Canadian-British Relations in 1987
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Apr 1987, p. 421-431
Wells, Thomas L., Speaker
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Item Type
A brief history of the speaker's position. The structure of the position. Taking advantages of opportunities. The relationship between Britain and Canada: stopping the drift. Some historical context. Four areas in which collaboration between Britain and Canada are most important: defence; the Commonwealth connection; finance, trade and investment; collaboration between the universities and the learned communities. A discussion of each area, with details and examples. The importance of maintaining the relationship between Canada and Britain.
Date of Original
30 Apr 1987
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Chairman: Nona Macdonald President


With a line reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, The Toronto Star headlined a story on Tom Wells as "Our very correct new Agent General," and then went on to say that, when Mr. Wells started in politics, he was more firebrand than diplomat.

In fact, he jumped into politics at Malvern Collegiate by participating in a three-day student strike. He later joined the campus Tories at the University of Toronto, where he first met the former Premier of the province, Bill Davis.

Mr. Davis, at our head table today, has requested that Mr. Wells take note of the fact that he is in the Imperial Room, which is the nightclub of the Royal York Hotel, and that Mr. Davis expects Mr. Wells to give a performance as exciting as that of stars Tony Bennett or Lena Horne.

In 1965, after serving for seven years on the Scarborough Board of Education, Mr. Wells was elected to Queen's Park, representing Scarborough North. From 1966 on, he has been an Honourable Minister, starting without a portfolio, moving to Health, then Social and Family Services and in 1972-78 was recognised as a tireless Education Minister with teachers confronting him and clamouring for the right to strike. From that hectic scene, he moved to Intergovernmental Affairs, at the time when Quebec's feisty Parti Quebecois was proposing sovereignty association. In 1979, he became Government House Leader, and, two years ago, he accepted his latest assignment. Who better to sell Ontario to the British than a former advertising executive turned Ontario politician? Who better to enjoy living in the great metropolis of London? I understand the British way of life suits Mr. Wells and his wife Audrey, to a "T."

He tells me he has always had a soft spot for pomp and circumstance, but most important is the fact that British may mean business for Ontario. We are honoured to welcome you today, sir, a long-time member of our Club, to this final meeting of the season.

Ladies and gentlemen, Thomas L. Wells, Agent General of Ontario in the United Kingdom.

Thomas L. Wells

The next week, many in Toronto will see and hear one of Britain's most enduring and beloved singers, Vera Lynn. She will sing the songs that made her famous and perhaps she will sing again one that brightened and inspired us all during the years of the Second World War, "There'll Always be an England:" It had a patriotic ring to it and gave us all a resolve to win that was so much needed in those dark days. It seemed to symbolise the close bonds that existed between our two countries at that time.

Little did I realise then, that, some forty-five years later, I would be living in England and I would be looking to see if those bonds and relationships that tied us so closely together for many years still existed.

Little did I realise then that I would be continuing a long tradition of friendship and partnership between Ontario and the United Kingdom by representing Ontario in a country where so many of our traditions and roots began and where the potential today for business investment and trade links is greater than ever.

This province appointed its first Agent General in the U.K. in 1869 and since then twenty-one people have held this post. It is a real challenge for me to represent Ontario in the U.K. We do it as part of a team, or, I should say, two teams.

The first is the group of twenty-eight people who work with me for Ontario at Ontario House in London, which is now located as 21 Knightsbridge near Hyde Park Corner.

The second team is what we call "Team Canada." It's a loose association of people, made up of the High Commissioner and the six provincial Agents General who are located in London.

Let me add that while there is much friendly rivalry amongst us, we do co-operate to the mutual benefit of our country and our provinces.

But this doesn't stop me from boosting and selling Ontario in a very forceful and positive way. My job is made easier because we have a province with a solid industrial infrastructure, a buoyant economy and a government determined to lead the province to new levels of international competitiveness. These all add up to one thing: opportunity. -

And we are taking advantage of these opportunities. However, I think there is much more we can do and even greater opportunities open to us. But, to realise these, we must look at the relationship today between Britain and Canada.

