A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Accountability in Government
Chairman: William G. Whittaker
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Gay Mitchell, Executive Vice-President, Strategic Business Development, Personal and Business Clients, RBC Financial Group, and Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Golnaz Nayerahmadi, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Jeff Morrison, Director, Government Relations and Public Affairs, Canadian Construction Association, and Executive Director, The Road and Infrastructure Program of Canada; Alastair Gordon, President, Canadian Coalition for Democracies; Jasdev Singh, Treasurer, Malton Sikh Temple; Frant Dimant, Executive Vice-President, B'nai Brith Canada; Rt. Rev. Colin R. Johnson, Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, and Honorary Chaplain, The Empire Club of Canada; Gwyn Morgan, Executive Vice-Chairman, EnCana; LCol. Paul Fredenburg, Area Engineer, Land Force Central Area, Canadian Forces; Lisa A. Baiton, Vice-President, Government Relations, Environics Communications Inc., and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Philip Leong, Vice-President, Senior Investment Manager and Chairman's Council Member, BMO Nesbitt Burns; Phyllis Yaff, CEO, Alliance Atlantis; Jim Schultz, President, Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc.; Michael J. Sabia, President and CEO, BCE Inc., CEO, Bell Canada, and Chairman of the Board, Bell Globemedia; and Rod Phillips, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto, and President and CEO, Warren Shepell.
Introduction by William Whittaker
Eighty years ago today, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born. She became our Queen on the death of her father, King George the Sixth, on February 6, 1952, over 54 years ago.
Today is Queen Elizabeth's eightieth birthday. I would like to briefly quote from Doug Saunders article in today's Globe and Mail about the Queen's present-day activities: "An estimated 100,000 people are invited to Buckingham Palace every year; she shakes hands and chats with most of them. She greets a couple of ambassadors a day, gives out thousands of honours a year, holds constant dinners and foreign visits with some of the world's least interesting people, makes endless speeches, all without betraying a hint of fatigue or self indulgence, all at the age of 80, when simply getting out of bed is an accomplishment for some.
"Your Majesty, our luncheon audience today toasted your birthday before our live telecast began. So on behalf of our TV audience, Happy Eightieth Birthday and many more."
We welcome the Prime Minister of Canada today who will give his first major address to a Toronto audience since assuming office.
Born and raised in Toronto, Stephen Harper graduated from the University of Calgary with a master's degree in economics. He worked as an assistant and policy advisor to two Members of Parliament before being elected to the House of Commons in 1993.
In early 1997, Mr. Harper joined the National Citizens Coalition, becoming its President in early 1998. In 2002, he returned to the House of Commons as Leader of the Opposition and began working for the unification of Canada's then divided conservative movement, which resulted in the formation of the Conservative Party of Canada in late 2003. Mr. Harper was elected leader of the Conservative Party in March 2004 and became Canada's 22nd Prime Minister on February 6th this year following the January 23rd general election.
More importantly, Prime Minister Harper is husband to Laureen and father to Benjamin and Rachael.
Prime Minister, you may recall when I introduced you as Opposition Leader at our joint luncheon last November, I quoted from the last paragraph of William Johnson's book, "Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada," as follows: "...what is most important in a prospective prime minister is his demonstrated good judgment, his integrity, his wise policies, his broad experience, his willingness to make hard decisions for the common good even if they are unpopular, and his commitment to work to the best of his ability and his energy to lead the country in peace, justice, and prosperity. In each of these respects, warts and all, Stephen Harper rates better than any other leader on the federal scene..."
I must confess that the quotation actually ends with the words "since Pierre Trudeau" which I didn't include in my remarks. If I had, it may have cost you the election!
Prime Minister, you have the strongest ties of any of our previous prime ministers to the City of Toronto for you were born, raised and educated here--our first prime minister to have spend his formative years in our city. No doubt, there has been a recent increase in the value of the former Harper family homes in Leaside and Etobicoke, which is due to your occupancy and not to Toronto's booming real estate market! However, the owners will soon have to contend with historical plaques on their front lawns!
Prime Minister, this week you have been to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and today Toronto speaking about the immediate priorities of your government as set out in the April 4th Speech from the Throne. We look forward to your speech today and hopefully there are no six-month-old nose pullers in our audience to detract from your message.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada, to our podium today.
Honoured guests of the head table, colleagues from the Parliament of Canada, members of the Canadian and Empire clubs, ladies and gentlemen, thank you and thank you, President Whittaker, for your kind opening remarks.
