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The National
Your Turn with the party leaders
Stephen Harper, Conservative Party
Jan. 19, 2006

CBC's Peter Mansbridge and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper

You've had your turn with Jim Harris of the Green Party, Liberal Leader Paul Martin was up last week, Tuesday was NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Now it's "Your Turn" with Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party. He'll be answering your questions. The rules are the same. We asked viewers to tell us what they'd like to ask the political leaders, and most questioners came from that group. But we also asked a research firm to provide us with a representative group of Canadians, and we also drew from that pool. And once again, Stephen Harper does not know what you'll be asking. So let's get to the first question. It's here in the room. Go ahead, sir.

John Moakler: Mr. Mansbridge, Mr. Harper, my name is John Moakler and I'm a financial planner with Investors Group in Brampton, Ontario. I deal with a lot of numbers every day. I can remember back to the Conservative government days of Brian Mulroney and budget deficits. Recently, the Conservative Party released their platform, and almost immediately, there was controversy over the numbers and how they added up. Here's my question: What assurances can you provide to Canadians that if you do indeed get elected next week and go on to form the government that we won't go back to budget deficits?

Stephen Harper: Well, I feel very confident with that. I'm an economist. We've costed our policies very carefully item by item. We ran them through an independent analyst forecast through the Conference Board. Contrary to some reports, the Conference Board said that not only have we budgeted for annual paydowns to the debt, we have fiscal flexibility on top of that. We've had other experts, Dale Orr of Global Insight, Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe. We have a lot of fiscal room. The big difference between this election and the last election was that prior to this election, the government was finally forced to admit that we, in fact, are looking at huge surpluses in the next few years, so that's given us the flexibility that we need for our platform.

I say we face two kinds of criticism this campaign, one is that we're spending too much, and the other is we're spending too little, but we're clearly within the surpluses that are projected.

Peter Mansbridge: Follow-up on that?

John Moakler: Just based on at least the media reports that I saw, the numbers are anywhere from a $7-billion gap to a $22-billion gap. It's kind of hard as someone who's going to be casting their vote on Monday to understand those numbers and those gaps. They're quite large. Are there specific programs that you would identify that would need to be cut back in order to make sure we do not have a budget deficit?

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper: No, we haven't done that. What we've said is we're going to constrain the general growth of government spending outside our priority areas to within the costs of inflation and population growth. We're going to constrain spending within that growth pattern. Basically, we say we'll make sure the government operates within the means of the Canadian taxpayer, and that's an achievable objective. It doesn't have to involve cuts. It's simply living within our means. As I say, you know, you use those numbers. I haven't seen any credible analyst use any numbers to suggest there's a gap. Those have only come from our political opponents, not from financial analysts.

Peter Mansbridge: All right, thank you very much. Just one quick follow-up on the deficit, though, if – are you saying that there are no conditions under which you would allow the country to go into deficit?

Stephen Harper: Well, you know, Peter, you talk about conditions. You know, one could pick, do you have a war or do you have a massive worldwide depression, any normal conditions, we're so far away from a deficit, I don't see that as being plausible. The problem we've got, and I've been very frank about this, is that lower levels of government, because of the way the budget was balanced in Ottawa, lower levels of government, provincial and municipalities, have more difficult problems with deficits that we're going to have to address so-called fiscal imbalance, but I don't see a plausible scenario where Ottawa goes into deficit.

Peter Mansbridge: And we're not in one of those situations where as all Canadians have seen over the years at either the federal level or the provincial level where parties switch power, whether it's Liberal to Conservative or Conservative to Liberal, and the new government comes in and says, whoa, wait a minute, the Treasury doesn't look like I thought it would look like. We're not in one of those situations?

Stephen Harper: You know, Peter, I hope not. There is a lot of fiscal room. On the other hand, we've had three budgets over the last year and the government making promises, many of which are not in a budget. A couple of surprises in terms of promises that have been made that we're not aware of or contracts that have been signed, but frankly given the size of the surplus, I have trouble imagining how they could blow the entire surplus because the surplus is large. When I say we have fiscal flexibility, that's on top of an annual debt paydown of $3 billion. So there's really quite a bit of room here.

Peter Mansbridge: Our next question comes from Kingston, Ontario, and here it is.

Steve Brulé: My name is Steve Brulé and I have a question for Mr. Harper. As an untested and relatively new party, why would the Conservatives do a better job governing Canada than the Liberals and why would there be less corruption if the Conservatives ran the country?

Stephen Harper: Well, I mean, this is a good question. I think the difficulty with the current government is that it obviously has been in office too long, grown too comfortable and too entitled to power. It's one of the reasons why we're not just saying to people, trust us. We're saying, if you elect us, the first thing I'm going to enact is something called the federal accountability act, which is going to make all kinds of changes to try and make sure government is much more honest and ethical in the future.

I won't go through the whole list, but if I can enumerate a couple, we're going to really restrict the financing of federal political parties. We're going to end all remaining corporate union contributions or strict donations to a thousand dollars. We've got very tight controls we're introducing on lobbying. We've had requests from the auditor general, the information commissioner, other independent officers of Parliament to have certain powers to hold the government accountable. We're basically in that act going to give them all the power they've requested. For the auditor general, let me name a couple of things that I think would be important there. We're going to give the auditor general's office full auditing authority over agencies and foundations that she doesn't have now. We're also going to allow the auditor general the discretionary ability to audit companies that receive discretionary government contracts as well as the government itself. Frankly, that change would have – I can't say it would have prevented the sponsorship scandal, but it certainly would have uncovered it years ago.

