An address by the Prime Minister on democratic reform

Ottawa, Ontario
26 May 2006


Members of the Chamber of Commerce of Victoria,

Honoured guests of the head table,

Colleagues from the Parliament of Canada,

Members of the Legislative Assembly,

Your Worship Mayor Alan Lowe,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s always a pleasure to visit Victoria.

A beautiful city any time of year.

And it is always an honour to address chambers of commerce and boards of trade anywhere in the country.

These organizations are noted for their commitments to their communities and their dedication to the debate of public issues, so I thank you for this invitation.

Acknowledging the military

Before getting too far into my remarks, I would like to take a moment and personally thank Rear Admiral Roger Girouard, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific and CFB Esquimault Base Commander Mike Williamson for being here today.

Since becoming Prime Minister, I have had the good fortune to meet a number of our military personnel

  • Recruits graduating in Wainwright, top ranking officers in Ottawa and, of course, front-line soldiers in Afghanistan.

The men and women of the Canadian forces are our nation’s finest.

I am proud that the Parliament of Canada recently voted to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

The men and women of the Canadian forces are doing a great job over there

  • Working with the Afghan people to rebuild their country and protecting Canadians from global terrorism
  • Just as they do a great job here or wherever else in the world they serve.

So through you Admiral and Commander, thank you for the work you and all your personnel in the Canadian forces do for all of us.

During the most recent federal election campaign, I spent quite a bit of time throughout British Columbia and right here on the island.

British Columbians told me they were sick and tired of reading about scandals, mismanagement and corruption in the nation’s capital.

Tired of a federal political culture that delivered for Ottawa insiders but not for working people and their families.

Tired of inaction on issues of particular concern to the people of BC.

And wherever I went, people continued to express concerns about the federal political system.

They felt our institutions and democratic practices were not keeping up with the times.

And that provinces like BC don’t have the numbers or the priority they deserve in either the federal House or the Senate.

A lot has happened since those days back in December and January.

Canadians cast their ballots.

We have a new national government in Ottawa.

And this government has begun to tackle the issues that British Columbians raised during the campaign.

And things must be going well, because my wife burst into my office the other day to announce I had just surpassed the longevity record of John Turner.

And what’s more troubling is that she seemed surprised by that.

But seriously, the people of British Columbia had every reason to be tired of waste, scandals, mismanagement and corruption in Ottawa.

And that’s why the first bill introduced by our government has to do with accountability.

Nobody expects government to be perfect, but we crossed a line with the sponsorship program.

Canadians from across the country said that we had to do something - to change the system to ensure nothing of that magnitude is allowed to happen again.

And we’re doing just that.

Our first piece of legislation is the Federal Accountability Act, an omnibus bill of over 200 clauses.

It signals our determination to clean up Ottawa after the sponsorship program.

For starters, it changes the way federal political parties are financed in this country.

No more big money donations.

No more secret trust funds.

No more corporate and union contributions.

Political parties will be financed by people, by the voters. 

And parties will not be able to rely on small groups of wealthy donors to sustain their operations and fund their campaigns.

The Accountability Act will clean up Ottawa’s contracting, advertising, polling and procurement systems - so taxpayers get value for their money.

It will also give real, iron-clad protection to whistleblowers who come forward with evidence of wrongdoing.

The Act will end the revolving door between ministers’ offices, the bureaucracy and lobbying firms.

And it will, for the first time, bring a whole series of government agencies, foundations and crown corporations under the Auditor General and access to information. 

We’re also going to ensure truth in budgeting, and assist Parliament in doing its job, by setting up an independent Parliamentary budget office.

Finally, our government remains committed to cleaning up the appointments process in Ottawa,

  • Of course, the opposition recently voted against Gwyn Morgan and his team of private sector executives who were prepared to provide arms’ length oversight to the process
  • For $1 per year I might add.

We will nevertheless push ahead. Some of the operations of the public appointments commission are already in place. With or without the opposition, our government will introduce the following core ethic:

  • We will only keep positions that are necessary,
  • And we will only appoint qualified people to those positions.

The idea is to replace the culture of entitlement that thrived under the previous government and give Canadians good, clean government.