Let me begin by echoing the sincere best wishes to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who is celebrating her 80th birthday today. I've had the privilege to meet with Her Majesty, and found her warm, gracious, intelligent and wise. I was also struck by her knowledge of Canada and her deep affection for this country and its people. She has been a model of selfless devotion and dignity through over half a century, and I know we all look forward to the continuation of her reign for many years to come.
I am especially honoured to address this joint gathering of the Empire and Canadian clubs because they are among the oldest and most prestigious forums in our country. Over the course of your history, you have hosted many of the world's most famous leaders--giants like Winston Churchill, Indira Ghandi, Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates and Margaret Thatcher, as well as virtually every Canadian prime minister over the past century. As a rookie prime minister, I am privileged to add my name to your list today.
The Need for Change
But I'm not here to talk about history. I'm here to talk about change. On January 23rd, Canadians voted for change. And they voted for direction. They tasked our party to lead that change and to provide Canada with leadership and direction.
Leadership is not always easy, especially in a minority Parliament. But I sense a hunger for it among Canadians. They are tired of talk without action. Promises without results. Government that succeeds in taxing, but fails to deliver.
In contrast, our new national government wants to create a clear sense of mission and of purpose:
To institute reform and accountability in government;
¥ To establish greater safety and security for individuals and communities;
To renew our federation and keep our country united, independent, strong and free;
To provide for Canada a more meaningful role on the world stage; and
To build a prosperous future--not just for a privileged few--but for all working people and their families.
Our Accomplishments So Far
With these goals in mind, we have had to respond to issues before our government.
We had to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada.
For the first time in history, we required our nominee to first submit to questions from a committee of elected members of Parliament. It was an unprecedented and historic first step forward in delivering greater democracy and transparency to our highest court.
We have responded to developments on the world stage in ways that advance Canada's interests and values. That's why we led the western world in cutting off funding to Hamas, making it clear that state terrorism is not acceptable. That's why we added the Tamil Tigers to the list of banned terrorist organizations in Canada, an action that should have been taken years ago. And that's why we spoke out against the anti-democratic actions of the government of Belarus, which included jailing a Canadian journalist for simply doing his job. It's also why I travelled to Afghanistan to see firsthand the work done by our diplomats, development officers and defence personnel. And it is why I remind Canadians, every chance I get, that our men and women in uniform are doing a first-class job delivering humanitarian aid to the Afghan people, demonstrating leadership in an international mission and defending Canada's values and interest. And those men and women in uniform deserve our unqualified support.
We have also been confronted early with the challenges faced by Canada's farmers, a group urbanites sometimes take for granted, but who provide food security for our nation. The first act of our cabinet was to free up three-quarters of a billion dollars in emergency aid to provide farmers with immediate assistance while we search for longer-term solutions.
And last but not least we have laid down clear markers to reassert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. You know, there's an old saying--use it or lose it--and we are not about to forfeit Canada's historical claim to our northern waters.
Our Five Priorities
Ladies and gentlemen, in the election campaign we set out a plan and made commitments. In the Speech from the Throne, we set out five immediate priorities that we plan to act on this spring.
Today, I want to talk about the Federal Accountability Act, and about the real clean-up we are going to undertake in Ottawa; that's a promise we plan to keep.
Now, of course, Parliament is in session. And, throughout this session, we will be guided by the five immediate priorities articulated in the Speech from the Throne. These are the priorities we campaigned on. These are the priorities Canadians voted for at the ballot box. And these are priorities we intend to deliver on in the months to come. These priorities are clearly defined, easy to remember, specific in their outcomes and limited in number.
There are five. Not 15. Not 50. Five.
We know what we want to do. And we have a plan and a focus to get it done.
Canadians are overtaxed. That's why we will move forward to cut taxes for all Canadians--starting with a cut to the GST from seven to six per cent, and eventually to five per cent.
The growth in gun, gang and drug crime is unacceptable. That's why we will work to safeguard the Canadian way of life and strengthen the criminal justice system.
Families, parents and children deserve our support. That's why we are replacing a child-care program that has funded politicians, researchers and advocates with one that helps families financially and will create real daycare spaces.
We will work with the provinces to establish a Patient Wait Times Guarantee--giving Canadians the health care they need, when they need it.
And, first of all these priorities, after years of waste, mismanagement and scandal, we will clean up government in Ottawa.
