- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Feb 1995, p. 333-342
- Harris, The Hon. Michael, Speaker
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- Item Type
- On the eve of an election in Ontario. An opportunity to create a new direction for Ontario. The need for a vigorous debate of the issue facing Ontario. A review of where we are in Ontario. Changes the speaker believes are required. Optimism about the future. Confidence that we can change direction—that we can grow, prosper and create the hundreds of thousands of jobs required for Ontarians to get back to work. Sharing some thoughts about the political process. Four things the speaker has observed in his travels across Ontario. Four goals for the speaker and his party in the coming campaign. Details of the "Common Sense Revolution" plan. The cornerstone of the programme. How the speaker and his party will bring about campaign promises. Changing the welfare system in Ontario. Restructuring government to deliver more with less. Sending a signal that things will be different. Cutting the number of MPPs at Queen's Park. More details in a published copy of the Common Sense Revolution Plan that explain how the size and cost of government will be reduced and how there will be a cut in personal income tax. Turn-around management. The need for courageous leadership. Earning the support and trust of the voters of Ontario. Making Ontario a great place to live, to work and to raise a family.
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- 22 Feb 1995
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- The Hon. Michael Harris, Premier of Ontario
"COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION"
Chairman: John A. Campion
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Jan Dymond, Vice-President, ZED Communications and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; The Rev. Dan Cooper, Minister, Little Trinity Church; Dr. Reginald Stackhouse, President, Stackhouse Consulting Inc. and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Jane Pepino, Q.C., Aird & Berlis; Peter Van Loan, President, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario; Denise Cole, Public Policy and Political Consultant, McFoy, Cole & Associates and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Jennifer Haverhals, grade 13 student, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute; and Robert Schultz, Chairman and CEO, Midland Walwyn Capital.
Introduction by John Campion
Charge of the Right Brigade
Lord Liverpool, the Tory Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1812 to 1827, had been in Paris in 1789 and watched the mob storm the almost undefended Bastille and massacre the garrison. It left a lifelong impression in his mind of the fragility of lawful authority which hesitates in the face of violence which could seize an aroused populace once it realizes that the powers that be have lost the will to govern.
The background to the events of the perilous years from 1790 to 1820 is one of war, political revolution and a dangerous recession. It was also years of industrial revolution and an enormous population boom in Europe.
These twin forces of industrial revolution and population growth created extraordinary opportunity for some and equally harsh disadvantage for others. When John Quincy Adam, the American Minister, visited London in November, 1816, he walked the streets of that fair city and wrote, "The extremes of opulence and want are more remarkable and more constantly obvious in this country than in any other that I ever saw."
The question that the political, industrial and agricultural elite of that day asked themselves was: "Can the centre hold?" This question is central to any state at any time and it is particularly relevant today in Canada, but in a different context.
We in Ontario are, as are many places in the world, facing an unprecedented technological revolution which is world-wide in scope. The control of our federal and provincial economy has moved from governments, central banks and state-centred industrial policy to international forces which are unelected, not responsible for the public welfare and brutal in their scope and efficiency. No one can hide. Change is clearly upon us. The question arises again--can the centre hold? We in Ontario, Canada and in the Western world are facing the twin horsemen of rapid dislocation and enormous world-wide population growth.
In this year of election in Ontario, the electorate could rephrase the fundamental question and ask: "Can Ontario be won electorally from right of centre?" The governments of Ontario from Lesley Frost, John Robarts, Bill Davis, David Peterson and Bob Rae have all won their mandates from the centre or centre left. The Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party holds a different view. The Common Sense Revolution is the platform of that party. That platform was created by those who are convinced that Ontario is ready for a right-of-centre government. It was an audacious one because it seeks to persuade Ontario that there is nothing less than a new political coalition which has been formed in Ontario.
In any election, forces of a local, as well as a provincial and national kind, are at work. People are reminded of their lot in life and if those circumstances are found to be wanting, then the voters' wrath can be brutal to existing governors and their attention diverted to radicalism, simplicity and victimization. Has Ontario politics adopted a new right of centre coalition? Time will dictate whether the Harris Revolution is merely a flirtation with populism and a serendipitous lurch to the right--being the only visible liferaft then perceived--or is a permanent fixture of political Ontario. The person leading the Tory Party, Michael Harris, was elected its leader on May 12, 1990. Before entering public life, Mr. Harris was in the tourism and recreation business and a former school teacher and member of the Nipissing Board of Education. He was elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1981 as MPP for Nipissing. He was appointed to the Ontario Cabinet in 1985 and served a short term as Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Energy. In opposition, Mr. Harris served as Conservative House Leader and had a number of responsibilities as critic for revenue, labour, housing, finance and northern development.
In his spare time, Mr. Harris is an avid sportsman, golfer, skier and bridge player. Please welcome Mr. Harris.
Mr. President, head table guests, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a great honour and a privilege to speak to the Empire Club, one of Canada's oldest and largest speaker's forums. John, thank you for that kind introduction, and thanks to the Empire Club for inviting me to address you during these interesting political times in our province.
