The Hon. Jean Charest, Minister of the Environment and Progressive Conservative Leadership Candidate
CANADIAN POLITICS FOR A NEW CANADIAN CENTURY
Chairman: Dr. Frederic L. R. Jackman President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Julie K. Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and 3rd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; The Very Rev. Nicholas Bolderiff, Rector, Christ The Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral; Sheldon Taylor, President, John Brooks Community Foundation and Scholarship Fund and Member, Part-Time Faculty, History Department, York University; Sarah Band, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Allan Fotheringham, Columnist, Financial Post and Maclean's Magazine; Michelle Dionne, Special Education Teacher and wife of our guest speaker; Ron Graham, Journalist and Author on Canadian Politics, Religion in Canada and French-Canadian History--currently working on recent book about Public Life Today; The Hon. Barbara McDougall, P.C., MP, Secretary of State for External Affairs; Hershell Ezrin, Executive Vice-President, Speedy Muffler King and 2nd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; Elizabeth Harvey, grade 13 student, St. Clement's School; Charles Pachter, one of Canada's most distinguished artists; Susan Eng, Chair, Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board; Prof. J. Robert S.
Prichard, President, University of Toronto; Dr. Sherry Cooper, Director and Chief Economist, Burns Fry Limited.
Introduction by Dr. Jackman
Welcome to the fourth in our series of luncheons with candidates for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. For those of you who have not been with us for previous speakers in this series, The Empire Club organized these luncheons to give the candidates an opportunity to talk at length about their visions and ideas for Canada. At the conclusion of his address today, Mr. Charest will answer questions. Please print your questions on the cards at each table and raise your hand and your card will be collected.
Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday was famous for celebrating the heroic Maple Leafs. Today, of course, is Jean Charest day! In recognition of The Honourable Minister's appearance at The Empire Club, The Toronto Sun, The Financial Post and Macleans Magazine have all featured him on their front pages and the day is only half-done.
The Honourable Jean Charest is fond of sharing the advice given to him by his father. His father told him that there are three important things needed to succeed in life. The first thing is "le travail"-work. The second thing is "le travail," and the third thing is "le travail." Judging from his past achievements, there is no doubt that he took the advice seriously.
Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1958, Jean Charest earned an LL.B. at the University de Sherbrooke. He practised criminal law until 1984 when, against the advice of so-called wiser minds, at the age of 26, he ran for the House of Commons against a four-time Liberal incumbent and was elected as the Member for Sherbrooke. In 1986, Mr. Charest at age 28 became the Minister of State for Youth, the youngest cabinet minister ever appointed in Canada. For those who would caution youth against the pitfalls of high office, we must remember William Pitt, who at the age of 24 became Prime Minister of England and served 18 years as a distinguished First Minister.
Many of Jean Charest's youthful achievements, government and cabinet posts are described in the brief biography on your tables. But I would draw attention to the special committee to study the proposed companion resolution to the Meech Lake Accord which Minister Charest chaired.
The resulting Charest Report led to Lucien Bouchard leaving the Progressive Conservative Party and forming the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Recent polls suggest that our speaker is the only current Conservative political leader who could defeat the Bloc in Quebec. Ladies and gentlemen, Jean Charest has created a record of accomplishment that would be impressive at any age. However, lest you think that the Minister's life is all "le travail," let me assure you otherwise. His wife Michelle Dionne, and his three children (Amelie, Antoine, and Alexandra) ensure--that it also includes time for "le fun."
Most of you think that today is June 2, but in the parlance of election campaigns which, not surprisingly, work backwards, today is day 11--that is 11 days until election day. Or 11 days left for the tortoise to pass the hare and win the race. The Financial Post says the race is "neck and neck" and today's sold-out audience suggests that Jean Charest could win the race.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome The Honourable Jean Charest.
Ten days from today, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada will choose a new leader, a new prime minister. That person's role will be to guide that party, and this country, into a new century of Canadian success.
Naturally, I am in that race to win. And naturally, I believe I would be the better leader, the better prime minister. But that is not my decision. Not at our convention, not in the election that will follow. Canadians will make that decision. My goal is to prove to Canadians that I am worthy of their choice.
I am pleased with the progress we have made. What started as a coronation is now a contest. What was declared a rout is now a race. As the saying goes, I am number two, but trying harder. And maybe, just maybe, the tale of the tortoise and the hare is true. But I'm not there yet.