"Not that again," I can imagine some of you thinking. "Surely the relations between the two countries are good enough?" Or alternatively, "Well, it is all a great pity but the two countries have drifted so far apart that there is nothing to be done." And there is yet another reaction with which I am becoming familiar in my present post. "Does it matter anyway?"

To my mind it does matter. The two countries in many important senses have drifted apart, but I don't believe it is too late to do something about it, although what we do needs to be well judged, economical, effective, and, above all, prompt.

Two years' experience in London, and constant meetings with people all over Britain, have convinced me that assumptions we could take for granted a generation ago no longer hold good. Nor need we be surprised by that. Much of Anglo-Canadian relations in the twenty years after the war was rooted in memories of the shared sacrifice and effort in both wars.

There .was no lack of people at the highest levels of British politics, industry and commerce who knew at first hand what Canada had done and been in both wars. There was no shortage of people to remember that Canada fought from September, 1939, while the United States did not enter the war for two and a quarter years after that.

There were plenty of people who knew that Canada had strained herself to the limit and beyond to make a handsome and desperately needed loan of dollars to Britain in 1946. The two countries played leading parts in the creation of NATO. They collaborated intimately in many international affairs. Canada played a leading role in the evolution of the Commonwealth; and, even if that process was often uncomfortable at the time for the British, the importance of Canada's part was not underestimated.

British ministers of that generation made it a point of honour to come to Canada whenever they were in the United States; indeed, two of the most important military conferences of the entire war were held on Canadian soil.

A few weeks ago in London, I was reminded again of how well Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden knew Canada from end to end, and how deeply they both valued Canada's contribution to international life. Neither of them regarded Canada as an extension of America.

When Churchill came here for what he thought would be his last official visit, in 1952, he said:

"Upon the whole surface of the globe there is no more spacious and splendid domain open to the activity and genius of free men, with one hand clasping in enduring friendship the United States and the other spread across the ocean both to Britain and to France. You have a sacred mission to discharge. That you will be worthy of it I do not doubt."

And, then, two and a half years later, while he was still Prime Minister but knowing that he would leave office in a few months, Churchill said to his Canadian audience in a broadcast from the Chateau Laurier that he felt certain that Canada would take her place in the first rank of sovereign communities.

"When all these hopes are fulfilled and all these glories come to you, do not forget the Old Land; do not forget that little island lost amongst the northern mists which played so great a part in your early days and now regards you with so much admiration and pride."

As we listen to utterances of that kind, we are left in no doubt that something of the essence has gone from our relations. What? Partly warmth of heart; in part, intensity of effort. Both sides, it seems to me, have presumed too much on the past; I put it in that style because, although we often have good cause to complain of indifference or neglect in Britain, it is often equally true that the British have cause to complain of the same failings here.

You may say, "Very well. But is all this not an exercise in mere nostalgia?" I am not pretending that we could readily recapture the mood of thirty years ago. But I cannot see that Canada is less in need of every ounce of goodwill and friendly understanding that she can find than she was a generation back. I believe exactly the same to be true of the British. The world is not so littered with powers friendly to either of us that we can afford neglect.

Friendships between countries, by which I mean something far more than the bureaucracies or the politicians of the day, are like friendships in private life; they require exertion, time, thoughtfulness, sacrifice. If those efforts are not made, we must not complain at the inevitable results.

There is no reason whatever why the closest possible relations with the United States should preclude good relations with Britain; any more than there is good reason why Britain's relations with the European Community should preclude very close relations with Commonwealth countries. Indeed, it is more than evident to anybody working in London that the British have not at any stage allowed their new relationship with Europe to cut across their links with the United States.

I will take four areas in which collaboration between Britain and Canada seems to me of the most importance.

First, defence; the significance of NATO to both our countries does not need to be dwelt upon.

Outside our highly visible sharing of allegiance to NATO, however, there are a host of important bilateral arrangements between Canada and the U.K. involving defence forces.

