- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Oct 1994, p. 250-263
- Charest, The Hon. Jean, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Canada poised at a critical time in its history. A detailed discussion of the issue of Quebec and separation. Concern with the possibility that political parties will deliberately misinterpret what Quebeckers said with their election of a separatist government. What other political parties might say. Understanding what the issues means for the country. The need for clarity. The message of profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, sent by the people of Canada in recent elections. What can be learned, what can be done in answer to this message. The dreams of Quebeckers. Living with the same questions for over 20 years and the costs to Canada as a result. The need to try asking different questions. Views and questions of a new generation. What people want today. Taking a hard look at whether government is working now for Canadians within a federal context. Federalism as a system flexible enough to let us change what needs to be changed. An alternative to separation or the status quo: keep what works, change what does not, eliminate what is no longer useful and acquire the tools we need to succeed in the modern world. Some principles to guide this effort. Beginning with three fundamental premises. A de-centralised approach. How people have weakened a "strong central government." The duty of national leaders for a national perspective. Responsibilities of the speaker as Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. Making a point about the role the speaker will play in the Quebec referendum. The speaker's agreement with Jean Chretien on a fundamental issue. An appeal to the speaker's Party and its ideas.
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- 11 Oct 1994
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The Hon. Jean Charest, Leader of the Progressive Party of Canada
REORGANISING GOVERNMENT: AN OPTION OTHER THAN SEPARATION OR STATUS QUO
Chairman: John A. Campion
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Carlyle Dunbar, Financial Journalist and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Robyn Lawrie, grade 12 student, Havergal College; Sarah Band, Owner, Bianco Plus and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Clayton Ruby, Lawyer, Ruby & Edwardh, civil rights and constitutional law; Pamela Wallin, Co-Host, CBC Prime Time News; Joseph Rotman, President, Roy-L Group and President, Art Gallery of Ontario; Catherine McKinnon, Actress and Singer; Julie Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and 1st Vice-President and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada; The Rev. Bill Steadman, Minister, Rosedale United Church; Diane Dupuy, President, Famous People Players; Anna Porter, Publisher, Key Porter Books; The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, Former Prime Minister of Canada, currently United Nations Special Envoy to Cypress, a consultant and author of a new book called A Country Too Good to Lose which will be launched in Toronto on October 12; and Peter Munk, Chairman and CEO, American Barrick Resources Corp.
Introduction by John Campion
I have always wanted to be a writer of editorials; let you be the first to hear my premier attempt.
The genius of Canada is very much rooted in the pragmatic, tolerant, wise appreciation for decent intervals and proper distances among its various components--for ambiguity. Canada and its leadership are frequently underestimated. This arises from the physical landscape, holding as it does, one of the world's few last great wildernesses and where survival from the elements is only a generation or two away. Ideology is a poor lifeboat in Canadian waters because it is often swamped by the storms of a struggle to retain what we have in a world of much larger and more powerful players.
But Canada, oh Canada, how have you created so many revolutionary changes and points of division? Let me count the ways:
1. over the last decade, you have had a divisive election over free trade; 2. over the last five years, the progress for national unity has been met with a punishing series of disputes, raising deep concerns from the nationalists of Quebec; 3. over the last decade, the Tories joined with the Nationalists of Quebec to win a federal mandate; 4. our national debt is so high that it absorbs a dangerous amount of federal revenue, putting our economic and political stability at risk; 5. the federal government is hemmed in on all sides by constitutional limitations that hamper policy formation in areas of deep national concern; 6. the electorate, over the last 10 years, has almost abandoned our great national political parties which were the anvils around which compromise was forged; 7. driven by a need for fundamental change, the electorate was recently influenced by a reform movement from the West and the nationalists in Quebec to bring the ruling Tories to near extinction.
Canada, oh Canada, why if you were so boring to the world, do you create such a revolutionary series of problems and changes that your very existence seems to be continuously threatened? Can Canada survive? The answer is yes; the reason is leadership in public life. Will the Tories return to power? The answer is yes.
This editorial was written by me as of December, 1921, with apologies for some of the phrases from Canada's National Newspaper. The following events had occurred up to December, 1921:
1. the election of 1911 had seen the Tories form a government opposing trade reciprocity with the United States. They had the support of the Nationalists in Quebec and the Economic Nationalists from the rest of Canada. 2. the conscription of the crisis of 1917 led to the union government of Sir Robert Borden. The Prime Minister was supported by the Conservatives and Liberal Conscriptionists outside Quebec. Quebec followed Laurier and seemed to stand in isolation again, after years of success on the national unity front. 3. the election of December, 1921, saw the Liberals take 117 seats, the Progressives, (the reform movement from the West with appeal in Ontario), take 65 seats and the Tories take only 50 seats; 4. the Privy Council, under the direction of Viscount Haldane, limited the federal government's constitutional power to legislate under the Federal Residuary Authority so that the Liberals' economic regulation and social welfare legislation had to be held in abeyance; 5. the war effort was so costly that the national debt had increased seven-fold from 1913 to 1921, from $500 million to $3.5 billion. This arose, in part, from the nationalization of two transcontinental railways and in part, due to the enormous expenditures of the war. Nearly half of the current annual expenditure in the 1920s was paid out to service of the debt and to discharge other current obligations which the war had created.
