Canada: Facing the Future
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Jun 1991, p. 30-44
Clark, The Rt. Hon. Joe, Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
How Canada can be held together as a country. A sense of what the people of Canada want. Strengthening the spirit of Canada. Canada at risk: the crisis and the statistics that show the crisis. What the speaker sees as necessary to hold Canada together. What needs changed and why. Facing changes together. How Canadians can face the challenge of unity. Getting rid of complacency. The view from Quebec and Quebecers. Examples of how Canada, and regions within Canada have changed, but our vision of Canada and those regions has not. Canadians meeting Canadians: the need to know one another. The implications of partitioning the country, especially with regard to global markets. The cost to Canada of dealing with internal problems during a time of developing international markets. Fighting for our country.
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27 Jun 1991
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The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, President of the Privy Council and Minister of Constitutional Affairs
Introduction: John F. Bankes
President, The Empire Club of Canada

John Stuart Mill called it: "A means of assuring that depositories of power cannot misemploy it."

Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court called it: "A way of ordering society."

Wilhelm I called it: "A scrap of paper."

A nation's constitution means different things to different people. This year, Canadians celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Act of 1791--which created Upper Canada and Lower Canada from the old Province of Quebec--and the 124th anniversary of Confederation. Canada's Confederation in 1867, described by Northrop Frye as a "romantic and imperialistic idea, consolidating into a nation a group of British-controlled colonies and territories," has been a pivot around which our history has turned. It has been at the heart of political controversy since our birth as a nation.

As Gordon Fraser pointed out recently in The Globe and Mail: "The ... seemingly endless series of previous deals, accords and agreements sometimes makes the [Canadian Constitutional] debate as arcane and seemingly irrelevant as Old Testament geneology (...and Fulton-Favreau begat the Conference for Tomorrow, which begat Victoria, which begat Vancouver, which begat patriation, which begat Sept-Isles, which begat Meech Lake, which begat...)" For just over a year now, efforts to reform Canada's Constitution have been at a virtual impasse. Last June, Canada came within a hair's breadth of achieving a rendezvous with its unity before running into turbulent water. On the first anniversary of the Meech Lake Accord's demise, one journalist recently reflected back on the events of last summer and pointed out that two political leaders offered the same metaphor to characterize entirely different events. In July, the Emir of Kuwait claimed that threats from Iraq against Kuwait were just a summer cloud passing over the sun. In June, Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells said a rejection of Meech Lake would cause nothing more than a summer thunderstorm of discontent within Quebec. Some cloud, some storm!

There is an old seaman's saying that "skilful pilots gain their reputations from storms and tempests." Our speaker today, The Right Honourable Joe Clark, has taken on the difficult task of trying to chart Canada's constitutional direction through choppy seas. After serving as Secretary of State for External Affairs--dealing with the Gulf War, South Africa, and the upheaval in Eastern Europe--he was looking for a really tough challenge. Prime Minister Mulroney concluded that if Mr. Clark could get along with governments all over the world, regardless of ideology, he might just have a chance at working out something with all of Canada's provinces and territories and Aboriginal peoples.

Mr. Clark brings considerable experience as a negotiator to his new assignment as Minister of Constitutional Affairs. The unique nature of his responsibilities--as a kind of grand arbiter of intergovernmental diplomacy and a champion of national unity--is apparent from the job title itself. Other than Canada, I can't find a country anywhere in the world that even has a Minister of Constitutional Affairs. It reminds me of the Red Rose Tea commercial: "Only in Canada, you say?"

No one denies the importance of the job which Mr. Clark has undertaken. Given the circumstances which surround the issue, formulating constitutional reforms and winning their acceptance across the country has to be considered an urgent priority. This is the view of those who feel constitutional reform is an essential prerequisite for continued nation-building, and others who see it as a hurdle which has to passed so we can deal with other issues which should be commanding our attention.

