MP, Calgary Southwest and Leader of the Official Opposition
Chairman: Robert J. Dechert
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Bart J. Mindszenthy, A.P.R., Partner, Mindszenthy & Roberts Communications Counsel and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Reverend Dr. John Niles, Rector, Victoria Park United Church; Nadia Shewnarane, Senior Student, Parkdale Collegiate Institute; Michael Coren, Freelance Writer, The Toronto Sun, Author and' Broadcaster; Elwin Hermanson, Leader of the Saskatchewan Party and Leader of the Official Opposition in Saskatchewan; Tom Long, Egon Zehnder International Inc. and Chairman, 1999 Ontario PC Party Re-Election Campaign; Catherine Steele, Vice-President (Toronto) and Partner, GGA Communications and Third VicePresident, The Empire Club of Canada; Peter G. White, Executive Vice-President and Director, Argus Corp. Ltd. and Chairman, Canadian Alliance Fund; J. Lorne Braithwaite, President and CEO, Cambridge Shopping Centres Limited; Belinda Stronach, Executive Vice-President, Magna International Inc.; and George L. Cooke, President and CEO, The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company and Immediate Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by Robert J. Dechert
Politics like life and business is about risk and successful business people instinctively know that even with a good product or service rewards do not come without considerable risk.
Preston Manning has never retreated from taking risks to advance a cause in which he believes.
In 1987, he turned away from the status quo Canadian federal political parties and became one of the principal founders of the Reform Party of Canada. Within 10 years Mr. Manning led that fledgling political movement from obscurity to the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.
Despite these successes, Mr. Manning realised that in order for his supporters to be able to apply their principles in government a national coalition of small-c conservatives needed to be built.
He could have taken the easy route and simply continued to grow the Reform Party from within.
But he chose another route. He courageously and diplomatically invited other like-minded Canadians to join together in a new coalition to give Canadian voters a viable conservative alternative to the current government of Canada.
He reached out to Canadians of varied backgrounds including former supporters of the PC Party of Canada such as myself. He challenged us to define the common principles that we all shared and to build a new national conservative party.
And to demonstrate his good faith he agreed to put his own leadership on the line and to participate in an open, democratic and hotly contested race for the leadership of the new party.
He has encouraged the justifiably proud supporters of the Reform Party to "think big" and to join hands with fellow conservatives across Canada.
Approximately one year ago, Mr. Manning described for us the United Alternative vision arising out of the first United Alternative Convention held in February of 1999.
Following the recent successful conclusion of the second United Alternative Convention which founded the new Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Mr. Manning has graciously agreed to share with us his vision of the Canadian Alliance and its political prospects.
Ladies and gentlemen, once again, please welcome Mr. Preston Manning to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to address you today and thanks to the Empire Club for providing a forum from which to discuss national issues.
The job of the Official Opposition is two-fold. First, to hold the government accountable especially for the management of taxpayers' money. Is the HRD scandal the tip of an iceberg? Second, to provide an alternative to the government, capable of replacing it if it loses the confidence of Canadians.
As part of this responsibility I want to present to you a challenge to support the Canadian Alliance. We've been talking about the dark side of national politics namely the scandal at HRD. On the positive side, millions of people in all parts of the country share certain common goals and desires:
- To keep more of their own money (They want lower taxes);
- Responsible use of taxpayers' dollars (They are appalled by the HRD scandal);
- Freedom from debt (They don't want a mortgage on their future);
- Patient-centred health care without waiting lines or worry;
- Safer streets (They want criminal justice reform); o Support, protection and respect for families;
- Democratic control over politicians and judges;
- Co-operation between governments (better federalism) to ensure better health, education and social services.
Taken together, the achievement of these goals and dreams add up to a new and better Canada for a new century!
What political obstacles prevent the achievement of these goals and aspirations?
- A Liberal government in Ottawa committed only to its own preservation and the status quo.
- Division of the millions of Canadians who support these common goals into different political camps and factions.
As a result, a Liberal-oriented minority (only 38 per cent of Canadians voted Liberal in the last federal election) rules the majority, because the majority is a house divided!
What is the common-sense solution to this problem? If you ask rank-and-file Canadians, they say: "Why don't those of you in the federal arena who profess to believe in common goals and principles work together to achieve them?" "Your duty to Canada and Canadians is bigger than your partisan differences. Think big and work together!" If this advice is followed, it will be possible to win the 150-plus seats in the House of Commons required to displace the federal Liberals and achieve a new, principled government for the new century.
This common-sense advice to think big and work together has been met with two different responses at the federal level. The response of Joe Clark and the federal PCs (where "PC" now stands for neither "progressive" nor "conservative" but simply the "Party of Clark") has been negative. Joe Clark has resisted and rejected all invitations to work together with Reformers, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and others likeminded, to create amore broadly based, principled alternative to the Liberals. Joe Clark has even distanced himself from the tax-cutting policies, welfare reforms, and health-care reforms of the Klein and Harris Conservatives. Joe Clark has instead sought only to unite anti-free-trade interests, represented by David Orchard with Red Tories, Red Tories simply meaning liberals disguised as conservatives. on the other hand, the response of Reformers, many provincial PCs and others to the advice to think big and work together has been positive and resulted in the formation of the Canadian Alliance.
