The More Exciting Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Jan 1977, p. 209-223
Blair, S. Robert, Speaker
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Item Type
A review of Canada's recent history and society, particularly in terms of the economy. The new exciting Canada which "likely contains much opportunity to arrange a more interesting and deserving place to live." What it is not a time for. Time, rather, to "get it together." Canada's distinctions. A time to review our own problems and make changes as "authors of our own version for mastership of our home territory." What that means. Persuading French-Canadians to hold it together with the rest of us. A voice from business in Canada, and "necessarily from the businesses and professions that have a complete and autonomous base and have their destinies committed in this country, concerned with raising capital here and making new investments here year by year, whose management will win or lose according to the fortunes of Canada." Listening to French-Canda and to the west, and to work with openness to the native people. "Looking Outwards" as a trade manifesto of the Economic Council of Canada. Shifts in economy and commerce in the same direction as Canada's regional shifts. What Canada really needs: nationalism.
Date of Original
27 Jan 1977
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Full Text
JANUARY 27, 1977
The More Exciting Canada
CHAIRMAN The President, William M. Karn


Last autumn, when we were discussing a suitable date for our guest of honour to address our club, it was indicated by one of his eastern friends that his subject would probably be "The All Canadian Line". I then began to study the background and affiliations of Alberta Gas Trunk Line Co. Ltd., even though one of my friends who is deeply committed in the Petrosar complex at Sarnia interpreted this topic to mean the Argo football line.

I learned that Alberta Gas Trunk owns and operates a natural gas gathering and transmission pipe line system in Alberta which was approximately 4,728 miles in length in 1975. The company operates as a "cost of service utility", delivering gas under long term contract to four major customers--TransCanada PipeLines, Alberta and Southern Gas, Westcoast Transmission, and Consolidated Natural Gas which owns the gas being transported.

Alberta Gas Trunk is also one of three contenders promoting the development of a multi-billion dollar gas pipe line from the Mackenzie Delta, and along the Alaskan Highway, the cost of which is escalating as the program is delayed by factors such as Indian land claims, etc.

In 1972 the company diversified, forming Pan Alberta Gas Ltd. to buy and sell surplus Alberta gas, and in 1973 Algas Engineering Services Ltd., and jointly with Dr. Allard's Allarco Developments Ltd., Alberta Gas Chemicals Ltd. In 1974 the company formed the Alberta Gas Ethylene Company Ltd. to construct, own and operate a 600,000 ton per year ethylene plant.

Guiding this vast operation, whose shareholders are 37,000 Canadians, is its President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. S. Robert Blair, B.Sc.

Now many of you can appreciate that the interests of industry and government do not always follow parallel courses. While there is much to commend co-operation between industry and government in various provinces where there is usually a sympathetic understanding, regional differences are inevitable, and the resolution of these problems at the national level may present difficulties.

It was therefore not surprising that our guest of honour, who is our first speaker from Alberta this year, should wish to analyze some of the regional issues and present to us his views as to how we might improve the mortar which binds our disparate political, geographical, and economic regions of Canada into a prosperous, united, exciting whole.

Mr. Blair, a chemical engineering graduate in 1951 from Queen's University, of which he is a trustee, is a director if not president also of all affiliates of Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Limited, including Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., a director of the Bank of Montreal, Burns Foods Limited, Canadian Enterprise Development Corporation Limited, Canron Limited, the Economic Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. Certainly he is in a position to be aware of provincial, national, and international issues. With aloof these responsibilities, we can well appreciate his fondness for ranching and farming which he calls his recreation.

Back on August 22nd, 1935, the Very Rev. Dr. H. C. Hewlett Johnson, the so-called "Red Dean" of Canterbury, cabled in part to William Aberhart, when his Social Credit party swept into power in Alberta: "Alberta will kindle a worldwide torch". Well, even though his prophesy has not been fulfilled politically, we in Canada and the United States are most grateful that Alberta's gas and oil continue to provide a light unto our path economically, as well as fuel for our hearth, and feedstocks for an expanding petrochemical industry.

It is with great pleasure that I now invite Mr. S. Robert Blair, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Limited to speak. He speaks to us as an individual Canadian, not on behalf of the many corporations of which he is a board member. His topic is "The More Exciting Canada".


The appointment to have this privilege of speaking was first requested in the early fall of 1976. It gives me great pleasure to be with you today. Et maintenant, le sujet de mon discours est "Un Canada Plus Excitant". I do wish to speak very frankly on matters with which there will be some agreement and some disagreement.

