A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
The Rt. Hon. Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada
The Direction I Want Canada to Take
Chairman: Rod Phillips
Head Table Guests
President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Noella Milne, President-Elect, The Canadian Club of Toronto, and Partner, Bordner Ladner Gervais LLP; John Duffy, Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto, and Principal, StrategyCorp Inc.; William G. Whittaker, President, The Empire Club of Canada, and Partner, Lette Whittaker LLP; and John A. Campion, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada, and Partner, Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP.
Introduction by Rod Phillips
Thank you very much. It is actually better I think if you applaud after I've spoken.
First of all, Rod, thank you very, very much for that introduction. It would be good if you would come around with me for about the next week and a half and do that again.
Let me simply say, first of all, that I see a number of members of Parliament, ministers and candidates and I'm delighted to see you all here. I think I'd be happier if you were out knocking on doors, but I promise I will be as brief as I possibly can so you can get right back to the job at hand.
I certainly want to thank the members of the Canadian Club and the members of the Empire Club for giving me this opportunity of speaking to you in the context of your leaders' lunches. The Empire Club and the Canadian Club throughout the history of our country have certainly given people the opportunity to speak their minds and talk about the direction of our country. And that's what I would like to do today.
As some of you know and as Rod has just said, I have just come from Montreal where I have spent the last couple of nights debating the issues with a moderator, the other three leaders and a few million Canadians at an informal off-the-record discussion. And as Rod said, I very much believe that in the end this election campaign is going to come down as predicted to a very clear difference of values; a very clear difference of values essentially between Stephen Harper's goal of a "fend-for-yourself Canada" and my vision of a country in which we strive together to a common good. This election fundamentally will be about choosing Canada.
Canadians are proud of the fact that together as a nation we have overcome challenges that have paralyzed other countries. We no longer borrow to pay our bills, we invest to protect our social programs, and we have built a society in which newcomers feel welcome. And I would simply ask you to look around the world and then I'm sure you will begin to understand what an achievement we have accomplished. It is something to be proud of.
I have differences with Mr. Harper about the future of our country and those differences are sharp and they are deep. I see Canada as a success, an overwhelming success, but Mr. Harper speaks to what he views as its failings. I see a Canada that I'm proud of, a nation that I believe to be a model to the world, but Mr. Harper speaks of our country only in ways in which it comes up short in his eyes.
Today, as a party, we are advancing our positive vision of Canada. We are releasing our party's platform--the Liberal plan to support Canadian families--and we are doing so with a full costing of what we have said we will do and what we intend to do. That plan illustrates, I believe, just how different our perspective of Canada is and the role the government must play in the direction that our nation must take. Let me outline five of the major points of our platform to support today's families.
First--tax cuts. We are cutting personal income taxes for low-income and middle-class Canadians. Many of these cuts are already in place. Now Mr. Harper would raise personal taxes on low-income and middle-income Canadians. As astounding as that may seem and it is very hard for me to believe it, Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are going to raise personal income taxes. Well let me tell you we will ensure that working families keep more money in their pockets. We will not raise taxes. We are going to cut taxes.
Second--safer Canadian communities. Canadian families deserve safe streets. Toronto is not Detroit and that means tougher sentences, it means more police, it means action to halt smuggling. The fact is of course all of the party leaders agree on that. But Mr. Harper and I have two disagreements. I want to get equally tough on the root causes of crime--exclusion, hopelessness--that Mr. Harper dismisses as a social theory. And secondly, I want to oppose Mr. Harper's concept, that what he will do is to talk about gun crimes in every way, shape or form except to ban handguns. I will ban handguns. I will ban them to make our communities safer. There are at least 500,000 handguns out there in private homes--weapons that are one break-in away from falling into the hands of the wrong people. I refuse to accept Stephen Harper's plan to deal with the issue of gun crime without dealing with the issue of handguns. I want those guns out of homes. The Mayor of Toronto agrees and the Premier of Ontario agrees that a handgun ban is essential to making our cities and our communities safer and we will bring a handgun ban in.
