The Canadian Revolution
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Nov 1995, p. 259-272

Newman, Peter C., Speaker
Media Type:
Item Type:
The Canadian revolution. The speaker's review of his book of the same title. A revolution as a shift in values of the society that has undergone a revolution. The speaker's thesis is that this has happened to Canadian values: a shift from deference to defiance, from deference to authority, to defiance of authority. Politics as the most obvious manifestation of this revolution. The Mulroney years as the subject of the book. Shifts in interest in issues or in policies to an interest in values. A review of some of the things that went on in the last 10 years. A brief history of this deference and the defiance. Other revolutions: the work revolution; the First Nation's revolution; the Western Canadian revolution; the Mike Harris counter-revolution; the Quebec revolution. Questions for the future. The Americanisation of bookstores. Comments about Canada and Canadians. Being Canadian an act of faith. The need to travel throughout Canada, to see it and feel it. Quiet optimism.
Date of Original:
30 Nov 1995
Language of Item:
Copyright Statement:
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.
Empire Club of Canada
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Peter C. Newman, Author and Journalist
Chairman: David Edmison
President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Sheri Pickett, grade 12 student, Central Technical School; Anne Libby, Co-Owner, Libby's of Toronto Art Gallery and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Larry Stevenson, President and CEO, Chapters; Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Beth Tzedec Synagogue; Rona Maynard, Editor, Chatelaine Magazine; Anna Porter, Publisher and CEO, Key Porter Books; Tom Wells, President, T.L.W. Consulting and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Sally Barnes, Columnist, The Toronto Sun and President, Enterprise Canada Group of Companies; Cynthia Good, Vice-President, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Penguin Books Canada Ltd.; and Robert Lewis, Editor, Maclean's Magazine.

Introduction by David Edmison

On October 26, 1992 nearly eight million Canadians roundly rejected what could have been the most historic constitutional agreement since Confederation. The Charlottetown Accord was unique in that so many constituencies were represented and able to reach a consensus. It was the culmination of much negotiation and media drama.

In his book, "The Canadian Revolution; From Deference to Defiance," our special guest, Peter C. Newman asserts that the rejection of the Charlottetown Accord was not a singular act of indifference, but rather, it represented a revolutionary tide, a tide that was sweeping our country, and would have a major impact on our political and economic power structures. This bloodless revolution was not just an overnight phenomenon. He maintains it was a process which had been put on fast forward in 1985, and by 1995 Canadians had experienced a momentous shift in values. Whether you agree or not, this book serves as a wake-up call to our political elites, in fact all elites, that a sea change has occurred in our country with deference turning to defiance.

Chapter by chapter, Mr. Newman chronicles how and why this revolution took place. With precision and consummate detail he lays the foundation for his premise, describing Canada's new society and its new politics. Mr. Newman is well qualified to present his controversial views. He is one of the deans of the Canadian literary establishment, having risen to the top of his profession, serving as editor-in-chief of both Canada's most influential magazine, "Maclean's," and its largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star.

Our guest's rise to the top was not easy and his success is what Canadian legends are all about. Mr. Newman was born in Vienna and raised in Czechoslovakia which he was forced to flee during the Nazi holocaust. Arriving in Canada in 1940 at age 11, he worked on the farm his family purchased near Freeman, Ontario as a condition for entering and staying in Canada. He has worked underground at Bevcourt Gold Mines in Northern Quebec, been a magician at Eaton's Toytown, served as Captain in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, and played drums with his own jazz band.

His career in writing took off with his book "Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years," written in 1963. Since then he has published an additional 16 books, including his epic four-volume history of the Canadian establishment and his three-volume history of the Hudson Bay Company, selling over 2 million copies. Our guest continues to chronicle the important events of the day in his influential column, "The Nation's Business" in "Maclean's."

Thoreau wrote: "Books are the treasured wealth of the world and fit inheritance of generations and nations. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and more than kings and explorers exert and influence mankind."

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to welcome a man who would never describe himself as an aristocrat, but is most certainly a man of influence, our special guest, Peter C. Newman.

Peter Newman

Thank you David and good afternoon.

