NOVEMBER 20, 1975
Leadership in Canada Today
AN ADDRESS BY Miss Flora MacDonald,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR KINGSTON AND THE ISLANDS
CHAIRMAN The President,
H. Allan Leal, Q.C.
Miss MacDonald, Your Grace, ladies and gentlemen: Our distinguished visitor and speaker today, by her own count, has played a part, and on occasion a decisive role, in no less than 38 federal and provincial elections and by-elections, in all ten provinces. You may recall, as history has recorded the event, that when Abbe Sieyes was asked what he did during the French Revolution, he replied "I survived!" There are those of our contemporaries for whom survival is not only a joyous thing; it is nothing short of miraculous. Surely Flora MacDonald must be one of these.
Her friends and supporters inform me that she is now locked into the second most critical political battle of her life--presumably the most critical one to come on the dissolution of the present Parliament. In circumstances such as these it is only fair and just that she be presented in her own words, and in her own way. In any, event, one is always loath to apply one's sickle to someone else's harvest!
For these purposes, then, I am pleased to refer to her own remarks on the announcement of her candidature for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. First of all, she hails from Cape Breton Island where people know who they are and where it's at, as they are wont to remark. In my experience, they leave not the slightest doubt what they stand for and, equally important in my view, what they stand against. Although I would not presume to give advice, I feel bound to say that such candour in politics is not without its risks. But generations have proven the Scottish have a way--they have even imparted it to British Airways: Hey, hey, hey!
It is abundantly clear that our distinguished guest is fully knowledgeable and highly skilled in the art and science of politics and how it really works. I believe, too, that she is not devoid of constructive suggestions as to how it can be made to work better for the good of this country and the Canadian people, for both of which she has a pervasive and passionate concern.
A political commentator has observed recently that if we continue in our present ways at the current rate we will have resolved very soon, in a stroke of genius unique to Canadians, both the problem of an independent Canada and that of our native peoples as well, all in one fell swoop--no one will want to touch this country with a barge pole!
I know that you would prefer to hear about these concerns from the speaker herself. But, as you will observe, she is no pessimist. She is not even a disillusioned pessimist. She is openly and avowedly an optimist. I am pleased to think that she is what can genuinely be styled as a happy warrior and
When she's swinging into action
She's the centre of attraction
For 'tis the tourie on her bonnet
The red tourie on it
The red tourie, tourie--oorie--oorie--a!
It is no new thing, but it is some time, since we have had a MacDonald from Kingston stalking the corridors of power in the seat of the Government of Canada and guiding the political destinies of this nation. I am privileged to present to you Flora MacDonald, Member of Parliament for Kingston and The Islands, and to invite her to address us on "Leadership in Canada Today".
The question that I am asked most frequently these days is the natural and obvious one. "Flora, why are you doing this?" Why indeed? Who in her right mind would ask to become responsible for the country in times like these? This is a time when offering oneself for leadership is something like underwriting Evel Knevil's insurance or paying scalpers' prices for an Argo football game.
Every one of you is as aware as I am that we are in one of the worst and most complex periods of economic difficulty in decades. Anyone who can read knows. Anyone who goes shopping or who runs a business knows. Anyone who is trying to get a job in most parts of Canada knows. So does anyone who is trying to hire people.
When an Ontario Hydro issue at an exceedingly attractive yield has difficulty in the New York market, ladies and gentlemen, this country is in trouble.
No wonder we weren't invited to last weekend's economic conference in France--we couldn't even quite match Italy's strike record, try though we might.
So why choose a time like this to put oneself forward for consideration for leadership and thus ultimately for the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister.
The answer, at least for me, is quite straightforward. I am deeply convinced that most of Canada's current problems are the direct result of the calibre and style of leadership of the current federal government. That style threatens the stability and security of our lives.
We drift from crisis to crisis, from one patchwork solution to another, with a growing sense of helplessness. We look for direction and are given a meaningless set of options. We look for leadership and get cool theorizing. We look for safe streets and economic security and are told when we don't find them that the fault lies in our own unrealistic expectations.
Governing, as it is practised at the federal level in Canada today, has come to mean no more than making yes or no decisions between alternatives put forward by civil servants or by an alarmingly swollen cadre of private advisers. Our leaders have not involved themselves in identifying emerging problems in time to deal with them before they become crises.
They have not taken the trouble to set a tone in the country, by word and example, which would ensure the development of a general public will to support measures which are necessary. Most disastrously, by isolating themselves, the government has lost that essential sensitivity to the needs and concerns of the people. Thus they are unable either to comprehend the aspirations of Canadians or to guide their expectations and understanding as true leaders should.
