Manning Centre Conference
Ottawa, February 27, 2016
Dear friends, good afternoon. It’s nice to see everyone here today.
Let me get right to the question we were asked: if I decide to run, how will I do it?
The answer is very clear in my mind: I will run a campaign based on substance and ideas. The whole reason I’m in politics is to defend and promote conservative values. I grew up with these conservative values, they are who I am.
I am from Beauce, a region that is well known as the most entrepreneurial in Quebec. This is where I learned the values that go with entrepreneurship: individual freedom, personal responsibility, integrity, and self-reliance.
But of course, these are also universal values – values that are at the core of Western civilization. Values that have made this country prosperous and a great place to live.
There is a large constituency for these small-government principles. Many people who don’t necessarily consider themselves conservative and who did not vote for us are fed up with a big government overborrowing and overspending. A big government trying to manage our lives from the cradle to the grave. And we can safely bet they will be even more fed up four years from now!
However, I find that we conservatives have not always been keen on openly defending these small-government principles.
Let’s take the issue of corporate subsidies. Free-market economists unanimously decry them as inefficient and a waste of taxpayers’ money. They’re also grossly unfair. They favour some types of businesses at the expense of others. They create a constant demand for government intervention in the economy.
I’m pretty sure that almost everyone in this room understands that instead of handing out government grants, we should reduce taxes and provide a more favourable environment to all businesses. Everyone would benefit.
If there is one conservative economic policy that absolutely everyone should support, this is it.
Yet, during the ten years that we were in power, our government continued to provide billions of dollars in support to businesses. Why? Were we afraid?
It’s not enough to know that a policy is bad. We also have to explain why. Explain it again and again, if we want a majority of Canadians to understand and support the change of policy. Otherwise, we are forced to compromise, to dilute our policies, and contradict our principles.
In every survey, politicians as a group are way down the list in terms of public confidence. I think one reason people are so cynical is that they do not believe us. They don’t see us as defending clear goals and principles. Or acting on these principles.
If we want conservative principles to win the battle, we have to defend them openly, with passion and with conviction. We should not be afraid of saying the hard truths that need to be said.
I am not afraid.
Last November, when Bombardier came knocking at the door of the federal government to ask for another billion dollars in help, I instead proposed to abolish all government subsidies to businesses.
GM in Ontario asked for subsidies at the same time. I also said GM should not be getting any money. I’m willing to say the same thing, whichever company or region is involved.
Several years ago, I was attacked by most of the Quebec political class when I raised the issue of equalization. Quebec has been getting more than half of the money from the equalization program for years. I said to Quebecers I was not proud of that.
I was not afraid to say that to my fellow Quebecers. Because I want us to find a solution to this poor economic performance. Many Quebecers share my concerns. And today, it’s not taboo anymore to raise this issue in Quebec.
But you know what? Manitoba and three Atlantic provinces get even more equalization money per capita than Quebec, and so are even more dependent on Ottawa. Can we say that too?
Instead of beating around the bush, can we be frank and open about the real situation? The point is not to stigmatize some provinces. It is to recognize problems so that we can address them. There is no other way. We must have a relevant discussion about what policies need to be changed to be fair to all parts of our country, and to bring prosperity to all parts of our country.
At a time when Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-and-Labrador are hurting because of the crash in the oil sector, when the government of Ontario is burdening the country’s largest economy with more taxes and more debt, we can’t afford to be complacent.
We Conservatives have to show everyone that we have solutions. Not solutions involving Ottawa redistributing money from some regions to others. But solutions based on a freer economy, on responsibility and fairness.
If I decide to run, what kind of candidate will I be?
First of all, I will reach out to all Conservative members, to all Canadians. Listen and talk to them dans les deux langues officielles.
One of our colleagues, Kevin O’Leary, said in an interview a couple of weeks ago that he did not need to learn French to become prime minister. He said he’s always been amused by politicians who take French classes and try to speak French in Quebec City when everybody answers them in English.
Well, Kevin, when you go to restaurants and tourist places in Quebec City, of course, people will answer in English. As they do in Amsterdam, Vienna and Rome. They want your business! It doesn’t mean you can govern Italy without speaking Italian.
When I visit every region of our great country, it won’t be as a tourist.
I want to be a unifying candidate.
Quebec was the bright spot for our party in the last election. It was the only province where we increased our number of seats, from five to twelve. But there are 66 more seats to contest. And I know I can sell conservative ideas to Quebecers and also to all Canadians.
Many years ago, a journalist described me as “the Albertan from Quebec” because I sounded like a Western Conservative, despite my bad accent in English.
But there is actually no such thing as a Western Conservative or a Quebec or an Atlantic Canada Conservative. There are only Conservatives.
If I decide to run, it will be to reaffirm that only the Conservative Party of Canada can insure that we will be a secure, stable and prosperous country.
But I also want to fire up the imagination of Canadians with how much more free, dynamic, and successful we could become if we applied conservative values more consistently.
That’s how I will do it if I decide to run…