Some Comments After One Year's Contemplation
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Apr 1972, p. 400-413
Robarts, The Honourable John P., Speaker
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Personal views and comments, with anecdotes by The Honourable John Robarts, just over one year after leaving a 20-year career in government. A view of Canada's basic problem as one of unity over a huge land mass. Regionalism. Strikes as a weapon to disrupt society. Other observations about youth, employment, health care, education, growth and industry, culture and the kind of society Canada wants to have.
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20 Apr 1972
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APRIL 20, 1972
Some Comments After One Year's Contemplation
CHAIRMAN The President, Henry N. R. Jackman


Now that I am speaking to you as your Immediate Past-President, I want to assure you that no member of the Club welcomes the election of a new President with as much enthusiasm or best wishes as the immediately retiring President.

Our new President, Major Joseph Potts, C.D., Q.C., is the first President in many years to be a prominent member of the Liberal Party establishment. He is also the first President since 1914 to wear a beard.

Far be it for me to suggest that there is any correlation between these two distinguishing characteristics of The Empire Club's 70th President but I do, in all sincerity, want to wish him the very best in the job that he has now undertaken and the success in the coming year that I know will be his.

I know that all of you are delighted to note that one of our new Directors elected to the Board for the first time today, is our guest of honour, The Honourable John P. Robarts, Prime Minister of our Province from 1961 to 1971, a period which corresponded with Ontario's greatest growth.

He was born in Alberta but moved to Western Ontario where he completed his higher education at The University of Western Ontario and at Osgoode Hall. He spent five years serving his country with distinction in the Royal Canadian Navy, and after completing his legal training after the war, entered municipal politics in London in 1951.

The same year he was elected to the Ontario Legislature for London North. He entered the Cabinet in 1958, becoming Minister of Education in 1959 and then Prime Minister in 1961.

To elaborate on the accomplishments of the Robarts' Administration during the decade of the 1960's would be a task well beyond the time which is allotted to me today. It is sufficient to say, however, that now that he has left partisan politics, there can be little doubt that in the minds of all of us, regardless of our political persuasions, that his Administration must truly rank as one of the greatest that this Province has ever had. Now after twenty years of public service, he has retired from political office and once again resumed the practice of law.

Although perhaps now not as much in the limelight as he once was, I know you will agree with me that a man of his ability and accomplishments can never be entirely lost to Canada.

Although he will be speaking to us today with the serene-like detachment which comes from the sure and certain knowledge that he need never face the electors again, I sincerely hope that in the coming years, we may yet see John Robarts once again in some further public capacity.

It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I present to you at this final meeting of The Empire Club's 1971-1972 Season, The Honourable John P. Robarts, Former Prime Minister of Ontario.


Mr. Chairman, honoured guests at the head table, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure for me to be back in this room at this table and to see so many old friends here. I would not care to try to enumerate the number of times that I have tried to communicate with people from this precise spot and from the shelter of this lectern, with a wide variety of audiences, and on a wide variety of subjects; many types of audiences, political and non-political, very partisan, sometimes slightly hostile but I have to say always very interesting.

I haven't made very many speeches recently and as I look over the group here I see a couple of my former speech writers down in the audience. Now I assure you they had nothing to do with this speech and I am quite sure whether I want it or not I will get some critical comments when I finish. It is a bit of a change, you know, to have to do some of these things yourself. When I started out in the beginning of my political career I used to laboriously write all my own speeches. However, we might as well face the fact of the speech writer in the politician's life because you simply run out of time in terms of the number of times you are asked to be on your feet and you seek assistance where you can get it and I had what I thought was a pretty efficient group to deal with the speech problem. When you are delivering two or three or four speeches a week you do need a good deal of assistance and I must admit I kind of miss it on this occasion.

