A Long Time Ago in the Future—Canada Yesterday and Tomorrow
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Jun 1996, p. 38-46


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Creator:
LeBlanc, His Excellency, The Right Honourable Roméo, Speaker
Media Type:
Text
Item Type:
Speeches
Description:
A joint meeting of The Royal Commonwealth Society and The Empire Club of Canada.
A reflection of Canada's history, and the speaker's views about the nature of this country. Suggestions about our future. A discussion of the true nature of Canadians. The suggestion that often a crisis will reveal character. A look back at the greatest challenge that Canada faced in this century. Quotes from speeches given to the Empire Club 50 years ago which reflected not a garrison mentality but a generous worldwide vision. A glance at the record to see if we lived up to this description. Diefenbaker's leadership in the fight against racism in South Africa. Canada's contributions to the United Nations and NATO. Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson's invention of modern peacekeeping during the Suez Crisis. Canada's open arms and heart to new Canadians. Canada's social safety net. What lies behind Canada's success. The Canadian vision as expressed by the Fathers of Confederation and which still prevails. Canada's long list of Canadian heroes, and collective accomplishments. Ways of teaching Canadians more about their past. Seeing our history, in order to shape our future. Problems that Canada faces today. Living up to the best traditions of our past.
Date of Original:
26 Jun 1996
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
His Excellency, The Rt. Hon. Romeo LeBlanc
Governor General of Canada
A LONG TIME AGO IN THE FUTURE—CANADA YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW
Chairman: Catherine Charlton, Chairman, the Royal Commonwealth Society, Toronto Branch and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Thompson Ramautarsingh, Member of the Senate, Wilfrid Laurier University, Member of Council, the Royal Commonwealth Society Toronto Branch and Chief Examiner of the Commonwealth International Essay Contest in Ontario; Peter Hunter, Chairman, MacPhee Jesson and Honorary Lt. Col., the Governor General's Horse Guard; Alexander Edmison, grade 7 student, Deer Park Junior High School; Ed Badovinac, Professor of Telecommunications, Department of Electronics, George Brown College, Sr. Vice-Chairman, the Royal Commonwealth Society and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; The Rt. Rev. Terence Finlay, Tenth Anglican Bishop of Toronto; Fredrik S. Eaton, O.C., B.A., LLD, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Eaton's of Canada Ltd. and former High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; The Hon. Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto, Ontario Court, General Division and First Vice-President, The Empire

Club of Canada; Her Excellency Mrs. Diana Fowler LeBlanc, CC; Willis Blair, Secretary, The Empire Club of Canada; Douglas Derry, FCA, Partner, Price Waterhouse, President, The Empire Club Foundation and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Youssef Nasr, Executive Vice-President, the Hongkong Bank of Canada; The Hon. Barnett Danson, P.C., Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; MGen. Bruce J. Legge, CMM, CM, KStJ, ED, CD, QC, Honorary Life Chairman, the Royal Commonwealth Society in Canada, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada and Past President, The Empire Club Foundation; and Julie Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and President, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by Catherine Charlton

It is a great pleasure to welcome their Excellencies to this Canada Day luncheon. We are glad that you are here to visit our two clubs as Canada celebrates another year, and trust that this will be the first of many such visits.

There could be no more appropriate occasion for the Commonwealth Society to meet its Patron in Canada, or for The Empire Club to welcome its Honorary Chairman, and we are pleased that this first visit to the two clubs should occur as we celebrate our heritage.

Both organisations have a long history of association with our Governors General, and we are pleased that The Rt. Hon. Romeo LeBlanc has chosen to continue this tradition of vice-regal patronage.

As a Past President of The Empire Club, I take pride in knowing that a former Governor General, The Rt. Hon. Roland Michener, served as President of the Club in 1963-64--even if only for part of a year, before he was appointed Canada's High Commissioner to India.

