Leader of the Canadian Alliance and Leader of the Official Opposition
A SINGLE DEMOCRATIC CONSERVATIVE OPTION
Chairman: Bill Laidlaw
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Ann Curran, Director, Corporate Development International and 1st Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; The Reverend Douglas Kramer, St. Philips Lutheran Church; Andrea O'Shea, Grade 12 Student, Parkdale Collegiate Institute; The Honourable Senator Gerry St. Germain, PC, Member of the Senate of Canada, Former Cabinet Minister and Former President of the Progressive Conservative Party; Steve Gilchrist, MPP, Scarborough East; John Reynolds, MP, Party House Leader, Canadian Alliance and Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast; Kevyn Nightingale, CA, CPA, President, International Tax Services Group and Treasurer, The Empire Club of Canada; Jason Kenney, MP, Calgary Southwest; and Robert J. Dechert, Partner, Gowling LaFleur & Henderson and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by Bill Laidlaw
I remember my first meeting with Stockwell Day in 1990 when I was a lobbyist for the brand name pharmaceutical industry. Way up on
the fifth floor in a remote office lay Stockwell. He was a backbencher then and the time was 5:00 p.m. but he gave me an hour of his time, as he was genuinely interested in my issues and concerns. He also used that time to brief me on his philosophy on how government should run. I was impressed. Eight years later I met him again when he was a guest lecturer at the Banff School of Management focusing on government relations. He was the provincial treasurer at that time, and he kept the entire class enthralled with his wisdom that evening.
I am meeting him now as the Leader of the Canadian Alliance and Leader of the Official Opposition.
It would not be an understatement to say that Stockwell Day is really a "national" voice. Stockwell has spent his early years in the Maritimes, his high school years in Ottawa and Montreal, as well as living in the Arctic, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta. With such a background it is no wonder that Stockwell ascribes to, and embodies the diversity of Canadians with a real "people's perspective" that acts as a reality check for a lot of us.
Stockwell has a repertoire of accomplishments. He has worked in a leadership role with young people as a counsellor and administrator at an independent school. For 14 years he represented Red Deer North in the Alberta Legislature, where he served the Progressive Conservative government in a variety of senior roles: Chief Whip, Government House Leader, Minister of Labour, Minister of Social Services and then as provincial Treasurer, Minister of Finance.
This is already a full plate of accomplishments. This culmination of experiences has served him in good stead for his most challenging role thus far. Last year, on September 19, Mr. Day was officially sworn in as a Member of Parliament and became the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. The incredible results of the Alliance Party in the election still seem to be unbelievable when we consider the obstacles.
We consider that Stockwell won his seat with over 70 per cent of the vote in a by-election in Okanagan-Coquihalla. His team increased the Alliance's results in every region of the country. The Canadian Alliance saw its popular vote rise by over 750,000 votes, while toting an increase in Quebec voters by 240,000 in three years. Perhaps "making the impossible possible" should be the motto of the Alliance Party.
The Alliance Party has aggressively been moving forward, and "going further" has always come at some cost. There have been some difficulties, of course, in recent months; however, Stockwell
has shown a great deal of courage and character in dealing with current issues that surround the party.
Fortitude, resilience, strength, the conviction to stand for change, an overcomer. These terms come to mind when we think of our speaker and the groundwork which he has been instrumental in establishing. When the dust settles, it is hard to argue with sound initiatives that have all Canadians in mind; initiatives such as: to cut taxes and debt (which has been adopted by the Liberal Government); co-operative federalism; a specific plan on improving the quality and standard of life for all Canadians; some constructive alternatives in ways to make the House work more efficiently; strong leadership, to name but a few.
I'll end by saying that the "inclusionary" philosophy of Mr. Day and his party is inarguable and laudable, including all Canadians in their government, with increased opportunities.
Let's welcome our guest speaker today--Stockwell Day.
It is an honour to be invited to be with you today at the Empire Club. In fact, you probably think based on what you've read in the papers that with the kind of time I've been having lately, it's an honour for me to be invited anywhere.
I don't want to talk today about the internal challenges of the Canadian Alliance, which you can read about in extensive detail in the Globe and the Post.
