Ontario's Response to Sovereignty Association
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Apr 1980, p. 350-364
Davis, The Honourable William G., Speaker
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The upcoming referendum in Quebec. Consequences of various results of the referendum. The rejection of sovereignty association by the rest of Canada. Ontario's position with regard to Quebec and negotiating constitutional reform. Options for constitutional change. The duty of politicians outside Quebec to Quebec. Problems of regionalism and regional disparity. Payments for equalization. Sustaining the nation.
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17 Apr 1980
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Full Text
APRIL 17, 1980
Ontario's Response to Sovereignty Association
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable William G. Davis, PREMIER OF ONTARIO
CHAIRMAN The President, John A. MacNaughton


Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: The Honourable William G. Davis is today making his sixth appearance as guest of honour at The Empire Club of Canada. Creatively introducing someone who is very well-known to an audience that has welcomed him frequently is a challenging assignment; one solved by our President at the time of Mr. Davis's last visit, the resourceful Reg Lewis, by assembling an anthology of the earlier introductions of the Premier by previous Presidents. General Lewis put together the evolution of wit and wisdom of Past Presidents Royce, Jackman, Armstrong and Karn in an introduction which he entitled, "This Is Your Empire Club Life--Bill Davis."

It was an imaginative technique, but one that it would be unfair to repeat today. However, one thing that does bear repeating is the observation made each time the Premier comes, namely that the large attendance for him underscores the popularity of and respect for Mr. Davis who continues to be one of the Empire Club's most successful draws. In fact, by the measure of the box office, it appears that our Premier is at least as popular, to choose an example from the world of entertainment, as say, Lawrence Welk.

For those of you on whom that comparison is lost I remind you that it was not too long ago that the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in Ontario attempted to disparage the Premier by referring to him as "the Lawrence Welk of politics."

In commenting on the nickname given to Mr. Davis, George Hutchison of The London Free Press wrote that the opposition leader "meant the Welk witticism as a clever insult, but it might not be taken as a legitimate putdown by the provincial population who identify with the bandleader's dependable style, his firm control over his musical organization, his remarkable staying power."

The attempted putdown, ladies and gentlemen, accents the fact that the Honourable William Grenville Davis is, by every measure, a maestro. I hope, Sir, that you will not regard it as too presumptuous if I suggest some tunes you might add to your repertoire.

For example, for the N.D.P. leader Michael Cassidy, whose electoral prospects appear bleak but who soldiers on determinedly, you might dedicate the song "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway hit, Man of La Manchia. Or for Liberal leader Stuart Smith, who wants an election but can't get one, an appropriate musical response might be the Rolling Stones 1965 golden record, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." Bob Dylan has two pieces that could be dedicated to your friends in Ottawa: For Joe Clark, still contemplating the setback of February 18, the song "I Threw It All Away," and for Pierre Trudeau, his theme song during the last election (one that apparently still enchants the electorate), "Don't Think Twice It's All Right." And, Sir, for yourself as Premier in a province that has been electing your party to govern for almost forty years, you might play the long-time favourite melody "My Blue Heaven."

To extend the music analogy one step further, and in a more serious way, the task of Bill Davis in the weeks and months ahead will be to concern himself not with simple melodies but with harmony. Of harmony, music historian Robert Hickock has written:

Virtually all Western music depends heavily on the element of harmony as an expressive and structural force. While melody constitutes the horizontal aspect of music, harmony represents the vertical. A harmony is a composite sound made up of two or more tones of pitch that sound simultaneously. It is important to understand that the tones making up a harmony are not heard individually. Instead, they fuse into a composite sound that has its own distinctive characteristics and quality."

For everyone in this room, a harmonious Canada is what we seek and we listen with apprehension to the dissonant sounds coming from different parts of our country. The period ahead of us, not just the five weeks leading up to the referendum in Quebec but also the months and years after, will require an Ontario leader who can organize our province's response to those who fail to understand the richness of the composite that Canada has become and the potential cultural poverty of a country that breaks down into its individual parts.

Premier Davis is in a position, both through his office and more importantly through the respect with which he is held throughout Canada as a senior statesman, to play Ontario's historical leadership role in the constitutional debates that are sure to follow May 20, no matter what the outcome of the referendum.

Repeatedly he has demonstrated his skills at bringing people together and those skills will be called upon increasingly in the period ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is always an honour for the Empire Club to host a Premier of Ontario; today the visit of Premier Davis, coming as it does just two days after the referendum campaign has begun, has a special importance and his message is one that we are all eager to hear.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in welcoming the Honourable William G. Davis, Premier of Ontario.


Mr. President, my colleagues in the provincial Legislature, Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen: Earlier this week, the Premier of the Province of Quebec announced the date for the Quebec referendum. I personally cannot think of any election date, referendum date, or any other date in my lifetime which is as important to the survival of this country, perhaps save for the outbreak of war in 1939.

