Member of Parliament, Calgary Southwest and Candidate for Leadership of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance
WHY I WANT THE JOB OF BEING YOUR NEXT PRIME MINISTER
Chairman: Catherine Steele
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
George Anderson, President and CEO, The Insurance Council of Canada and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Zubair Choudhry, Hoya Lens Canada Inc.; Reverend Dr. John Niles, Victoria Park United Church; Mark Poole, Corporate Liaison Officer, The Canadian Alliance Party; Andre Turcotte, President and CEO, Feedback Research Corporation and Pollster, The Canadian Alliance Party; Shariffa Grosser, Senett Control Company Ltd.; Gareth S. Seltzer, Director, TWS Private Management and RRSP.COM and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Fredrik S. Eaton, Chairman, White Raven Capital Corp.; and Belinda Stronach, Executive Vice-President and Director, Magna International Inc.
Introduction by Catherine Steele
It is my privilege to introduce to you now our guest speaker, Preston Manning, candidate for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party.
Since the creation of the Canadian Alliance party earlier this year, media attention has focused on whether this new party could challenge the federal Liberal party for the support and votes of Canadians.
The recent leadership race has also brought much attention to this new party, the policies and platforms of those seeking the leadership and the true grassroots nature of the Canadian Alliance, with its one-member one-vote process for choosing its first leader.
While Canadians generally may be cynical of politicians and those who run for public office, I think very few truly appreciate the time, effort, commitment and sacrifice made by those who decide to offer themselves up to public scrutiny in the name of public service. We often like to comment that there's a lack of leadership or ideas and thoughts by those who occupy political positions but sometimes I think we overlook what's right in front of us.
For example, the Canadian Alliance party would not exist without our guest speaker today. In January of this year, he asked people to ""think big""--think beyond what they currently know and what seems comfortable, to what could be. And he wasn't asking people to do what he wasn't prepared to do himself.
Stepping aside from his role as Leader of the Official Opposition, he threw his name in the ring for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. He urged people to think about how together they could make good things happen. Having started his party as a grassroots movement in Alberta, he was speaking from experience. Through thousands of coffee parties and town hall meetings, he made people believe there was an option to traditional parties.
In 1990, as an intern with the Ontario Legislative Internship Program, I had the opportunity to meet Preston Manning during our trip to the Alberta Legislature. Those were early days for the Reform party but as students of the Canadian political system, those of us from provinces other than Ontario, including myself, were impressed that someone truly believed in the power of grassroots democracy and that the role of government should be inclusive, not exclusive.
Preston Manning has advocated and practiced grassroots democracy throughout his political career.
As Reform party leader, Mr. Manning was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 for the riding of Calgary Southwest and became Leader of the Official Opposition following the federal election of June 1997. He recently stepped down from that position to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance.
Preston comes from a family with a distinguished record of public service. His father, the late Ernest C. Manning, served as Premier of Alberta for 25 years.
In both the private sector and in his political career, Preston Manning has demonstrated a strong commitment to democratic principles, the value of a private enterprise economy and active social responsibility. He and his wife Sandra who is here today reside in Calgary. They have five children and four young grandchildren.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Preston Manning to The Empire Club of Canada.
Thank you very much. I'd like to begin by saying a genuine thank you to Catherine for that kind introduction and to the Empire Club. You really have given us opportunities to discuss the idea that eventually became the Canadian Alliance and to report on its progress. I appreciate the public forum that the Empire Club creates for people of all political stripes. You are to be congratulated for the platform you provide and the work that you do.
I'm glad that you also introduced Sandra. We almost had the first scandal of the Canadian Alliance in Victoria the other night. We came into a meeting halfway through, Sandra was not introduced and I forgot to introduce her. We usually do the question period at these public meetings together because this is a joint project for us. During the question period Sandra bounced up on the stage, put her arm around me and said she was a real estate agent from Calgary and was travelling with me on the campaign. I could see the eyebrows starting to go up and I hurriedly explained that we had been married for 33 years, squashing the scandal at the beginning.
