Speech by Liberal Party of Canada Leader, Justin Trudeau, at the 2014 Biennial Convention in Montreal

February 22, 2014

My friends, my fellow Liberals; what a great Convention!

Thank you for your work. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your passion

I want to paint a picture for you.

There’s a young woman, let’s call her Nathalie. She works hard. Maybe in an office in old Montreal. Maybe at a retail outlet along Sainte-Catherine Street.

She makes 40k a year. It’s about what her spouse makes too.

She sits in traffic a lot. Often on the Champlain Bridge, wondering – after all that she has heard and read – how safe it is.

She’s worried about whether her kids – who are, of course, growing up too fast – will get a fair shot at good jobs. She’s bothered by the debt she’s carrying.

She’s wonders how she will ever retire that debt in time to get a real chance to retire herself.

She volunteers for her kids’ school. Maybe she supervises a field trip, maybe she cuts up oranges for her daughter’s soccer team.

When she finds a spare moment, she gives it to someone else. Her family or friends, her community, her country.

But most of all, she’s still worried.

She’s anxious about her future, probably even more so for her kids’ future.

You know, people ask me all the time: what are the biggest differences between me, Mr. Harper, and Mr. Mulcair.

There are plenty. For starters, Mr. Mulcair has a much better beard, and Mr. Harper lives in a bigger house.

But most of all, I don’t want to practice politics in a way that turns Nathalie’s anxiety into resentment.

Both of our opponents feel, for their own reasons that the angrier Canadians get, the better they will do.

Let me show you why that matters when it comes to policy.

Take their approach to Senate Reform. Mr. Mulcair promises to do something that he knows is not within the power of the federal government to do. He knows that people are – understandably – furious about Duffy and Wallin. He could have developed a responsible policy on Senate Reform. Instead however, he went on a national tour promising to open the Constitution.

As for Mr. Harper, as a candidate, he promised that he would never appoint a Senator. Not a single one. Then, after he got elected, he appointed 57 of them.

And by the way, anyone who put Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, and Patrick Brazeau in the Senate, might want to be careful about making judgment a campaign issue!

Now that people have had it up to here with the people he appointed, he wants you to believe he’s still a reformer at heart. That he still believes in an elected Senate, even though he knows that road leads to Constitutional negotiations.

Both men have said what they have said because they want to be onside with people’s anger. In so doing, they have made promises that are not just cynical, but dangerous. They are willing to play games with the Canadian Constitution for narrow partisan advantage.

Now, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper may think so, but I disagree: Mike Duffy is not worth another Meech Lake.

And Liberals? We put forward – and implemented – a Senate reform policy that was thoughtful and responsible, while being bold and ambitious. It put the country ahead of partisanship and took concrete steps forward to improve the institution.

That’s how you make change happen my friends.

Anger might be a good political strategy, but it makes for lousy government.

The problem with Mr. Harper, is that he’s not all that interested in finding solutions. What he’s trying to do is to exploit issues for purely partisan ends.

We are facing some huge challenges.

How will we stop the historic decline of the middle class?

How will we build a sustainable economy that reconciles economic development with environmental sustainability?

How will we help our young people to get a good start in life and a good job?

How will we help Canadians who are strangled by their debt and who have no savings for retirement?

How will we make it possible for the poorest to join the ranks of the middle class?

How will we raise the necessary capital to invest in the new infrastructures our country so desperately needs?

The last thing Nathalie needs is for a politician to use the worry caused by these important questions for partisan purposes.

My friends, Canadians don’t expect the government to perform miracles. They know that it cannot resolve all issues.

What they do expect however – and rightly so – is that the government help them have a real chance to succeed.

The chance to get a quality education and a good job.

The chance to be able to reimburse their debts and to be able to retire with dignity.

We’ve had some great discussions so far this weekend.

I want to speak to a few resolutions, but let me tell you about my focus.

For me, it starts with the core liberal ideas of freedom and opportunity. The idea that no matter where and to whom you were born, you start free, and should have a fair shot at success. Upward mobility should be a realistic prospect for everyone. If you remain hard-working and forward-thinking, you should be able to build a better life for yourself, and pass on even more opportunities to your kids.

To me, a strong economy is one that makes sure every Canadian has a real and fair chance at success. It means a thriving middle class. One that provides growing incomes and job opportunities. One that provides a real chance at joining the middle class for struggling Canadians.

Productive growth is important. Innovation is important. We want to make sure the economy is diversified and resilient.

But they are all means to an end. What we’re after is an economy that provides well paying, good jobs for as many Canadians as possible. That’s what fairness looks.

Why does this matter if you’re not part of the middle class? For less wealthy Canadians, it means it’s harder and harder to get ahead. To find that ladder to stability and security.

And to wealthier Canadians, I say this: the growth we have seen over the past three decades has been the product of a broadly supported agenda. Investments in education, fiscal discipline, openness to trade. All of which the middle class voted for, repeatedly.

