Federal/Provincial Relations
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Mar 1982, p. 331-338
Welch, the Honourable Robert, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A review of developments in Canada and in Ontario during the last twelve months; our prospects and opportunities for the future. A concern over a lack of direction by the federal government since the conclusion of the constitutional accord. A seeming decline in the federal government working with other governments, after many recent federal-provincial initiatives. An examination of this issue, with an appeal for a return to cooperation.
Date of Original
18 Mar 1982
Language of Item
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Full Text
MARCH 18, 1982
Federal/Provincial Relations
CHAIRMAN The President,
BGen. S. F. Andrunyk, O. M. M., C. D.


Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: I have the great pleasure of introducing to you today the Honourable Robert Welch, Q.c., Deputy Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Energy, who is filling in for Premier Davis who could not be with us because of surgery on an impacted tooth from which he is still recovering.

Born and raised in St. Catharines, Mr. Welch graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from McMaster University in 1949, obtained his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1953. He was first elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1963 after serving on the St. Catharines Board of Education for nine years.

He was first appointed to the provincial cabinet in 1966 and has served in many senior portfolios within the cabinet since that time. He has been Minister of Education, Minister of Housing, Attorney-General, Provincial Secretary for Social Development, Provincial Secretary for Justice, Government House Leader, Minister of Culture and Recreation, Minister responsible for the Civil Service Commission, and Provincial Secretary and Minister of Citizenship. Who could be a better representative of the Premier at this meeting than Mr. W elch?

Mr. Welch, who is married to the former Rita Boston and has three children, now resides with his family in Niagara-on-the-Lake. A member of Grace Anglican Church in St. Catharines, he is an active churchman serving as a member of the Niagara Diocesan Synod, Provincial Synod, and General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in giving Mr. Welch a warm welcome to The Empire Club of Canada.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Premier Davis sends his personal regrets at not being able to deliver his address to you today. He is the victim of an assault on his jaw with, I might add, his own consent and he is having some difficulty in recovering from this surgery. If the Premier were here, however, he would say:

"A little over a year ago I had the privilege of speaking to members of the Empire Club. With your kind indulgence, I used the opportunity to explain my views on the patriation of Canada's constitution, the need for strong central government, and my own unlimited belief in this country and its capacity to assert a bright and prosperous future for its people.

"At that time, you will recall, we were in the middle of a somewhat heated difference of opinion as to which of the three political parties in our province should provide government for the next four or five years. Today I should like to spend a few quieter moments reviewing both developments in our nation, and in our province during the last twelve months and our prospects and opportunities for the future.

"Obviously I am pleased by the progress that has been made on the constitution, by the way in which the Canada Bill has proceeded through the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, and by what I expect will be a speedy passage by the House of Lords. Hopefully we can look forward to an early visit by Her Majesty the Queen to our country to proclaim a new constitution for the people of Canada.

"Despite the many frustrations that we have experienced along the way, I believe that the bonds between the United Kingdom and Canada have been enhanced and deepened by the intense discussions that have taken place on both sides of the Atlantic on the constitutional issue.

"There are, I am sure, many more British Members of Parliament, and members of the House of Lords, who now have a closer understanding of the nature and substance of this country and its constitutional realities than might have been the case before.

"Similarly, we in this country have a greater understanding of the kind of parliamentary system that operates in the United Kingdom and of the independence of spirit that exists on both sides of the House of Commons in that great democracy. I believe that both Canadians and Britons are better for that.

"In my opinion, throughout this whole process the British government has acted with a steady and sensitive hand in this most difficult of situations--a situation not of their own making, but one in which only their action could ultimately deliver our constitution back home. In that regard, I think we owe them a vote of thanks.

"I feel we have also been fortunate, as Canadians, to have been represented in London during these important and sensitive negotiations and deliberations, by a High Commissioner of the dignity, ability, dedication and composure of our High Commissioner, Jean Wadds. She deserves the thanks and gratitude of all Canadians for the role she has played.

"Under our new constitution the people of Canada, I sincerely believe, can now be assured of the protection of their rights and freedoms within a framework of justice and equity.

"Equally important, I have come to believe that the signing of the accord is symbolic of what federalism, what being a Canadian, is really all about--the ability to make compromises and to arrive at a reasonable consensus no matter how great the obstacles to such an agreement might seem to be.

"As political leaders of different political stripes and from different parts of this country, the First Ministers brought very real but very different concerns to the process of constitutional reform. But once we set our minds to the task of seeking some resolution, we found a valid expression of those common values which can unite us all in purpose.

"But now, as we prepare to celebrate the patriation of our constitution and the entrenchment of the basic traditions of monarchy, parliamentary democracy, civil liberties and responsible government, rather than feeling complacent or self-satisfied, we find ourselves facing even greater challenges on the economic front. For throughout the length and breadth of this country there is a growing anxiety amongst Canadians from all walks of life about the future, and about prospects of our collective destiny as Canadians.

"Clearly, the events which encircle us today as Canadians suggest a very careful re-examination of our priorities and our direction as a nation and as a society of free people.

