Preston Manning Leader, Reform Party of Canada
TAKE BACK YOUR SEAT
Chairman: Gareth S. Seltzer, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
The Rev. Kim Beard, Rector, Christ Church, Brampton and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Catherine McLean, recent graduate, McMaster University; Dick Robarts, Executive Councillor, Ontario Reform Party of Canada; Douglas L. Derry, Partner, Price Waterhouse, Chairman, The Empire Club Foundation and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Sandra Manning, wife of our guest speaker; Fredrik S. Eaton, Chairman, Eaton Group of Companies; William J. McCormack, former Chief, Metropolitan Toronto Police Service and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Reid McKiee, Managing Partner, FACTS; Grant McCutcheon, Partner, Lawrence & Company Inc., private investment firm; J.J. Woolverton, Managing Director and COO, Guardian Capital Inc.; and Dan McCaw, President and CEO, William M. Mercer Limited.
Introduction by Gareth Seltzer
Ladies and gentlemen, The Empire Club is a formal forum for the discussion of current topics by leading speakers. Free speech in such a forum follows the Club's constitutional purpose of being in "the best interest of Canada and the Commonwealth." I say this because it is important to acknowledge that each of the federal leadership candidates were offered an opportunity to address The Empire Club of Canada--as has been the tradition of the Club since 1903. Keeping in mind that the federal leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Jean Charest, addressed this Club on April 10, 1997, just prior to the election call, Mr. Manning is the only federal candidate who chose to do so during the election period. I would suggest that as you address our forum today, Mr. Manning, you will be addressing a motivated audience, anxious to hear what you would bring to the political table as Prime Minister.
Mr. Manning and the Reform Party of Canada have frequently led the debate in Canada on issues of national unity and our overwhelming $600-billion federal debt.
On the issues of fiscal responsibility, I am reminded of how John Gage put it: "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." While our government has had the benefit of low interest rates, four of the G-7 countries have lower rates, 64 per cent of the deficit reduction has come from increased revenue from corporate taxes, and our three largest trading partners each have significantly lower levels of unemployment than Canada.
Since the establishment of the Reform Party, and as Leader of the Founding Assembly since 1987, Mr. Manning has taken the message that we must not endorse the status quo, nor renew it, but redefine it. Mr. Manning has rallied Canadians with this message and his proposals to protect the rights of victims and families to bring a new accountability to government, and has done so with such vigour and sometimes in the face of much criticism, that I cannot help but be impressed with his skin. It must be quite thick. I firmly believe that pushing ahead with new ideas, refreshing fiscal initiatives and a renewed sense of political participation is what our democracy is all about. According to the very articulate Dan Quale: "If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure." Mr. Manning is asking us to assemble a team to succeed--to give us, as Reform calls it, A Fresh Start. In the tradition of The Empire Club of Canada to promote the interests of Canada, I ask that you join me in welcoming Mr. Manning today to address your Club on these important current issues for Canada.
Thank you for your warm welcome.
I want to thank you for the forum that the Empire Club provides. The first time you gave me an opportunity to speak here the Reform Party was relatively unknown in Ontario. I appreciate and remember the opportunity the Empire Club gave me. I am also pleased to be a part of this distinguished gathering.
I thought the Editor and Chief of the Globe and Mail was going to be here. I have a little bone to pick with the Globe. The Globe was founded by George Brown, a great Reformer in the pre-Confederation days, so I was a little surprised to see the endorsement of the federal Tories on its editorial page. I can counter that today by announcing that the Napanee Beaver has endorsed the Reform Party. On June 2, we'll have to see whether it's the Napanee Beaver or the Globe and Mail that has its finger on the pulse of Ontario voters.
Today I have with me a piece of furniture that I'm taking along on the last week of the federal election campaign. It is a seat from the Parliament of Canada. There are 301 of these seats in the Parliament of Canada. There is one of these seats for every electoral district in Canada; one for the district in which you live and work and raise your family.
I want to use this seat to focus your attention on what this election is about; mainly three important questions:
• What should be done and said on laws and debates in Parliament from this seat in your name?
• To whom does this seat really belong?
• Who should occupy this seat on your behalf after June 2?
The actual seats in Parliament have a microphone with a light on it, and the light goes on when an MP is addressing the Parliament of Canada. Some of us would like it if the light went on in the members' heads, not just on the desk.
Each of these desks has a lid on it. Certain items in the desk tell you about the people who occupy it. I see that this one has been stocked with a whisky bottle, a geritol bottle and an oxygen mask. Perhaps it came from the Senate. I see there is also a book in here called "On the Take" about Brian Mulroney It says on the inside cover: "To Jean Charest from Dad."