The military exchange programme has a long and successful history. There are almost one hundred Canadian officers serving in all three arms of the British military, and British personnel occupy similar positions with the forces in Canada.

Approximately four hundred Canadian military personnel train in the U.K. annually. And on the other side of the coin, some seven thousand five hundred members of the British Army are able to use training facilities in Alberta and New Brunswick. Likewise, bilateral arrangements enable the w r to use the jet fighter base at Goose Bay, Labrador.

Second, the Commonwealth connection. The nature of the Commonwealth has changed out of recognition in the last thirty years. It no longer has a political or military cohesion; that does not prevent many of its members from thinking and acting alike in difficult times, as they did during the Falklands crisis.

But the Commonwealth countries constitute almost one third of the total membership of the United Nations; they collaborate in countless worthwhile enterprises, to which next to no publicity is given.

To my mind, this is a great mistake; and perhaps some of you will be as surprised as I was to learn that Britain and Canada between them contribute nearly seventy percent of most of the programmes run by the Commonwealth Secretariat, an organisation established on its present firm footing by that distinguished graduate of the University of Toronto, Arnold Smith, and now headed by Sir Shridath Ramphal who addressed this club in January.

These good works extend into numerous fields: preventive medicine; health education; the training of youth leaders; development projects of every kind; basic education; and a great deal more.

Thirdly, finance, trade and investment. Canadian investment in Britain has grown, and the Canadian presence in the banking and money world of London has never been so substantial. In recent years, British investment in Canada has soared.

Current statistics indicate that the U.K. remains the second-largest foreign investor in Canada, accounting for about a tenth of total foreign investment. Investment Canada figures show British investment in Canada around the fivebillion-dollar mark for 1986 alone.

By the beginning of 1986, Canadians had invested around two billion dollars in Britain.

In 1986, we exported nearly one billion dollars worth of goods to Great Britain, an increase of eighteen and a half percent over the previous year.

Let me mention just a couple of success stories.

First of all, how many of you are aware that deHavilland Aircraft of Canada recently sold six Dash 7 aircraft worth more than thirty million pounds Sterling in total for use by various British airlines scheduled to operate from the new London City Stolport when it opens shortly?

Second, an Ottawa company recently signed a multimillion-dollar contract to supply optical passport readers to the Home Office as part of the U.K. government's scheme to automate the issuance of new passports.

Third, Telesat Canada was the consultant to the winning consortium on the U.K. direct-broadcast-by-satellite project. Fourth, high-resolution Tv screens for most betting shops in the U.K. came from Electrohome of Kitchener, Ontario.

There are many other success stories. -. Indeed in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors, there are already more than one hundred agreements between Canadian and U.K. firms covering research and development, licensing, marketing and joint projects. British Telecom and Ferranti are only two of the many U.K. firms that have joined forces with Canadian corporations to share technology and expand production through industrial-teaming arrangements.

During 1986, there was a resurgence of interest in light rail transit in the U.K. This is good news and means new opportunities for uwc, the Ontario-based transit-equipment company.

Following the introduction of the Docklands Light Railway (which is expected to open in July 1987) a number of schemes are in view. These are at various stages of development; from preliminary consideration to enactment of parliamentary legislation. These include facilities for; Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Cleveland (Tees-side), Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Sheffield.

The scheme for Greater Manchester is the furthest advanced.

Part of the resurgence of interest is possibly explained by the choice of twin-rail tunnels for the Channel Tunnel. The selection of rail over road is a significant boost to the rail industry.

The Channel Tunnel will be one of the largest civil engineering projects in the world. We will be arranging for representatives of Eurotunnel, the Anglo-French Channel tunnel consortium to come to Ontario in the late fall to meet with businessmen and outline the opportunities and potential business that this huge undertaking can provide for Ontario firms.

An interesting and significant aspect of the Channel Tunnel scheme is that it is to be privately financed. Both the French and the British governments have made it clear that they are not willing to provide financial assistance in any way.

Even in Britain these days, any discussion of trade and investment usually gets around to the Canada-U.S. trade negotiations and how a free trade agreement might affect our traditional trading relationships with Western European countries, particularly the United Kingdom.

