Brian Pallister, Candidate for Leadership of The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
BUILDING A NEW CONSERVATIVE HOME FOR CANADIANS: THE P.C. PARTY AT THE CROSSROADS
Chairman: George L. Cooke, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Rev. Bill Middleton, Minister, Armour Heights Presbyterian Church; Paul Blizzara, Student, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute; Senator Consiglio DiNino, Senate of Canada; Beverly Brooks, Partner, Gray Brooks Communications; Robert F. Richards, Director, RBC DS Capital Management; Stanley Hartt, Chairman, Salomon Smith Barney Canada; The Hon. Al Leach, MPP, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Robert Schultz, Chairman and CEO, Merrill Lynch Canada; William A. Farlinger, Chairman, Ontario Hydro; and Robert Dechert, Partner, Gowling, Strathy & Henderson and First Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by George L. Cooke
The Empire Club of Canada is very pleased to have our guest speaker today--Brian Pallister, candidate for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
Mr. Pallister was elected to the Manitoba legislature in October 1992 and later became that province's Minister of Government Services, during which tenure Manitoba achieved the distinction of the lowest-cost government in Canada.
He introduced, as a Private Member's Statement, the resolution that became Manitoba's Balanced Budget, Debt Repayment and Taxpayer Protection Act, helping Manitoba achieve the toughest balanced budget legislation in Canada. With what has become known as the "Pallister Clause," the province of Manitoba passed legislation to cut cabinet ministers' salaries by 20 per cent in the event they didn't balance the books in any given year. Manitoba has since passed four consecutive balanced budgets. Brian resigned from his seat as an MLA in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to join Jean Charest's team in the last federal election.
It was amusing to note in a recent editorial of the Kingston Whig-Standard: "Brian Pallister, aspiring to lead the federal Conservative Party, is the first to mention his height in the context of his political fight. 'This is David and Goliath, and I'm six-foot-eight and I'm David. Go figure,' he laughs."
Prior to entering political life, Mr. Pallister worked first as a high school teacher in rural Manitoba and then as a financial and real estate planner. He received both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Education degree from Brandon University, where, not surprisingly, he was a member of the U of B Bobcats basketball team.
Brian Pallister holds a strong commitment to Canada, his province and his community; giving freely of his time through professional, charitable and recreational activities.
Mr. Pallister, we welcome you to the Empire Club.
I want to begin by thanking and congratulating the Empire Club for providing a forum for our party's leadership candidates. The Empire Club has a long and distinguished tradition in our country of stimulating informed debate and opinion on national issues. Surely, there are few more critical issues to the strength and well-being of Canada's political culture and democracy than the role of national political parties.
Disraeli once said about countries that change is inevitable, that change is constant. He said that in 1867, the year our country was born. It has been in many ways the story of Canada.
It holds true even more so today for one of the founding parties of Confederation--our party. The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is at the most important crossroads it has ever faced. It must decide, through the leadership process now underway, quite simply whether it grows or dies; whether it turns the page or turns out the lights. It must decide to change. For partisan Tories used to the comfortable inevitability of either government or official opposition, these may seem stark choices. But, wilderness has never been an option--until now.
We pride ourselves on being a national party. For the past five years, following the devastation of the 1993 election, this has helped mobilise and motivate us. After all, we have always known the importance of national political parties to both preserving the unity of Canada and ensuring its progress. But this mantra has increasingly become hollow-sounding to sceptical Canadians. Saying you are a national party is not enough to make you one. Worse, it has become a barrier in our own thinking to change and growth. It has provided a convenient excuse not to face the realities of our situation or see the opportunities in front of us. Most importantly, though, it fails to answer the most fundamental question before us today during this leadership process: What kind of national party are we? For if we do not know the answer to this question, how can we expect Canadians to support us? If we do not know what we stand for, how can we ask anyone to stand with us?
My answer to this is to say it's time we became a conservative party based on conservative values, principles, policies and ideology. We need to show Canadians clearly what we stand for. We need to become a conservative party of conviction, not convenience. Canada doesn't need two Liberal parties and it certainly doesn't need two Jean Chretiens.
To do so, we must reach out to conservatives everywhere and ask them to join us in building a new conservative home for Canadians. This is the critical challenge before us as a party--how do we bring conservatives home? For this is the only way we can become the national conservative alternative to the unprincipled Liberals.
I am the only candidate who can do this. The reason is simple. I don't remind people of why they left. I give them a reason to come home. If you do not understand why conservatives, particularly in Western Canada and Ontario, left our party, you cannot bring them home. They left not because they wanted to, but because they felt the party left them. It's as simple as that. They will only return if we choose a leader who demonstrates clear conservative principles and convictions. A leader who speaks to their concerns and their aspirations. A leader who understands their region.