Presently, the country's constitutional nerves appear frayed. Fortunately, the medicine chest is full of purported remedies to cure Canada's constitutional problem. The prescriptions available to Mr. Clark and his team are numerous and complex; the challenge is to select the right course of action. To borrow a quotation from my favourite Hebrew prophet, Woody Allen:

More than anytime in history, [we] face a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter helplessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

This constitutional challenge is a task to which our speaker today brings impressive credentials. Only the third person in history to have served both as Canada's Prime Minister and its Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Clark has spent virtually a lifetime in politics. Indeed, he was a leading force in the Conservative Party as far back as the mid-1960s, as President of the Young Progressive Conservatives. His survival on the battlefield of internal party politics has prepared him well for the risks of managing Canada's foreign affairs, and his achievements on that front have conditioned him for his current challenge. Like all of you, I look forward to hearing more about how he intends to meet it.

Please welcome The Right Honourable Joe Clark.

Joe Clark:

For six and a half years, I had the honour of representing this country abroad. During that time, I witnessed the positive and productive work Canadians do in this world, the unique values we bring to global affairs. And I saw the international changes which challenge all of us, changes we can't ignore, challenges we must meet.

That experience was exciting and a privilege for me. But the obligation and the opportunity to be here was even more compelling. For now is the time to be at home, to try and help heal the wounds which divide this country, to help find a new covenant by which Canada can continue.

I am under no illusions about the difficulties this country faces. And I have no pretensions about my part in the process which lies ahead. It is Canadians themselves who will decide whether they wish to keep their country. No minister, no party, no government will decide that for them. This country cannot be ordered together; it must be brought together. And bringing this country together is a job now for each and every one of us, from coast to coast to coast.

Our country will be held together only by will. Constitutions do not make countries; they reflect what those countries are. Constitutions do not create consensus; they report a consensus which exists. We do not have that consensus yet.

And so, I approach this job with humility and trepidation. But I also bring to it a profound optimism that the spirit which has carried Canada for generations is still here. It is a spirit which both dares and cares. It is a spirit which caused people to come to Canada from every comer of the globe--the English, the French, the men in sheepskin coats, the boat people. It is a spirit which prompted Barbara Ward to call Canada "the first international country." It is a spirit that led Canadians to build a country together where rich provinces help poor provinces, where people help their neighbours, where health care is a right and not a privilege and where the proud boast of our Armed Forces is that we are the best peacekeepers in the world.

When I talk to people across the country--in the North and South and East and West--I see that spirit growing again now. Our job together is to strengthen that spirit and to build a common sense of Canadian citizenship, which reflects that respect for difference which has characterized Canada since the decision, more than 200 years ago to maintain both the French and English languages, both the civil and common law systems.

The Cabinet committee I chair is preparing detailed proposals for the renewal of our Confederation. They will be published in the fall when we will start a broad public process to encourage every Canadian to discuss those proposals and to improve them.

Let us be clear. This remarkable country is at risk. This is not a game of chicken or some scam being run by any province or any region of this country. This is not another hiccup in our long history of difference and division. This crisis is real. And this crisis can be fatal.

When 70 per cent of Quebecers tell a pollster that they expect their province will separate from Canada, that is a prediction, not a bluff. And when 55 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec say that if Quebecers want to separate, "Let them go," that is a sober warning of angry attitudes.

This country is at the crossroads. There are two paths before us. One path leads to renewal. The other path leads to partition. That choice is straightforward. And that choice is ours.

Will we make the right choice? Will we do what is necessary to keep this country? Time will tell. But time is short. We must use this time well and wisely.

First, let us be rid of any complacency that all will be well in the end because Canada has stayed together in the past, that this storm is just a squall and that sunny days are just around the corner.

Don't take Canada for granted. Our success is not automatic. Earlier Canadians fought the odds to keep Canada together. We have fought the elements, fought geography, fought the always present pressure on the diverse regions of this country to go their own way. Canada has stayed together because Canadians have made it stay together. And Canada will only continue in the future if Canadians want it to and make the difficult decisions that national unity requires.

