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Jack Layton's speech to the Empire Club

Globe and Mail Update

During the last campaign, we asked Canadians for central role in that parliament and a million more people voted for us. And though doubling our vote didn't .. our seats, people did, as it happens, give new democrats the central role that we sought. On election night, I promised that we'd use our role in parliament wisely. And that we'd be true to our values, the values of Canadians, those who voted for us especially. And quite simply, we committed to trying to get something done in this parliament for people. And that's what we've done.

We've proposed what we believe are good ideas on ethics, the environment, protecting pensions, employment insurance -- we had a constructive approach. It was not easy. The government of Paul Martin more than ever is suffering this culture of everything is owed to me, I'm entitled, which is a continuation of the Liberal party today in. Many cases -- in many cases, he simply refused what parliamentarians were asking him to do.

In the spring of last year, the minority government who seemed to think it was entitled to do what it pleased ran into a parliamentary crisis. Then Mr. Martin finally realized that his government was a minority. One that would have to work with others if it hoped to remain in office. So we propose changes that we believe that people would want to see in the budget. Not to make it perfect, but to make it better. Specifically, we took out the corporate tax cuts that Mr. Martin didn't tell people about when he was running for office and we proposed that the money be invested in education and in training, in the environment, and in housing, including aboriginal housing, in wage protection for workers who's companies are in trouble.

And in increasing foreign aid. We demonstrated our commitment to balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. We supported both debt repayment in that budget and small business tax reduction. Our proposals were ultimately accepted and the first NDP budget in history was well received. This is the kind of balance and compromise that people expect from the parliament that they elected. It's not always easy offering to work with another political party to get something done. But I believe it was the right path in the spring. I also believed that it was the right path this fall. Which is why a few weeks ago we made it clear that our preferred path was for parliament to be productive on the issues that mattered to people. So our caucus once again set out the agenda for action. Ethics, the environment, pensions, EI, and training.... But protecting public health care was a priority, too. And this is because public medicare needs protection today in Canada. So well before the current situation, the NDP outlined specific proposals to protect public medicare and to improve it. We drew our inspiration from the principles and the proposals set out in the Romanow commission in its final report. We looked for real enforcement and accountability that lets the federal government track down its own -- and track the consequences of its own health care agreements.

And most importantly, we proposed an end to federal subsidies for private care. The federal government should not in any way subsidize a private, for-profit health care system in. Short, we sought accountability for the federal transfers and real consequences when public health care is undermined.

Last week, late Thursday night, the government responded to our specific proposals. And we've analyzed them over the weekend. What the Liberal government is proposing is unacceptable. To be fair it, did go some distance on preventing doctors practicing both in and out of medicare, but addressing one issue while failing to address the larger question of privatization just isn't enough. There is no meaningful accountability or even a real effort to monitor and track public medicare's decline and private care's rise. And today's Liberal party is unwilling to attach any conditions to prevent privatization to the funds it currently invests in health. This isn't good enough for people concerned about the erosion of public medicare. They know the dollars are scarce and they want those dollars going to the care of their kids, their parents, and themselves, not spent on profit margins. They know the private hospitals we have today are the thin wedge to the edge of the two-tier system they don't want and which the Supreme Court accelerated earlier this year. They want medicare to define how we treat one another, a deeply-held value that Canadians hold profoundly. It guides and defines us.

Canadians deserve public medicare protected and after a careful consideration of Mr. Martin's proposals, I am forced to conclude that his government won't.

So reluctantly, we have sent a response to the government outlining why we find their proposals unacceptable. If the content of the government's response to us on private health care were a bill before parliament, we would oppose it. Proposals aren't any better because they're contained in a letter from health minister Dosanjh. So unfortunately, I don't believe that there are grounds to go forward. And also unfortunately, those of us committed to getting things done in this parliament and for all of those who were attempting to do so, there's no basis for our party to express confidence in this government. Because New Democrats can't express confidence in a government that will not protect public medicare, led by a Liberal party whose ethical cunning was indicted by Justice Gomery.

So unfortunately for those among ourselves who wanted to have this parliament go through, go ahead, to have things, there is no reason for our party to express its confidence in this government because the NDP, the New Democratic Party, can not express their confidence in a government that cannot protect our public system of health. A government that's controlled by the Liberal party, whose ethical behaviour was denounced by Justice Gomery.

And we've delivered results from people in that promise. It's what Tommy Douglas did, forcing people to bring public medicare to Canada in the first place. It's what David Lewis did, forcing Liberals to build public housing and Petro-Canada. But now we seem to have reached a serious and fundamental impasse. We were serious about our proposals but equally serious about needing a response to them, all of them, in order to go forward.

And so the question, therefore, becomes how can this parliament continue? Under the leadership of a Liberal party whose ethical conduct voters deserve to judge and a Liberal party that once worked with New Democrats to build public medicare and now flatly rejects rules to protect that achievement, we cannot express confidence in a government unwilling to act on such a critical issue. And we cannot express confidence in a government that under the leadership -- it is under the leadership of a party that cannot be trusted to clean up the politics that it tainted.

Last week, the NDP has always raised the examples of that culture of entitlement. Everything is owed to me. Justice Gomery was talking about this in his report. We have not received any substantial answer on the activities of political lobbying, nominations of friends of the Liberal party, and the systemic behaviour of political reform. We can't go ahead with the same things.

Therefore, this parliament's life is likely limited. Limited not by the choice of any Opposition party, but by the unethical behaviour of the Liberal party. I believe in these circumstances, Canada should not have to wait months to determine how best to get things done. And that time is approaching sooner not later.

For the Canadian people to render judgment on the Liberal party and in the coming election, I will invite Canadians to judge the NDP's record of getting things done for people and for the environment. And I'll ask the people of Canada to give us more support, so that we can get even more done in the next parliament. Because there's so much that Canada wants to do together. And I don't accept the poll's choice between endless broken promises on one hand and a party that's simply wrong on the issues in another. We can do better together than what we have done and we can respond to that desire for this country's government to behave ethically and not just speak about the values that define us, but put them into action once again.

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