What I'd like to do today is give you just a brief update on the subject of the Canadian Alliance, its leadership contest, and my aspirations to become the leader. I might begin by restating for you what I said when I was here earlier. The aim of the Canadian Alliance is very simple--to create a governing alternative to the federal Liberals by uniting Canadians with certain common interests around some commonly shared principles.
Now there are two operational words in that mission statement. The first is to create a ""governing alternative."" The aim is to create not just a bigger Opposition but a group that can actually provide a government. The impact that has on the leadership contest is that it means we are asking the Alliance people not just to think about picking another Opposition leader, even leader of the Official Opposition, but to be picking a potential future prime minister. We therefore need to ask the question: ""Is this person ready for the job where the job is not just to be Opposition leader criticising the other guys and presenting ideas but actually to be capable of running a government?""
The other operational word in this mission statement is ""uniting."" The key to building the Alliance is uniting people with common interests who have been divided among different groups in the past and endeavouring to unite them, not just in some alliance of expediency, but on the basis of principle. And so the question then becomes with respect to the leadership: ""Who has the capacity to get people to work together who have not worked together before and to endeavour to unite them on the basis of principle, not just a temporary political expediency?""
After that sort of overview I will give you a brief commentary on the progress that we've made. The Alliance is formally two months old and while I'm prejudiced on this subject I really do believe that the concept is working. The polls say, depending on which poll you read, the Alliance has support anywhere from 17 to 19 to 24 per cent of Canadians. This is very good. It is as high as the Reform party ever got and this is with a new group that's two months old.
I think we can safely say that we are dominating a lot of the media coverage of the federal political scene and that is good. The party now has over 200,000 members which is a very good figure. It indicates interest in the Alliance. The memberships have been pouring in from all parts of the country and it's stimulated by the leadership contest but it's stimulated by people willing to give the Alliance the strength that it needs.
Although it's early to look at its potential for seats, we in the West think that with this framework we can get between 60 and 72 seats there. We got 60 seats the last time with Reform. In Ontario if we can stop the vote splitting, there are 30 to 60 seats that are up for grabs. If in the next federal election the polls started to show, and the commentators started to say, that the Alliance has the capacity for getting 100, 110, 130 seats in Western Canada and Ontario then those folks to the East, in Quebec and Atlantic Canada would figure out that whoever threw the last 20 seats into the coalition could make the difference between opposition and government. We're excited about the possibilities and want to extend an invitation to each and every one of you to join us if you're so inclined.
Now the Alliance is attracting people. It's attracting people across party lines and that was the intention. B.C. provincial Liberals, not just Reformers in British Columbia. Klein Conservatives in Alberta. People connected with the Saskatchewan party in Saskatchewan. Filmon Conservatives and others in Manitoba. Harris Conservatives. Discontented federalists and soft nationalists in Quebec who are tired of the 40-year war and polarisation between sovereignists and the status-quo federalists. And movers and shakers in Atlantic Canada from Conservatives and Liberals and our small Reform base there who are interested in a fundamentally different approach to regional economic development in that part of the country.
We are also attracting people on the basis of principles and the four big values that unite the people in the Alliance are these.
Fiscal responsibility. Get the debt and taxes down. Social responsibility carefully defined in the form of strengthening families and the federal government's commitment to law and order.
Reformed federalism. Make federalism work better, get the federal government to co-operate rather than fight with the provinces particularly in their areas of jurisdiction like health care.
A commitment to democracy. Make the federal institutions-the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada-more democratically accountable to Canadians.
So if you can identify with any of these groups or if any one of those big four values expresses your views and your commitments, you will find a home in the Alliance.