What should be said and done from behind this seat after June 2 with respect to the future of the Canadian economy, and the federal government's role in ensuring a better economic future?
If you want to do something about the economy and jobs, then the Reform Party and our candidates offer you a concrete plan.
First, we will balance the federal budget by 1998/99 through spending reductions, not tax increases, and then run surpluses. If the federal government had implemented the Reform proposals in 1993, I could have come before you today and said: "The federal government is in a surplus position. I'm here to talk to you about what we propose to do with it."
We propose to use the surpluses in three ways:
1. Start the retirement of the $600-billion debt;
2. Re-invest $4 billion per year in health and education; and
3. Put the rest into broad-based tax relief for all Canadians.
Our seven proposals for tax relief are detailed in Reform's Fresh Start Platform. They deliver about $2,000 in tax relief to the average family of four by the year 2000, and take about 1.2 million lower- and middle-income Canadians off the federal tax rolls altogether. Our tax-relief measures also cut payroll taxes, including employment insurance, by 28 per cent and capital gains taxes by 50 per cent. Our philosophy is that a dollar left in your pocket--in the pocket of a consumer to spend or invest in a business--is more productive in terms of job creation than that dollar in the hands of a federal bureaucrat.
Only Reformers sitting behind these desks in the House of Commons will articulate this plan. If this seat is occupied by traditional parties, this is what they will say and do. The Liberals and NDP believe that big government and big spending is the engine of the economy. And if they do get close to a balanced budget, they will start spending again. The federal Tories offer tax relief and a balanced budget. But they had nine years to deliver a balanced budget and did not do so. They had nine years to offer tax relief, but in fact delivered 71 tax increases, including the 3-per-cent and 5-per-cent surtaxes, and the hated GST.
These are your options. If you believe that Reform's Fresh Start should be the dominant fiscal plan for the next Parliament of Canada, ensure there is a Reformer standing and speaking and voting on your behalf from behind this desk on June 2.
What should be said and done from this seat that will unite our country for the 21st century? What should be said and done from this seat--not just to keep the country together through the next referendum--but to unite the country for the 21st century, in a way it has never been united before?
We need something better from the federalists than what we have received in the past. The traditional parties defend the status quo. They do not have a plan for fundamentally changing the federation in response to some of the strains we are facing, and as a result, they came within 50,000 votes of losing the country. It is Reform's view that you can't fight a dream with just the status quo. You need to fight a dream--in this case the separatist dream--with a better dream, and you need to define that dream in concrete terms.
The traditional parties are also reluctant to tell the truth to Quebeckers about the consequences of secession. When we first arrived in Ottawa, Reformers noticed that Members were not singing "O' Canada" in the House of Commons. Deborah Grey introduced a motion to have "O' Canada" sung in the House of Commons but we were denied unanimous consent--not by the Bloc, but by the Liberals who feared it might offend the separatists and said it had to be studied by the Committee.
There have to be some truth and realities communicated to Quebeckers about secession. But the traditional parties have no substantive plan to reform the federation and are reluctant to face the issues that secession brings up in the hope of deterring people from pursuing that option.
The only thing the traditional parties offer to the unity crisis is the recognition of Quebec as a Distinct Society in the Constitution. Not only was the concept rejected by Quebeckers and by the rest of Canada in the Charlottetown referendum, the problem with it is this: Distinct Society is unacceptable to Quebec unless it confers powers on the Quebec government. Distinct Society is unacceptable to the rest of the country if it confers powers on the Quebec government. Distinct Society is a dividing rather than uniting concept.
Reformers believe we need something more, something better than the status quo. No matter where you came from politically, surely we can persuade you that we need something better to unite the country than what has been offered by old-line federalists to date.
This issue of uniting our country is not just a legal and constitutional matter. This is the country we all love, and it's important to express that love in ways that we haven't done before. There has to be an emotional dimension to this issue as well.
Sandra and I have been married for 30 years. We were married in 1967--the Centennial year. Like many couples who have been married for a while, sometimes Sandra says to me: "Do you still love me?" And I say: "Of course I still love you." And she says: "Well then, why don't you say so? " And then we do say the words, but we're also reminded that it is important to go beyond that. Some of the old love songs say: "Don't just say you love me, show me."
This conversation has to start happening in the country. As Canadians, we have a reluctance to express our affection for our country, but we are going to have to find ways of doing that. More importantly, we are going to have to come up with concrete ways of expressing the fact that we want to renew and make this relationship among Canadians better for the 21st century.
Reformers believe we need to come up with a plan that unites the country, that re-invigorates and reforms a federation that is so attractive that no one would want to leave Canada. We need to offer something concrete that will result in a better country and a better relationship among ourselves for the future--a commitment and actions, not just words and emotion.