Our position is that, regardless of the prospects for freer trade between Canada and the United States through the ongoing talks, it should be clear that the ultimate long-term interests of Ontario, and indeed Canada, will be served through the expansion of multilateral trade.

Therefore, we in Ontario are continuing to advocate the liberalisation of world trade. That has been evident in many statements by Premier David Peterson, concerning international trade and, I believe, in the work we are carrying out at Ontario House in developing trade opportunities with the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

And finally, the fourth area, and perhaps my choice will surprise you, collaboration between the universities and the learned communities, not least in medicine, engineering and science. Those are expensive disciplines, which even the richest countries are hard put to afford. There are still very close links, of which we should make far more, between the British university community and ours.

Is it possible to do anything about all this? Of course, if we have the will and the skill. We must do far more to bring the young of the two countries into contact with each other.

To take the students first, the fees now charged to them in British universities are very high, and the fees we charge to the British in Ontario universities are not small. All the same, the numbers of Canadian students in Britain have risen in the last year or two, although for many years they have not matched the number of British students in Canada.

I doubt whether the British Government is likely to change its policy regarding fees, something which I happen to regret; but, given enough determination between the universities on both sides, there is no reason whatever why undergraduates from Canada should not spend a year of their course in Britain, and vice versa. It happens that the reverse movement is less easy than the movement out of Canada; but it is perfectly possible to compensate by receiving in Canadian universities British postgraduates, in exchange for the undergraduates we send there.

In case this all sounds rather fanciful, I had better add that such a scheme is actually in operation; but it involves only a trickle, and I should like to see the trickle become at least a stream, if not a flood.

Between our universities, l should like to see far more done by way of short-term visits of distinguished academic staff, especially those who could collaborate in research, or share the use of expensive machinery.

But we must have our eyes upon a wider constituency than that. We should do everything we can to enable the young citizens of Canada and Britain-those at the impressionable ages in their late teens and early twenties-to travel to each other's country, meet the people, and ideally stay in their homes.

We should be taking far more advantage of the ease of communication between all the great cities of Canada and Britain, and the excellent value offered by many of the cheap fares.

In the same vein, is there any reason why more of our towns and cities in Canada should not be twinned, and exchange visits, with the towns and cities of Britain? Why should we not link more of our junior and secondary schools with their counterparts in Britain? Is there not room for our parliamentarians, from the provinces as well as from Ottawa, to know their British counterparts better?

You will see what I am driving at. We must first ask ourselves whether the relationship between the two countries matters. If it does, as I firmly believe, then we must try to make the currents bringing Britain and Canada together run more powerfully.

Perhaps members of this distinguished club, many of whom have a lifetime's experience of Anglo-Canadian collaboration, can make better suggestions than mine. If so, splendid. But at least let me record two firm convictions with you.

So long as we go about it sensibly, the cost of doing something substantial on all the fronts I have mentioned would be trifling in relation to the interests at stake, and there I am not thinking only of those values upon which accountants can place a price; and certainly trifling in relation to the volume of trade and investment between the two

countries. It would not be unreasonable to expect some of those who have so large a stake in the ongoing relationship between Britain and Canada to see that some support for purposeful exchanges would be money well invested.

My other, more melancholy, conclusion, is this. Unless we take the subject seriously, we shall find the relationship between Britain and Canada has in most spheres faded away to little more than affability. It is not for me to say whether that would be a loss to the British, although, in the intimacy of this gathering, let me confess that I think it would be; but I am certain that it would be a loss to Canada.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Sydney Hermant, Senior Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Canadian-British Relations in 1987

A brief history of the speaker's position. The structure of the position. Taking advantages of opportunities. The relationship between Britain and Canada: stopping the drift. Some historical context. Four areas in which collaboration between Britain and Canada are most important: defence; the Commonwealth connection; finance, trade and investment; collaboration between the universities and the learned communities. A discussion of each area, with details and examples. The importance of maintaining the relationship between Canada and Britain.