Our teenage wit in Kingston in the late 1940s used the expression "Excited States of America". It was as current as post-war university classes with more children back in their rented rooms than the student number. The expression distinguished nicely between the known order and stability of the Ottawa Valley area from the confusion in them "States".

One does remember the French-Canadian pride back then. I remember it personally as part and parcel with Scotch/Irish prides, with the carry-over of the pre-war unemployeds' grumbles, the longer-standing Westerners' and Maritimers' rumbles plus the new protest of the D.V.A. veterans trying to make university on fees plus $50 a month. The natives in Canada were not saying very much except through the occasional expletive from an "improved Scotch" or a Metis dissident. Beneath our gentle rulers in Ottawa and Toronto we were a cheerful aggregate of minorities, all ready for that time destined to be for Canada's "greatness", the second half of the twentieth century, all on the high road to prosperity but for us with good order, most unlike the Excited States.

That began to turn out true enough in the 1950s and 1960s as Canada progressed, while activity in or for the United States kept its whole world neighbourhood indignant at its aggressions, compassionate of its tragedies, and in business always impressed by the fantastic capacity of its private sectors to introduce production and resilience when commercial adjustment was needed. We were able to work along in the quieter Canadian style, building up our populations. Unfortunately, in hindsight and with the new choices we have now, we sold off rather too much of our manufacturing ownership and some of our resource ownership. But it was a good canoe journey down the river, with only the odd directional paddle stroke. We did become among world leaders in some capacities, in the production of superb practitioners in the professions, respected and careful civil servants arranging increasing government, reasoning academics, the usual Canadian hardy rural types, and inside this mosaic some of the more able and also some of the most colonial-thinking company managements in any nation.

As the population grew, industry became concentrated in the golden triangle, or between Sarnia and Montreal east. The raw materials and cheaper labour flowed in from the hinterlands (meaning all Canada west of North Bay or east of Sorel). The products were finished in that industrial zone and shipped back to the hinterlands, values added, or exported in company with the surplus raw resources. Head offices of our Canadian businesses became concentrated in the 50's and 60's in Toronto and Montreal, and also increased in New York and other northern states, and later in the petroleum industry, in Houston and Tulsa. Meanwhile, the important immigration of Hungarians in the later '50s and of Italians into Ontario in the '60s also happened. But the Anglo status quo reigned on for virtually all national business in Canada.

We were all part of that and I guess just about all of us contributed to it.

Now, in the middle 1970s, we are finding our canoe is into the rapids. It looks like time for steering strongly or Canada may even come apart. This bothers me greatly because I am not first a western Canadian, but first a citizen of a nation which includes western Canada and Ontario and Quebec.

We now live, for better or worse, in our own unique zone of excitement. It has become our turn to furnish anxiety and speculation to whatever parts of the world are concerned with our behaviour. We could even give the usually Excited States (now so suddenly settled) a major diversion of looking up in our direction to see what we do next, an interesting turnabout.

This new exciting Canada quite likely contains much opportunity to arrange a more interesting and deserving place to live. It may also really expose our underbelly. It is not a time to accept high-handed posture between regions nor to telegraph any confusion about the management and integrity of our component provinces. It is certainly not a time to jeer or ridicule each other's ambitions.

It is especially not a time for vicious bumper-sticker type phrases. I mention this because I was told in Toronto last week that there is joking here about a new series of anti-French bumper stickers in Alberta, so vicious that they may seem almost funny. I hope the stories are not true. I looked around in Alberta the last few days and the only one I saw said, "Let's get it together."

But if any weird minds do produce a viciously anti-French motto in Ontario or Alberta, let's just equate that to hate letters which come from isolated cranks and not add any stature by building an image of prairie redneck or reactionary. It doesn't fit. We have already paid enough for that "freeze in the dark" epigram, never created by Canadians, never popular in Alberta, but nurtured in the east with some prompting and turned by joking into a kind of backfire, during a strained period. In the far sharper strain which exists between many French and Anglo-Canadians now, let's drop everything supercilious and talk very carefully.

It would be much better to give less attention to some scattered jeers in the Toronto hockey arena against Team Canada announcements in French and to give much more attention to the concerted applause of the crowd at the November Toronto Grey Cup Game to the pre-game "O Canada" sung mainly in French. I wish that positive football event had been as widely and enthusiastically reported as was the negative hockey event. How long can we play around with these deeply emotional things? We must discard our disgusting trait of public cynicism and hyphenated Canadian racist arrogance. We know at the roots that the public of this nation are no longer colonials of Britain, or France, or the United States. We are our own country surely.

