We Cannot Ignore the Past When Charting a Course for the Future
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Jun 1990, p. 25-32


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Bassett, The Hon. John, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description:
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Remembering those who answered the challenge in 1939-40; looking for that spirit of self-sacrifice, that willingness to subjugate personal and regional selfish interests for the common good, that tolerance and understanding. A review of some recent anti-Canadian events: the Quebec emblem being trampled and burned in Brockville; the Canadian flag being torn and trampled in Montreal; the National Anthem being booed. Wondering what those people would think of Canada now. Taking responsibility for how Canada got into its present situation, and reviewing how we got here. Suggestions as to what we can do on behalf of Canada. Developing an active interest in the affairs of the country and the province in which people reside. Connecting the past and the present to the future. Remembering and learning from the war years. Preserving and protecting our heritage.
Date of Original:
28 Jun 1990
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
The Hon. John Bassett Chairman, Baton Broadcasting Inc.
WE CANNOT IGNORE THE PAST WHEN CHARTING A COURSE FOR THE FUTURE
Chairman: B.Gen. Stephen F. Andrunyk Chairman, Toronto Branch, The Royal Commonwealth Society, Past President of The Empire Club of Canada

Introduction:

Distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Our guest speaker this afternoon is no stranger to most Torontonians, to a vast number of Canadians, and to audiences of The Empire Club of Canada.

Records show that he first stood behind an Empire Club of Canada podium on the 16th of June 1955 when, as publisher of The Toronto Telegram, he reported on his extensive tour of Italy, France, Belgium and Great Britain where he spoke with the post-World War II leaders of these European nations. He was impressed with what he had seen and heard and obviously felt a sense of pride in the fact that Canada was held in such high regard by Europeans. However, it is interesting to note that he ended his remarks on a cautionary note which is worth repeating today in light of the events in the past week.

"I submit for your earnest consideration that the greatest need in this country today is the development of a strong national feeling of Canadianism. I do not mean the development of a sense of narrow nationalism, but I do mean the development of a deep sense of pride in our country, a feeling of brotherhood and common cause between those that live as far away as Halifax is from Vancouver, or as St. John's, Newfoundland is from Victoria."

His second visit to The Empire Club of Canada was on 5 June 1958 when, during the Presidency of the then L.Col. Bruce J. Legge, our guest speaker reported on his visit to Israel where he was specially honoured as a guest of the Israeli Government on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

In his introduction on that occasion 32 years ago, M.Gen. Legge noted that our distinguished guest speaker was a graduate of Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec; that he had served with distinction as a Major with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in Italy and Northwest Europe during the Second World War; and that although his career revolved around newspapers, his interests reached out beyond his profession to sports and humanitarian endeavours. Not only was he a Director of the Argonaut Football Club and a Director of the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club, but also a Trustee of the Hospital for Sick Children.

In the intervening 32 years since our guest speaker last appeared before an Empire Club of Canada audience, he has had a most exciting, productive and rewarding career. Displaying the dogged determination, the inexhaustible energy and the courage that have characterized his approach to life, by 1969 he was among other things:

Chairman, President and Publisher of the Telegram Publishing Company Chairman of Inland Publishing Company, Chairman and President of Baton Broadcasting President of Glen-Warren Productions Chairman of the Board, Maple Leaf Gardens Chairman of the Board, Argonaut Football Club.

In between all these responsibilities, he found time to run for parliament in the Toronto Spadina riding in June, 1962.

Since 1970 our guest speaker has gradually divested himself of his interests in the newspaper and sports arenas. Today his business interests are focussed on his broadcast empire where he is the Executive Chairman of Baton Broadcasting Inc. which includes CFTO (Canada's biggest and richest TV station) and Glenn-Warren Productions, the third largest TV production house in North America. In 1989, our guest speaker was appointed by the Federal Government as Chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee which monitors the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, an organization responsible for countering threats to the security of Canada.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you our guest speaker today, a distinguished Canadian, a Member of the Privy Council, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a Member of the Order of Ontario, The Honourable John White Hughes Bassett.

John Bassett:

It is over thirty-five years ago that I first had the honour and pleasure to speak to The Empire Club as a comparatively young newspaper publisher still in my 30s on my return from a trip to Israel and Western Europe.

In the past three and a half decades we have all seen enormous changes in Canada and particularly changes in this great city in which we all live. Toronto would hardly be recognized today by anyone who had last seen it in the mid '50s.

But unfortunately I don't believe we have ever met under sadder or more serious circumstances in the history of our country than the circumstances under which we are gathered here today.