Here’s the point: The original promise of that agenda was that everyone would share in the prosperity that it creates. That hasn’t happened. That’s not a political point. It’s a fact. If we don’t fix it, the middle class will stop supporting a growth agenda. That will make us all poorer.

As a progressive party, as a Liberal Party, we need to ask ourselves, what is the right role for government in creating that economy. Too much government is an enemy of freedom and opportunity, but so too is too little.

Governments can’t do everything, nor should they try. But the things it does, it must do well. As Larry Summers reminded us on Thursday, fiscal discipline is important, but sustained growth is the only route to balanced budgets over the long-term.

To create that growth, we have to get the big things right.

We need to get education right. If we know that 7 out of 10 jobs in the future are going to require post-secondary education, than we ought to have a national target of 70% PSE attainment. Now, I’m a Quebec MP, and I’m well acquainted with Section 93 of the Constitution. I know education is a provincial responsibility. But there’s a lot the federal government can do to support provincial policy. We’ve heard young Liberals speak up for youth all across the country. They are telling us they need help. They need help paying for school, help with their debts and help getting a good start in the workforce.

We have an opportunity to build a true partnership with Aboriginal peoples. Within ten years, over 400,000 aboriginals will have entered the job market. We must give them the tools to succeed and allow them to contribute to the economic prosperity of our country.

We are blessed with a lot of natural gifts in Canada. Our resources, our land, our geographic proximity to world markets. But our greatest advantage is not under our feet, it’s between our ears and in our work ethic.

We need to invest in the hard infrastructure that supports growth. That means traditional projects like transportation and water. But it also means meeting new challenges like climate change, and the weather calamities that come with it.

Put bluntly, our infrastructure was built for a climate that is very different from today’s. And more different still from the one we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.

We can either invest now to help them adapt, or pass a much larger bill onto them.

Beyond direct investment, the government needs to create the framework to support growth.

That means getting big things like trade right. This is where you see the fault lines opening up, where the middle class is starting to withdraw support for a growth agenda. Trade has always been a paramount economic file for Canada. We need investment and open foreign markets to create jobs here, and we need imports from other countries to create affordable choices for Canadians.

Trade has also always been controversial. From Laurier to Mulroney, political careers have been staked, won and lost on it. I think we are better positioned to benefit from a strategic approach to trade than any other country on Earth. Our closeness to the US, our ability to reach back to Europe and forward to Asia. Our resource base and deep skills. There is no country in the world that wouldn’t love to be in our place.

And yes, it is a fundamental economic responsibility for the Prime Minister of Canada to help get our resources to global markets. More and more, the way to do that is with a robust environmental policy that gives assurances to our trading partners that those resources are being developed responsibly. We must maintain strong relationships with our trading partners, so that when we disagree, we can do so respectfully, without endangering critical projects of national significance.

We need to ensure that governments keep costs as low as possible, especially for middle class households. The middle class is already having a hard time making ends meet, and struggling with debt. Tax increases for them are not in the cards, and not on the table.

Finally, our great, unique strength in Canada is that we’re the only country in the world that is strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. That’s because of the far-sighted, and open-hearted approach we have taken to immigration since Laurier.

I think Canada’s great success is that there has always been a path to citizenship for everyone in this country.

It’s very dangerous for us to go down the road where we think about newcomers as workers rather than future Canadians. We want people who are going to grow the economy, yes. But we want them to be community builders, nation-builders. In a word, we need people who are going to become strong citizens.

Beyond this core economic agenda, we liberals will always be on the side of personal freedom.

Liberals in British Columbia, my second home, are again challenging us to expand our idea of what it means to be a free citizen in a modern democracy. This time, they want us to reflect on giving terminally afflicted Canadians the choice to end their pain and suffering, and plan their own death with dignity.

Liberals in Quebec are asking us to act on environmental issues and to make Canada a leader in management of its natural resources.

As we reflect and debate these ideas, and any and all others that will come out of this Convention, I ask that you keep Nathalie in your mind.

When your family and friends ask you why you are a Liberal, here is what you can say: I am a Liberal because I believe that all Canadians deserve a real chance at success.

And we Liberals work hard every day to ensure that all Canadians have this chance.

It makes no difference where you were born or where you came from, what language you speak, or how long you have been a Canadian citizen.

There is no us and them in this country. There is only us.

And the time has come for us to be reflected in the way we govern this country.

My friends –

A policy of making things worse will lead us nowhere.

Like Mr. Harper, Mme. Marois practices a divisional policy.

We Liberals have a more unifying project proposal for Quebecers.

Francophone Quebecers want us to give absolute respect to their language and their culture.

But they also want all levels of government to work together.

And, like all other Canadians, they want a true chance to succeed.

Like Nathalie, they want us to leave behind the old constitutional bickering and to take care of the priorities of the middle class.

My friends –

In 2015, Quebecers will be able to choose action over opposition.

They will be able to choose a government that focuses on economic prosperity rather than on a policy of division.