Peter Mansbridge: Can I ask one follow-up on it and it's because you raised it, on the lobbying angle. I appreciate the accountability act for most people is mainly designed to prevent something like the sponsorship program from happening again, but on the lobbying angle, because you've hit pretty hard at the Liberals on this and you've suggested there's almost a culture of lobbying in Ottawa now and it's a multi-million dollar business and friends of the Liberal Party and friends of the prime minister have done very well by that. Now, I ask you because when you look at your team, especially in Ottawa, works out of the war room, there's at least half a dozen or more registered lobbyists who are working in that room who – one assumes that once, if in fact you're elected to power, they will be lobbying you. Now, does that not have the appearance at least for the Canadian people of a double standard?

Stephen Harper: Well, first of all, I've never said – I've never criticized the Liberals because lobbyists are in the Liberal Party. Lobbying is a legal activity and there are many very ethical lobbyists in this country. The issue isn't whether they help a political party. The issue is whether a political party turns around and helps them. We've tried to take measures in this campaign, for instance – these are people who are long-time Conservatives. They're not being paid by their firm or by private organizations. We put them on our own payroll for the campaign, so they're working for us–

Peter Mansbridge: I'm not suggesting they're unethical–

Stephen Harper: And afterwards, Peter, for instance, when you're dealing with polling and advertising contracts, we're going to submit those in the future through the accountability act to tendered, proper competitions, so there will not be contracts that go to friends without tendering, contracts that go for oral advice where nothing is produced for the taxpayers. So, you know, it's still legal to be a lobbyist, legal to be in a political party and be a lobbyist, but we obviously are trying to prevent lobbyists from personally benefiting or using personal connections in a way that plays upon their relationship with a political party.

Peter Mansbridge: So you don't find in any way that Canadians should feel uncomfortable that registered lobbyists are that close to your campaign, not suggesting there's anything wrong with being a lobbyist–

Stephen Harper: I'm saying registered lobbyists are like anybody else. They're private citizens who have their own views. I'm saying that we've taken and will take all the measures necessary to make sure that the fact that they happen to be members of our party does not end up in them getting private benefits.

Peter Mansbridge: All right, let's move on to the next question and it's here in the room. Go ahead.

Paula Hacking: Mr. Mansbridge and Mr. Harper, I'm Paula Hacking. I'm a teacher of leadership at Seneca College, in the centre for financial services. I believe that a characteristic of strong leadership is the ability to collaborate effectively through tough issues. In the past 18 months, I have observed a lack of cooperation amongst the party leaders. What are examples of successful collaboration that you have initiated with the other party leaders that have resulted in positive outcomes for Canadians in the past six to 12 months?

Stephen Harper: Well, let me give you one concrete example, and that was when this last Parliament first met. As leader of the opposition, rather than table the traditional response to the throne speech that just says it's all bad and we hate the government and should defeat it, I got together with the leaders of the other opposition parties. We came up with an amendment that said the following items should be added to the government's agenda, things like a committee to look at electoral reform, things like making a commitment that treaties would be submitted to Parliament for ratification, studying the employment insurance system to try and – what we really wanted to get was an independent administration of the Employment Insurance Fund.

There were a number of things in there, but I think frankly the government's reaction to that illustrated the problem we faced. What the government immediately did was turn around and threaten to call an election, even though there was nothing in the amendment that challenged per se anything that the government had actually said in its throne speech. We went through a bit of a political crisis, and in the end, we got a deal that went through, and I can't tell you that it resulted in, you know, any concrete action in the end because frankly, I don't think much came out of this government's term of office in the end, but at least the various committees and proposals we put on the table at least got started, and I think we'll be able to pick up on some of those in the future.

Paula Hacking: OK, thank you.

Peter Mansbridge: Would you cut a deal with another party if you were in a minority situation, in other words, like the one the Liberals and the NDP cut to stay in power, give the NDP power to make changes to the budget? Would you make an arrangement like that?

Stephen Harper: Well, you know, Peter, you have to – I think the problem with these things, you have to see the numbers and the situation that you do face, and I think you have to be realistic. I mean, if you have a minority, if I were to be honoured with that kind of a mandate, I would accept it as an honour and you can't govern as if you have a majority.

My preference would be, in that kind of a situation, to try and deal with issues on – deal with things on an issue-by-issue basis and find support where we need it rather than come up with some kind of comprehensive arrangement, but as I say, ultimately, you have to be realistic and stick to your principles. You can't make complete about-faces on the fundamental commitment you made to Canadians.

Peter Mansbridge: All right. The next question comes from Orleans and here it is.

David Kovacs: Hi, my name is Dave Kovacs. I was in the Navy for 25 years, then went to work in private industry. When I retired at 60 in 2004, my income now consists of my military pension, which is $24,000 a year in addition to drawing CPP. I do not have enough income to take advantage of a GST cut. My purchases are based on need and not want. I would like to ask Mr. Harper how a reduction in GST would help me because I feel that a cut in income tax would be more beneficial. Thank you.