Third--better health care. Dr. Bennett who is here is working with the provinces. We have made tangible progress in reducing wait times and further progress is on the way. For the first time in our country we have national benchmarks against which provincial targets can be measured. We are already beginning to see substantial drops right across the country. We have also set out a plan to increase by 1,000 the number of family doctors working in Canada and we set out a very comprehensive plan to make it possible for those doctors who are trained abroad to basically prove their credentials and establish residencies here so that families can get the care where they need and when they need it. And our government will build on that by supporting families with a real health-care guarantee, one that will ensure timely care and pay the cost for you and a loved one, if you have to be sent elsewhere in Canada to receive prompt treatment. But let us be very clear, the fundamental plan is that people should get their care close to where they live and that's what we are going to work on with the provinces.
In a similar vein, the Liberal government will create a new family-leave program, giving Canadians the opportunity to take up to two months off work to care for a loved one who is seriously ill; two months in which their job will be protected and benefits will be paid through the employment insurance fund; two months that can make all the difference in a person's life. I think we understand the importance of this especially as our population ages and we see the importance of what happens when a family member takes time off work or takes time off from what they are doing to care for a loved one and how important that is and how we have really got to recognize this sacrifice. If we are going to build the kind of society that we want to build, we have to recognize how important it is to recognize what unpaid caregivers do.
And fourth--reducing the barriers to education. We are going to support families with what we have called our fifty-fifty plan to help overcome the barriers to getting a diploma or degree. Under the plan, the government will pay half of the first year's tuition and half the final year's tuition for all students attending a Canadian college or university to a maximum of $3,000. And we are going to do more than that by providing students from low-income families with up to $3,000 per year for all four years. And the reason for this is very simple. We are a nation rich in natural resources, but our greatest natural resources are the minds and skills of the young who walk upon that ground. That students should graduate from universities or colleges heavily in debt or that students shouldn't go on for a higher education because of the cost of incurring that kind of debt is simply incompatible with our capacity to compete with the newly rising Chinas and Indias of this world. So we are going to make it possible for every single student who wants to acquire a skill or an education to get it.
And then fifth--we are supporting Canadian families by building this generation's legacy to the next--a national program of early learning and childcare so that Canadian children regardless of their family income can enter school ready to learn and leave school ready to succeed. We have signed agreements with all 10 provinces, we've committed funding for over a decade and we are creating childcare spaces right across the country. Now what would Mr. Harper do? Well let me tell you what was among his first campaign commitments. He said he would pull the plug on all of that, that he would renege. He said that he would terminate our agreements with all of the provinces and that he would deny Canadians the first new social program in a generation. Now what would he offer instead? Well $25 a week per family per child and then he said he would tax it. Now just think about this. There has been an independent study. The families with an income of between $30,000 and $40,000 won't get the $1,200 that Mr. Harper talks about; not even close. After taxes they'll get $388 a year. That's a little better than a dollar a day. That's Mr. Harper's plan for childcare. Well here's what I believe. I believe that in the real world you can't cut a check for a dollar a day and call it a childcare strategy. I ask you to think about it and I've said this elsewhere--the best way that I can explain the difference between what he is talking about and what we are talking about. Decades ago, if Tommy Douglas, my father and Lester Pearson had been sitting around and one of them had said, "Let's talk about our health-care system. Let's talk about a medicare plan." And then after a bit of discussion another had said, "Let's forget about it. Let's just give everybody a dollar a day." And then another had said, "Well that won't help people much if people get sick but we can call it a strategy. We will dress it up and call it a solution or better yet let's call it medicare." If you want a fundamental difference between Stephen Harper and myself this is it. I believe in childcare. He believes in slogans.
So what does all this come to? Well I'll tell you. I believe that our social programs, the things that we do to help each other out, the things that we do to help each other up are a window in the kind of country we are and they are also a window in the kind of country that we want to be. I believe that we give ourselves the best chance to succeed as a nation when we rally behind the conviction that we will leave no one behind and that a crucial part of achieving that goal of fairness and greater equity in our society is making sure that we can afford to do what we say we are going to do, that we keep our promises and we achieve them without borrowing to pay our bills. Think about it. For three decades our budget was chronically in deficit. We solved the problem. Eight straight balanced budgets in a row. A public pension plan was at risk. We solved the problem and now it will be there for generations to come. Let me tell you there are very few industrial countries who today can say that.
