I want to talk about my vision for our country, why I seek to become the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, why I believe I have the qualifications to lead Canada in the 21st century, and why my leader- ship will lead the Conservative Party to victory against the Liberals in the upcoming election.

Canadians have had enough of politics as usual. Ever since I entered the race, a number of people have pointed out that I lack political expe- rience. But isn’t it funny: when politi- cians become ministers in charge of billion-dollar budgets, no one ever asks them if they have any experience running a business. And I think many of you here would agree: Ottawa could use a little more business sense when it comes to the management of our tax dollars.

The day the auditor general released her findings on the public works scandal was a sad day for Canada. And Canadians right across our country are still angry. This was not just about mismanagement or waste " although there’s been plenty of that in Ottawa these past ten years. It was about corruption and contempt for the Canadian taxpayer. It was about a lack of competence and a lack of leadership.

The Liberals took your money " money that could have gone toward the purchase of state-of-the-art diag- nostic technology for our hospitals or new military vehicles for our soldiers. They took your money and they spent it on their friends.

I do know this as a former CEO: if I ran my company the way Paul Martin ran the finances of this country, I would have been fired. You cannot run from your own track record. Paul Martin wants us to believe that he was a stowaway on the good ship Chrétien when in fact he was the first mate.

Canada deserves better. Canadians deserve better. That’s why it’s impor- tant that we propose solutions that will restore Canadians’ confidence in their government and those they choose to lead them. As prime minis- ter, I would go beyond the appoint- ment of an independent ethics commissioner who would report directly to Parliament. I would ensure that the office was truly effective by giving the commissioner broader pow- ers to investigate unethical conduct as well as the resources needed to achieve this mandate.

I would immediately strengthen the code of ethics " with penalties for unethical behaviour. I would increase both the powers and the resources of the auditor general and extend her mandate to include the arms-length trust fund set up by the Chrétien- Martin government.

And I would establish permanent, independent legal counsel to assist and advise both the auditor general and the independent ethics commis- sioner. Finally, I believe we should consider legislation that would remove members of Parliament from office who have been found to breach the code of ethics.

There is hope. There is another way, a better way, a new alterna- tive. I submit to you that the Conservative Party " renewed and revitalized " is ready to take up the challenge of governing our country.

I ask you to think back, if you would, to the period that existed in this country about a year ago. The Liberals were riding high in the polls. And the Tories and Alliance were stuck in neutral. There was no united and effective opposition. For those of us who wanted a strong and clear alterna- tive, there was little hope that any- thing would change any time soon.

Canada had effectively become a one-party state, with all of the stagna- tion you will find in a country where there is no effective democratic process, where there are no checks and balances.

Like many of you, I got tired of watching our country lose out on investment opportunities and jobs because we lacked an economic strate- gy " a strategy on how to compete in this new and fiercely competitive glob- al economy. And I decided to do some- thing about it.

Let me briefly recount the part I played in the historic union of the PC and Alliance parties. In June of last year I asked Stephen Harper, leader of the Canadian Alliance party, and Peter MacKay, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, to come together.

I felt that if I could make a contri- bution to improve the welfare of Canadians, then I would do so. I entered the process of uniting the two parties as a concerned citizen who wanted to see Canada strong and prosperous. And in order for that to happen, we needed a strong and united opposition. In October, after several months of long and hard negotiations, in a spirit of good faith and compromise, we collec- tively concluded a merger agreement, and in so doing we achieved something that few Canadians thought possible: we restored the party of Sir John A. Macdonald. The party that gave Canada free trade. The party that has champi- oned free enterprise, equal opportunity, and the entrepreneurial spirit that built this great country.

I have one overriding goal, and that is to improve the living standards of Canadians and to bring to this country a level of economic prosperity that we have never yet fully realized. Can Canada compete? Can we raise living standards in the face of increased global competition?

I believe we can. I believe we have the resources and the energy and the ingenuity to make our economy one of the strongest in the world. In my former role as president and CEO of Magna, I regularly travelled the world. I saw first-hand and up-close where investment is flowing and where manufacturing jobs are being created. I saw manufacturing jobs being sucked out of this country at an alarming rate. And that job drain con- tinues today.

The question that Canada needs to ask itself is: In the new global economy, how are we going to com- pete? How are we going to not only maintain but also improve our living standards? Are we going to do it on the back of a low dollar? Are we going to do it on the back of low wages for Canadian workers? I don’t think so.

We are going to do it by creating world-class value-added products and services made and supplied by highly skilled Canadian workers. We are going to do it by attracting new invest- ment and by boosting Canadian pro- ductivity and skills.