I really didn't know what I was going to say when your President asked me what the subject of my speech would be so it was with tongue in cheek that I said "Some Comments after One Year's Contemplation". I didn't have the faintest idea what I was going to speak to you about and I thought with that rather broad title I could do pretty much as I wished. Also I don't think I have been doing a great deal of contemplating in the last year but I did want the latitude that that topic would give me so that I could perhaps wander around a bit. If I do appear to wander, well, accept it, because I will be in fact wandering. I am not subject to the discipline that my staff used to impose upon me when they wanted to make sure that I got my public policy straight because I am out of the public policy business now and I just need to communicate to you, if I can, some of my ideas and thoughts on some of the things that are going on in our country today.

It is thirteen months and twenty days to be exact since I turned the reins of government over to my very good friend and able colleague Bill Davis. It is just about five months since I left the Legislature where I had spent about twenty years of my life. Twenty years is a long time. I must say in all sincerity that my first reaction as I look back over that period of twenty years is one of really quite intense satisfaction; not satisfaction in the sense that I am filled with pride in what we may have accomplished. It is more the satisfaction of having had an opportunity of participating over that period of time in the life of our Province and of course through this Province in the life of the whole country.

It was a very active period, the fifties and the sixties; a period of very intense change. I don't know how many men or women embark on a political career with the idea that they will become professionals in the sense that it will be a life-long occupation. Certainly when I started I had no intention of staying for twenty years and I must admit I really had very little intention or expectation of ever leading the Government. However the way events worked out I did stay for twenty years. But I have always had in my mind and heart a faint mistrust of the truly professional politician, the man who looks upon it as a lifetime avocation and a job that he wants, and wants to have, forever. I think our democratic system is much better served when individuals bring to some of our political offices the skills and ability that our society has given to them in their normal occupation, when they bring their enthusiasm and their own ideas and they give them to society for a period of time and then they pack their tents and disappear back to the life that they have previously lived. It seems to me that this is the true essence of democracy if we are to have elected representatives who do in fact represent the people that do and have elected them.

I have had this theory for many years and I am happy to say that I was able to practice it. I find an increasing dislike for the tendency that I see creeping in whereby it is being openly stated that decisions in the public field are being made purely against the standard of what effect it will have in the next election. I am afraid that there is a greater tendency for that standard to be used in the minds of men who are truly professional politicians, than with the type of man that I suggest I think we need who simply comes and goes and does his best and really is not too desperately afraid of being defeated at the polls in case he should go wrong. That is not to say it is not completely appropriate that one should seek to perpetuate one's own ideas and policies through winning a succession of elections. On the other hand I do think that proper political judgment should not be placed against the standard of votes. I feel that objectivity is difficult enough to attain at all times but it is a very necessary ingredient in the political decisions that are being made in our increasingly complex political system today.

Anyway that is the situation when I left twenty years of political activity. It is rather odd, you know, because that twenty years of experience disappears in terms of a working instrument in one day because one day you are using it and the next day you are not. There are no telephone calls, there are no delegations, there are no Cabinet meetings, there are no decisions to be made and it is rather an odd feeling but I must say I have gone back to my old life--my former life, if I can put it that way--with some enthusiasm and with no regrets and I am very happy to tell you I am very happy to be where I am.

I am enjoying the relative anonymity of private life, if it can be that. I have become a great subway rider and I talk to most everybody on the subway so I am not completely anonymous yet. I am finding my associations in the law and in the business world to be very satisfying and I am enjoying myself very much indeed. I am finding also there are all kinds of opportunities to serve in a public way in the private sector, if I can put it that way. I really had not realized how manifold the organizations were that seem to all need assistance right now. There are many of them and one should never be stuck for an opportunity to do some good in some of these areas if one chooses so to do.

Finally, and I will get off the personal aspect of this, you might be interested to know that I have re-established contact with my family and I am having my horizons considerably broadened by a very close association with two very active and very opinionated teenagers. This I might say I am enjoying but I didn't realize how little I knew about that particular sector of our society. I had been somewhat isolated from it for some time.