Before I start my speech I want to explain why I'm wearing this hat. You probably don't have too many speakers who wear goofy hats. It has nothing to do with being bald, although I am. It has nothing to do with sailing although I do. It has to do with writing and my first job. When I got out of university I didn't know what to do with myself. I sort of vaguely thought I should write but I couldn't get a job. I then read an article about how to get a job and all I remembered out of it was that you should wear a hat. And remember this was back in 1950 when everybody wore fedoras. I think they are called Peter Monk hats now. I couldn't figure this out because I was quite happy to wear a hat but by the time I got to the interview I had to leave my hat outside. How would the person whom I was being interviewed by know that I was responsible? Sure enough I went to all these interviews without the prospective boss seeing my hat and I didn't get a job. Finally I had an interview with the editor of The Financial Post, and I really wanted that job. I was determined to make sure that he knew that I was responsible so I had a wrestling match with the secretary, took my hat with me and put it on the desk right between us during the interview. Well we had the interview and finally he couldn't resist anymore and he said to me, "What the hell is this hat doing on my desk?" I told him the story and he laughed so hard he gave me the job. So it worked. As far as the tie is concerned I got this in Montreal. It was on sale.

Now it is very difficult to prepare for such an august occasion as talking to The Empire Club. The only person I know in the world who prepared herself completely for an occasion was Shelley Winters, the Hollywood actress. When she was young and blythe and beautiful, she had an audition with a very disreputable director, and a friend of hers warned her saying, "Shelley, be careful of this guy. The moment you are through the door he is going to tear off your dress and have you on the casting couch." Shelley said, "So glad you warned me. I will wear an old dress."

I know you expect me to say something about the referendum and I was thinking back to the night of the referendum when I was watching the results and I decided at that moment to consult my favourite philosopher who is a rock singer. She once stopped the music in a San Francisco concert and what she said sort of reflected my reaction to the referendum because what she said was: "It's very difficult to sing and throw up at the same time."

I'll get back to Quebec later in my speech.

The Canadian Revolution. It's sounds like an oxymoron. It sounds like jumbo shrimp or Ottawa night-life, but it's not. Most of us think of revolutions as something to do with a guillotine or tanks in a city square--some great violent confrontation. These usually are events in a revolution but they are not the revolution itself. What authenticates a revolution is a shift in values of the society that has undergone a revolution. My thesis in this book is that that is what has happened--Canadian values have shifted from deference to defiance, from deference to authority, to defiance of authority. Of course the most obvious manifestation of this has been in our politics.

The years I am writing about are mostly the Mulroney years and there was a great deal of disillusionment--some of it justified and some of it not. I have a quote from Bob Austin in my book who says that it was the first time in history that a government has overthrown a country. Writing about some of the Mulroney ministers I say that even when they admitted they lied nobody believed them. But I think the explanation is much simpler. I think that Brian Mulroney made one fatal mistake. He wanted so badly to be loved. He didn't want to make enemies. He didn't understand that prime ministers don't need to be loved. They need to be respected. Trudeau, as much as we hated him, was always respected and Mulroney tried so hard to be loved that it didn't work. It reminded me of Voltaire when he was on his deathbed and somebody said to him, "Mr. Voltaire would you like to renounce the devil?" He looked very surprised and he said, "No, no, this is no time to make new enemies."

When you look at the shift in Canada between then and now I think that we are less interested in issues or in policies. We are much more interested in values and values are something that are more difficult to achieve than issues. We are much more interested in character than in personalities. Personalities can be manufactured these days with image merchants and things like that but character is what we want--a good character. The X-ray effect of television is devastating. It sometimes reveals the character is not as we hoped it would be. I have to stress that I have very modest expectations of politicians. My definition of good government is that things get worse a little more slowly. Malcolm Muggeridge was once asked what the ideal form of government is. He thought for a minute and then he said, "Well the ideal government is an honour guard tempered by assassination." I don't advocate that.

I want to show you some of the things that went on in the last 10 years. I went through Hansard and these were some of the things that our politicians have said. It shows that they may not be very good at governing but they're wonderful at torturing the English language. This was a Tory from New Brunswick and what he said was: "To shoot off your face is one thing, but to put your shoulder to the wheel, that's a horse of a different colour." And a Liberal got himself all wound up in his own rhetoric and said: "I see before me the footsteps of the hand of destiny." There was an interjection: "My conscience is clear. I never use it." But my favourite is an NDPer who was urging the government to action and he said: "It's time to grab the bull by the tail and look the situation straight in the face."