Government that is accountable. 

Government that treats their tax dollars with respect.

That’s what Canadians voted for on January 23.

And that is what we are going to deliver!

British Columbians were also right to demand that Ottawa re-focus its priorities away from rewarding friends and insiders and toward delivering real results for ordinary working people and their families.

That’s why our government has set a series of priorities that differ greatly from those of the previous government, particularly the need to reduce the tax burden.

Politicians often talk about the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces. 

Well, we have another and greater fiscal imbalance. One between the federal government and its taxpaying citizens.

Year after year, Ottawa has been awash in cash. Even after all the waste, mismanagement and scandal, multi-billion dollar surpluses would still appear out of thin air.

And, make no mistake, those surpluses were the result of only one thing – the over-taxation of the population.

On May 2nd, our budget got to work in tackling this fiscal imbalance by introducing a series of sweeping tax reduction measures.

29 separate reductions.

$20 billion over two years.

More tax relief than the previous four budgets combined.

We are, of course, as promised cutting the GST from 7 to 6 per cent on July 1,

  • Lowering income taxes by introducing an employment income tax credit that will rise from $500 to $1,000 over the next year
  • And delivering a series of tax benefits designed to help modern families better cope with the rising cost of living.

Tax credits for transit passes, for tools used by tradespeople and apprentices, for the sports activities of children, for the private pension income of seniors, and for the textbook costs of students.

At the end of the day, taxes will go down for all Canadians.

And over 650,000 low-income Canadians will be removed from the federal tax rolls altogether.

We’re proud of this budget.

Because it focuses on delivering real results for ordinary working people and their families.

For the same reason we are proud of the increased resources we are putting into many program priorities, like childcare.

We are moving childcare programs from those that support mainly advocates, bureaucrats and other levels of government,

  • To a core benefit starting July 1 and delivered directly to Canadian families with pre-school children.

Because parents, not politicians, should be making childcare choices for their children.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, British Columbians have long told me they often feel that BC-specific issues are ignored by Ottawa.

People told me, for example, they wanted action on the problems of the forestry sector – BC’s leading industry.

They wanted resolution to the long-standing softwood lumber dispute.

And, particularly in parts of the interior, they wanted more support for BC’s fight against the mountain pine beetle.

Let me tell you…

One of my proudest moments as prime minister occurred when we achieved a deal on softwood lumber.

It wasn’t easy.

As people here know, the issue is complex.

We disagreed on numerous issues with the Americans.

And to be frank, there were many internal disagreements between the provinces and parts of the industry on how Canada should move forward.

But we did it.

The us agreed to numerous Canadian demands, including:

Returning $4 billion in duties that was hopelessly tied up in litigation;

Securing stable access to the us market with no tariffs or duties under current market conditions; and

A number of other advances, including protections against third-country lumber sales in the US.

This deal could not have happened without outstanding BC leadership.

Premier Gordon Campbell here in Victoria.

And David Emerson fighting for BC in Ottawa.

I applaud their efforts.

Our deal demonstrated that when you put hard work ahead of phoney rhetoric, you can get results.

For workers.  For industry.  For all British Columbians.

Trade disputes aren’t the only menace to the timber industry. 

There’s also the mountain pine beetle infestation that has ravaged BC’s forests for more than a decade.

I’ve seen the damage with my own eyes.

Vast expanses of healthy forest turned red and dead.

Budget 2006 committed $200 million over the next two years to start the fight against this epidemic and assist the communities affected.

With provincial leadership and federal funding support, I know we can have success on this joint effort in British Columbia.

Just as we can move forward on the pacific gateway, the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics and – one of the very first decisions of this new government,

  • Fixing the situation of the Ridley terminal in Prince Rupert.

BC and democratic reform

Earlier in my speech, I mentioned Afghanistan.

At the moment, Canadians are working with our allies and the Government of Afghanistan to help stabilize and rebuild that country and to establish democratic institutions.

And although Canada and Afghanistan are leagues apart in terms of democratic development, we have our own challenges here at home.

As British Columbians have long argued, we need to improve the federal political system.

To make it more modern.

