- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Nov 1964, p. 113-124
- Sharp, The Honourable Mitchell W., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Mr. Sharp was unable to fly from Ottawa due to unfavourable weather conditions. His address was read by Colonel Hilborn.
The relationship between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Learning to be Canadians. The self-examining Canadian. The root of the separatist movement in both Quebec and English-speaking parts of Canada. The search for a national identity. The speaker's assertion that we should assume that we have one. The asset of a bilingual country. Some remarks about Canada and Canadians. Two convictions that the speaker has formed in the process of learning to be a Canadian. First, his credentials and background. The two assertions: there are two societies in Canada; the existence of these two societies is fully compatible with the development of Canada's nation-state. The proof through Canadian history. An exploration of this issue. The speaker's acceptance and value of such a bilingual, bicultural, or multicultural Canada. A discussion of the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada. The division of federal and provincial authorities. A belief that the will to unity is present in the overwhelming majority of all Canadians of both societies.
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- 26 Nov 1964
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- Full Text
- NOVEMBER 26,1964
A Tale of Two Cities
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Mitchell W. Sharp, P.C., MINISTER OF TRADE AND COMMERCE
CHAIRMAN, The President, Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn
For a few years after the war, it was my lot to be engaged in the primary textile industry-specifically woollen manufacturing -a pursuit generally regarded as un economic in Canada but one rich in experience and full of opportunities to exercise one's energy and contrivance, mainly, in attempts to gain sympathetic and authoritative ears in Ottawa. As a delegate on one of our periodical pleas for preservation I, with my fellows, was very courteously received by Mr. Bull, then Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce, who early in our discussion summoned his assistant. With all respect to Mr. Bull, the clearest recollection I have of those several meetings in Ottawa is the impression made upon me at the first one, by this red headed young man who obediently appeared in the doorway and proceeded to demonstrate a most comprehensive grasp of our problem. The fact that it didn't appear to admit of solution is no reflection on the ability of the Assistant Deputy Minister, regarded as one of the most able in Canada's history. I offer this fairly gratuitous autobiographical titbit merely to establish the fact that I speak today as one who has some knowledge of, and who has remained impressed by, our speaker's accomplishments. After leaving the Government Service in 1958 he filled with distinction the demanding and responsible role of Vice President of Brazilian Traction Light and Power Company from which he resigned in 1962 to contest the TorontoEglinton Federal Riding as a Liberal candidate. His narrow defeat did not produce a paralysis of hope. He succeeded in the election of 1963 and was named Minister of Trade and Commerce. His long and broad experience in international negotiations both as a Director of the Economic Policy Division of the Department of Finance and as Associate Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce fitted him in an exceptional way to lead the Canadian delegation to the Gatt Meeting in Geneva which launched the "Kennedy Round" of tariff negotiations and also to negotiate the biggest wheat deal in Canada's history with the U.S.S.R.
We are particularly grateful to you, Sir, for coming to us during this time of public lavation in Parliament when the detergents of democracy seem to have reached a new suds level.
It is both an honour and a pleasure to present a Canadian entitled to the respect and esteem of men of whatever political faith, a man who, sensible of the abuses that some times come to disfigure the administration of popular government, has never lost a jot of faith in popular government' itself. I may add that he has a capacity and propensity for telling the truth, which is not always to the advantage or satisfaction of those who ask for it.
Gentlemen, our Minister of Trade and Commerce, the Honourable Mitchell Sharp.
Mr. Sharp has been unable to fly from Ottawa today because of unfavourable weather conditions and he has asked me to deliver his address. MR. SHARP'S ADDRESS AS READ BY COLONEL HILBORN:
On Monday of this week, I spoke in Montreal to the Canadian Club. On Thursday, I am here speaking to the Empire Club of Toronto. One of my friends suggested that I should call this pair of speeches-"A Tale of Two Cities."
This is most appropriate because the two cities Charles Dickens referred to in the novel of that name are, of course, the centres of the English-speaking and French-speaking worlds-London and Paris-and I am speaking in the same week in the principal French-speaking and the principal English-speaking cities of Canada. Moreover, as I recall the circumstances of Dickens' novel, there was a revolution going on in France at the time, and there is a revolutionalbeit a quiet one-going on now in French-speaking Canada. Perhaps, like Sydney Carton as he was being led to the guillotine, I should begin:
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. . . .".