Among all countries, Canada remains distinctive for its high concentration of minerals and lands and fresh water, still rather sparsely used. There will be plenty of powers watching what we do with speculation about where we can be made more dependent. There could easily be a licking of chops over a Canada temporarily unsure of its coherence and resolve. And to be "saved" by the United States under pressure is no happy answer.

So, let's see this as a time to review our own problems and make the changes as authors of our own version for mastership of our home territory. It will mean doing everything that it takes to persuade French-Canadians to hold it together with the rest of us, showing compassion as equals must. It is possible also that in the early expression of maitre chez nous in the early '70s those Quebecers were correct who said to us, "Just listen a little and we may show you the way to being really Canadian."

Premier Levesque in New York the night before last defined an intention for French Canada that to me represents an absolute extreme among future courses. I hope greatly that we do not proceed to that extreme. However I do suppose that under present conditions of commerce in Quebec, if there were forced a single selection between continuation of the approximate status quo as one choice and that extreme as the other choice, a large portion of persons in Quebec would be ready to try for even the extreme he has described. I come to that supposition on the basis of what I hear and from guessing the direction of my own feelings if I were presently a FrenchCanadian living in Quebec.

Therefore I hope that Anglo-Canada will not now react in terms of any indignant insistence that everything is all right as is, take it or leave it. That way I believe we would lose this nation.

However I also suppose, much more hopefully, that if there are other arrangements for substantial change within Canada to secure many of the aspirations of those who nationally are minorities but regionally are the prevalent populations, then everyone including nearly all FrenchCanadians can become satisfied and keep it together.

Personally, I think that the necessary adjustments are more a matter of change in the direction and management and ownership of industry and business within Canada, which would also have profound cultural and social consequences, than a matter of constitutional reform or repatriation.

I propose that we must start paying the price of bluntness, and I, for one, am doing this purposely in Toronto because I fear that it will be in the highly populated areas of Canada, such as southern Ontario, that much of the largest adjustment will have to be made.

Should the business sector be heard from when Canada comes into one of the most serious strains in its history? Of course, but who is prepared to speak, and how? Half of our major "businesses" in Canada, including several of the largest, are not autonomous enterprises that as companies can develop independent recommendations for a political subject. Many are hardly even complete companies, but are more like sales agencies and/or production divisions and while they know a great deal about their capacity to provide employment and to supply consumption, we cannot possibly defer to them to tell Canada what it must do to hold its coherence on broader and more important matters.

When a company must refer each investment decision to a home office decision process remote from Canada, even though there may be a degree of local authority, it is hardly right for the rest of us to approach those companies to take responsibility for the determination of Canadian destiny. As individuals, some of the best people are in those organizations and will speak as individuals, but the private sector I think must look elsewhere for leadership on the political matters that we are discussing. I think we have to recognize that we have this limitation in much of what we call our business sector leadership, and that makes the job the more important for the rest.

What is before us now is greatly more important than employment optimizing or preservation of existing jobs or markets or consumption patterns. Of course, those material objectives won't disappear from consideration, but now and then in worthwhile countries they must become subordinate to political and cultural objectives and I think that is where we are now. We should not be overly respectful of manoeuvres to hold traditional industry positions or to rake additional ten percents off the weaker elements. We must attend to keeping this act of Canada's together and on the road.

There just has to be a voice from business in Canada, and necessarily from the businesses and professions that have a complete and autonomous base and have their destinies committed in this country, concerned with raising capital here and making new investments here year by year, whose management will win or lose according to the fortunes of Canada. If such companies and individuals don't start saying something, we are going to lose this country.

Of course, having set the scene that way, I confess that I am employed by a company of that kind, one which I believe in 1976 raised at least as much equity capital from Canadians and committed to as much new investment in Canada as did almost any other company in the country. I mean a company which raised more equity capital and started greater capital projects in Canada in 1976 than any one of the biggest oil companies, including Imperial Oil, or the biggest manufacturers, including Ford Canada, except only, I guess, the Baie St. James Development Corporation and Bell Canada. To be sure, 1976 was a relatively large year for us, but not exceptional among some companies of our sort, and this does illustrate the growing infranchisement of a number of Canadian businesses. Some companies are still laying their shareholders' capital straight on the line, to go with Canada win or lose.

The voices of all such Canadian organizations are needed because we cannot fairly ask any one person to provide the individual leadership to save this nation. The will needs to come broadly, from all across Canada, business as well as government. Many of us need to do some fast and hard listening to others who we have been brushing off as impractical.

