British Columbia: The West Coast Speaks to Central and Eastern Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Jan 1987, p. 217-228
Vander Zalm, The Honourable William, Speaker
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A joint Dinner with The Canadian Club of Toronto. The mandate given to the speaker's government. Concerns of the voters. Activities of the British Columbia government since that mandate. An assurance that British Columbia wishes to remain part of Canada. The feeling of alienation in the province. The extent of British Columbia's commitment to confederation. Life in the Far West. Federal government's policies and their effect in the development of regional and national economies. Complaints about some of the federal government's policies and their effect on British Columbia. An exploration of specific examples. Some suggestions and recommendations to improve the situation. British Columbia's strategy for economic renewal. The need for federal assistance. Examples of unfairness in the federal government's policies. Competing with the U.S. The north/south linkage between B.C. and the Pacific Northwest including California. The importance of that link to Canada. The need to be heard at the federal level. The urgency to be able to deal fairly with the federal government, and to be dealt with fairly by the federal government.
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21 Jan 1987
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The Honourable William Vander Zalm Premier of British Columbia
Co-Chairmen: James K. Warrilow, President The Canadian Club of Toronto Non Macdonald, President The Empire Club of Canada

James Warrilow:

Relatively unknown on the national scene until last summer, William Vander Zalm swept into prominence and office in British Columbia on a wave of enthusiasm and vitality not seen in Canada for manyyears. He has been described as a political maverick, like quicksilver, and the most controversial politician in British Columbia, and also as charismatic and populist as well as popular.

Born in Holland, he came to Canada in his early teens and incorporated his first business in horticulture at the age of twenty-one. At thirty, he served as an alderman and then mayor in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. He joined the Social Credit party in the early 1970s and was elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1975, occupying a number of cabinet posts.

In 1983, William Vander Zalm resigned from provincial politics and returned to private life to successfully run a "Fantasy Garden" theme park and a series of garden supply shops. In August 1986, he succeeded the retiring Bill Bennett and led the Social Credit party to a decisive victory in the October election.

Maclean's magazine has summarised Vander Zalm's style as a heady mix of positive thinking and homespun homily with an open, confident style of government.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Premier of British Columbia.

Premier Vander Zalm:

You're a great audience; I'm tremendously impressed. You know, when we come from Vancouver and we receive a full house, it is certainly a great honour and tribute, and I'm very appreciative of so many being here this evening.

I want to begin by saying, also, that I have visited during the last several days New York and Washington, and, of course, these are famous cities, but regardless of where you go or you visit, in Canada or the U.S., everyone certainly raves about Toronto and what a wonderful and beautiful city you have right here.

Having said that, I just phoned home before I came here and I should inform you that the temperature is eight degrees Celsius, which translates into about fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and it's been bright and sunny for the whole of the week, and they tell me that people are already taking to the beaches.

We've had a great deal of excitement during 1986 with Expo. It's been a wonderful year, with twenty-two million visitors. In October of 1986, I and my government were given a healthy mandate, a mandate best described as a fresh start. British Columbians were extremely concerned with such things as continuing problems in the economy, a bad labour image, a growing feeling of alienation from the rest of Canada, too much confrontation and too much regulation.

My Minister of Labour this very day is travelling throughout British Columbia, seeking input from all of the people, because we have already announced that we will be introducing into the spring session, starting about the first week of March, labour code changes. The changes will be very innovative and respond to what it is the people of our province want. They will provide us with peace in labour, and thus give us an opportunity to deal with labour strife in a way in which we can eliminate the waste and the loss and the suffering that comes on account of walkouts or strikes.

We will be introducing such legislation and the image of being someplace where there is a great deal of labour strife and problems will be gone once and for all, and we will be, as a consequence, getting investment from all over North America and elsewhere in the world, which will lead to further employment opportunities for our people.

