Thank-you very much.
Thank-you all, friends, for coming here on such short notice.
Thanks especially to my Parliamentary colleagues for your presence.
Let me offer a special word to our Muslim friends here today on Eid al-Fitr: Eid Mubarak to all of you and your families after a very long summer fast!
Friends, today I want to talk to you about the principles that animate my public service, how I have fought for them in the past, and how I hope to do so in the future.
Let me begin my saying that there are a lot of people here who mean a great deal to me, but allow me single out two: my Mom; and the young man who just led us in O Canada!
Andrew Sennyah immigrated to Canada a few years ago. Last year he worked as an intern in my Parliament Hill office.
And he was sworn-in as a Canadian citizen just one month ago.
Andrew reminds us of why we are all here.
As we rededicate ourselves to this true North strong and free, we see in the face of a young, new Canadian like Andrew the promise of the future, and the greatness of a country that draws people from every corner of the Earth to a land where dreams come true.
What I Believe
That's what drew me to devote my life to public service: a passion constantly to renew Canada's promise as a land of opportunity, so that every one of us - especially those who are least fortunate - can realize their God-given potential.
But friends, the greatness of Canada is not an accident of history.
Every day people join our Canadian family having left behind countries seized by corruption, poverty, and tyranny.
Why, then, are we different? Why are we considered a model to the world in so many ways?
It is not because - as Justin Trudeau says - we are a "post national state" with "no core identity."
It is not because we are a reflection of the world.
It is because we are the inheritors of a great tradition of ordered liberty based on the dignity of the human person, incarnated in certain institutions and customs like:
- The rule of law;
- Limited Parliamentary government;
- The sanctity of property and contract; and
- The primacy of civil society, at the heart of which is the family.
From these have come the brilliant achievements of free markets, free enterprise, and democratic capitalism. Of innovation and prosperity. All of which have harnessed human freedom to lift countless women and men out of poverty and despair to realize the greatness of their potential.
I say these things because I want to start at the beginning. Far too often in politics we forget what we are about, we lose track of the first principles that move us.
So I say to you: these are my first principles.
I am a conservative because I believe we have an obligation to transmit and renew these traditions of ordered liberty that have helped to make Canada the envy of the world.
Fighting for Those Principles
Friends, that is what I have worked to do since first arriving here in Alberta some twenty-five years ago as a wet behind the ears youngster, to help start the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
At the time, government was growing and freedom was shrinking.
Governments at all levels were raising taxes, running huge and growing deficits, racking up massive debts on future generations.
Our provincial government was losing billions in failed schemes to intervene in the economy.
And there seemed to be no end in sight.
In the words of the Wall Street Journal, Canada "was a fiscal basket case."
The conventional wisdom amongst the political and opinion elites was that Canadians would never tolerate fiscal restraint.
But they were wrong.
The Taxpayers Federation began to give voice to the silent majority who were fed up with governments that were taking nearly half of their families' incomes.
At the federal level, the Reform Party did the unthinkable, and openly campaigned on spending restraint to balance the budget, and reduce the tax burden.
And then, lo and behold, the most remarkable leader emerged right here in Alberta: the late, great Ralph Klein.
Ralph did the impossible. In the space of just two years he eliminated the biggest provincial deficit in Canada, then eliminated the debt, brought in the flat tax, and gave Albertans more choice and convenience in their public services.
And he did much of this while oil was as low as $10 a barrel!
We miss you, Ralph!
As a young twenty-something head of the Taxpayers Federation, those were heady days.
Ralph and I famously squared off in front of the TV cameras.
But when he was wrong, he admitted it. And on issue after issue, he listened, took our advice and turned it into government policy.
One morning I held a news conference and called for "No More Boondoggles" legislation to ban government grants to private businesses. Ralph called me up that afternoon, and said, "come see me at my condo." Over a beer or two, I outlined our proposal. He said, "It makes sense to me." And our proposal became law within weeks.
The same thing happened with Taxpayer Protection Legislation, Balanced Budget Legislation, pension reform, the flat tax.
I learned then that if you had a good idea backed by the people it could be unstoppable.
Especially if you had a Premier with a surplus of common sense who truly governed for the people.