Greater Accountability in Ottawa
Each of our priorities is important. But none is more pressing than cleaning up the mess in politics and government at the federal level. Accountable, honest, democratic government is the foundation necessary for everything else we wish to build.
The problems of the past--including the systemic fraud and theft documented by the Gomery Inquiry--not only tarnished the reputation of federalism in Quebec; it also cheated and disillusioned taxpayers in all parts of the country. Something had to be done and last week we started the clean-up.
Treasury Board President John Baird tabled our first piece of legislation, the Federal Accountability Act. The FAA will change the system. It won't make government perfect because people are not perfect. But it will provide stronger and clearer rules for governments to follow, and enforce corrections and consequences when things go wrong. The Federal Accountability Act contains a series of exhaustive measures to clean up government and undertake a real spring-cleaning in Ottawa. Once it is implemented the FAA will:
Give more power to the Ethics Commissioner, the Auditor-General and the Lobbyists Registrar;
¥ Put an end to the influence of money in federal political parties;
Prevent former ministers, ministerial staff and senior officials from using their political relationships to profit from their public service;
Provide ironclad protection to whistleblowers;
Give the Auditor-General the power to monitor federal grants and contributions funding;
Expand the scope of the Access to Information Act;
Establish an independent Parliamentary Budget Office;
Clean up government contracting, polling, procurement and appointments, by establishing a Public Appointments Commission.
To begin with, the Accountability Act will give more power to the various independent Officers of Parliament.
The scope of the Auditor-General's authority will be extended. And she will be given the power to "follow the money" beyond just the billions of dollars in discretionary grants and contributions, to potentially audit the end recipients--a power that may have resulted in detection of the sponsorship scandal years earlier.
The Lobbyist Registrar will be given greater independence and the ability to end service in government as a stepping-stone to private profit. The FAA will do this by, among other things, banning all former ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public officials from lobbying the federal government for five years.
Those in government will be subject to a tougher Conflict of Interest Code, enshrined in law, and enforced by a new Ethics Commissioner with judicial training.
Access to Information will be widely extended. For the first time it will cover the activities of a wide range of agencies, Crown corporations and government foundations.
In recent years, Parliament has been hamstrung in its duty to supervise financial measures by a series of flagrantly inaccurate budget estimates and forecasts. The Federal Accountability Act will ensure elected MPs of all parties can have accurate and unbiased budgetary information on which to make decisions by creating an independent Parliamentary Budget Office.
The FAA will also mean an end to the influence of big money in federal political parties. It will ban corporate and union donations to federal political parties, eliminate secret trust funds for politicians and limit individual donations to parties to $1,000 per year. There will be no more private cocktail parties where the prime minister or other ministers make themselves available for $5,000 a ticket.
When things do go wrong in government, we will not drive out those who expose wrongdoing, as the former government did. The Federal Accountability Act will provide ironclad protection to whistleblowers.
And the FAA will clean up federal advertising, contracting, procurement, polling and government appointments.
Creating a Public Appointments Commission
Specifically, we will make sure that all federal appointments are necessary, and that selection is fair and based on merit.
Along these lines our accountability measures will include the establishment of a Public Appointments Commission.
For too long, the process of selecting the people for federal government boards, agencies and Crown corporations has been based almost exclusively on patronage and cronyism.
Let me be clear: governments should be able to appoint people who support their agenda--that is not the issue--but the jobs should be real, the net should be cast widely and qualifications should be brought to the table beyond mere partisan loyalty.
From now on, the appointments process throughout government will be supervised by the Public Appointments Commission, an independent five-member body. Its job is not to make appointments, but to ensure that objective criteria is established for positions, along with appropriate processes for recruitment and selection across government departments and agencies.
Establishing this framework will be a big job, but it will be essential to transforming Ottawa from what Judge Gomery called a "culture of entitlement" to a new culture of accountability. And I'm very pleased to be able to announce today that a prominent Canadian has agreed to take on the job of founding chairman of the Public Appointments Commission. That individual is with us today, so let me introduce Mr. Gwyn Morgan. I can't tell you how delighted I was when Gwyn accepted my invitation to take on this job for the people of Canada. People of his calibre are rare in this or any country. As you know, he recently retired as president and CEO of EnCana Corporation after an outstanding 30-year career in the oilpatch. Gwyn built Encana into one of the largest public companies in Canada and the biggest natural gas producer on the continent. Throughout his career he has been a champion of accountability and ethics in the private and public sectors. In short, there is no one better qualified to oversee a better, more transparent, more professional selection process for government appointments across all federal departments and agencies. And, what's more, he's going to do the job for a dollar a year. So, Gwyn, on behalf of the people of Canada, thank you.