There is a great feeling of people working together in British Columbia. Whether in labour, business, government, we are certainly seeing this feeling of wanting to get it together for the common good. This has been helped a great deal by our ability to have settled all of the provincial government labour disputes within about forty-five days of taking office. And they were fair and reasonable settlements.

We have established a powerful privatisation committee with a mandate for real action, as governments are not successful in running businesses.

We have also established a mandate of the Minister's committee along with a good powerful staff group who have been charged with eliminating legislation and regulation. The rule is that, if the courts don't touch it or if the map gets you there, don't change it.

Legislating per se is useless. If we can eliminate some of what's already there, we can provide a far better climate for the entrepreneur in our province.

When interviewed in New York, I was asked what people in the financial community perceive as a problem in Canada and particularly in British Columbia. They suggested it was "talk about separatism." Well, I want to assure you there's no talk about separatism.

British Columbians have nothing against the people in Central Canada or in Eastern Canada. We know that, if there is growth and prosperity in your province, it benefits British Columbians, Albertans, people in Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia. We all benefit when Canadians prosper, regardless of where they are in this great country. We want to work with you in Ontario, in Quebec, or wherever Canadians are, to build a much stronger country still.

There is no talk of separatism. There is, however, a feeling of alienation, that perhaps somehow people in other parts of Canada don't always fully understand or appreciate the problems experienced by people in the Far West.

Maybe this misunderstanding is our fault. Perhaps we have not taken the opportunity to give the message to a great group such as this, or to groups throughout Canada.

Two months ago today, sitting with the Prime Minister and with other Premiers at a First Ministers' conference in Vancouver, I presented a perspective of Confederation as seen from the West Coast. In my remarks then at the conference, my first as Premier of British Columbia, I described the meeting as an opportunity to foster an increased sense of unity and national pride.

I also made the point, fairly forcefully I might add, that, if Canadians are to feel truly Canadian, as opposed to seeing themselves as British Columbians, Manitobans or Quebecois, it is essential for them to feel equal within Confederation. That message is as valid and timely today as it was in Vancouver.

After my election as Premier, it didn't take me long to determine that, if any Canadians have reason to feel somehow left out, perhaps not fully understood, or sometimes taken for granted, they probably are British Columbians.

That is unfortunate, because our province and our province's commitment and contribution to Confederation are both long and deep in spite of the many longstanding and current constraints that block us from playing a full role. The list is lengthy and includes population distribution, the political clout enjoyed in other parts of Canada, a woeful lack of British Columbians on national boards and commissions, and the sheer physical and travel problems that go with life in the Far West.

The last point may seem trivial but it is not. Just look at the Vancouver Canucks and where they are in the National

Hockey League standings.

Maybe geography really is the problem. It certainly is a strange thing from the viewpoint of British Columbians. The map shows that Ottawa is three thousand miles away from our province. But there is a growing number of British Columbians who feel that Ottawa might as well be three million miles away from us.

It's like looking at each other through different ends of the same telescope. We can see Ottawa without difficulty, but from the Capital, British Columbia must seem tiny in size and, as a consequence, in importance.

Let me stress today I make these statements in simple recognition of the facts, the way things are, and in a spirit of regret, rather than in rancour.

Let me also say that things do not have to be this way. My province pays a hefty price for its commitment to Confederation, often at the rate of two billion dollars plus per year. In the boom days when price and demand for our resources were high, our buoyant economy could handle that kind of cash outflow. Today, as we as a province struggle back from the lingering effects of the 1981 global recession, and with only modest economic recovery in the forecast, we just cannot afford to pay that kind of price.

Strengthening our economy, attracting investment, and, most of all, creating jobs for British Columbians are the major priorities in our province. We have a game plan to make good positive things come about, but it is unfair and unrealistic to expect us to accomplish them alone.

Before I outline the thrust of our strategy, and give you some reasons why and where we are entitled to receive a substantial increase in federal consideration and assistance, let me make two points.