The other day Sheila and I were at the G-8 meeting. We were at Gleneagles and after the bombings when Tony Blair had to go into town we were all just sitting around talking. I was with the other G-8 leaders and we got talking about rising national debt. Everybody was saying that their national debt was going up and I didn't say anything until finally at the end of it all one of them turned to me and said, "Paul, how much is your national debt going up?" Somewhat shamefacedly, I had to say it was not actually going up. It was going down. That is a tremendous achievement, not just of government but of the Canadian people.
The same thing applies to our unemployment rate. Our unemployment rate is now at the lowest level that it has been since we started modern statistics in the early seventies.
These are the benefits of responsible economic management and I'm telling you we are going to stay the course. That's why it is so important that today in the middle of this election campaign we have set out the full costing of what it is we intend to do in our next mandate. Our platform is fully costed. We will maintain our contingency reserve and we will deliver a ninth and a tenth and an eleventh balanced budget. We will continue to cut taxes and we will continue to support Canadian families and we will continue to pay down debt pursuing a fair and a balanced approach. We are now in a position where we can do that as long as we understand just how important it is to being prudent in our projections and basically understand the limitations of what happens in a society with rising economies when the unexpected can happen.
Why must we do this? That is how best to pursue our prosperity. I'm saying that Stephen Harper, certainly based on what I have seen so far, will put that prosperity at risk. It is already becoming more than clear that he will be unable to deliver on his platform without making cuts to programs and without increasing taxes.
For instance, on Monday night in front of millions of Canadians, he promised to tackle head-on the so-called fiscal imbalance. That's a demand by the provinces for additional funding in the range of $12 billion to $40 billion over the next five years. Mr. Harper has said he's going to give this money somewhere in that range to the provinces but he won't say how. He won't say where he's going to come up with the tens of billions of dollars in extra money. So what Canadians have to ask themselves is what more would he cut? How high will he have to take taxes? In terms of cutting he's already said, as I mentioned, that he will eliminate the national childcare program. Would he renege on our commitment to help cover the cost of tuition for post-secondary students? Will he renege on the labour market agreements for training that we were in the process of signing with the provinces, one which has already been signed here in Ontario? Will he renege on our new deal for cities and communities depriving our municipalities of the funding they need to make great places to live and to raise a family? Would we stare into the face of Aboriginal poverty and do, as his finance critic has said that he should do, and renege on the agreement that we have signed with the Aboriginal leadership in this country and with all of the provinces and territories to help Aboriginal Canadians seize their potential? What more would he cut? We don't know because he won't say and he should.
It matters whom Canadians choose to be their prime minister and what that person believes. Mr. Harper has made a promise a day in his campaign. A promise to remake Canada to what he wants it to be. He seeks to move us in a different direction towards a very different society. Stephen Harper, as I mentioned, would terminate the childcare program, he would renege on our Kyoto commitments to fight climate change and protect the environment, he would raise personal income taxes on low- and middle-income Canadians and he would do more, perhaps more than people realize.
You may have heard about one of the issues that I raised during the debates. I want to take a moment to talk about my plan to take away the ability of the federal government to use the notwithstanding clause and to tell you what it means and explain why I see it as such a fundamentally and deeply important difference between the Canada that I believe in and the country that Stephen Harper would seek to create.
Canada is a nation of minorities. We are all minorities and as such we place tremendous value on the protection of minority rights and by that I am talking about women's rights, I'm talking about religious freedoms, I'm talking about all rights. And that is why almost 25 years ago we enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is the heartbeat of our Constitution, it guarantees the rights of all Canadians, but there is a gap, there is a loophole, and that's the notwithstanding clause--the notwithstanding clause which gives politicians the ability to take away rights that have been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada and I think that is dangerous. I don't believe that the majority should be able to impose its whim on the minority. I don't believe that a political party or a prime minister should be able to pick and choose which rights Canadians will keep and which will be taken away. I believe that this principle will be increasingly important as Canada grows, as our identity becomes richer and richer and as we become even more part of the wider world outside our borders. And that's why I have pledged that the first act of a new Liberal administration would be to amend the Constitution to ensure that the federal government is not able to use the notwithstanding clause.