Reformers have been working toward a positive plan that bases the relationship between the federal government, the provinces and Canadians for the 21st century not on the principle of special status for some, but on the grand principle of equality of the citizens and provinces regardless of race, culture, language or personal characteristics.
First we want to focus the federal government on 10 major areas of national and international responsibility--make it a national government that can look outward onto the world. Let's focus that government on the big things like defence, external affairs, national standards, criminal code--things that most Canadians agree that they want a strong federal government to do. Our preference is that we have a federal government that does 10 things well, rather than a federal government that tries to do too many things and doesn't do any of them very well.
How will Reform handle the diversity of the country? We'll offer to each of the provinces a bundle of rights--jurisdiction over natural resources, social services, language and culture. Each province receives the same bundle of rights and may use it as it wishes. This respects the principle of equality of provinces. Quebec will do something with its bundle, particularly jurisdiction over language and culture. Alberta will do something different with its bundle. Ontario will do something different again. That's okay. That is the genius of the federation. It is how you reconcile unity and diversity based on the principle of equality of citizens and provinces.
Sandra and I have five children, aged 17 to 29. The oldest are at that stage where they are getting out of their apartments and into their own homes. Our second daughter Avril, and her husband John want a new home, but can't afford to build a big new house. Nor do they want to. They like old houses because they have more character and tradition. So they found an old house on a foundation that is so shaky the owners had to sell it. It was a great foundation in its day, but now the foundation won't hold the house up anymore. So they are going to move this wonderful old house onto a new foundation.
This is what Reform believes Canada has to do for the 21st century.
We have this national house--the old Colony of Canada built on the foundation of two founding races and cultures, the English and French. It made a lot of sense in the 19th century and it's endured right into the 20th century. It was one of the building blocks of our country and is an important part of our history. The only problem with this concept is that it is not sufficient to support our national house today, nor will it be in the 21st century. If you go to Atlantic Canada, or to downtown Vancouver and you say: "This country is a meeting of two founding cultures and languages," it just doesn't describe reality. In the 21st century, over half our population is going to be of neither French nor English extraction.
We have this magnificent house called Canada. Generations of Canadians invested their lives into building this house. No one wants to tear it down and build a new one. Reform says: "Let's take this old house, for which there is a great deal of affection across the country--and lovingly and gently lift it onto this new foundation of equality of citizens and provinces."
And in this house there will be a room for Quebec, and a room for Ontario, and Alberta, and each of the provinces. They can do what they want in their rooms; they can decorate it the way they wish. But we are going to have some things in common, including a common foundation, a common roof and a common security system.
And it is not just a house. It is people who make a house a home. We're not just room-mates, but a family sharing a home. We will care for each other and share things--tragedies as well as triumphs. We will support each other and grow and develop in our different ways. We will celebrate our diversity. And yes, we are going to have disagreements.
Sandra and I have five children. When our boys were younger we bought them boxing gloves to minimise the damage when they had disagreements. It was one thing for those kids to take pokes at each other, but when someone from outside ever took a poke at them, they all faced out and took care of each other--just as Canadians should face the world together.
This is the Reform approach to uniting our country, to preserve and enrich our magnificent national home for the 21st century by moving it onto the new foundation of equality. Is this not a better approach to unifying Canada than empty rhetoric, denial, or distinct society?
This is not just a discussion, but a political task facing federalists who have something more to offer than just the status quo in the next Parliament. We are looking for people to support it and to vote for MPs who will stand behind this desk, advocate and vote for this concept and present it to Canadians in all parts of the country.
Now before this dream of moving our wonderful old home onto a new foundation can happen, there will have to be some discussions around the family table. I want to be at that table with support from Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Ontario and discontented federalists from Quebec who are looking for a third way--something beyond separation, beyond the status quo. I spent 10 years developing a party committed to this concept of equality, and I honestly think we have something to bring to the table. I think it needs to be represented and it isn't represented at discussions on national unity now to any degree.
We have been getting a lot of support from the West for 10 years for our approach to unity. We would like to be joined by Canadians from all parts of the country who will add a different perspective to how we can move this wonderful old house onto this new foundation, while respecting our traditions and past.
Ontario is looked at like the elder sister of Confederation. You were there at the beginning. (The province I come from is like one of the younger kids in the family.) You have 103 seats in Parliament. If Ontario opinion leaders and decision makers, and particularly the great rank and file of thoughtful Ontario citizens endorse the status quo, if you let the guys who ran the last referendum stand behind this seat and offer simply more of the same, you will communicate to the West and Quebec that there is no real interest in reforming the federation--that it's not working well, but you don't feel strongly enough to change it. I believe that would send the wrong signal both west and east.