Stephen Harper: Well, you know, I'd have to look at the numbers, but I have trouble imagining that. The GST cut is the only cut that about a third of Canadians will receive. If you've simply cut income tax, a third of Canadians would get no benefit at all from that, so anyone who spends any money, and when you're spending when you're on a relatively low income a high percentage of your income is consumption, so you will get a GST cut. We will also have, for example, something else we've also put up, Peter, in this campaign, we will have some targeted income tax reductions. One of them is an income tax deduction that will allow seniors to shelter more of their private pension income. Right now, they can only shelter a thousand dollars a year. We're going to move that immediately to $2,000, to $2,500 over time. This particular voter will also benefit on his income tax from that reduction.

Peter Mansbridge: Is the GST promise one that there's no turning back from? No matter what the situation is, if you're in power, that one goes ahead?

Stephen Harper: I can't see how we could possibly turn back from that. That's a centrepiece. It's a centrepiece of our campaign, of our tax reduction platform, and we say we want to make sure everybody gets a tax cut. Cutting the GST is the only federal tax every Canadian pays, so that's how we're going to do it. Frankly, I think it's a popular measure, so I can't imagine why we would not receive support from Parliament if we have a mandate from the people.

Peter Mansbridge: It's a two-step program, one percentage point right away, another one in five years.

Stephen Harper: We go to six points right away and the additional one per cent over our mandate.

Peter Mansbridge: I suppose if that dark scenario you outlined in the first question about the deficit were to occur, I suppose that second point could be–

Stephen Harper: It would have to be pretty dark. We've given ourselves, you know, lots of time for the second point, and we still have, as I say, even after we cost all our various tax reductions and spending measures, there's still considerable flexibility. In fact, the fiscal flexibility gets larger over time. So I think we will be able to achieve that.

Peter Mansbridge: All right, next question is here in the room. Go ahead.

Catherine Burr: Hello. My name is Catherine Burr and I live in London, Ontario. Trust and transparency are important to many Canadians, hence I'm concerned, Mr. Harper, when in your campaign we see two separate and quite different campaign slogans. In English, it's "Stand up for Canada," yet in French, it's something quite different, "Changeons pour vrai," which I interpret to mean, "Let's make a real change." Two languages, two different slogans, and two different messages. My question to you, Mr. Harper, how can I trust you if you become Canada's next prime minister to have the courage to stand up for Canada if you haven't been doing so in your French campaign?

Stephen Harper: No, but quite – I don't think that's a fair comment. You know, we have a different slogan because we have a different political situation in Quebec. In Quebec, our primary opponent in this campaign, in fact, increasingly our only opponent in this campaign is the Bloc Québécois, and the Bloc Québécois talks about change, but we're trying to make the point that we actually need to change the government to get the kind of change that Quebecers want. I've been clear. I was in Montreal last night, for example, I've been clear in French and English in all parts of the country and presented the same policies to Canadians in all parts of the country. The central slogan is really targeted at, you know, in English Canada we're fighting the Liberals, in Quebec, we're fighting primarily the Bloc Québécois, and that's why we have a different slogan.

Catherine Burr: Are you telling Quebecers that you are standing up for Canada?

Stephen Harper: Absolutely. I just said that again in Montreal last night. Of course we're standing up for Canada. In fact, we seem to be the only political party these days that seems to be defending the unity of the country, defending the fact that we need to reform federalism to make Quebecers more comfortable. I went at it with Mr. Duceppe on this issue in the French language debate when he inferred that anyone who supported the no side in the 1995 referendum must be somehow corrupt. I think that's a ridiculous position. We've taken a strong view on that. I'm attacking the Bloc not just for the fact that it can't get things done in Ottawa, but the fact that we want to build a stronger Quebec, a better Canada. I think that's what Canadians want, and that's what Quebecers want. And so that's the position we've taken. I'm not like Mr. Martin and Mr. Hargrove, urging people to vote for the Bloc in order to defeat my opponent.

Peter Mansbridge: All right? Thank you. I guess for the record, we should say that the other parties have the same slogan in both English Canada and French Canada, and I guess the issue is for some people, I think including this questioner, is that it looks like you're afraid to use the word Canada in the slogan in Quebec.

Stephen Harper: No, not at all. I just, I say, urge all of the audience here and the listeners to simply take a look at the platform. The details are identical in French and English. We just have a different slogan because we're communicating really a different strategic approach to a different situation on the ground, a different opponent.

Peter Mansbridge: Guess more people read the slogan than read the pamphlet. You'd probably agree with that.

Stephen Harper: Well, as I say, if the accusation is were saying different things in French and English, read what we've said in detail.

Peter Mansbridge: The next question is from Toronto. Given the time of day, not everybody could get to the studio, and this one is a pre-recorded question from here in Toronto.

Yuan Liao: My name is Yuan Liao. Mr. Harper, in your speeches, you have said again and again about Liberal corruption at the time of Quebec referendum. My question to you, Mr. Harper, is, if you are elected to be the next prime minister of Canada and during your term in office there's a Quebec referendum, what are you prepared to do and how are you going to promote Canada to the people of Quebec?

