Canada. A View From the Regions
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Sep 1989, p. 22-30
Ghiz, The Hon. Joseph, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The speaker's view or interpretation of Canada, as an individual, as Premier, as shared with his fellow Islanders. A view shaped by history. The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and beyond. Forces of post-Confederation colonialism that have shaped P.E.I. Factors of geography. A look at some traditional views of P.E.I., and the speaker's view. A brief review of the history of the Island, including the economy. Various federal government policies and their effects on the Island and the larger Atlantic regional economy. A closer examination of three specific national political institutions: the electoral system, the party system, and the Senate and their negative contribution to the current status of Atlantic Canada within Confederation. The Atlantic perspective born of frustration. How equality might be achieved. The need for change and modernization of our national political institutions. The need for the effort to find strength in diversity and for all citizens to become a "central Canadian" regardless of where they live.
Date of Original
28 Sep 1989
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Full Text
Chairman: Sarah Band, President


Honoured guests, members of The Empire Club, ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure to introduce our guest today.

This is a time when our country is seeking stature among nations of the world. It is also a time when our people are struggling with a crisis of domestic identity. In this environment it's a rare privilege to meet a Canadian who has given over his professional career to the goals of our people, as a nation and a community of provinces.

Prince Edward Island's place in history as the cradle of Confederation is well respected and revered. The care of Islanders for other Canadians, "mainlanders" they call us, is the stuff about which plays are written and songs sung. But woe betide the historian who mentions that Islanders, having welcomed the planners of Confederation, stayed out of the union for the next nine years.

Our guest today knows the regard in which his Islanders are held. The thousands of us who visit his province every year are testimony to the Island's history of hospitality and our appreciation of it. But, even more exciting, is to see the rebirth of the Island's concern for Canada's growth as a nation.

Under Joseph Ghiz, the province has taken the role of supporter of issues which make Canada stronger. This is no surprise to those who know Mr. Ghiz. He is a graduate of Dalhousie University, with degrees in both Commerce and Law. Mr. Ghiz practised law in Charlottetown. Then he took a sabbatical year to earn his Master's degree at Harvard. His vision of Canada's future and Prince Edward Island's place in that future has helped him become the youngest leader of a political party in Canada, and the premier of his province. Mr. Ghiz has brought credit to the office of premier, and wisdom to the councils of our nation.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce him to the members of The Empire Club today. Ladies and gentlemen, the Honourable Joseph Ghiz, Premier of Prince Edward Island.

The Hon. Joseph Ghiz:

Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire Club. It is a distinct honour to be with you today. This podium has been graced by some of Canada's most illustrious public figures over the years, individuals whose love of country far exceeded their own careers and personal aspirations. In a humble and sincere way, I wish to follow in their tradition. I love Canada, as I know you do, and my address to you is in a spirit of national purpose and unity.

As the premier of Canada's smallest province, I share with my fellow Islanders a particular view or interpretation of our country, one that I would like to speak about today. You might call it a view from the regions. It is a view shaped by history. The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 has accorded Prince Edward Island a special place in the nation's political and constitutional development, and Islanders continue to look at their country in a serious and rather circumspect way. When you help to give birth, the health and welfare of the offspring is always of great interest.

The Island view is also shaped by what I will call the forces of post-Confederation colonialism, by the experience of a small rural society at the "periphery" of centralized wealth and political power. The geographer, Cole Harris, has described Canada as an archipelago--a family of autonomous islands within a common sea, each having its own distinct identity, yet each contributing to and drawing from the identity of the whole. Now, coming from Canada's only genuine island province (forgive me Newfoundlanders), I will admit to being rather fond of that analogy. But, my own island bias aside, the image which the analogy evokes is a powerful one, an accurate one, and, I think, a positive one. I want to return to this idea of Canada as a "pluralistic" state, but first let us look closely at where Prince Edward Island, indeed Atlantic Canada, fits within the national scheme of things. There are two decidedly different schools of thought here. There is what I will term the "basket case theory", commonly endorsed by those outside the region, which sees Atlantic Canada as an habitual charity case, damned by accident of history and geography to a position of economic and political dependency--a drain on the rest of the country.

At the other end of the spectrum there is what I call the "conspiracy theory", endorsed by some inside the region, which sees Atlantic Canada as victimized by an insensitive and avaricious central Canada, intent on keeping the region in a perpetual state of fiefdom--so that they in central Canada can thrive and prosper, in part at our expense.

I submit that neither of these interpretations is accurate. Let's examine the history. I'm sure I won't shock any of you when I say that the Canadian Confederation was not a marriage made in heaven. Despite our best attempts at revisionist history writing, there was nothing particularly "noble" about the way Canada was united. In fact, one Canadian humorist has cynically suggested that no province joined Confederation until they were assured that they could get more out of it than they had to put into it. Perhaps that explains the long and protracted process of Confederation itself, which began in 1867 and, many would argue, has not yet ended.