I don't want you to think that this is unique to Canada. I'm very sorry that in this American presidential year my favourite American politician is not running. I'm talking of course about Dan Quail. Some of the papers are coming out now about the Gulf War and there was one famous interchange when George Bush decided to launch an air embargo against Iraq and he said to Quail: "Dan, we're going to have to impose an air embargo." And Quail looked very worried and he said: "George, you can't do that. How will the people breathe?" Quail also said that people are not homeless if they are sleeping in the streets of their own home towns. But my favourite was from Ronald Reagan who got it into his head somehow that trees cause pollution and nobody could talk him out of it. Whenever the subject of pollution came up he started to attack trees. Some of the university students in a northern Californian town who knew that the presidential cavalcade would be passing by knew about this. There was a big oak tree in front of their campus where the presidential cavalcade would be passing so they put a big sign on it which said: "Cut me down before I kill again."

Well "The Canadian Revolution" had a great cast of characters. I have a chapter on Pierre Trudeau, the phantom of the great Canadian opera, appearing at these crucial moments in a cloak and saying very mysterious things and disappearing again. I had a story about Trudeau in Montreal. He went to the doctor recently to get a checkup. The doctor examined him and said: "Well, Pierre, you're pretty good for your age but you are in your seventies now, you have to stop chasing these twenty-year-olds. That's heart attack country." And he named one that Trudeau was going out with at that time. And Trudeau said: "Well you know, if she dies, she dies." And Joe Clark, the decent and honest man that he is, never set the world on fire except by accident. Kim Campbell who has an unerring instinct for her own jugular. And of course, Lucien Bouchard, a man who's not for sale, but is certainly for rent.

David referred to the Charlottetown Accord and that certainly was the trigger to the Canadian Revolution. There occurred a sudden bursting, like buds in springtime of those barriers between thought and feeling that have kept Canadians from asserting their individual sovereignties, leaving them indentured to authority far beyond its worth. I think what the political rebellion was really about is that we could no longer stand the thought that we get the politicians that we deserve.

But that was only one of many rebellions. It was about losing faith in what I call "touchstone institutions" and in a country this large, you have to have faith in something that's larger than your family or your community. There have to be some national beliefs and universal beliefs--the church, religion, for example. I'm not saying that we have lost those beliefs but they have certainly been diluted. As I speak there are 115 priests in jail for sexually attacking little boys and this is bound to lower faith.

We all know what happened to the Red Cross. The RCMP, just this month, couldn't even guard a house. The monarchy--a role model for many Canadians for many years--turned out to be a family of promiscuous mediocrities. Trains--a great Canadian symbol--joining the country from coast to coast. Passenger trains have disappeared. The Grey Cup. What a Canadian symbol. East against West every fall. Now it's in Baltimore. And we are supposed to get excited about the Memphis Mad Dogs.

The diplomats. The diplomats were supposed to be our best and brightest. The Auditor General's report of 1992 showed that our diplomats, 300 of them including ambassadors, cheated on their expense accounts. I went to the External Affairs cafeteria in Ottawa and discovered that in one year our best and brightest stole 2,998 spoons, 2,218 forks and 1,438 knives. Now why they stole 780 more knives than forks, I'm not sure.

Our military tradition. A great military tradition. We have fought with great distinction and honour in two world wars and even in peacetime we had a loyal group of people. Their loyalty is beyond question and their equipment is beyond salvage. There is a story in my book about a manoeuvre, again in New Brunswick, where there was this army cadet corps. The cadets did not have enough rifles to pass around so they used broomsticks for this particular manoeuvre. At one point though one of the soldiers pointed a broomstick at another and said: "Bang, bang, you're dead." And the other said, "No, no, I'm not, I'm a tank." This great military tradition is being questioned now because we know we have documented proof even on camera that they killed a prisoner in cold blood.

Then we turn to business. I have a chapter called "When the bankers went bonkers in their bunkers" about what happened to the banks in the last 10 years and this is very serious. Here are the people who were our fiscal father confessors. We trusted our financial lives to our bankers and I have to hasten to say that we still do. But again it's been very diluted because these are also the people who gave the Reichmanns $9 billion without looking at their balance sheets. And that's only one example as you all know. The recession has got to everybody. The recession was very much part of the revolution. I have a story about a very rich man coming down to breakfast one morning in his mansion and he says to his wife: "You know Erica, we've got to start economising. The recession's even getting to us and I think you should learn to cook so that we can fire the cook." She thinks about this a minute and says: "Harry, that's a really good idea. Why don't you learn to make love? We could fire the chauffeur."