There is no question that the recent weeks have been tough for the Alliance and for me personally. But you know, I've faced tough times before. When I was newly married, and a new father, and running an auction house in Kelowna, British Columbia, our warehouse burned down, and we did not have proper insurance. I had to take a variety of jobs--auctioneering for others, working a log skidder--to feed our young family and to pay back the debts our business owed, because I refused to declare bankruptcy. I have always believed and lived by the adage that tough times don't last, but tough people do.
This is something we have seen in politics again and again. Here in Ontario in 1990 the newly chosen Leader of
the Ontario Progressive Conservatives went into a campaign with hope and optimism only to finish a distant third. Grim days and dark headlines followed for months. But it was firm resolve and staying focused which ultimately resulted in Mike Harris and the Tories winning the next election.
In 1996 a promising new leader went into the British Columbia election with a 20-point lead in the polls, but ended up losing the election. For months afterwards, there were calls for his resignation, but his persistence paid off with Gordon Campbell winning 77 out of 79 seats in the next election, the largest majority that province has seen in its history.
And speaking about history, a book about Winston Churchill's life and political career up until 1939 was titled "A Study in Failure." Churchill had failed in almost all of his political ambitions up until the time he became Prime Minister and led Britain to victory in the Second World War.
I'm not comparing myself to Winston Churchill, but these examples show that with dedication and perseverance, in politics as in other fields, you can overcome obstacles and challenges. But I have always felt that it is important that when you go through challenging times, even sometimes painful times, whether personally, professionally, or in public life, that you come back to first principles. At times like these, you have to get beyond the emotional reactions of the moment and remember the enduring values and beliefs that got you to where you are.
And I have spent a lot of time reflecting on why I chose to run for Leader of the Alliance, what I stand for and what the party stands for that makes me think that these principles are worth fighting for.
The Canadian Alliance was created because many people, whether they had been Reformers, federal or provincial Progressive Conservatives, or small-c conservatives from other party backgrounds believed that we
needed a unified party, capable of governing from a position of principle. As a provincial conservative cabinet minister at the time, I was an active participant in these efforts from the very beginning. I chaired the Winds of Change conference in Calgary in 1996, was a founding member of the United Alternative steering committee, and spoke at both United Alternative conventions.
Although I had supported the Reform Party federally in 1993 and 1997, I had long felt that it needed to establish itself as a truly national party, with an openness to Quebec. The United Alternative meant becoming more than simply the latest manifestation of western populism, but also a small-c conservative party in the great Canadian conservative tradition from Macdonald and Cartier to John Diefenbaker, to Mike Harris and Ralph Klein. And despite some of the missed opportunities of his government, we must also acknowledge that Brian Mulroney delivered the historic Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that has helped bring greater prosperity to Canada.
And it cannot be forgotten that the Alliance did succeed in fulfilling many of these objectives. In the last election, we were a much more national party, increasing our vote share in nine provinces and beating the Progressive Conservatives in Quebec.
The Alliance became a true coalition of former Reform Party members with many talented new arrivals from the Progressive Conservatives, including members I am proud to have in senior roles within my caucus like Brian Pallister, Vic Toews, and Senator Gerry St. Germain. They round out our team of talented political leaders who have a vision of a united democratic conservative party.
If this growing Alliance is to succeed in the future, we must move forward in this direction towards becoming a national governing party. The Reform Party has already gone through a wrenching debate about broadening its coalition. The members of the Reform Party voted to form
a new party that went beyond the boundaries of Reform, and its membership grew from below 70,000 to over 200,000.
Again, the challenge before us is to continue to "think big" by continuing to work for the objective of formal cooperation, and perhaps a merger or coalition, with the federal Progressive Conservatives and other like-minded Canadians.
In the recent debate within the Alliance, the issue of how to move forward in discussions with the federal PCs has become a bone of contention. Some of my critics have accused me of not wanting to move fast enough, or of not being sincere in my gestures on unity and co-operation. On the other hand, some members of our party are concerned that any rush to co-operate with the Tories could signal that we are prepared to abandon our party's principles, and simply hand the direction of this movement over to a small, elite group that does not share our vision.
As we move forward in the next few months, we will need to address both concerns. First, that the time available to unite the parties is limited; and second, the need to remain faithful to the core principles of democratic conservatism. First let me deal with the principles, and then let me deal with the process that can lead to greater unity between our two parties.