They will be able to choose a government that will do all in its power to ensure that all Canadians have a real chance at success.
Quebecers alongside other Canadians have built a society that is the envy of the World for having made diversity an asset – not a problem.
Our country was built on a very simple premise. That all people, of different origins, with different beliefs, from the four corners of the World, can settle down here and give themselves and their children a quality of life that few countries can.

My friends, the desire for change is growing in this country. Many Canadians who voted Conservative last time are beginning to cast a weary eye on this government.

People in Ottawa talk about the “Conservative base” as if it is some angry mob to be feared. They’re wrong. As all of you know, the 5.8 million Canadians who voted Conservative aren’t your enemies. They’re your neighbours.

These are good people. People who thought they were sending strong local leaders to be their voice in Ottawa, but got nothing in return but Mr. Harper’s voice in their communities.

I say this to the grassroots Conservatives out there, in communities across this country.

We might not agree all the time on everything. We might disagree about a great many things, but I know we can agree on this:

Negativity cannot be this country’s lifeblood.

It may be the way of the Conservative Party’s of Canada current leadership, but it is not the way of those Canadians who voted Conservative.

I know because they have welcomed me into their communities over the past year and half, especially in Western Canada.

At least I assume that many of them voted Conservative. Because in places like Okotoks and Kamloops, I know for a fact more people showed up to hear me out than voted Liberal in the last election!

I want to thank them for their warmth, their hospitality. I want to thank them for the respectful way in which they expressed their disagreements with me in community centres, church basements, and roadside diners across the country.

And let me tell you something, my fellow Liberals, they are beginning to recognize something about the governing party.

This Conservative Party is not the party of John A. Macdonald.

It is the party of Stephen Harper.

And here is the hard truth about Mr. Harper.

I believe that as a young idealistic reformer, he was a principled man.

But over 8 years as Prime Minister, he has abandoned the principles he held dear.

And not just about Senators.

Mr. Harper’s biggest promise in the last campaign – a solemn commitment – was income splitting.

Here is how it was described in the 2011 Conservative platform. They called it (and I quote) “an historic step forward to achieve fairness for families.”

So, forget the cost for a moment. Forget the specifics. Forget the fact that it was always a bad idea. Mr. Harper was moved to act, he said then, by his basic sense of fairness.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Admirable even.

Well, we already know that Mr. Harper will throw any person under the bus who no longer serves his political purpose.

But this was a point of principle.

Think about that for a second. The Prime Minister of Canada went into a Canadian family’s backyard. He brought TV cameras with him. He looked straight into those cameras and told the nation that they were being treated unfairly, and if he was elected, he would right that wrong.

That’s what was so breathtaking. Not because he reversed a core policy, or broke a key election commitment. Though he did both of those things.

Last week, in full view of the nation, the Prime Minister threw his own idea of fairness under the bus.

And why? Because he has thought it through and changed his mind? No, he did it for one reason and one reason only:

He no longer thinks it will help him get re-elected.

I know that’s not what people voted for when they voted Conservative.

So, my friends, let’s get ready. Let’s get ready for the personal attacks.

Let’s get ready for the Conservatives to make the upcoming election the most negative one this country has ever seen.

I want you to be ready for this. I know I will be.

I know I’ll be ready because I’ll be standing on your shoulders. You see, people who say this campaign will be about me are wrong. That may be true for the Conservatives. For some reason, I drive them a bit nuts.

Let them focus on me. We’ll stay focused on Canadians.

Trust them. When we offer a plan for Canada focused on making sure everybody has a real and fair chance to succeed, they’ll support it.

My friends, my fellow Liberals, in 1968, when my father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, said that Canada must be a Just Society, fairness was at the heart of that argument.

It was the idea that this place, so uniquely blessed with resources and opportunity, could write an entirely new chapter in the story of human progress.

In fact, it was the idea that those special blessings conferred upon us a responsibility to do so.

He devoted his entire life to that principle. Wrote about it, thought about it, promoted it every chance he got. Heck, some say he even named his first born child after it.

I learned a lot from my father, but one of the most important things is this: you can be willing to compromise on policy, you can be willing to compromise on politics, but when you start to compromise your principles, you’re through.

I ask you to help me build a party that will stay committed to its principles. Fairness, Freedom, Progress, Opportunity, Compassion.

Let’s devote ourselves to giving all Canadians a real and fair chance.

Ask yourself the question: is Canada a fairer country than it was a decade ago?

Are we a more prosperous country? Are we more free? Do more Canadians have more chances to succeed?

Does Nathalie have more confidence in her future? Does she believe she will leave her kids a better country from she inherited from her parents?

It’s not my candidacy that frightens Mr. Harper and his party. It’s that they know, in their hearts, the answer to each of those questions is no.

More important, Canadians know it too.

It is time to change that my friends. This is a great country. Its blessings are plentiful and growing. What it lacks is leadership and a plan.

Together, we’re going to give Canadians both of those things.

Together, we can make sure all Canadians have a real and fair chance at success.

Stay hopeful. Keep working hard.

Thank you.