Stephen Harper

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

About this Event

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto. The inability to deal with important issues because of being hampered by the overriding question of ethics and accountability in our national government. The current situation - Canadians' lack of trust in the government. What the speaker will do when he becomes prime minster. Cleaning up government. Paul Martin's government. Challenges we want to get on with. The Federal Accountability Act and what it will mean.

Ending the Culture of Entitlement

Head Table Guests: Kevyn Nightingale, Partner, International Tax Services Group LLP, and Treasurer, The Empire Club of Canada; Justin Shoemaker, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Rev. Canon Kimberley Beard, Senior Pastor, St. Paul's On-the-Hill Anglican Church, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Howard Sokolowski, CEO, Tribute Communities Inc. Toronto, and Owner, Argonauts Football Club; Dev Mundi, President and CEO, Mundi Holdings Ltd.; Ken Whyte, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Maclean's Magazine; Peter MacKay, MP, Deputy Leader, Conservative Party of Canada; Robert MacIsaac, Mayor, City of Burlington; Robert J. Dechert, Partner, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Linda Frum, Author and Journalist; The Hon. Senator Hugh Segal, Senate of Canada; William J. Fox, Executive Vice-President, BCE Inc.; and Rod Phillips, President and CEO, Warren Shepell Consultants Corp., and President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.

Introduction by William Whittaker

We welcome the Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada to our podium today. Born and raised in Toronto, Stephen Harper graduated from the University of Calgary with a master's degree in economics. He worked as a member's assistant and policy advisor to two Members of Parliament--Jim Hawkes and Deborah Grey--before being elected to the House of Commons in 1993.

In early 1997, Mr. Harper joined the National Citizens Coalition as Vice-President, becoming President in early 1998. In 2002, he returned to the House of Commons as member for Calgary Southwest and more importantly as Leader of the Opposition. He began working for the unification of Canada's then divided conservative movement, which he and Peter MacKay achieved with the founding of the Conservative Party of Canada in late 2003. Mr. Harper was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in March 2004.

I note Peter MacKay, who also deserves recognition for uniting Canada's Conservatives, is at our head table today.

I am certain the Conservative Party is relieved Mr. MacKay decided to stay in Ottawa and not depart for the Elysian fields of Nova Scotia politics.

Stephen Harper is one of only two people who will be Prime Minister of Canada after the forthcoming election so he is an important person.

Who then is Stephen Harper and what kind of leader does his record show him to be?

I quote from the epilogue of William Johnson's book, "Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada," published earlier this year.

"An introvert in a profession that rewards extroverts, especially since the age of television, he resists the standard gimmicks of politicians courting support; staged photo opportunities, (I note Mr. Johnson's book was published before this summer's infamous picture of Mr. Harper in his cowboy outfit), public displays of instant affection for unknown children…. False familiarity, and rhetorical grandiloquence…. Unlike most politicians, he almost always means what he says, because he has thought long and hard about an issue before he speaks. As one who was a public intellectual before he ever aspired to be a politician, he also says what he means."

"throughout his political career, he has been consistently underestimated. The morgues of newspapers are littered with the corpses of knowing prophecies announcing, for example, that Harper was not the man to lead the Canadian Alliance, not the man to unite the right, and certainly not the leader who would bring the Conservative Party of Canada up to the level where it could threaten the Liberals...."

Given the release of Gomery Phase One last week and the subsequent movement in the polls, Parliament is in election mode and Mr. Harper's speech today will no doubt reflect this fact. However, if you want to find out more about Stephen Harper, the person and his political career to date, I commend William Johnson's book to you. It is not a puff piece as Mr. Johnson is also critical of Mr. Harper, one of his criticisms being that Mr. Harper refused to be interviewed for his book.

I quote from the last paragraph in Mr. Johnson's book: "But, in the last resort, 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...."

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Stephen Harper.

Stephen Harper

Thank you Bill for that introduction. Honoured guests, Mesdames et Messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, it is always an honour to address a combined meeting of the Empire and Canadian clubs.

This is one of those events that is a ritual of public life in this country, and one is always conscious in addressing this audience that one is standing in the footsteps of many of the great figures of the last century:

Prime Ministers King, Diefenbaker, Trudeau, and Mulroney;

Premiers like Mr. Davis;

World leaders like Winston Churchill, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Their speeches were a great source of wit and wisdom and historical knowledge.

For example, here are some of the things one former political leader said in an Empire Club speech some years ago. "The trend...of the last 30 or 40 years has been to shift that power from Parliament to the cabinet. The effect of our system was to place a good deal of power in the hands of one long as he had the confidence of the House he was practically a dictator. A unanimous resolution of the House of Commons or a resolution passed by a very large majority has practically no effect."

