November 13, 2003 Toronto, Ontario
My friends, That video brought me back a long way. A very long way. So many memories. So many bonds and so many friendships. So much road travelled. For a young man born in a large working class family in Shawinigan. And I am very proud to say it is a road we have travelled together. Because if - as I have always said - Canada is my life, it is the Liberal Party that has been like family to me. It is the Liberal Party that gave me the chance to grow. To meet people in every part of Canada. To learn the true meaning of democracy and public service. That opened my horizons and my world. I began as president of the Young Liberals Association at Laval University. But it is in April 1963 that I proudly entered Parliament as MP for St. Maurice-Laflèche under the exceptional leadership of Lester B. Pearson.He did so many things of lasting benefit for Canadians. He showed me so much kindness and confidence especially when he sent me to Mitchell Sharp to be trained to be the first francophone Minister of Finance. Mitchell, still young at 92 years old, is here tonight. He proved to me, at an early age, that Liberalism is about heart and passion, yes, but it is also about responsibility, and balance, and creating growth and opportunity. And Pierre Trudeau. Larger than life. And a presence so powerful that he forever changed the way we see ourselves as Canadians.
I was very proud to be part of Mr. Trudeau's team and of the confidence he had in me to do the challenging jobs that needed to be done, from transforming aboriginal policy, creating national parks, to the Quebec referendum in 1980, to bringing home the constitution and negotiating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is Liberalism in action, my friends. The spirit and vision of governments like those of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. That built the modern Canada we love so deeply.That built the social programs that Canadians cherish. That gave our country its own flag. That gave birth to national Medicare. To the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To the Canada Pension Plan. To a truly bilingual Canada that has become home to people from every corner of the world - and a shining model of how the human race can live together in peace, progress and prosperity.
It was these governments - under these two great Canadians - that cemented Canada as the champion of a multilateral approach on the international scene. Also as a trusted peacekeeper. As an honest voice in the world. A force for peace and stability. My friends, that is what we are celebrating at this convention: the vision, the passion, and the spirit of Liberalism. In June 1990, in Calgary, you gave me the great honour and responsibility of carrying the Liberal torch. Of succeeding a great Liberal, John Turner. Of upholding our timeless principles and traditions. And adapting them to new times and new challenges as every leader must do. And that is what I have tried to do. Because, my friends, when this country is in a time of need, in crisis, when things need to be righted, Canadians have always turned to Liberal governments. And that is the way it was in Canada ten years ago. We remember the state of the nation ten years ago. Canadians remember it. I know I will never forget it.
We were in a crisis, all right. The worst crisis Canada had seen in more than half a century. An economic crisis. A fiscal crisis. A national unity crisis. And even more troubling, a crisis of confidence. Canadians had given up believing Canada could ever work again. We were virtually broke. Almost bankrupt. Against the wall. The annual deficit was $42 billion, by far the largest in our entire history. Thirty-seven cents of every tax dollar went to servicing the national debt. Unemployment and interest rates were far too high, both above 11 percent.The International Monetary Fund was knocking at the door. The Wall Street Journal was saying we were a candidate to become a Third World economy.And that malaise went much, much deeper than the economy. The dice had been rolled on our national unity. And Canada was on the brink of disaster. Of falling apart.
In Quebec, support for separatism was at its highest in history. Western Canadians were turning their backs on national parties for a narrow regional party. It is hard to believe now, but people were giving up - actually giving up - on the very idea of Canada. Canadians gave us a job to do. They gave us a mission. A solemn responsibility. They wanted their country back. They wanted it turned around. They wanted to be proud again. And my friends, that is what we set out to do. Together, with our team. Members of Parliament. Ministers. A professional public service. A skilled, committed team of men and women. Who cared deeply about their country and were eager to work hard, very hard.I want to thank them - all of them - personally tonight for their contribution and their dedication. Think of what we have accomplished with Canadians in ten years.
Well, everyone knows - the whole world knows - how we turned the finances of this country around. It was hard. It hurt. Canadians made sacrifices. But we took that $42 billion deficit and turned it into six consecutive balanced budgets. Today we are the only G-7 country with a balanced budget. Today we lead the industrial world in fiscal responsibility. We in Canada are entering our seventh year in balance. And not only that, we have also paid down more than ten percent of the national debt. In ten years, our economy has created three million new jobs. Interest rates are at their lowest levels in decades. Young families can afford to finance their homes. We have been able to pass on to the Canadian people the biggest tax cut in the history of Canada. We have been able to invest large sums of money in health care. And we have created the National Child Benefit which is the most important new social programme since Medicare.