We are on the eve of an election in Ontario. Whether the current premier visits the lieutenant governor next week or in the next few months, I know that many--like me--are waiting eagerly for this election.
We have an opportunity to create a new direction for our province. We can create jobs. We can create growth. We can bring back opportunity and hope for Ontario. I personally am looking forward to the challenge. I believe we need a vigorous debate of the issues facing Ontario.
With that reality before me, I began thinking about my remarks for today. I want you to know that as I review for you where we are in Ontario, and the changes I believe are required, I am optimistic about our future. I am confident that we can change direction--that we can grow, prosper and create the hundreds of thousands of jobs required for Ontarians to get back to work. I know that this great province can once again lead Canada. We can lead Canada out of tough times. With a plan to balance our provincial budget fully and create growth and jobs, we will be in a position to help the federal government and be part of a national solution to our fiscal and economic challenges.
I would like to share some thoughts about the political process, and what I believe this next provincial election can be all about. Before I get into specifics, I would like to give some context to my thoughts. I have had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of thousands of people across this province since I became leader of my party. I have gained many insights. I have listened, and I have learned. I have heard many personal stories. One is still with me after more than a year:
At a town hall meeting in Wawa a man said to me, "Mr. Harris, I obey the laws, I pay my taxes, my wife and I are both working harder and harder and yet at the end of each of the past five or six years we have found ourselves further and further behind. We've done our share. We've made our cuts and made our sacrifices. When is the government going to do its share?"
This sentiment has been repeated in different words in almost every community I have visited. It's something I think about as I prepare for this election.
Let me share four things I have observed in my travels across Ontario. These observations in turn led me to set four goals for myself and my party in the coming campaign. First, our political process has lost much credibility in people's eyes. Many I speak with have been disappointed by politicians of every stripe. We must change that. Second, there is a belief that our governments have become too large, spend too much of our money, and have lost touch with the people. We must change that. Third, there is a belief that the political process is artificial and doesn't provide voters with the chance for genuine input. We must change that. Fourth, there is a belief that all politicians will say one thing to get elected and do another once in office. We must change that, too.
If Bob Rae, Lyn McLeod and I are prepared to address these issues squarely, not only will the Ontario election be a very different campaign, it will be a campaign that respects the intelligence of the voter. It will be a campaign that helps restore the integrity of the system and gives the people of Ontario the quality of debate and dialogue they deserve in this democratic process. It will be a campaign that respects the underlying strengths of our province and offers a positive future for our citizens.
Ontario can do better. We can achieve so much more. It will take hard work and some tough decisions, but I firmly believe Ontario is worth the effort.
The next government will face some very large and difficult challenges to bring about the growth, jobs and opportunities for the future. In this coming election, I want to encourage an honest dialogue about the solution to those challenges. Ontario has been called the engine of economic growth in this country; it should be and can truly be a great place to live and work, with fairness, and compassion and prosperity for all.
Last May, I unveiled a detailed and comprehensive plan for change that, as Ontarians have told me, can put us on top. We call our plan the "Common Sense Revolution." It's a plan to unleash the great untapped entrepreneurial spirit that still exists in this great province by reducing tax rates, waste and the size of government itself, while at the same time protecting essential programmes--such as health care, policing, and education.
The cornerstone of our programme is a 30 per cent rebate to the people of Ontario in their personal income tax rates. It will return to taxpayers $4 billion that's currently being wasted by politicians and bureaucrats. How taxpayers save, spend, or invest this $4 billion will create a real climate of consumer confidence, renewal and growth. When fully implemented over three years, this tax rebate is equivalent to a 13 per cent increase in pay for the average Ontario family. That works out to an extra $2,000 a year for the average family, or about $170 each month. Some say this can't be done. To them I say, put it in perspective: we're talking about moving to the same tax rates on income as Alberta. Our personal income tax rates will still be higher than all of the U.S. states we have to compete with.
Since he's been in office, Bob Rae has hiked taxes by $4 billion: $1 billion in the first year, $1 billion in the second and $2 billion in the third. We're proposing to give back $2 billion in the first year, $1 billion in the second and $1 billion in the third.
This will return our total tax rates to 1990 levels. Bob Rae says his tax increases must stay. Lyn McLeod, despite voting against them, won't commit to roll them back if elected. The options are clear. There is only one plan that advocates major change and significant tax cuts. This tax rebate is, most importantly, the single largest private-sector job-creation programme in Ontario's history. I believe that by letting Ontarians spend, save and invest their money the way they see fit, we will create thousands and thousands more jobs than any government job creation plan ever could.
Now, to afford lower tax rates, and still fully balance the budget, economic experts tell us that, under our plan, we need one dollar and fifty cents of spending cuts for every dollar of tax cuts. We need to spend $6 billion less. That would take the current provincial budget of $56 billion back to $50 billion. That is the same as the last Liberal budget, indexed for inflation. We show in our plan that we can achieve $6 billion in savings by eliminating waste, reducing the number of politicians, bureaucracy, and expensive programmes that either aren't working or aren't needed. Successive provincial auditor's reports have detailed the waste. Our plan acts on those recommendations. By targeting these areas for savings, we can guarantee funding of other priority areas: health care, education in the classroom and policing.
