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Meet Senator

Dennis Dawson

The Hon. Dennis  Dawson, B.A., M.B.A. Senator Dennis Dawson was elected as one of the youngest members of Parliament in Canadian history where he served his constituents of Louis-Hébert for three consecutive terms. He was appointed to the Senate on August 2, 2005, and represents the province of Quebec and the Senatorial Division of Lauzon.

Statements & Hansard

Post-secondary Education Inquiry—Debate Continued

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Statement made on 20 February 2007 by Senator Marilyn Trenholme Counsell (retired)

Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell:

Honourable senators, I rise in place of Senator Callbeck, who is travelling with the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, which is conducting hearings on rural poverty.

It is a great pleasure to speak to this inquiry introduced by Senator Tardif. I applaud her for her passion — born of a distinguished career in education — and her tireless commitment to this subject. In her exhortation to fellow senators on June 13, 2006, Senator Tardif said:

It is my belief that, despite the acknowledged importance of post-secondary education to the economic and social success of Canadians, we as governors and policy-makers have failed in providing it with the focus, direction and support it deserves.

We must move now, honourable senators — swiftly, efficiently and intelligently — and end the stagnation and stalemate looming around this important public policy issue.

Senator Tardif reminded us that Canada's post-secondary attainment rate of 44 per cent is not good enough. We must aim much higher to compete in the 21st century with countries such as the United States, India and China, and we must do much more to increase the ratio of graduate-to-undergraduate students in our universities, to align us with other local competitors.

Senator Tardif left no doubt about the urgency of her inquiry, saying:

The race is on . . . . waiting for one year or more might be the difference between Canada being a global player and a global pretender.

I come from Atlantic Canada, where we realize that for far too long we have been exporting brains. We are determined to do better when it comes to keeping our brightest and our best at home, or at the very least to bring them home after valuable adventure and experience in other parts of Canada and around the world.

The skills, the academic and professional achievements, the pride of our young women and men from our four Maritime provinces are not a coincidence. Certainly this story is not only a reflection of the strong women and men who have braved the elements of the Atlantic and the comparative isolation of our region from the power of central Canada, and now of Alberta. It is all of this, but equally the remarkable tradition of education in Atlantic Canada, beginning with those who came first.

So much of this tradition was born around the kitchen tables in the homes of families of French, British, German and Scandinavian families, to mention only a few. From these homes came the men and women who founded our universities and colleges, which today merge seamlessly with the fabric of our communities.

Visit St. John's, Newfoundland, where you will see, on the cliffs of that great city, the astonishing development of Memorial University. Come to Moncton, New Brunswick, and you will be amazed by the pride the Université de Moncton has in our bilingual society and throughout the Francophonie. The University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College have experienced remarkable growth into fields recognized internationally. All of this began in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia, where we probably have not only the largest number of Tim Hortons per capita, but also the highest number of university and college spaces.

Mount Allison was the first university in the British Commonwealth to give a bachelor's degree to a woman, in 1875. The University of New Brunswick is one of the oldest universities in North American, dating to 1829.

The cooperative movement began at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and this province is in an ongoing competition with New Brunswick for excellence in undergraduate education, with Acadia and St. Francis Xavier vying in turn with Mount Allison for first place nationally, with these universities always being in the top tier.

The long traditions of the University of King's College and those of Dalhousie stand beside the Acadian University of St. Anne's in Nova Scotia, while in New Brunswick, liberal arts flourish at St. Thomas in Fredericton.

Our community colleges, our colleges of craft and design, and our faith institutions such as the Atlantic Baptist University all add to this richness of educational opportunity in Atlantic Canada.

Yet, many of our young people are left behind for reasons that I will discuss later, reasons that exhort you and me, my fellow senators, to speak out and to act.

First, however, I want to offer you a taste of the nobility and the strength of vision that flows from our leading educators in my home province.

Dr. John McLaughlin, President of the University of New Brunswick, said on January 9, 2007:

Choosing excellence and pursuing quality will take imagination and courage . . .

At the time of his installation as UNB's seventeenth president, this visionary leader spoke of his university as "a primary source of knowledge creation and talent, the critical foundation of competitiveness and prosperity."

From poetry to advances in magnetic resonance imaging, to early childhood development, to an ever-stronger relationship with China in business education, UNB "represents knowledge and enlightenment . . . a repository for cultural values . . . an instrument for reform . . . providing an example of the best aspects of human interaction and endeavour."

Dr. McLaughlin stated unequivocally that "the future well-being of Canada and Canadians . . . will ultimately be . . . dramatically affected . . . by the quality and effectiveness of education." He said:

If the role of government is to help create the climate for change . . . it is the role of education to be the instrument of change . . . the role of business to be the engine of change.

There, quite simply, is the diagram: Government, educational institutions and business in partnership to advance Canada in the 21st century.

The president of UNB continued:

Governments must not only show strong leadership and investment on climate change per se, but also in the nation's education, creating a climate for research, for learning and for opportunity and competitiveness.

Dr. Robert Campbell, President of Mount Allison University, provided this commentary on February 18, 2007:

For a civilized and prosperous country like Canada, the post-secondary sector is one of the highest and most important public goods. Universities have. . . . played a double historical mission in Canada's development.