I have opinions on about everything in the world, I guess, as everyone does. I thought I might mention one or two things to you today, keeping my eye on the time. I suppose the great basic Canadian problem is the question of the mere fact of Canada as an entity; what has been referred to over the years as Canadian unity, really the whole problem of Canada as a country. The great debates of the sixties seem to have died down. I think that they revolved around events in the Province of Quebec particularly and also revolved around the fact of our Centennial year in 1967. I detect now a flowing away of public interest in this whole question of Canadian unity and I say to myself is this because we have solved the problem or is it because the problem has solved itself or has the problem just simply gone away. Unfortunately I don't think that any of these propositions are true. In fact I think that the problem is just as acute as it ever was and as troublesome and I think it is in just as much need of attention but what I detect is a certain lassitude, perhaps, in the public, a disinterest, a disillusionment; almost an attitude of boredom. It seems just to be being by-passed at the moment but I don't think any of this will have any effect on what the final outcome will be.

Certainly there is disenchantment in Western Canada, which I think is quite obvious, towards Eastern Canada. The situation in the Maritimes is no better. The Quebec separatist problem is in no way going away. In fact my reading indicates to me that the separatists there are going ahead very firmly and in great detail to establish their position and lay the groundwork for a separate Quebec if they are able to bring this into being. I don't think they will be able to, and I want to make that very clear, but I also want to make it clear that the movement in Quebec is certainly not dead. What worries me is the lack of awareness perhaps in English speaking Canada of some of these events and perhaps the lack of awareness in Ontario as to what is bothering Western Canadians and the lack of awareness in Western Canada as to some of the problems in Eastern Canada.

Now this lack of interest and awareness may be attributed to several things. First of all, I think the predominance of the French Canadian influence in the Government of Canada has tended to take the French problem and place it almost in the context of a dispute between Ottawa and Quebec City and this is being done to the exclusion of the rest of Canada. I don't suggest that this is a deliberate policy. I think it just naturally flows from what has happened politically in our country. I might say that I deplore it because the future of Quebec is of intense personal interest in any way that you may choose to describe it for every individual in Canada from coast to coast but I don't think that our people are necessarily being involved in these problems.

I don't think there is enough public discussion and I am afraid that one day we may be somewhat rudely awakened by events that we may not be necessarily anticipating at the moment.

Now I think too this attitude may have developed among our people because of the inconclusiveness of the various debates we had in the sixties. The Constitutional Conferences did not produce nice, neat and tidy, cut and dried, answers. They did not produce firm positions that everybody could grasp and understand but I don't think that that is any reason why the pursuit of these matters should cease and that we should not be devoting our attention to it from coast to coast. I always have a worry of losing by default. It would be a shame to lose anything because you simply didn't recognize the problem and do something about it when you had an opportunity.

I am afraid I haven't got any particular ideas as to how we overcome this, as to how we once again get the Canadian people discussing freely and fully the problems of Canadians from coast to coast. I don't limit my remarks only to Quebec. It is next door to us and we are aware of it but certainly you need only to read the papers to see, for instance, that British Columbia is not exactly happy with the total events of Canadian life, nor is Western Canada.

Well, enough of that. I am afraid, as I say, I haven't any ideas but I don't have to produce the ideas now. I just throw the thoughts out and somebody else can find out how these problems should be dealt with.

It is impossible to view the Ontario and the Canadian scene today without observing the degree to which the strike weapon is being used in our. society to disrupt in fact our total society. If you are going to take any look at present events here you cannot simply overlook this situation.

I have been very interested recently in the comments that have been coming from Mr. Meaney, the head of the AFL CIO in the United States, to the effect that he thinks strikes are out-moded as a means of settling industrial disputes. Coming from him I think that idea has got to have a lot of clout because he is a very militant labour man and certainly he is not advocating any course of action that he thinks would be detrimental to the people he represents.

In my view the events in the Province of Quebec and the situation here in Toronto . . . I mention Quebec only because that happens to be current . . . but you can look at all kinds of situations in the last few months. I think we really have to give this a good deal of attention.