Opposition to Greater Accountability in Ottawa
Ladies and gentlemen, we want to pass the Federal Accountability Act, but we have a minority government, and so we need help to implement the reforms the act will entail. We have no illusions. The federal Liberal Party will never support these changes. The Liberals will do everything in their power to block them, both in the House and in the Senate, because they will put a permanent stop to the culture of entitlement. We need the support of the other parties to establish a culture of accountability, and we need you, members of the public, to tell them you want Parliament to pass the Federal Accountability Act.
Friends, I have to remind you that, in this minority Parliament, passage of the Federal Accountability Act is not a done deal. I expect there to be some refining of the proposals as they go through the parliamentary process, and I hope we will get some useful suggestions from members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois. However, I notice that members of the previous government have been particularly vicious in their criticism. But their complaints are all over the map. Sometimes they say the FAA goes too far. Then they say it doesn't go far enough. They say there is too much in the act, and then there's not enough.
But my friends, let me remind you of one thing. There are over 250 sections to this legislation. And what do they all have in common? What they have in common is that the Liberal Party did not want to enact a single one of them when they were in power. And now some Liberal senators are threatening to delay the bill in the Upper House. That's something, even for the Liberal Party--unelected political appointees blocking legislation to make Parliament more accountable. Apparently they have concerns that the FAA will put the Senate under the same Conflict of Interest Code as the Commons, and they don't like that it will create an independent Director of Public Prosecutions.
After the sponsorship scandal, why am I not surprised? Ladies and gentlemen, the Liberal Party in either House of Parliament contemplating blocking or delaying the Accountability Act is intolerable. And it is particularly offensive given that the act is in significant measure a response to their actions. Actions they first denied. Actions later confirmed by a judicial inquiry. Actions the Canadian people passed judgment on back in January.
Listening to some members of the previous government, you'd think January 23rd never happened. In fact, you'd think the sponsorship scandal never happened. But it did. And we have to do something to clean up politics and government.
We have to do something to ensure greater respect for the law and for taxpayers' dollars. We have to do something to rebuild the image of federalism in the province of Quebec.
Now, I can understand why members of the previous government are being obstructionist on the FAA. It threatens how they raise money. It threatens the way they conduct business between lobbyists and government. It threatens the way they reward their friends. It threatens the ability of politicians to cover up mistakes once they happen and to get to the bottom of what has happened.
That's why they will try to pick the act apart. That's why they will work to defeat it.
But we will not be defeated or deterred because this is what Canadians want. They've had enough of phoney nit-picking. They've had enough of silly excuses as to why we can't clean up Ottawa.
They're telling us to get on with the program and pass this bill.
I say to Mr. Graham and his Liberal colleagues, you have a choice to make, and Canadians are watching. It's that simple.
Building a Better Canada
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada's new national government will keep the commitments it made to Canadians. Canadians are entitled to have a responsible government. We will set an example and keep our promises.
Friends, Canadians are tired of scandal, inaction and empty promises. They want leadership on accountability. Leadership on lowering their taxes. Leadership in the fight against crime. Leadership on delivering real results for ordinary working people. And leadership in keeping Canada--our Canada--strong, united, independent and free.
Friends, we know what we have to do. We know what we want to achieve. And we believe ordinary Canadians--the people who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules--are with us.
But it's a minority Parliament so we're going to need your help. If you want greater accountability and clean government in Ottawa, phone, e-mail or visit your MP and tell them to get the Federal Accountability Act passed. If you want to see tax relief, tell your MP you want them to support a cut in the GST and to cut taxes for all Canadians. And if you want real results for working families, and a tougher approach to crime, tell your MP you want them to support us in making our families stronger and communities safer, all of which are vital if we are to build a stronger, better Canada.
Friends, your government wants to move this country forward, by providing direction, focus and leadership. We know that, if we act with conviction and determination as a nation, the best is still yet to come for Toronto, for Ontario and for all parts of this great country. Together, I am confident that we can achieve great things.
Thank you. God bless Canada.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Rod Phillips, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto, and President and CEO, Warren Shepell.