The other thing I find most encouraging is that the Alliance is attracting leaders and potential candidates who have exceptional abilities and capacities of their own. This leadership contest has attracted just excellent people. Stockwell Day, as you know, is Finance Minister in Alberta. He's had practical experience in reducing taxes and debt there. He has appealed to some of the social conservative groups and will, I hope, bring them in. Keith Martin, one of our younger M.P.s, is a candidate. Keith is from Vancouver Island. He's using the leadership contest to present ideas particularly for health-care reform that he thinks are long overdue and he's doing a good job of it. And of course here in your province Tom Long is just an excellent person as a leadership candidate. He's been the successful campaign manager for Mike Harris twice. He knows how to win elections in Ontario. I think he makes it more comfortable for many of the Harris Conservatives to join the Alliance. All of these candidates bring strength and have constituencies that others don't have. Together they make the Alliance and its leadership a formidable team.
I want to suggest to you that we are presenting ourselves as a team. Each of us wants to be quarterback of the team (and no one makes any bones about that) but we've each said that we're willing to play on the team whether we get to be quarterback or not, because it's the team that will enable us to win. With this team, Tom Long could win in the West and we could hold those seats there. With this team, Stock Day, Keith Martin or I could win in Ontario. Without the team, we end up dividing votes and splitting votes which has been the problem we've been trying to solve. With the team, I'm convinced we can win not just in the West but in Ontario and points east. It's the team that's the thing.
Now having said that, I want to come back to a point I made a little bit earlier. If the team is the thing both at the grassroots level (we are trying to get people, who haven't worked together before, to work together), and at the leadership level (we are trying to create the team) in my judgment the most essential characteristic then of the next leader of the Alliance, and I would suggest the next Government of Canada, is the capacity to get people to work together who have not worked together before and the capacity to build coalitions, and to build alliances. I'd like to present to you my record of doing this because I think it's the question that is most germane. Who can lead this alliance to success and who can lead the next government?
Now coalition building is going to be the mandate of the next government. The days when governments can get some great big mandate in an election and translate it into support for every idea that came into their heads for the next four years are over. If you want to do anything in government today, you have got to go out and create a coalition of support for it, whether it's tax reform or health-care reform. This capacity to create alliances and coalitions is relevant politically to holding the Alliance together. It is relevant, I would say, to the exercise of the office of prime minister in the 21st century. My record in this area is this. I was very instrumental in creating and developing the Reform party which itself was a coalition. Everybody in the Reform party came from somewhere else because it didn't exist 13 years ago.
Many were Western Canadians who many of you know are as independent as pigs on ice. They have difficulty agreeing on what day it is let alone the time of day. We managed to get large numbers of them to work together in a broader coalition to make their presence and views felt on the national stage. Then in 1998 as Leader of the Official Opposition I expanded that coalition-building activity. I could see that the vote splitting in Ontario was preventing us from going further and I proposed these United Alternative conferences where we said: ""Let's just try to get everybody together under one roof to see if we can agree on a set of principles and policies that would be the basis for political action."" And it was those conferences that led, with the help and support of many many people including many people in this room, to the creation of the Canadian Alliance.
I suggest to you that in Ontario that framework allows Reformers, Harris Conservatives and others to work together towards the common objective of electing a new federal government. I suggest that this framework, and this was carefully thought out in advance, provides a framework for fiscal and social conservatives to work together. To many fiscal conservatives primary concerns are the economy and getting taxes down. With the social conservatives prime concerns are strengthening families, justice issues and things of that type. In the past there has been a tendency for these groups to go their separate ways. I've argued that if you do that you split again. There aren't enough small-c conservatives in this country to afford to split them up anyway. If you do that you will end up with a right-wing NDP of some sort. You can get fiscal conservatives on their own or social conservatives on their own but it's not enough critical mass to create a governing party.
There's a way to get fiscal and social conservatives to work together and the technique is to use democracy. Will those people regardless of what side they're on, and I identify with both, accept two simple principles of democracy? One--everyone's view and values are worthy of being heard and being expressed and shouldn't be hissed down from the back of the room or shut down from the front. Two--decisions on big public policy should be made by a majority, so that no value-driven minority can impose its views on others. If fiscal and social conservatives would agree to those two rules they can work together in the same house and they can work together under the same roof.
