Power and the Abuse of Power in Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1978, p. 83-91

Roman, Stephen B., Speaker
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Item Type:
A discussion of the speaker's perspective on the present trends in the exercise of political power. Comments on the legitimate use of power, with a review of various views. Canadian Prime Ministers in the past. Consequences of recent programmes offered without input from the public, e.g. price and wage controls, unemployment insurance in its present form, open immigration; institutionalized bilingualism, opportunities for youth; liberal welfare, expansion of the civil service. Party discipline and cabinet secrecy doctrines. A comparison of powers of the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of the United States. Proposals for change. The importance of political leadership; leadership of personal responsibility and individual commitment.
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16 Nov 1978
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Full Text
NOVEMBER 16, 1978
Power and the Abuse of Power in Canada
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald W. Lewis


Members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: Our speaker is a legend in his own time. He is the embodiment of new world success. He is the proof it can be done--an immigrant who came to Canada forty-one years ago, an eight-dollar-per-month farm labourer who turned a penny mining stock into an industrial giant with annual sales of $200 million.

It has been a long and difficult road that our guest has travelled, a road that began in the town of Velky Ruskov in Slovakia where he was born. That long road has been marked by Mr. Roman's own unique milestones.

Mr. Roman was quoted in a magazine article earlier this year as saying, "I am a builder. Between a builder and a person satisfied with temporal values, there is a great difference." This at once captures the character of the man as a hard-driving businessman who retains deep spiritual values, a man with the self-confidence and ability to build a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted business empire, and yet retain a great personal concern for the plight of his fellow man.

He has been awarded honorary doctorate of law degrees from the University of Toronto and from St. Francis Xavier University. In 1963 he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, an honour bestowed on him by Pope John XXIII. Indeed, he was the first and only Canadian auditor to the Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome.

Our speaker's company, Denison Mines Limited, controls the largest uranium mine in the world. It is a diversified industrial giant with interests in oil, gas, coal, cement products and other mining and industrial investments, both national and international. Beyond his business interests, our guest is an honorary director of the Canadian Folk Arts Council, and an honorary director of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. He is also a Life Member of The Empire Club of Canada.

Mr. Roman is active in ethnic affairs, and farming has been a life interest from his days at agricultural school in Slovakia to his prize-winning herd of Holstein-Friesians on his 1,200 acre Romandale Farms in Unionville.

Stephen Roman has been and remains a controversial figure. He is said to despise politicians. A critic of government, he is outspoken in his concerns and he does not just talk, for he has twice run for federal office, albeit unsuccessfully.

He is an ardent and vocal free enterpriser. He abhors government interference and he has certainly had his share. Lester Pearson cancelled a $90 million uranium contract that he had negotiated with France. Prime Minister Trudeau stopped a move to sell Denison Mines to American interests and his most recent multi-million dollar deal with Ontario Hydro stirred the N.D.P. to call for the nationalization of Denison.

But to Stephen Roman this is the price of being a successful businessman--to be suspected, to be criticized, to be considered autocratic. He acknowledges this in a simple statement: "There are people who don't like my character because I am non-conformist ... they don't understand my commitment." Committed he is. As a devout Catholic he is committed to his religion, to his family, and to his principles.

It is in keeping with this concerned personality that Mr. Roman's chosen topic today is "Power and the Abuse of Power on the One Hand and the Pursuit of Excellence for Canada on the Other."

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present to you Mr. Stephen B. Roman.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Let me begin by thanking you for the privilege of being with you. Many great men and women of our time have stood at this podium, and I am honoured to be asked to address this distinguished audience.

I do not intend to speak as a mining executive, even though the questions surrounding the future of resource development in Canada more than qualifies as a major issue of the day. With your indulgence, I want to talk about a much larger and more , crucial issue: the very grave dangers we face in Canada from the present trends in the exercise of political power.

This may sound like an unlikely subject for a businessman. Over the next few minutes I hope to show that most of the problems eroding the strength of our country have their origins in politics. We will only resolve those problems when each of us comes to the realization that the future of our country is too important to be left to politicians.

Mr. Chairman, it is the tradition of speakers appearing on this forum to deal with one of the major issues of the day. I have selected my topic because I believe it to be not only the most important, but the crucial issue confronting the Canadian people at this time.

Any consideration of power and its abuse must begin with some comment on the legitimate use of power. Here we have a wide spectrum of belief and practice. At one end of the spectrum is the Judeo-Christian concept. This view, to which I fully subscribe, states that all power is a divine trust, and its only legitimate use is to improve the material and spiritual well-being of mankind under divine guidance.

At the other end of the spectrum is the materialistic view that "might is right." Advocates of this view believe that power is for those strong enough and clever enough to take it. The holder is free to use it as he sees fit, without any moral constraint.