In relative terms, the economy of the various Atlantic colonies at the time of Confederation was thriving. The region's position on the Atlantic seaboard meant that it was favourably situated to take advantage of trade with Europe and the Boston states, especially in primary resources like lumber, fish, and agricultural products. That fact is well documented. What is less documented, however, is the fact that Atlantic Canada was also the home of a sizable manufacturing and processing industry. Maritime historians have shown that in the early 1880's Nova Scotia's per capita growth in manufacturing was greater than that of Ontario and Quebec. A disproportionate number of steel mills, cotton mills, glass works, sugar refineries, and other factories were also located in the Maritimes. In addition, we founded several national financial institutions and banks--one of which (symbolically at least) still celebrates its Maritime roots, (although in a rather cruel twist of irony, policies for Maritime branches are now set here in Toronto).

Prince Edward Island, saddled though it was with a large railway debt, was enjoying its own "golden age" in the last half of the nineteenth century. Trade with Great Britain, the United States and the West Indies was brisk and unfettered. We had a thriving shipbuilding industry. And local manufacturing was busy providing consumer goods to a relatively cash-rich economy. It was Confederation, the "conspiracy theorists" claim, which brought this all crashing down on our collective head. Are they correct in their claim?

Well, yes--in part they are correct. But there is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between the arrival of Confederation and the departure of the so-called Maritime golden age. A closer examination of the Atlantic economy reveals that much of the region's success was based on trade in goods which were quickly losing their value in a modernizing world--a world that was moving along the path from mercantilism to capitalism.

No. Confederation was not the culprit. There was no conspiracy on the part of central Canada to subjugate Atlantic Canada. No. It was not the conscious, intended policy decision of the central government to keep the region poor.

Nonetheless, that was precisely the effect of a series of federal government policies, beginning with the national policy of 1879, which slowly but inexorably led to the dismantling of the Atlantic regional economy and the strengthening of the central Canadian economy.

I think there is a very subtle, yet important, difference in my interpretation of Canadian economic history and that of the conspiracy theorists. To borrow a phrase from the law (and a pretty good movie), the difference is the absence of malice. Put simply, the centralization of people, power, and money is a natural phenomenon which has occurred and continues to occur in all modern capitalist economies. Contrary to what some Maritimers believe, there are no greedy barons of business who meet every Thursday at the Empire Club to plot and scheme against the poor and powerless. No. The truth is, such detailed planning is not required on their part. The underdevelopment of peripheral regions like Atlantic Canada rolls on, quite naturally, without the slightest intervention from the central business elite. No. Plotting and scheming is not required, for complicitous in the under-development of Atlantic Canada, complicitous in the persistence of regional disparity are the very same national political institutions which have been set up to protect us.

Let me be more specific, and point the accusing finger at three of our national political institutions in particular: the electoral system, the party system, and the Senate. Each of these decidedly democratic institutions has contributed in a "negative way to the current status of Atlantic Canada within Confederation.

Allow me to explain. In the early years following Confederation, Atlantic'Canada's political strength in the new federal government approached that of Ontario and Quebec. The population of the Maritime provinces was not only stable, but growing. Slowly but surely, however, the balance of power began to shift. The rapid industrialization of Ontario and Quebec served as a magnet, attracting more and more people. Increased population, of course, meant larger markets, and this in turn served to attract more industry. Meantime, the cycle of de-industrialization and de-population was accelerated in the Maritimes. In a nation where the democratic principle of representation by population prevails, "population" translates in "political power". The result is that politicians and political parties scramble to satisfy the greatest common denominator, and in so doing initiate even more "national" policies and programs which strengthen the central Canadian economy at the expense of the other regions. Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, things are not getting any better.

In the past year alone Atlantic Canada has been slammed by a series of discriminatory, destructive and callous federal government decisions, taken in the so-called "national" interest, decisions that can only exacerbate regional disparity and contribute to the further weakening of this country as a nation. Once again I will give you the Island perspective.

The backbone of Prince Edward Island's economy continues to be agriculture, the fishery, and tourism. We are making every effort to diversify, however "seasonal employment" is a basic fact of our economic existence. You can't grow potatoes or fish lobster in January. Moreover, the stronger our primary industries become, the greater seasonal work force they require. It appears that Ottawa doesn't understand, or chooses to ignore, this economic reality. Proposed changes to the unemployment insurance system discriminate against seasonal workers, and if implemented will place an additional burden on a small rural economy with limited alternatives.

Canadian Forces Base Summerside gives us further reason to be cynical and disillusioned. Here we have the second largest employer in Prince Edward Island, providing secure, year-round, well-paid jobs to military personnel and civilians, the kind of jobs the federal government urges us to create.

Yes, CFB Summerside generates the equivalent of 200,000 jobs in Ontario or Quebec. And what does the federal government do in the interest of "national" defense and "national" economy? It decides to close the base down, devastating the western part of Prince Edward Island economically, and leaving ours the only province of Canada that will not participate in military spending. This is ironic, given that one of our Island communities, little St. Peters, contributed more sons and daughters to the last war effort than any community of its size in all of Canada.

