APRIL 22, 1976
An Alternative Government for Canada
AN ADDRESS BY Joseph Clark, M.P.,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR ROCKY MOUNTAIN, ALBERTA
CHAIRMAN The President,
H. Allan Leal, Q.C.
Mr. Treasurer, Your Grace, ladies and gentlemen: We bid you a cordial welcome to this luncheon meeting of The Empire Club of Canada. Mr. Clark and I are truly delighted that you have turned out in such impressive numbers today. It is not often that one sees the whole population of High River, Alberta, or Tweed, Ontario, in the same room, at the same time. It means much to both of us, though, I suspect, for quite different reasons. We also welcome the members of the television audience on Rogers Cable TV.
In keeping with the dimensions of the audience, we have a very long and distinguished head table. Indeed, sir, may I confide in you that the competition for places at the head table was as keen as it was for tickets in the body of the hall, something akin to the struggle for breathing space on the floor of a recent leadership convention in Ottawa. They are, of course, here for a very food reason--the same reason for all. I believe that His Grace the Archbishop and I are the only two politically uncommitted people up here, and, with the greatest respect, I occasionally entertain a lingering doubt even as to him.
I do recognize these allegiances are in keeping with the spirit of this day. On my way through the lower corridor of the hotel, my attention was attracted by a young girl named Alice tripping along and singing Andre Popp's familiar ballad, "L'Amour est Bleu". You will know it. "Blue, blue, my world is blue." Although the tune was quite familiar, the lyrics were different, and, as I recall them, ran somewhat as follows:
Blue, blue, the machine is blue,
Things are looking up
'Cause Joe is leading you.
Red, red, the Grits are dead,
The polls are never wrong
And they put Joe ahead.
Grey, grey, the P.M. one day ...
and the rest was lost to me because Alice disappeared down a rabbit hole. Perhaps, on his next visit, Mr. Clark will bring along someone to sing it for us, and, if he is open to suggestions, we have one to offer.
It is a long way from 725 Macleod Trail, High River, Alberta, to 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, and we are pleased that Mr. Joe Clark was able to stop off at the Empire Club on his way through Toronto. I know that you would want to join with me in extending to him a warm welcome.
My task today, in one sense, has been made much easier by the recent biographical sketches of our distinguished guest and speaker by Wayne Cheveldayoff of The Globe and Mail, Richard Gwyn of The Toronto Star, Senator Keith Davey of the Canadian Senate, David Lewis, retired, and Dalton Camp, of no fixed address. The difficulty is to know whom to believe. But this much seems to be established beyond all peradventure. Joe Clark is as Canadian as maple syrup with flapjacks, having been born and educated in the Province of Alberta, including the University of Alberta, where he was graduated with a degree in the science of politics, and educated as well from an early age in the rough and tumble of the art of politics at the constituency level. Contrary to what you may have heard, we like Albertans in this province. Mr. McKeough and I also believe there is no fuel like an oil fuel and we know our friends will not leave us in the lurch or the dark!
Mr. Clark was, of course, originally a journalist and served with his family paper, the High River Times, as well as the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. I know not what the circulation of the Times was, but I'm sure it was influential and, in this connection, I am reminded of reading the Charlottetown Sentinel for the first time with its proud slogan on the masthead, "Covers the island like the dew!" This experience served to add writing skills to his outstanding speaking ability which has already become his hallmark.
I do not cavil with the fact that he is not a lawyer, because I know he holds lawyers and near lawyers in the highest regard, one of them in particular!
We are also assured that, having served his party and, therefore, his country, in apprenticeship for a long period in every conceivable office and role, both provincially and federally, despite his relative youth he has come to the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada, and leader of the official opposition, not as a novice, but as one tried and tempered in the crucible of government of our national affairs.
He understands the political process and the nature of government and appreciates the necessity, both in power and in opposition, of specific and constructive programs for the solution of national issues and problems.
It is, indeed, a privilege for me to welcome here today the husband of Maureen McTeer, Mr. Joe Clark, the Honourable Member of Parliament for Rocky Mountain, Alberta; leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada; leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition in Parliament, and I now invite him to address you.
Mr. President, Your Grace, distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great privilege for me to be here today.
We have been living in a sort of political dreamland for the last several months. In economic policy terms, there have been two major developments of substance. The first started about two years ago when a federal election campaign was fought, largely, on the question of controls. The second started last fall, when the party which had categorically opposed controls suddenly imposed a form of controls that left little room for consultation. In the meantime, Parliament, which should be the place of major economic debate, has been consumed principally in discussion about firearms and the constitution; and business and labour which should be serious participants in major economic debate, have each been concerned principally with blaming the other--or blaming government for the state of the economy.