Recognizing man's innate passion for power, those at the Judeo-Christian end of the spectrum are warned of the danger of accepting it. We are cautioned that "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." For those operating at the other end of the scale, the mood is much lighter. They are persuaded to believe that "Power is lovely and absolute power is absolutely lovely." In the short run, this often appears true, but the euphoria never lasts.

History is strewn with the corpses of those who mistakenly assumed that they could employ power without responsibility for national, institutional, or personal advantage.

It is against this background that I want to consider the exercise of power in Canada as a preliminary to proposals designed to lead us out of our present economic chaos.

In the power context, the corrupting force of "absolute power" is very much a factor of our political system. The office of the Prime Minister of Canada is exceedingly powerful in terms of its unfettered control over the political and economic affairs of the nation.

A Canadian Prime Minister with a majority in the House enjoys all but supreme power. He has unquestioned control over the legislative process, and of the executive arm of government, and between elections, is free to act as he wishes, subject only to the concern that he may not be re-elected for a following term. Unlike the President of the United States, whose powers are constrained at every turn by constitutional checks and balances, our Prime Minister is at liberty to do as he wishes in government affairs. This is true whether the matter is new legislation, selection of cabinet ministers, appointments to the Senate, to the federal judiciary, including the Justices of the Supreme Court, or to senior government positions ranging through deputy ministers, ambassadors, and so on.

Despite the opportunities for abuse which this kind of power affords, Canadian prime ministers in the past have generally used it with great responsibility, none more so than our great French Canadian prime ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mr. Louis St. Laurent. For them, as for others who have held the office, power was indeed a divine trust to be used to serve the people of Canada and preserve their freedom and dignity in a free enterprise society.

Under the leadership of such men, Canada was transformed over the span of a hundred years into one of the finest, most respected and most prosperous democracies in the world. Of course there were difficulties; sacrifices had to be made to establish reasonable levels of social services for the sick and the aged and the poor. But in the hearts of all Canadians, especially our young men and women, was the hope and prospect of achieving their own level of greatness in this land of opportunity. Indeed when we celebrated our centenary in 1967, Canada was by and large "glorious and free."

But in the short space of ten years, we have seen the work ethic seriously eroded. Whole segments of our society have been corrupted by government paternalism. Many people and, tragically, a lot of our young people have been encouraged to see government handouts as a normal and acceptable way of life. Punitive taxation is killing the incentive for people to be their own providers.

The producers and risk-takers--whose initiative built this country--are becoming demoralized by a government-induced climate hostile to enterprise and profit.

It would be charitable to say that many of these effects were the unforeseen result of good intentions that did not work out, in practice. But, in my view, the issue goes much deeper. The plain fact, ladies and gentlemen, is that most of the programmes that have created such havoc in our society were brought in with no mandate from the people. With our present political process and system of government, the people's mandate is becoming a thing of the past.

Examine the rhetoric of recent federal elections. Which party asked for a mandate to introduce price and wage controls? The people said "no"; but they got them all the same. When were we asked for a mandate to change our free enterprise economy into a government-managed economy?

We all have our list of government programs we feel should never have been introduced: unemployment insurance in its present form; open immigration; institutionalized bilingualism; opportunities for youth; too liberal welfare; expansion of the civil service; there are plenty to pick from.

Consider that neither you nor anyone else had an opportunity to express your opinion for or against these programs. Equally important, our system gives you no way to have a harmful program removed--even if the majority of the people want it eliminated.

Party discipline and cabinet secrecy doctrines give a Canadian prime minister almost absolute power. He has total control of the legislative process. Through the Privy Council Office, the Cabinet Secretariat and committees, he has total control of the policy development process. Therefore he has the unrestricted power to put his personal imprint on every policy direction followed by the government.

By comparison, a president of the United States needs the advice and consent of both houses of the Congress before he can exercise his executive power--including appointments to his own cabinet. The Canadian prime minister makes reference to no one in selecting his cabinet, creating Justices of the Supreme Court, appointing permanent heads of public service departments, and even the Governor General.

With all this power at his fingertips--power gained through hundreds of regulatory bodies which the prime minister controls directly through the appointment of members--a mandate from the people is a luxury for a Canadian prime minister.

Let me make it clear that my comments are not directed at Mr. Trudeau. My concern is that our system of government places too much power in the hands of one man, with no checks and balances. Few men can live up to the demands imposed by such enormous power. Part of that concern comes from the way in which we select our prime ministers. One word--charisma. We all know that one of Mr. Trudeau's great appeals to the Canadian public was his exciting image.