About a week ago in the midst of the debate about the Meech Lake Accord and the accompanying accord, later signed by all the First Ministers, I received a letter from my old Commanding Officer of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada to let me know that after 50 years being connected in one capacity or another with that regiment he was finally retiring.

He had joined as a young second lieutenant in the reserves just before the outbreak of the war and, through the subsequent years, rose to command the regiment and won the Distinguished Service Order in the Italian campaign.

It was during this campaign that I came to know him and serve under him and we became great friends at that time and during the post-war years. He remained with the regiment after the war, first as Honorary Lieutenant Colonel and then as Honorary Colonel. In the meantime he had a distinguished career in Vancouver and British Columbia serving also as Lieutenant Governor of that province.

As I read his letter, in the midst of the political crisis facing our country through self-inflicted wounds, I started to think about my many companions who had answered the challenge in 1939-1940 and particularly those from whom fate had demanded the ultimate sacrifice. I could not help but wonder where today in this bountiful land was that spirit of self-sacrifice, that willingness to subjugate personal and regional selfish interests for the common good, where was that tolerance and understanding that under the crucible of war had brought men and women of all backgrounds, of all colours and races united in the common cause.

I remember when Major Paul Triquet, of the Royal 22nd Regiment--The Vingt-Deuxs, won the first Victoria Cross among Canadians fighting in the Italian campaign and I remember the pride we all felt in that great achievement and how symbolic it was that Triquet was a Francophone, his regiment 90 percent French speaking, commanded by Jean Allard, later Canada's Chief of Staff, its Padre Captain Roy, later Archbishop of Quebec and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic church.

When I read of the Quebec emblem being trampled and burned in Brockville and the Canadian flag being torn and trampled in Montreal, and the National Anthem being booed in both the Skydome and Olympic Stadium in Montreal, I cannot help but wonder what has become of our country and the spirit of understanding and tolerance that built it from a collection of British colonies into a united nation. As I finished Budge Bell-Irving's letter I fantasized about what those companions of mine, not only the ones I served with in the Seaforths but those with whom I went to school and university now lying under neat white crosses in symmetrical lines as if they were still on parade, would think if the Almighty allowed them a visit home. I am sure they would be thrilled and delighted and find much to applaud in what has happened in their home towns and in their country over the past 50 years, but I am equally sure they would conclude that in two fundamental areas, all those of us left with the task of building a nation have made a terrible mess, namely the environment and the political strategies that have lead us to the brink of the country's break up.

As their boyhood was a greater part of the life that they were allowed on this earth, they would be horrified to see what has happened to the clear, swift-flowing rivers in which they swam and fished in their youth, to the lakes on which they sailed, to the air on which they depended for breath and life and to the forests in which they camped and hiked. I am sure they would find it almost impossible to believe that the two generations of Canadians which have succeeded them would have permitted this desecration.

And the other day in Toronto it was announced for the seventh consecutive year, Sunnyside Beach and the western beaches of Toronto would be closed because of the open sewage running into Lake Ontario. I can remember as a young reporter in this city in the late '30s that Sunnyside on a sunny weekend would be crowded with families picnicking and swimming--what a change! And they would undoubtedly wonder what had happened to the good will, tolerance and understanding which was the fabric of the Canada they knew.

If they were granted this visit, they would return from whence they came saddened and puzzled. But in my fantasy I never doubted for a moment that if they were called upon again, even knowing the outcome, to face the challenge of the obscenity that was Nazi Germany under Hitler, their response would be the same.

Well what is our responsibility? First, I think we must decide how these situations of which I speak came about.

My view is that they came about because of the indifference of the ordinary Canadian and the failure to recognize the deep impact on their lives both of the desecration of nature's gifts and the political morass in which the country has fallen.

This indifference has permitted special interest groups to press their concerns to the exclusion of the general good. The failure of the general public, for instance, to recognize the problems and rights of the aboriginal people resulted in a single member of the Provincial Legislature of Manitoba halting the whole political process in that province.

There are no heroes and no villains arising out of this painful debate. No single First Minister has swept the imagination and hearts of Canadians but the end result is that the province of Quebec has already taken the first step to change its relationship with the rest of the country. We must ask ourselves what can we do to salvage the Canada that most of us love.