As Canadians witnessed the balkanization of their political parties in the 1990s, it is comforting for those who have been sidelined that dramatic recoveries have been made in the past.
M. Charest, born in 1958, was first elected in 1984 and called to the Mulroney cabinet in June, 1986 as Minister of State for Youth and thereby became the youngest person to serve in a federal cabinet. He assumed other portfolios, was re-elected in 1988, became Deputy-Leader of the government in 1989, was appointed Chairman of the Special House of Commons Committee studying a proposed companion resolution to the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord, took on other ministries and in June, 1993, finished second at the leadership convention of the Progressive Conservative Party.
M. Charest was re-elected for a third consecutive mandate on October 25, 1993 and was appointed Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in December, 1993. Please join me in giving M. Charest a warm welcome.
Ladies and gentlemen:
I'm delighted to be with you today at this meeting of The Empire Club. I know I don't need to tell anyone in this audience that our country is poised at a critical time in its history. For you to be willing to listen to a Tory leader once again means that you already know there's trouble. For the second time in 20 years, a Parti Quebecois government is in power in Quebec, and for the second time in almost as many years, it will ask Quebeckers whether they wish to remain citizens of their own country.
There will be a great deal of debate and speculation about whether Quebec should and will leave Canada. Personally, I'm also concerned with the possibility that political parties will deliberately misinterpret what Quebeckers said with their election of a separatist government. The federal Liberals will tell you it means nothing, the PQ and BQ will tell you it means everything. The Reform Party won't tell you what it means unless you tell them first. But it is critical that we all understand what it means, not for narrow political interests, but for the country.
First, neither M. Parizeau, nor M. Bouchard for that matter, were able to win the support of the majority of Quebeckers. If there is any doubt of the existence of federalists from Quebec who still believe in their province's future within Canada, you are looking at the proof that they exist right here in front of you.
Secondly, both M. Parizeau and M. Bouchard have embraced, and will continue to embrace, a deliberate strategy to try and provoke Canadians outside Quebec. Their goal is to try to leave the impression that other Canadians are hostile to the interests of Quebeckers. However difficult it may be, we all have to try to greet that provocation with reasoned judgment.
Thirdly, we have to be prepared, as individuals and as a nation, to be constructive both during and after the referendum. Because the day after, we will all have to face the task of moving forward. I understand the frustration of many Canadians outside Quebec who feel that the endless debate over unity has become a drag on our progress as a nation. And I understand that for those Canadians, the temptation to demand that Quebeckers make up their minds once and for all--"to take it or leave it"--is very real. But you should all know that it is at least as frustrating for Quebeckers, who have had a ringside seat for the same match--a kind of endless fight between federal Liberals and Quebec separatists that never seems to get anyone anywhere, for 20 years and counting.
When I was 18 years old, when I turned on the television, the Russians and Americans were building up weapons for global war against each other, Catholics and Protestants were fighting in Ireland, Israelis and Arabs were fighting in the Middle East, and here at home, 18 years ago, M. Chretien and M. Parizeau were arguing about separation. Today, when I turn on the television, the Cold War is over, there is finally hope of progress in Ireland and in the Middle East, but here at home I still see M. Chretien and M. Parizeau rehearsing the same lines.
Like most people, I'm getting a little tired of the same old programme. Domestic politics are turning into a TV rerun. And as the PQ have assumed power and effectively launched the pre-referendum campaign, it is clear that there's nothing new about this new fall season. M. Chretien says we can sleep, the separatists say we should leap. Liberals say the country should do nothing to respond to Quebeckers and in particular to separatists. Separatists say that Quebec can do nothing to improve its condition while inside Canada. Together, they'll be forcing Quebeckers to confront two and only two choices: separation or the status quo.
We need to be very clear about what this referendum is about. During the debate, the burden of proof will lie with those who would take Quebec out of Canada to tell Quebeckers what that would mean for them and for their children. They are the ones who wanted this referendum. They are the ones who are putting our history on trial and proposing an end to Quebec's future in Canada. It is up to them to tell Quebeckers how much separation will cost each woman, man and child of Quebec. And for how many generations.
