David Perks, Publisher of the Montreal Gazette
Chairman: Robert L. Brooks
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Ladies and gentlemen, Montreal was founded 350 years ago by Samuel de Champlain. One of the oldest cities in North America, Montreal can also boast of being among the most cosmopolitan on the continent. The city has seen several Canadian firsts including the first Olympics, the first World's Fair and the first stadium that cost over $1 billion and still has a hole in its roof.
Falling as they do during Canada's 125th birthday, the Montreal celebrations underline the rich history of our country. Both founding cultures have left their marks on the city. They are apparent in its architecture, its culture and its institutions.
One of its older institutions, founded 214 years ago, is the Montreal Gazette. As the primary English-language newspaper in Quebec, it reaches 178,000 Quebecers every day.
Our guest today is Mr. David Perks, publisher and ex-officio head of the editorial board of the Gazette.
Mr. Perks is a product of Canada's two founding cultures himself. Although he was born in Toronto, I understand he decided early in life to move to Montreal because the Habs stretched the hockey season so much further there. While he's certainly been right so far, perhaps Pat Burns knows something he doesn't.
In addition to his current responsibilities at the Gazette, he is also chairman of Lower Mainland Publishing Limited, a chain of weekly newspapers in B.C. Prior to that he was vice-president of finance and administration at Southam Inc., and behind that are senior management positions in finance and communications going back 20 years.
But I'm told his real passions are rock music and cowboy boots. In the former category, his favourites include Rod Stewart, the Kinks, and the Grateful Dead. I must be missing something here as my own teenagers can't get enough of them either. In the latter category, he favours the beige, pointy kind. Is it any wonder this is a man who considers his own views too radical for the editorial board he heads?
Mr. Perks is also affiliated with several newspaper and non-profit environmental associations, including: vice-president of the Association of Daily Newspapers of Quebec; member of the board of directors of Collecte Selective Quebec, an organization promoting selective recycling in Quebec; member of Fondation Quebecoise pour l'Environnement, a non-profit foundation promoting public education about environmental issues.
But, it's as a director of the Montreal 350 Anniversary Corporation that David Perks has come here to share his unique views on being an English-speaking Montrealer. I might add that in this capacity he has persuaded The Empire Club to allow today's promotion, a very rare event indeed.
Please join me in welcoming him back to the city where he was born.
It's a great pleasure to be here in Toronto again. I have a tiny technical problem, I can't see my notes with my glasses on and I can't see you with them off. So if I fumble back and forth, I trust you'll forgive me.
I'm here with you today because almost a year ago I volunteered to be a director of the non-profit corporation that was running Montreal's 350th celebration. When the mayor of Montreal appointed me to this board, one of the concessions he won from me was that I would take on some speaking engagements outside the province of Quebec, to promote Celebration 350.
It's very easy to say yes to something that's a year out in the future. And then all of a sudden you find yourself actually doing it.
Montreal is 350 years old. Canada, by comparison, is also having a birthday this year, its 125th. And the difference in ages is not necessarily irrelevant to what I'm going to say. In addition to my visit here for Celebration 350, I'm also here as a Montrealer and I find, looking around the room and talking to various people at the head table, that my contact with Montreal is probably less than the average in this room.
I was born in Toronto, raised in Peterborough, worked 23 years in Toronto, and moved to Montreal about two and a half years ago. A large number of people here were born in Montreal, have lived in Montreal and have far better ties than I do. But I'm one of the very few Montrealers who actually chose to go there in the last three or four years. And, as recently as six months ago, I turned down an opportunity to leave. So while my roots may not be as deep in Montreal as many of yours are, my commitment certainly is there.
Before I talk to you about the celebrations, I'd like to take just a couple of minutes and talk to you about Canada's 125th birthday, and my views of where we might be going. I'd like you all to think for a second about the most bizarre reconstruction of the Canadian Senate that you could imagine.
Sometime in the next few months we're probably going to be asked to vote either in a Quebec referendum or in a Canadian referendum, or in a Quebec general election or a Canadian general election, to stand up for a Canada that's very different from the Canada we know.
It will be a Canada that includes a reconstituted Senate. It will be a Canada that includes probably something for Aboriginals. No one will be able to tell quite what. Cynics will probably say that there will be an aboriginal policy in there that will do no more than prevent, Elija Harper from standing up and blocking whatever accord this is, if an accord is reached.
We certainly won't know whether the aboriginal clause is going to be of any benefit to our native people, or whether it's going to be of any benefit to Canada. But there will be a number of clauses like that.
I think the number of people that are going to choose the unknown by voting no, as opposed to choosing a very uncertain future by saying yes to Canada, is going to surprise a lot of us. Among my other responsibilities, I am a director of the Angus Reid Group; I bought for Southam, about three years ago, a controlling interest in Angus Reid.
It's one of the few things that I bought for Southam that the Competitions Tribunal has not bothered to investigate, for which I'm very grateful.
Angus Reid did a world poll in 1992 in association with CNN. The Angus Reid Group polled citizens from 16 countries on a variety of topics. It turned out, with respect to Canada, that only 17 per cent of the people polled were satisfied with our national government. This left Canada tied for 14th out of 16 countries. Not a very high level of support for our national government.
And when asked whether the government has been becoming more responsive to the needs of the community, only 19 per cent of Canadians felt that the Canadian government was responsive to our needs. That tied us for last in the sixteen countries polled.
When you think of those things, and you think of the popularity of the various levels of government, some of my colleagues at the Gazette believe that the chance of Quebec separating is as high as one-third. One-third is a very scary number, if you think about something as serious as the breakup of Canada.
Now, if we don't have a whole lot of faith in our governments, and apparently we don't, we're going to have to find something or somebody to trust. And I think that means that the people of Quebec, not the government, are going to have to trust Canada.
And there's a lot of suspicions about Canada, what Canada is trying to do, whether Canada cares about Quebec. I'm sure there is a lot of suspicion in Canada as to whether Quebec is merely trying to blackmail Canada, which would make the rest of Canada understandably angry.
We're going to have to, I think, trust each other. And to trust each other we have to work harder at getting to know each other better.
Now one of the good things about the Celebration 350 in this summer of 1992 is that it provides an opportunity for a lot of people to come and visit Montreal. Montreal is a multicultural bilingual city. You don't have to be concerned if your French is no better than mine. You will find a very large and vibrant English-speaking community. The Gazette, each week, is read by 733,000 adults of whom about 20 per cent are francophone. The rest are English or other ethnic, but English as a second language in preference to French.
That's a very large number and I think that sometimes the rest of Canada is not aware that Montreal remains Canada's third largest English-speaking city.
The party that Montreal is having this summer is wonderful. We're going to show you a film in a couple of minutes. It starts out with a 60-second TV commercial followed by a 12-minute film on the virtues of Montreal. It was made two years ago. The last two or three minutes has a distinct business flavour to it.
I do hope that you will come to Montreal and I do hope that you will encourage your friends to come to Montreal, to see what a wonderful city it is, enjoy yourselves, take back fond memories and help the process of healing Canada. Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Peter Hermant, President, Imperial Optical Company Limited, and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.