The Canadian Idea
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Jan 1991, p. 262-270


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Segal, Hugh, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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Some fundamental questions for Canada. What is Canada committed to as a nation that sets it apart from others? What do we offer those who live here, who do business here, who build their lives here that is unique and special and important? What is the qualitative difference that we bring to this country, to the quality of life and the personal prospects of twenty-six million Canadians that could not be brought to them some other way? The speaker asserts that "we do have historically in this country, the basis for a very unique approach to capitalism, to quality of life, that is product of who we are, where we have come from, and what we share." A detailed discussion of this assertion follows, addressing many issues such as how we view government, the role of Crown Corporations, our federal-provincial system, multiculturalism, etc. A time for a new spirit of optimism and determination committed to shaping the new society of fresh re-Confederation.
Date of Original:
31 Jan 1991
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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
Hugh Segal, Chairman, TACT Inc.
THE CANADIAN IDEA
Chairman: Harold Roberts President

Introduction:

Two high-powered advertising geniuses were talking about a third member of the fraternity, whose sudden death had been something of a shock. "What do you think the poor fellow had?" asked one in a properly mournful tone. "Nothing to speak of," sighed the other. "Just a small publishing account and a deodorant client. Nothing worth going after."

Advertising can be very cut-throat, but then again so can politics. Our speaker today is a survivor in both.

To quote his curriculum vitae "Hugh Segal joined TACT'S Public Affairs and Strategic Planning Group--Advance Planning--in 1982 after ten years in government and public policy, culminating in the rank of Associate Secretary of Cabinet at Queen's Park."

I must confess I have no idea what Mr. Segal is going to talk about today, but then again he has no idea what I'm going to say in my introduction.

I based my invitation to Mr. Segal on reputation. I've seen him argue tenaciously on T.V. and Stevie Cameron in 1987 (Feb.19), wrote in the Globe and Mail:

"Hugh is President of a Toronto advertising firm, Camp Associates, and moonlights as a Canada A.M. political pundit, an occasional Toronto Star columnist, an advisor to the Progressive Conservative Party and the funniest after-dinner speaker in the country."

But Hugh has his serious passions and I'm not simply talking about his wife or his daughter.

In an article in "Listening Post" in the Financial Post on April 11, 1990, he wrote passionately for Canada.

"Who among us today has the right to surrender this country to the forces of small-mindedness or sceptical abduction? That is where we are headed unless individual Canadians--without regard to party, language, religion, colour, creed or region take a personal stand and choose simply, directly and resolutely not to give up. To say that there is no deadline on the love of our country, no right of withdrawal from the Canadian opportunity. To say that the nation that spawned the Billy Bishops and George Vaniers, and Emily Carrs and Wilder Penfields isn't about to fold up for anyone or in the face of anything."

The passion for their country and their zeal for life have driven all three Segals, Hugh, Brian and Seymore to excel in life.

Hugh's vocation has been in politics and advertising. Two fields where tough slugging is required. Through it all he has kept his sense of humour.

Hugh, we welcome you to The Empire Club of Canada to talk about your chosen topic.

Hugh Segal:

I just want to thank our guest speaker this afternoon. I found certain segments of his speech absolutely riveting. I am delighted to be here. It's good to be anywhere without Kirby and Caplan. You know, Caplan's a socialist which means he genuinely believes that there is no problem bad enough that government should not be afforded a chance to make it worse. And Michael, Michael Kirby is a Senator, a job I refer to as a taskless thanks. And he's also a Liberal, which means he has a series of very serious and intense long-held principles and if you don't like them he has another set for you.

I m delighted to see so many friends here. Glad to see Dian Cohen on my left and John Tory on my right. I'd like you all to keep that in your mind for future consideration. I was invited many weeks ago to be here and I was so honoured by the invitation I gave a topic to the committee very quickly not thinking about just how much things might change. I said then I thought that an esoteric discussion on reforming capitalism to make it more germane to our humane needs in this society would be good. Having looked around me this morning and seeing our forces involved in an unavoidable but tragic war in the Mid-East, I see also an avoidable but not necessarily tragic NDP government at Queen's Park.

But maybe a discussion of the future of capitalism per se might be just a touch esoteric and self-indulgent. On the other hand my party is at 15 percent in the polls and if you can't be esoteric and self-indulgent at 15 percent when can you be?

I guess I would put one or two serious thoughts to you about what we will face in the post-Glasnost, post-Gulf War, post-Belanger Campeau, post-Quebec Liberal Convention, post-Spicer, post recession reality and what we will have to face on the morning after. And that will be a time for all of us to think about the values that we share, the things that we care about, and how we can work to make this country, its economic system and its constitutional system, ever stronger.

