Ontario's Role in Confederation
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Apr 1979, p. 306-315
Davis, The Honourable William G., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A critical review of the federal government of Canada. What the electorate need and want from their governments. The problem of the excesses of pridefulness in power, rather than pride in one's country. The role of central government as guardian of the national interest. The lack of responsible national policy from Canada's federal government. Ontario's role and position in terms of its concerns for Canada, as expressed by the speaker. An involved Ontario. A critical perspective on Rene Levesque in terms of what he tells the people of Quebec. Ontario's determination to make clear, before the Quebec referendum exactly Ontario's position of sovereignty association. A number of assertions regarding sovereignty association and Quebec. Ontario's enterprise strategy for the economy. The Constitution and Ontario against disunity. Renewal, not disillusion for Canada.
Date of Original
5 Apr 1979
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Full Text
APRIL 5, 1979
Ontario's Role in Confederation
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable William G. Davis, Q.C., LL.D., PREMIER OF ONTARIO
CHAIRMAN The President,
Reginald W. Lewis


Mr. Premier, Mr. Minister, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: Mr. Premier, since old friends need no introduction, perhaps you and your friends of the Empire Club might enjoy reminiscing over the introductions that have been accorded you in your five previous appearances as our guest speaker--a sort of "This is your Empire Club life, Bill Davis."

Do you remember on March 3, 1966, speaking on a doublebill with Paul Gerin-Lajoie, Quebec's first minister of education? The then president, the late Colonel Royce, who was obviously impressed by your youth, spoke these words: "We are about to hear from one of the youngest ministers of education in the history of Ontario. He was the youngest member of the provincial parliament when first elected to the Legislature and he is the youngest member of the Ontario Cabinet." Colonel Royce even went on to detail your date of birth, and then had the temerity to comment on your youthfulness from another point of view. He was much taken by the fact that while Mr. Gerin-Lajoie had four children, you had five--and that comment is followed in the annual year book by a bold exclamation mark.

In 1971, the president of the day, Mr. Jackman, who graces our head table today, took us back into history with the declamation that "every Premier of Ontario has spoken to this club, usually many times during his term of office . . . that, every Premier of Ontario in the past seventy years had also been a member of the Empire Club" and attested to the fact that three of these had indeed served as presidents of this club. He then assured us "that while there is a very good chance that every Premier of Ontario will be asked to join, if not to become president of the club, that it is very unlikely that every president will ever receive a reciprocal invitation." The year book records no exclamation marks this time, not even wistfulness.

On April 25, 1974, it being the annual meeting, President Armstrong gave you probably the shortest introduction in the records of the Empire Club--a mere forty-eight words, and that included the somewhat lengthy title of your address on that occasion, "The Ontario Budget--A Deterrent to Gross Inflation." Well, I don't know if in fact it was a deterrent to gross inflation, but it was certainly a deterrent to a long-winded introduction, contrary to today!

In 1975, President Leal, in his introduction, started in his usual eloquent style, but then launched into a personal reminiscence: "I played much of my hockey in the old Trent Valley League and at times the decorum left something to be desired. I hasten to add, however, that there was nothing wrong with the play on the ice, but we did live in mortal fear of the old ladies with the handbags and umbrellas along the boards, particularly in Madoc, who were disposed and able to pummel the visiting players to death." Can you imagine a future historian pondering over this passage and its connection with the Premier of Ontario who had been invited to speak on the subject of "The Coming Year: 1976."

On your last visit here in 1977, President Karn admired your elan in these words: "It is not every speaker who would plan such activities as the release of his annual budget, and delay a possible announcement of an election, just to build an audience for our club when we were holding the Canadian Room in reserve."

There are two consistent themes in these introductions: one is humour--that special humour that is reserved for friends and those one trusts; the other constant is that whether the Premier was being recalled as the twenty-nine-year-old member for Peel, or the thirty-three-year-old minister of education, or the young Premier of this great province, the constant was the dedication and leadership that Premier Davis has brought to those offices he has held and to the one he now holds.