Stephen Harper: Well, obviously my intention is not to get the country into that kind of a situation. We don't have full control over that. I think it's critical if we were to face a Quebec referendum that we have a federal government, a reformed federal government where corruption is not the face of federalism in the province of Quebec. I think this image, if we don't turn it around, if we don't change the government and turn it around, will be absolutely devastating to the cause of federalism.

I think the second thing we would need to do under those circumstances, Peter, would be the prime minister has to approach national unity under that kind of a situation as a non-partisan issue. We have to work with all federalists both provincially and federally to put together the case for Canada. As I say, I hope not to get there. Premier Charest, as you know, has made some concrete suggestions on how we can reform federalism.

We've been clear that we're going to embrace those things and proceed with them. We've received support from Mario Dumont, leader of one of the opposition parties who actually was on the other side in the last referendum. So, you know, I think that if, look, I believe that if we present Quebecers with a face of federalism that's reformed, that's clean, same kind of integrity they've experienced in their provincial government for some decades and that also is open to make, you know, to show some flexibility and make changes, I think Quebecers will always choose Canada, but I don't think we can take the fallout from the sponsorship scandal lightly.

Peter Mansbridge: Obviously if you form the government, you're hoping that you will form it with representation from Quebec, and you've been campaigning a lot there especially in the final days of the campaign. You know, I hate to throw back old quotes at people because people's views change over the years, but I was reading a Ken White profile on you that was done 10, 15 years ago where you talked about why you'd left the Conservative Party in the mid 1980s and helped start reform. And in that, you said that one of the reasons you left was your concern over the Conservative caucus from Quebec in Ottawa and that you felt that they were actually acting as the, and the quote was, "the federalist wing of the Parti Québécois."

Stephen Harper: Right.

Peter Mansbridge: Now, I'm wondering whether you still have those concerns, especially in light of the kind of people you're attracting now to your party in the province of Quebec?

Stephen Harper: Well, I certainly had those concerns then, and as you know, and not to say there weren't lots of good federalists in the old P.C. government, but we do know the Bloc Québécois and Mr. Bouchard and the history there. I've said to our people in Quebec from day one, I only want two things in our Quebec party. I want to make sure, first of all, that people have a commitment to Canada and secondly that they're prepared to act in a manner that has integrity and honesty. Those are the two things we look for.

I'm confident that the team we've put together represents exactly those values. Quebecers, you know, Quebecers are always going to have a different take on federalism in the country than many other Canadians because of the nature of that province, but I believe that Quebecers, and I see every indication that Quebecers want to be part of the country. In fact, I think it was said in this campaign, the fact that I made one speech.

You know, here's an anglophone quote from Western Canada who is some day still trying to learn French, goes and makes one speech about how we can make some important but, you know, not topsy-turvy reforms, and already you see the support for sovereignty and for the Bloc Québécois dropping. I think that's an indication that we have a tremendous opportunity. We also will be dealing, you know, we can't forget, we talk about referendums, we'll be dealing with Premier Charest, who is the most committed federalist we've had in that job in my lifetime, and I think it's a great opportunity for the country.

Peter Mansbridge: All right, next question is in the room, go ahead.

Navid Companieh: My name is Navid Companieh. I'm from Richmond Hill, Ontario. My question to you, Mr. Harper, is that you have stated that you're going to give $1,200 per year per child to families for child care. Now, on average on the low side, it's $600 plus per child space in a daycare centre. How is this $1,200 or $100 per month going to benefit the working class family?

Stephen Harper: First of all, just to make a slight amendment to that, it's for children under the age of six. It will be taxable in the hands of the spouse who earns the lowest income. Look, it helps. We don't claim and I don't make a claim that our child care benefit is going to pay all the costs of raising a child. I say it's simply going to help.

What I would point out to you is that our child-care program which includes that, which also includes a fund to work with employers to help with the capital costs of creating day-care spaces, that our combined program in our budget, we've put aside twice as much money as the Liberals have for a program they claim is going to pay the cost of child care for every single child in the country. The fact of the matter is we don't have that kind of money. We're doing what we can with tax relief and with this payment to help parents pay for costs, to help them adapt, and particularly obviously, this helps with cases where people may want options other than institutional day care. I should point out there are other programs. You know, there are income tax deductions for child-care expenses. There are also a series of child benefit programs that help principally those with lower income. We're not touching any of those. This is simply a supplemental fund.

Peter Mansbridge: OK, do you have a follow-up?

Navid Companieh: But the thing is you've also stated in your platform that you're only committing to the current government's bilateral agreements for one year.

Stephen Harper: That's correct.

Navid Companieh: So exactly how are the provinces going to get this money to be able to help the child-care institutions to be able to open up more spaces?

Stephen Harper: Well, the current bilateral agreements have only one year of funding. I've said we will honour that funding, and then we will be moving to our own child-care program, which is directed primarily at parents rather than at provincial governments or bureaucracies or experts. We are prepared to work collaboratively with the provinces on our plan to create capital assistance for the creation of day-care spaces, however. So that's something I do look forward to sitting down with some provinces on.