On the one hand, they have played a key role in extending knowledge and understanding to an ever-widening proportion of Canadian society, thereby increasing our citizens' capacity to contribute to and sustain our democratic system in an increasingly complex world. We need an educated, sophisticated, insightful and understanding citizenry to address issues like environmentalism, multiculturalism and international political uncertainties as well as to sustain family life, personal health and social well-being in a challenging world.

On the other hand, (they have played a determining role in educating the researchers and thinkers that developed the ideas, techniques, innovation and knowledge that have increased our society's capacity to create wealth and increase and extend prosperity. We need to train and educate a greater proportion of future generations to ever higher levels, if Canada is to maintain and extend its competitive capacity.

These two elements are intimately intertwined. Democracy thrives where there is extended economic prosperity, and economic prosperity requires an educated and involved citizenry and political system.

He concluded:

All Canadians benefit from the health of our democratic institutions and practices Thus, all Canadians through their governments should encourage public investment in this wonderful and consequential public good.

The genius of the expansion of the post-secondary system in the post-war period was that it was done as a partnership amongst governments at all levels, private citizens and families and the supporters of the university through philanthropy.

Honourable senators, I believe that Senator Tardif was calling for nothing less than a renewal of this genius when she called for "national leadership and genuine inter-governmental collaboration . . . ." The senator called for "more funding and support" with "tangible goals and deadlines." She called for the "same courage, fortitude and entrepreneurial spirit that emboldened the founders of this grand experiment called Canada . . . ."

Honourable senators, when I think about the courage and vision of the founders of Canada, I think of the example of the Acadians in my province. In 2007, the Université de Moncton is a testament to the aspirations and dreams of the men and women who found, in their history, the determination to build a strong, modern society in order to achieve their full potential as francophones, as New Brunswickers and as Canadians.

Each year, thanks to this university, an increasing number of young Acadians gain the confidence to build a life full of hope and opportunity, regardless of where they choose to pursue their careers. Furthermore, the Université de Moncton welcomes students from other provinces and, of course, from other countries, from la Francophonie in particular.

On the occasion of the Université de Moncton's 40th anniversary in 2003, President Yvon Fontaine said:

The Université de Moncton has had a profound effect in shaping the socio-economic and cultural development of our province. At the same time, the university is achieving national and international recognition.

Honourable senators, I know that this wonderful success would not have been possible without the contribution from all the governments that shared the Acadian dream and provided the necessary financial support, in collaboration with the private sector, during these four decades to build this bastion of education and culture.

This should serve as an example for current governments, an example of public investment that is essential to Canada's national and international progress.

When I think of St. Thomas University, I am reminded of the great merit in a democratic society of embracing the very finest principles of equality and of reaching out to youth from all backgrounds to offer them the education they deserve. This small university walks the talk when it comes to Aboriginal studies and educational opportunities for Aboriginals. It does this and so much more with dedication and generosity.

If we need an example of what small "l" liberalism is all about, we need look no further than St. Thomas. As we study the post-secondary challenges in Canada, I suggest that we have in my province a shining example.

As one who believes profoundly in education, lifelong education beginning at birth, I could not be more certain of the importance of Senator Tardif's inquiry. She has called for "national leadership and genuine inter-governmental collaboration," with "a transparent and collaborative consultation process" that includes "a first ministers' meeting on post-secondary education and skills training." She called for urgency in this regard.

In all of this, honourable senators, let us always use a wide lens and a long view in our deliberations. Too many Canadian youth are missing their chance to have post-secondary education with all its possibilities for the future because for too long we have undervalued our community colleges and our specialized colleges.

In the arts, in high technology, in trades, in early child development and child care, in home care and services to our seniors and our veterans and in so many other courses, our colleges offer a place for young women and men to begin to reach their full potential. At the same time, the programs and the vision of our colleges provide the fountain of people needed to ensure a caring society for Canada.

Not only must governments do more, but our communities must do more to create an environment where each young Canadian can contribute to the very best of his or her potential. No one can be left out.

To make this happen, we must be vigilant and have continual reassessment of our system of scholarships, bursaries and loans. The repayment of these loans where applicable, must be a priority of parliamentarians. I believe in fairness between what the state provides and what the individual student and his or her family pays.

As a nation, we can do better when it comes to setting the stage financially and philosophically for all of our institutes of post-secondary education, be it a small college, a trade school or one of our internationally recognized pre-eminent universities.

In each case, the goal should be nothing less than excellence and equal opportunity. Canada wants more Rhodes Scholars and more Nobel Prize winners. We want a chance for each of Canada's children to feel proud and to succeed.

Let us be very honest as we study post-secondary education, remembering that we are neglecting too often the most vulnerable in our society, our Aboriginal youth, our challenged youth, our rural youth and many in our cities who drop out of our educational systems for reasons we can and must address and overcome. There can be no greater challenge in a democracy, and I know Canada can meet that challenge.

In closing, I would like to use words spoken by Dr. David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto, where I was so fortunate to receive my Doctor of Medicine degree. He said:

I believe we have an obligation to pass along a stronger, more sustainable and more rational system of education. In such a system, I hope that great universities will be even better positioned to shape the great minds of the future. And if we are successful, the students of today and tomorrow will make their children's world a kinder, gentler, healthier, greener and altogether better place.

I would like to thank Senator Claudette Tardif for her leadership in the Senate of Canada as a champion of primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

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