In the past two months, I have talked to people everywhere in this land and Canadians are beginning to turn from accusation to consideration, from condemnation to deliberation. They know this country is at risk and they want it to work.

But that process is only just beginning. The gentler wind beginning to blow is tentative. The wounds that have hurt this country remain, and in places they are deep. If Canadians are beginning to reject a corrosive complacency, that is positive, but it may not be permanent. It is up to us to build on that new attitude.

There is a second attitude we must also work to change. That is the attitude that anything which challenges the existing order is bad.

One of the virtues of this country--one of the reasons we have succeeded so well--is our capacity to adapt. When new provinces entered Confederation, new arrangements were made and Confederation changed. When those provinces grew in size and nature, new arrangements were made and Confederation changed. And when Canadian society progressed, and wanted pensions or medicare, new arrangements were made and Confederation changed. That has been our heritage, our foundation for success. In it lies our future.

We can never see existing arrangements as permanent arrangements. If we do, we will be through. If we don't change with the rhythm of this country, Canada will become brittle and break. Countries that stand still are countries that fall behind. The whole world is changing and adapting and competing. What will this country become if we remain rigid or let our differences break us?

Some people cringe from crisis. We cannot do that now. And we should not do that either--because I believe from the bottom of my being that these times of trouble can be times of opportunity too. We have the opportunity to change our institutions and the way they work. We have the opportunity to revise the apportionment of powers in this country, to make it more efficient and effective. We have the opportunity to remake our country in our own image as a modem people.

Are Canadians happy with our political system and the way it works? Clearly not. Let's change it together and make it better.

Do people believe that the provinces and the Federal Government are doing the right things in the right way for the people of this country? Clearly not. Let's change that together and make it better.

Are Canadians happy with the attitude and the treatment shown for decades and centuries to the aboriginal peoples of this country? Clearly not. Let's change that together and make it better.

And are Canadians satisfied that our Senate is one of the only second chambers in the world which is not an effective part of Parliament? Clearly not. Let's change that together and make it better.

This can be an historic opportunity. Not many countries have it. But we have it now.

I believe our chances are better than they might be if only one issue were on the table. All issues are on the table now--not just the place of Quebec in this country, but also the concerns of Westerners and Easterners and aboriginal Canadians, the concerns of all citizens who wish to see a new deal for ourselves and our neighbours. More issues may mean more difficulty. But the very fact that we must make progress on several fronts together--and do it in the open, knowing the consequences of failure--will increase our chance of success. The need for trade-offs and compromise and bargaining in good faith will be upfront and obvious. It will force every serious Canadian to face the hard choices ourselves.

There is an old phrase which says that where there is a will, there is a way. That applies to our lives. It applies to our country. What Canada needs now are not ways to move forward, so much as the will to move forward.

Finding that will is not going to be easy. Part of that search will depend on looking hard at how we see the diverse parts of this country and adapting those views to what this modem country has become, in this last decade of the 20th century.

Let me provide one example. In the 1980 referendum in Quebec, the key question asked by individual Quebecers was: "Why should I leave Canada?" But today, across that province, the more common question is: "Why should I stay in Canada?"

That shows how much Quebec has changed. Much of that is exciting and positive. It is the assertion of confidence and pride. It is the reality that in so many walks of life, Quebec is not just distinct, but distinguished.

Whether it is in business or the arts or the professions, the Quebec achievement is undeniable. The films of Quebec win Academy Awards. The authors of Quebec win the premier international literary prizes. The artists and architects and musicians of Quebec fill not only their province with excellence, but the world as well. And in business, Quebec companies have become major corporate players, not just in Canada, but throughout this continent and around the globe.

In a Canadian society which wants to be world-class, Quebec stands out.

Today, Quebecers who want Canada want a strong Quebec--but they want a strong Canada too. Part of their concern is that their large country does not have the same sense of confidence and community that Quebec has. Part of the challenge for all of us is to achieve in the whole of Canada the kind of transformation that was triggered in Quebec by the Quiet Revolution.