As President of the Taxpayers Federation, I went on to fight the same fight at the national level, pressing the Chretien government to stop Canada from going over the fiscal cliff in the mid 1990s.
When the Liberals released trial balloons about major tax increases, we sprang into action with a series of "No More Taxes" rallies across Canada. And in what now seems like a political miracle, the Liberals listened to Canadians, cut spending, balanced the budget, and eventually reduced taxes.
They deserved credit, but so too did Ralph Klein by demonstrating that Canadians would reward rather than punish politicians who put our finances in order.
Friends, emboldened by these experiences, I decided to take the fight for more freedom to the front lines in Parliament.
I did so in part because I wanted to promote unity amongst federal conservatives, so that vote splitting between the Reform and PC parties would not lead to permanent Liberal governments.
So Preston Manning asked me to head-up the United Alternative project, crisscrossing the country trying to find common ground for unity between Tories and Reformers.
I learned that no amount of good will at the local level could overcome obstinate leadership. Thousands of grassroots Tories wanted to stop the division, but Joe Clark and a small group of insiders shut them down at every turn.
But eventually two courageous leaders stepped forward: Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper.
They had the vision to look forward with confidence, rather than backward with bitterness.
They focused on what united us, rather than what divided us.
They realized that the future of Canadian conservatism, and in some ways the vitality of our democracy, demanded unity through strong leadership. Leadership which led to the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada thirteen years ago, and to the longest-serving Conservative government in the twentieth century!
- That cut the federal tax burden to its lowest level in six decades.
- That gave Canada the strongest economy in the G7 through the global crisis
- That restored balance to the justice system
- That gave Canada a strong and principled voice in world affairs
- That brought poverty to its lowest level in our history
- That gave prairie farmers marketing freedom, scrapped the long gun registry, and did so much else to expand human freedom
I was honoured to play a role in that Conservative government:
- As Canada's longest-serving Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, implementing fundamental reforms to help new Canadians succeed, while strengthening the fairness and integrity of the system.
- As Minister of Employment, where I launched a skills agenda to boost trades training, and implemented the Canada Jobs Grant; and
- As Minister of National Defence, working with our brave men and women in uniform, and deploying the Canadian Armed Forces to take the fight to ISIL in the Middle East; and to Ukraine to strengthen that country's defenses.
But perhaps the most enriching challenge during the past decade was working with a remarkable team to reach out to new Canadians, and members of our cultural communities, turning hundreds of thousands of natural small-c conservatives into big-C Conservatives.
It's true that I attended literally thousands of events, earning me the nickname of Minister of Curry in a Hurry, not to mention a couple of extra notches in my belt! But it's also true that in doing so I was constantly inspired by the stories of so many new Canadians who had overcome adversity to make Canada their new home.
And I am proud to say that over three elections we doubled the Conservative vote amongst new Canadians, and became the only centre-right party in the developed world to win a higher percentage of votes from immigrants than native-born citizens!
And so all of that brings me to today.
I look back with deep gratitude on my nineteen years in Parliament, including my decade in the federal Cabinet.
The federal Conservative Party is now beginning a process of renewal, made easier by the fantastic interim leadership of my friend, the Honourable Rona Ambrose!
I have been encouraged by thousands of Conservatives to lead that renewal by pursuing the party leadership.
I thank them all for their confidence in me.
However, after a great deal of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I can more effectively serve this country that I love, and advance the conservative cause, in a different way.
Since the federal election in October, I have been blessed to be able to spend a lot more time here at home. And what I have heard from fellow Albertans in that time has moved me.
I have seen a proud man, an engineer in his 50s, break down in tears of shame and frustration because after a life of hard work, after developing patented new technologies in the energy industry, he has been unemployed for over a year and sees no light at the end of the tunnel.
I have met small business owners who, after twenty-five years of ups and downs, are throwing in the towel because every level of government seems to be stacking the decks against them.
I have met young Albertans who did what everyone told them to do, got their degrees and took on debt, only to find it impossible to find a job at their skill level in a province with the highest level of unemployment in decades.
