BTC: ‘We are made of good stuff’

At the risk of getting in the habit of posting Liberal stump speeches, here the prepared text of Michael Ignatieff’s speech in Toronto this morning—all 2,500 words ready for your conspiracy-minded speculation.


Good morning. Thanks for being here.

We are at a turning point in this election.  Canadians are paying attention now. They’re listening carefully.  They know they have a big decision to make.

Pundits, pollsters and prognosticators notwithstanding, they haven’t made up their minds yet.  The question they’re asking is: who should they trust when times are tough?

On October 14, Canadians are not just choosing a party. They’re choosing a government.

Only two serious choices remain: Liberal or Conservative.

Only two teams remain contenders. It’s decision time.

This isn’t a choice between personalities. This isn’t a choice between sweaters. This is a choice between records, a choice not between promise but between accomplishment. 

Canadians have long political memories. They remember the Conservative record, not just for this government but for the ones stretching back into the past.

The other day I was talking to a senior in a retirement residence who came up to me and said, “Young man — I liked that part — I’m old enough to remember every Conservative government we’ve ever had. I remember Mr. Bennett during the Depression. I remember Mr. Diefenbaker, Mr. Clark and Mr. Mulroney.  There wasn’t one of them that didn’t leave this country dead broke. That’s all I got to say.”

Canadians remember. Tory times are tough times. It’s in the folklore of our country.

They remember that Brian Mulroney left them with a 42-billion dollar deficit.  They remember that when the Liberals were elected in 1993, they had to roll up their sleeves, take out a shovel and dig us out.

The man who dug us out of deficit, the man who restored the public finances of Canada is here this morning. Paul Martin.

Thanks to his leadership and Jean Chretien’s steady hand, the Liberals left this country with the best public finances of any country in the G8:

  • A 12-billion dollar surplus.
  • The world’s best-educated workforce.
  • A trade surplus.
  • A current account surplus.
  • Straight A’s across the board.

Where do we stand today? After two years of Harper.

  • The worst performance in the G8.
  • Negative growth in GDP through the first half of this year.
  • Government accounts on the brink of deficit.
  • No contingency left in the budget. No margin for error.
  • The worst productivity picture in 18 years — productivity growth has been negative this year.
  • Stephen Harper is the first Prime Minister in 50 years to preside over an actual decline in Canadian productivity.

The litany of failure goes on.

  • Almost 200,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Canada since Stephen Harper took power and most of them here in Ontario.
  • Thousands of jobs lost in hard-working middle class ridings like Etobicoke-Lakeshore, at Stackpole, Arvin Meritor, Corning, Alberto Culver and other good companies like Chrysler hanging on by a thread.
  • In July alone, the single biggest Canadian monthly job loss in 17 years.
  • Unemployed workers in Windsor and Winnipeg, Oshawa, Welland, Drummondville and Smith Falls, in town after town, riding after riding.

I happened to be in Welland last week and I asked workers what they think of Mr. Harper.  John Deere has just shut down the plant with a loss of 1, 000 jobs and what does Harper talk about when he comes to Welland? Selling coloured cigarettes to children. Not a word for those workers. Not a syllable.

That’s where we are, folks, an economy in difficulty with a Prime Minister in denial.

Central Canada is facing the most serious crisis in the manufacturing sector in living memory, facing it with a government who says: Don’t invest in Ontario.

Worst of all, we are facing the crisis with a government that doesn’t actually believe in government.

Harper loves power — he wants as much of it as he can get his hands on — but he doesn’t like government.

He fires nuclear regulators who get in his way. He dismantles the inspections that keep our food safe.

He wants to shrink government, weaken it at exactly the moment when the whole world is turning to government to dig us out of this financial mess.

Mr. Harper loves power and he wants to consolidate it, but he wants to weaken government at the same time as the whole world is turning to their governments to protect them from the financial disasters on Wall Street.

Canadians don’t want big government, they want smart compassionate governments to ensure that their mortgages are secure , their food is safe, their jobs have a future.