Quebec, in the 1950s, looked inward and backward. Today, it is confident of its place in the world, to the point where large numbers of Quebecers contemplate competing in that world on their own, apart from Canada. That change in Quebec has been fundamentally a change in attitude and pride. In fact, it is hard to think of another society, in recent history, that has made such a remarkable transformation in such a short time. Other Canadians have little to fear from Quebec's nationalism but we have a lot to learn. Our challenge is not to deny the self-confidence of Quebec, but to demonstrate that it can be fully expressed within Canada. And our challenge as well, if we are lucky and skilful, is to make that confidence contagious, so that every Canadian feels the pride in Canada that Quebecers feel in Quebec.

Sometimes it seems to me that the issue is not Quebec separating from Canada, but the rest of Canada separating from each other and from our own modern reality.

Part of the explanation is that we do not realize what we have become. We have based our assumptions about Canada on facts which have changed. Our country has changed, but our vision of it hasn't and often our institutions haven't either.

There are many examples. Too many Canadians still consider our society to be a white society drawn from immigrants from Europe or the United States. But for 13 years, Canada has drawn more new citizens from Asia than from Europe and that is reflected in the daily life of most of our communities. Yet there are only two people from visible minorities in the House of Commons and an embarrassingly low percentage in positions of leadership and government. We are beginning to do better at that, but we are still running a diverse society on assumptions that time has passed by.

And we look at the different parts of this country with antiquated optics. For too many Canadians, Maritimers fish, Westerners farm, Northerners mine and Central Canadians work for a bank Most of that has changed and so must our myths. We Canadians have lost sight of each other. And in so doing, we risk losing our country.

What Canadians need to do now is to talk to each other, not at each other or past each other. We need to get to know our neighbours in this land, for their neighbourhoods have changed and their needs have evolved. There are people in the West who deride Quebec and its desires without ever having stepped inside its borders and seen the vitality and the vision of that Distinct Society. There are people in Ontario who dismiss the grievances of Western Canadians without ever having wandered west of Manitoba.

It is a sad fact that there are Canadians who know Gettysburg without knowing Louisbourg, who know the palaces of Europe better than the places of Canada, who can tell you more about Florida than they can about Fredericton or the Fraser Valley or the foothills of Alberta.

It is one thing to disagree. It is another thing to assert disagreement when you haven't even met the people you say you disagree with.

There are alternatives. We should try them. One alternative was tried a couple of months ago by the people of Wainwright in my province of Alberta. That town welcomed a small group of French-Canadians from Marieville, Quebec. It was a return visit, an exchange. Almost no one from Wainwright had spent time in Quebec, and few of the visitors from Marieville were familiar with the West. And, like most Canadians, they had some difficulty with each other's language. But they talked, in small sentences and small words. They had never talked to each other before. They had never known each other's neighbourhood. They only knew the myths, the pictures others had drawn and told them to accept. They were surprised to find people--people like themselves with problems, often similar; people like themselves with dreams, many shared; Canadians with perspectives and opinions, some common, some different. That dialogue will not save this country. But the idea behind it will. For when we start talking and listening and seeing, this country looks different and better, and what separates us matters less.

I remember meeting outside Parliament last month with students from across Canada attending the Forum for Young Canadians. One young man from Montreal came to me and said: "Last week, I was a separatist but that was because I had never met anyone from the rest of Canada. I am not a separatist now."

Too many of us have not met people from the rest of Canada We see each other through filters that are often false. We keep our distance. We keep our counsel. We shouldn't.

People everywhere must work hard at understanding why other Canadians have priorities and preferences different from our own. Quebecers need to understand why Western Canadians feel that institutions like the Senate must be changed fundamentally. Western Canadians need to understand why Quebecers know they live in a Distinct Society. Central Canadians must gain some sense of the alienation that is still second nature to people growing up in the far parts of the country. And those of us whose ancestors came to Canada from somewhere else must try to understand that aboriginal claims are as much about respect as they are about money.

I believe we can do that. That will take luck and energy and imagination and above all goodwill. But Canadians everywhere are beginning to reach out and reach beyond the old attitudes, the old myths.