Now when I challenged Mr. Harper to join me in supporting this move he refused. He's happy to keep the hammer right where it is in the hands of politicians; a hammer that can be used to pound away at the charter and claw back any one of a number of individual rights, which raises the question why.
It is certainly not because he is shy about changing the Constitution. During the debates Mr. Harper talked about amending the Constitution to include property rights, which is a separate debate and one that we have got to have. So why, if Mr. Harper doesn't intend to use the notwithstanding clause, will he not agree to its removal? Why won't Mr. Harper stand up for a stronger Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why won't he stand up for protecting all rights all the time?
I believe that the answer has become obvious. Members of Mr. Harper's party have promised right-wing conservative groups that if they are elected they will ensure parliamentary votes on a woman's right to choose, on same sex marriage and on other social issues and that these votes will not matter. Mr. Harper wants to retain the power to override the charter. That is the hammer he wants to keep and so he's going to hang on to it. So think about it. He is willing to guarantee property rights but he will not guarantee a woman's right to choose. Mr. Harper himself has said that our charter of rights has serious flaws. His justice critic called the notwithstanding clause the ultimate tool saying that it could be used to overrule what he describes as "our radical Liberal judges."
Mr. Harper has described Canada as "second-rate." He has said, "A country like Canada will never have a strong an identity as the United States." He spoke to the U.S. conservative movement and he referred to the movement "as a light and an inspiration to the people of Canada." Mr. Harper has said that once he's done changing Canada we won't recognize it. And you know what? He means it.
Mr. Harper and I see Canada very differently in terms of supporting families, in terms of the role of government, in terms of the role of Canada in the world and in terms of rights. And as prime minister my pledge to you is that I will defend the Canada we have built together. I will defend its hard-won prosperity by staying out of deficit. I will defend its place in the world by speaking with an independent voice. I will defend its unity by standing against the separatists and I will defend its belief in fairness by protecting our social programs and I will defend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Let me begin to close now because I want to get all these candidates back out there knocking on doors. Let me just say that together over the years we have made Canada strong, a nation to be proud of, a nation that I certainly believe is a model to the world. Together in the years to come I believe that we can make Canada even stronger, an even more important model so that when other countries look at standards by which to judge themselves they will look to Canada.
Now of course there are challenges that confront us as a nation and there will be more challenges but when haven't there been challenges and when haven't we as a people overcome them? That is the story of Canada and that is what we can achieve by working together not in isolated silos across the land. That's what we can achieve with national leadership and a prime minister who believes in the good that the federal government can do and who believes in working with other governments so that together our values, our ambitions and the hopes and dreams of our children come true. I believe that our country is worth celebrating, not just the Canada of some distant future but the Canada of today. It is worth celebrating, it is worth protecting and it is worth building on because there is such potential in our nation and such promise in the years ahead. Together we will fulfill that potential and together we will achieve that promise.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by William G. Whittaker, President, The Empire Club of Canada, and Partner, Lette Whittaker LLP.
Members and guests of the Canadian Club of Toronto and the Empire Club of Canada, I have the honour to express your formal thanks to our Prime Minister.
During an election campaign, Canadians focus on the present and future with history taking a backseat. However, history matters to our two clubs, particularly the history and personal accomplishments of our speakers.
Prime Minister, you inherited your social conscience from your father, the Honourable Paul Martin senior, who was one of the architects of Canada's postwar social policy.
Born and educated in Ontario, your accomplished business career was spent in Quebec. You are one of those rare people in our country, certainly in English Canada, who has successfully bridged the two solitudes.
Prime Minister, your private-sector experience gave you the perspective and skills to make the difficult decisions as our Finance Minister 10 years ago to put Canada's fiscal house in order and Canada's economy on the road to prosperity.
A considerable personal accomplishment of Mrs. Martin's and yours are your three sons, Paul, Jamie and David, who are moving into successful business careers.
We are now into the sound and fury of the last 10 days of the election campaign. As in 2004, the next government will be determined during this period. We all remember your highly energized tour during the latter part of the 2004 campaign, which resulted in your come-from-behind victory.
Prime Minister, we wish you well for the remainder of the campaign and the future and thank you for your remarks today.