I say that not to be alarmist but to be frank and honest with you about the nature of the issue. You had a very distinguished person speaking to you some weeks ago who was no doubt plausible when he presented certain points of view. But you will hear something different today.

There are some who have said that Canada would never be quite the same after November 15, 1976 and the election of a Parti Quebecois government in Quebec. I have been in politics long enough to know that governments that are democratically elected can also be democratically defeated and so the election of any particular government has never been, in the historical sense, all that significant.

The date that has been called for the Quebec referendum has nothing to do, explicitly, with any particular political party or its fortunes. The people of Quebec are being asked to pronounce upon their commitment to this country, and the role which they wish to play in this nation's future. When they do so, they will be making a determination that will have tremendous impact upon the future we all share as Canadians.

I know that there are many in Quebec who reject the proposition that voting "yes" or "no" is a matter which is a definitive decision.

There are many in Quebec who believe that they can vote "yes," not because they are in favour of sovereignty association, but because they would like to see a negotiation process move forward to achieve a constitutional reorganization for Canada that is something different from the status quo.

The government of the Province of Quebec, and those marshalling the forces on the "yes" side, are encouraging Quebeckers to believe that nothing will change the day after a "yes" vote. Indeed, that was the basic thrust of Premier Levesque's address in the debate in Quebec's National Assembly on the referendum question itself.

For those who wish the ultimate and total independence of the Province of Quebec, an affirmative response by the people of Quebec to the "yes" proposition will be seen and used as a major step down that road.

For those in English-speaking Canada who are committed to constitutional change, to better meet the needs of our communities, provinces, and language groups, a "yes" vote by the people of Quebec would be a terrible setback and a major frustration.

While there may be many in Quebec who are being encouraged to believe that a "yes" vote does nothing but mandate the present government of that province to negotiate a better deal for Quebec, one should not separate one part of the question being asked from the other. The particular proposition being put forward, and that which the government would like a mandate to negotiate, is sovereignty association. Sovereignty association has been overwhelmingly rejected throughout this country. It has been rejected by governments of all three political stripes. It has been rejected by every provincial premier outside of Quebec.

The people of Quebec are being asked, therefore, to give a mandate to their government to negotiate a proposition which Canadians, through their governments, have already said they will not accept.

The governments of Canada have better and more honourable things to do than work on an idea that, by stealth, would extinguish our common citizenship while imposing on both our communities an incoherent and unworkable form of government.

The spokesmen for sovereignty association remind me of that mythical nineteenth-century Englishman who happily assumed that everyone in the world would understand what he meant if he shouted loudly enough.

Sovereignty association is the polite term for the breakup of Confederation, and it has no associates in this country. Negotiations to even pursue such a proposal have no negotiators.

It is my sincere hope that the federalist forces in the Province of Quebec can convey this message to the people of Quebec in this important referendum campaign.

This is not a threat or an ultimatum. It is a simple and undistorted statement of fact and Mr. Levesque deludes himself and the people of Quebec if he thinks or preaches to the contrary.

Indeed, all the room to negotiate--all the room to find creative new dimensions for Canada, to find new structures, new federal-provincial relationships, all the capacity to build on a mutual respect and trust -these are only liberated by the "no" option in the present Quebec debate.

Let our position, the position of this province, remain crystal clear to our compatriots in Quebec: this government will go anywhere, any time, and negotiate with anyone to accommodate constitutional reform and change which will strengthen the capacity of Canada to better serve the regions, the language groups and the provinces of our nation. Our minds and hearts are open. Our spirit is positive and creative.

Sovereignty association, on the other hand, would, as a proposition, stem the creativity and weaken the commitment. Just as we would leave no stone unturned--in the context of progressive constitutional reform--we would not be part of, and we fully oppose, any negotiations, at any level, at any time, on sovereighty association.

Let no one misjudge the intensity of our views on that. I know that Mr. Levesque regards me, as an English-speaking Canadian, as something of a pragmatist. I am on some issues. But I have said to him that he should never underestimate my emotional commitment to this nation, the emotional commitment of the people of this province to Canada. We may be pragmatists. We may be looking for workable solutions. But there is, in Ontario, a very deep-rooted loyalty to Canada as a nation, and to underestimate that attachment would be a mistake.

I believe Mr. Levesque has managed to confuse a great many people on his referendum question. Outside Canada, the news media generally are taking the simplistic approach that on May 20 Quebec will vote on whether it will stay within Canada.