The military rationale for the CFB Summerside closure is now under considerable scrutiny. The economic rationale simply cannot be defended. Islanders understandably wonder if their province, indeed all of Atlantic Canada, has been forgotten by our national politicians, and if the inequities of the current system can be overcome. Certainly, the party loyalty and solidarity imposed by our party system often prevents our region's governing party members from publicly agitating for favourable policy measures. They may or may not make their views known in the privacy of caucus or cabinet, but they are bound by party loyalty, by caucus and cabinet solidarity to mute or silence their voices. The silence and compliance of most Atlantic region governing members in the face of this spring's federal budget cuts, is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

The third institution which is complicitous in regional disparity is, of course, the Senate, that body created especially to assure a regional balance in national decision-making. Well, what can I say about the Senate which has not already been said. Unfortunately, that chamber has not fulfilled its duty as the representative of regional interests, and, in the absence of legitimate regional representation within our federal system, the provinces have had to become the sole articulators of regional public will. The result is the now familiar jurisdictional "tug-of-war" which passes for nation-building, but which in my view makes us weaker and less united as a nation.

This is the Island view, the Atlantic view, of Canada. It is a perspective borne out of frustration--frustration with national policies which discriminate against a region and its people--frustration with national political institutions that fail to recognize or correct regional disparities, both economic and political--frustration with "solutions" imposed from above, which seek to replicate the central Canadian economic model with little or no regard for local resources, local culture, or local economic history--frustration with a national media and a national bureaucracy which continue to see us and portray us as revelling in our dependency--frustration with a national government and a national business elite which a century ago told us we could not trade freely with the United States--subsequently strips us of our ability to do so--and now asks us to support the new Free Trade deal.

The Atlantic region's view of Canadian Confederation is, I am afraid, quite dismal, but I'm not about to start crying because I honestly believe that we can help to change this situation. Canada is not a homogenous land mass. We are a sea of islands, as Cole Harris said, cultural, linguistic, geographic and, yes, even economic islands, joined together by that essential common element--a national purpose. That national purpose finds expression not by subjugating and denying our differences, strengths and weaknesses, but by building on what makes us proud as Canadians, and that is the idea of equality, equality of opportunity, that gives to all Canadians, wherever they live, the opportunity to participate in the country's wealth and greatness.

Equality can only be achieved when all Canadians feel they have a legitimate voice in central decision-making. In my opinion we must look to the Senate, as the founding fathers did, for a counterpoint to the elected House of Commons. We must restructure the Senate so that it becomes the place to bring forward regional points of view. I do not suggest an elected Senate in the American (or Alberta) style. That would fly in the face of our British parliamentary tradition, rather, I would keep to an appointed Senate, with an equal number of senators appointed by each province. I believe the concept of a continuous provincial presence in Ottawa would act as an effective balance and counterpoint to the elected house, which must conduct its affairs along strict party lines in order to preserve party discipline.

Yes, we need to change, we need to modernize our national political institutions if Canada is to become a truly great nation, for a great nation is one in which all citizens enjoy fair treatment and equality of opportunity from their own back yard.

Capital and financial power in Canada, as elsewhere, will continue to shift like the sands on our Island beaches. The Maritimes enjoyed a zenith of prosperity in the last century, when trade connections with,Europe were dominant. Ontario and Quebec have subsequently benefited from continental trade. And now the Canadian West is rising up to meet the exciting opportunities of the Pacific rim. For economic, cultural, and psychological reasons, we must resist tying our national purpose to one particular region of the country.

Possibly the most mischievous aspect of Canadian Confederation was the naming of the "whole"--the new nation state--after one of the "parts", one of the "regions". Ontario and Quebec gradually assumed the identity of Canada itself, leaving the Maritimes and the West feeling alienated and marginal. Once again, there was no conspiracy, just a series of unfortunate decisions on the part of political leaders who could not have imagined the outcome. Perhaps we should relegate the notion of "central Canada" to the scrap heap.

We must strive to build a country that resists simplification, one that takes its strength from its diversity. It should be every Canadian's dream, and right, to become a "central Canadian", regardless of where they live, not by "going down the road" to Toronto, but rather by finding meaning and livelihood in their own community. This is the only idea of Canada which makes sense to me, and the only one worth of our national destiny. This is my view from the regions.

Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John Campion, Partner, Fasken, Campbell, Godfrey and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Canada. A View From the Regions

The speaker's view or interpretation of Canada, as an individual, as Premier, as shared with his fellow Islanders. A view shaped by history. The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and beyond. Forces of post-Confederation colonialism that have shaped P.E.I. Factors of geography. A look at some traditional views of P.E.I., and the speaker's view. A brief review of the history of the Island, including the economy. Various federal government policies and their effects on the Island and the larger Atlantic regional economy. A closer examination of three specific national political institutions: the electoral system, the party system, and the Senate and their negative contribution to the current status of Atlantic Canada within Confederation. The Atlantic perspective born of frustration. How equality might be achieved. The need for change and modernization of our national political institutions. The need for the effort to find strength in diversity and for all citizens to become a "central Canadian" regardless of where they live.