I recall in the early sixties we here in Ontario passed legislation removing from the civil servants in Ontario the right to strike and, of course, in the same legislation we agreed on an impartial grievance procedure in order that we would give the inalienable right to the civil servant for true protection in his job. We also provided in that legislation for compulsory arbitration in the field of salary negotiations and disputes.

Now that was in the early sixties and this has functioned in this Province I think very well. It took us a few years to work out the wrinkles and to get everyone to accept it but it has worked and it has worked well and I am not aware of any serious complaints about it.

At precisely the time that we were doing that in Ontario the Government of Canada and the Province of Quebec were amending their legislation to give their civil servants the right to strike and all I say to you is if you give a man a new toy you must expect him to play with it. There was a divergence, of course, of thinking in the Governments, as illustrated by what I have said. I think that the results are pretty apparent today.

I think that the strike weapon, if one can call it that, has developed far beyond the area of the original intent. It was developed, of course, in order to exert pressure between two parties who were in dispute and with that, of course, I have no quarrel. In the early days of strikes the dispute was eventually settled between the two parties involved.

What is happening now in most of our disputes today is strikes are directed against everyone in the community. Strikes are now directed against the general public. They are not directed against the employer. The pressure is not being brought only on the employer to meet the demands of his workers. As I say this is a legitimate way of settling a dispute under our laws but I think the time has come when it is no longer going to be legitimate for these strikes to be directed against the total society, against the innocent third, fourth, fifth, sixth, one hundred times removed party. In my opinion we cannot go on with this development.

Part of it is due, of course, to the increasing complexity of our society and the interdependence of groups upon groups.

For instance the last time we had a trucking strike, which was some years ago, I recall receiving letters from small merchants. I think the strike was here in Toronto but these were letters from small merchants in small towns all over Ontario who couldn't get inventory to sell because there were no trucks to bring it in. Now there is the third party suffering and it is the clearest way I can explain it. You need to simply think of what is going on in the CBC today, which has got to be a situation that is pretty ridiculous. Think about the strikes by the Air Controllers and so on. You know the pressure was not brought on Air Canada by the Air Controllers, the pressure was brought on you and me as air travellers and all of society is held hostage and this is now the accepted approach.

When I read that the strikers in Montreal, for instance, took their cars and tied up all the traffic on a major bridge at rush hour . . . what has that got to do with the dispute between the employer and the employee? It is, as I say, a method of affecting and pressuring the total society.

Some years ago we asked Mr. Justice Rand, the very brilliant, brilliant innovator, to settle this whole matter and he produced a report. That report, I felt, was perhaps a little bit ahead of its time but he offered Charles MacNaughton and I alternatives in that report. I have an idea it might be about time to take that report out, dust it off and have another look at it because sooner or later, of course, the general public are simply going to insist that something be done so they will not be drawn into every dispute that may occur between employer and employee.

Now I may have left politics but I don't know how nonpartisan I am, Hal. I have to say that to you because I was very interested in reading last night's Star when Mr. Munroe, the Minister of Health, issued a warning in which he said we could not afford the bill for health care. So what else is new, Charles? We were telling them that for some considerable time and it is rather interesting to see what there is in this. I am not going to quote too many statistics but one needs to understand it . . .

"Health costs are going up at the rate of about 13 percent a year, which is 50 percent more than the growth of the general economy. The total bill for health is expected to triple in the next 10 years."

I will stop right there and simply say to you well, of course, that is impossible. There is no way that our society can accept that type of increase in costs so something is going to have to be done about it. If it were not such a desperately serious thing for our economy and for our country I might be tempted to say "We told you so". No doubt some of you at least remember the debates and the battles that we went through when we tried to alter the plan that we are labouring under now. We tried to preserve the plan that we had introduced and which I am sure would not have led us to the situation that Mr. Munroe is discussing now.