My opponents in this leadership race, Mr. Clark and Mr. Segal, don't agree with me. That is their prerogative. But what then, is their alternative? Mr. Segal, frankly, stands for many things. He has papered the country with policy documents on everything from soup to nuts. And that's the problem. We are left uncertain as to what are his priorities. Is it cutting taxes or more spending on defence? Is it lowering the debt or more spending on health care? These are leadership choices. Choices that he has not made. As my grandfather used to say: "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for everything."
But Hugh, to his credit, has at least sought to engage in a policy debate. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Mr. Clark. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Clark stood on this very platform and failed to offer one single new idea of policy or principle to justify his leadership of our party. David Orchard may be a single-idea candidate, but it appears to be at least one more than Mr. Clark has provided. Mr. Clark has offered nothing new to say where he wants to take our party. He refuses to release a platform. No policies. No platform. No ideas. He wants a blank cheque from the party to say and do what he wants. It's the same old, elitist, centralised, top-down approach that made conservatives leave our party. It will not bring them back.
I am the only candidate to release a detailed leadership platform during this race. It is based on what I sincerely believe is good for this country. And it is based on my experience as a cabinet minister when I helped put many of these ideas into practice. But Mr. Clark opposes my platform. I have called for a balanced budget law and a legislated plan to pay down our national debt. I have called for specific tax cuts. I have called for a taxpayer protection act that would require a referendum prior to any major tax increases. I have taken a "no pension pledge" saying I would not take the MP's pension. Mr. Clark opposes each and every one of these ideas. Mr. Clark has certainly said what he opposes--virtually every conservative policy that I and the majority of people in our party support--but he refuses to say what he supports. For Mr. Clark, the golden rule is silence.
I respect what Mr. Clark has done for our party in the past. But I don't believe Canadians want our party to choose the past. Quite frankly, it would be a mistake. The wrong message at the wrong time. It's a risk we cannot afford to take. Canadians want our party to choose the future. It's time to turn the page on the past. It's time to set out on a new path under new leadership. Only in this way will we demonstrate to Canadians that we got the message sent to us in '93 and '97. Only in this way will we show we stand as a conservative party dedicated to our convictions. Because we have always won as a national party when we stuck to our convictions. When we have been true to our history, we have found favour with the voters. When we try to be "pretend Liberals," we lose every time.
You don't win an election by saying you're going to do it. You win an election by showing you can do it. With all due respect, Mr. Clark's experience in this endeavour is a mixed one to say the least. One might say, both he and Mr. Segal are electorally challenged. I say this not out of disrespect, but because Mr. Clark has sought to make "winnability" an issue in this leadership race. He says he has the experience to take us straight to government. In fact, he said in the next election he will win another 140 seats beyond what we already hold--enough for a majority government. Last weekend in Edmonton, he said he has begun a list of some 15 ridings in Western Canada he will win. I have only two words for Mr. Clark: Show me. Show me the list. Please don't keep it a secret. Tell us which ridings you will win. And then tell us how you will do it.
I grew up on a farm in southern Manitoba--next year, in fact, we will be a century farm--and I know what you have to spread to help the crops grow. But I think we all agree that we'll need something different than Mr. Clark's rather self-serving predictions to reap a bumper crop of Tories at the next election or the one after that.
Mr. Clark is frankly doing our party a disservice by being so glib about our electoral situation. There's no magic wand available to Mr. Clark or anyone else that will;;ensure our growth and survival. Tories want strategy, not;:hyperbole. There is only one strategy that will win. Only one strategy that is both honest and realistic. That strategy begins first and foremost with bringing conservatives back home. We can win only by rebuilding from a strong, secure conservative base. By becoming a big tent conservative party. By finding common ground with conservatives everywhere through a genuinely conservative party of principle, policy, and ideology.
My policies are conservative ones. I believe in them. So do most Canadians. Paying down the debt, cutting taxes, guaranteeing health care, making our homes safe from crime: These are all issues Canadians want solutions on. I have proposed specific solutions on each of these.
A couple of debates ago, Mr. Segal said I was imprisoned by ideology. I thought that was a pretty good shot. I responded, fairly I thought, that the same could not be said about him.
There is something that will not bring conservatives home: labels. When Mr. Segal announced his leadership bid several months ago, he said labels were for soup. Two weeks ago at our London leadership debate he changed his mind and decided to label me a Reformer. Mr. Clark's campaign meanwhile has been phoning fellow Tories in my home province of Manitoba saying, "Don't vote for Pallister. You know he's a Reformer." This doesn't make me angry. It just makes me sad. Haven't we learned our lesson? Do we not truly understand what happened in 1997? You can't shake hands with a closed fist. And you can't reach out with a closed mind. Unfortunately, my leadership opponents just don't get it. They don't want to bring people back. They want to label people and keep them away. This is a strategy for failure. If we don't understand history, we will become history.