Certainly it is a more difficult thing. I approach such delicate matters as the relations between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, and federal-provincial relations, with some trepidation. I know too that the Prime Minister of Canada, the Prime Minister of Quebec and the Prime Minister of Ontario have all been speaking about these matters and with the authority that derives from their high offices.
In this address I have no pretensions.
I speak to you particularly as an English-speaking Canadian, born and educated in Western Canada, who has lived many years in Ontario, who now represents a Toronto riding in Parliament, and who is trying to learn to be a Canadian.
So far as I can observe, the nearly 20 million other inhabitants of this country are attending the same school. We are all learning to be Canadians, whether we have recently immigrated, whether we are the sons and daughters of immigrants, or whether our ancestors came to New France or were United Empire Loyalists. And we are all teaching one another.
I venture to say that the citizens of no other country spend so much time in self-examination. We love introspection. We delight in parading our self-doubts and our confusions not only before ourselves but before the world. One reason for this self-consciousness, I suggest, is that we are trying to explain ourselves by standards drawn from outside. We are trying to explain why we are not like Americans, or Englishmen, or Frenchmen, or Australians, or Swiss. We tend to apologize for the differences between ourselves and others and to hope that in due course we shall become like other people, fall into a recognizable category, and become understandable to ourselves and to outsiders. To which I say "vive la difference."
I suggest, too, that this is the root of the separatist movement, in both Quebec and English-speaking parts of Canada. The separatists, whether French-speaking or English-speak ing are not revolutionaries; they are reactionaries. They want to make Canada or their particular parts of Canada over to fit their conventional ideas of nationhood, ideas which are fast becoming out-moded and old fashioned.
We talk about the search for national identity. It seems to me that we should make the assumption that we have a national identity, even if we cannot find the words to define it. Englishmen do not seem to find it necessary to explain themselves, or Frenchmen, or Americans, or Australians, or Swiss. They are what they are; we are what we are; and I see no reason to think that we suffer by comparison.
Sitting in the House of Commons the other day, I remarked to one of my colleagues that Canada is a h---of a country to govern. He agreed, but restored my sense of perspective by asking me which country I would prefer to try to govern. I made a quick mental tour and decided that I had no desire to switch countries. Look around you at the troubled world outside Canada and I am sure you will agree with this judgment.
Other countries have more than one official language, but how many are blessed as we are with two of the great universal languages of the western world-French and Eng lish. To know both of these languages is an invaluable asset in this rapidly contracting world. To live in a country where both languages are not only taught, but spoken, should be considered a great privilege, not a hardship.
The people of Canada comprise many ethnic stocks but a very high percentage of them trace their origins to Europe, have broadly similar cultural patterns and are adherents of religions in the Christian-Judaic traditions. The differences between us are insignificant in comparison with the similarities. The differences add to the variety and the spice of life; they do not involve insurmountable problems of social adjustment. I was reminded of this when I was in Malaysia recently and saw that courageous young nation endeavouring to forge national unity under severe external pressure between ethnic groups whose respective languages, religions and general approaches to life have little in common.
The people of Canada are in fact a remarkably compatible group in terms of race, colour, language and culture. They should be able to get along with one another if any peoples can. Moreover, while our history lacks drama in the sense that it is not filled with accounts of repression, bloody civil war and insurrection, it is for that very reason free from the remembrances that embitter the politics of so many countries. Canada is the prime example in the modern world of peaceful evolution from colony to full independence and political freedom.
Nor is any outside power seeking to exacerbate our internal differences for its own purposes. Britain does not champion the cause of "les anglais" or France the cause of French Canadians. The United States has abandoned its doctrine of manifest destiny in favour of the good neighbour policy. We are being left strictly alone to solve our own problems as we see fit. Even the Communists find disappointingly little with which to foment internal trouble and seem to have abandoned us to our fate-for which we are truly grateful.
In short, we live in a land where reason has every opportunity to prevail in the conduct of our affairs. We are not cursed by a history of slavery or tyranny. Civil war has not been of such dimensions as to set family against family. No one seriously threatens our borders or conspires with our citizens against the authority of the state. There is no religious persecution; no widespread destitution. We have no colonies.
Is it surprising that Canada does not make many headlines in the world press, or that Canadians are sometimes thought to be dull and our politics to be lacklustre?