Navid Companieh: Thank you.

Peter Mansbridge: All right, let's move on. Next question comes from Winnipeg.

Tim Stevenson: Hello, my name is Tim Stevenson. Mr. Harper, if your party forms the next government, what can Canada's aboriginal population expect from your government, and what is your position on issues such as housing, treaty obligations, and funding responsibilities?

Stephen Harper: Well, that's a very big question. We all saw just prior to this election, we saw the Kashechewan situation, and I must admit, Peter, that it's a mystery to me how we can be spending as much money as we spend on Indian Affairs, and it's a lot of money, and yet see basic services not provided in large parts of the country to aboriginal people. I just – I don't entirely understand what the difficulty is here. What we've said is we're going to do a number of things. Obviously we think some of our programs we've talked about already in terms of child care, tax reduction, programs to create housing, that these things will help particularly aboriginal people. We're going to proceed with the residential schools agreement that is an important issue that has to be dealt with.

Peter Mansbridge: Why do some of the aboriginal leaders fear that you won't and that the remarks you've made would suggest you won't?

Stephen Harper: Well, you know, I can't explain that one because we've been pretty clear. We're going to proceed with the residential schools agreement. The agreement is not yet finalized. I've said there are a couple of very minor points that we'll want to talk about, but they don't affect the thrust of the agreement. We're committed to that.

Peter Mansbridge: What about the Kelowna agreement?

Stephen Harper: The Kelowna agreement, we're committed to the objectives of that agreement, but quite frankly, the budgets and the implementation plans are not there, and we're going to have to keep working on those things. You know, this was a $6-billion commitment the Liberal Party made that wasn't in the budget they tabled just before the election was called. I say we can't do everything, so we're going to proceed with that on a longer-term basis. We're going to recognize the contribution of our aboriginal veterans who got basically shafted out of a lot of their benefits. We say we're going to address that problem, but we have to face the fact that the historic treaty obligations make the federal government primarily responsible for virtually all services delivered to aboriginal Canadians. That's different than other Canadians where, you know, other levels of government are responsible for some of the services. So we take that responsibility seriously. We're going to want to work with aboriginal leaders at improving accountability, at making aboriginal governments much more effective and much more empowered in delivering some of these services.

Peter Mansbridge: Is the plight of aboriginal people a major priority for you? And I ask you that because Paul Martin claimed that it was one of a very few major priorities for him – that if he left office and the situation for aboriginal Canadians had not been resolved or moved ahead in a great way, that he would consider his time a failure. Now, apart from his performance, do you have that sense, depth of feeling about–

Stephen Harper: I can't comment on that, Peter. Paul Martin identified 56 priorities. We've counted them – 56 priorities, and on aboriginal poverty, I don't see any evidence we're any farther ahead today than we were 10, 20, or 30 years ago, certainly not any farther ahead than we were two years ago. I believe and I think we all believe that the economic and social situation for many aboriginal Canadians is a blight upon us as an advanced and progressive nation. That's something we have to deal with. I don't believe the solutions are simple. I believe the solutions, though, focus on actually dealing directly with those problems. That's why we propose measures to allow greater home ownership for aboriginal people, greater flexibility in how they can get their children educated. I think a lot of the problems that exist with aboriginal people, certainly not all of them, but a lot have to do with the fact that historically, power was taken away from them. They basically weren't given the power as individuals or societies to govern most of their own affairs. So I think we've got to do that and make sure we focus on the economic and social situations.

Peter Mansbridge: Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper has joined us here in our studio to answer your questions. And we're going right to the next one. Go ahead.

Jonathan Champagne: My name is Jonathan Champagne. I'm from Thornhill, Ontario, and a student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Mr. Harper, you've been known to advocate for smaller governments and more responsibilities to the provinces. So please tell me, how does this make for a stronger Canada?

Stephen Harper: Well, what I've specifically advocated for in this election are two things. First of all, that the federal government give more of its enormous and growing surpluses back to not just lower levels of government, but also to the ordinary people who paid for these surpluses in the first place through overtaxation.

What we propose specifically with federal/provincial arrangements are a couple of things. First of all, that we will respect provincial jurisdiction, and, in particular, try and deal with the fact that the provincial governments do have some authority in the implementation of treaties and in international affairs where they affect provincial jurisdiction.

So we're asking -- we're going to work with the Council of the Federation to come up with a formal mechanism for provinces to have more of an input into the Canadian position during international treaty negotiations. And we're also, of course, saying that we're willing invite Quebec, which has requested to have a role in UNESCO. We're going to invite them to have a role in UNESCO, similar to the role Quebec now plays in the Francophonie. That's how we're going to deal at this moment with trying to respect provincial jurisdiction, work better with the provinces. The other thing I want to do is, you know, I'm a long-time advocate of Senate reform which we're going to start through an electoral process. One of the things the Senate is supposed to do and what the upper house does in most federations is provide a forum for regional representation in the national government, and I think one of the ways you strengthen the federal government in a large country like Canada is making sure that that government itself better reflects the regional nature of the country.

Jonathan Champagne: What if any other specific things, responsibilities that the current federal government has that would be downloaded to the provinces?

