Hanging Together: Canada After Patriation
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Feb 1982, p. 273-287
Wells, The Honourable Thomas L., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The imminent British Parliament bill that will become the constitution of Canada. Canadians' misunderstanding of what the constitution will mean. Clearing up some misconceptions. The beginning of a new era for Canada. The isolation of Quebec, again. The need to continue efforts to keep Quebec as an integral part of Canada, and why we should. The speaker's conviction that separation by Quebec would just be the beginning of separation by several provinces, with an explanation of why. Canada's diversity, and the need to preserve it. Defensive reasons for preserving that diversity. The commitment by the Parti Québécois for independence for Quebec. The problem of semantics. An examination of the issue surrounding Quebec independence. The importance of what Ontario does in this regard. Getting the message out. A challenge of attitudes, understanding and commitment by individuals as well as governments.
Date of Original
18 Feb 1982
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Full Text
FEBRUARY 18, 1982
Hanging Together: Canada After Patriation
CHAIRMAN The President,
BGen. S. F. Andrunyk, O.M.M., C. D.


Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: Today The Empire Club of Canada is pleased to welcome as its guest speaker the Honourable Thomas L. Wells, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Ontario Government House Leader.

Mr. Wells was first elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1963 as a member for Scarborough North and he has been re-elected in every provincial general election since. He was appointed to the cabinet in 1966 as a minister without portfolio by the premier at that time, the Honourable John Robarts.

In 1969 he was appointed Minister of Health, and in 1971 he became Minister of Social and Family Services when the Honourable William Davis formed his government. The appointment as Minister of Education followed in 1972 and he was appointed to the present portfolio in 1978. In this new ministry he is responsible for the sensitive and all important relations with the federal government and other provinces.

His task is not an easy one as evidenced by the reports that emanate from federal-provincial conferences. They bring to mind a story about a convention of government officials who gathered to discuss, among other things, endangered species of wild animals. Among the activities undertaken by the group was the writing of a thesis on the elephant as it related to each representative's country. The Englishman entitled his "The elephant and its role in the building of the Commonwealth." The American wrote about "The raising of elephants for fun and profit." The Italian wrote on "The sex life of the elephant." The Frenchman called his "A hundred and one ways to prepare elephant" and the Canadian titled his "The elephant--a federal or provincial problem."

As government house leader--a position to which he was appointed in 1979, Mr. Wells is in charge of the government's strategy and overall planning of the day-today operation of the Legislature.

Mr. Wells is married and lives with his wife and three children in Scarborough. He is an elder of St. John's United Church in Agincourt and he is affiliated with several clubs in Toronto including, I am pleased to say, The Empire Club of Canada of which he is a member of long standing.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to invite the Honourable Thomas L. Wells to share with us his views on how we can best hang together as a nation after the new constitution comes home.


Mr. Chairman: When I was seventeen years old, I did two things: I joined a political party and I took part in a public speaking contest.

Today, I still belong to the same political party and I guess that because I won the public speaking contest, I am before you today, still practising public speaking. As a matter of fact, one of the prizes I received for winning the contest in 1948 was a volume of Empire Club addresses for 1945-46. 1 still have that volume and as I looked through it the other evening I came across these words from an address by Ontario's premier, George Drew:

We have presented our proposals, with the acceptance of the basic principle that while each provincial government owes its primary responsibility to the people of its own province, the welfare and prosperity of the people of all provinces depend upon the strength and vigour of the whole nation. That, gentlemen, is I believe the best way to make sure of a strong Canada within a strong and united British Empire.

That was January 8, 1946. This is February 18, 1982. We all know how time flies . . . how fast the years can go by.

Think of this: do you think that Canada will exist as an Atlantic to Pacific nation on February 18,1992? Probably your answer is "yes." So is mine. But let me tell you, it is not a sure thing.

In the last couple of years, all Canadians have had enough talk about nationhood and the constitution to last a lifetime. For many people, the constitutional issues have been confusing "at best, incomprehensible at worst--and rather trying on the patience at all times.

But very soon, the British Parliament will enact a bill (it received second reading last night, as you know) that will become the constitution of Canada. This new Canadian constitution consists mainly of: the BNA Act which was enacted in England in 1867 when Canada became a nation; amendments to the BNA Act which have been passed through the years; and a variety of new provisions that were finally agreed to at the First Ministers Conference last November. Specifically, those provisions include a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a formula by which the constitution can be amended in the future here in Canada, a section guaranteeing equalization payments, whereby the "have" provinces assist the "have-not" provinces, and a section on natural resources which clarifies the future of the federal and provincial governments with respect to non-renewable natural resources like oil and gas, and electrical energy and forest resources.

The other day, a friend of mine who knows very little about the constitution and its patriation said, "we won't have a Queen after patriation, will we?"

It occurred to me that this misunderstanding may well be a result of such pre-patriation comments as "It will mark Canada's full independence"; "It terminates the power of the British Parliament over Canada"; "It is the final break with our colonial past" and so forth.