We also provided in the Alliance a framework for getting the big regional interests in this country to work together rather than against each other. There are four big regional interests. First is the West's aspiration to be a big player in the 21st century and I identify with that. The West is going to produce one-third of the wealth of this country, has a third of the population and wants to be a big player. Any future government has got to accommodate the aspirations of the new West. In Ontario you have the aspiration to take the tax-cutting policies of the Harris Common Sense Revolution from Queen's Park to Ottawa. It is a huge force and has got to be given expression in the national arena. In Quebec you have this hopeful sign of people looking for a third way, not separation, not Chretien-style federalism, but some kind of reformed federalism. And in Atlantic Canada you've got this desire for a new economic growth strategy that is not based on handouts laced with patronage.
The challenge the next prime minister or any governing party in this country has is how to harness all those forces together. We deliberately crafted the Alliance platform so it could speak to each of those concerns. There's no reason why a new Westerner can't support the Common Sense Revolution in Ontario. There's no reason why Ontario can't support the desire for reformed federalism in Quebec. There's no reason why all of us can't support the desire of Atlantic Canadians to get a different economic strategy--one based on tax relief rather than subsidies and one based on freer trade rather than government intervention. The Alliance provides a framework for those people to work together in the interest of national unity.
Earlier this year after selling the concept of the Canadian Alliance to Reform, I then resigned as Leader of the Official Opposition to make possible this leadership and creation of a broader and bigger and talented leadership team. To summarise what I'm saying: ""If you want a political leader and the next prime minister to be a leader of change and a builder of coalitions I'm ready for the job because that's what my record has been.""
I've added one last point because I think this is about our 170th public event since March 27 when we started this campaign. At public meetings, if you listen hard to what people say, you always learn something new. I went through this whole pitch at a meeting in Bonneyville, Alberta the other day. I thought I'd answered every conceivable question that could be asked and a fellow got up at the very end and just looked me in the eye in front of all of his friends and said: ""Why do you want the job?"" So I'll end by telling you why I want the job of being the leader of the Canadian Alliance and the job of being your next prime minister. And some of it is pretty simple. You've heard it from me before.
I want to get the federal debt and taxes down. In 1988 I developed a 12-word fiscal-federal agenda that included control the cost, balance the books, reduce the debt and reduce the taxes. I'm tired of trying to persuade other people to do that which to me is a self-evident policy for every government in this country. I'm tired of trying to convince people across the House who don't seem to believe in it. I'd like a crack at doing it myself.
Secondly, I want to reform federalism. I think that reformed federalism provides a way for Quebec out of its constitutional box. Not status-quo federalism that they get from Jean Chretien. Not separation, but reformed federalism. I think federalism can harness the great regional interests in this country and make them a positive force for economic and social security and national unity. If Canada can find a way of reconciling deep regional interests that include cultural and linguistic interests within a federalist framework surely we've got a message for the world where the pluralistic societies are trying to do that all over the place and not many of them are succeeding.
I also want to be both prime minister and leader of the Alliance to democratise the federal institution. I find our Parliament a mockery of democracy. The Senate is a joke. The Senate is a scandal. What democratic country allows 25 per cent of its seats to be decided by a 19th-century appointment system? When the old Soviet Union was breaking up and those democrats were coming over here to learn about democracy I used to wonder where we should take them in Ottawa to show them how it works. We sure shouldn't take them to the Senate.
The House is supposed to be the temple of democracy. It's a house of the parties, not a house of the people.
I'd like to draw the line a little clearer between the Supreme Court and the Parliament of Canada for the benefit for both the Court and the Parliament.
And lastly I'd like to use my coalition-building skills and alliance-building skills one more time to build a bigger alliance yet to get the 152 seats you need in a 301-seat chamber to actually win a vote and do something rather than criticise or present alternatives.
So if that's what you want in a political leader, if that's what you want in the prime minister's office after the next election, I'm ready for that job and I'm asking for your support. Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Gareth S. Seltzer, Director, TWS Private Management and RRSP.COM and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.