I have been open on what shape this co-operation might take--joint candidates, a coalition, or a formal merger and the creation of a new small-c conservative party. But on one point I have been resolute: that any discussions of unity must be based on the democratic conservative principles that shaped the Canadian Alliance.
"Democratic conservative" is perhaps the simplest way of defining our party and its principles, and the broader coalition that we aspire to form. I have used this
term consistently to discuss who we are and the kind of partnership we seek with the federal Tories.
To be democratic conservatives means accepting timetested small-c conservative beliefs in balanced budgets, the free market and private property. We believe in limited, less centralised government, respect for family and community over the intrusive state, concern for law and order and a strong national defence.
At its best, the Progressive Conservative Party has embodied these principles, and certainly there have always been many Progressive Conservatives who have embraced these small-c conservative principles.
But the democratic part of democratic conservatism reflects our insistence on democratic accountability and reform in government. We believe that Parliament must be reformed so that individual MPs can have a meaningful voice; that an appointed, patronage-ridden Senate is a disgrace; and that citizens must be able to have a direct say over governing their country through such means as initiative and referenda. This is the Reform part of our heritage, and this conviction that government must be more open, more free, and more democratic is a central part of our political creed.
In whatever discussions occur between us and the Progressive Conservatives, we are prepared to discuss leadership, we are prepared to discuss our name, we are prepared to discuss individual policies where we may disagree, but we are not prepared to negotiate away our core convictions. The names and faces may change, but our democratic conservative principles will remain the same.
Many of our members ask whether Joe Clark is equally committed to these kinds of democratic conservative principles. In their view, Joe Clark has opposed many of the measures which the Canadian Alliance has supported to improve Canada's economic competitiveness, to restrict the size and scope of government, or to make Canada's government more democratic and accountable.
In the interest of an honest debate on policy differences, fair questions can be raised related to Joe Clark's policy positions. These are not in any way personal; they are policy items that Joe Clark is being asked to clarify.
The Canadian Alliance supported measures to make Canada's employment insurance system a true insurance system and limit repeat use; the Tories under Joe Clark opposed them.
The Canadian Alliance has called for meaningful tax reductions and a single rate of income tax for Canada, while Joe Clark has denounced a single-rate tax and supported maintaining marginal income tax rates higher than the Liberals brought in. But that hasn't stopped Joe Clark from enjoying the single-rate tax which I introduced as Alberta's Treasurer.
It is these kinds of policy stands that led so many federal Tories to get involved in the United Alternative and to join the Canadian Alliance.
So when we sit down with the PCs--and we will--we will not be meeting merely to discuss the party name or the colour of our lawn signs. These considerations are unimportant to the daily lives of Canadians. We will insist on talking about policies and principles. Whatever political entity emerges must embrace sound, small-c conservative principles and a more democratic form of government for Canada. A united alternative to the Liberals must be a principle-based, democratic conservative alternative.
That is why a few weeks ago, I asked Joe Clark to participate in joint policy conferences on health care, economic growth, and democratic and constitutional reform. We have not heard back from Mr. Clark on this initiative, although some of our members are participating in good faith in the policy roundtables Mr. Clark recently announced.
Mr. Clark has made a habit in the past few years of rejecting every offer to create unity among Canada's centre-right forces. He was offered a keynote spot at the United Alternative conventions, but he refused. When Brian Pallister was supporting the concept of joint candidates while he was still a federal Tory, this was rejected at Joe Clark's urging.
Joe Clark has lost two presidents of his party in the past year, both of whom expressed a desire for greater cooperation with the Alliance. Even though an internal survey showed that 51 per cent of federal Tory members want either a coalition or merger with the Canadian Alliance, Joe Clark is still saying no to these discussions.
Unfortunately, Joe's reluctance to engage in any official discussion of co-operation has made it easy for my critics to accuse me of being insincere in my calls for dialogue and unity. They say that I do not really want the parties to come together, as I am not prepared to risk my leadership, and my words about co-operation are just posturing and bluffing.
Well, let me tell you today that it is not posturing or bluffing when I say that I want Canadians to have a single democratic conservative option on the ballot in the next election, and that I am putting my own leadership on the line to see that happen.
Now that I have discussed the principles that I believe in and that the Canadian Alliance stands for, let me now outline a process that could lead to the result we are seeking: a single democratic conservative alternative that can actually form government.