It's an inescapable fact of life in Canada that the federal government and its policies wield enormous influence in the development of our regional and national economies. Equally inescapable is that some of these same federal policies have hindered economic development in my province. The federal government, besides its tariff and deficit policies, has consistently taken more money from British Columbia than it returns in spending, investment and employment.

Take the federal procurement process. This is where we purchase things through various Crown corporations and the federal government; it involves billions of dollars per year-about twelve billion dollars over the past five years-but this trickle is very slow when it begins to reach the B.C. border. In the last fiscal year, 1986, British Columbia companies were awarded only 5.03 percent of the major contracts although we represent four percent of the population.

Then there's shipbuilding, a topic very much on my mind these days and certainly on the minds of all British Columbians. A review of the major federal contracts that went out between 1983 and the end of 1986 showed they were worth about $4.3 billion. B.C.'s share was only four percent, even though our firms are as competitive as any on this continent and we are on the ocean.

The average subsidy for ferries on the East Coast is fiftyeight dollars per travelling passenger. In British Columbia, it is $1.17.

Had fairness in procurement alone prevailed, the kind that would help British Columbians and make them feel they were equal partners in Confederation British Columbia would get an additional three hundred million dollars to four hundred million dollars pumped into its economy each and every year, and for three million people that is a lot of money.

The outlay by federal enterprises and Crown corporations has also been far less than equitable. In 1979, the last date available for this information, we got a mere 6.02 percent of this kind of spending, whereas a fair share that same year would have added four hundred million dollars in federal cash.

There are other examples such as federal employment in B.C., which, on a per-capita basis, was sixteen percent below the Canadian average as of last December. Now we don't want the Government to rush out and hire more people so that they can fit them into British Columbia. If, in fact, there was equity in that area, we would have a further 10,500 people employed in British Columbia today and, in British Columbia, that's a lot of employment. If it were increased to that average, it would mean not only additional jobs but actually three hundred million dollars more in federal spending.

Given these facts and the need to bring about steady economic growth in B.C., the kind that will endure, we have to see substantial expansion of federal efforts within British Columbia.

Maybe the provinces should look at their own practices. Intergovernmental bidding to attract private-sector developments must be brought to an end. In the pressure to attract new industries, we find ourselves caught up in a high-stakes game in which governments deal out grants, subsidies and tax breaks as bait.

In all honesty, the private sector cannot be blamed for shopping around for the best deal, but maybe it's time governments remembered that the dollars we're waiving and sometimes wavng and squandering belong to the taxpayers. We've got too many so-called free enterprises trying to be magnanimous socialists. Nobody is a long-term winner in this kind of escalating and often fierce competition.

From a B.C. point of view, what's even worse is that the federal government continues to hand out loans, subsidies, and other benefits funded by taxpayers from across the country to Central and Eastern Canada, the fastest growing and the most prosperous regions. Of all the 1985 regional industrial expansion grants given to industries for research and expansion Quebec and Ontario received seventy-five percent and British Columbia five percent.

Thus we have a situation where the rich regions that just happen to house the nation's major banks and financial institutions continue to get a disproportionate amount of federal grants and subsidies. The result: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It would obviously be in British Columbia's interest to consider ways and means to redirect and channel the flow of investment money that is mainly resident here in this part of Canada.

My province has a strategy for economic renewal. It is broad in nature, designed in measure to help us reduce our reliance on our basic resource industries and it has many elements. Let me mention a few, particularly those that require and deserve federal assistance.

The federal government should award the Polar VIII icebreaker contract to the West Coast. We have the workforce, the skills and the yards. We need the nine hundred or so jobs, and we did have the lowest bid.

We also want to see federal legislation to help Vancouver become an international finance centre. It was talked about in the 1986 federal budget and it is something that would allow Vancouver to take a leading financial role in our strategic position on the Pacific Rim.

