Over the last few decades, it has become almost a right of passage for Canadian Prime Ministers to make the trip to the Big Apple to speak to members of America’s financial elite at the Economic Club of New York. On March 3, 1998 PM Jean Chrétien took his turn at the club’s podium. A week previously Finance Minister Paul Martin had announced further Canadian government surpluses, plans for paying down the nation’s collective debt, and the restricting of government programs to reflect Canada’s place in the globalized economy.
It was therefore an opportune time for Canada’s PM to speak to this prestigious audience in NYC. With the new millennium only two-years away, the 20th Prime Minister showcased a government program that would become one of his greatest legacies.
“One of the most exciting elements …. is the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation,” the PM said. “This Foundation will award scholarships to more than one hundred thousand students each year over the next ten years through an initial endowment of 2.5 billion dollars. This will be the single largest investment ever made by a federal government to support young Canadians going to universities, colleges and vocational schools.”
“Let me put it in terms familiar to you,” Chrétien continued. “In your country, you remember the impact of the G.I. Bill on returning veterans. How it helped create the greatest sustained economic boom this continent, or for that matter, the world has ever known. This is the same principle behind the Millennium Scholarship.”
“Picture the impact on our economy. Again, in American terms, it would be comparable to a $25 billion scholarship fund in your country, helping a million students a year. That can give you something of a sense of what this project can mean for Canada and our economy going into a new century.”
In his conclusion, the PM expressed boundless optimism in Canada’s future.
“As you can see, the future, my country’s future, is something that fills me with great enthusiasm and confidence,” he said. “We have a success story to tell the world …. But this is not just the optimism of a Prime Minister boasting about his own country — although I am proud to do so. The optimism I am describing is the optimism of a nation that has been through a long and deep valley. That worked hard, very, very hard to find its way out.”
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