One can understand why outsiders might have trouble understanding or appreciating the more subtle procedures involved. But none of us--especially our fellow Canadians in Quebec--should lose sight of the fact that Mr. Levesque and his colleagues are playing a costly game of semantic roulette and for them the big prize, and they have not lost this objective, is the breakup of a nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a game in which everyone is going to lose if the separatist forces are successful. From a cultural, social, economic or political perspective, a Quebec set adrift on the North American continent is no victory for Quebeckers--or for the rest of Canada.

Those who will be voting "yes," whatever their intentions, will in fact be voting to frustrate serious negotiations, and workable change. The result of their vote will be a closing of minds and a hardening of attitudes in English-speaking Canada that will set the cause of this country back many years.

I reject, completely, the proposition advanced among certain people on the "yes" side, that only Quebeckers want constitutional change and only Quebeckers are dissatisfied with the way in which our federal system works.

While one cannot look at the general state of well-being, security, and quality of life in this country without reflecting on how well our system works when compared to many others around this world, Canadians from coast to coast, for their own reasons, have a legitimate desire to see constitutional reform. Those in Quebec who think it is only they who wish it are either badly informed or are refusing to face the facts.

My colleague and debating opponent from time to time, the Premier of Alberta, was in our fair city yesterday and anyone who is aware of Alberta's aspirations and concerns cannot but believe that they, too, would like to see significant constitutional change. Anyone who suggests that they are not interested is making a mistake. The Province of British Columbia has put forward serious and detailed proposals in that respect. Premier Blakeney of Saskatchewan and our Atlantic premiers have been forthright in their desire to see significant constitutional changes in various respects.

Here in Ontario, dating back to the Confederation of Tomorrow Conference called by my predecessor, John Robarts, and, more recently, through the tireless efforts of the Advisory Committee on Confederation headed by Ian Macdonald, President of York University, our province has put forth a series of options with respect to constitutional change. These would significantly alter our federal institutions. I could digress for a moment to go back to 1971 when we came very close to significant constitutional change at the Victoria Conference--changes which were accepted by the Premier of this province (myself), and by the then-Premier of Quebec. It is a matter of great regret that those changes were not accepted by the Legislatures of this country to become part of the process of change. My view is pretty basic. Any change that would strengthen the capacity of Canada to be more sensitive to regional and provincial needs, without (and I emphasize this) eroding our traditions or weakening the ability of our national government to do the job Canadians expect it to do, is acceptable, from my standpoint, as a basis of discussion. I will not be part of any program of change which leaves the national government unable to deal properly with financial, economic and fiscal issues.

It may very well be that part of the strategy being advanced by those who would have Quebeckers vote "yes" is that of bringing about a situation where Quebeckers are isolated from the rest of the country.

If you think about that proposition for a moment, it becomes rather clear that the greater the success of the Parti Quebecois forces in increasing the sense of isolation on the part of Quebeckers, the greater their progress is apt to be towards their ultimate goal of total independence for Quebec. I have read nothing, I have seen nothing that indicates to me that Premier Levesque and his government have in any way altered their basic desire, and that is for political independence from the rest of Canada. It is that sense of isolation which poses the greatest threat to Canadians from coast to coast and it is that threat we must all oppose.

Quebeckers are making the decision they are being asked to make on May 20 as Canadians. The issue which they are discussing is as Canadian an issue as the pricing of oil, the nature of the auto pact, or reform of the Senate.

Our collective duty is clear. We must speak directly about the common partnership that Canadians share. We must seek to strengthen Confederation through reform and constructive change and through a new constitutional understanding based upon mutual respect and common interest.

I will be going to Quebec to make precisely that case before the referendum vote is cast.

I am aware of the dangers of those outside of Quebec going to that province during this highly politicized time, and I know that those involved in the "yes" campaign may try to suggest that outsiders are not welcome. Let them choose to call the Premier of this province or any other province an outsider, if that is their will. But they will be wrong.

Quebec and her people are a vital part of my country. Her cities, towns and villages are as much part of my heritage, my homeland, and that of my children, as they are that of Premier Levesque.

I will respect the referendum rules but I will speak openly and frankly about the future of this country. No one will limit my right to do that.

Some have already asked how my presence and involvement will fit with the referendum rules, and I have reminded them of some other pretty fundamental "rules" that exist for all Canadians in all parts of Canada. And one of these is freedom of speech--a right I am not about to abandon, especially when the subject at hand is the very strength and survival of Canada as a nation.

The Legislature of Ontario will be having a debate on Confederation within the next few weeks. I am confident that we will reach a level of consensus on the issue of constitutional reform and on the major issue of national unity and sovereignty association. This should speak eloquently to the people of Quebec in a fashion that reflects the good will, the commitment to co-operation, to constitutional reform, and the commitment to Canada of all the people of Ontario.

I expect no major partisan division in our Legislature because, despite those divisions which separate the three parties, no individual, no single party, has any monopoly on concern for Canada.