Now I begin this process with you in the brief time available today as an optimist. Well, you'd have to conclude, anybody who can look around the world today, at the war in the Middle East and the S and L collapse in the U.S., concerns about the American banking system, Western reform, what's going on in Quebec and still say he's an optimist, is the kind of person you might want to sell some land in Florida to before the afternoon is over and maybe the odd penny stock on the Vancouver exchange.

But I am an optimist because I think optimism is how this country was built. It's how we came about. It's why so many came to these shores to build better lives for themselves. Now that optimism comes from a deeply-held belief which I have, and a confession which I will make. Despite protestations that you may hear elsewhere I really am a Red Tory, and there are Red Tories, although we're underground these days, kind of in hiding. The Tory in me believes that as a matter of principle one cannot accept the premise that, left to their own accord, people will act in goodwill and treat each other fairly. I would argue that there is a fair amount of data since the beginning of time to substantiate our position on that matter. I would further argue that the classical Liberal does take the view that if you leave people unfettered by government, unfettered by regulation, unfettered by society, they will be nice to each other. They will be good to each other. They will treat each other with equanimity and fairness. I don't believe that. I believe it's naive and I believe it's something we have to look at very carefully as we shape the future of this country.

Now Socialists and Tories do have a common bias. Their bias is, there has to be a system. There has to be an organic connection between all of us, that protects people's interests, that sustains equality of opportunity, that genuinely builds a sense of community in balance with our individual rights. Where the Socialists get taken off the track is that they really do believe that collective rights and community rights always come first. Tories believe there should be a little bit of balance between the individual and the community and that the government's job essentially is to find a way to make that happen, with both the individual and the community feeling comfortable and fairly treated in the process.

One of our great difficulties in this country is figuring our how to do that, with our regional stresses and our regional strains--how to make that happen in a spirit that is genuinely fair. I put it to you that we have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions in Canada that are probably not found within the normal partisan debate. What is Canada committed to as a nation that sets it apart from others? What do we offer those who live here, who do business here, who build their lives here that is unique and special and important? In other words, why is Canada, for example, more valuable to Canadians than a series of Puerto Rico-like commonwealths affiliated in some way with the United States?

What is the qualitative difference that we bring to this country, to the quality of life and the personal prospects of twenty-six million Canadians that could not be brought to them some other way? I put it to you that we do have historically in this country, the basis for a very unique approach to capitalism, to quality of life, that is a product of who we are, where we have come from, and what we share.

We're a nation founded on land owned originally by the Native peoples, tied to English and French governing constitutional principles. We have a unique mix of constitutional structures in our society that blend individual initiative with collective opportunity. We have a mix of rights for our two founding linguistic groups, minority language rights across the country, provincial prerogatives, rights to due process for refugees, that all constitute a very unique basis for style of life, quality of life, not found elsewhere.

What about capitalism as we practise it, such as it is in this country? To be sure, there is no great consensus. Some will say that the forces of the democratic left are ascendant. I would argue that they are ascendant not so much for what they believe in but because they are not now in power and haven't been for some time and can therefore disassociate themselves from the criticisms that those in power have to face.

When those of us who believe in free enterprise look at the Socialist arguments we see essentially where they're headed. They take the worst parts of capitalism, the excess, the greed, the dishonesty, the insensitivity, and they say that's all that capitalism really has to offer. And they try, as is their right in our free and democratic system, to make their case by destroying the free market effort. Now those of us who defend free enterprise have a further problem. Sometimes we look around at those who are defending it with us and we feel just a touch uncomfortable. If capitalism is simply a defense of unlimited inherited wealth, if it is a defense of inherited privilege or a society where the gap between the richest and the poorest never diminishes, then it is not in my view dynamic capitalism at all. It's rather a kind of mercantile feudalism, with owners and slaves, defended in one measure or another by the neo-Conservative gibberish of our American Republican friends. It has little to do with what you and I would call constructive Canadian capitalism. That kind of capitalism views human capital as being of no less value than the fiscal variety. It views equality of opportunity as the fundamental instrument by which we build our society, the way by which we reach out to people so they can use capitalism for themselves and for their families, for their communities. We don't view government always as wasteful or corrupt or unconstructive. But we look for government that is smart and focused on doing what it should do to sustain the integrity of the State, protect the opportunity for the individual, the freedom to innovate.

As a country we are unique. We're a young society--fresh, open, changing quickly enough in terms of demographics to build and shape something truly dynamic. Canadian capitalism that is constructive is constructive because it does not hold people back It does not foster division and jealousy. It's an instrument with which we can build, individually, collectively and nationally. Let me offer some specifics. We can and should preserve the Crown Corporation in this country as an instrumental part of our economic and social development. But we must also have the courage to free-up our Crown Corporations from excessive and counter-productive competing accountabilities. Companies like CN, like the CBC, Central Mortgage and Housing and others, play critical and important roles. We should look long and hard at giving them more of the responsibilities to perform certain functions in our society, while allowing them the freedom to make a profit, a fair return and to generate some benefit for their shareholder, all of us tax payers of Canada.

