The Politics of Frugality
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 May 1993, p. 1-10
Turner, Garth, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Candidacy campaign platform focusing on deficit reduction, tax reform, Parliamentary reform, debt crisis.
Date of Original
17 May 1993
Language of Item
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Full Text
Garth Turner, Progressive Conservative Leadership Candidate
Chairman: Dr. Frederic L. R. Jackman President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Julie K. Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and 3rd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; The Rev. Kim Beard, Rector, St. Bede and St. Chrispin Anglican Churches; Dorothy Turner, Chief Advisor to our principal speaker and Co-owner of several businesses; Ian Fraser, President, Pro Pharma Contract Selling Services and Ontario Director of P. C. Canada; Carlyle Dunbar, Financial Journalist and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Linda Leatherdale, Financial Editor, Toronto Sun.

Introduction by Dr. Jackman

It is my pleasure, as your new President, to offer our members and guests this historic opportunity of experiencing a prime-minister-in-the-making. The Progressive Conservative leadership contenders have graciously agreed to address us and we are indeed privileged to see and hear these distinguished Canadians firsthand.

It is wonderful to see many of you here to welcome Garth Turner, MP for Halton-Peel; the first of the leadership contenders to address us. Mr. Turner needs little introduction as there are brief biographies on every table and because of the extensive media coverage of all the candidates.

However, a few comments about his background are appropriate. He was born in Woodstock, Ontario and now lives in Georgetown with Dorothy. He did attend the University of Toronto Schools where he was a Lieutenant-Colonel and the Commanding Officer of the Royal Army Cadet Corps--one of Canada's largest. (Yes, it is true commanding officers were not allowed to wear beards).

His varied business career includes entrepreneurial successes in real estate development, retailing and publishing, including publishing the fastest-growing investment newsletters in Canada. In addition, he is the author of several business books.

Combining his business experience with his analytical and writing skills he became the Toronto Sun's well-respected financial editor for 10 years. His financial writings were syndicated to over 60 U.S. and Canadian papers.

Elected in 1988, with strong convictions about bringing fiscal responsibility to government, he has become perturbed, I believe, by the lack of power of the back-bencher to influence the country he understands so well and cares so much about. It is no wonder perhaps, that Mr. Turner would want to promote "The Turner Plan" as his own prime minister and to choose his own cabinet colleagues.

His campaign is bare bones. There is no glitz, no buttons, no backroom, no national Team Turner. In fact, his pay-as-you-go campaign is deliberately sparse. Mr. Turner wants to demonstrate, as Linda Leatherdale told me, that "By running a lean and mean campaign he can set an example ... like the way the government should run."

Ladies and gentlemen would you welcome the candidate who, in word and deed, practices what he preaches, The Politics of Frugality--Mr. Garth Turner.

Garth Turner

On February 24, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney walked into our caucus meeting in Ottawa shortly after 10:00 a.m. and did something unusual. Instead of waiting until the end of the meeting to make his remarks, he immediately went to the podium with the coat of arms on the front and announced he was going to resign, that a convention would be held in June to elect a new leader and prime minister and that he'd actually been trying to find a way to quit for most of the last two years.

That announcement set in motion a series of events which is changing the face of Canadian politics and perhaps will change Canadian history itself. Consider this:

• Never before has a Conservative leader resigned office while being prime minister, thereby ensuring his successor will immediately head up the government.

• This new prime minister will call an election for the fall in which there's a clear chance that at least five parties will win seats, at a time critically important to the country's economic future.

• Of the five serious candidates for the leadership, all have indicated they would adopt policies to eliminate the deficit within four or five years, although only one--me--has indicated a willingness to back that up with legislation requiring a balanced budget.

• Finally, if Kim Campbell, Jean Charest, Garth Turner or Patrick Boyer becomes leader, we will have the first prime minister from the post-war Baby Boom generation, which has come to influence so heavily decision-making in the nation's business community. In fact, this would be the only national political leader of this generation to go into the next general election.

Obviously, this is an important event and it deserves to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, to date, it hardly has. Having spent most of my career in the national media, as a columnist, editor, author and broadcaster, I have frankly been shocked and appalled at the way Canadians have received information, or lack of it, about the race to choose the prime minister.

First, all the media cared about was who might be in the race, and who was taking a pass. This phase was marked by a curious series of press conferences given by senior cabinet ministers to announce they were not running, all of it carried live on Newsworld.

Once the candidates were known, the story then shifted to such important issues as who had once smoked marijuana. This phase was capped off by a fivepage article in the Toronto Star on why Kim Campbell's mother and father had divorced when she was in public school.