If we were to make a collection of addresses delivered by our Governors General over past years, it would provide a fascinating survey of the times. The messages would reflect the changing fabric of the country parallel with its enduring association with the monarchy of Canada, and our place in the Commonwealth of nations. Today, we have the opportunity of adding to this important record.

The Rt. Hon. Romeo LeBlanc assumed the post of Governor General on February 8, 1995, following 23 years of public service in the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada. He was appointed a Minister of the Crown in 1974 and served in cabinet until his appointment to the Senate in 1984. In 1993 he became Speaker of the Senate.

His long experience serving in the federal government, supported by his upbringing in New Brunswick, gives him a unique perspective on Canada. We look forward to his message today which comes with the fascinating title, "A long time ago in the future--Canada yesterday and tomorrow."

Romeo LeBlanc

To address your two clubs would be an honour in any circumstances. It is all the more so at a Canada Day luncheon.

This is a time when Canadians are proud of our country's stature in the world, but puzzled about our internal state of mind. I usually hesitate to venture on this terrain, because I have no magic potions, nor do I have a mandate for dealing with day-today questions. But today I will reflect on our history, and give my views about the nature of this country. And in that, some of you might see suggestions about our common future.

We all see Canada as a model of openness, tolerance, and generosity, a country of perseverance and progress. You have heard similar words before. Some would say they are clichés about our national character. But there is a rival cliché. People used to talk of Canada as inward-looking, timid, anonymous. Margaret Atwood found in our literature, French and English, a "sombre and negative" tone, and a preoccupation with mere survival. Northrop Frye, and I quote the "Canadian Encyclopedia," saw in our literature "a 'garrison mentality' of beleaguered settlers who huddled against the glowering, all-consuming nothingness of the wilderness."

So what is our true nature: generous and open, or a garrison mentality hiding from the world?

Often a crisis will reveal character. So let's look back at the greatest challenge that Canada faced in this century. In 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power. Twelve years later, he had taken over a good chunk of the world and lost it. Concentration camps had shown us new depths of horror. Fearful memories of the Dust Bowl and Depression remained with us. Western empires were collapsing, and Communist empires coming into being. The atomic bomb and Cold War had launched half a century of nuclear terror.

One might have been pardoned for adopting a garrison mentality. But how did Canadians respond in real life? I have here a book of Empire Club speeches from 50 years ago. Speaker after speaker put forward to your club the most generous and enlightened ideas, and talked about Canada's leadership role in the Commonwealth and the world. As an example, I will quote Dr. Robert McClure: "For the white members of the Empire, we have shown what can be done to develop nations to their full stature and then unite them with mutual bonds across oceans. That same vision must now be applied across racial boundaries. ...I believe in Canada's destiny. I believe we have a job of work to do that can be done by no other nation. ...I feel that our whole history has brought us to this place where we can make this contribution...."

Those old speeches, ladies and gentlemen, showed not a garrison mentality but a generous worldwide vision. Did we live up to it? Let's glance at the record.

What about the Commonwealth? John Diefenbaker led the fight against racism in South Africa, and Canada helped give the Commonwealth a moral core. The Royal Commonwealth Society today, under the patronage of Her Majesty and the Queen Mother, reflects that rich international tradition.

Canada helped build the United Nations and NATO. Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson invented modern peacekeeping during the Suez Crisis. Since then, we have taken on more peacekeeping missions than any other nation. It is easier to count the dead on a battlefield than the lives saved by peacekeeping, but I suspect they are in the millions. And Canada remains a master of honourable, peace-making diplomacy.

We have opened our hearts to new Canadians. In the last half-century, Ontario alone welcomed three million immigrants. When shiploads of aliens in strange clothes suddenly show up on the beach, people in some countries might look for their guns. When that happened on our Atlantic coast, Canadians met them with coffee and sandwiches. Our books and music have reached around the world.

This very week, our Prime Minister represents Canada as a member of the G-7 nations in Lyon. In our country, the fears of old age, of sickness, of unemployment have diminished, because of our social safety net. And I recently created a new Governor General's award for volunteers, because Canada may well have the most generous volunteers on earth.

