Premier of Ontario
STRONG LEADERSHIP FOR A STRONG ONTARIO
Chairman: Robert J. Dechert
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
George L. Cooke, President and CEO, The Dominion General Insurance Company of Canada and Immediate Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Chris Cowperthwaite, OAC Honour Roll Student and President of the Student Council, Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute; The Reverend Dr. John Gladstone, Minister Emeritus, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church; Frank Dimant, Executive Vice-President, B'Nai Brith Canada; Doug Rice, General Manager, Private Banking, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce; Jim Jones, MP, Member of Parliament, Markham; Janet Harris, Spouse of Premier Harris; Gareth S. Seltzer, Vice-President, Private Wealth Management, Guardian Capital Advisors and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Durhane Wong-Rieger, PC Candidate, Toronto Centre-Rosedale and President, Canadian Hemophilia Society; Carmen Yarley, Earth Boring Company Limited; The Hon. William G. Davis, QC, Former Premier of Ontario, Partner, Tory Tory DesLaurier and Binnington and Honorary Solicitor, The Empire Club of Canada; and Scott Joliffe, Managing Partner, Gowling Strathy & Henderson.
Introduction by Robert J. Dechert
Ladies and gentlemen, you may recall that Mike Harris last addressed The Empire Club of Canada in 1995 prior to the general election.
Ontario was in rough shape. The economy was still struggling from the severe recession of the early 90s, Ontario's personal, corporate and payroll taxes were at record highs and employment and job creation were at record lows.
Mike Harris presented to us his Common Sense Revolution plan to restore Ontario as the engine of growth of the Canadian economy. His plan included an aggressive restructuring of government combined with deficit and tax reduction.
Mike Harris was not the first politician to promise to reduce taxes; understandably, Ontarians were sceptical. But Mike Harris connected with the voters of Ontario on a number of levels because his ideas-although new to government-seemed to have a common wisdom about them. They struck us as being derived from the basic truths we all knew instinctively-the rules that we all live our lives by-but could we trust him to deliver on his promises? Well four years later, regardless of how you feel about the implementation of the policies of the Harris government, you have to admit Mike Harris has done what he said he was going to do. Imagine that-a politician whose word you can trust!
As promised, the Harris government cut the provincial income tax rate by 30 per cent. At the same time, Ontario's 1995 budget deficit of $11.3 billion has been substantially reduced and is on track to be balanced in 2000.
More than 540,000 jobs have been created in Ontario over the last four years reducing unemployment in Ontario to 6.4 per cent, its lowest rate in a decade.
Not surprisingly, consumer confidence is back, housing starts are up and Ontario is once again leading Canada and outperforming each of the G-7 nations in terms of its annual rate of economic growth.
Ontario is clearly back on track, but just as clearly, there is more to do.
Less than two weeks ago, Premier Harris released his Blueprint plan for strengthening our economy, creating more jobs and making Ontario a better place in which to live. And true to his word Mike Harris has called the general election for June 3rd to allow the voters of Ontario to judge the past performance of his government as well as his plan for the future.
Premier Harris has graciously agreed today to outline the highlights of his Blueprint plan for us.
Ladies and gentlemen it is my very great honour and privilege to call on The Honourable William Davis to share with us a few of his personal observations and to welcome Premier Harris to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.
The Hon. William Davis made some remarks.
Good afternoon everyone. First, let me thank The Honourable Bill Davis for that very kind introduction. I want to say how much I appreciate the former premier coming here today.
I served with Bill Davis and I've learned a great deal from him. He is a man who made us all proud to be Ontarians, a premier whose tremendously positive legacy still remains to this day and a leader that every premier who has followed looks to with the greatest respect and admiration.
It's a pleasure to be speaking to the Empire Club today. The last time I spoke at this prestigious platform was in May, 1995 in the midst of a provincial election. It has been an honour to address this respected organisation on issues facing our province and our country.
This afternoon is no exception. In fact, the choices that we must make have never been more urgent or important. On June 3rd, the citizens of this province will have an opportunity to choose a detailed, balanced plan that will keep our economy growing and strong; a plan that by maintaining our economic momentum will protect those things that make Ontario the envy of the world. That plan is our Blueprint for a better quality of life. It is our Blueprint for a better Ontario.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've been sitting in the premier's chair for four years. It is a challenging job. As premier, I have made difficult but necessary changes that have attracted a lot of attention-attention from some of the people outside this hall today. They are usually around wherever I travel and speak. Some of them may have spoken to you on the way in. They have strong views. I respect that. Those who disagree with my party's vision or the job I have done as premier have every right to express their views. Certainly, they haven't been shy in doing so.