When we talk about Vancouver as an international finance centre, we're not competing with Toronto or Montreal; we're facing another world, we're in another time zone. We are competing with San Francisco and San Diego. If we can beat San Francisco and San Diego to the draw, and reach into the Pacific Rim, then everybody in Canada benefits. Everybody. That's how we want it to be.

Other initiatives crucial to British Columbia are the upgrading of our Vancouver International Airport to make it an international centre for trade, travel and finance. Changes in federal legislation to allow B.C. to set up special enterprise zones, and federal support to upgrade the TransCanada Highway would go a long way in that regard.

There are other issues of concern out there behind those mountains.

Take the question of British Columbia's representation in major federal institutions such as the Senate, the Supreme Court, and many other federal bodies and commissions.

Only about two weeks ago, I asked our Ministry of Governmental Affairs to research our representation on national bodies and commissions. I can assure you that it was a bit of a surprise to find that our representation was very, very thin. As a matter of fact, until a year and three months ago, we did not even have anybody on the National Harbours Board, even though we have the largest harbour in Canada.

We also found that, out of the fifty-seven or so public or national bodies, commissions, committees and boards that we were attempting to obtain information from, there were at least a dozen that refused to give us the information because of the Privacy of Information Act.

Another example of unfairness is seen when we look at the Senate, the Upper House, which is supposed to give more say to the less-populated regions. At present, because of its makeup and the way Senators are appointed, it merely further distorts the power structure within Canada.

So there are two issues B.C. wants addressed: a fairer share of federal funding and activity in B.C. and an increased provincial presence in the key decision-making bodies of Canada.

We're asking for a fairer share, which does not mean an increase in the deficit. We can have a fairer distribution using the existing resources.

Let me now pay tribute to the federal government for its stance and its actions in the difficult softwood lumber dispute. It would have been easy for the federal government to back away from that particular issue, but it had the courage to stand up and to do what was right for Canada.

Since B.C. is the major player in softwood exports to the United States with consequently the most at stake, I was disappointed by the kind of reaction to the settlement reached. Some of it is purely political. Much of it is based on lack of understanding of what is really involved. In some instances, it appears to be based on selective, if not faulty, logic, like the claim that somehow our sovereignty has been infringed upon by disagreement with the United States.

Tell me honestly, does the Auto Pact under which Canada must meet certain conditions and terms violate that same sovereignty? Do the critics care that six hundred million dollars remains in Canada rather than go over the border into

the coffers of the United States? Are they concerned that three hundred million dollars to four hundred million dollars of that money will come to British Columbia and make it easier for the opposition parties to jump on the bandwagon because they can score more political points in Parliament?

Those who condemn this agreement have lost sight of the long-term implications of a failure to settle this dispute. Right now, Canada and the U.S. are involved in talks aimed at bringing about a comprehensive free trade agreement between our two nations. Had Canada and the U.S. failed to get their act together, had this dispute been allowed to drag on, prospects for a successful conclusion to these talks would be considerably dimmed.

I grant there is no guarantee even now that those talks will reach a successful conclusion, but I am convinced that we have to give it our best shot.

Let us never forget who our biggest and best trading partner really is. Increased access to the massive U.S. market is critical to the kind of growth we want and must have in the Canadian economy. I don't buy the argument that we're too small, that we can't compete, that we'll be dwarfed and engulfed.

I can assure you that there was a great deal of talk in British Columbia during our attempts to arrive at a settlement with the U.S. on the softwood lumber issue. Never did we say, and we won't today, that we are subsidising the forest industry. But we were getting advice from our legal people and from the people representing industry. The message was the same every time: if we don't settle, we are going to lose.

We had to seek that settlement to keep the money in our province, but what makes the British Columbia forest industry competitive is the fact that our workers work harder, our industry is more effective, more efficient, and our mills make those mills across the line that they're competing with look like 1925 operations. We don't need to be afraid of competing with the U.S.