To make it more democratic.

And to ensure that provinces like British Columbia have effective representation in Ottawa.

Your province has long been a pioneer of democratic reform.

British Columbia was one of the first provinces to grant women the right to vote.

And also one of the first to hold multiparty elections.

More recently, you held a vigorous debate and a referendum on the question of electoral reform.

In addition, British Columbia has introduced fixed-date elections.

And you have long supported changes to the Canadian Senate.

Serious democratic reform will not be easy.

It cannot happen overnight.

And there’s no appetite in Canada for endless constitutional negotiations.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin taking the first steps towards reform.

Steps that are needed.

That are practical.

That can be achieved without paralysing ourselves in constitutional wrangling.

We got off to a decent start by holding the first parliamentary review of a Supreme Court appointment in Canadian history.

We did it because judges are political appointees. With a lot of power.

Canadians deserve to know who they are.

And how they plan to interpret the law. 

I suspect Canadians were reassured by what they saw of Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein.

And now, after having been questioned by elected MPs, he sits on our Supreme Court.

In keeping with our plan to make needed, practical and achievable reforms to the federal political system, we will move forward on two fronts over the coming weeks.

First, we will introduce a bill calling for fixed election dates, at the federal level.

As you know, BC – as well as Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador – has gone this route.

Fixed election dates would prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage.

They level the playing field for all parties.

The rules are clear to everyone.

In the case of our proposal, we will be asking for fixed election dates every four years, with the first vote set for the fall of 2009.

Of course, such legislation always requires respect for confidence votes.

So the will of the majority in Parliament always prevails.

But fixed election dates stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar simply for partisan political advantage.

Now I know the polls say, if an election were held now, we’d win a majority.

But the polls also say that no one wants an unnecessary election.

So unless we’re defeated or prevented from governing, we want to keep moving forward and to make this minority Parliament work over the next three years.

Second, we will begin moving forward on Senate reform.

As we said in the campaign, this institution should be reformed to better reflect the modern and democratic needs of Canada’s regions.

A 21st century legislature cannot remain dominated by appointees who may sit for decades, without a democratic mandate and with the ability to thwart the elected government.

Of course, there are other democratic reform priorities on which we must and will act in the future including, as I promised in the campaign, giving British Columbia its fair share of seats in the House of Commons.

So there you have it.

Ladies and gentlemen, on January 23 Canadians voted for change.

They gave our party a mandate to lead that change.

And we’re going to deliver on that.

We’ve been in office now for just over 100 days.

And we’re determined to lead…

…determined to keep our promises.

We promised to clean up government.

and we’ve introduced the Federal Accountability Act.

We promised to cut taxes and deliver benefits to working Canadian families.

And those are the priorities in our budget.

We promised to address some of the most critical issues facing British Columbia and get on with the democratic reforms that this part of the country has long demanded.

And we are moving ahead on these issues as well.

So we’re off to a good start.

But it won’t be easy.

For we have a minority Parliament.

Where support can shift.

Where the positions of the parties can change on a dime.

We got a wake-up call on this last week.

We agreed to a vote to back our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan by extending their mission.

We had all-party support for the process, and we had the consistent support of the Liberals who had sent our troops into the field in the first place.

But, on the day of the vote, they (and the Bloc) switched their positions. They switched their position on our troops, just so they could vote against the government.

It shows that, in this minority Parliament, nothing is sacred - not even our troops – and there is nothing you can take for granted.

So if you want to ensure that the Federal Accountability Act passes and we make long-term reforms to clean up government in Ottawa, you must let your Members of Parliament know how you feel.

If you believe the budget should pass, that Canadians should get real tax relief, or parents receive support for their pre-school children,

  • Then you must tell your Members of Parliament you want it done.

If you want to address BC’s concerns, end the softwood dispute and secure our trade with the US, or introduce fundamental democratic reforms to Parliament,

  • Then you must make your views known. 

To ensure this Parliament works, that things actually get passed, Canadians like yourselves must write, call, or email MPs of all parties to let them know that these aren’t just our priorities, but your priorities as well.

Thank you again for your invitation and for your attention.

God bless Canada.