If indeed our literature was sometimes sombre and inward-looking, that reflected Canada's great challenges: the vast distances, the harsh climate, the wide diversity, the scattered and often isolated communities. But the response to those great challenges has been even greater. Canadians have reached out to one another and to the world. And despite our sombre negativity, we have even made people laugh. I could mention all the Canadian comedy writers here and in the States, or even Wayne and Shuster, if I dared to differ with Margaret Atwood.

What lies behind our success? Our children may sense that Canada has come a long way, but they have little idea how we got here. Our schools sometimes seem to hush up our history, as if they fear to awaken old divisions. And some Canadians use history only for self-criticism, digging up the darker incidents. No one is proud of the war-time internment of Japanese-Canadians, or the turning away of the Komagata Maru, or the hanging of Louis Riel, or of the obstacles raised against French schools and language in most provinces, or of the expulsion of my Acadian ancestors. Tragic events took place, and I do not dismiss them. But Canada kept growing because, over time, co-operation and accommodation become the keynote of our character.

The first sailboats that crossed the Atlantic had brought with them old quarrels and prejudices. Canada began as a huge reserve of fish and furs and forests for Britain and France to fight over. But gradually we learned a few things. Settlers discovered that they needed one another. They were learning what the natives already knew. Alone, no one can survive in this country. So conquerors didn't build Canada. Neighbours did. Those who fear discovering old divisions in our history miss the point. The divisions were already there, inherited from Europe. But in the new world we formed new alliances, first among the people within communities, and then among the different communities. Gradually we washed away the blood feuds of Europe, and almost took a new baptism from the soil.

Quebec schoolchildren today may learn of the 1837 rebellion on the banks of the Richelieu. Ontario children may learn of William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion in the muddy Toronto of the time. But few Canadians learn of the connections between them. In the years following those rebellions, the political alliance between Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine shaped our country. Today those fundamental reformers are forgotten. But the seeds they planted never stopped growing.

The quarrels of Europe gradually gave way to Canadian compromise. Confederation built a self-governing country sea to sea, and a form of federal power-sharing new to the world. Sir George-Etienne Cartier spoke of different races and religions set down like great families beside one another, not giving up their heritage, yet belonging to a new political nationality.

That vision still prevails. When new Canadians become citizens, we do not ask them to give up their culture, their religion, or their language. We only encourage them to work together with other Canadians. Our country perhaps more than any other respects the concentric circles of identity. I am a LeBlanc, from Memramcook. I am a proud Acadian and a proud New Brunswicker. But beyond all that, I am a proud Canadian, because Canada is the widest circle.

Yes, Canada's record has its stains. But future historians will marvel at our success. In less than a century and a half of nationhood, we have vaulted into the first rank of countries. When the United Nations names Canada as the best country in which to live, and when people around the world seek to come to our country above all others, our typical response is often to poke holes in our own image.

This country has a long list of individual heroes, from warriors like Billy Bishop and Leonard Birchall to the healers like Banting and Best and Bethune. And we have great collective accomplishments like those of the Mounted Police, or the peacekeepers, or the pioneers who settled the West. But we recognise our heroes only in spite of ourselves. We are perhaps the only country to have become great without a strong sense of symbols and history. The historian Jack Granatstein recently wrote about this collective amnesia; and he concluded that it is no wonder "why so often we are condemned to repeat the past, as if the problems we face were unique to our time."

I hope the CBC's projected series on our historical roots, or the work of the National History Society in Winnipeg, will teach Canadians more about their past: not just to magnify old conflicts, but to show the resolutions. I am told that there is a proverbial phrase among the Inuit: "a long time ago, in the future." Let the children see our history, and maybe it will help to shape the future.