The people of this province and the people of Canada know by now that the commitment of the Government of Ontario to do all that it can in the area of constitutional reform is genuine and sincere.

Similarly, our commitment to challenge any effort to balkanize or weaken this country must be regarded not only as genuine but definitive and tough-minded.

The decision by the chairman of the Alberta Energy Marketing Commission to deny equal status to Petrosar Canada, of Sarnia, to feedstock from the Province of Alberta constitutes just such a threat. It is an assertion that for Canadian companies, and for those who are employed by those companies, there are now classes of citizenship, determined by whether one is, or isn't, situated in Alberta, and being determined by a commission of one province.

I reject utterly any suggestion that a Canadian corporation engaged in the petrochemical business in the Province of Alberta has any greater right of access to Canadian oil and gas than a Canadian corporation situated geographically in Ontario. Any suggestion otherwise constitutes a threat to the capacity of Canada to survive as a sound economic unit.

It may very well be that it is Alberta's thought that this serious action will serve as a bargaining chip for them to use in a larger poker game with Ottawa. It may very well be that the difficulties caused by this action can be dealt with through negotiations in good faith between the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta.

I hope that is the case. However, the Ontario Government cannot be equivocal about what is their declared position.

Actions of this nature, by this Alberta commission, limit the capacity of a Canadian corporation, owned, by the way, by the people of Canada, situate in our province, to pursue legitimate business activities through the use of Canadian feedstocks to produce petrochemical products.

The people of western Canada have a tremendous investment in this country. It is an investment that has been made through years of hard work on the part of thousands of citizens in building the resource base, building our grain and livestock industries, building our pulp and paper and fishing industries. It is an investment from which this country has benefited greatly.

Ontarians, I know, are eager to see the West do well. I happen to believe that if we have a fair pricing system for energy, and if we have an appropriate fiscal structure in this country that allows for the fair distribution of energy revenues throughout the economy, that western Canada's good fortune can and should be Canada's good fortune, as well.

The billions of dollars of equalization (some people's memories are very short) payments which flowed out of this province both east and west in support of Canadian provinces, where economic performance did not provide for comparable levels of service, was an investment that Ontarians made, from their paycheques, in the future of this country. That's why it was done. I believe we did it willingly and I believe we are still prepared to make that kind of investment.

At the present time, the Ontario consumers' energy dollars flow into the budgets of the resource provinces. Those surpluses increase the per capita revenue per head for those governments, thereby forcing the present equalization formula to have Ottawa send money to have-not provinces to make up the difference. When Ottawa sends out that money, the people of this province pay over forty per cent of that cost as federal taxpayers.

Without a fiscal system that accommodates energy flows in an appropriate and balanced fashion, funds which move west because of energy costs are not producing investment and growth in the consuming provinces. And gradually, if there is not some alteration, those governments will lose their own fiscal capacity to do the job their taxpayers expect them to do without unfairly increasing the taxpayers' burden.

That, very simplistically, is the ultimate peril that letting the present situation continue holds for all Canadians.

Part of why we have taken the strong position we have on Petrosar is to make the case that as Canadians we must begin to act as Canadians on these problems now. We cannot let them fester, we must not circumvent them through fear of honest debate.

Letting those problems fester rather than facing up to them would be a very large admission of our incapacity to face the challenge of nation-building.

Whether it be on the issue of the referendum in Quebec, or on the question of fair treatment of energy cash flows, the question of a province limiting the ability of a company in another, the issue of one Canada is the only issue that has ever counted for the, people of Ontario or for the government which I lead.

Too many people have worked and sacrificed for Canada, too many have battled in long political struggles, over a hundred years ago, to build a consensus that brought this country about, for the generation of which you and I are a part to sit idly by as the new stresses threaten to tear our nation apart.

Doing what is necessary to sustain Canada and to advance Canada is not always easy and will require some tough-mindedness and frankness from all those with public responsibility.

I offer you and the people of this province an explicit commitment that there will be no lack of either of those qualities in the actions or initiative of the Government of Ontario.

If we each do our part, if we each face up to our own fair share of the tough issues and have the courage not to back down, this nation will be sustained. The full promise and opportunity of its future will be the inheritance of our children and their children.

There could be no more appropriate private or public goal for every citizen of our nation.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Davis by Robert H. Hilborn, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Ontario's Response to Sovereignty Association

The upcoming referendum in Quebec. Consequences of various results of the referendum. The rejection of sovereignty association by the rest of Canada. Ontario's position with regard to Quebec and negotiating constitutional reform. Options for constitutional change. The duty of politicians outside Quebec to Quebec. Problems of regionalism and regional disparity. Payments for equalization. Sustaining the nation.