These qualities, together with his understanding of the needs of people and his businesslike approach to government, permit him to see beyond Ontario borders and to view Ontario and Ontarians in the wider context of a strong Canadian nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure today to present to you the Honourable William Grenville Davis, Premier of the Province of Ontario.


It is a genuine pleasure for me to have this opportunity once again to address the Empire Club.

I had thought that this would be a most opportune date for me to be here. In politics, as in most things, this is a relatively warm and promising time. However, since Prime Minister Trudeau's "surprise" announcement last Monday, everything seems to be getting out of hand.

As the television pundits in Ottawa are fond of saying with gravity and deliberation: this is once again the season of "sound and fury." Thus, my original mission to stir things up today seems a bit redundant. Nevertheless, as a politician, whose job is always on the line, I do not feel I have to leave the game for the next six weeks.

I recognize that any Premier who tries to be heard these days runs certain risks. If I keep my head down, I may only excite the Prime Minister's dark suspicion that provincial leaders are parochial nonentities. Yet, if I succeed in saying anything clearly on the wider issues of the moment, I may instantly be transformed into a "menace-to-the-integrity-of-a-strong-central-government."

Well, as a Canadian in the company of fellow Canadians, I am not inclined to trim my sails. Furthermore, as Premier of

Ontario, I have no conflict of interest to declare when speaking out on the future of my country.

May I say, personally, that I do not like having my motives questioned. I may not be as flamboyant as Mr. Trudeau, but I take my citizenship every bit as seriously. To question my judgement is his right; to question my commitment to effective central government is unacceptable.

That being said, however, I cannot help but be amused by several of his recent rhetorical adventures.

Apparently, to his way of thinking, half a dozen elected Progressive Conservatives getting together in one room is now a "gang up." I thought he knew more about my party.

We may not hear it again, but his description of provincial governments as "principalities" strikes me as a bit medieval. We are told there is a siege mentality in Ottawa these days, but I hope he will remember that Canada is a federal and not a feudal state.

In one respect, being a Premier has its advantages. According to the Prime Minister, when a Member of Parliament walks fifty yards beyond the Peace Tower, he becomes a nobody. Apparently, in my case, if I walk fifty yards away from a First Ministers' Conference I become a bodyguard for Joe Clark ... and he is a somebody.

I hope these observations are taken in good spirit. My intention is not excessively partisan. And, to those good Liberals in the audience, I hope I touched your sense of humour, rather than further aggravated your sense of isolation.

Nevertheless, I earnestly hope that his underlying theme of confrontation between our provinces and "his" central government is not taken seriously in the weeks ahead. We have enough problems and challenges in Canada without creating phony issues and unnecessary suspicions.

To be sure, an unavoidable confrontation between federalists across Canada and separatists in the Province of Quebec is taking place. And I want to discuss this common danger in a few moments. Furthermore, as a citizen and as a partisan, I am supporting Joe Clark in this election.

Nevertheless, as Premier of Ontario, I say the record of federal-provincial relations indicates clearly that we have consistently held out the hand of co-operation and that there has not been and is not now a common conspiracy, let alone a shared desire, to emasculate or frustrate the essential activities of our federal government.

There are differences of opinion between our various governments and many give me concern. However, our diversity is manageable. And the answer to his question, "Who stands for Canada?" is simply this: millions of our fellow Canadians do, and loyal men and women in public life, at all levels, and in all parties, are striving to make this fine and sturdy country work.

It is the electorate that is asking the real and demanding question: Can they not have public leadership that will make their governments work?

The problem is not the absence of pride in country, but the excesses of pridefulness in power.

Our government often disagrees in strenuous terms about how this federal government practises federalism and uses its leverage. From that perspective, for instance, we objected to several aspects of the recent emergency energy allocation legislation, which we still consider are extreme. But it is not our ambition to devolve from the centre those resources and responsibilities necessary to protect and advance our nationwide economy. Indeed, since the election in November 1976 of a secessionist government in Quebec, we have been the most actively supportive of strong national leadership.