As part of that process, Canadians today want to base their decision on the future of their country on evidence and not ideology. They want to know what staying together will give them. They want to know what splitting up would leave.

I prefer to make the case for Canada, but we need to look hard at the implications of partitioning this country. Canada was not put together by accountants. This country is not some corporate convenience. And you cannot persuade any Canadian--in Quebec, in Alberta, in Ontario or anywhere else--to keep Canada together simply because some balance sheet says we should. But neither should Canadians assume that the modern economy we have built together would stay as strong if we came apart. And no one should deny that the consequences of partition would be serious for people outside Quebec, and inside Quebec.

We are living in a world of mega-markets, not mini-markets. A world where countries are coming together and tearing down barriers between them because they know that being bigger means being better.

The countries of Europe know that. Many of them are more powerful than Canada and are moving to a type of federation which Canada has enjoyed for over 100 years. The people of Asia know that and countries and companies there are integrating through trade and investment as never before. The people of Latin America know that where Brazil and Argentina are discussing free trade, where the countries of the Andes mountains are moving to integrate their economies and where Mexico is pursuing prosperity by talking free trade with Canada and the United States.

Are all those people wrong? Perhaps they are. Perhaps they are wrong to think that bigger markets and stronger regions mean more prosperity. But if they are right, we have to consider the cost to all of us of having this country turn inward and come apart when the rest of the world is reaching outward and coming together.

Can this country do more to preserve and promote our prosperity? Of course we can. And we must, in this new competitive global market. But we do not promote the prosperity of anyone by splitting this country into pieces.

There are people in every part of Canada who pretend that partition could be easy. They suggest we could come apart politically and come together economically. We could disunite and unite at the same time. We could tear up our common passport and retain our common market. Well, nothing is impossible. But surely, that cannot be taken for granted. If this country divorces, no one should believe that remarriage would come soon or smoothly. And no one should underestimate the psychological forces which can take hold in a time of tremendous trauma and change.

Ask the Germans if they knew before hand the cost and the consequences which unification has brought to that country. Ask them if they knew about the extremism and the emotion which have permeated that society since the Berlin Wall came down. Ask them if, with all their reason and all their studies and all their plans, they were able to predict the extraordinary shockwave of economic change and social stress which has descended. Germany-that powerful country with its strong history and strong culture--has been shaken to the core. Can we in Canada be confident that the disunion of this country would proceed more predictably than union has there?

And while we think about that, let's also think about how we are doing with those things that will matter for our prosperity and well-being in the future.

How are we competing with others, like Japan and the United States, which are far larger than we are and depend on trade less than half as much as Canada?

How are we doing with education, when over half the new jobs of this decade will require more than 12 years of education and training, and yet over 60 per cent of today's work force have not gone beyond high school?

How are we doing with productivity, the primary force for prosperity, when that growth rate over the past five years in the commercial sector has been the lowest of any country in the G7?

And are we on the leading edge of innovation when in virtually every single industrial sector, Canada spends far less on R and D than any of the leading industrial countries?

While we are fixated on the Constitution and re-fighting old battles, our competition is focused on the future and preparing to fight the new battles of the next century. Whatever differences we have had in the past, surely our advantage now is to be together.

Renewing the Canadian federation is not an end in itself. This is not some seminar in constitutional law. This is a tale of a people and the values they share, a tale of diversity and the unity diversity can build, a tale of hope, hope against the odds and hope for the future, a tale of prosperity and peace unlike any that I know.

Joseph Howe, Nova Scotia's great statesman, used to say. "Brag about your country, boys. " Well, Canadians don't much like to brag. But others know what we should brag about.