It is only when we seem to abandon reason and to let violence and extremism take over that we make the headlines of the world press. "A bomb in a post-box-threats of violence against the Queen." These events, however unrepresentative they may be, are good copy. Then we compete for world headlines with violence in the Deep South, bloody rebellion in the Congo, the explosion of a nuclear device in China.
Travelling abroad as a younger man I wondered why there was so little news of Canada in the local press, even in world centres like New York, London and Paris. It annoyed me when these same newspapers carried despatches from other smaller and what I considered less important countries. Now I recognize the truth of the saying that no news is good news.
Pray God Canada stays out of that kind of headlines, for that will mean we have continued to deal with our problems as reasonable men by negotiation and agreement, which seldom makes good copy, even if it does make good sense. So let us get on with the discussion of our problems, not in a crisis atmosphere, but as befits the citizens of a most fortunate country.
As a contribution to that discussion, I propose to put forward briefly the convictions I have formed in the process of learning to be a Canadian. First, my credentials and background. I speak as an English-speaking Canadian, second generation, of Scottish parentage, a representative of one of the so-called founding races. I was educated and lived the first thirty years of my life on the Prairies. Then I moved East to Ottawa and to Toronto. Until I moved to Ottawa I had virtually no contact with French-speaking Canadians, and knew little about them. I knew a good deal more about my fellow-Canadians in Winnipeg who had immigrated from the Ukraine, from Poland and from Germany, and more about my fellow-Canadians from the Maritimes. In Toronto, I came to know better those excellent citizens of Italian, Greek and Portuguese origins who have joined our English-speaking society.
It took me many years to realize that Canada is not what I thought it was in my younger days, and to begin to understand the problem of national unity. Looking back, I realize that for the first and most impressionable years of my life I lived in the heart of one of our two solitudes.
If this were a unique personal experience I would not bother to describe it. I have found that far from being unique, it is typical of my generation of English-speaking Canadians living outside the Province of Quebec, including many of my fellow Members of Parliament.
From this experience and observation, I draw a simple and obvious conclusion: there are two societies in Canada, an English-speaking society comprising various ethnic groups, to which I belong and a French-speaking society.
The second simple and obvious conclusion is that the existence of these two societies is fully compatible with the development of our nation-state. Canadian history is there to prove it. Under its federal constitution and with its two societies, Canada has grown, prospered and taken its place among the other nation-states and does not suffer by comparison with any.
I have also learned that French-speaking Canadians are determined to preserve their special heritage and unquestionably will do so. This, I have found, is by no means fully understood and accepted in all parts of Canada. To paraphrase the lyrics from a well-known musical comedy, there are many English-speaking Canadians who, like Professor Higgins, wonder plaintively "Why can't French-Canadians be like us?"
As I learned these simple facts I abandoned any ideas that I might have absorbed from my youth about Canada being a great melting pot which in due course would produce unhyphenated Canadians, as much alike as possible. Instead I began to catch a glimpse of the true destiny of Canada as a country in which diversity is something to be preserved and nurtured, a model for the many multi-national states that have recently emerged and are now emerging, and a counterpart of the movement towards political consolidation in Europe and elsewhere.
Before many years have passed the typical political unit may be multi-national. That is why I said at the outset that separation is so old-fashioned, an attempt to turn back the clock. I wish separatist minded Canadians could travel a bit more-inside and outside of Canada-to gain a better perspective on this great land in which we live.
It is not by accident that Canada's reputation as a peacekeeper, as an honest broker, has grown. It springs directly from the principle of our nationhood-unity with diversity.
A bilingual, bicultural or multicultural Canada -I do not care which term you prefer-I have come to accept and to value. I have not become reconciled to the existence of two solitudes, of two societies that live apart, unable to communicate effectively and easily, strangers to one another. I have no sympathy whatever with those who want to keep French Canadians, or for that matter English-speaking Canadians, to themselves uncontaminated by contact with their fellow Canadians.
Learning to be a Canadian not only involves learning to accept and to value diversity, it also means learning to communicate with those who belong to the other society and to share in common experiences and common enterprises, to live side by side anywhere in Canada. It includes learning to be a member of both societies. Impossible? Impractical? Not any more impossible or impractical than the survival of the French Canadian society in the North American Continent must appear to those who have not witnessed this miracle.