In our Throne Speech of two years ago, we acknowledged that all federalists must work to place our economy on a path of honest and secure growth. As we stated, economic arguments may not dissuade the hard-core romantics of separatism, but economic results are vital to the survival of this country. Most importantly, we recognized that we will not succeed if our eleven senior governments go off in as many different directions.

Not only did we call for a co-operative effort to restore confidence and direction, we invited the federal government to test our commitment, and at the two recent First Ministers' Conferences on the Economy, Ontario delivered.

I believe, without equivocation, that our central government must be able to act as a guardian of the national interest. Nevertheless, those meetings demonstrated that Ottawa is not always the only author of responsible national policy. Frankly, it is a matter of record that the ideas we presented in our paper, "An Economic Development Policy for Canada," provided all the key elements of the development framework, with which all our senior governments agreed.

While we take no responsibility for the Prime Minister's fancy slogan "A Decade of Development," I am proud that we were able to propose measures that were national in scope, and that were accepted by others as such.

Our concern for Canada, as a whole, is not at issue and my hand of co-operation remains extended, whatever anyone says in the weeks and months ahead. The choice before us now is clear and simple; after exhausting all the options, Canada needs and deserves national leadership that produces results and not simply stakes out positions; a leadership that sees co-operation, not as a humiliating expediency, but as an essential instrument of nation-building.

The political, economic, and constitutional choices before us now will affect the horizons for all of us in the decade ahead and it is appropriate that they be explored and debated with vigour and candour. Honest differences should be aired and, in that respect, I do not think a hard fought election now will do our country any harm.

Elections, of course, never really settle as much as we hope. However, this one must involve the fullest and the most conscientious participation of our citizens, because our country requires a national government with an unequivocal mandate to lead.

I am confident that Mr. Clark knows what he wants. However, if Mr. Trudeau also truly seeks that kind of a mandate, I suggest he cool down the innuendos, stop trying to sort out who are the "good" Canadians, and address the issues with a little more respect for who we are and how this country works. One does not earn trust by manufacturing enemies.

Ontario's future as a province and as an economy obviously implies immense change. To resist change would be disastrous and to fear it only demeans our real potential. But to lead the process of competent growth and to discourage entrenchment will require new insights and some degree of good luck. Also, we will have to become even more attentive about the direction and impact of national policy: the future for Ontario is just too fragile and challenging for us to be indifferent about the quality of national policies.

Pundits are having problems with this approach, which was central to all our efforts at the recent national conference on the economy. That is expected when breaking new ground, and I would like to clarify our motives for a moment.

Our prescription for national recovery may be seen as somewhat assertive. However, I have no interest in becoming some sort of mean prophet of the label "Ontario First." Indeed, I am embarrassed, as a citizen of this province, when the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Smith, accuses the Premier of Alberta of being "un-Canadian. " We disagree with Alberta on certain aspects of corporate tax policy and interprovincial trade in resources, but I do not believe it is either helpful or fair to presume that others must be patriots of Ontario to qualify as loyal Canadians.

I am trying to do my best as a representative of what could be described as Ontario involved: involved, not merely in its own protection or past shortcomings, but in building more effective national policies and a more expansive and a more secure future for Ontario and Canada.

In the past, I think there was an unstated operating assumption in our political culture that our province's future would look after itself: that steady growth was assured, with or without sound economic and industrial policies across Canada. That, of course, was not true. To a very great extent, the challenges before Canada are the challenges of Ontario. For instance, over the last year almost half the growth of Canada's labour force took place in this province.

Our government is not looking for a fight, but is determined to keep pressing for national policies in areas such as industrial development, manpower policy, and interprovincial and international trade that will assure a better life for a growing population of Canadians living in Ontario. Our responsibility is not to wait for but to prepare for a promising future and my perspective is quite straightforward: a second-rate vision of Canada will hurt Ontario and an irresolute Ontario will diminish Confederation.

In this respect, I seem to have become entangled in a stubborn problem with that rather affable fellow, the Honourable Rend Ldvesque. Not only does he refuse to acknowledge my position on "sovereignty-association," which I can live with, but he continues to attempt to mislead the people of Quebec.