Because of its loss of contact with the people of this country, the government has managed to alienate most of the important sectors of the nation. In adopting an adversary approach in virtually all of its dealings with various interest groups, it has closed off avenues of potential understanding with astonishing speed. Moreover, it has had the nerve to make demands on these groups while setting the worst possible example itself. Businesses, for example, are urged to show restraint by a government which has shown utterly irresponsible prodigality in its stewardship of public funds. Unions are urged to show restraint by a government which, through its every deed, demonstrates that it has no idea of the meaning of the word.
I know it shouldn't be this way and that it needn't be this way. I see so clearly the folly of this approach that I am compelled to speak out and to offer an alternative: a different, perhaps more difficult, but in the long run a better approach to government in Canada.
Let me give you some examples of the ways in which we have been disserved by federal leadership.
We all know how a decade ago the provinces were persuaded, some of them with great reluctance, to join in a national health care scheme. The basis of the reluctance was primarily the anticipated future costs of this universal program. The federal government was persuasive and we now have a program that is the cause of both great pride and great expense to Canadians.
Indeed the expense is now much greater than had been predicted by Ottawa, chiefly because utilization rates are high and still increasing. This expense has been worrying governments for some time. Last year a special task force involving the federal and provincial governments was established to use whatever expertise could be brought to bear on the matter of reducing costs. That is the kind of co-operation that I as a taxpayer applaud.
But while that exercise was underway, and without any prior warning or consultation, the federal government brought down a budget announcing that it was putting arbitrary limits on its own contributions to the health care program. It abandoned the task force. The reaction of the provinces was immediate, unanimous, negative, and, in my view, wholly justified. With this single act the government destroyed the process by which some realistic measures might have been found to limit the costs of the program. It didn't do one thing in providing us with either better or cheaper health care. It created a confrontation between the federal government and the provinces whose mandate is every bit as legitimate as Ottawa's. Can any taxpayer expect to come out a winner when he's financing both sides of a war?
We know that this action in the field of health care will have an important and unfortunate effect on negotiations and co-operation in other fields. Certainly the great hope we had some years ago for the dawning of a new age in federal-provincial relations has been dashed on the rock of conflict. This should not have happened.
Now this example upsets me as a politician, because I see the waste of an opportunity for some really effective inter-governmental co-operation. I used it as an example, however, because it is typical of the way I see the relations of the government in Ottawa developing with nearly all sectors of our society.
Businessmen are repeatedly telling me their frustrations in dealing with the federal government. Very few sense that they and their concerns are felt and understood--perhaps only those who operate duty-free shops in Montreal. At a time when above all business needs certainty about the ground-rules within which it will be operating, it is faced with unexpected changes, with fiats and regulations, with suspicion and even hostility. If business cannot expand and prosper, neither can Canada.
Labour has fared no better. Over the past few years, organized labour has come to look upon the government as being in opposition to its legitimate ambitions. It has not had the opportunities it wants to influence the development of legislation that will foster a degree of industrial peace in this country, a peace for which we all long. We just can't afford to have so many strikes. Neither can we afford to have the Prime Minister use the unions as a diversion from his own responsibility for our economic woes.
I am not suggesting that the government shouldn't be dogged in the pursuit of its objectives. Nor should it shy away from difficult decisions and unavoidable conflicts. No one enjoys a good fight as much as I do, which may account for the fact that I have fought in 38 different elections and by-elections.
Adversary debate is quite appropriate between political parties in elections and in the House of Commons, but it is a decidedly inappropriate and dangerous way to go about resolving differences and seeking accord. It is a dangerous way to govern.
In my view the prevailing mode of government, the philosophic premise, should be one of seeking agreement based on the co-operation of as many as possible, and certainly of all those who are affected. There is more to good government than just making laws. There is more to making good laws than just the inexorable use of a parliamentary majority.
This leads to another and equally important point. Effective political leadership connotes the act of leading, of charting a course and gaining support for decisions once taken. It implies a willingness and an ability to prepare the people for the actions, particularly the difficult actions, that must be taken. Here too, the record of the government is just not good enough, not what we as citizens have a right to expect.
Probably the outstanding example of this failure is the introduction of the anti-inflation program. A year and a half ago, the Liberals were successful in persuading the country that price and incomes controls were both unnecessary and bad. By doing this the government succeeded in designating inflation as a problem of only secondary official importance.