Along with lower tax rates, we will also encourage private-sector job creation by reducing barriers to growth that have been erected by government. The payroll tax, conceived by the last Liberal administration, will be eliminated for all small businesses. Energy costs will be frozen for five years. Trade barriers will be abolished, and job-killing regulation, such as the NDP labour laws--Bill 40 and Bill 91--will be repealed. We also propose new and more positive approaches to welfare, social housing, and health care, with the view to helping far more people--better and faster--and for less cost to taxpayers.
A Harris government, for example, will significantly change the welfare system in this province. We will tighten eligibility and institute a programme requiring able-bodied recipients to work or take retraining in order to be eligible for their benefits. Our welfare reforms are designed to change the system from one of despair and dependency to a system that provides skills, training, experience, and the dignity of a job. Some people call it "workfare." I call it common sense.
Our plan has many specifics and details on how we can restructure government to deliver more with less. I won't have time to enumerate them all today, but there is one in particular I would like to draw to your attention. Given the credibility gap that I know exists, we wanted to send a signal that things can be different--that we are serious about change. So we begin with ourselves, the politicians who are at Queen's Park. And so, a Harris government will cut the number of MPPs at Queen's Park from 130 to 99. This is a reduction by 24 per cent in all the bureaucracy and spending on newsletters and staff supporting each MPP. How we can do this is really quite straightforward. There are currently 99 federal members of Parliament for Ontario. We'll adopt the federal boundaries for provincial ridings and we'll work with the Government of Canada to develop one elections system with a common set of boundaries and a common voters' list.
We will eliminate the tax-free allowance for provincial politicians. We will also scrap the gold-plated MPP pension plan and institute a Retirement Savings Plan like all professionals have. It's not tinkering that's required--as some have suggested--but scrapping an elitist system and bringing in a fair, realistic RSP system.
The Common Sense Revolution plan is a plan to change how government operates; to restore the balance between the private sector and the public sector. It is a growth and prosperity plan to create 725,000 jobs. With growth and spending reductions, this plan will fully balance Ontario's budget in four years.
If you would like to read more of the details contained in the Common Sense Revolution for yourselves, then I encourage you to do so. You can obtain your own copy by calling 1-800-0-903-MIKE. Our plan embodies the values of hard work, initiative, family, community and self-reliance. These are the values that people have told me they want in their community and in their government. This is a plan for major change. Those politicians who embrace change, who listen to the people, and who offer responsible and responsive leadership, have met with success. Where change is ignored, however, the vacuum has been filled in by protest movements. The winds of change that are sweeping the world are also sweeping across our country. If we ignore them, not only will the world pass us by economically, but our nation will be beset by internal conflict, as region turns against region, and voter turns against voter.
By proposing this plan, I want Ontario to be part of the national solution. The best contribution we can make in Ontario to a strong and united Canada is by having a strong and growing economy. Never before has an opposition party published such a comprehensive plan of action for positive change--in detail, and in writing--a full year in advance of an election. I am proud to say I have a plan of action for a first term of government. I want to get a mandate from the voters to make these changes. And, I want to be accountable. I outlined four broad goals at the outset. As you can now see for yourselves, by being specific, by publishing our platform well in advance, and by inviting dialogue, we are respecting the intelligence of the voters. By publishing our programme a year before the election, we wish to address the voters' frustrations with the process. We want them to kick the tires, to look under the hood and make an informed decision.
We are laying out a detailed plan to reduce the size and . cost of government. This plan is designed to offer solutions to the problems faced by Ontario. They aren't right wing, or left wing, they aren't PC, or Liberal, or NDP. They are the kind of new ideas being developed by a new generation of leadership in this country. Leadership shown by premiers willing to tackle tough problems and to develop common sense solutions; premiers who are solving their own problems--not pointing fingers, not asking for more from another level of government but simply restructuring their own government's priorities and ways of operating.
It's turn-around management like the type developed and implemented by Premiers Klein of Alberta, McKenna ' of New Brunswick and Romanow of Saskatchewan: three different premiers, in three different provinces, of three different parties. They have different characteristics for their different circumstances, but they have all demonstrated the courageous leadership to make the changes required to solve their fiscal problems, to balance their budgets and to be part of the national solution. Ontario very much needs this turn-around management. We need courageous leadership to face our problems head on.
I believe that Ontario can do much better. I believe in our people, our employers and our workers. We are seeking support in this next election for this type of leadership: a vision of hope and prosperity, of jobs and growth.
We have a well-thought-out, solid plan to restructure government--to be able (as others have done) to deliver better programmes for fewer dollars, to balance Ontario's budget fully, to have more jobs, and to make Ontario a magnet for investment and growth. We have a very talented team of men and women across this province who believe, as I do, in our plan, in our province, in Canada.
On the eve of this historic Ontario election, we intend to earn the support and trust of the voters of Ontario, so that together we can bring real, positive change to the lives of every Ontarian. With determination, we truly can make Ontario a great place to live, to work and to raise a family.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Dr. Reginald Stackhouse, President, Stackhouse Consulting Inc. and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.