It began with efforts by Reformers to "reach out" at the 1998 Reform Assembly by proposing the United Alternative initiative.
The first UA Convention took place in February 1999. There were 1,500 delegates and participation by Conservatives, Reformers and like-minded others. There was agreement on "principled ground" -fiscal and social responsibility, democratic accountability and reformed federalism.
The internal Reform referendum provided a mandate to continue to participate in the UA process. The work of the eight UA Action Committees "put the flesh on the bones" defined by the first UA Convention.
The second UA Convention followed by the Reform Assembly in January 2000 resulted in the Canadian Alliance package of principles, policies, and constitution for a new federal party capable of fielding 301 candidates in the next federal election under a single banner.
Key features of the Canadian Alliance policy declaration and constitution include the 17-per-cent single-rate tax proposal.
There is a three-fold challenge in future opportunities to influence Alliance policy and determine Alliance leadership.
The first is the challenge to Torontonians.
The federal Liberals have failed to address Toronto issues:
The deterioration of health-care services; o Homelessness;
- Illegal immigration and crime;
- Infrastructure requirements; and
- The role of mega-cities in 21st-century federation.
How can a federal party which is rooted in the status quo and has no vision for Canada be expected to have a vision of Toronto as a 21st-century mega-city? I urge Torontonians to see the Canadian Alliance as a vehicle for addressing with vigour all those issues of importance to this city which the federal Liberals have ignored or taken for granted. But for this to happen your participation is required.
Second, there is a challenge to participate in determining the leadership of the Canadian Alliance.
A Party Referendum to determine whether Reform will participate in the Alliance concludes March 17, 2000. The results will be announced March 25, 2000.
The next step is a big, wide-open, one-member onevote contest to determine the leadership of the Alliance. Make sure you have a vote.
The Canadian Alliance provides an opportunity for people who feel they can lead to do so. The Alliance needs champions in the business community, 'in the social sectors, and in the political sphere. The Alliance needs political champions at the constituency/candidate level, the regional level, and the national level.
That's why I welcome leadership candidates like Stockwell Day, the Alberta Finance Minister, into the contest. I sincerely hope there will be other candidates--like a quality representative of the Harris Conservatives whose presence and contribution to the leadership contest will help build and broaden the Alliance.
But what all of us need to understand is that this is not simply a contest for the leadership of a new party. There is a bigger picture here. What Canada needs is a new prime minister-a prime minister who will lower taxes and debt, who will get everyone working together again to fix health care and who will restore integrity and accountability to the federal government.
I am ready to do that job, but I need the opportunity to prove and demonstrate that convincingly to others. I give few things in public life more importance than seeking and obtaining a democratic mandate from electors. Accordingly, I wish to be as free as I can possibly be over the next few months to meet with members of the new Alliance to discuss issues with them, to share ideas and to ask for support.
Speaking personally-and only with regard to my own position as Leader of the Official Opposition-I do not think it possible to do the best I can as both Leader of the Opposition and an Alliance leadership candidate over the next few months. And so today I have advised our caucus that once the referendum results are known and I formally launch my leadership campaign, I will step aside as Leader of the Official Opposition in order to devote the maximum amount of time and attention to the voters in our leadership election.
I have asked our Deputy Parliamentary Leader, Caucus Chair, and longest-serving MP, Deborah Grey, if she is prepared to assume the role of Acting Leader of the Official Opposition during this period.
The selection of an Acting Leader is a decision for our parliamentary caucus to make when the time comes, but I believe that most of us will readily agree that Deb has demonstrated the ability to take on this role, has earned our respect and support, and will continue to ensure that the Official Opposition is effective in holding the Liberal government accountable, particularly for its mismanagement of public funds.
I of course will continue to represent my Calgary Southwest constituents, to participate as a member of our caucus and in Parliament as required, and to fulfil any legal responsibilities I may have as Party Leader during the transition period. But I feel it most appropriate to leave the role of Acting Official Opposition Leader in Deb's very capable hands.
The challenge is to think and act Big! Join with us and other like-minded Canadians in building the Canadian Alliance. Tax reform, health-care reform and the Canadian Alliance itself are BIG concepts that will make BIG differences in lives of Canadians.
Getting Toronto issues back on the national agenda is a BIG job. It requires us to Think and Act Big! We are citizens of the second-largest country on the face of the earth. You are residents of the biggest city in Canada. This requires you, our leaders and our political institutions, to Think and Act Big! Your great big city with all its needs and potential and your great big country with its unlimited future require you to THINK AND ACT BIG!
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by George L. Cooke, President and CEO, The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company and Immediate Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.