My approach has been straightforward--to be straight with Canadians. To outline my ideas--directly. To meet with Canadians from coast to coast and describe my hopes and my dreams for my country. I believe in the sort of leadership described by Edward R. Murrow, the great journalist. He said: "To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful." And that has governed my campaign.
I am also pleased with the conduct of the process as a whole. Leadership campaigns can be divisive. But this campaign has not been like that. It has been civilized, and rational, as befits the stakes and the expectations of Canadians, inside and outside my party.
Today, I want to talk about our country, and its future, not the convention and my future. I want to talk about a new Canadian politics for a new Canadian century. If we ever could, we can't coast any more in this country. If before we could avoid hard choices, we need to make them now. And if before we could rely on luck, now we need leadership.
There are pressures from outside Canada that require us to come together in strength, not stand apart in silence. There are pressures inside that make it more necessary than ever that we consciously construct community out of difference. There are pressures from the past--of debt, of deficits--that demand tough decisions, but fair decisions. We need a type of politics that is worthy of this country. We need a politics of results, not rhetoric. Canadians know what the problems are.
Canadians don't have a problem with going into the polling booth every four or five years. The problem they have is what we do after they leave. No wonder Canadians grow weary and wary of politics when they are treated seriously only when an election comes, or a leader is chosen.
We need more realism today, less rhetoric; more decision, less dubious debate. Furthermore, I believe that this country needs a strong dose of hope. Not tilting at windmills. Not the hope that comes from denial. But Canadian hope, built on knowing our values and sustaining them, of knowing our strengths and building on them. For too long, we've been telling each other that we're not good enough, that time has passed us by, that Canada's best years are over, that wherever the future is being built, it's not here. What message of hope are we sending? What self-fulfilling prophecy are we building?
Nobody was mesmerized by weakness when we Canadians invented medicare. R.B. Bennett was not cringing when he established the CBC. Lester Pearson was not pouting when he put peacekeeping in place. The Fathers of Confederation were not nurturing nostalgia when they thought Canada was a country worth creating. There is an old saying--where there's a will, there's a way. We know the ways. We now need to demonstrate the will.
I have put forward a platform that is clear and straightforward. I believe it focusses on the issues that matter most to Canadians, to our country, to our future. That platform is about more jobs. It is about less debt. It is about better results from government. And it is about restoring to Canadians their freedom to choose, for themselves, for their children, for their country. That platform is built on a foundation--of purpose, of hope, of vision.
This is not an easy time for Canadians. Nor is it for our country. There is real fear, real frustration, a real desire for results. Canadians who have a job worry that they might lose it. Canadians who have lost their job fear that they will never find another one again. Canadians look at their schools, and they see too many children leaving and not enough learning--of the basics, of how to read and to write. Canadians look into their streets, and they feel safety slipping away. Canadians look at our great national programmes and worry that they will not be there when they need them--when they are old, or sick, or when hard times arrive. The role of leadership today is to help end the hurting, and to start the healing. To help restore pride and purpose to the lives of Canadians. It is time to give Canada back to Canadians.
Addressing a debt is not about balance sheets or bankers. It is about the damage the debt does to the personal dignity and goals of all Canadians, to their ability to do great things together. Addressing the issue of jobs is not a matter of StatsCan statistics, or G-7 comparisons. It is about helping Canadians secure not only prosperity, but the pride and responsibility and capacity to contribute to community and to country. Addressing the environment is not only about saving trees. It is about preserving our Canadian heritage, our hallmark. If we protect the environment, we are protecting part of our Canadian soul. And re-examining our national social programmes is not about abandoning Canada, but keeping Canada, and its values and practices alive.
Let me be clear. The debt is a problem today because governments yesterday did not look ahead. I do not want us to make that mistake again on the programmes that matter more to Canadians than just about anything else. Ten years from today, Canadians who are sick must not worry about where their health care will come from. Twenty years from today, pensioners must not be faced with the bankruptcy of a programme they helped fund. And we must ensure that people who are put out of work through no fault of their own can still count on the support of their country.
The issues that confront us are challenging, and some of them are complex. But I believe the qualities of good leadership are simple and straightforward.
First, leadership is the will to make hard choices. To be willing to say that not everything can be, or should be, a priority. To be able to focus on four or five key issues and get results. To tell Canadians the truth about how hard and how long our efforts must be. To be willing to say that we cannot afford some programmes today, in the interest of ensuring that we will be able to afford better programmes tomorrow.