But if Ontario, as the elder sister of the federation, and one of the founding provinces of Canada, would come down hard on the side of change, and support the idea that it's time to take the old house and move it onto a new foundation, I believe that it would be the most positive thing you could do. You would send a signal to Quebec that no one else could send. Quebec politicians--both the status quo federalists and the separatists--tell people that there is no interest in reform of the federation outside Quebec. But you could send a signal to them that there is by sending Reformers to communicate that message in the House of Commons.
The future of the unity of Canada lies as much in your hands as in mine.
Why should you trust me? Why should you trust these Reform candidates? Why should you trust anyone in federal politics? All the big promises from the last election were broken--jobs, the GST and health care. Why should you trust me, particularly on such a sensitive subject as national unity?
I could argue that I love Canada. But no one has a monopoly on loving the country. We can't compare the leaders that way. Mr. Chretien, Mr. Charest and Ms. McDonough love the country as well as I do.
I could argue that I will tell it like it is--that Reform is prepared to say things to Quebec that no one else will tell them--and that I'll be straight with you. I could argue that I am trusted by those who do know me best. I think a vast majority of people agree that Reform's fiscal programme is the one that has to be represented in Ottawa. I think that many of you--whether you tell the pollsters or not--agree that our approach to unity is the one that needs to be promoted more strongly. But can you trust Reformers to handle these delicate subjects and do what we say we are going to do?
The answer goes back to this question about the seat; to answering the question: "To whom does this seat belong?" There are three views on this question in the Parliament of Canada.
First, there are old-line politicians who think this seat belongs to them. They refer to it as "my seat." They say it is their seat, and when get up in the House they use it primarily to express their own opinions and views. When they sit there and speak, they are representing their view on what they think is best for you. They pursue their priorities--their pension, their job--not yours.
Second, the other and more prominent view is the view that this seat belongs to the party, and the leader of the party. These are Liberal seats, safe seats, Tory seats, NDP seats. The MPs who stand behind the desk to speak put the party line ahead of their constituents' interests. They get rewarded for representing their party and penalised for representing you.
They are told how to vote by their party whip. We see the signals given by their whip in the House that say: "Sit down and shut up on this bill, because this is the party line," or "Stand up you idiot and vote for this." One of the restrictions of the television cameras in the House of Commons is that they can only cover those who are speaking. But if the cameras had free range on some of the controversial votes, you would see the whips making signals. The occupants of these seats are not speaking on behalf of constituents, but are representing the view held by their party.
These MPs are bound by the discipline of their party to present the party's point of view. That is how things like the GST get shoved through in spite of massive popular opposition.
Mr. Charest talks in this election about "my government," the Jean Charest government. Reform says it is not a Charest government. Nor is it a Chretien government. It is your government.
There is a third view--the Reform view--that this seat belongs to you. If this seat is to be your instrument of democratic control and accountability, then it must belong to you. Not to the MP who occupies it, nor a political party, but to you--the people. This is the Reform view, the view that this is your seat.
When I stand at the seat that is designated for Calgary Southwest, I think of the people it represents. Of course I consult my personal conscience and my experience. My constituents expect me to bring that to bear on a decision. Of course I consult the Reform principles and policies on which I was elected. But when, on a certain issue, the will of my constituents is different than my personal view or the party view--and that will can be determined on many issues--the will of the constituents must prevail over my view, the members' view or the party line.
To make this seat your own, one of the most important reforms that needs to occur is free votes in the House of Commons. There is more freedom of speech in the average Canadian coffee shop than there is in the House of Commons. The defeat of a government bill or government resolution should not automatically mean the defeat of the government. This single change would allow members of Parliament to vote their constituents' position on bills without defeating the government.
Reform also offers greater use of referendum and citizens' initiatives, and the provision of recall. You will not believe that this seat belongs to you until you can fire the person that stands behind it if he or she breaks their promises or fails to represent you.
Only when the federal Parliament comes under the true democratic control of the people will accountability and honesty be restored to the national government.
Only when you are able to hold elected officials accountable will the House of Commons be changed from the House of Parties to the House of the People.
Only when the majority of the seats in the Canadian Parliament belong to you will the public's instinct for equality replace the establishment's instinct for special status.
Only when a majority of seats in the federal Parliament come to be occupied by MPs who believe this seat belongs to you will the spirit of democracy return to Canada's Parliament and the agenda of the people will become the agenda of the Government of Canada.
If you want to restore accountability to the Parliament of Canada, particularly on the great issues of the economy and future direction of the country, this is your seat. On June 2, take it back--with Reform.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by William J. McCormack, former Chief, Metropolitan Toronto Police Service and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.