National agencies like the Science Council, and the Economic Council, which exist to generate informed discussion, have produced startling reports concerning productivity, trade and the impact of social programs like unemployment insurance--with virtually no effect. The Prime Minister has generally abstained from economic debate, except for ex cathedra declarations about a new society, while the opposition parties have been preoccupied with changing leaders. Throughout, there has been little genuine debate and no genuine consensus about Canadian economic policy. Instead, such policy as we have is being put in place by select groups of senior civil servants operating effectively beyond the reach of Parliament and public, through formal agencies such as the Anti-Inflation Board, or in informal activities such as the secret planning of what is euphemistically called the "post-control society".
Such a situation offends common sense as much as it offends the democratic idea that governments should reflect, and not impose, national consensus. In terms of common sense, it is clear that, however gifted the private architects of public policy in the government's inner circle, the Canadian Labour Congress is going to continue to walk away from decisions in which it played no part, and so, when they can, are the provinces, business and other partners in the Canadian community. In terms of Parliamentary democracy, the system becomes a fraud if the only purpose of Parliament is to use a slavish government majority to legitimize decisions taken by an inaccessible elite.
Given the present debilitated state of Parliament, there is not much I can do about that situation as merely the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. But I regard myself also as the leader of an alternative government for Canada, and in that role I can begin to change the approach to economic policy-making in Canada, and begin again to make economic policy the subject of public discussion instead of private decision.
We are still in the early stages of building that alternative. Two months ago today, I was still Joe Who, sitting in the shadows of the Ottawa Civic Centre, while the cameras focussed elsewhere. Since then, we have reorganized responsibilities in our Parliamentary caucus, of which Sinclair Stevens is a prominent member, involving the development of a co-ordinated economic team, which will consider finance, trade, industry and productivity policy together, including a special emphasis, under the direction of Otto Jelinek, to encourage smaller business development in Canada. Shortly, we will establish policy development procedures, to ensure a broad and informed participation in defining the content of Canada's alternative government, and, I might add, we will soon be looking for candidates in case there is anyone else here immodest enough to think that she or he can run the country.
But even if it is early in my mandate, we have established the style in which we intend to approach our responsibilities of governing and of preparing to govern. It will be an open honest style, basing decisions on fact and not on ideology and founded on the certainty that Canada is too big to be governed, let alone understood, by a little elite locked in Ottawa. My colleagues and I will often be out across the country, asking questions as well as answering them, seeking actively to build a consensus that can be the only source of effective policy making in so diverse a country as Canada. Let me begin that process today by discussing some of the realities of Canada's present economic situation.
In the short term at least, one of the most basic of those realities is that we now have in place in this country a full-fledged system of comprehensive price and wage controls. As I need hardly emphasize, there was much about the introduction of that control program which we in my party did not like. We frankly resented the fact that a government which won a national election on a platform of very strong opposition to controls, would then turn around and introduce just such a program. We felt strongly that there was a need for an introductory "freeze" period, during which the government could sit down with the major groups concerned and work out the very difficult administrative details. I believe that experience has proved us right in that regard. We were concerned, too, about the lack of adequate appeal procedures in the government's program and, above all, with the fact that the legislation placed before Parliament suggested that the program would remain in place for at least three years--almost double the time period for which we thought such a program was feasible without inspiring serious distortions and injustices within the Canadian economy.
Having said that, however, it is time that all of us accept the reality of the current controls program and deal with it as a reality. That is not to say that any of us need forego the right to suggest improvements in the mechanics and procedures of the current regime. But it is to suggest that, in my view, it is neither productive nor, frankly, in the national interest for any group at this point to devote its energies or resources to attacking the program per se. The program of controls is a fact of life. Let us focus our attention now on more important questions which are anything but resolved and which will only be resolved with the active participation of all the major groups in our society.
Lest anyone believe that I have become an apologist for the current government, let me hasten to add that, if it is incumbent on the rest of us to accept the fact of the controls program, it is equally incumbent upon the government to react to that public acceptance in a frank and honest manner. That places at least two basic demands upon the government and the Prime Minister.