Second, leadership is the will to lead by example. We cannot expect Canadians to sacrifice and not sacrifice ourselves. That is true of government, where we can no longer afford the complexity and the cost created by a cabinet of 35 Ministers, and why I have proposed reducing the number of ministers to 25, and the number of departments to 15. On pensions, we cannot provide for politicians better than we do for other Canadians. Is it right, that I, could leave politics and collect a pension and double dip for decades? As I said in the Halifax debate, that system must be reformed so that pensions of politicians should more closely reflect the pensions Canadians themselves can expect.
Third, leadership is protecting and speaking for those who are most vulnerable. The easiest group in society to protect is the majority, because they can always protect themselves. The test of leadership is in the protection of minorities.
That is why, in the Montreal debate a few weeks ago, I believed it was necessary to speak out in favour of minority language rights. Political convenience might have said otherwise. But I am talking about being the prime minister of Canada, not the prime minister of a place called convenience. I believe the prime minister of Canada should defend the rights of the English minority in Quebec just as he or she should the rights of the French minority in the rest of Canada. I have, and I will.
Fourth, leadership is bringing Canadians together in common cause for their country. It is a quest for the highest common ground, not easy acquiescence in the lowest common denominator. The easiest thing to do is to divide Canadians, to set them apart, to seek power and popularity by building a sense of "us" versus "them." Well, the only people in my Canada are Canadians. We need to work harder at tolerance, not to be nice, but because we need it. Because Canada works best, and succeeds most, when we reach out to one another, to help each other
reach our full potential. The crude survival of the fittest is no strategy for Canada. It would sacrifice our values. More than that, it would sacrifice our success.
My experience in politics has led me to believe that the real success of our country depends on our capacity to reach out to those who, for all sorts of reasons have not quite fitted in, whether it is a young person who has dropped out of school, or a person who has not learned to read or write, or perhaps it is someone who suddenly is caught in the middle of down-sizing and is out of a job.
Whatever the situation may be, I have always felt strongly that our capacity to help these people overcome their challenges and succeed, is what will determine the real success of our society.
Finally, for me, leadership is acting in the view that this country is more than a corporate formula, more than a marketplace to make profits. Canadian leadership is about more than worth; it is about values, and identity and purpose.
I understand the unease that some Canadians feel with freer trade. They know trade is necessary for jobs and prosperity. But they fear a terrible trade-off, that we are being asked to give Canada away in order to keep it. Of course, we cannot put walls around Canada. There are no fortresses, no isolated islands any more. And yes, we need to trade, more than ever, because it is through selling abroad that we will be prosperous at home.
However, I believe that it is crucial, not despite that, but because of that, to work harder, more consistently, to preserve our Canadian culture, our Canadian identity, our Canadian values. That will not be done in Hong Kong, or Hollywood, or Hamburg. It will be done here, and it will be done by us, by Canadians. As we build our ties to the world, let us solemnly undertake to strengthen our ties with each other. That is not something to be left to the trade winds. It is something we must do consciously ourselves.
The country I cherish, that I seek to keep, to make stronger, more fair, more free is here, nowhere else. And that too is about leadership. To make hard decisions always, but heartless decisions never. To be clear-sighted, but not short-sighted. And to remember that what Canadians want is not simply a leader who will make good choices, but a leader who will make Canadian choices as well.
Pride in our country is not apart from prosperity. And patriotism is not some 19th century frill. We need it today, for ourselves, for our future, for our children. The caring, daring, confident, Canadian pride that what we have here is worth keeping and passing on to the future.
And so that torch is passed to us, to build a new Canadian coalition, a new Canadian consensus, for a new Canadian century.
As a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, let me quote the words of a great Liberal. They belong to Sir Wilfrid Laurier who, after a long life of Canadian leadership said, and I quote: "I shall remind you that ... Many problems rise before you: problems of race; ... Problems of economic conflict; problems of national duty and national aspirations ... (But) you have a safe guide, and unfailing light, if you remember that faith is better than doubt, and love is better than hate ... Be adamant against the haughty, be gentle and kind to the weak. Let your aim and purpose ... In victory or defeat, be so to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise ever high the standard of life and living."
I am here simply to declare that I will try to live by Laurier's words, as leader of my Party, and as prime minister of all of Canada. Certainly, Canadians deserve no less.
The appreciation of the meeting was given by Sarah Band, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.