We often hear a lament that the stresses and strains of our federal-provincial system are an unbearable burden. I think that the process rolling out in Quebec, the process in the West, is an immense opportunity. The issue is not as the folks from Gallup would have us all believe, whether or not Canadians outside of Quebec wish to make concessions to keep Quebec in. The question is whether a dynamic re-Confederation that replaces a large and unwieldy federal bureaucracy that does too much, spends too much, services too much, with a strong national government that does essential things very well indeed, would be an improvement for Canadians. And the answer to that is a resounding yes, if Mr. Gallup ever has the courage to ask.

While the report from some Quebec Liberals proposes more of an utopian country club than what you and I would call a country, we should not set aside a rational debate on re-Confederation simply because the first volley from one committee of one provincial political party is so far off base. And we can and we should in the process develop, if we believe in free enterprise whatever our politics, a new capitalist manifesto for our own country, that frames a uniquely Canadian forum of capitalism that would embrace; the Constitutional right to own private property, the significant diminution of the central bureaucracy's power and influence; the opening of our budgetary processes for all to see and participate in; the simplification of our tax system; the strengthening of our military reserves to meet an ever-changing international agenda; the encouragement of individual improvement and betterment through a program focused on people as opposed to governments and institutions; strong national government that can speak for all Canadians on a key list of issues incorporating certainly no less than foreign policy, defense, energy security, criminal law, citizenship, customs, national measures of social justice and economic policy. And last, but by no means least, a strong Western hemispheric trade zone within which we can compete, grow and prosper.

And we should have the courage to ask some of the tough questions. Do we need to spend federally and provincially in this country $600 million a year to encourage multiculturalism? Could we not simply recognize everyone's right to their own heritage pursued on their own time and their own expense? Surely the non-discriminatory rules in our body of laws and statutes, Charter of Rights, and the labour codes and the human rights codes, sustain our commitment to pluralism and freedom. We would do better to spend some of the $600 million ensuring that Canadian history, the English or French language, our cultural and ethical imperatives, were clearly mastered over a short period of time by all new arrivals to this country. The rest could be put against the debt or to reduce taxes. And should we not through both population and immigration policy, be seeking to build in the next century a nation of 50 million people, a nation whose domestic economy and international clout would adequately advance our national values, our domestic and international purpose.

I certainly do believe that immense courage has been shown since 1984 by the Mulroney administration in facing the tough economic and political issues side-stepped up to that date. And I certainly do believe that with all the difficulties, that administration is best placed to lead us through the many shoals and difficulties ahead. That's my partisan bias. I also believe that we are a country that has been built because of a political will that defied natural rules of economic and geographic reality. We built a unique amalgam of collective, individual, community, regional and national strengths that make being a Canadian the most special of national experiences.

This is no time to let the forces of surrender operate at the expense of our national survival. This is the time to let a new spirit of optimism and determination committed to shaping the new society of fresh re-Confederation, enlist us all in a crusade that must not fail. A compelling national vision, a sense of our own national destiny, will make the small-minded, whether it be in Mr. Manning's coalition or in Mr. Bouchard's, irrelevant as the debate broadens beyond institutionalized envy and parochialism. With Canadian and allied troops facing immense sacrifice to protect us from incalculable evil on the other side of the world, evoking the rich memory for many in this room of others who have sacrificed in war and peace that we might sit here together in freedom today, surely those who follow us deserve nothing less from us than optimism and defiance in the face of any, East or West, French, English, or Native, who would turn their back on the Canadian idea. In a troubled and anxious world it is an idea whose beauty, decency and majesty have never mattered more. Thank you very much.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Harry Seymour, Managing Partner, Waterston Group of Companies and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Canadian Idea


Some fundamental questions for Canada. What is Canada committed to as a nation that sets it apart from others? What do we offer those who live here, who do business here, who build their lives here that is unique and special and important? What is the qualitative difference that we bring to this country, to the quality of life and the personal prospects of twenty-six million Canadians that could not be brought to them some other way? The speaker asserts that "we do have historically in this country, the basis for a very unique approach to capitalism, to quality of life, that is product of who we are, where we have come from, and what we share." A detailed discussion of this assertion follows, addressing many issues such as how we view government, the role of Crown Corporations, our federal-provincial system, multiculturalism, etc. A time for a new spirit of optimism and determination committed to shaping the new society of fresh re-Confederation.