They want a government that appeals to their dreams instead of pandering to their fears, a government that has a plan, not an ideology, a government that is as sensible, middle of the road and as decent as most Canadians are.

A Liberal government.

This election is a battle for the center ground of Canadian life.

Mr. Harper wants you to believe our party has abandoned the center ground. He wants you to believe we have swung left.

He’s wrong.

The party I joined in 1965, the party of Mike Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin is a party of the center. Always has been. Always will be.

Liberals believe in sound money, balanced budgets, low taxes, personal responsibility.

What separates us from the NDP and the Greens is that we believe in a competitive market economy. 

What separates us from the Conservatives is that we believe you can’t have an efficient economy without a just society.

A just society — where every citizen is equal; where we succeed together, because we look after each other; where no Canadian goes to the wall when times are tough; where no Canadian has to walk the lonely road of poverty or ill health alone.

A market economy demands a just and equal society.  You can’t have an efficient economy, without a just and equal society. This is the key idea behind Canadian liberalism.

That’s not Harper’s Canada.

That’s a Liberal Canada.

This election is a battle joined for the center ground, a battle between two competing ideas of what our country is.

This election is a battle for the centre, a battle between different visions for our country.

Where we Liberals planted the stake defined the center of our national life.

We defined the common ground that Canadians could call their own.

Thanks to us, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, a flag and an anthem.

We are proud of that tradition, and we can justly claim as a party, that we’ve done our part to build this country.

We won’t let Stephen Harper dismantle it.

Mr. Harper doesn’t have a secret agenda.

There’s no secret at all.

He wants to dislodge the Liberal Party from the center of Canadian public life and replace it with the Conservative Party as the party of government.

Then he wants to move the center of gravity of Canada one two three, ten degrees to the right.

He wants to create a Canada less equal, less tolerant, less fair, less just and less united.

He’s already told Canadians that when he’s finished with the place, they won’t recognize it.

If Mr. Harper is elected, you will wake up in a country that Canadians will no longer recognize as their own.

We must not let this happen.

That is what this election is about.

Harper wants to tell you this election is about leadership.

Since when does he have the right to define what leadership is?

Certainly not economic leadership.

The man who devastated the savings of millions when he wiped out income trusts. That’s not leadership. It was vandalism.

The man who inherited a 12-billion dollar surplus and frittered it down to deficit. That’s not leadership. It’s irresponsibility.

The man who has stood by and watched the Canadian manufacturing sector bleed in the water. That’s not leadership. It’s callousness.

The man who’s picked a fight with at least four provinces. That’s not leadership. That’s divisiveness.

The man who says all’s well with the Canadian economy. That’s not leadership. It’s willful self-delusion.

It may be something worse. This Prime Minister broke his own fixed election promise to force an election now, so he can sneak back into power, without Canadians realizing just how bad the economic situation is.

That’s not leadership. That’s manipulation.

Canadians will not be manipulated. They will not be fooled.

Mr. Harper is trying to win an election without admitting we are in a difficult economic situation and he doesn’t have a plan to address the crisis.

That’s not leadership. That’s manipulation.

Canadians know something is wrong.

They know Mr. Harper has no plan.

He’s been surfing for two and a half years on the surpluses and sound fiscal management Paul Martin left behind.

Now Harper’s surfboard has stranded him on the shingle and he doesn’t know what to do.

He’s staring at:

·     a looming deficit,

·     a credit crunch,

·     an American economy in recession,

·     surging energy prices,

·     rising inflation,

·     falling productivity.

He has no plan.  No idea. No clue.

But he does have an ideology, and when you have no plan, a man like Harper falls back on his deepest instincts.

We’ve already seen where his instincts lead him: cuts to arts and culture — run against artists, brand them as elitist snobs.

Cuts to women’s programs—brand women as just another liberal interest group. 52 per cent of the country an interest group?

These cuts, remember, happened while we were in surplus.

Imagine the cuts that are coming when he leads us into deficit.

If he were to win this election, there will be cuts to health care, to unemployment insurance, to pensions, higher tuition fees.

