A Time for Choosing

Published on May 12, 2016

Maxime Bernier, minister of State, Small Business and Tourism, Agriculture
Manning Networking Conference
March 7, 2015, Ottawa

Thank you Catherine for those kind words. And also a big thanks to the Manning Centre for inviting me.

This is such an amazing opportunity to meet like-minded friends from across the country and to recharge our batteries with lots of good ideas from the best minds in the conservative movement.

I hope you have been taking advantage of the conference, because this year is a crucial year for our country.

It will be a time for choosing: stability or uncertainty… a consolidation of the gains we have achieved over the past several years, which have made Canada one of the soundest economies in the world… or gambling with superficially appealing but reckless policies.

This is the choice that Canadians will have to make before the end of the year, and we have to make sure that it will be clear in everyone’s mind what kind of policies are best for Canadians.

But before we get into this debate, I want to rewind the tape a little bit. I want to talk about the “coolest” decade of the 20th Century: the 1970s!! You remember the 1970s?

I think I can spot some people in this room who are old enough like me to remember the 1970s: the decade of disco! With Donna Summer, the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever. The decade of men in jumpsuits with long hair! Can you imagine me like that?!!

On the economic front, it was not cool! It was the decade of stagflation: economic stagnation with inflation. The decade of big deficits and huge debt. The decade of the National Energy Program. The decade when the federal government was growing like wildfire. The decade when we had all these brilliant federal politicians and bureaucrats who were not busy enough running the federal government; they also wanted to run the provinces.

The decade of federal intervention in health care and education. The decade of centralisation and nationalisation. The decade when, partly in reaction to that federal activism, Separatism in Québec grew and grew, when the PQ became the official opposition in 1970, formed the government in 1976 and held its first referendum in 1980.

I can feel a wave of nostalgia in the room for that blessed period! Yes, the 1970s: the decade of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Under Pierre Trudeau, total government spending went from $13 billion to $109 billion, and from 17% of GDP to 24%! Our national debt went from 25% of GDP in 1968 to 43% in 1984. That’s what they called “progress” back then.

As I told you this year is a time for choosing. Canadians will have to make an important decision. They will have to decide if they want to live in the 21st century or if they want to go back to the Trudeau years. Does anyone here want to relive those days? No! No but, that’s where the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, wants to take us.

Ok, Ok some people might think, it is unfair to compare Justin Trudeau with his father and to burden him with the record of his father. After all, is he not his own person?

Well, I’m not the one who created the Trudeau “mystique”. I’m not the one who made the connection in the first place. And, if he is so different from Pierre, then why did Liberals elect him to lead their Party? Tell me?

Is it because of his vast political experience? No.
Is it because of his deep understanding of how the economy works? No.
Is it because of his amazing leadership qualities? No.
Is it because of his original insights in how to keep our country united? No, and you are right!

They elected him because he is a Trudeau! They elected him because they miss the Trudeau years of the 70s and they cherish that legacy. They elected him because they want to go back to that golden age of liberalism and they want to bring back his father’s policies.

So, what kind of choice are we talking about? Over the past nine years, there has been a clear political trend in Quebec: Support for separatism has been steadily going down. There are various explanations for that, but one thing is certain: under our government, Quebecers have had constitutional peace.

Our government respects the Constitution. We respect the division of power and we respect the autonomy of the provinces. That is why there is no appetite for separation in Quebec. It is why Quebecers are happy and proud to be Canadian.

Now, what can we expect if Justin Trudeau becomes Prime Minister? We got a taste of that at the Liberal Convention a year ago, when delegates discussed a whole set of “national strategies” on issues ranging from transportation to energy, mental health, children, water, pharmacare, youth jobs and science.

This is the model of a federal government intervening in our day to day life and meddling in provincial jurisdictions, a model that Justin Trudeau is proposing once again. The same old policies his father pursued 40 years ago.

In his speeches and interviews, Trudeau keeps saying that education is important. We know that education is important – but education is a provincial jurisdiction.

What he wants is to interfere in provincial matters. With that vision of Canada, we will not have constitutional peace in Quebec. A Justin Trudeau government will be destabilizing for our national unity, just like a Pierre Trudeau government was.

Canadians will have a clear choice between us, the Conservatives, respecting the Constitution and provincial jurisdictions and the Liberals creating a bunch of so-called “national programs” with money that we don’t have.

If we continue to do what we’re doing, we won’t have a constitutional crisis in Canada. But if we get a Trudeau government in power that starts to centralize the country, without respecting the Constitution, we can safely predict that separatism in Quebec will rise again.