Canada needs a national conservative alternative to the Liberals. This is more than just a question of dividing the vote. This is about offering a fundamental democratic choice to Canadians. Our party has served Canada well as a national party. We sought to understand the legitimate regional aspirations of Canadians--whether it was philosophical or populist. But over time we strayed from that path. Canadians saw this and responded accordingly. Now, we must start anew. That's what this leadership process is all about.
I am running for the leadership of our party to take us on a new path. The status quo is no longer an option. We don't have the luxury of sentiment or the indulgence of nostalgia. Simply put, you cannot build for the future by looking to the past.
We have in Ottawa today perhaps the most unprincipled, deceitful government of bullies in our history. They trample democratic rights at home in order to coddle dictators abroad. They say they want to protect medicare, but have cut over $6 billion from health-care and social services transfers to the provinces. Canada's Health Minister, Allan Rock, says it's time to declare war on Premier Mike Harris, when Canadians want him to start battling hospital waiting lists. And now, we have a hapless Solicitor General caught with terminal mouth disease saying the fix is in on the APEC inquiry into how the Prime Minister's Office tried to use the RCMP to stifle legitimate political dissent.
At no other time in the past five years has Canada needed a national conservative alternative to this government than now. The issues facing our country are enormous and urgent. We have a debt--our national mortgage--of over $600 billion and no federal plan to start paying it down. Our health-care system is in crisis--underfunded with no federal/provincial plan to work together and fix it. Canadians are taxed too much and when dynamic provincial governments, like that of Mike Harris here in Ontario, offer tax cuts for low- and middle-income Canadians, Paul Martin, a pretend--conservative, steps in to scoop up the change.
Some people in our party are so confused about Paul Martin they actually think he's a conservative. He's not. He's a "Halloween conservative," all dressed up to look the part. No conservative cuts the deficit by raising taxes instead of cutting spending. No conservative slashes health care by 30 per cent but cuts federal programme spending by only 6 per cent. No conservative reforms pensions by jacking up your premiums. And no conservative balances the nation's books through an E1 slush fund on the backs of working Canadians and small businesses. Let's be clear once and for all. Paul Martin's no conservative. I am.
I hope you don't think I've been too tough on Mr. Clark today. I certainly don't want to leave you with the impression that we have nothing in common. In fact, we share something very important. With Mr. Clark, I am the only leadership candidate with previous electoral experience. I have been elected in the past. I will be elected in the future. Others haven't and won't.
But we differ in this most fundamental respect. I am the only true alternative to Mr. Clark. I stand for change. I stand for a new direction. Mr. Clark doesn't.
I believe in this party. I left a provincial cabinet minister's position in Manitoba to help Jean Charest and run for a two-person party in the last federal election because I wanted to help rebuild it. I am, in fact, the only leadership candidate who ran for our party at that time, and I am the only one who has made a commitment to do so again in the next election.
I got into politics not out of any burning ambition to hang new curtains at 24 Sussex. I am, perhaps, a little different from the other fellows in this race in that respect. I joined our party to run as an MLA in Manitoba because I wanted to make things better--for my family and my province. That has given me experience and insight into how to make government work better for people. And like you, I believe conservative principles and values are what this country needs. Principles like free enterprise, lower taxes, smaller government, paying down your debts, and guaranteed health care. And values like responsibility and opportunity.
Now, I have an opportunity to help my country. There are no more important institutions to the well-being of our country than national political parties. Canada needs our party. But most of all, it needs our party as a party of conviction and principle--a conservative party, not another Liberal party.
As you all know, I come from Manitoba--the geographic centre of our country. Last year, many Manitobans lost their homes and belongings in the great Red River flood. But people of all backgrounds and faiths joined together to form a bulwark against the rising floodwaters. That flood coincided with another important event of that year, the federal election. Manitoba became another bulwark that year--a political one--as both our party and the Reform party ebbed and flowed on election night. But neither could cross the Manitoba border.
There's a lesson here for all of us. Manitoba has been a bridge between east and west throughout our history. Immigrants passed through our province during the epic migration in the early part of this century to settle the West. Winnipeg has been a great entrepot--a commercial and transportation hub connecting Eastern and Western Canada. We need, as a party, to recapture that same spirit of bridge-building and reaching out to conservatives from east to west if we are to become Canada's national conservative alternative.
We have a unique opportunity in front of us as a party. We are engaged in the most democratic grassroots leadership process in the history of Canada. We should be proud of this. But we must not let this opportunity pass. We have no time to waste.
If we return to the past, Canadians will consign us to the past. If we don't reach out, conservatives won't come home. If we don't say boldly and proudly we stand for principle and conviction, then Canadians won't have a reason to look once again to our leadership. The choice for our party is clear-forward or backwards. Choose the future or return to the past. Mr. Manning and Mr. Chretien have their own choices for leader of our party. Let's not let theirs be ours.