I talked to one of the concerned bankers about what was going on and he said: "You know, I do worry about it but I sleep like a baby. I wake up screaming every two hours." Just as a footnote to all this, I have to say that most of the banks have indeed learnt a lesson from this especially the Royal Bank, but not all of them. I mean the Commerce, when you look at the Chairman of the Commerce, Al Flood, and you want to trace the downflow of the Commerce just follow his job pattern. He was everywhere that the bank lost a lot of money--from Latin America, to the Reichmanns and everything in between.

What happened in the 1980s, what really dragged down business in terms of public repute was that people equated their net worth with their self worth. Once you do that the social contract breaks down. What came out of the revolution and out of the loss of faith in all these institutions was that we came to depend on ourselves. This is the good news because when you become self-reliant, when you depend on yourself, instead of having faith in all this other stuff, you become first of all much more interesting; you become a person who is much more adventurous, willing to take risks. It is very unCanadian but it's true and it's happening. It inspired many other revolutions as we stopped dreaming of being Clark Kent and wanted to become Superman for the first time in our history.

Let me just briefly trace the history of this deference and the defiance. The reason we are so deferential goes right back to the frontier because the deference came from those Hudson Bay posts and later the CPR. Most of the people on our frontier lived in company towns and when you live in a company town you defer to the authority of the company. It made us very different from the Americans because the American frontier had no corporate infrastructure. There it was--every man and woman for themselves. There was no Hudson Bay Company, no CPR; it was really a wild west with 69 Indian wars. We didn't have any and the Hudson Bay Company even had a motto: never shoot your customers. So you have that revolution of deference to defiance.

There are many others such as the work revolution. There's lots of work; there are very few jobs. Suddenly the two things have split apart. The idea of leaving school and going to a job from nine to five for 20 years and then getting a gold watch is finished. But work, yes. There will be lots of work, very interesting work, but it will be done in task forces. It will be done by people who take on a task and then move out, the way the original cathedrals were built. There was never a cathedral builder. There were people who came in and did the glass work, the carpenters, the stone layers, and then they moved on to other jobs. This is the way it is going to be. There are five million Canadians now working out of their homes and that is the trend of the future. So, yes there will be work, but there will not be jobs. And this is going to cause a great revolution among the way people live.

The First Nation's revolution is the one place I think where there will be violence, certainly in B.C. A University of Chicago sociologist, who spent his life studying the North American Indians, wrote: " They're waiting for us to go away." And they are but we're not going to go away which is why there will be a lot of confrontations.

There is the Western Canadian revolution. In Western Canada (I've lived there for 14 years now) they have their own aspirations and they're not the same. Chrétien's wrong when he gives Western Canada a veto. There is no such thing as the West. There are four provinces. It's like talking about Ontario and Quebec and saying that's Central Canada. It is just silly.

Speaking of Central Canada, we have the Mike Harris counter-revolution. I don't think it's a revolution, I think it's a counter-revolution. The debt in Ontario is now $100 billion and we're very close to becoming a Zaire with polar bears.

Another revolution and probably the one that worries us the most is the Quebec revolution. Mark Twain once said that Wagner's operas are not as bad as they sound but the Quebec referendum is. The difference between the "yes" and the "no" vote is 50,000 people. That's the number of people who saw the Grey Cup so we have one football stadium of people holding this country together and that won't do. One of the problems is that Quebeckers see their future quite differently than we do. We say: "Well either you are in or you're out." There was a recent book called "The Six Degrees of Separation" and six degrees of separation in Quebec are separation, independence, sovereignty, sovereignty association, autonomy and special status. These things are all different to them and we have to respect that. We can't just say that you have to be in or out. We have to give them a chance to be understood. Now we have been granted a reprieve you can't just pretend that the referendum is not going to happen again because it is going to happen exactly 16 months from now. April 17, 1997 is the deadline for the constitutional changes to the original Trudeau constitution of patriation. So the revolution is real and we have to do more about it than just talk about a distinct society. That's beyond this speech but I just wanted to mention it.

So what do we do? How do we muzzle President Manning? How do we get The Honourable Clyde Wells to shut the hell up? These are questions for the future. You can't get away from them and we must do something about it.

