ages 3 months to 6 years
in Reggio Emilia, Italy? Why do other countries and communities
"get it" sooner than we do?
And to top it off, I would ensure more
CEOs receive The Early Years Study Three Years Later report
(McCain/Mustard - August 2002), not to mention a copy of
the Toronto Report Card on Children (Update 2002) and Margaret
McCain's remarks from the Toronto Children's Summit two
weeks ago. Would I encourage CEOs (their support teams)
to check out the Founders' Network web site for research
papers/presentations (including work from Jane Bertrand
who's here tonight) and success stories from across the
country and beyond? You bet I would - there's a huge list
and you're right, I wouldn't inundate
them with all this information at once - one document and
one web site at a time! And without a doubt, we (an early
years champion and I) would also meet with CEOs, as nothing
really replaces face-to-face communication
at a time!
And there's much more
perhaps I would mention the Commission
for Early Learning and Child Care for the City of Toronto
Final Report - refer to the important link between building
future prosperity and investing in children. I could
say to CEOs: although the federal government must lead the
way by creating child care partnerships and committing to
a renewed Early Childhood Development Initiative that produces
measurable outcomes (as addressed in the recent Speech from
the Throne); and the provincial government should establish
a legislative/funding framework to implement the main recommendations
of the Early Years Study; and the City of Toronto should
expand coalitions with the district school board and community
the private sector needs to recognize that
early years development is a business issue and a topic
for the boardroom, where the stakes are high. Business can
also use its clout to encourage/support government action
at every level.
I would also remind them that early learning
and child care supports innovation and successful cities,
as it improves school performance, reduces social assistance
costs, expands economic activity, supports diversity and
improves family/work life. We already know that a young
child's development cannot take place without nurturing
and care - that it's counterproductive to separate the needs
of children from their parents. Supporting children and
supporting child care go hand in hand.
Corporations are part of the community
the best solutions are community-based. When it comes to
children, there are unlimited possibilities and strategies
- I would ask CEOs the following:
Has your workplace considered on-site/near-site
child care centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs,
parental networks, information and referral services, or
investing in/sponsoring targeted children's initiatives?
Has your workplace broadened its scope re job sharing, flexible
hours, extended maternity leave, and family care leaves?
Do you encourage staff/management representation on children's
advocacy boards? These are elements of a sound business
strategy, a healthier workplace and a competitive advantage.
And I would tell them about what RBC Financial
Group is doing - that the underlying goal of our corporate
citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians.
To achieve this, we must support education and learning
- we must support children/young people - as future prosperity
depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination,
ingenuity and innovation. We must continue to foster partnerships/relationships
with business, government, communities and our own employees
(work/life initiatives) in order to meet these objectives.
There's much to do and learn
For example, the RBC After-School Grants
Program includes two projects in what we still refer to
as North York: Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services and North
York Community House. We provide funding to support development
opportunities for children - after-school activities such
as: reading, homework help, music lessons and athletics.
At Doorsteps, employees of a local branch rotate weekly
visits to assist participants with reading. At North York
Community House, an RBC employee is an active board member.
What a treat to see Magdalena Kilps-Diaz here this evening.
We also support Integra, a mental
health centre dedicated to helping children and adolescents
with learning abilities; the Macaulay Child Development
Centre - it fosters the optimal development of children,
in partnership with the family and community through: integrated
child care, education and support to parents/caregivers,
innovative leadership, consultation/training and participation
in social policy and community development; and the Canadian
Education Association's Kids From Kanata project,
a national on-line educational exchange project that promotes
students' awareness, understanding and appreciation of the
cultural, social, and political issues of native and non-native
people living in Canada. KFK operates in partnership with
York University's Faculty of Education.
The bottom line is that when it comes to making a difference
for children and youth, we all have a shared responsibility.
Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change
- to show their heart. What a great way to build a civic/civil
society and promote social/economic development. Adventure
Place knows what I mean as this organization has been successful
in developing partnerships for 30 years now! The Counselling
Foundation of Canada, the Early Years Action Group (Toronto
North Quadrant), North York Community House, Toronto Association
for Community Living, HRDC, the City/Province, Community
Action Program for Children (CAPC), Healthy Babies, Healthy
Children, schools, hospitals/clinics, family services
just a few examples. I read Jason's and Jennifer's story
on Adventure Place brochures and understood why your treatment,
early intervention, prevention and community mobilization
services/programs are so very important.
