Donuts, hockey, tax cuts and Afghanistan

The quintessential speech of Stephen Harper’s premiership?

harperhortonsBelow is a transcript of the Prime Minister’s speech today at the Tim Hortons Innovation Centre in Oakville.

If I ever get round to writing a book about this time in Ottawa, I may very well argue that this, in content, setting and context, is the quintessential speech of Stephen Harper’s premiership.

This is obviously a big day for the Tim Hortons family, returning to your Canadian roots after 14 years away. Now, I agree, the United States is a great place to visit, but let’s face it, there is no place like our home and native land, there is no place like Canada. I also suspect that there will be a lot of Canadians actually surprised to hear that Tims is moving its headquarters back home. Your company is such a fixture here on the street corners and in the malls that I’m not sure many canadians would believe you actually ever moved away, but this company’s success over the past four decades is truly impressive.

The numbers speak for themselves, from one location in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario to over 3,000 today. Tim Hortons has become the largest publicly traded restaurant chain in Canada. These figures stand as a tribute to the talented company leadership and staff here at headquarters and in the field who have built Tim Hortons throughout the years. Give all yourselves a big round of applause for that.

Now, if I were to look back to the early days, I think there were a couple of things about Tim Hortons that really connected with Canadians. First, of course, was the name and reputation of the cofounder, the great Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Tim Horton. Baby boomers who grew up watching the original six remember him as one of the strongest and sturdiest blue liners ever to play the game. And, of course, for millions of long suffering Leaf fans across the country, the name Tim Horton conjures up their four Stanley Cups and the glory years of the 1960s.

So the name was very important, but there is another thing even millions more know. Millions more Canadian hockey parents like me know well that when it is 20 below and everyone is up for a 6 a.m. practice, nothing motivates the team more than a box of Timbits and nothing warms the parents in the stands better than a hot double-double. Perhaps no one said it better about Tim Hortons than the great Canadian author Pierre Berton. Let me quote. “In so many ways, the story of Tim Hortons is the essential Canadian story. It is the story of success and tragedy, of big dreams in small towns, of old fashioned values and tough-fisted business, of hard work and of hockey.”

Much of Tim Hortons’ success can be attributed to your commitment to the communities you serve. Thousands of underprivileged kids go to summer camps each year through the generosity of the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation. Countless local and national sporting events from hockey to the Tim Hortons brier are supported by the company’s sponsorship, and Tims is appreciated by all Canadians, none any less than the brave men and women of the Canadian forces. I know this well because I’ve served coffee and iced caps to our soldiers on the Kandahar military base in Afghanistan.

In 1995, when Tim Hortons merged with an American firm, it effectively became an American company. That decision was undoubtedly made in the best interests of the company. But here we are today, 14 years later, because it is now in the best interests of the company to come back to Canada today. This decision, ladies and gentlemen, is all about the bottom line, and the bottom line is that Canada is now not just a great place to live, it is a great place to invest and to do business. When our government took office almost four years ago, we set out to make sure Canada would be not just one of the best places on earth to live and work but also to invest. When we took office in 2006, the corporate tax rate just at the federal level was over 22%. Today it is now down to 19% and it will fall to 15% by 2012 when it will be the lowest in the G7. Obviously numbers like that look pretty attractive to companies like Tims but just as attractive to the executives and managers who run the companies like this are the cuts we’ve made to personal taxes. Tax freedom day in this country now arrives 20 days earlier than when we took office thanks to the tax cuts introduced by Minister Flaherty. And soon, the federal tax burden in this country will fall to its lowest level in 50 years.

Lowering taxes has helped keep our economy relatively healthy even as we’ve been dragged into the global recession, and because of our strong long-term fiscal position, when the recovery comes, while others will be raising taxes to deal with their massive debt burdens, we will be able to continue lowering taxes. Canada’s economic future has rarely looked brighter. Our banks are secure, our markets are expanding, our stimulus is working, our taxes are falling, and our long-term fiscal position is solid. Tim Hortons’ return in the midst of the global recession is a clear signal that Canada is poised to come out of these tough times stronger than ever. The path we are on will draw home many other Canadian companies and businesses, it will attract highly skilled immigrants here from all over the world. In other words, Tim Hortons’ return is just the beginning of a new era of prosperity for Canada and there could be no fitting—no company more fitting to lead the way. So it is my great honour and indeed my pleasure to be the first to officially say welcome home Tim Hortons.