Surely, after more than a decade of missed opportunity, of steady decline in our national fortunes, of growing divisiveness, of mounting uncertainty, alienation and apathy, depreciating currency, our cloudy image abroad, incredible mismanagement of the Post Office, the establishment of social security beyond reasonable requirement, and the outlay of hundreds of millions of dollars in nationalization programs ... surely we have learned that we cannot delegate responsibility for our country's destiny to charismatic leadership.

I could go on, Mr. Chairman, but these citations will more than substantiate the fact that our nation has not been properly managed. We have not been getting the leadership we deserve. In election after election, Canadians have placed style over substance. We have responded to image, instead of examining the reality of the country's leadership needs. In the process, we have very effectively glossed over the country's real problem, which is that too many Canadians have lost faith in Canada's potential for excellence. We must find ways to give Canadians renewed faith in themselves and in this country. The alternative to this is to lapse into mediocrity.

In my view, a major part of that renewed faith can be achieved by bringing Canadians back into the mainstream of the country's affairs. This means making our system of government more relevant--and, above all, responsible to the people. It means taking the ultimate power to determine the direction of the country from the hands of one man, and placing it where it rightfully belongs--with the people.

Had the people anything to say about the management of the country, we would not be running a $15 billion deficit this year. It is these soaring deficits, unrelated to the production of real wealth, which debase the dollar, accelerate inflation, increase unemployment and debilitate the national will to succeed.

This brings me to my first proposal. We should seriously consider introducing a right for citizens to assert their mandate on major issues through the referendum process. Would we be spending $5 billion on unemployment insurance this year if we had been given an opportunity to vote "yes" or "no" on this particular program?

Some people will argue that specific issues may not be understood well enough to be resolved by a popular vote. The people might make a wrong decision from time to time. But just show me a government that is right all the time--or even most of the time.

My second proposal is that legislation be enacted to set some limits on the level of public spending and public debt.

My third proposal is for action requiring the government to withdraw from all its current economic activity, where this involves competition with, or an incursion into, the sphere of private sector responsibility.

My fourth proposal is that action be taken to disband the Foreign Investment Review Agency. This agency has proved a major deterrent to a much needed flow of foreign capital into Canada for industrial development purposes.

My fifth proposition for action is that we make all unions in Canada legal entities--responsible to both their memberships and the general public--the same as any other responsible entity in this country.

There is an important principle underlying all of these proposals. The cornerstone of Canadian society must be the encouragement of individual freedom and initiative.

There are risks involved in giving the people more direct responsibility in the conduct of our national affairs. But to get Canada back on a proper course we must mobilize Canadian men and women to the common cause of securing the future. We must find some common ground on which we can all agree to focus our efforts. In my view that common ground is to be found by laying the foundations for a responsible society in Canada. In a truly responsible society, each individual has a responsibility to do his utmost to improve his own lot, and to contribute to the improvement of the society around him. Government's responsibility should be to provide a climate which fosters and rewards initiative at all levels of society.

As Canadians, we are the trustees of a very precious heritage and destiny. That heritage embraces the finest virtues of the old world, mixed with our own Canadian traditions. The destiny is that of a land with the greatest potential on God's earth. If we believe in that heritage and destiny we have an undeniable responsibility to pursue a course of excellence for Canada, so that those who follow us will inherit an even stronger foundation to build on.

The first step requires leadership. Not that of a political leader, but the leadership each one of us is capable of--the leadership of personal responsibility and individual commitment. Above all, it requires that, as responsible Canadians, we become directly involved in the decisions that govern our country.

The second step is to start using a new language when we talk about the future of Canada. All we have heard from the politicians is constitutional formulas and power-sharing agreements. It's time we used the language people understand--the language of opportunity.

I personally think that Canadians are ready for a different and more exciting challenge than our leaders have dared to put before us--the challenge of building a new and vibrant Canada. Not simply a new constitutional framework, but a society in which all our citizens can find and share in the opportunity.

We have a common cause--turning Canada's potential for excellence into a society based on excellence, where just and satisfying rewards are the product of effort and contribution. We have the resources to do the job--millions of men and women who live with uncertainty and fear that the Canadian dream might be drifting away.

The time has come, ladies and gentlemen, for us to show our faith in ourselves and to believe in our capacity for excellence. With our renewed faith, we can move forward to build the society of excellence that Canada is destined to be!

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Robert L. Armstrong, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Power and the Abuse of Power in Canada

A discussion of the speaker's perspective on the present trends in the exercise of political power. Comments on the legitimate use of power, with a review of various views. Canadian Prime Ministers in the past. Consequences of recent programmes offered without input from the public, e.g. price and wage controls, unemployment insurance in its present form, open immigration; institutionalized bilingualism, opportunities for youth; liberal welfare, expansion of the civil service. Party discipline and cabinet secrecy doctrines. A comparison of powers of the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of the United States. Proposals for change. The importance of political leadership; leadership of personal responsibility and individual commitment.