Here is the text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to his caucus on Tuesday morning, with slight edits to remove French portions that were repeated in English.
Good morning, everyone.
Colleagues, obviously the reason I’m speaking to you this morning is I want to talk about some events that have transpired recently. And I don’t think any of you are going to be very surprised to hear that I’m not happy. I’m very upset about some conduct we have witnessed, the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.
We’ve worked hard collectively as a party, as a caucus and as a government to dramatically strengthen accountability rules in Ottawa and to apply those standards to ourselves.
I need not remind you that in 2006 this government was first elected to clean up the Liberal sponsorship scandal, to ensure the rules are followed and to ensure there are consequences when they are not.
Since that time, we have taken unprecedented measures to achieve that end. Our Federal Accountability Act, the toughest accountability legislation in the history of this country, forever changed the way business is done in Ottawa. We have strengthened the powers of the Auditor-General, toughened the office of the Ethics Commissioner, reformed political party financing, dramatically tightened lobbying rules and beefed up auditing and accountability within government departments.
Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the entire world and this is something Canadians are rightly proud of. It is also something, colleagues, that we can never take for granted because, as I said, in fact as I said in the room across the hall in the fall of 2005, when we first pledged to bring in the Federal Accountability Act, I said this: “No government will be perfect because none of us are perfect. We cannot dream a system so perfect that no one will have to be good.”
Therefore, just as we continue to toughen rules, we must also uphold a culture of accountability, and I know that the people in this room have. We have reduced our budgets and travel as a government. We are the caucus that finally bit the bullet and reformed the MP pension plan so that we will pay our fair share. And I know that, like me and my family, you are scrupulous about paying expenses of a personal nature yourselves.
But, that said, let me repeat something else I said in that same speech in 2005, and let me be very blunt about it: “Anyone, anyone who wants to use public office for their own benefit should make other plans or, better yet, leave this room.”
Now, colleagues, let me also address the issue of the Senate. As Canadians know, I did not get into politics to defend the Senate. And it was this party that put Senate reform on the national agenda. It was this government, which has placed before Parliament a bill, opposed by both the Liberals and the NDP, to allow for Senate elections and to put term limits on senators. And in this room, our colleagues from the Senate who’ve agreed to sit in the other place in order to support our efforts to achieve fundamental, irreversible reform.
Colleagues, we have heard from Canadians loud and clear. They want us to continue our efforts. They are asking us to accelerate those efforts. The Senate status quo is not acceptable. Canadians want the Senate to change.
Now, as you know, our Senate reforms have been tied up in Parliament for years. Earlier this year, we asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether the reforms we have proposed can be accomplished by Parliament acting alone. We’ve also asked the court to rule on options for abolishing the Senate completely.
And, as we prepare to receive and act on the judgment of the Supreme Court, we will also take further steps in the area of Senate expenditure and accountability. Senator [Marjory] LeBreton and I have discussed this and she has my full support to accelerate changes to the Senate’s rules on expenses and close any loopholes in those existing rules and I expect Conservative senators, regardless of what opposition you may face, to get that done in the Senate.
Colleagues, we have an active and important agenda on the issues that matter to hardworking Canadian families and there is much work to be done. When distractions arise, as they inevitably will, we will deal with them firmly. But we cannot lose sight of our top priority. The world we are in remains a deeply uncertain place.
Canadians are looking to us to protect them: their jobs, their families, their communities. That is what we must be focussed on and what we will continue to do: continue to implement our Economic Action Plan, continue to work on expanding trade, continue our focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and continue to ensure that through all the ups and downs of the world economy, there remains no better place to be than this country, Canada.
So let’s get back to work.