I recall being criticized because I used the term "Machiavellian" on television once in reference to all this. That may have been a little strong but I am afraid that I cannot forget that that plan was passed against the expressed wishes of nine out of ten provinces. It was put into effect anyway and it seems to me that now the time has come to pay the piper and I don't think we are going to enjoy it very much.

I just think that it is going to take some pretty rough surgery (and that is a very poor pun, I suppose) to rectify this situation but it must be done. The fact of the matter is in a very blind sort of rush it seems to me in order to be all things to all people we have over-extended ourselves and our economy. We are placing strains on our ability to produce wealth, to create jobs and to be competitive internationally. It seems to me that what we must consider in this country right now is a pause in this mad rush to a socialistic Utopia. I think it is time we slowed up and got our feet underneath us, time that we created a little wealth before we decided to spend it. I think that one of our major problems is going to be to provide proper work and occupation for our people; jobs and things to do that are meaningful. I think that we need to put our economic affairs in order and we better not take on any more additional what I call somewhat socialistic spending policies until we straighten out what we have here in the health field and straighten out a few other things.

I am very concerned about the place that our young people will find in our society. We have created an educational system that by and large is good. It has its weaknesses, of course, but I think it compares favourably with anything any place else in the Western world and our young people have done their part. We have exhorted them to stay in school; we have told them they needed an education and they have so done. They have filled our high schools, they have filled our universities, they have filled our community colleges and they have, so to speak, carried out their part of the bargain. Now we have to carry out our part of the bargain and there has got to be a place for them in our society when they come out of school. In order to do that we have to get our economy moving and get a rate of growth such as we had four or five years ago. We may have to rethink some of our thoughts about jobs. We might have to take a different social approach.

Traditionally, industry and commerce have provided jobs or occupations for our labour force but it seems obvious this may not always be so and we have to take into consideration the fact that technology is reducing in many ways the number of people required.

I am associated with a couple of labour intensive industries and it interests me to see the policies being developed, all directed towards limiting the work force because this is one of the controllable items, of course, in expenses and costs of product.

On the one hand we are striving very hard to get rid of jobs and on the other hand we are faced with the social problem of having to provide at least some form of meaningful occupation to a whole host of very bright young people who will not be content for us to say "We can't do anything about it". They will insist that something be done about it.

As we start re-thinking some of our thoughts in this regard we must think in terms of the number of people who will be involved in the Arts, in various cultural activities, the whole world of entertainment, the whole world of providing things for people to do with leisure time. As examples I point out to you the Science Centre and Ontario Place here. These are not industrial or commercial functions in the usual sense but they do provide occupation, they do provide meaningful activities for people.

I don't know whether our society is spending enough time thinking about how this increased population is going to occupy itself day-by-day in the years that lie ahead. There is already developing a feeling and a theory that continuous economic expansion may not be the right thing for the life that we want to live as people. We may not be able to go on forever creating more and more of everything including jobs.

Now you may accept that as a valid theory but if you do you have to also accept the fact you are going to have a lot of people who are going to have to be accommodated in our society doing something and doing something that is meaningful to them and doing something that will satisfy them. It is a big problem but in my humble opinion it is one that sits right on our doorstep as of now and something that we must look to and something that I am quite sure government is going to have to provide leadership in finding the answer to, and we are going to need some new and very original thinking.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here and to have had this opportunity to talk to you. You will notice that I didn't mention a thing about the election last October and the conclusions that might be drawn from that. Perhaps that will be the subject of a further rambling dissertation on another occasion.

Mr. Robarts was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Mr. A. Ian Macdonald.

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Some Comments After One Year's Contemplation

Personal views and comments, with anecdotes by The Honourable John Robarts, just over one year after leaving a 20-year career in government. A view of Canada's basic problem as one of unity over a huge land mass. Regionalism. Strikes as a weapon to disrupt society. Other observations about youth, employment, health care, education, growth and industry, culture and the kind of society Canada wants to have.