Preston Manning Leader, Reform Party of Canada
NAVIGATING TOWARDS A NEW CANADA
Introduction: John F. Bankes
President, The Empire Club of Canada
I am building a kite and I need wind for it to fly.
In 1967, a leading Canadian political figure predicted:
If the Canadian political situation continues to degenerate ... a wholly new political party committed to the social conservative position will find an ever-increasing number of advocates and supporters.
These prophetic remarks were made by Ernest Charles Manning, Social Credit Premier of Alberta from 1943 to 1969.
Ladies and gentlemen, my name is John Bankes. As President of The Empire Club of Canada, I am pleased to introduce Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party of Canada.
From its launch as a new federal political party at a Winnipeg convention in the late fall of 1987, the fledgling Reform Party has ignited a Prairie fire; few have accurately predicted how far and how fast it would spread.
To thousands of Canadians, Preston Manning and the Reform Party appear to represent the best hope for a revitalized Canada. By returning to a rhetoric of a former era, Preston Manning has struck a chord with many voters who are fed up with what they feel are the antics and excesses of the federal parties in Ottawa. Less than five years from the founding of the Reform Party, Preston Manning has transformed his western populist movement into a national political force to be reckoned with.
In a recent text, authors Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid have suggested that:
Populist parties are like oil wells, tapping reserves of pent-up energy. Every generation or so they release the anger of Canadians in a geyser of frustration directed mainly at the country's political and economic elites, the people who claim to know best.
Populism, these authors argue, is "never friendly to the status quo, but ... is ultimately useful because it forces politicians to get back in touch with the people. The Reform Party has already had a profound impact on government policy."
Indeed! The major impacts of the party on the Canadian political landscape are numerous. Consider the belt-tightening in Finance Minister Don Mazankowski's latest budget. (Some Western wags are saying these days that the Reform Party has brought down its first federal budget; they had Don Mazankowski do it for them!) Or, the move of the National Energy Board offices to Calgary, where Preston Manning will run in the next general election.
The Reform Party is providing Canadians with an alternative road map. As Preston Manning likes to remind us:
Canadians cannot afford to be in the position of Christopher Columbus when he started out for the New World. He had no map. When he started, he didn't know where he was going; when he got there, he didn't know where he was; when he got home, he didn't know where he'd been; and he was doing it all on borrowed money.
Instead of concluding this introduction of Preston Manning with a lengthy biographical sketch, I would like to quote a brief passage from his text, The New Canada. (As an aside, this book is a tour d'horizon of significant scope that answers questions all Canadians have been asking about the Reform Party: its leadership, origins, platform and goals.) This revealing excerpt identifies the roots of Preston Manning's personal political convictions:
My personal perspective on life and politics has been significantly influenced by a number of factors. These include my father's twenty-five-year involvement in politics as premier of Alberta, a personal decision at an early age to follow Christ, twenty years of adventures in the marketplace as a management consultant, primarily in the energy industry, and the practical demands and personal satisfactions of life at home with my wife Sandra and our five children.
Members and guests of The Canadian and Empire Clubs, please join me in welcoming the leader of the Reform Party of Canada--Preston Manning.
I first of all wish to thank you sincerely for the invitation to join you for lunch and the opportunity to address you.
I should explain that I am in your city today courtesy of Macmillan, the publishing company, for the purposes of promoting a book which I wrote for release early this year under the title of The New Canada.
This book provides extensive background on the Reform Party of Canada and myself as its leader. Its main purpose, however, is to outline our vision of a new 21st century Canada, and the constitutional, economic and parliamentary reforms necessary to bring that New Canada into being.
Now I fully realize that most books by politicians are greeted with some scepticism, like the scepticism that often greets books by hockey players and actors. People are reminded of the old story about the actress who greeted a fellow actress with the words: "Enjoyed your book, darling. Who wrote it for you?" To which the other actress replied: "Glad you liked it, darling. Who read it to you?"
I can assure you, however, that, for better or for worse, I wrote The New Canada myself without benefit of ghost writers, and I do hope that some of you will read it for yourselves rather than rely exclusively on our critics or political opponents to find out what the Reform Party is really about.