Most countries would think themselves blessed if they had no more problems than Canada. That being said, there is always something going wrong, and always will be. And one example today should concern us all: the aboriginal peoples are only beginning to find their rightful place in Canada.

But there are always many problems: regional stresses and strains, economic rivalries and resentments, cultural clashes.

Today, some of those questions have surfaced in Quebec. It is true that pollsters keep concluding that given a clear question, most Quebeckers will vote to stay Canadian. But to many people, Quebec remains a preoccupation and a puzzle. It is always well to remember that the same land shaped all of us; the same history made us partners; and the same virtues prevail in Quebec as in the rest of Canada, including openness and tolerance. Some people outside Quebec would question that statement. Some charge that nationalism has become the new religion, and that if any part of Canada has a garrison mentality, it is Quebec. Well, let me speak as a Canadian of French origin. If we have a garrison mentality, how did we explore this country and help create Canada in the first place? Quebeckers reached out in the past to other Canadians. The Quiet Revolution sprang not from nationalism, but from reforms in education and other spheres which not only caught up with the rest of Canada, but sometimes took the lead. Some would say that without the protection of the Canadian federal system, and without mechanisms such as Radio-Canada, French language and culture might have disappeared years ago. And with that I agree. But let's look at English-speaking Canada.

In recent decades, this country has set Canadian content rules for radio and television, has fought valiantly to protect Canadian magazines and newspapers, and has aided Canadian book publishing. Still, anglophone Canadians fear being swamped by the cultural superpower next door. If 20 million anglophone Canadians are that worried about their culture and identity, do not seven million French Canadians have some legitimate concerns, when they are surrounded by a quarter of a billion anglophones, putting not only their culture but their very language and identity at risk?

I have no specific prescriptions for national unity. The puzzles appear insoluble, just as the bitter pre-Confederation debates between Upper and Lower Canada looked insoluble. But our nation-builders solved those old puzzles, and Canadians have solved insoluble problems in every decade since, by determination, and with the help of time. Minority school controversies, conscription, the Great Depression, freight rates, flag debates, energy policies: all those questions were going to destroy Canada, and yet we are still growing. If our ancestors could create a new kind of country, could nurture it through World Wars and Depression, and could make it one of the most respected nations, are we today not gifted enough to find new solutions?

I am convinced instead that all Quebeckers will find their pride in Canada, because they know that you are never so much master of your own house, as when you open the door to your neighbours. I believe we will keep reaching out to one another, because it is the Canadian way to reach out. Generosity has always been our winning strategy. And the momentum of history lies with us. We will always have a huge country full of huge challenges. But so far, we have been big enough to live up to the land, and we are still growing. It was not easy victories that made Canada great; it was the challenges. Nation-building never ends. That is our curse, and that is our greatness. Generosity, patience, and openness have created here a new nation, a country with few equals, and a country we are still building. And if we can live up to the best traditions of our past, then this country will live forever.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Julie Hannaford, President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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A Long Time Ago in the Future—Canada Yesterday and Tomorrow


A joint meeting of The Royal Commonwealth Society and The Empire Club of Canada.
A reflection of Canada's history, and the speaker's views about the nature of this country. Suggestions about our future. A discussion of the true nature of Canadians. The suggestion that often a crisis will reveal character. A look back at the greatest challenge that Canada faced in this century. Quotes from speeches given to the Empire Club 50 years ago which reflected not a garrison mentality but a generous worldwide vision. A glance at the record to see if we lived up to this description. Diefenbaker's leadership in the fight against racism in South Africa. Canada's contributions to the United Nations and NATO. Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson's invention of modern peacekeeping during the Suez Crisis. Canada's open arms and heart to new Canadians. Canada's social safety net. What lies behind Canada's success. The Canadian vision as expressed by the Fathers of Confederation and which still prevails. Canada's long list of Canadian heroes, and collective accomplishments. Ways of teaching Canadians more about their past. Seeing our history, in order to shape our future. Problems that Canada faces today. Living up to the best traditions of our past.