From where we sit on -the West Coast, a comprehensive trade deal would be a major plum. We are a resource province. We are dependent on exports. It would end the kind of situations like the softwood lumber dispute, and industries and manufacturers on both sides of the border would be able to operate in a more stable and predictable economic environment.

The fact is that there is a north/south linkage between B.C. and the Pacific Northwest including California that's growing, and it's becoming more and more important to British Columbia and consequently to Canada.

The opportunities, particularly in the area of energy supply, over the long run are enormous, and our province intends to make the most of the positive options that will inevitably develop.

We intend to make our voices heard and our presence felt in this major section of the American marketplace, just as we will continue, as I have done today, to make the voice of the West heard here in Central and Eastern Canada.

We shall be heard by those in Ottawa who will want to make sure that there's not just the perception of fairness, but that fairness will be practised. Together we can build. We are a nation full of resources. We have a people strong, willing and able to work and to compete anywhere in the world.

A strong British Columbia helps to make a strong Canada, just as a strong Ontario helps to make a strong Canada. All parts of this beautiful country must be strong and you can help make it so.

Nona Macdonald, President of The Empire Club of Canada:

On behalf of The Empire and Canadian Clubs, I am truly delighted, as one who has lived in British Columbia, to bring the appreciation of this meeting to you, sir. We are honoured to have you give your first major address in Eastern Canada as Premier of British Columbia to this audience in Toronto. There was talk in your speech about East and West, about

North and South, about regional separatism, but the British Columbia connection is strong tonight, not only through your speech, but because of the people here. I presume that fifty percent, if not more, visited Expo '86.

The University of British Columbia, a great institution, is represented by its alumni here tonight. In fact, at this head table, one UBC graduate is a CBC producer, Norman Campbell. He also represents an East Coast link in that he is the composer of a great Canadian musical, Anne of Green Gables, which, of course, is set in Prince Edward Island.

Others at the head table represent some of Canada's national businesses: the Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Trustco, Royal Bank, Price Waterhouse, Maclean Hunter, and Mrs. McCarthy, who as President of the Toronto Garden Club brings us together with the universal delights of gardening.

But all are here because they wanted to hear you, Mr. Premier, bring us the message from B.C., and it is an historic occasion, being recorded by television and radio. Rogers Cable will send this speech across Canada on its network including Victoria and Vancouver.

You have brought us closer to your beautiful province, which, after tonight, is our beautiful province.

You've helped us cross the mountainous barrier between West and East. You've presented a clear picture of your philosophy, priorities and plans for governance.

We thank you for being so forthright and, in my view, so fair, and now you are en route to your birthplace. You're going to the Netherlands and you're going to be welcomed by its royal family there.

But we don't want to lose you, because you vowed to make your voice heard here and we want you to come back for another welcome visit.

Indeed, it occurred to me that the next time you are on your open-line radio show, don't forget to invite your West Coast callers to visit us when in Toronto. Both our clubs will welcome those from B.C. in the same way you have been welcomed here tonight.

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British Columbia: The West Coast Speaks to Central and Eastern Canada

A joint Dinner with The Canadian Club of Toronto. The mandate given to the speaker's government. Concerns of the voters. Activities of the British Columbia government since that mandate. An assurance that British Columbia wishes to remain part of Canada. The feeling of alienation in the province. The extent of British Columbia's commitment to confederation. Life in the Far West. Federal government's policies and their effect in the development of regional and national economies. Complaints about some of the federal government's policies and their effect on British Columbia. An exploration of specific examples. Some suggestions and recommendations to improve the situation. British Columbia's strategy for economic renewal. The need for federal assistance. Examples of unfairness in the federal government's policies. Competing with the U.S. The north/south linkage between B.C. and the Pacific Northwest including California. The importance of that link to Canada. The need to be heard at the federal level. The urgency to be able to deal fairly with the federal government, and to be dealt with fairly by the federal government.