One of the other issues I want to bring up because it touches me personally but has nothing to do with revolution is the Americanisation of bookstores. We have two of the largest American book chains planning to come into Canada and as an author I oppose that very strongly. I see in that a threat to one of the last hold-outs of Canadian ownership. Bookstores are not like other stores. You don't just go in and buy a pound of potatoes. You expect people who work there and who own these stores to know something about their product and they do. I would hate to see that nullified by the entry of these strangers.

Now I want to end my talk with a few words about Canada because a French essayist once wrote that Frenchmen never discuss their wives in case the listener knows more about the subject than they do. But we Canadians aren't like that when it comes to the Canadian identity. We keep talking about it and trying to define it. Our favourite definition is from a comedian, who once said that the world needs Canada because if Canada wasn't there the Chinese could sail right across and invade Denmark. I see Canada as a vichyssoise of nations. It is cold, half-French and difficult to stir. Even though most Canadians think the pre-Cambrian Shield is a birth control device, territorial integrity is what gives us our turf and our integrity. Our men and women are sons and daughters of their landscapes, but nowhere is this more true than in Canada where the dominant gene of nationhood has been possession of the land itself. We laid claim to this large land by planting settlements in the shoulders of our shores, the elbows of our rivers, and the laps of our mountains, always testing nature rather than trying to conquer it.

As I go across the country I sense a very strong sense of, what I call in my book, a quiver of common intent. What Canadians are saying to themselves is that they want this country to survive. It is not like an American patriotism where you have banners flying and marching bands. This is a quiver of common intent but it's there and it's strong. It's very strong. Canada was built on dreams as well as appetites. This country is put together not by blood-lines, kin or tradition but by waves of newcomers of every seed and stock who arrive dreaming big dreams. I came here as an immigrant, didn't know the language, didn't know anybody and now I'm being attacked by the Globe and Mail. Isn't that great?

Being Canadian is not a nationality. If somebody says they're Swedish or Japanese they define themselves. But being Canadian is an act of faith, something very different, because it is full of potentials that are as yet unrealised. Being Canadian is a very, very precious commodity. You have to wonder what it is that people around the earth know that we don't know. Why is everyone trying to come here to a country that we take for granted. That's the only advantage that we immigrants have. We never take Canada for granted because we know what a precious place it is. I believe it is time we began to sing some songs in praise of ourselves. Despite the fruitless and sometimes tedious quest to define our national identity Canada is no mere accident of history or some valedictorian's hazy dream. What we have here is the miracle of a country. Ever since 1867 we have lived as a nation, a body of people who have done great things together. We have done great things and we'll do them again.

People say that Canada is in trouble and of course it's in trouble but it's our home. The great principles of individual and collective freedom are practiced here as in few other lands. Let me just very quickly give you two examples of the differences between the United States and Canada. Look at what happened at Wayco and Oka and how those crises were handled differently. Look at the Simpson trial and the Bernado trial. There is something really worth preserving here and let's not forget that. Anyone who doubts what a great country this is should travel to any other place and look back at his Canadian roots. Most countries have troubles that are much greater than ours. If I could leave you with one message it is that you have to travel this country, you have to see it and feel it, not just from an aeroplane but by car. If you can find one, go by train. Touch the earth. That's how you become a Canadian. This is a country blessed with a mandate of heaven.

Let me finish with a small story about something that happened to me once in New Brunswick when I was covering an election. When a stranger goes into a new riding you try to find somebody who looks as though they know what it is all about. I saw this fisherman standing by a wharf and I said to him just to start a conversation: "Have you lived here all your life?" His answer reflected the kind of quiet optimism I feel about Canada. He said: "No, not yet."

Thank you very much.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Anne Libby, Co-Owner, Libby's of Toronto Art Gallery and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

The Canadian Revolution

The Canadian revolution. The speaker's review of his book of the same title. A revolution as a shift in values of the society that has undergone a revolution. The speaker's thesis is that this has happened to Canadian values: a shift from deference to defiance, from deference to authority, to defiance of authority. Politics as the most obvious manifestation of this revolution. The Mulroney years as the subject of the book. Shifts in interest in issues or in policies to an interest in values. A review of some of the things that went on in the last 10 years. A brief history of this deference and the defiance. Other revolutions: the work revolution; the First Nation's revolution; the Western Canadian revolution; the Mike Harris counter-revolution; the Quebec revolution. Questions for the future. The Americanisation of bookstores. Comments about Canada and Canadians. Being Canadian an act of faith. The need to travel throughout Canada, to see it and feel it. Quiet optimism.