Cuts that will devastate the middle class of our country, at exactly the moment when they turn to their government for help.

There is method in this madness.  He likes power, but he is in power to devastate government, to reduce its capacity to protect Canadians in time of trouble.

We’ve been here before. It was called the Common Sense Revolution. 

Four of his ministers are veterans of the Mike Harris government. Few governments in modern Canadian life were more disliked when they left power, and what they left behind took years to clean up: a five-billion dollar deficit.

We’ve been warned. We must not let this happen again.

Harper struts his leadership, but let me tell you a story about what real leadership is like.

A train used to run through the center of a little town in Quebec where I spent some summers, and my father once told me that if you put your ear to the rails you could hear a train before you could see it.  And we did. And you could.

What my father told me has stayed in my mind as an idea of what a leader is.

A leader is someone who hears the train before the rest of us can see it.

The train that is coming down the track is a freight train of change. If we don’t hear it coming in time, it’s going to flatten us. If we don’t guide it down the right track, there’s going to be a train wreck.

We need an economic plan. Here it is.

First, to guide the train of bad debt onto the right track we need a government that believes in government, that regulates markets, that works to guarantee that our mortgages are safe, our pensions secure, our investments solid and our jobs have a future.

A Liberal government has confidence in the institutions that regulate markets in our country—we put most of them in place after all—but after October 14, we will want to review them all to make sure that Canadian mortgages, investments and savings are safe.

Second, to guide the train of surging energy costs onto the right track, we need to flick the green switch now.

We need a government that helps every home, business, and factory to cut its energy costs.

When you talk to the workers at the Chrysler Casting plant on Brown’s Line in my riding, they tell you, that unless we get our energy costs down, we’re out of business.

These workers know that going green is not a luxury. They know that it won’t ruin the economy. Going green now is the key to our ability to compete and gain market share.  Only Stephen Harper doesn’t get it.

He presents this election as a choice between the status quo and risk. 

The workers in my riding know the status quo is no longer an option. We are bleeding jobs right now.

We need to change in order to prosper.

We need to green this economy in order to be competitive.

Third, we need to invest in infrastructure to keep our economy moving: rapid transit, a national energy grid, sewage treatment and clean water.

Fourth, we need to cut taxes on income and capital in order to free up money for investment.

Fifth, we need to put a price on carbon so we can get ahead of energy-wasting competitors. 

Sixth we need to stop running against the provinces and start working with them. 

To sum up, Liberals believe in: 

  • Sound fiscal management. 
  • Balanced budgets. 
  • Smart regulation of markets. 
  • Tax cuts on profits, revenue and income.
  • Putting a price on pollution.
  • Helping every sector of the economy to use energy more efficiently.
  • Investing in economically critical infrastructure.
  • Investing in education, science and research.
  • Turning the federation from a battlefield into a partnership.

That sounds like a plan to me.

That sounds like putting your ear to the rail and throwing the switch before the train jumps the track.

Choose the Dion team. We hear the train coming.

Stay with Harper and the train wreck happens.

And by the way, Jack Layton can’t stop Stephen Harper.

Remember, Jack Layton gave us Stephen Harper. The Harper government is the house Jack built.

Let’s bring the house down. Let’s get a government we can trust in tough times. A Liberal government.

This election finally is about who you trust.

Trust goes two ways, you know.

We Liberals have always trusted the Canadian people: their imagination, hard work, faith and love of country.

We Liberals have worked hard — from Laurier’s time to this — to earn, to deserve the trust of Canadians. 

You have rewarded us with your trust, election after election, because you know we want you to win; because you know our Canada is your Canada; because you believe what we believe:

That there is no crisis, no challenge, no moment of difficulty which is not also an opportunity, an opportunity to show the world what we Canadians are made of.

We are made of good stuff.  We’re tough, disciplined, sensible, tolerant, decent, middle of the road people. That’s who we are. That’s what Canadians are looking for in a government on October 14.

Thank you. Merci.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.