Old Canada, New Canada, The Basic Premise
The basic premise behind The New Canada book, and indeed behind the development of the Reform Party itself, is that "something old is dying in Canada, but something new is being born."
Old Canada is an appropriate name for the Canada in which we are now living. Sad to say, it is a country which is divided rather than united by its own constitution and the present attempts to amend it. Sad to say, its Federal Government has literally bankrupted itself by chronic overspending, and its parliament fails to effectively represent either regional interests or majority opinion. This is "the negative picture" of an Old Canada which is dying. And because of our Canadian penchant for pessimism, it is this picture which tends to dominate our TV screens and our thinking.
On the positive side, however--and Reformers believe there is a positive side to Canada's present turmoil which is in urgent need of expression--is the prospect of a New Canada struggling to emerge from the wreckage of the old.
I personally believe that the principal task of responsible political and community leaders in the 1990s is to assist Canadians to develop a clear vision of that New Canada and the policies necessary to bring it fully into being.
In building the Reform Party over the last five years we have, therefore, been asking Canadians: "In what type of country do you and your children want to live in the 21st century?" We have listened hard to the replies, analyzed them, and attempted to formulate them into a Vision Statement for a New Canada and a set of constitutional, economic, and political reforms to guide the transition from the Old to the New.
Because the Reform Party is a democratic, populist party, it is of vital importance to us that this Vision Statement and Reform program be responsive, not simply to the views of interest groups and elites, but primarily to the aspirations and concerns of rank and file Canadians.
We are acutely conscious that in Canadian federal politics--dominated as it is by the executive arm of government, the demands of special interests, and excessive party discipline--it is all too easy for political leaders and parties to miss or ignore the signals that come from the common sense of the common people.
In this regard, I am reminded of that story they tell on the West Coast of an occasion when the Prime Minister came to take a cruise on one of Canada's few remaining naval vessels.
Mulroney asks the captain if he can take the wheel for a while, and the captain allows him to do so. But a few minutes later the captain says: "Our radar has picked up something about 10 miles ahead in the fog, so you'd better be careful."
Mulroney then says: "Send out a message. Tell them to change course 30 degrees." The message goes out, but immediately a return message is received. "You change course 30 degrees."
Mulroney is a little irritated, so he says: "Send out another message. Change course 30 degrees. This is an order." Again, the message comes back. "You change course 30 degrees."
By now Mulroney is really incensed. He directs another message to be sent. 'This is the Prime Minister of Canada. I order you to change course 30 degrees. " The message comes back. "This is a lighthouse. You change course 30 degrees!"
New Canada: Development of a Vision Statement
I told you we have asked hundreds of Canadians in large meetings and small, "In what type of country do you and your children want to live in the 21st century?" And what I now want to share with you is a consolidation of some of the answers we are hearing.
People say to us: "We want to live in a country where there is fairness and balance--balance between the regions and the centre, no special deals, a country where no one region or group can impose its will on the others."
People say to us: "We want to live in a country where government decision making is more democratic--where there is less 'top-down' decision making and the decisions of Parliament more accurately reflect the wishes of rank and file Canadians."
And the one descriptive word we hear mentioned most often in these types of discussions is "equality"--treat all Canadians equally in federal law and the constitution, regardless of their race, language, or culture, rather than treating some Canadians specially because of their race, language, or culture.
Does this, we ask, mean moving beyond the old definition of Canada as an equal partnership between two founding races? Yes, it does, since that definition now tends to divide rather than unite, and relegates to second-class status the 12 million Canadians (including aboriginals) who are of neither French nor English extraction. Better to look forward to a federation of equal citizens and provinces, people say, than to look backward to a federation of founding races.
And so, from all of this, we arrive at the first sentence of a three-sentence Vision Statement for a New Canada: "New Canada should be a balanced, democratic federation of provinces in which all citizens are treated equally regardless of their race, language, or culture."
But then we ask "What should be the distinguishing characteristics of this balanced, democratic federation of provinces?"