Then after a typical pause--and the Liberal style seems to be characterized by lengthy pauses broken by erratic bursts of activity--the Minister of Finance became concerned about inflation and undertook a short series of talks with leaders in various sectors to see if there was a consensus to undertake a program of self-restraint. It is little wonder that his approach didn't work at that time. The government had already said it was against controls. It had also demonstrated in the clearest way that it had no intention of taking action on its own.
It did nothing to curb its own programs and expenditures.
It did nothing to give incentives to business to increase productivity to help keep prices down.
It raised interest rates to the point where new investment became virtually unfeasible and where price increases were inevitable just to finance inventories.
It ran up an unprecedented deficit.
It increased its own and its civil service salaries and expanded the size of the civil service itself.
It defended rising food prices.
It raised the price of oil and gasoline and put a new tax on them.
It made a mess of its own labour relations, and, by both action and example, created out of the whole collective bargaining system in Canada a chaotic situation unparalleled in our history.
The search for consensus was quickly abandoned. And more time went by.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, a program was introduced that promised control for some and relative immunity for others. What a way to mobilize national support for one of the most important pieces of peacetime legislation in our history. Whether the government will be able to accomplish its objectives after that sort of preparation, only time will tell. But if it fails, the reasons are not difficult to find.
There had been no political preparation for this announcement, no attempt to gain public support for what the government had previously and quite recently told the people was bad and unnecessary. There was no leadership by example, no application of the kind of restraint that was now being urged on the country. There was only the federal presence we've come to expect at certain crisis points in our life as a nation: the glittery-eyed television performer, balefully staring down the opposition, stonily deaf to the unanswered questions, coldly imposing his will on the people.
I, as a Canadian, have a right to expect more from my government. I have a right to expect some leadership, some example. It is just not good enough to be dictated to by people who are there to serve me, particularly when their actions belie their own commitment to their words. This, I call a failure of leadership.
The introduction of the anti-inflation program is by no means an isolated example, though it is perhaps tire most topical. There's a depressingly large number of programs that have the unfortunate result of eroding confidence in government and in some instances in individual initiative and dignity.
Does anyone doubt that the current unemployment insurance regulations have had an eroding effect on the incentive to work and the endangered virtue of self-reliance? It is now possible to parlay eight weeks work at $185 per week into a return of $172 for each day's employment. Is this the Canada we want?
Programs of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion have left a legacy of bureaucratic expenditure, but very little in the way of productive, self-sufficient industry to accomplish what we all seek: a Canada with sound, viable, regional economies based on the natural and human resources of each area.
Social questions such as abortion have been incredibly mishandled, with no leadership of public attitudes and no preparation for changes in the law.
The results of these and many more errors is that we now have a country that is deeply divided and distrustful of the one institution which more than any other should be a unifying force--the federal government. The provinces, labour, business, special interest groups and all citizens, whether represented by groups or not, have deep and justified grievances about the way in which they have been dealt with by the federal government.
This isn't good enough for me or for you.
Let's get some real leadership:
-leadership that can stop strikes in the public sector
-leadership that can deliver the goods--even the mail
-leadership with the conviction to restrain itself: to freeze the size of the civil service and its senior salaries; to forego its own upcoming salary increases; to make difficult, perhaps unpopular decisions to cut expensive universal programs
Above all, let's get some leadership that can help get us out of the incredible economic mess our current so-called leaders have led us into.
Perhaps most of all we need leadership that is truly involved with, by and for the people and the country, the kind of leadership that relates to the people of Canada not in the role of master to servant or professor to student, but on a basis of equality, affection and respect. We need to see a leader in Ottawa to whom the voices of the people of Canada come as welcome sounds, not noisy interruptions. We need a leader who has been there--Atlantic to Pacific, south to north--and who has gone out and will continue to go out to meet the people of Canada in a spirit of joyful anticipation, not as a boring duty.
I've probably travelled more than the Prime Minister throughout Canada--although maybe not in such a lavish style--and from my own experience, I can tell you that there is a mighty, swelling discontent among our people at being made to feel that their ordinariness disqualifies them for participation in the decision-making process of a modern democracy.
I share their discontent. We've had the leadership of philosophers and technocrats. It has failed. The time has come to acknowledge that the extraordinary energies and aspirations of ordinary Canadians, given impetus, guidance and direction by dedicated, committed leadership, leadership that draws its strength directly from the people, these are the keys to the future security and prosperity of this nation.
Our distinguished visitor and speaker was thanked on behalf of the audience by Mr. John A. MacNaughton, National Secretary of the Progressive Conservative Association of Canada, and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.