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The Power of Women Advantage:
Talk - Action = 0

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Women's Canadian Club of Hamilton
Hamilton Convention Centre - Webster Room
Hamilton, Ontario

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Irene, thank you for the warm introduction…special thanks to Ann Ingram for inviting me to speak at this luncheon today and to Natalie Little for coordinating my involvement. It's always a great pleasure to visit Hamilton and a real treat to meet members and guests of the Women's Canadian Club of Hamilton, who are collectively making a difference in this community. It's not often that I get an opportunity to enjoy lunch with 120+ women and believe me, I'm not complaining! I've learned a good deal about community leadership, effective communication and successful multi-tasking from women over the years - and when I head back to Toronto this afternoon, I know that my time spent with all of you will add value to my ongoing learning.

I was perusing the Hamilton Spectator yesterday while on route to Ottawa to hear the Speech from the Throne, when the headline, "Memorable Day for Canadian Women" caught my immediate attention. As it turns out, the story originated with a reporter by the name of Tonda MacCharles, who's with the Toronto Star's Ottawa Bureau.

As you may have read, Tonda said: "It's not the way it was written in the chief justice's speech welcoming judges Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron to the Supreme Court of Canada. But it's the way Beverley McLachlin delivered the line: "They. Are. Women." McLachlin was the first woman to be named to the top post on the country's top court and now, for the first time in Canadian history, four women sit on the elevated judicial bench of the country's final court of appeal. "No other comparable court, anywhere in the world has come so far in giving women a voice in its deliberations," said McLachlin. "Have we reached gender equality nirvana today?" asked Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant. "Of course not. But my two-year-old daughter will grow up in a country where her gender doesn't present a barrier to her nation's highest callings," he said.

When I bumped into the Chief Justice at the reception following the Throne Speech, there wasn't time to mention the article or the topic of my remarks today: The Power of Women Advantage: Talk - Action = O. I'm sure she would have smiled while nodding her head in agreement.

I'd like to begin by sharing a short story that will help you understand why I never underestimate the power of women. This is a story about a household of nine children, including six sisters, in Woodstock, New Brunswick; the father was a mechanic, a good and dedicated one too (plus a great role model in terms of a strong work ethic). The mother was a stay-at-home mom, one who was always involved with others and the community, one who had a huge heart. She invited a family of three Hungarian refugees to move in with the family (remember already a family of 11), and they stayed at the house for more than a year. Growing up with six sisters taught the brothers, from a very early age, about the importance of women in society. And if the brothers didn't understand their importance, they did understand they didn't eat. Well, if you haven't guessed by now, I'm one of those brothers in this family story.

Little did I know how important the influence of my mother, six sisters, not to mention my wife, colleagues/friends and now my daughter Catherine, would become to me as an executive banker who champions talented women at RBC and in organizations/communities across the country. Little did I know that a bit of graffiti I happened to see on a wall in the north end of Winnipeg fifteen years ago - Talk - Action = 0 - would come to have so much meaning all these years later.

I've learned over time that building community leadership is all about building relationships - reaching out and touching people in a way that makes a difference. The power of women advantage is sitting right here in this room, as I'm sure you all have many stories to share about community leadership - stories that also speak volumes about talk - action = 0.

I gave the power of women advantage a lot of thought while listening to the Throne Speech yesterday. The Prime Minister presented a strategy to build a more global competitive sustainable economy, improve health care, invest in children and child care, deliver on a new deal for cities, focus on the environment and work towards a role of pride and influence in the world, while "treating every tax dollar with respect." I glanced around the Chamber and saw many women, committed to pushing the envelope on these very priorities and issues - the same women who will go back to their communities, like Hamilton, and call on many of you to get involved and help make a difference.

When the Governor General said, "The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the four key principles that parents and child care experts say matter - quality, universality, accessibility and development," I was thrilled for the very reasons you heard about when Irene introduced me earlier. And as a huge proponent of early learning and child care - having worked with the likes of the amazing Honourable Margaret McCain - it was clear to me that key women would not only be at the public policy development table, women would be the key drivers for planning and implementation. Very simply, it's the power of women advantage at work. There's no mistake about it - women intrinsically know that talk - action = 0.

The government also promised to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians, with respect to health care, employment, education and living standards. "The government and aboriginal peoples will together develop specific quality-of-life indicators and a "report card" to hold all to account and to drive progress." Once again, I was thrilled to hear this commitment and certain that women will play a key role in effecting change - making things happen.

You've seen/read some of the headlines this morning…here's some initial reaction about the Throne Speech from three leadership in action women:

1. "Today's Speech from the Throne commits to elevating our country's economic performance, investing in people and in our ability to generate and apply new ideas," says Claire M. Morris, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). "Universities are crucial to all of these priorities, playing a central role in creating knowledge and enhancing innovation in Canada." Claire knows that talk - action = 0.