"In examining our current difficulties I would not be honest with you if I did not indicate a very grave concern with what I consider to be a fundamental lack of direction which has overtaken the government of this country since the conclusion of the historic constitutional accord.

"It would appear that for almost every ounce of goodwill and understanding which helped produce the constitutional accord, there is now an equal measure of single-minded determination to impose upon this country a series of changes and conditions, exemplified by the federal budget in November, which serve no broad public interest but which do, in fact, hurt thousands of Canadians.

"For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, the Government of Canada seems to have determined that co-operative federalism--the notion of working together with other governments to achieve common goals and purposes--no longer pertains to the economic management or direction of this country.

"Coming as it does, after a series of federal-provincial initiatives, including the constitutional accord, the energy agreements signed with Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the off-shore jurisdiction agreement signed with the Province of Nova Scotia, one wonders what political economic or national realities have produced this new doctrine of unilateralism.

"It's as if the co-operation and goodwill which emerged in these earlier agreements could not be allowed to settle in. It's as if someone somewhere in Ottawa determined that too much co-operation, too much co-ordination, too much agreement tends to be a bad thing for Canada.

"Now lest these observations be taken as yet another provincial attack on Ottawa or an attempt to shift the blame for our own difficulties on the federal government, let me try to put the present situation in some perspective. For, to some extent, I recognize the political imperatives which have given rise to this new strategy of unilateralism.

"First, I have often expressed some sympathy for the argument that the forces of national cohesion must be strengthened relative to the forces of regionalism and province-building. That is why Ontario supported the constitutional initiatives of the federal government and why we continue, as a government, to place such emphasis on economic policies which preserve and enhance the national market.

"We also recognize that governments in Canada, neither federal or provincial, can control all the factors which affect our economy. As such, we understand that the federal government may often find its sphere of action limited by the fiscal and monetary policies adopted by the international community.

"Further, we acknowledge that a federal government is invested with a peculiar responsibility to address the fundamental, the structural problems which have visited our economy of late, in spite of international pressures.

"It is for these very reasons that I am more than a little surprised and disappointed by this newly enunciated approach. As a student of Canadian history, I would have thought that the Prime Minister recognized that this country has worked best when governments have worked together to achieve common goals. Surely all our political leaders, regardless of political stripe or regional differences, share a common resolve to build a better economic future for all Canadians. And we are only going to make such progress if all our political leaders will work together to find some common resolution of these shared concerns.

"There is no doubt that it is legally and administratively possible for the federal government to "go it alone" in the pursuit of economic goals. It has the fiscal and monetary capacity to achieve programs which cannot be dreamed of, let alone put into action, by the provinces.

"But it is also clear that the provinces have in themselves the ability to counteract and diminish federal initiatives which are not seen to be in their own interests. What, Canadians might well ask, is the net gain for the federal government, or indeed the people of this country, from such unco-ordinated and counterproductive federal and provincial actions?

"Canadians have the right to leadership--leadership conducted by men and women of goodwill who understand the importance of working together to achieve a broad national consensus upon which progress and prosperity can be built. Canadians have the right, whether they are awaiting progress in the large energy projects in western Canada, a necessary reorganization of fisheries in eastern Canada, or revitalization of the automotive industry in central Canada, to a government action that can be positive and helpful. Canadians have a right to national leadership which broadens confidence, deepens trust, strengthens understanding among our private and public institutions.

"I believe that I can objectively assert that Ontario has in the past, when it thought too much power was concentrated in Ottawa, thoughtfully and carefully advanced provincial interests to ensure proper balance in the national interest. Similarly, and subsequently, when there was a large movement of fiscal and economic power to the provinces, Ontario has had the courage to side with Ottawa in ensuring a proper balance so that there could be strong and effective national government in the interests of all Canadians.

"In my opinion, the Government of Canada is very close at this moment in history to tipping that fairminded balance between provincial and federal power in the interest of a dogmatic and politically unbalanced exercise of its own unilateral powers. Ontario can't and won't accept that approach. It's not good for Ontario. More important, it's not good for Canada.

"If the Government of Canada is searching for an ally in economic co-operation, in creating and maintaining jobs, in revitalizing the automobile industry, in improving trade relationships with the United States, in encouraging entrepreneurship and investment, then it will find one here in Ontario, amongst the people and government of this province.

"For I believe that all Canadians, of whatever political stripe, share a common desire to get our national government building this country again--by creating jobs, by strengthening its economy, by broadening opportunity and by sustaining national unity.

"But that will not be accomplished without the wilful commitment of the nation and its government to reach out to all partners in this Confederation to achieve some national consensus as to how that common heritage of prosperity can best be realized. From the governments and governors of this country, the people of every part of Canada have the right to expect no less."

The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Welch by William Karn, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Federal/Provincial Relations

A review of developments in Canada and in Ontario during the last twelve months; our prospects and opportunities for the future. A concern over a lack of direction by the federal government since the conclusion of the constitutional accord. A seeming decline in the federal government working with other governments, after many recent federal-provincial initiatives. An examination of this issue, with an appeal for a return to cooperation.