My friends, we understood that our young people need to be liberated to make their dreams come true, to make their contribution to our country and to our future. As soon as we eliminated the deficit, our first priority was to make massive investments in education, in our young people, in their brains and in their capacity. From the Millennium Scholarships, to the Canada Research Chairs, from graduate scholarships, to the Canada Foundation for Innovation, to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and so much more, we are making Canada the place to be for young people in the 21st century. We have restored an activist, progressive national government. That speaks and acts for the whole country. As only the national government can do. And we have done so in accordance with timeless Liberal principles and traditions. Just as it took time to restore our fiscal health, it took several years to rebuild the unity of this country. But slowly, carefully, deliberately, we took the steps to strengthen the bonds that tie our country together. It was not easy to fight years of myths that had been created by those who wanted to break up Canada. But it was worth the fight. Yes, my friends, it was worth the fight. We vowed that we would never again run the risk of losing Canada through ambiguity and misunderstanding and lack of presence.
Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about it, the Clarity Act has secured the future of Canada.Again, it wasn't easy. All the pundits, the elites, thought we were crazy to take such a risk. But the people of Canada - and the people of the province of Quebec in particular - knew better. We did it by telling the truth to Quebeckers. We did not make unrealistic, empty promises. We refused to pander. We were frank and direct. And we governed well. Today we as Liberals can hold our heads up high in Quebec. Let me tell you, it was tough, my friends. It was tough for all of us who stood for Canada. It was very tough for me personally. It hurt me deeply. It hurt my family. To be vilified in my home province - the province I love - just for standing up for Canada. Because I believed so profoundly, as I still believe today, that being part of Canada is best for Quebec. But no matter how lonely it was - we never gave up.
And, tonight, I can tell you, my friends, that nothing gives me greater satisfaction than the knowledge that we have prevailed in Quebec. That we have earned the respect of the people of Quebec. That we have turned the page and are working on real solutions to real problems. From the bottom of my heart, I thank my fellow citizens of Quebec. And let me tell you that we would not have succeeded without the patience and understanding and commitment of Canadians across the land during a very difficult period. It made me so proud to be a Canadian. Restoring the pride, restoring the faith of Canadians has been a big job, my friends. And it has not stopped with the economy or with national unity. We have worked hard to ensure that our values - Canadian values - are what have guided our government and its policies. That is why we have one of the toughest gun control laws in the world. As a Canadian, that makes me very, very proud.
And we have restored the pride in who we are. Look at the cultural vitality of Canada today. We saw the wonderful artists here tonight. The magic of Le Cirque du Soleil is seducing audiences around the world, and transforming entertainment in the 21st Century. Taking their cue from two great friends of mine, Paul Anka and Oscar Peterson, who led the way many years ago, today Canadian women are the biggest phenomenon in the history of the recording industry. From Céline Dion to Shania Twain to Diana Krall to Alanis Morrissette to Avril Lavigne, they are taking over the world, and doing it in a very Canadian way.
Our authors are winning prestigious awards around the globe. It is nothing short of a renaissance of Canadian literature.My friends, in every field, the Canadian arts are the most vibrant and celebrated they've ever been. And of course, Canadians have been proud to once again reassert our independence on the world stage. We have a wonderful story to tell the world. About how to live together in peace and diversity. About how to resolve differences with civility. About mutual respect. About building bridges. You might say the world could use a little more Canada. And we've been delivering. The Land Mines Treaty. The International Criminal Court. New hope for Africa, NEPAD. The effort to narrow the gap between the richest and poorest nations has been important to Canadians. We have worked hard at it. Because we Canadians know how these disparities fuel hatreds and violence in the most troubled corners of our world. We have not been afraid to confront those hatreds. That is why our brave Canadian troops went to Bosnia and Kosovo with NATO. That is why they are in Afghanistan today. And that is why we stood shoulder to shoulder with our closest friend and ally, the United States when they were targeted on that terrible September day. We are with them and all civilized nations in the fight against terrorism. Canadians are making a vital contribution in that struggle - and we are very proud of it.
But we also have known when we must go our own way internationally. In a manner that is consistent with our values. Doing the right thing, no matter how difficult. And it was because of our deep belief as Canadians in the values of multilateralism and the United Nations that we did not go to war in Iraq. It was the same with the Kyoto Protocol. When it comes to a decision as important as the very preservation of our planet, you don't look over your shoulder to see what your neighbour is doing. You don't wait for others to decide first. You don't duck your head. You do the right thing. For today, and above all the right thing for the future. For our kids. For their kids. For this planet.
It was the same when we confronted the Europeans in the Turbot war in 1995.That is what Canadians want. And that is what we as Liberals have provided. That is not all that we did. We took historic action to limit the influence in elections of big business and big unions. Because that's what Liberalism is about. Giving power to the people, not to special interests. About opening up democracy. About ensuring that all Canadians are free to exercise their human rights. And you know, when we speak of human rights, we are admired around the world for our social liberalism. We have taken those classic Liberal values I spoke about earlier, and adapted them for a new era. The world has changed in the past 40 years, and it continues to change. And we have to keep up with it.
We recognize that issues respecting same sex must be dealt with, because the Charter of Rights is a precious heritage for Liberals. Any time we are asked to choose between fewer rights and more rights, we Liberals, and we Canadians will always choose more rights, and especially for minorities.