Stephen Harper: I haven't proposed that. We haven't, in fact, proposed downloading responsibilities. We proposed respecting provincial jurisdiction and better collaboration with the provinces in their fields of jurisdiction.

Jonathan Champagne: Thank you.

Peter Mansbridge: So you don't see the risk then, from what you have talked about, of creating not a different class of Canadian, but Canadians with different opportunities in different parts of the country because provinces are operating in certain programs differently.

Stephen Harper: Well, they already do.

Peter Mansbridge: No, but extending that through more powers.

Stephen Harper: If you look at some major provincial policy areas like, for instance, health care, or another example is training standards for the trades, we've seen over the years the provinces, obviously with the help of the federal government, are capable of creating, you know, standards that have some similarity across the country. It's not a perfect process. But, you know, I'm not advocating any kind of radical devolution. I'm simply advocating that the federal government – there's two things. The federal government respect provincial jurisdiction. Probably more importantly, Peter, the federal government actually get on with running its own levels of jurisdiction properly because I think that's something that's been missing for a few years. The federal government's responsible for international treaties, foreign aid, national defence, the economic union, the free flow of goods and services. If you look at a number of areas, of policy areas, a lot of these uncontested areas of federal jurisdiction are some of the worst run things in Ottawa. And I think we could spend a little more time focusing on our own responsibilities.

Peter Mansbridge: Next question is coming from a city you're very familiar with, from Calgary.

Colleen Belisle: Hello, my name is Colleen Belisle and I have a question for Stephen Harper regarding the accountability issue. In the past 18 months, I have noticed a number of MPs crossing the floor after the election. This makes me wonder why I should, as a voter, go and vote when my MP can change parties after the election. Mr. Harper, are there any policies that you plan to enforce after the election regarding this issue? Thank you.

Stephen Harper: My short answer is no. And I understand the voters' frustration. You can imagine I feel that frustration as much as anyone. I was the victim of a number of the particular incidents that the voter is referring to, that Colleen's referring to, but the difficulty, Peter – I know that many members of Parliament have put forward various proposals that would restrict the right of MPs to cross the floor, force elections, or whatever. I haven't seen one yet that convinces me that it would create anything other than a situation where party leaders have even more power over the individual members of Parliament. And, as you know, I've said that, of course, I've said that for a long time that I think our members of Parliament need more authority, need to be able to represent their constituents' views, and they may make very bad decisions in crossing from a good party to a bad party or, more particularly, a winning party to a losing party. But that all said, I haven't seen one yet that I'm convinced creates a bigger problem than it's actually trying to fix.

Peter Mansbridge: Do you think voters are as uncomfortable as Ms. Belisle points out when these kinds of things happen? Because if they are, one assumes that they are looking for direction from their political leaders to prevent this from happening. As you pointed out, some parties, the NDP has said it would force an immediate election. Do you think something has to be done?

Stephen Harper: Let me give a concrete example of an alternative situation. The Conservative Party of Canada, the new Conservative Party was created because people left actually no less than three separate old caucuses, two old parties, and joined with a new party, and I think there is widespread consensus among not just members of the old parties, but members of the public as well that this was a good thing to create a stronger opposition, to end the fragmentation of the conservative movement in the country.

Now, you know, this kind of law could have forced us into a situation where we were having 75 byelections. So, you know, that's a problem with any of these proposals. We understand, I understand why people want them, and, believe me, there's a couple of cases that have happened where I'd love to have a law like this, but there's also a lot of downsides when you think it through. As I say, in a practical matter, I could see how party leaders could really abuse that particular provision to make it even more difficult for members who may disagree legitimately with their party to operate within the party.

Peter Mansbridge: All right. Let's move on. The next question is actually coming from London, Ontario. Just to let you know, Bob Termeer is asking the question. He's mute, and he speaks with voice-assisted technology. So here's the question….

Bob Termeer: Hi, my name is Bob Termeer. My wife, Anne, will read the question for me to Mr. Harper. Thank you. Anne Termeer: The question I'd like to ask Mr. Harper is as follows… You, sir, have very little or no international experience in foreign affairs. How do you think you can best represent us internationally? Let's say on a G-8 meeting? Don't you think other more experienced leaders would have outdone you and how would you handle relations with our neighbours on trade, border issues, or missile defence system, for example? This sort of inexperience alone prevents me from voting for you at this time. What can you say to me that I should vote for you and your party despite my concern?

Stephen Harper: Well, all I will say to Bob, and I think these are all legitimate questions, but you know, every leader brings a different set of experiences. I think it would be fair to say that foreign affairs would not be my area of expertise, but, on the other hand, I think it would probably be the expertise of very, very few people who have been elected prime minister before they became prime minister. Obviously our first responsibilities are in Canada and stand up for the interests of Canadians and address problems within Canada. Obviously I will learn. I do belong – the Conservative Party does belong to something called the International Democratic Union, which is an umbrella of conservative parties across the country. So I do meet periodically and talk periodically to leaders across the world about some of the things they're experiencing. I read keenly on the subject, and I will have many people in my caucus and in my staff who have expertise on these matters as well. As I say, I think – I'm not going to claim it's my area of expertise, but I'm also not ignorant about the world.

Peter Mansbridge: Have you travelled extensively?