What is it that will make New Canada a "distinct society?" Is it official language policy and government-manufactured culture that will both distinguish and unite us? And people tell us No. "The distinctive characteristics of New Canada should be those things we all share in common."
What are those aspirations and concerns we all share in common? Rank and file Canadians most frequently mention five things:
1. The common desire of most Canadians for a good job with a good income--which in today's world can only be guaranteed by an internationally competitive economy.
2. Our common stake in the conservation of the environment. When we ask high school students, for example, to define their vision of a New Canada, almost 40 per cent of the discussion centres around environmental conservation.
3. The common interest of virtually all Canadians in sustainable social services (education, medicare, pensions). It is this commitment to sustainable social services which many Canadians feel will most distinguish us from the Americans.
4. The common interest of all Canadians in respect for human freedoms and the preservation of cultural heritages.
5. The growing insistence of a majority of Canadians, in particular taxpayers, that our governments "live within their means."
And so from all this we arrive at the second sentence of our three-sentence Vision Statement for a New Canada. New Canada should not only be a balanced, democratic federation of provinces in which all Canadians are treated equally regardless of race, language, or culture, but also, "New Canada should be distinguished by the viability of its economy, the conservation of its magnificent northern environment, the sustainability of its social services, respect for human freedoms and roots, and governments that live within their means."
Then finally we ask: "What about all those Canadians who feel left out, or driven out, or who even say they want out, of Old Canada? What about the aboriginal peoples? What about regional alienation in the thinly populated hinterlands of Old Canada? And what about Quebec?"
And this is what we hear people saying about ways of including all these alienated Canadians.
People say New Canada should include a New Deal for aboriginals. They say it should include a New Senate to address regional alienation through more effective regional representation in Parliament.
And of course most Canadians want New Canada to include, not exclude, a New Quebec. Make the preservation and development of language and cultural distinctiveness a provincial responsibility, as the original Fathers of Confederation intended. Let the Quebec government, not the Federal Government, be the guardian of the French fact in Quebec. And then invite New Quebec to be a unique and integral part of a New Canada in which all citizens and provinces are treated equally and fairly.
This, then, is the Reform Party's Vision Statement for a New Canada--a vision rooted in the common sense of the common people, a vision still in the process of formulation (not cast in stone), but even now (we will argue) a clearer and more precise vision of the future than that offered by Beaudoin-Dobbie or the traditional federal parties of Old Canada.
New Canada should be a balanced, democratic federation of provinces in which all citizens and provinces are treated equally. It should be distinguished by the viability of its economy, the conservation of its northern environment, the sustainability of its social services, respect for human freedoms and roots, and governments that live within their means. It should include a New Deal for aboriginals, a New Senate to address regional alienation, and a New Quebec.
Choosing A Future Course Of Action
It is my contention that if we Canadians could agree on some vision of the future, it would be easier to evaluate the economic and constitutional proposals of the various federal political parties, to determine which are most likely to lead to a New Canada, and to make intelligent choices in the next federal election. Allow me to illustrate, with reference to the recent federal budget and the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report on the Constitution.
Suppose we can agree that New Canada must have an internationally competitive economy where tax levels are competitive and governments live within their means. We can then assess the positions of the various parties with respect to federal spending, made in connection with the release of the last federal budget, to see whether they lead to that New Canada or not.
As I understand the statements made by the federal liberals and NDP in connection with the last budget, it is their position that federal spending should be further increased, even if this increases the deficit.
The position of the Progressive Conservative government is that the best we can expect is for the federal overspending to be maintained at the level of $30 billion annually--the level at which it has been, on average, since the Conservatives took office in 1984.
Reformers say that neither of these positions will get us to New Canada economically. We maintain that the single most important thing the Federal Government could do with respect to economic recovery is to reduce federal spending in absolute terms to the point where it is reflected in lower taxation levels, a lower cost of living, and a lower cost of doing business.
We have thus constructed a spending reduction program consisting of dramatic spending cuts at the top of the government, a significant downsizing of the federal civil service, real reductions in big-ticket items like grants to the corporate sector, and targeted social spending.