To start with, how about that publication "Un gouvernement du Parti Quebecois s'engage . . ." dated May, 1973. We have had it available for some years now. There is also an Anglo version, called "Summary of the Programme and the Statutes of the Parti Quebecois", of which the text is substantially different from the original. The English text is apparently designed to reassure prospective future minorities in a new Quebec nation. The French version is more comprehensive. It claims all of Labrador, coastal islands and unlisted Arctic lands and islands for a new sovereign nation of Quebec. I do not endorse such a program. It asks far too much. However, that French statement does make some really good points about business and commerce. Many of the points are easily recognizable to an Albertan or to an Ontario resident. They deserve not only awareness now, but also fast action.

I do not know, of course, whether our French-Canadian minority, about one-quarter of the population of Canada, will give popular support to the extremes of transfer of authority to Quebec, as manifested some years ago by the Parti which has come to provide the government of that one province. I think that the proposition of a greatly autonomous enclave within portions of the present Quebec and contiguous territory, totally French in all measurable characteristics and equipped to communicate internationally as well as laterally across Canada, does not scare me to death if that is what those other Canadians really desire in their own hearts.

However, a total appropriation by the majority of the 80% French in Quebec of all lands and waterways and other routes across or within the present boundaries of that province and adjacent lands, seems to me as wrong as if Canada were to use its 80% majority nation-wide to suddenly turn all of Canada into a totally Anglo enclave. So I categorically could not support the present program of the Parti Quebecois. However I would far prefer that our side of this immensely important discussion show enough openness and readiness to concede and act on major shifts from centralized or foreign business authority into Quebec authority within but not outside of Canada.

While we're on that subject, some transfer of authority, from centralized to regional, is in exactly the right direction to draw the prairie provinces back on side. One of the peculiarities of the times is that aside from language, a western province like Alberta has got as much or more common economic interest with the province of Quebec at this stage than it has with southern Ontario. That appears to be so in respect of the general relationship of we ex-hinterlanders with some of the tariff-protected and subsidized industries based between Sarnia and Montreal. It appears to be so also in that the supply of commodities which Quebec will need from other parts of Canada for its future prosperity as it builds up its own steel and equipment manufacture industries, happen to be commodities produced in the west beef, grains and hydrocarbons. What Alberta needs next is sustained markets for processed agricultural production and new domestic and export market opportunities for its new industry, petrochemicals, which Quebec could help us with one way or the other.

Finally, if this has become the season to start listening to French-Canada and to the west, it would be a great time to work with openness to that other minority, the native people, who make a lesser proportion of our population, about 4% of Canada and 6% in the west but who, within their numbers, provide clearly the majority of the permanent resident inhabitation of something like the northern two-thirds of the territory we identify as Canada.

That nationwide minority group is receiving grudging and slow attention or support from business in Canada in establishing their employment, business, political and landuse rights. However, like other minorities, they are becoming better equipped to apply their forces and more confident every month. They have great potential to force for a fairer position in due course, as they organize. I am told that the native vote could carry directly 7 to 15 constituencies in the provincial legislatures of each of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia on issues important to their security. Maybe more clearly than we saw the Parti Quebecois issues in advance, we could perceive now the desirability of meeting the native aspirations midway, to build a better and more secure and exciting future Canada on that basis.

Of this, I am already sure. Ours is not a nation to run over its race or cultural minorities, not in the Mackenzie Valley or anywhere. The people won't stand for it. This is the right aspect of Canada, in pipelines or otherwise.

There are no regional sheikdoms of concentrated wealth within Canada. Every region has heavy responsibilities and costs and economic problems coupled with its eras of higher revenues and production. The province of Ontario has had its period of gold mines and enjoys its big industrial concentrations and also has handled the tough commercial times of northeastern Ontario. Alberta has had oil, has still got some, and has plenty of natural gas, but has experienced industrial employment declining viz-a-viz Canada as a whole and has large regions of low-income settlement. British Columbia is up and down, for all of its forest and geographical natural advantages. There is no province in this nation that can afford to do anything other than recruit the help of the others for support of its key commercial objectives, as it may decide them.

The world into which we must trade is organizing more and more effectively to extend the self-interest of its units and we are overdue I feel in doing that for ourselves. The Economic Council of Canada's trade manifesto of 1974, "Looking Outwards", into which both the labour leadership and the French-Canadian community of industry and finance added their authorship most effectively and which they cosigned, urged a new and freer approach to trade but has drawn little more than self-protective snaps of alarm from scattered components of tariff-shielded4ndustry in central Canada. The centralist status quo has sailed on without a flicker of adjustment that I have been able to notice, while the very broadly-representative Economic Council emphasized its alarm about what we are starting to face now in international trade.