Stephen Harper: I actually haven't travelled that extensively, Peter. I've travelled a lot in Canada. I've travelled a lot in Canada – not so much around the world. I've been in North America and Mexico and parts of Europe, but not large – there are large parts of the world I haven't been. My wife's different. My wife has travelled virtually everywhere in the world. I tell people she made quite a pilgrimage, drove from Johannesburg to Cairo for six months. I get a much more accurate read on the realities of life in other parts of the world from Laureen.

Peter Mansbridge: I'm not going to test you on foreign knowledge skills, but I would ask you, you know, given what you do know about the world outside our borders, what issues out there concern you or interest you in the foreign picture. I mean is there a conflict or an issue out there that you are particularly concerned about that you'd want to have Canada involved in some manner?

Stephen Harper: I think, Peter, the issues that would concern me are the same issues that I think most people would bring forward. Obviously there's an international security situation. It's hot in a number of places. It's longer run in other parts of the world.

I support Canada's efforts – same thing with economic development, the fact we know about some of the environmental and economic problems that face most of the world. What our platform does is, whether it's a military or whether it's foreign aid or whether it's disaster relief, our platform has been carefully designed to make sure Canada has increased capabilities in all areas that affect foreign affairs because I think Canada – you know, we do live in a global village. We've seen with 9/11, we've seen with environmental problems, we've seen with other things that no country is an island now. Even the powerful are not islands. Everything can affect us, and we have to be able, in concert with other nations, to participate in the affairs of the globe. And I think, under this government, quite frankly, Canada's foreign policy capacities have simply withered progressively over, you know, more than a decade, and I think it's going to be an important mission of ours to rebuild some of those.

Peter Mansbridge: The next one comes from New Brunswick. Here it is…

Robena Weatherley: Good evening. My name is Robena Weatherley. For the last 16 years, both Conservative and Liberal governments in Canada have recognized the problem of climate change and promised to act. In Toronto, 16 years ago, in Rio, at Kyoto, and now the Liberal government has signed on to the new action plan negotiated in Montreal. I would like to ask Mr. Harper, if you became prime minister, how would you deal with Canada's commitment to this plan? Would you be likely to come up with incentives to ensure that Canadians comply with emission standards and encourage other measures such as alternative energy sources and carbon sinks? You have been quoted as saying that you would scrap the Kyoto protocol. How would you deal with the spectre of Canada renouncing its signature on an international agreement?

Stephen Harper: Well, first of all, let's be clear about the situation with Kyoto. The current government that signed it, and as Robena notes, signed it some long years ago, has never come up with a workable implementation plan. In fact, the emissions are 30 per cent, emissions today are 30 per cent above the targets that were set some time ago. The United States, which didn't sign Kyoto, has a better record on this even, and it's not a good record, but it's a better record than this government. I think the truth of the matter is we know – I've said for a long time we're not going to be able to achieve the Kyoto targets in Canada. That's just a fact. I'm sorry we lost a decade finding that out.

Peter Mansbridge: So does that mean…

Stephen Harper: At the same time globally, it's also – Prime Minister Blair and others have noted Kyoto has not proven to be an effective treaty because it is not controlling major emitters, not just the United States, but also China, India, and Brazil and Mexico and you name it.

Peter Mansbridge: Would you tear it up and start over again? Is that your idea?

Stephen Harper: The truth of the matter is we're going to have to negotiate a more effective international treaty, but I don't think we should wait for that. I think that in Canada we should develop our own plan in collaboration with our provinces to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I said we'll do that. I said we'll do more than that. I said we're also going to bring in a federal clean air act. As we keep talking strictly about carbon dioxide, the fact of the matter is our pollution problems are related to other gases, to nitrous oxides, to sulphur dioxides, to particulate matter, ground level ozone. We're going to bring in the first federal act to establish some emission standards for all of these.

Peter Mansbridge: Priority?

Stephen Harper: You know, when I say priority, to be fair, Peter, I've identified five priorities in this campaign. They're cutting taxes and reducing the GST, the accountability act, the child-care commitments that we've made dealing with the fiscal imbalance and health-care waiting times and obviously dealing with growing phenomenon of crime particularly in major Canadian cities. So, in fairness, the environmental planks are not in the top five but they are in the platform and they are things we are going to proceed with.

Peter Mansbridge: Next question.

Arzina Maherali: My name is Arzina Maherali. I run a manufacturing business in Toronto. Mr. Harper, Canada has been described by many as the best country in the world, and it is with immense pride and confidence that I identify myself as a Canadian. Canadians profoundly believe that Canada is much more than a mere collection of provinces and territories. What, Mr. Harper, is your vision for Canada?

Stephen Harper: Well, you know, I tell people that I've shared a fascination with our country since - I guess it began when my mother handed me a puzzle when I was about four years old, a map of the country, and I built it and have taken a keen interest in all things Canadian ever since. I've said repeatedly that I believe that this country's capable of having the best economy, highest standards of living in the world, the best social services in the world, and the most modern system of government in the world. Those are the things that I'm going to want to see us make some significant headway on if I get to lead this government. I think they're all achievable. Canada will never be an empire or a world power, but we can also be a country that contributes significantly, as I said, to foreign aid, disaster relief, and to other events and to other efforts around the world. So I think we're capable also of being a much bigger player in the world than we actually are today.