That is what Sir Robert Borden, then Leader of the Opposition, said to the Empire Club exactly 100 years ago this month.

So not only am I speaking to the same organization, holding the same position, but I could have brought the same speech.

I hope my successor 100 years from now will be able to say that some of these things have changed.

One of the unfortunate realities of public life in this country is that we are hampered from dealing with the issues of the future, because we are still struggling to overcome the problems of the past and our failures to make some fundamental reforms that should have been made long ago.

There are many important issues on the national agenda, which I know that this audience, with your deep interest in public policy, would like to talk about.

I know you would like to talk about the future of our health-care system and the steps we must take to comply with the Chaoulli decision and ensure timely access to health care for all Canadians.

I know you would like to talk about productivity and competitiveness, and how we can lower the taxes that hold back jobs and investment.

I know you would like to talk about our trade relations with the United States and the current dispute over softwood lumber and the future of NAFTA.

But our ability to deal with these and other important public policy challenges is hampered by the overriding question of ethics and accountability in our national government.

Put bluntly, Canadians will not trust a government to tackle new challenges if it cannot clean up old messes. And Canadians will not believe the federal government will be a force for good if it is not honest and not accountable.

Today Canadians believe that it is not. How could they believe otherwise?

Last week, Judge Gomery confirmed what many Canadians suspected. He documented:

Illegal cash and kickbacks; phoney contracts for no work; and a culture of entitlement and corruption.

He did so over hundreds of pages, in a conspiracy that lasted years, reaching to the highest levels of government, done by and for the benefit of the governing party of Canada.

These are no longer media speculations or partisan slurs. These are findings of fact in a judicial inquiry.

And no one has been held accountable. Accountability is what Canadians expect when they send their hard-earned tax dollars to Ottawa. It's what they deserve.

Government is supposed to serve the public trust and protect the tax dollars of ordinary people. We forget that it's the money of ordinary people that was stolen. It's their trust that was broken.

When I become prime minister, I will make the task of cleaning up government and making Ottawa more accountable my first priority.

Cleaning up government begins at the top.

Paul Martin claimed to be mad as hell about the sponsorship scandal. But under his watch, the waste, mismanagement and corruption have continued.

Paul Martin cronies from Art Eggleton to Francis Fox continue to find soft landings in an unreformed senate.

The Martin government is negotiating a half-million-dollar severance package with David Dingwall--the man who hired Chuck Guite to run the government, the man who received improper payments as a lobbyist, the man who had a patronage job and quit.

Liberal lobbyists, many part of the so-called "Board" of Paul Martin insiders, continue to lobby ministers behind closed doors at $5,000 per person Liberal fundraising parties.

It has to stop. And it will.

You know most Canadians don't actually think that political office should be a permanent career. It should be a worthy, but limited form of public service.

We all know people in our communities who have served for a term or two on City Council, the provincial Legislature, or even as a member of Parliament or in staff or advisory positions to these individuals.

And I think we admire most of those who after having done what they came to do, simply decided to return to their former jobs and their former lives rather than hanging on in office or around government as lobbyists or political appointees.

I think we all have more respect for those citizens who run for office to change politics, not to have politics change them.

And that is how I want to treat my time in public office. I am in Ottawa to do a job, not to join a club, not to buy into a lifestyle.

There is today no more important job to do than cleaning up government and bringing accountability back to Ottawa. Because if we don't clean up government, it will compromise our ability to use government to tackle the challenges we want to get on with: getting taxes down and productivity up; restoring access to health care; Combating the spread of guns, drugs, gangs and criminal activity in our cities;
Rebuilding our armed forces and our influence on this continent and in the world;
And so much more.

That is why I announced last week that the first piece of legislation I will introduce as prime minister will be the Federal Accountability Act.

The Federal Accountability Act will change the way business is done in Ottawa forever.

It will give more power to the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, and the Lobbyists Registrar, to make sure that these independent officers of Parliament can hold the government accountable.

It will give real protection to those who blow the whistle on unethical behaviour.

It will open the windows on government with long overdue reforms to access to information laws.

It will ensure that appointments to public office are based on merit and qualifications.

Our federal accountability act will also crack down on the revolving door between ministers' offices, the senior public service, and the lobbying industry.

We will ban all ministers, ministerial staffers, or senior public officials from lobbying government for five years after they leave office.

And we will make sure that there are real teeth and real penalties to enforce the Lobbyists Registration Act.

I have told my own MPs and parliamentary staffers that if they have ambitions to use public office to advance their own interests or get rich lobbying a future Conservative government, they had better make different plans, or leave.

I've also said we are going to mandate the Auditor General to do a complete review of billions of dollars in federal grants, contributions and contracts. The Federal Accountability Act will give her the power to "follow the money" and to audit end recipients. Had she had this authority, she might have uncovered the depth of the sponsorship scandal years ago.