One of our government’s most spectacular achievements is the reduction of the tax burden on Canadian taxpayers. The ratio of government revenue to GDP is at its lowest level in more than 50 years, at just 14%.

I repeat: The lowest in more than 50 years. Before you-know-who came to power in 1968. That means that the average Canadian family pays $3400 less in taxes today than under the previous Liberal government.

Justin Trudeau promises to reverse this trend. He wants to take back the tax cuts that we gave you. We want to shrink the government to give you back your freedom. But the Liberals want to shrink your paycheck and take away your freedom.

The Liberals are very clear as to what is their priority: not cutting taxes but spending more to stimulate the economy. Justin Trudeau and his Finance critic, Scott Brison, have repeatedly refused to rule out running a deficit again for many more years if they are elected. Doesn’t it sound like “déjà vu”?

Justin Trudeau keeps uttering one economic absurdity after another. Get this: When he reacted to our government’s budget last year, he said there is no need to worry about the deficit. We should aim rather at stimulating the economy, and as he put it: “the budget will balance itself.” For Mr. Trudeau, the more a government spends, the more it stimulates the economy, the more its revenues will grow, and the less we need to worry about the deficit. So, let’s spend our way to prosperity!

No, seriously, Canadians know that if we all spend more than we have, we won’t get richer. It’s called living beyond our means.

One has to wonder then, why the deficit and debt exploded in the 1970s, when his father implemented this type of irresponsible economic policy. Perhaps he wasn’t spending enough?

At the last Liberal convention, delegates heard Larry Summers, an American economist, explain why we need “unconventional support policies”. This is economic jargon for “spending without restraint.” According to him, accumulating more debt is ok when it serves to stimulate the economy.

We all know that: more spending and more borrowing will not act as an economic stimulus but rather as an economic sedative, because less money will be available for the private sector and it is only private sector entrepreneurs who create wealth.

In a video released last year, Justin Trudeau explained that households and provincial governments are heavily indebted, while the federal government has considerably lowered its debt level since the 1990s. So, according to Mr. Trudeau, Ottawa is the only entity that “has room” to rack up more debt. Therefore, it should “step up” and spend more to stimulate the economy.

This is like a couple who have racked up a large amount of consumer debt. They check their three credit cards bills and the husband says to his wife: “Eh! We’ve reached our limit on these two cards but we still have some credit left on this third one. We can get richer if we max out this one too! Let’s go shopping!” Can you imagine a more absurd economic policy?

Mr. Trudeau seems to forget that it’s the same taxpayer who will have to pay back the debts of both levels of government, provincial and federal, as well as his own.

Our government has taken control of the debt. The debt to GDP ratio is at 33%. That is the best performance of all G7 countries. Our plan is to bring that to 25 %. The debt is not something abstract. Servicing the debt costs taxpayers about $30 billion a year. This is as much money as the GST brings into government coffers.

The more we cut down the size of the debt, the fewer resources we will need to pay the interest and the more we will be able to afford to cut yours taxes.

Justin Trudeau and his American adviser still believe in the old Keynesian theory that says governments can create wealth by spending more money. But when the government injects money into the economy where does it come from? It is not falling from the sky!

In reality, every time the government takes an additional dollar in taxes out of someone’s pocket, it’s a dollar that person will not be able to spend or invest. When government spending goes up, private spending goes down. There is no wealth creation.

Government borrowing has the same effect. The private lenders who lend money to the government will have less money to lend to private businesses. When government borrowing and spending go up, private borrowing and spending go down. There is no wealth creation.

It is like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a swimming pool and emptying it in the shallow end. Nothing happens! It’s these kinds of policies that ruined our economy in the 1970s.

Prosperity comes not from government spending but from entrepreneurs investing. To stimulate the economy, we need to give entrepreneurs the means to create wealth.

We need to put in place the best possible conditions to allow the private sector to become more productive: By curtailing public spending, cutting taxes, reducing the burden of regulation, and signing free-trade agreements. Growth and progress depend on economic freedom through less government intervention.

More government spending is not the answer to our social and economic challenges. The task is not to reinvent government. The task is to limit government.

The Liberals want a bigger government because they elevate the government and downgrade the citizens. We, Conservatives, want smaller government because ultimately we support individual freedom and personal responsibility. We have faith in people. We have faith that you have the ability, the dignity and the right to make your own decisions and determine your own destiny.

This is a time for choosing: Uncertainty, with more spending, more deficits, more debt and less economic growth and a bigger government with constitutional fights under Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Or stability, with a steady economic hand, a balanced budget, lower taxes, constitutional peace and more freedom under Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. In my mind, the choice is very clear.

Thank you! Merci!