I remember meeting with a man named Danylo Shumuk--a Ukrainian nationalist who had spent most of his life in a Soviet prison. When he was finally free and came to this country on his way to relatives in British Columbia, he stopped in Ottawa and, one quiet day, I took him into the House of Commons, had him sit in the Speaker's Chair of our free Parliament, and then pointed out where the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minster sat. Through his interpreter, he said: "I know where the Prime Minister sits. He sits next to Mr. Mazankowski." I asked him how in the world he knew that, and he told me that, through his years in a Soviet prison, his relatives in Canada told him of the progress, in this country, of people with names like Mazankowski, and Hnatyshyn. In some systems, if you are a member of a minority, you go to prison. In Canada, you become Deputy Prime Minister, the Governor-General, a Justice of the highest court.

Danylo Shumuk knew what Canada has to brag about. The rest of the world knows that too. When the Japanese want to learn about peacekeeping, they come to Canada to see how we do it. When the brave democrats of the new Eastern Europe want to find our about banks or stock markets or privatization or legal systems, they come to Canada. When the Americans want to make their health system more effective and efficient, they come to Canada. When Mikhail Gorbachev was Minister of Agriculture in the Soviet Union and wanted to know how efficient farms worked, he came to Canada. And when South Africans--black and white--want to learn about elections that are fair, legal systems that are just, and a modem economy that works, they come to Canada.

Are those people all wrong? Are we as ordinary or as common or as disposable as some would have us believe? Have we not built something here which is special and deserves to be sustained?

I believe we have. And I am confident that most Canadians believe that too.

There will always be those who see Canada as a glass that's half empty. Our challenge today is to get the whole country to see it as a glass that's half full. And once we do that, to go on to fill it--as we have in the past, a country whose cup has runneth over, a country which has what so few others can even dream of, a community which is the best community in this world.

The rest of you can speak for yourselves. But my grandfather went West from Bruce County to be part of a big country, not a small one. My daughter is growing up in a wide world, not a narrow one. Our ancestors came here to build new dreams, not to have those dreams tossed aside. And the tens of thousands of men and women who have given their lives abroad for Canada did not die for the pieces of a country. They fought for a country which is whole. And they fought for a country with a future.

That is what we are here to do.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by George Hanson, President, The Royal Commonwealth Society.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished head table guests, members of The Empire Club of Canada, members of The Royal Commonwealth Society--Toronto branch--and friends. It is my pleasure to thank The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, Minister of Constitutional Affairs, on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society for taking the time to be with us today. His words today are vital and encouraging, outlining the many ramifications of constitutional change. The minister's job is a mammoth task, but Joe Clark is not an ordinary individual. He is a fighter with a positive attitude and outlook and must succeed in the discharge of his responsibilities. Our Commonwealth traditions of consultation, cooperation and consensus stand as a beacon to unite us. We have a great country and believe in the importance of a united Canada as a leader in the Commonwealth and in world affairs. In closing, Mr Minister, we thank you for bringing us up to date and for sharing your views on the need for Canada's unity. Your words were most informative and very much appreciated. Before leaving this lectern, I would like to assure you that those assembled in this room are all loyal Canadians who support your heavy responsibilities to endeavour to make Canada whole again as a dynamic, tolerant, united country. Finally, I would like to quote from a great Canadian, Stephen Leacock, in his 1937 essay Our Heritage of Liberty.

Seeking the basis of nationhood and failing to find it in race, religion, language or territory, he concluded that "the real bond of union, the underlying bedrock on which the structure of a nation rests, is the willingness to unite the unity of the heart that takes the opportunity that is given".

Mr. Minister, we wish you well in the carrying out of your responsibilities, we wish you every success.

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Canada: Facing the Future

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
How Canada can be held together as a country. A sense of what the people of Canada want. Strengthening the spirit of Canada. Canada at risk: the crisis and the statistics that show the crisis. What the speaker sees as necessary to hold Canada together. What needs changed and why. Facing changes together. How Canadians can face the challenge of unity. Getting rid of complacency. The view from Quebec and Quebecers. Examples of how Canada, and regions within Canada have changed, but our vision of Canada and those regions has not. Canadians meeting Canadians: the need to know one another. The implications of partitioning the country, especially with regard to global markets. The cost to Canada of dealing with internal problems during a time of developing international markets. Fighting for our country.