But most importantly, the Federal Accountability Act will crack down on a big money and lobbying culture that has thrived under Paul Martin.

As prime minister, I will ban all remaining corporate and union donations to federal political parties, period.

I will close the loopholes that allow MPs and candidates to create secret personal trust funds.

And I will cap donations to federal political parties at a maximum of $1,000 annually.

This means no more lobbying the Prime Minister at behind closed doors $5,000-a-ticket cocktail parties.

For example, I have in my hand a letter from the National Revenue Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada, based here in Toronto.

It says if you enclose $5,200, and only if you enclose the full amount, you can come to his home on Monday, November 14, to discuss "important issues facing Canada today" with the Prime Minister.

If Paul Martin is serious about reforming the Liberal Party, let alone government, he would not sell access like this. He would end this way of doing business. He would cancel this meeting on the 14th.

These and many more changes are explained in detail in the Federal Accountability Act and I would encourage you to read it. They will change the way that politics and government are done in this country.

Now, you are no doubt all wondering: When will the people of Canada get their chance to vote on this Accountability Act, or any other matter of public policy?

As you all know, in the spring, after the testimony of Jean Brault at the Gomery Commission, the Conservative Party withdrew our support of the government. In the weeks that followed we attempted to defeat the government. We were supported in those attempts by the Bloc Quebecois and initially one, later two, Liberal members of Parliament. Those attempts were, however, ultimately unsuccessful. The Liberals were sustained in office principally by the support they received from Mr. Layton and the NDP.

Yesterday, Mr. Layton spoke here. While he now appears less enthusiastic about his support of the Liberals, he also refuses to rule out any course of action, including continuing to negotiate his support with the Liberal government.

Let me be clear. The Conservative Party will not negotiate behind closed doors with a party that has now been named in a judicial inquiry on corruption.

The fate of the government should be decided, not by a backroom deal between the Liberals and NDP or anyone else.

It should be decided by the people of Canada.

Unfortunately, our experience in this Parliament suggests we do not have the votes to defeat the government without the support of the NDP.

Worse yet, should we again attempt to bring down the government, Mr. Layton would no doubt see our attempt as potential leverage in his negotiations with the Liberals, as he has on other occasions.

I will not allow a Conservative motion to become a bargaining chip in a parliamentary poker game.

If Mr. Layton wants now or at any time to bring down the Liberal Party over its corruption and is prepared to initiate measures to do that, I assure you we will co-operate with and support that effort. If he is not, Canadians will have to assess his ambivalence on corruption. When this becomes an issue the voters can actually do something about and it will be an issue in the next election.

Friends, no government is perfect because no people are perfect. As T. S. Eliot reminded us, we must avoid "dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will have to be good." Whatever the system of rules, we have a duty to do what's best for the public good when we take the oath of public office.

When I become prime minister, the Federal Accountability Act will require us to serve the public interest, as best we can determine it, not our personal interests. Now the government claims that it too is committed to reform. It says it will bring in changes to the administration of the public service. It says it will listen to the recommendations in the second Gomery report. We will also listen to those ideas for reform.

But this scandal did not happen because of poor auditors or bad judges. It is a scandal that happened because of the culture of entitlement that has developed within the Liberal Party. And the Liberal Party has proved incapable of reforming itself.

It only acts after it has been caught. And its actions are always half measures.

We cannot change the system without holding accountable the people who allowed this to happen under their watch. The Liberals must be held accountable, both for what they did, and for what they failed to do.

Creating a different way of doing government must begin by selecting a different government.

Because only a new government will ensure that those individuals and organizations responsible, including the Liberal Party itself, are held accountable to the full extent of the law.

And only a new government will be able to bring in real reforms that will eliminate the remaining problems root and branch.

This plan, which I have introduced, is my commitment to Canadians to clean up government. It is my personal word as a taxpayer, as a father, and as a fellow citizen. I want to get this job done.

When my political career is over, I want to leave knowing that future governments will have to be more honest, more ethical, and more accountable.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope to have the privilege of returning to address this audience another time to talk about health care, or productivity, or the other challenges facing Canada in the future.

And I hope to be able to do so in a changed environment, where the extent of scandal has not and cannot re-occur, and your national government is free to address the other challenges that face our great country.

Whether people in this room have been affiliated in the past with the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, or have had no party leanings, I would urge all of you to consider the need for a change in government in order to change the system.

I hope to form a broad coalition of Canadians from all walks of life, from all regions of the country. A coalition of Canadians that will work together and stand up for clean government, stand up for change, and stand up for Canada.

Thank you. Merci beaucoup. God bless Canada.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Rod Phillips, President and CEO, Warren Shepell Consultants Corp., and President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.