First of all, we must all recognise that time is of the essence. The Liberals have had an electoral cycle of going to the polls every three and a half years. This means that the next election will likely be in the spring of 2004. Both the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives have national conventions in 2002. If we are serious about a coalescence of conservative forces, we will both have to address these changes next year, including organising a
leadership convention to allow us to spend 2003 getting ready to fight the Liberals in the next federal election. Therefore, if unity discussions are to happen in a meaningful way, they must begin this year to allow changes to be proposed in advance of our respective 2002 conventions.
Second, I believe that the ultimate decision on these matters must be made by the grassroots members of the Canadian Alliance, and I am sure that grassroots members of the Progressive Conservatives feel the same way.
These decisions are too important to be made behind closed doors at so-called secret meetings. (I say so-called because only in Ottawa do you call it a secret meeting and then invite the CBC and the National Post, but that's another matter.)
Therefore, we must consult as widely as possible with all of our members to get a mandate for these kinds of discussions.
Today, I am proposing a way forward towards a truly united conservative alternative that will achieve these goals of moving quickly and moving democratically.
This proposal I am making today will not replace the many great efforts already underway at the local level--in Saskatchewan, in Quebec, and here in Ontario, for example--but will complement them. Local ridings and individual MPs will be encouraged to continue dialogue with each other, but we need a way for our parties to talk more formally at the national level.
I will recommend to our National Council and the Dialogue Group established by the Council that a more focused Unity Committee be struck consisting of senior members of our Caucus and National Council.
I will then ask our council to go to our 200,000 members nationwide in a referendum to give the Unity Committee a mandate to enter into formal discussions with the Progressive Conservatives to create a single, viable alternative to the Liberals in the next election in
the form of either a new party or an electoral coalition, provided that this new option will remain faithful to our core democratic conservative principles. As long as we can achieve agreement on these principles, I would support the creation of a new party.
I will urge all members of the Alliance to participate in this referendum and to help unify democratic conservatives in Canada into a single alternative. If a new party results from these discussions, as I hope it will, I will put my leadership on the line in a wide-open leadership race.
This referendum of Canadian Alliance members can occur within 90 days, and will give a clear direction to myself as Leader and to the National Council and Caucus. I would urge Joe Clark to launch a similar process in his party and to hold a referendum of his members, so that we can get on with discussions with a clear mandate, guided by our memberships. Once we have mandates from our memberships, I hope that discussions will take place quickly, so that we can get an agreement on the proposed new option by the end of the year.
And if any agreement is reached, it will be our membership which will have the final say on the results before any merger or formal coalition becomes reality.
I urge all of those who have opposed my leadership within the Alliance, but have called for efforts at dialogue with the federal Tories, to put aside their feelings towards me and support this initiative. If there are other members of the Alliance who believe that they would be better leaders than I, or could persuade better candidates to come forward, then I urge them to support this referendum and to urge the Tories to do the same. The best way to ensure an open leadership race would be to create a new party.
If we are bold, if we are willing to put aside prejudices and preconditions, and if we are true to the democratic conservative principles of the Canadian Alliance, then we
will be able to create an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I do not agree with those who say that consolidating our forces will only give us 28 per cent of the vote. On election day last year, the combined total for our two parties was closer to 38 per cent. And the fact that there would be one, clear alternative to the Liberals on the ballot would probably bring some BQ and Liberal supporters our way, as well as motivating some of the 40 per cent of eligible voters who didn't even turn up at the polls last time. Creating a united small-c conservative alternative would not be a zero-sum game.
Canada does not deserve the fate of a quasi-one party state. We need a single viable alternative that citizens will look to with hope and confidence as a future government. I will do whatever I can, including putting my own leadership on the line to see this happen, because Canada deserves nothing less. And I hope that my friends and colleagues within the Progressive Conservative Party, and those who are dissatisfied within my own party, will see in this challenge a common goal that we can work for together for the sake not only of ourselves or our parties, but for our country.
The challenge I am putting before my own party and the Progressive Conservative Party is a large one, but the goal of a more free, more democratic, and more prosperous Canada is clearly worth the effort.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Robert J. Dechert, Partner, Gowling LaFleur & Henderson and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.