But it will not be enough for those who want the country to stay together to rely on simply repeating how much we love Canada. It is true that the very slim plurality given to M. Parizeau is not a mandate to begin the march towards independence. But the election also offered an equally clear signal that Quebeckers, like many Canadians, reject the idea that we can continue as we have been doing in this country. The Quebec election of 1994 came less than a year after a federal election that brought the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois to Parliament. These are parties not of the mainstream but of the extreme: They are: parties of division, polarization and confrontation in a country whose survival depends on accommodation, honourable compromise and consensus. That so many good people would turn to such parties in two elections within 12 months sends a message of profound dissatisfaction with the status quo. What can we learn from that message, and what can we do about it?
The dreams of Quebeckers, like those of other Canadians, haven't been achieved by 20 years of politicians debating the Constitution. In my view, people clear across this country, in every province, want better ideas from politicians and better results from governments./ They don't buy the argument that the country must be trashed, or that it can't be improved upon. They don't buy the idea that constitutional change can solve all our problems, or that we can't consider any improvements if they require us to change the Constitution. They know that budgets can't be balanced with the stroke of a pen, and that governments can't spend their way back to prosperity.
Too often, any discussion of how to change Canada for the better has centred on one of two questions: how to amend the Constitution, or how government can get the economy moving. We've lived with those two questions for over 20 years: years in which provinces and the federal government battled each other over jurisdiction when people cared more about jobs, over tax points when people cared more about tax cuts, and over clauses when people cared more about causes: years in which provinces and the federal government learned how to spend more as if there was no tomorrow, while people learned how to spend in case there was no job tomorrow. We all know the costs to our country.
Our collective attempts to use the government to fix all our country's ills and the Constitution to fix all our government's ills have not worked. By trying to do everything for all people, by trying to spend its way out of problems, governments have succeeded where no Canadians wanted them to: in running up huge debts that make them powerless to act when action is really needed, in alienating Canadians from their institutions and from each other, and in damaging their moral authority with the people by their continued inability to deliver what they say they will.
So, if we're not getting the right answers to the questions we have been asking, maybe we need to try asking different questions. Maybe trying to amend the Constitution isn't the best starting point, and maybe just pushing Ottawa to stimulate the economy, solve all our social problems and achieve excellence in culture and education is simplistic and riddled with risk. Perhaps a better question is: How can we roll up our sleeves to make government work for Canadians again?
There is a new generation who asks harder, realistic questions, and deserves newer, more practical answers. Our problems are not the problems of 20 years ago and the solutions of 20 years ago won't fix them.
Canadians from coast to coast are saying that it is time to make changes to the way government works for Canadians. This doesn't mean that we have to reject federalism.
In 1867, Upper and Lower Canada, English and French, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick agreed that federalism was the only system that would let them preserve and protect their different identities and control their own institutions while at the same time coming together in a spirit of common citizenship to build an economic and social union. Canadian federalism is a shared sovereignty, with powers--in many cases exclusive powers attributed either to the federal government or to the provinces.
One hundred and twenty-seven years later, Canada is larger, and economic, social and cultural conditions across the country are even more diverse. The need to tailor government action to local needs and priorities is obvious to anyone who has had the privilege, as I have had, of meeting with Canadians in their own communities all across the country.
At the same time, Canadians know that their economic and social union must be strong if we are to prosper in this age of globalisations. People today want more breathing room, more autonomy, and more control with regard to those matters that most directly affect them, their families, their communities, and their way of life.
Quebeckers feel no less strongly about this than do other Canadians. Indeed, M. Parizeau struck a responsive cord with Quebeckers during the election when he promised to decentralise from the provincial government in Quebec City to the regions and communities across the province. As in the rest of Canada, the demand for the granting of a certain power may mean that a function should be exercised by a provincial or local government, or that government should step aside and let the people work out their own solutions. For Quebeckers, the need to protect Quebec's distinct character as the home of the French language and culture in North America is more than two centuries old, and it will always be their preoccupation in their relations with the English-speaking majority on this continent.
The majority of Quebeckers, like other Canadians, accept the obligations of our common citizenship, the need to come together to set common goals and to meet national objectives, and the need for a central government able to act on behalf of all Canadians. It is defeatism to suggest that we cannot reorganise government in this country in such a way as to meet these needs. It is blind arrogance to suggest that the way we are doing things now is good enough.
We need to take a hard look at whether government is working now for Canadians within a federal context. Federalism is a system flexible enough to let us change what needs to be changed.