I can think of no better place to begin learning to be a member of both societies than in the Parliament and Government of Canada. One day, I believe, the capital of Canada will be claimed by both societies, a truly bilingual, bicultural community.
This leads me from the question of the relationship between the two societies to the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada. As the homeland of French Cana dians, Quebec has a special place in Confederation; as such it is not and cannot be a province like other provinces of Canada. For historical reasons Quebec has a special responsibility for the preservation and nurturing of the peculiar heritage of French Canadians.
As a result I have come to expect the Province of Quebec to be more jealous of its rights under the British North America Act than other provinces and those expectations have not been disappointed. When Quebec insists upon exercising its constitutional rights and responsibilities, in the pension field or otherwise, I see no reason to think that the country is breaking up.
Nor, on the other hand, is Quebec or any other province failing to discharge its responsibilities by agreeing to continue to participate in existing cost-sharing programmes or to join in a new cost-sharing programme with the Federal Government, if it considers this to be in the interests of the people of the province.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned, particularly during my years in Government as a civil servant and as a Minister of the Crown is that there are many ways, direct and indirect, of achieving a given Canadian objective. I can think of many examples; the most recent and an excellent one is the Canada Pension Plan. In order to achieve uniformity and portability, a federal scheme applying across the country is obviously the logical method. Quebec decided to have its own plan. Yet by concurrent legislation in similar form in Quebec and at the federal level, there can and, I am confident there will be, a uniform and portable Canadian pension plan in operation. Perhaps this should be called "contracting in."
Whatever the Constitution may say, now or later, there cannot be a neat and tidy division between the federal and provincial authorities valid for all time. This has been apparent for years in the field of taxation where agreements between the two levels of authority are now negotiated periodically.
It is becoming more and more apparent in my own field of trade and commerce. The provinces all have departments of trade-Ontario has a very active department working in this field-and it makes good sense that the activities of these departments in the promotion of trade should be co-ordinated with federal activities. While the Federal Government has and must have exclusive jurisdiction over external trade so that it is one country and can bargain effectively on behalf of Canada, I did not think it was a derogation from the rights of Canada to invite the provinces to exchange views with us before the formulation of Canada's position in the Kennedy Round.
In the fields of labour, of industry, of agriculture and most of all in the fields of health and welfare, the need for co-ordination and consultation between federal and pro vincial authorities is growing from year to year simply because the area of government responsibility is extending. Co-operative federalism or whatever one may call the process is a practical necessity.
There are some who dream about the simplicity of a Unitary state in which all decisions could be made at the centre. After observing Canadian Government at close range over a long period of years I am not one of them. I believe our federal structure is indispensable to national unity; not only so but it has served our purposes remarkably well. Ours is in fact a flexible system which by ingenuity and goodwill can be adapted to fit most circumstances in this wide and varied country. I doubt whether it has interfered with the attainment of any important Canadian objective or any important objective of the people of any province.
The Prime Minister of Canada was surely right when he said, "those who preach a centralizing doctrine in the name of unity weaken unity and could destroy it."
Over the nearly hundred years of our existence as a federation there have been many changes in the relations between the provinces and the federal government. The pendulum has swung from side to side, at one time in favour of the provinces and at another in favour of the federal power. We are now passing through a period of important change in those relations, not only because Quebec is asserting its rights with renewed vigour, but because of the increasing importance of those areas of responsibilityeducation, roads, health and welfare-assigned wholly or partially to the provinces by the British North America Act.
There is no reason to view these developments with alarm. They can be handled without danger to the unity of Canada if there is a will to do so, just as similar problems have been handled in the past.
I believe with deep conviction that the will to unity is present in the overwhelming majority of all Canadians, of both societies. I have come to realize, however, that the will to Canadian unity is accompanied in Quebec by a determination on the part of our French-speaking fellow citizens to play a more worthy part in our country.
This is a healthy, promising development, greatly to be preferred to the protective, inward looking attitude that was characteristic of French-Canadian society when it lacked confidence.
When I spoke in Montreal on Monday, I concluded my address by asserting that "there is growing goodwill towards Quebec in the rest of Canada. Of that the people of this province need have no doubt. In order to retain and enlarge that goodwill, they have only to continue to play as vigorous a part in the promotion of Canadian interests as they properly play in the promotion of the interests of this province."
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Lt. Col. B. J. Legge, a Past President of the Empire Club.