Apparently, he thinks I'm kidding when I, and my government's Speech from the Throne, advise that we reject this concept out of hand. According to media reports, he continues to assert, if not honestly believe, that "mutual interest" will force negotiations between Ontario and Quebec when the referendum is over.

I am determined that several things are well understood before that referendum is held. To that end, not only our government, but the Legislature of Ontario, representing all the people of Ontario, will have an opportunity to speak out clearly. I anticipate your representatives, regardless of party, will declare, without equivocation, that sovereignty-association is not negotiable, because it represents, no matter how it is merchandized, the secession of our sister province and the dismemberment of Canada.

I would like to make a number of careful assertions, which I sincerely believe reflect the views of fellow citizens whom I am charged to represent.

First, and most important, we will respond to a clear rejection of sovereignty-association in any referendum, as a positive challenge to renew our Confederation and to reaffirm not only the duality and diversity of Canada, but our comradeship as fellow Canadians.

Second, we will not be party to any constitutional discussion which even entertains "sovereignty" for Quebec, or any other province. We are prepared to consider substantial constitutional reform. However, a mandate to "negotiate sovereignty-association," frankly, is not worth the expense. Rene Levesque and Claude Morin cannot sneak away with independence on the basis of a hyphenated question. They will remain, in spite of themselves, nothing more and nothing less than representatives of fellow Canadians in the Province of Quebec.

Third, whatever transpires in the months ahead, despite whatever is said by the government of Quebec, never will I nor the people of Ontario ever negotiate such a bilateral arrangement with the government of Quebec, because we are Canadians first. A neat, selfish deal between our two provinces is inconceivable, because we will never cut bait with the rest of Canada.

There are sharp differences of opinion and outlook in our democracy these days and my remarks today hardly disguise that fact. Nevertheless, the ground we hold is good and we can make positive choices about the future.

In the economic arena, our enterprise strategy is firm and showing results. I am convinced that Ontario is poised on the edge of a long period of sustained growth. The basic outlines of our social and economic conditions are right for a substantial economic expansion. There will be short-term difficulties and hesitations, but the underlying trend will be irresistibly upward. With care and effort, stagnation will be a thing of the past.

In the constitutional arena, our government and federalists across Canada are working to renew our system of government in order to keep federalism up-to-date and responsive. But we are not entertaining the dismemberment of Canada and will continue, in our polite way, to expose and confront such defeatist and reactionary ideas.

Perhaps it is trite, but it is quite accurate to say that these are uncertain times for all of us. And there is nothing wrong with that. I think it was an American who once said that men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

Certainly trust cannot be claimed; it must be earned and the optimist, with responsibilities, must be vigilant. However, I reject the trendy pessimism of the day which, I believe, insults the underlying vitality of our wondrously promising country.

Over the last few decades we did indulge in too many certainties, and thus we have had to rediscover that growth is not inevitable and that the modern nation-state does not have a life of its own. Nevertheless, that does not invite or excuse morbid notions of decay or decline, but simply demands that we act our age, as a mature democracy, and get on with the adult business of being a little more wilful about the future and also more conscious of what we are all about.

Truly, the lands of Canada are richly endowed and the people of Canada are magnificently resilient. So renewal, not disillusion, is the agenda before us.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. H.N.R. Jackman, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Ontario's Role in Confederation

A critical review of the federal government of Canada. What the electorate need and want from their governments. The problem of the excesses of pridefulness in power, rather than pride in one's country. The role of central government as guardian of the national interest. The lack of responsible national policy from Canada's federal government. Ontario's role and position in terms of its concerns for Canada, as expressed by the speaker. An involved Ontario. A critical perspective on Rene Levesque in terms of what he tells the people of Quebec. Ontario's determination to make clear, before the Quebec referendum exactly Ontario's position of sovereignty association. A number of assertions regarding sovereignty association and Quebec. Ontario's enterprise strategy for the economy. The Constitution and Ontario against disunity. Renewal, not disillusion for Canada.