First, the basis for public acceptance of the program rests squarely upon the expectation that these are temporary controls, imposed for a limited period to break the inflationary psychology. That means that the Prime Minister has a duty to assure Canadians that this program is indeed of a limited duration, and that it is not merely a preparation for some system of permanent controls. I am not saying Mr. Trudeau need at this point guarantee us a precise date on which the entire program will end, although my colleagues and I intend to continue to seek a specific date in law by which the program must terminate. However, we can and should receive the Prime Minister's assurance that the government does not intend to impose the current regime indefinitely and we have a right to a guarantee that, when the present program begins to wear thin, the government will not pretend that the answer to any weakness in these controls is more controls. I do not support permanent controls; and I do not believe that the people of Canada support permanent controls.
If the government is to warrant public acceptance of the controls program on a temporary basis, it seems to me it is also incumbent upon the Prime Minister to take full and positive advantage of the breathing space such a program offers--and that is all it offers--to work out with Canadians a meaningful consensus on longer-term measures. That means the government itself must be prepared to lead and to sponsor a genuine national debate on our future economic goals and priorities.
As a Parliamentarian, who believes in the institution of Parliament, it seems to me that the place to start is with the appearance, before a Parliamentary committee, of the Minister of Finance, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and any other ministers or senior public servants involved, to make a full statement of all of the public policy options being considered for the so-called "post controls" period.
That statement, and consequent cross-examination, should occur before a budget is brought down next month. It would provide a context within which the budget can be judged, and would also demonstrate a new recognition on the part of the government that Parliament and public have a right to know the premises on which public policy is based.
The second reality is that most of the economic debate that has occurred recently in Canada--whether it has arisen from the Prime Minister's New Year's performance or other such inspiration--has been more rhetoric than real, caught up too much in emotional confrontation over buzzwords like "free enterprise" and "socialism" and has been too little concerned with the practical and very real choices which face us as a nation.
Indeed, if we are to have the kind of thoughtful national debate which I believe those choices demand, I would suggest as a starting point that we all agree to cool the rhetoric. We are not on the verge of some kind of economic apocalypse and it is inflammatory and foolish to act as though only some massive overhaul of our entire economic system can save us all from doomsday. The problems, in my view, are real and concrete; our discussion of them can and should be precise and constructive.
Equally important, it is time to end the blame game. We have spent too much time in a kind of national game of "pin the tail on the donkey", each major group trying to establish that everyone else is at fault for our current difficulties. Governments blame unions today and the banks tomorrow ... industry leaders would have us believe that all would be well if only unions were more responsible and governments more businesslike ... organized labour rails equally against big business and government.
That is a crusade without a convert. Positions never change and the ultimate irony, of course, is that all concerned realize that there is no single villain, but that we all share as the source of our problems just as we all share a responsibility for making some progress.
It is time to turn our attention to a more positive debate about the real issues which face us and the concrete answers we must find. There are, for example, very real questions to be discussed and decided about the rate and type of economic growth we should strive for in this country in the years immediately ahead.
I, for one, cannot take seriously the supposed option of zero growth. There simply are too many Canadians, including thousands of those currently listed as unemployed, and thousands of others who earn below the poverty line, who are without an adequate quantity of life for me to believe that we have reached the point where we can single-mindedly pursue only the quality of life. Without growth, we will either make poverty permanent for a large number of Canadians or we will seek to redistribute a static national wealth among a growing population. I reject the former option as being not in keeping with Canadian concepts of human dignity; I believe the latter could only lead to the most serious political and economic tensions within the Canadian community.
Having rejected that extreme, there is a multiplicity of choices facing us as to the rate and type of growth to which we might aspire. Certainly, at the other end of the spectrum, I doubt that few, if any Canadians still adhere to the proposition of maximum economic growth, regardless of other costs. We accept the need for limits to growth, limits which recognize the very real environmental threat posed by certain kinds of industrial activity, limits which acknowledge that there are more complex measurements to the advancement of our society than simply our Gross National Product.
The answer, as always, lies between the extremes. But where? If we have learned anything from our recent experience, it must be that we simply cannot have everything. We must make choices, hard, difficult choices. We must make choices as to the sheer amount of public services we can ask our governments to deliver without endangering the capacity of our private sector to generate the wealth on which governments must ultimately depend. We must make trade-offs between the vast amounts of capital investment we now are planning in fields like energy development and the costs those investments will pose for us, including the cost of not having that capital available for use in other areas. We must make the hard choice between how much we want to consume now and at how much risk to our future.
I would not begin today to claim to have answers to these and other questions on our national agenda. But I do feel a very real sense of urgency--and yes, a sense of impatience over the lack of any meaningful debate about these questions in the recent past. Such a debate is going to take time and we will all need our fair measure of patience to see it through. For this debate cannot be a win-lose situation with any one sector--including, I should stress, government itself winning all the debating points. We are talking about a very real exercise in national priority-setting and that is not an effort in which, in the final analysis, any one sector can seek to impose its will in an arbitrary or unilateral fashion upon the rest of society.