Let me say this, however. During my four years as premier, I've dealt with the people who organise these demonstrations. They are forceful. They are well-financed. They are well-organised. They know what they want and when they want it. As premier, you must always be prepared to listen to all viewpoints not just the loudest or the most threatening. And you must make decisions which you know at the end of the day will benefit all the people of Ontario.
I can tell you from doing this job that if you give in to pressure and don't do what you know is right, these folks will sense weakness and they'll push any premier and any government around on every decision, every day of the week. If Ontario's leadership caves in, if you let them drown you out, if you let them drive decisions, the people who'll really pay the price are the people who quietly go about their lives-those who work a full day, pay their taxes, respect our laws and pull their weight in our communities.
The commitment I made in becoming premier was never to forget the people who sent me to Queen's Park. I was sent to turn Ontario around by people who by and large don't attend protests, by people who don't get covered on the nightly news. I know them and they know me. And I believe in them. I believe in their hopes; I believe in their dreams. They are the mainstream of Ontario and I have tried in my own way to provide them with a say in Ontario's future. I work everyday on behalf of the people who are not represented by the demonstrators outside this hall. I have stood up for those who know all too well what taxing and spending and pandering to the special interests and unions did to Ontario for far too long. On their behalf, with their continued confidence and support, I will re-dedicate myself to continuing the work of keeping Ontario on the right track.
The people outside and my political opponents paint a pretty negative story about Ontario and where it stands. As I travel Ontario, however, I have to say that I hear a very different story. Mr. Davis, there was a tremendous pride and optimism in our province when you were premier-thanks to your leadership. For 10 years after you left Queen's Park, however, Ontario lost its place. We did not move forward. We did not get stronger. In fact, with all the tax hikes and red tape we grew weaker. Today, however, I am pleased to say that the pride and optimism of the people of Ontario are back and we are getting stronger every day.
That optimism is also returning to our business people. Let me tell you about one company, whose owner recently wrote to tell me her story.
This company started as a family-run business in 1947 and is still a family-run business today. Mrs. Carmen Yarley, whose husband Tom passed away recently, now runs this business with her son. I am so pleased that she has joined us today at the head table. I'm sure Mrs. Yarley won't mind me saying that her business isn't very exciting because it's "boring." That's what they do; they bore holes into the ground. I told you it wasn't very exciting.
They have worked together as a family, year after year, using their skills and working hard, taking pride in their work, helping to build a strong Ontario, providing a good living for their family and for the workers they hired. On weekends, the Yarleys would invite their employees and their families over for barbecues and a few laughs. They cared about their workers, and worked hard to bring in business, knowing that their workers' livelihoods depended on their success.
But just as things were starting to go really well, just as they were starting to make some good money for their families, in came the red tape, the regulations, and the job-killing taxes of the 80s and early 90s. Mrs. Yarley said in her letter to me: "We were taxed to death and contracts were scarce." They nearly went bankrupt. They saw no future in Ontario and seriously considered moving south of the border, taking their jobs and expertise with them.
Happily, they didn't because they saw hope. In 1995, along came a new team with a plan to lower taxes, reduce job-killing red tape and stand up for the real needs of hard-working, middle class people in Ontario. Mrs. Yarley says that by eliminating the Liberal's job-killing EHT payroll tax, we helped them save enough money to buy some new machinery. They found that suddenly the whole economy was turning around. With more construction, demand for their services was going up again.
Our plan was working. It was saving companies just like the Yarleys' business and creating jobs. Since we've come to office, the Yarleys have been able to hire three additional workers. Three new jobs may not sound a tot, but to the Yarleys it is almost a 50-per-cent increase in their staff and to the families those jobs now support, they mean everything.
Ladies and gentlemen, four years ago our province was in shambles. We developed a plan to turn our province around. The people of Ontario put their trust in that plan and voted for it. Since 1995, we've implemented the plan and it has worked. Growth has returned to our economy. Confidence is back. People have hope. Today, Ontario's economy leads Canada and outperforms the other industrialised countries of the world. Just last week, we learned that Ontario's GDP growth is double the rest of Canada.
However, we can't take our progress for granted. We can't afford to coast. We must keep moving forward by cutting taxes and removing barriers to growth because, as much as we have accomplished, there is still more to do. We still have a long way to go to reduce residential property taxes, to reduce marginal tax rates and to reduce the number of people trapped in the cycle of welfare dependency to the levels under Mr. Davis in the 1980s.