Peter Mansbridge: Do you want to follow that up?

Arzina Maherali: I would. Mr. Harper, how would you ensure the preservation of deeply held Canadian values of social justice, pluralism, and compassion in our country?

Stephen Harper: Well, the first thing – you know, there's a mixture in there. There's a mixture of some of those values are more oriented to the kinds of policies that we stand for, and I've been clear when you're talking about things like social justice and some of the values of our social programs, for example, I think it's – take the health-care system. I think it's essential that we maintain a system of universal public health insurance. I use that system. I think it's increasingly finding out I may be the only party leader in the country who actually uses the public health-care system, but I think that's pretty critical.

At the same time, I think I've also said in terms of how services are delivered within that system, I think we have to be prepared to see flexibility so we can deal with the challenges of the health-care system, make sure we preserve its essential elements. Other values when you talk about pluralism or if you were to talk about the nature of our country, the nature of our federation, our diversity, our regional and culture diversity, one of the ways I've tried to deal with that was creating this new unified Conservative Party. I've tried to create a party that has put a high emphasis on being much more relevant to Canadians of French-speaking heritage, a party that is present in new Canadian and cultural communities across the country, because I told our people several years ago I don't want our party to find by where you came from or what language you speak. I want it defined by what you believe. If a Conservative Party can't be competitive outside traditional English-speaking Canadians and long-time multi-generation people of old stock, our party will simply not be relevant to most Canadians, and I think – I'm encouraged to see I think that a lot of those efforts particularly with Quebec and with new Canadians seem to be bearing some fruit in this election campaign.

Peter Mansbridge: Our time with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is drawing to a close. Some quick questions from me now. You've made some headlines in the last few days with your comments about the judiciary, the senior bureaucracy, the civil service, and whether there's a Liberal tilt there. I wonder – there's been a lot of focus on the judiciary. I'm interested in the senior public service because they're all getting ready for the possibility of a Conservative win. Would you expect the most senior members of that bureaucracy, deputy ministers, the clerk of the Privy Council, to offer their resignation, have a letter of resignation sitting there for you?

Stephen Harper: I wouldn't expect that. We'll obviously be having conversations. I've only observed the fact that these various agencies of government or branches of government have been largely appointed by another political party.

Peter Mansbridge: It wouldn't be that unusual to ask for something like that.

Stephen Harper: It wouldn't be. I'm not requesting it today. In fact, I'm resisting getting into those kinds of decisions until and unless I actually win the election. But, look, I actually believe – there may be people in the senior civil service who would be comfortable with a new government and those who will not. My read of the situation is that the civil service has gone through two phases. It went through a period with Mr. Chrétien of a lot of frankly inactivity and now a period of some confusion in the past couple of years, and I think they'll be actually welcoming a government that has a pretty clear direction for where it wants to take the country and what it wants to see the civil service do.

Peter Mansbridge: But when we've seen parties shift power in Ottawa over the last 20, 30 years, there have been significant changes in the senior civil service as a result of that change. Swift and immediate changes.

Stephen Harper: Well, all I'll say, Peter, is time will tell. I've got – obviously if I win the election, I'd have a lot of decisions to make in that regard. I'm trying to resist the temptation of making them today and only focusing on actually getting ourselves across the finish line on Monday.

Peter Mansbridge: Should anyone assume anything in terms of your most senior candidates in terms of cabinet positions?

Stephen Harper: No. They should not.

Peter Mansbridge: Would that include Peter MacKay? He shouldn't assume anything?

Stephen Harper: There's been a lot of stories, you know, in the press about certain people or certain people are out, certain people get this position or that position. I'll say what I said to your colleagues earlier this week and it's a fact. I have not had this discussion with anybody, including my wife, and I'll deal with the structure of a cabinet and who's in it if and when I win an election. Obviously we've got a lot of members with experience. We're going to be bringing in a whole new group of people who may be from regions where we're not well represented. The first priority in a cabinet always has been in our system of government to make sure there's appropriate regional representation body.

Peter Mansbridge: Last question comes back to accountability. A cabinet minister in a Stephen Harper government, when questions are raised about their integrity – do you expect resignation immediately?

Stephen Harper: No. It will depend on the circumstances. I've said that in the past, I witnessed a PC government some years ago where I thought the trigger was kind of pulled instantly all the time, and then I saw a case with the Liberal government in the past decade where the trigger never got pulled. And I think we've got to find a happy medium. I hope to see an enhanced – an ethics commissioner's office with enhanced power who I won't say rely on exclusively but rely on heavily to give advice on how to deal with situations when and if they arise. You can't pull – if you start pulling people out of cabinet for any accusation no matter how groundless, you're going to have a problem, but obviously if your instinct is to simply deny and avoid any kind of accusation, even when they've got to the stage of a full police investigation, then I think that creates the kind of culture that's developed in Ottawa in the past few years.

Peter Mansbridge: We're out of time. As I've said to all the other leaders in these closing days, we wish you luck in the final days of the campaign and thanks for doing this.

Stephen Harper: Glad to do it.

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