Finally, the story became, and remains, who is going to win. And this phase is centred around how many delegates to the June convention are committed to certain candidates after we have gone through a messy and quite undemocratic selection process, hopefully for the last time in Canadian history.

I noted with interest that the last two leadership debates, in Calgary and Vancouver, were not even covered by the Toronto newspapers, including the Globe and Mail. Of course, neither of the national television networks agreed to broadcast any of the 10 hours of debates, I guess because it would interfere with the hockey schedule.

Now, you'll note that in this whole process, the media has not focussed its attention on what the five candidates stand for, or how they would achieve that. Attention on the process of choosing a leader and prime minister has completely overwhelmed the ideas that the candidates may or may not be offering.

This has been good news for the front-runners. The lack of close questioning has allowed them to concentrate on running expensive, detailed organizations. It has not been good news for the other three candidates, who are largely in this race to promote a specific set of beliefs.

None of these observations are offered as criticisms of my friends and former colleagues in the media. It's just reality. Most reporters figure most Canadians don't care about deficit reduction, parliamentary reform or disentanglement of governments. And maybe they're right. But I hope not.

So I would like to tell you why Garth Turner has the audacity to stand on a national stage and put his name forward as a candidate for leadership. After all, I am only a backbench MP I do not have the resources or profile of a cabinet minister. I have only been in politics for 4-1/2 years.

Why would Garth Turner be a candidate when people like Michael Wilson, Barbara MacDougall and Perrin Beatty backed out, saying they couldn't beat Kim Campbell?

The answer is this: There is more to life than winning. If you only did what you knew you could win at, then you'd have a pretty thin life. If the goal was to avoid risk, then there would not be a farmer planting a crop in the spring or an entrepreneur starting a new business.

Political parties have to constantly be reminded of this. Winning is not everything. Equally important is principle. It's what you stand for.

I got into politics in 1988 because for 10 years I'd written in my newspaper column about those things I believed in--less government, a serious reduction in the deficit through lower federal spending, balanced budget legislation, the restoration of the right to own property, and more opportunity for free enterprise.

I'd led protests to Ottawa when mortgage rates hit 23 per cent. I'd encouraged 30,000 of my readers to shower Mike Wilson with letters of protest following his 1985 budget because government spending was not cut enough. I took on Bob Nixon's 1988 tax increases in Ontario, and was supported that time by 200,000 people.

My experiences had been of turning anger into action, and that is exactly why I ran for a seat in the House of Commons. Totally against the odds and in the face of conventional political wisdom, I won.

Since being in Ottawa, I have hosted national conferences on ways we can reduce the debt. I persuaded the government to support putting the right to own property back in the Constitution, although I could not persuade the premiers. I have recently written a book spelling out how we can reform Parliament and address the cynicism and frustration Canadians feel about the system. I have chaired parliamentary committees, supported tax-protest movements across the country, campaigned in caucus for drastic cuts in the size and scope of government and I've even learned to speak French.

So, when the Prime Minister said he was stepping down, I viewed this as one more opportunity to fight for those things I've been after for the last 15 years--despite the odds.

I knew it would be expensive and I knew--and stated from the outset--that my chances of winning were remote. I did not have the backing of the political establishment and I did not have an extra million dollars. I also was not willing to borrow money to finance a campaign, to go into personal debt, or spend money that I did not have. How could I campaign for a deficit-free Canada when I could not run a campaign in the black?

So, I set up a 1-800 number and said to Canadians: If you support what I stand for, then help me out. And enough of them came forward, that I am able to stand here before you today as a candidate who has now a national campaign and who has been able thus far to pay all his bills. Of course, there are more bills coming and I certainly wouldn't want to discourage anyone here today from feeling generous.

In fact, I am campaigning not only for the job of leader, but for a new style of politics which is better suited to the realities of the 1990s. I am the only candidate who has no paid workers. Not a single one. I am not paying people, as the others are, to organize in every riding in the country. Instead, I have only volunteers. My regional offices are in people's houses. When Dorothy and I travel, we are picked up by volunteers and eat dinner with them.

I am the only candidate to ban Ottawa lobbyists from my campaign. I will not accept favours from people who are looking for favours in return. I am the only candidate without a pollster. I've got my 1-800 phone line, so I don't need a damn pollster to tell me what people are thinking.

The bottom line is this. I don't think you need a million dollars to talk with people about ideas and making the country better. And I think this system we have fallen into must change. Paul Martin and Jean Chretien both spent about $2.4 million in the last leadership campaign for the Liberals. There is no reason to believe that the front-runners in this campaign will not spend similar amounts. I intend on spending about five per cent of that, and I will make this one prediction right now. On a per-capita basis, the delegates who vote for me in the June convention will be the most cost-effective ones there.