By the next election we hope to make these three options crystal clear to the electorate--increased federal spending from the Liberals and NDP, continued overspending at $30 billion a year from the Conservatives, and reduced federal spending from the Reformers. And then we will say to electors like yourselves: "You decide which course of action leads to New Canada, and vote accordingly."
Finally, consider the constitution (if only any discussion of the constitution could be final). Almost all of us want to get this constitutional wrangling behind us, so that we can get Canada on a solid constitutional foundation for the 21st century and get on with higher priorities. It is imperative that we decide where we want to go constitutionally, and which set of constitutional proposals will take us there.
Is constitutional peace and national unity to be found by continuing to view Canada as a partnership between founding races, granting special status and powers to designated groups, and leaving final decisions on amending the constitution to the federal and provincial governments?
The Report of the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution, signed by all three parties, says yes, and, if accepted, commits Canada to continuing down that same old road. It contains no reference to the equality of all provinces and citizens as a governing principle. It continues to affirm Distinct Society and a special veto for Quebec. While it proposes to democratize and somewhat equalize the Senate, it counters these reforms by giving the Commons an override, thus rendering the Senate ineffective. And the report still leaves the final say on constitutional changes to governments.
Quebecers, in particular Quebec federalists, will not find here any fresh, clear vision of a renewed federalism with which to counter the sovereigntist option. Instead they will only find a murky mixture of what they themselves refer to as the Compromised Federalism of the Mulroney Conservatives (a federal party which accepts votes from separatists to win federal elections in Quebec), the Burned-Out Federalism of the Chretien Liberals (a party which exhausted itself in the constitutional battles of the 1960s and '70s and has little left to offer a new generation of Quebecers), and the Fence-Sitting Federalism of the Bourassa Liberals.
But at least the report of that all-party Parliamentary Committee (Beaudoin-Dobbie) puts the traditional parties on the record. This is the package, this is the road, that they apparently believe will lead to national unity and constitutional peace.
In the next federal election, Reformers will offer Canadians a different package of constitutional proposals. Our package will rest on the proposition that lasting national unity and constitutional peace lies in the direction of making language and culture a provincial responsibility, treating all provinces and citizens equally and fairly in federal law regardless of their race, language or culture, and letting the people have the final say on changes to the constitution through a national constitutional referendum.
In other words, in the next federal election, while traditional party politicians are knocking on doors offering asymmetrical federalism, Reformers will be knocking on doors offering a federation of equal citizens and provinces.
While the politicians of Old Canada will be visiting living rooms via television offering an elected, somewhat equal and ineffective Senate, Reformers will be visiting the same living rooms offering a reformed Senate that is Elected, Equal, and Effective in safeguarding regional interests.
While the leaders of the traditional parties will be telling audiences to trust the federal and provincial governments with the final say on amending the constitution, the leader of the Reform Party will be offering to entrust to the people themselves the final say on amending the constitution.
And once again, it will be Canadians like yourselves who will have to decide which road--founding races, special status, top-down executive decision making, or equality, provincialization of language and culture, bottom-up democratic decision making--leads to that New Canada where unity and constitutional peace prevail.
In closing, I want to return to the story of the Prime Minister, the Ship, and the Lighthouse.
To be fair to Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Chretien, and Ms. McLaughlin, all three of our traditional party leaders have warned that as they study their political radar screens they see trouble ahead for the Canadian ship of state.
And all three are standing on the bridge, sending out messages: "These are your leaders speaking. Pay your taxes that we might spend more. Accept these measures to accommodate the government of Quebec and other special interests. Trust us to amend your constitution."
The Reform Party, on the other hand, is more interested in responding to the messages that are coming in loud and clear from the lighthouse of the common sense of the common people: "Spend less and tax us less. Treat us all equally and fairly, no matter who our parents were or where we live. And let us have the final say on the rewriting of our constitution."
The passage of time, the ebb and flow of the political tides, and above all the decisions and actions of people like yourselves, will eventually determine who ends up on the rocks and who navigates safely into that bright harbour Reformers call New Canada Thank you.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Roland Lutes, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.