The adjustment of our structures to achieve future exports will have to depend on regional specialization and vigour to develop strong industrial corporate provincial teams, concentrating more on export than on the protection of present industrial employment within the one zone in central Canada.

Maybe with this will follow more vigorous product development, processing and research led by more and more truly autonomous companies seeking the maximum upgrade and replacing some of the branch plant attitudes, for Canadian advantage. In the long run, the thinking behind F.I.R.A. has been in the right direction, and so is that behind Petro-Can.

This shift in economy and commerce can be made at the same time and in the same direction as the regional shifts I was suggesting earlier. It may be fairer for Quebec's people too.

For many years I have heard the theme that the citizens of Quebec have enjoyed a history of handouts from the rest of the country in federal-provincial transfer payments and with special federal expenditures toward, for example, Expo and the Olympics. However unlike most persons from the west I have also had the opportunity to know and listen to some people who have both the FrenchCanadian point of view and well-rounded experience. From them I have heard that considering Quebec's role of furnishing the major market for finished goods from Ontario it is entirely arguable that it has taken no more out of Confederation than it has put in economically. As an individual I have listened to both sides and felt the arguments were about equal. This audience may or may not agree, but that doesn't matter much now because as much as the west and Toronto may feel that Quebec has had the better deal, Quebec feels that it has not.

Also, if there is indeed within Canada an adjustment to greater regional self-determination for trade, we know well enough that population shifts will follow. The concentrated industrial force drew the entire increment of natural population growth out of Saskatchewan from the 1931 census through the 1971 census. It held Alberta very close to only the natural growth of the existing population through 1961, and only moderate gains since. It reduced Manitoba and every one of the Maritime provinces to trends about midway between the Saskatchewan and Alberta trends. That same factor of concentrated higher wage employment in central Canada flushed Ontario's population growth in the very same years to 100% more than the rate of natural growth and Quebec's to about 20% more than that rate.

That process does not have to go on for the good of Canada. It could be halted. It could even be reversed for a period without more trauma than Saskatchewan has known, and that province is indeed still very much in Confederation.

While mentioning that one province let me go back and make another point very clear, the most important point of this address. Much of this has been about commercial business and a need to be open in considering rearrangements. Please don't take any word from me about a western region stronger and more autonomous in trade as being in the slightest western "separatist" or non-nationalistic. As far as citizens for Canada feel, over and above everything and ready to fight for this country and pay the price, my modest opinion sample puts Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Alberta people right up with anyone in the country. Those people won't mind paying the price for a united Canada, they've had lots of practice in that already, and it just seems to make them "stick with it" all the more. Don't give a thought to "western separation" politically. It is absolutely a non-starter. Do give a thought to 41 better balanced Canada regionally, to answering the French component, to answering labour, and to anticipating the natives' assertions. There will also be required a much more open voice and the ability to listen and adjust from our business sector, I hope very dearly.

In the end, what this country needs is not perfect job continuity in the branch plants nor more economic determination from foreign places. It has no room at all for talk of fratricide, but does have room for a nationalist drive big enough to get us all on the same side. I think it could be one of the forces already occurring--in the last decade it has been showing up within the government of Canada. Maybe the Quebec search to be maitre chez nous can indeed help show us the way to a sufficient Canadian nationalism now. Some of us westerners are ready to go for that.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. R. Bredin Stapells, O.C., a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada, and a Benefactor of the Empire Club Foundation.

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The More Exciting Canada

A review of Canada's recent history and society, particularly in terms of the economy. The new exciting Canada which "likely contains much opportunity to arrange a more interesting and deserving place to live." What it is not a time for. Time, rather, to "get it together." Canada's distinctions. A time to review our own problems and make changes as "authors of our own version for mastership of our home territory." What that means. Persuading French-Canadians to hold it together with the rest of us. A voice from business in Canada, and "necessarily from the businesses and professions that have a complete and autonomous base and have their destinies committed in this country, concerned with raising capital here and making new investments here year by year, whose management will win or lose according to the fortunes of Canada." Listening to French-Canda and to the west, and to work with openness to the native people. "Looking Outwards" as a trade manifesto of the Economic Council of Canada. Shifts in economy and commerce in the same direction as Canada's regional shifts. What Canada really needs: nationalism.