Finally, I am the only candidate who at the beginning of the campaign published his policy platform. The Turner Plan contains the actions that I feel are necessary for the economic and social well-being of Canada. It contains the things I believe in, and have worked towards. By publishing it, and distributing copies across Canada, I was trying to state clearly that I am not going to make up policy as the campaign unfolds, or say things just to gain support and delegates' votes.

Instead, this is what I believe in, and it includes:

• Legislation requiring a balanced budget within four years. If the politicians can't achieve it, then the Auditor-General makes across-the-board cuts.

• Elimination of the deficit by a $17 billion reduction in social-programme spending, downsizing of government and liquidation of government assets like the $3 billion Federal Business Development Bank. How can we cut social-programme spending by that amount? Simple, we tax back government cheques from families making over $70,000 a year.

• Refinancing and repatriation of the federal debt through the issuing of Debt Freedom Bonds to Canadian investors. If Victory Bonds could finance Canada's effort in a world war, we just might be able to win this war on debt.

• A comprehensive health-care review with three goals: Make the system more efficient through specialized usage of health-care facilities; curb existing misuse through user fees; and let's start concentrating on making sure people don't get sick in the first place. It makes more economic sense to practice preventative medicine than it does to treat illness, especially with an aging population.

• Having our UN partners cough up money to finance our peacekeepers. If, with less than one per cent of the world's population, we're going to do 10 per cent of all global peacekeeping, then Canadian taxpayers need, and deserve, help.

• Stimulating small-business investment with the creation of a venture capital dealers' market in Canada and allowing people to use RRSP funds for direct investment in owner-operated businesses.

• Less government through reducing the number of departments and cabinet ministers. Harmonization of sales taxes. Elimination of inter-provincial trade barriers. Reform of MPs' pensions. And co-ordination of federal and provincial budgets.

• More rights for individuals. We should have the right to own property. In Bob Rae's Ontario, we should also have the right to work.

• Stimulation of the economy, not through government mega-projects, but through consumer spending. I am advocating a limited programme of mortgage interest deductibility, to be financed through reallocation of a small portion of transfer payments to the provinces. I think it's time governments gave a break to people instead of just funding other levels of government.

• Reform of Parliament that empowers MPs and their voters through more free votes, a relaxing of party discipline and more co-operation among all MPs through enhanced parliamentary committees with the ability to introduce legislation in the House of Commons.

There are more aspects to my plan, but these are some of the essential ingredients. I am happy to report that several of the ideas have been adopted by some of the other candidates, and I will be encouraging more of that pillaging to occur.

True success will come if I'm able to persuade my colleagues that the Conservatives should go into the next election on a platform of balanced legislation. After all, three provinces are now in agreement with the principle, and a recent Angus Reid poll showed 81 per cent support among the Canadian public for the concept of a law against deficits.

There is nothing this country faces more serious than the rising tide of debt. Provincial and federal debt now exceeds $600 billion and is equivalent to 92 per cent of the entire Canadian economy. That compares with 44 per cent just 10 years ago. Eliminating the deficit in four years--which is now a best-case scenario--will leave us with over $500 billion and an annual interest bill of between $40 and $50 billion.

Bill Clinton recently warned Americans they will soon be spending 12 cents of every tax dollar on interest on their debt. Today Canadians must spend three times that amount on servicing the debt. This is a crisis, and it must be dealt with.

It is also an issue that average Canadians are ahead of their leaders on. And this is why I am saying in this leadership race that it will not be good enough for the next prime minister and Progressive Conservative Party leader to go to the people saying, "Trust me."

The last nine years of Conservative rule have done much good for the country. But they have failed to deal with this crisis of debt. This coming federal election could well be the last real opportunity to elect a government seriously committed to taking action, while we still have the time for voluntary choices.

The Liberals offer no policies of substance. They are committed to scrapping the GST while offering no replacement. They would tear up the Free Trade Agreement despite the fact our growing exports have been the only real bright spot in our economy.

The New Democrats would do to Canada what Bob Rae has done to Ontario. This province will acquire more debt in 48 months of NDP rule than in the 126 years previous to it.

The Conservative Party, in my view, is the best, last hope of Canadians among the traditional national parties for some fiscal and economic sanity at a time when we need it most.

If my candidacy can underscore some of these realities, and move us even inches closer to those actions we must take to secure our country's future--then all the miles travelled, all the hotel rooms visited, all the speeches given, all the hands shaken and all the time with my wife missed, will have been worth it.

It is an honour and privilege being able to stand as a candidate for leader and prime minister. It has been an honour to address The Empire Club. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Carlyle Dunbar, Financial Journalist and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Politics of Frugality

Candidacy campaign platform focusing on deficit reduction, tax reform, Parliamentary reform, debt crisis.