So I would also tell CEOs about the Adventure
Place success story - that your agency, serving children
with special developmental, behaviourial, social, emotional,
communication, attention or learning needs (from birth to
six years) offers an integrated (total child), continuum
approach that targets all kids - that's universal in design
and collaborative by nature. I would also mention that in
order for Adventure Place to continue offering speech, language
and psychological assessments plus play therapy for children,
parent education (workshops and support groups), staff consultation
with child care centres and kindergarten workers, there's
a further need for additional funding and volunteer support
to ensure ongoing success.
As I look around this room and see the
likes of Leolyn Hendricks, who leads your current board,
along with Phil Willis, Andy Araham, Jack Baskerville, Helen
Giannoulias, Mirella Tersigni and Andrea Walker, I'm conscious
of champions and parents who are making a difference. When
I see the likes of Pat MacKay, who's been the Honourary
Chair of Adventure Place since 1972 - the very beginning
(this deserves applause all unto itself), Liz Marshall,
Marilyn van Norman, Dede Sinclair, Mary O'Regan, Ira Applebaum,
Joanne Abeles, Lynn Abbott, Karen Nolan, Sue Sisam, Sue
Comish, Ruth Nord and Paula Berton, it's clear that former
board members and staff are still very much a part of the
Adventure Place family. And last but certainly not least,
I applaud the impressive Adventure Place staff - the dedicated
professionals in the areas of social work, psychology, early
childhood education, teaching, speech and language, research
and business, led by the equally impressive Clara Will.
And this room is also filled with many
I'm delighted to see
Leona Dombrowksy, MPP for Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and
Addington here tonight. Given Leona's commitment to children/communities,
I can understand why she's known throughout her riding as
the "Walking Woman". And I'm most pleased to see
Dave Vickers of Ontario's Promise, Gerald Pezzot of the
Ministry of Community, Family & Children's Services
as well as a number of educators and community leaders.
Some of my rotary club friends have also joined us this
evening: Pauline Hill, Vern Heaslip, Chris Snyder and Gayle
Seddon (they heard me speak just a few months ago and still
came out again). I wish there was time to single out all
In closing, I want to thank Clara Will for inviting me to
speak at this special gathering and Pat Armitage for coordinating
this event. The founder and senior chairman of McDonald's
Restaurants, George Cohon (who along with Fraser and me
sits on Ontario's Promise Board of Councillors) will be
happy to know his head office was the venue for your AGM.
Adventure Place understands that investing in children is
very much a strategic initiative in the workplace and in
the community. RBC Financial Group will continue to make
children and youth one of our priorities and give greater
focus to the early years
I'll also continue to urge
my colleagues in business to find investing in children
partners. I urge all of you to remind business associates,
about the strategic value of this investment - not once,
but over and over again.
Finally, a few months ago, the Prime Minister announced
the creation of a new Prime Minister's Award for Excellence
in Early Childhood Education. This award is an extension
of the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence (RBC
is proud to be a corporate partner), which honour exceptional
elementary and secondary school teachers. It was music to
my ears to hear the Prime Minister say: "Research has
shown that the early years are critical to establishing
a strong foundation for learning, behaviour and health over
lifetimes. Dedicated and talented early childhood educators
are key builders of this foundation. The award will recognize
the critical role that early childhood educators play in
shaping the lives of Canada's young children and will include
a special focus on aboriginal early childhood educators."
Given the nature of the annual Jack Weber award, there's
no doubt that Adventure Place is ahead of the pack when
it comes to recognizing exceptional talent in the field
of early childhood education.
The time is now to get more business representation
at events such as this one. In the wake of an uncertain
environment that continues to preoccupy the world, it's
doubly important that we champion children and place building
future prosperity: investing in the right start for children
on the top of our agendas. As for leadership, all
we need to do is glance around this room and look at Adventure
Place's history and proven record! Happy 30th
Anniversary Adventure Place and many, many more!
If we have some time before the Weber
award, let's chat about ideas and good practices for a few
I would really enjoy hearing from you!