Between separation and the status quo, there is another way: let us keep what works, change what does not, eliminate what is no longer useful and acquire the tools we need to succeed in the modern world. And we need to set some principles, to help guide this effort. I believe we should begin with three fundamental premises:
Number one: there should be nothing sacred about how government is currently organised in Canada. As the needs change, the organisation of governments must also change. Where government has worked most efficiently, there has been a flow of functions between its levels to meet dramatic changes in demography and technology. You are all familiar with the concept of "comparative advantage" in economics--doing what you do best compared to others. We have to think along similar lines--let the federal government do what it does best, and apply the same rule to other levels of government, the private and voluntary sectors.
Number two: the starting and finishing point should be what works best for Canadians, not what works best for political parties or existing governments.
My cabinet responsibilities in a previous government pertained to labour market policy, principally as it affects younger Canadians. I was also Minister of the Environment. In these areas, as in many others--from immigration to the information highway infrastructure to future challenges we have not even heard of yet--Canadians will always need a federal government to take a national and international perspective, to defend the values we share as Canadians, and to act in our common national interest.
Canadians will always want provincial governments to protect their interests and priorities at home. Where people live, the activities of the federal and provincial governments on these matters intersect and often overlap.
Several generations of politicians and bureaucrats have been paying lip service to the ideas of disentanglement and rationalisation without really getting very far with them. Now, the impending budgetary crisis and the exasperation of taxpayers may force them upon us at long last. The question must always be: What level of government can provide the most effective approach, at the least cost?
Number three: amending the Constitution could be the result of this process, but it does not have to be the starting point. As much as we would all like to have a new Constitution which better reflects the country, focussing on this task alone has not been successful. It's time to consider that maybe if we get government working better first, we might find that we've created an atmosphere in which reworking the Constitution would bring us together, not tear us apart.
There is no reason why both levels of government cannot enter into arrangements in virtually all areas of government where there exists the possibility of better results at less cost for Canadians. We could then have an opportunity to see in practice if these new arrangements work well for Canadians. If they prove to work well, then we could consider amending our Constitution to reflect those new realities.
I know the criticism that will be levelled at this kind of de-centralised approach, because we've heard it before: that the federal government may be weakened. I don't accept the logic that letting governments do what they do best makes them ineffectual. The real irony is that by refusing to abandon a rigid, centralist approach, the federal government will only weaken itself further.
William MacDonald, a noted Toronto lawyer and political commentator, has noted that the people in Canadian politics who often claim to be speaking for "a strong central government" have been the very people who have weakened it. They have done so in three fundamental ways:
• by using political power to enforce policies on regions of this country that don't subscribe to those policies. • by intervening in the economy so disruptively that it destroys the marketplace. • by letting spending and taxation get so out of control that their own ability to act is constrained at both ends. We must build a new, thoughtful case for who does ,what, and not draw on worst case scenarios.
Our national leaders especially have a duty to be true to a national perspective. We cannot let our thinking be completely clinical, and forget about nation-building, as seems to be the case for Mr. Manning. Nor can we camouflage attempts to hold power at the centre as the only possible course for those who believe in Canada.
We must remember that a government is strong only when it has the moral authority to act and the fiscal capacity and freedom to choose. We cannot bring that strength back unless we are prepared to put aside the old templates and find new inspiration.
Some Canadians are fond of describing their country as some sort of mystical object of faith. And in a way they are right. Certainly, the practices of civility and tolerance that have held us together for some 125 years have at times defied human nature.
But Canada has been built by more than a love of country. For their part, generations of Canadians--my parents and your parents--who chose to come here worked hard to build a life for themselves and for their children, in a country they could call their own. Those Canadians were not afraid of struggle, of challenge or of change. And now it is the turn of another generation to build a better Canada.
I realise it is no longer fashionable to be in politics. And after the last election many have asked me more than a few times why I'm still in it. But I always return to the same answer. I believe I have a responsibility to take up the job begun by my parents to make this country a home for their children. They gave me the right to call Canada my home. And it is now my responsibility to make sure it is there for my children.
As Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, I have another responsibility that I proudly share with those who have gone before me: to advance ideas to the Canadian people that marry fiscal conservatism to a national vision of this country.
I want to make a point about the role I will play in the Quebec referendum. There are those who feel that everyone who speaks for the federalist cause must speak with one voice and march in lock step. But I do not for a moment believe that the cause of federalism is weakened by having more than one expression of how it can work for all Canadians.
M. Chretien and I are in agreement on one fundamental issue: that the aspirations of Quebeckers will be met much better within a united Canada than in an independent Quebec. He and I disagree on what should come after the referendum, but that should not and will not interfere with my determination to talk to Quebeckers and to all Canadians about our options.
Over the next year, I ask that Canadians listen to what my Party and I are thinking about. They are new ideas that bridge the gap between sleeping and leaping; ideas that start by looking for better results for government on the issues that matter.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Sarah Band, Owner, Bianco Plus and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.