I do not want to engage in partisan debate this afternoon, but I must confess a real concern when I hear the Prime Minister say, as he has on several recent occasions, that he sees the choice facing us as one of Canadians deciding whether we will accept what he terms the new values voluntarily or whether they will have to be imposed by government. That assumes that the new values have already been decided. It assumes also a dangerously paternalistic view of government. The values of a society, if they are to have any real meaning and application, must emerge from that society itself and reflect a genuine consensus among us. They cannot be imposed, and the Prime Minister, instead of threatening to impose his own values, or John Kenneth Galbraith's values, or the values of some secret super-group in Ottawa, should instead establish procedures which let the whole country debate and decide the values we want to live by.
That is not a process simply for governments or for politicians; it must involve all elements within the Canadian community. But I do believe that it is extremely important that Parliament serve very much as the fulcrum of this process.
When I speak of Parliament and its powers, that is not merely the cry of a frustrated Opposition Leader seeking a piece of the action. Rather, it reflects my deep concern that, unless Parliament is able to play a central role in this process, we are in danger of eroding further the basic tenets of responsible government in this country.
It may well be fair criticism to suggest that Parliament currently is not working as it should. We can all accept some of the blame for that, including those of us who labour within the system itself. But in my view no small part of the problem stems from the fact that, consciously or unconsciously, we have over recent years moved more and more of the effective national debate to other forums--"anti-parliaments," as one commentator has called them--which have only the most tenuous connection with Parliament itself and which function in a direct line relationship to government with none of the checks and none of the balances which should exist within the system. While that has been happening outside Parliament, rule changes inside the House of Commons have virtually eliminated the ability of that institution to control, much less defeat, a majority government.
I don't for a moment suggest that we should not have federal-provincial conferences, or bodies like the Economic Council and the Science Council, and various think tanks and task forces. All or, at least, many of them can have a legitimate role within the system, particularly if the government starts to pay attention to what they propose.
But the growing influence of these anti-parliaments, and the deliberate weakening of Parliament itself, together move us towards authoritarian government. In fact, they move us back to King John who, before parliaments were established, was able to govern exclusively on the basis of private advice and personal whim. On another occasion, I want to suggest some changes in the power of Parliament that will allow that institution to again exercise some control over the new king and his courtiers, and still allow work to be done. But one basic reform, that requires only a change in attitudes, would be for the government to take Parliament seriously, as a national forum. As I have suggested today, one dramatic way to begin would be to require the planners of the post-controls society to come quickly before a Parliamentary committee, to come clean about the plans and options being considered, and then to stay around for questions and debate, so that Parliament can perform the function it won from old King John.
It seems to me more than timely that we reassert the role of Parliament as the centre piece of our national decision-making. Otherwise, whatever the catchword we apply to it, we are headed either for a kind of authoritarianism in which decisions effectively are made on a unilateral basis by the executive; or towards a form of corporatism in which government strikes its bargains directly with the major interest groups in society. I don't believe that either of those options is in keep g with our traditions and, more important, with the needs of a modern and diverse country.
We need more openness in our decision-making system; we will not achieve that by concentrating even more power in the hands of a small group at the executive level of government. We need more genuine conciliation and consensus; we will not get that by promoting the power of arbitrary and unilateral decision-making. We need a new sense of direction for Canada; only a revitalized Parliament can provide it.
I am here, two months into my mandate, as the national leader of what I prefer to regard, not as the opposition party, but as the alternative government. My colleagues and I are motivated by a very deep sense that Canadians now are edging towards desperation, beyond mere concern, as they look at the development of national policy and national priorities. We are a political party. We have political work to do. But we do not have and we do not intend to play political games. The future of our country is far too important for that. I and my colleagues in the House of Commons, the men and women who we hope will stand with us as candidates to form a national government when that time comes, take our job and take our country very seriously. I know that however much some of us might disagree on certain questions, this concern is also shared very deeply here in this club and among other groups in other parts of the country.
We have work to do in Canada. I, by a combination of good luck on my part and good judgment on the part of my party, am in a position to carry an unusually heavy obligation in that regard. I intend to honour that obligation. I can do it well only with your non-partisan encouragement and help. I am sure that sense and sentiment exists. I am honoured to be here today in what I hope will be the first of several opportunities for us to meet together and to discuss and to develop the future of a country that is, literally, unlike any other country in the world.
Our distinguished guest and speaker was thanked on behalf of the audience by Mr. Henry N. R. Jackman, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.