I have met new Canadians who immigrated here to Alberta because they were told it was the land of opportunity, only to burn through their savings before leaving for greener pastures elsewhere.
Albertans I meet cannot believe that we have a government that is systematically destroying the Alberta advantage that made this province a magnet for risk takers and wealth creators.
And they are disturbed to find that we have both federal and provincial governments that seem ashamed of our huge engine of wealth and opportunity: our oil and gas industry.
You know, Albertans are sophisticated people. They understand that global commodity prices fluctuate, and are beyond our control.
What they don't understand are governments that seem intent on making a bad situation much worse, piling on new costs, regulations, and taxes, dragging-down those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
So following a crash in the price of our province's major commodities, hurting businesses and families from Milk River to Manning, the NDP government has decided to:
- Raise taxes on employers
- Support Justin Trudeau's huge new payroll tax hike
- Kill entry-level jobs by raising the minimum wage
- Raise taxes on wealth-creating individuals
- Shut down the coal industry for ideological reasons
- Massively increase property taxes;
- Impose an enormous multi-billion dollar carbon tax on everything, that was never mentioned in their election platform
- Impose costly new regulations with no regard for their economic impact
- Attack Alberta's hard-working farmers with Bill 6
- Rack up at least $47 billion in new debt on future generations, undoing the enormous sacrifices made in the past to eliminate Alberta's debt.
To quote Ronald Reagan, their attitude seems to be, "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
And they've only just begun.
Now they're planning radical changes to the school curriculum.
You know what that means for these ideologues: not better school outcomes, but social engineering and pedagogical fads.
Friends, enough is enough. We must fight the ideological agenda of this accidental NDP government to limit the damage they do to our province now.
And we must do everything within our power to eliminate the risk of a second NDP term, which would be catastrophic to the long-term future of Alberta.
After months of consultation, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way to eliminate that risk.
Only one way to ensure that we defeat the NDP in 2019, and get Alberta back on the right track.
And that is to unite Albertans around a common cause, around a united, principled, compassionate and diverse free-enterprise party.
A party characterized by a sense of hope, optimism, and opportunity.
A party focused on the concerns and struggles of ordinary Albertans.
That means both the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties must put Alberta first.
We must focus on the future, not the past.
On what unites us, not what divides us.
We must come together to form a single free-enterprise party.
And we must do so before the next election.
Because Alberta can't wait.
Friends, that is why I have decided to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, seeking an explicit mandate to unite with the Wildrose Party, and all like-minded Albertans, so we can defeat the NDP and put this province back on the right track!
That's what Albertans are asking us to do. Polling shows that two-thirds of PC and Wildrose voters support a single, united party.
And it's what we have already done together, at the federal level.
Over a decade ago, the federal parties came together. Over 90% of PC and Alliance members endorsed that merger. And now we work together under the same banner, the same leader, the same policies with a unity of purpose that won three elections.
If we could do that across thirteen jurisdictions, 300 ridings, two languages, with a more complicated history and much deeper divisions, we can certainly do it here in Alberta!
If you remember one thing today, let it be this:
In 2015, the PC and Wildrose parties each won about 400,000 votes.
Just a few months later, in its toughest election in a decade, the Conservative Party of Canada won nearly 1.2 million votes in Alberta, three times more than either provincial party.
That's a classic example of synergy: when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Bringing together the two parties in a transparent and democratic way is the beginning, not the end, of building a big, diverse, principled coalition. It will attract other voters sitting on the sidelines. It will allow us to reach out to new Albertans, new Canadians, younger voters.
Friends, in pursuing unity, it is essential that we understand and respect the views of those who have gone before us, and who are attached to one of the two current parties, who have legitimate concerns about the prospect of change.
Let us acknowledge the proud history and remarkable accomplishments of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.
The visionary leadership of Peter Lougheed, a statesman who developed Alberta in so many ways, while defending her resources.
The political courage of Ralph Klein and his colleagues, whose revolution in fiscal policy changed Canada for the better, and gave us the Alberta Advantage.
We honour all of those who contributed to these and other achievements, including the current PC caucus under the capable leadership of my good friend Ric McIver, who are working hard to hold the NDP to account.