Now-as Mr. Davis used to say-I'm feeling a little awkward here about being partisan. Although this is not a partisan event, we are in the middle of an important election-an important choice for Ontarians. While I want to keep Ontario's economy healthy and performing at peak condition, let me tell you about a couple of guys who want to take our strong economy out for a night on the town. And they don't seem worried about how Ontarians are going to feel the next morning. Howard Hampton and Dalton McGuinty think the tax-and-spend frenzy is back on. And their inexperience and underdeveloped approach would reverse our hard-won gains.
Mr. McGuinty and the Liberals voted against all of the initiatives that we've taken to get Ontario's economy rolling. They voted against all our legislation to get Ontario back on the right track. They voted against every single one of our tax cuts. Dalton McGuinty went on television and said: "Don't look to me for a further tax cut. I'm not the 'tax-cut guy."' Mr. McGuinty said: "Mike Harris, he's the 'tax-cut guy."'
Well, I am the "tax-cut guy" because tax cuts put more money into the pockets of hard-working families. I am the "tax-cut guy" because tax cuts increase take-home pay and stimulate economic growth. You're dam right I'm the "tax-cut guy" and let me tell you why. Tax cuts create jobs-more jobs for a province that lost too many jobs before we came to power. Ladies and gentlemen, Ontario needs more tax cuts to undo the damage of the Liberal and NDP tax hikes from 1985 to 1995.
We live in a volatile global economy, in which we are competing for jobs and investment with the rest of the world. Ontario must stay competitive. If our taxes are too high, jobs, growth and wealth will go elsewhere. And that reduces our ability to pay for first-class health care. We need tax cuts to stay competitive. Tax cuts are our recession protection.
The Liberals and the NDP just don't get it. They haven't learned from the people who told them they'd had enough of their irresponsible and extravagant promises, their taxing and spending, their inability to get their numbers straight. And, let there be no doubt-the Liberals will give us deficits, higher taxes and overspending. With Howard Hampton, it's more-a lot more-of the same taxing and spending agenda. Simply put, Ontario cannot afford Dalton McGuinty. Nor can we afford Howard Hampton.
Unlike our Blueprint, their election documents barely mention jobs and economic growth. Jobs and growth don't magically appear out of thin air. They require a strong plan designed to build economic growth and stimulate job creation. The NDP and the Liberals think the economy will grow by magic. They think we can close our eyes, cross our fingers and wish for economic growth. Well, it just doesn't work that way! My political opponents have no real plan for job creation. What they do have is a list of expensive promises-some of them in their platforms and some of them hidden that can only lead to higher taxes, runaway deficits, or both.
The Liberals have said that our tax cuts are "loony." And whenever 1 hear Liberals say that tax cuts are "loony," I'm reminded of something that's very important to me. This is my loonie jar. I keep this jar in my office and I carry it with me when I'm on the road. It reminds me of the people I am working for every day-hard-working, middle-class Ontario families that need, and deserve, a tax break. After all, this is their money taken away from them by excessive taxation and they deserve it back
This loonie jar contains $1,385. Compared to 1995, that's what the typical, hard-working Ontario family will save because of our 30-per-cent cut to income tax rates. I'm going to add another jar to that-one containing $625. It's filled with even more money that will be returned to the people who earned it. That's because we will cut the provincial income tax rate by another 20 per cent beginning on July 1 and phased in over the remainder of the next term. This $625 represents the full-year savings for a family earning $60,000.
But we're not going to stop there. We'll also cut the provincial portion of residential property taxes by 20 per cent-providing relief to every homeowner and renter in Ontario.
Ladies and gentlemen, the debate's over. Tax cuts create jobs And these new tax cuts are key components of our Blueprint. This is our plan. It's our plan to keep our economy strong, and to keep Ontario strong. I want you to read this plan. I want you to compare it to the other parties. I know you will agree that this is a balanced plan to ensure continued prosperity and growth. It is a plan for safe schools and quality education. A plan for a 20-percent increase in health funding. A plan to get people off welfare and into meaningful work.
If I've learned anything since first becoming premier it's that if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. If you don't believe in what you're doing, there's no reason that anyone else should either. These lessons really just reinforced what I learned from my mother and father, growing up and working in North Bay.
I am intensely proud to be premier of this province. I want us to continue to work together. I want us to continue to build an Ontario that is full of opportunity and hope and confidence.
Ontario may have lost its balance in the 10 years after Mr. Davis left Queen's Park, but together we have put Ontario back on the right track. We are once again leading this great country of Canada. And our Blueprint will maintain our momentum, boost confidence and build a brighter future for every Ontario family.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by George L. Cooke, President and CEO, The Dominion General Insurance Company of Canada and Immediate Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.