2. Elaine Chambers, Chair of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association (NACCA) stated, "we're very happy to see the much needed initiatives undertaken by the federal government in health care, education and employment and we would hope that the same level of investment will also be extended to the aboriginal economy…we're willing to work with our partners in both the public and private sector to bring this business activity up to the same level as the rest of the Canadian population." Elaine knows that talk - action = 0.

3. The message from Ann MacLean, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Mayor of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia was: "We applaud the Government's commitment to cities and communities in the Speech from the Throne, particularly its promise to work with the provinces and territories to transfer a portion of the federal gas tax to municipalities," she said. "Now we need to sit down and hammer out some details." Ann also knows that talk - action = 0.

I'm delighted that Judy Marsales, MPP Hamilton West has joined us this afternoon. As most of you are aware, Judy was a highly successful broker with her own business, Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd. before entering politics. When I heard that Judy served as president of the Hamilton-Burlington & District Real Estate Board, president of Hamilton & District Chamber of Commerce and president of the Business Executives Organization, I knew her story was about the power of women advantage. And when I learned that Judy's been named Woman Entrepreneur of the Year for Hamilton-Wentworth and honoured with the Athena Award for professional excellence and community service, I also knew she could tell me something about talk - action = 0.

Since Sarmite (Sam) Bulte, MP for Parkdale-High Park is also a proud native of Hamilton, some of you may know that she's a tireless advocate for, and supporter of, women entrepreneurs. As chair of the former Prime Minister's Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs, Sam was front and centre on this issue. RBC made the decision in the mid-'90s to put more focus on women entrepreneurs as a market segment. The business case to support it was extraordinary. If anything, the track record of women entrepreneurs often makes them a surer bet. It's my view that they present a better personal risk assessment. Women tend to take care of things, go the extra mile and understand the importance of non-verbal communication. Plus, they're less likely to take unnecessary risks. Once again, it's the power of women advantage at work. As a postscript, one of the task force's recommendations is the creation of Women's Business Centres across Canada to provide better access to training, financing, marketing and other business services. You'll be pleased to hear that although one of these centres is already in the works for Toronto, the question was asked, "why not Hamilton"? Needless to say, Sam echoed the question, as Hamilton does make sense as a women's business centre location for a whole host of economic development/market reasons.

The Throne Speech referred to communities and community leadership. "What makes our communities strong is the willingness of men and women from all walks of life to take responsibility for their future. We can see this in the number of voluntary organizations and social economy enterprises that are finding local solutions to local problems. The Government is determined to foster the social economy - the myriad of not-for-profit activities and enterprises that harness civic and entrepreneurial energies for community benefit right across Canada. The Government will help to create the conditions for their success, including the business environment within which they work." The same applies to fostering Canada's ongoing tradition as a leader for peacekeeping communities - where we've witnessed remarkable work of Canadian men and women in places like Afghanistan, Bosnia and Haiti. Who knows that Talk - Peacekeeping Action = 0 more than those who risk their lives for our country?

Whether we're referencing the Throne Speech, a business plan, or a statement of intent, promises are only as good as leadership in action. Mere words are not enough to resolve Canada's challenges and opportunities or Hamilton's challenges and opportunities. "The real test is how long we have to wait for action based on those words." And that's where all of you come in - the power of women advantage is in your hands. Community leadership starts right here, not in city hall, the legislature or in Parliament - but at grassroots levels. And organizations like RBC have a partnership role to play too.

Gord Nixon, our President/CEO, sums it up well: "We believe that our success as a company is intrinsically connected to the economic and social well-being of our community and our country. To us, behaving in a socially responsible manner is not just something we want to do. It's something we know we must do as an essential part of our relationships with our customers/stakeholders and as a strategic investment in the future prosperity of a civic society…we believe that by contributing our funds, our network, our leadership and, most importantly, by encouraging and celebrating the involvement of our people, we can make a difference in helping to build a strong, healthy society."

Building community leadership is hugely important to RBC, our directors, customers, employees and stakeholders - to many of you as community builders and leaders - and to me. We support the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club and the Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, located right here in Hamilton, which helps to "improve life quality of children by reducing the suffering and disadvantage associated with emotional and behavioural problems." There are unlimited possibilities for private sector involvement on economic and social promises/issues right in the Throne Speech! RBC knows that talk - action = 0 and we rely on the power of women advantage in our own backyard to help make a difference!

In closing, supporting early learning and child care, women entrepreneurs and aboriginal peoples are my personal passions. However, it's time for business to step up to the plate - it's time for key leadership voices to be heard in greater numbers and to work in collaboration. The economic and social costs to individuals, communities, and the country of not taking action on issues that matter to this country - to your community - are far too great to ignore, especially when the benefits far outweigh the costs.

I'm confident this room is filled with community leadership success stories - the kind that should be bottled, duplicated and cheered. The Throne Speech itself is filled with ideas and opportunities for participation. I encourage all of you to be part of the power of women advantage - and to encourage your children and grandchildren to do likewise.

Talk - Action = 0 is much more than a bit of graffiti on a wall in the north end of Winnipeg. It's a message for all of us to get with the program and make a difference.

Thank you…now let's hear from you.


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