Consider the experience of Ireland. Fifteen years ago, the Republic of Ireland had a gross domestic prod- uct per capita that was among the low- est in Europe. But in the past several years, Ireland has surpassed Canada in terms of GDP per capita average annu- al growth.

What happened? How did Ireland leapfrog Canada? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is that Ireland looked at what was going on in the world and decided that it was going to aggressively attract new business and create an economic infrastructure.

And it did this by creating one of the most competitive corporate tax environments in the world. Today, corporate tax rates for small and medi- um-sized businesses in the Republic of Ireland are 12.5 percent. The Celtic Tiger has grown at a rate four times higher than the European Communi- ty and has become the biggest off- shore developer of software in the world, ahead of even India. While Canada maintained or increased already high corporate tax rates, the Republic of Ireland slashed their cor- porate tax rates to attract new invest- ment and encourage the start-up of new businesses.

As prime minister, I would give Canada the most competitive tax struc- ture in the world. To start with, I would scrap the tax on capital investment. To lower corporate and personal tax rates, I would streamline gov- ernment and cut the fat out of government spending.

The fact is, we are overgoverned. The United States, with a population ten times the size of Canada, has 16 cabinet secretaries, while Canada, with just over 30 million people, has 39 cabinet ministers " 26 times more per capita than our neighbour to the south!

As prime minister, I would create a citizen’s evaluation committee. Its mandate: to identify areas where we can reduce government spending and overhead. We would throw open the government books. And the commitee would comb through the financial records of all government departments to identify areas of waste, duplication and mismanagement.

I would also introduce a system of financial rewards for government employees who identify waste and inefficiency and bring forward sugges- tions for improvement. To create more and better paying jobs, we need to stimulate greater manufacturing and production here in Canada.

In plain English, we need to pro- duce more value-added products that we can export around the world. We have the resources. We have the skills and the knowledge and the capital. What we need is the right economic environment " one that will help us turn our warehouses into factories, biotech laboratories and high-tech R&D centres. I would therefore estab- lish tax incentives for Canadian com- panies to create more made-in-Canada products.

I would also like to see a Canada where more employees own shares in the companies they work for and where workers get a piece of the action through profit-sharing. Employee share ownership and profit- sharing will create greater productivi- ty because ownership gives employees a strong stake in the outcome of the businesses they work for. Bottom line: I understand the economy. I understand what it takes to create jobs, to spend money wisely, and to invest in the future.

Ever since I announced my intention to seek the leadership of the Conservative Party, people have asked why I am running.

Why would I leave the world of business for the world of politics, where a scrum with the Parliament press gallery makes a contentious shareholder meeting look like tea and cookies with two grannies?

I’ve been very fortunate in life. And I want to give back to my coun- try and my community " the com- munity where I was born and raised and where I still live with my two children. As my parents always reminded me: ”œCanada has been good to you, Belinda. Make sure you are good to Canada.”

I consider it a privilege to be able to offer up my skills and experience in the service of our country. And I would be extremely honoured to serve as an elected member of Parliament and as the leader of the new Conservative Party. I believe I can help shape the vision and values of the new Conservative Party. We need it to be a party of mainstream Canadians and mainstream policies.

I am doing my best to ensure that this does not become a regional party, a party with a narrow base. It’s been down that road too often. And it’s a road that leads to electoral defeat. I want to throw open the doors of this party to people from all regions and all backgrounds. We need a new leader who can appeal to all Canadians. A leader who will invite all citizens from all corners of our country to participate in the renewal of Canada.

I want our party to focus on giv- ing Canadians the tools they need to build better lives instead of telling Canadians how to live their lives.

If there is anything else I believe that I can bring to this new party and to Ottawa, it is this: a passionate belief that we can go about the busi- ness of governing with greater civili- ty and decency. If Parliament wants to be respected as the boardroom of the nation, then it must begin to act in a manner that befits the serious- ness of conducting the country’s business. Canadians deserve better than to watch their elected officials trading personal insults and indignities on the floor of the House of Commons. Par- liament should be a forum for the exchange of ideas " not insults.

And I will do my best to create a climate of civili- ty and a process that encourages innovative ideas and welcomes good policy, regardless of party affiliation. During my time in business, I was always most proud of my ability to bring people together. To not only be a team player but to be a team builder, to reach out and draw in the best and the brightest.

I can bring the change and fresh approach Canadians deserve. Like many Canadians " like many of you " I want to open the windows of the House of Commons and let in some fresh air and some fresh ideas.

I believe Canada can deliver a great future for all her people, that we can again be a shining example for the world as a place of honesty and oppor- tunity, a place of peace, order and good government. And this is my pledge to you: I will lead a government as good as its people.