At the same time, we must acknowledge in humility that decisions were taken in recent years that departed from the party's best values and traditions. That's why hundreds of thousands of Albertans created a new political home in the Wildrose Alliance, focused on conservative principles and democratic reform.
Let's be clear: Wildrose supporters are not our enemies or adversaries.
They are our friends and fellow-travellers.
They are the voters who helped to keep PC governments in office for the better part of four decades.
Let me also say a word of esteem for my friend and former Parliamentary colleague, Brian Jean. Brian stepped into the breach at an impossibly difficult time both personally and politically. In the past two years he has overcome great adversity to provide strong leadership, for which we should all be grateful.
I take Brian at his word when he says that he and Wildrosers are open to unity, but need a willing dance partner in the PC Party.
It is my hope that this PC leadership election will be a wide-open democratic debate on the prospects of unity, and that on March 18th of next year I will succeed in winning a clear mandate to achieve unity.
I will have more to say about the details of this tomorrow, but let me make one thing absolutely clear: we must never repeat what transpired in December, 2014. Unity must be pursued and achieved openly and transparently, not through secret backroom deals.
And grassroots members must have the final say on any proposed agreement.
This democratic grassroots accountability is non-negotiable.
It is understandable that some of our fellow Albertans would see a new united party as an end to an important institution, but I encourage those conservatives to see unity not as an end but as a new beginning, as a fresh start. After all, Alberta is the land of fresh starts and new beginnings.
Now many people will question whether this is all possible. There will be no shortage of naysayers, who will say it can’t be done.
Well, folks, to those busily dreaming every reason under the sun why we cannot unite, I have this to say: Albertans have always been can-do people.
The aboriginal people who lived for centuries in this often hostile environment didn’t just give up because it couldn’t be done. The found a way.
The ranchers who settled the Eastern slopes of the Rockies didn’t give up because it couldn’t be done. They found a way.
The men in sheepskin coats who came from the steppes of Ukraine to clear virgin forest in northern Alberta didn’t say it couldn’t be done. They found a way.
Every day the brilliant engineers and rig hands in our energy industry run into huge obstacles, but they don’t give up saying it can’t be done. They find a way.
No, friends, the Alberta spirit is one of fearless optimism and innovation. It is all about what we CAN do, working together.
As Winston Churchill once said, "the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
They say that where there is a will there’s a way. And it is absolutely clear to me that Albertans have a powerful will to unite.
As somebody unencumbered by the arguments of the past decade in Alberta, I am offering my candidacy in a spirit of servant-leadership as a vehicle for that will to unite.
This is about a lot more than a merger of two political parties.
This is about uniting Albertans of all backgrounds and walks of life.
If you felt abandoned by the PC governments in recent years, I hear you. But the time is now to move forward united. Join us.
If you are a federal Conservative who has never before been involved in provincial politics, we need you. Please join us.
If you are a Wild Rose supporter who wants to see a single, common-sense free enterprise alternative to the NDP, please join us.
If you are a nurse who wants more flexibility and innovation and less central control and bureaucracy in the health care system, join us.
If you are a union member about to lose your job because of NDP policies, like closing down our coal industry, please join us.
If you want strong, world-class environmental protection that does not jeopardize jobs and our standard of living, join us.
If you want to end the NDP’s massive multi-billion dollar carbon tax on everything, join us.
If you believe that parents and not politicians are responsible for kids and their education, join us.
If you are a hard-working Albertan who has never before been involved in politics, but are concerned about the direction of our province, please join us.
This campaign is bigger then any individual. The time is now to move beyond egos, beyond nostalgia for the past, beyond recriminations and pointless division. It is about this province, her people, and their future.
Together we must restore Alberta as the economic engine of Canada.
Together we must begin the renewal of Canada's conservative movement right here in its heartland.
Canada is counting on us to get this right.
With strong leadership that is aligned with the democratic will of ordinary Albertans, we can do this.
Our province and many of her people are going through a time of adversity.
But united, we will get Alberta back on the right track for them.
United, we will restore this province as a beacon of freedom, hope and opportunity.
And united we will emerge, as in the words of Alberta's motto - strong and free.
Thank-you very much.