First, I think we must understand that any minority is riddled with insecurities simply because it is a minority. We must understand that above all else, Quebecers are determined to retain their language and culture and that the actions they take to do so are motivated because they live on an almost daily basis with the fear that the weight of not only the rest of Canada but the whole of the North American continent, will ultimately crush them. Any psychologist will confirm I am sure that the basic insecurity of a minority is simple to discern and should be easy to understand.

This great province of Ontario being the neighbour to Quebec I suggest has a prime responsibility to lead the process of reunification and our Premier, in my view, has given an outstanding example of trying to achieve just that. I believe it is essential that Quebec not be put into a position of isolation from the rest of Canada and therefore I believe that Ontario should join with Quebec in any new constitutional arrangement that Quebec undertakes.

There has been a general assumption, it seems to me, that Ontario would automatically be part of the other eight provinces in any new arrangement that has to be worked out I believe such an assumption is wrong and dangerous. It seems to be forgotten that it was the original coming together in 1864 of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) that paved the way for Confederation three years later. If we are indeed back to square one then I believe that the best chance we have for the future is to repeat that historical act and let Ontario and Quebec come together again.

Obviously Quebec is stronger with Ontario as a constitutional unit. Equally obvious, Ontario is in a stronger position united with Quebec than having to continue alone to carry the financial burden of most of the other provinces. As a unit within the federal system of our country, Quebec and Ontario together would then invite all the other provinces to join with them in a new Confederation under constitutional terms which would enable Quebec to feel at home again and which would illustrate that at least in Ontario a Canada without Quebec was not acceptable.

I think if our problems are to be solved it is almost essential that ordinary men and women must develop an active interest in the affairs of the country and of their province and work at it. They must be prepared to sacrifice some of their leisure time to join the political organizations of their choice in their own ridings and make their voices heard. They must call their elected representatives to account and they can only do so if they take an active interest in the political affairs of their constituencies. Without that interest we cannot expect solutions which will preserve not only the gifts of nature which are being so badly misused but the gifts of the spirit--understanding, tolerance, goodwill--which are so badly needed.

Let your memories go back with mine to the men and women of this country who sacrificed so much so that the nation could survive free and proud. Those of you who are too young to remember those days, ask your parents, your grandparents, your teachers and others who do remember and who were there and then decide whether we are playing our full part.

There are those who say memories of the war years are irrelevant today, that stories of those days are boring to those who did not live through them. I do not agree. I believe that we cannot ignore the past when charting a course for the future. I believe we can learn from the sacrifices of other Canadians when seeking our own paths of service so that we can play our full part in preserving and protecting the great heritage that is ours. Only in this way can we ensure that when the day comes for the final accounting of our lives, we shall not be found wanting.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Harold Roberts, President of The Empire Club of Canada.

There were once two bull frogs who had grown up together in a pond. One day they decided to broaden their outlook and so they left the pond to explore the world.

As fate would have it, they happened upon a farm and entered the barn in search of new adventures. Like true explorers to whom life offers challenges, these two found challenge indeed, for they hopped directly into a half full bucket of milk.

For several hours they swam around until finally one, exhausted and discouraged, sank to the bottom and drowned. The other was of more sturdy stock and more determined. He kicked his legs throughout the night.

In the early hours of the new dawn, the farmer came to milk the cows and you can imagine his surprise when he picked up the milk bucket and found a bull frog sitting on a half bucket of butter.

Well, there is a moral to the story. If one perseveres, victory can be won.

The events in Ottawa and in Calgary over the past few weeks have brought despair to a great many Canadians. This is a year when, more than ever, Canadians need to reflect on the tremendous blessings and opportunities that we have received and shared as citizens of Canada and members of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Bassett, your wealth of experience and your broad interests have made you a tremendous resource for Canada. The inspiration of your example and your ability to tell a good story have enriched our meeting today.

Thank you for speaking to the Commonwealth Society and The Empire Club of Canada at this our Dominion of Canada Day luncheon.

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We Cannot Ignore the Past When Charting a Course for the Future


A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Remembering those who answered the challenge in 1939-40; looking for that spirit of self-sacrifice, that willingness to subjugate personal and regional selfish interests for the common good, that tolerance and understanding. A review of some recent anti-Canadian events: the Quebec emblem being trampled and burned in Brockville; the Canadian flag being torn and trampled in Montreal; the National Anthem being booed. Wondering what those people would think of Canada now. Taking responsibility for how Canada got into its present situation, and reviewing how we got here. Suggestions as to what we can do on behalf of Canada. Developing an active interest in the affairs of the country and the province in which people reside. Connecting the past and the present to the future. Remembering and learning from the war years. Preserving and protecting our heritage.