My friends, all this is some of what we have accomplished. Together as Liberals. Together with Canadians. Ten years ... Ten years. From the Wall Street Journal calling us a candidate for the Third World to The Economist, a few weeks ago, telling the world that Canada is cool!! We are proud of what we have accomplished.
But tonight I want to let you in on a secret. I want to tell you what makes me happiest by far. It's not simply what we have done in government. It's not just our economy. It's not just the problems we solved. It is the new spirit in the land. You can see it. You can feel it. The new pride of Canadians. Our sense of confidence. Our can-do spirit. We have never been more confident. We have never been more proud. We have never been more united. We have never been more sure of who we are. We have never been more eager, more prepared to take on the world. My friends, that is the Canada of 2003. That is how far we have travelled in ten years. And I am honoured to have had the opportunity to play a part in it.
When the question is asked, are Canadians better off today than we were ten years ago? The answer is clear and unmistakable. Yes. Yes. Yes. It has been a good time to be a Liberal. It is a good time to be a Liberal. And it is a great time to be a Canadian. And as I leave as leader of our Party, I can say with pride, that with our record, we are in a very, very good position to win a fourth consecutive Liberal majority government.
Yes, we must celebrate our accomplishments. But we must not be satisfied with them. We must remember, my friends, we do not govern by divine right. We do not have a permanent lease on office. It is not something that is owed to us. We govern with the power and trust invested in us by the Canadian people. We must never, never forget that. We must never take them, or their support, for granted. We must earn it every day. Being a Liberal means always, always thinking about the future. So tonight I would like to challenge us as a party, as I pass on the torch.
Tonight I want to ask you, my Liberal family, what can we do to ensure that our country is even better off ten years from now than it is today? To govern is to lead. We define ourselves by the hard choices we make. By the decisions we make. We saw that with the deficit. We saw it with the Clarity Act. We saw it with Iraq. We saw it every time we stood tall for Canada. Not just for the headlines of today, but for the world of tomorrow. There is no substitute for doing the right thing at home or abroad. The rest of the world looks to us as a model, as a beacon.
Look at the people in this great hall. You see in this one location all the faces, all the races, and the colours, and religions that make up this planet. This is the Canada of today. And this is our mission to the world. To show how it is possible to live together in diversity and in harmony. But to fulfill this mission, we have a solemn responsibility to speak to the world in our own voice - an independent voice. It is not something to barter or give away, not for economic gain, commercial advantage or anything else.
My friends, we cannot be complacent, at a time when the opposition is getting together. When in a country of the centre, the opposition is moving to the right. Canadians should beware of those on the right who put the interests of Bay Street over the interests of Main Street.Canadians should beware of those on the right who put profit ahead of community ... beware of those on the right who put the narrow bottom line ahead of everything else. Canadians should beware of those on the right who would reduce taxes at the expense of necessary public services ... beware of those on the right who do not care about reducing social and environmental deficits.
Canadians should beware of those on the right who would weaken the national government because they do not believe in the role of government.
My friends, my fellow Canadians, my fellow Liberals, if you remember only one thing that I say tonight, remember this ... we must never ever lose our social conscience.
My final message for you is simple. Trust Canadians. They are wise. They are generous. They care. And above all, trust the young generation of Canadians that is coming up. I have a lot of faith in young Canadians today. There has never been a generation in history more sure of itself and its Canadian identity, and yet more in touch and involved in every corner of the world. They care. And they understand.
My friends, I am passing on the leadership of our Party to a new leader. A new prime minister. A great Liberal. Who has been a big part of our record. Of the Liberal record. Of the record we are so proud of. Although we have accomplished so much, there is still so much more to do. Paul Martin will need all our support, the support of all of us. And I can assure Paul that he has my support. And when he has some lonely moments, as I know he will, he should remember, as I have, how each successive leader has been strengthened by our Liberal values. He should remember Laurier, remember King, remember St-Laurent, remember Pearson, remember Trudeau, remember Turner.
There is no greater privilege than to be able to serve your country. To be Prime Minister of the most wonderful country in the world. I have always felt a special love of this country. With all my fellow citizens. Regardless of their political views. So from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the people of Canada for the confidence they have shown in me over so many years. I will be forever grateful. I want to thank the Liberal Party for the great confidence you have shown in me since you chose me as your leader 13 years ago. And for the privilege I have had in leading the greatest political party in the world. When I first announced my candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party back in 1984, I said: "Fasten your seat belts - it's going to be a helluva ride". Well my friends, it has been a hell of a ride.
Now I finish my career as I began, as an ordinary Liberal. I will be there to support our new team. I will be there to encourage young Canadians to continue to be engaged. And I will be there to support our new leader. I want to thank tonight, the people of St. Maurice who have shown their confidence in me for the last 40 years, as well as the people of Beauséjour for three years. Without them, I would not be here tonight. And, my friends, I will be there side-by-side with Aline, my rock of Gibraltar for almost the last 50 years¿Vive le Canada!-30-