What in fact is being done, as I mentioned before, is that some new sections are being added to our socalled "old" constitution, the BNA Act. It will not change our relationship to the monarchy. Sir John A. Macdonald made this point very clearly during the Confederation debates in February 1865, when the BNA Act was being developed: "So far as we can legislate, we provide that, for all time to come, the Sovereign of Great Britain shall be the Sovereign of British North America."

The monarchy is an institution which continues to generate feelings of reverence and allegiance and serves as a genuine inspiration to Canadians. I want to assure you that we will have a Queen after patriation; that in fact her existing position and that of her representatives in Canada will remain unaltered, which of course is as it should be.

We are going to have some celebrations in Canada, because this is a major milestone in the history of our country. It is, however, neither the beginning nor the end of our efforts to strengthen Canada--one country, glorious and free, sea to sea.

If the truth be known, it is actually more a beginning than an end. Because when all is said and done, we still face the real possibility of Quebec separating from Canada--constitution or no constitution. As the Toronto Star said in a lead editorial last Tuesday entitled "Separatism Looms Anew":

If the PQ is re-elected for a third term with more than fifty per cent of the vote, the government will assume it has the right to declare Quebec independent, delegates to the party's biennial congress decided on the weekend. And even if the PQ wins with fewer than half the votes cast, the party will nonetheless claim a mandate to hold a referendum on independence. It's a heads-we-win, tails-youlose gambit.

It's ironic, not to say frustrating and disappointing. You remember the Quebec Referendum. One week after the whole country breathed a sigh of relief over the outcome, all governments across Canada set into motion a series of events which would demonstrate to Canada and Quebec--once and for all--that all Canadians meant what they said: that a "no" vote would not just reaffirm the status quo. We were going to show our fellow citizens from Quebec that we were not kidding about our commitment to them in the Canadian Confederation.

And so we launched into what soon will have been a two-year period of constitution-making.

As one who participated from the start, it seemed that it would never end. And it seemed that we would never come to any kind of meaningful agreements. But in the end--last November, under very intense political pressures--some agreements were hammered out between nine provinces and the federal government that allowed Canada to go to the British Parliament to request passage of a package that would permit us to lay claim, finally, to a renewed Canadian constitution.

But who is the odd man out? Quebec! The very province we were jointly trying to accommodate is isolated yet again. Isolated by choice of Mr. Levesque and his Parti Quebecois government, to be sure--but isolated nonetheless.

What a frustrating chain of events, you might say. Through the constitutional exercise, we have aroused the parochial and regional feelings of the west and the east, on issues ranging from oil and gas to fishing rights. We have confused and perhaps even disillusioned average Canadians everywhere, who could be forgiven for thinking that we would have been better off solving things like unemployment and inflation, rather than worrying about constitutions. And we have left the very target of the whole exercise--the Province of Quebec (or at least its government)--feeling isolated out in left field.

So what now?

I will put it to you straight. Our efforts to keep Quebec and Quebecers as an integral part of Canada must continue. Our new Canadian constitution will give us something fresh to build on. You and I cannot afford to throw up our hands in despair and say that Quebec will never be satisfied, or as some others are quick to say "Let them go." The name of the game is continued compromise and working together.

I'll tell you why in the bluntest terms I know. If the day ever comes when the people of Quebec decide that they want to separate from Canada, then we can kiss Canada goodbye. The separation of Quebec would be the first step in a slow-moving yet real chainreaction that could fragment forever this northern half of our continent.

None of us would likely see the end results of this chain reaction in our lifetimes. But I am firmly convinced that--just as provinces joined Canada one at a time after the country's formation in 1867--we would run a high risk of seeing, over the course of time, the step-by-step breakup of the country if one province like Quebec decided to opt out. Is that too dramatic? I don't think so. I am more convinced than ever that all Canadians--you, and I, and the governments who we elect to represent us--must recognize the situation for what it is. This is no time to throw our hands up in despair. It is a time to bear down, as we have done so often before, and do what we can to make sure that our friends in Quebec stay with Canada and Canada stays a united country.

By this I don't mean giving in to every demand of Rene Levesque and his separatists. I do mean, however, that we must continue to be conciliatory and accommodating, with the end being to demonstrate, as best we can, the mutual advantages to all concerned of maintaining a strong Canadian nation.

Many of you have had the good fortune, as I have, of visiting western Europe--travelling through countries like Switzerland and Germany and France and Belgium--and being able to witness first-hand the interaction of various language groups. We have seen the development of the European Community with its multilingual bodies like the European Parliament.

These are a vivid reminder of the healthy diversity which is present when differing linguistic and cultural groups exist shoulder to shoulder, sometimes, though not always, divided by political boundaries. So too they are a reminder of the potential which exists in such situations for rivalry, even distrust and animosity. Everyone with any social sensitivity at all has observed these things in travel abroad.

And it is natural to let our thoughts return home to North America, where on so huge a land mass we are blessed with a sense of stability and common interest that comes from the fact that we have only two international boundaries dividing our political jurisdictions.

Here in Canada, just as in Europe and elsewhere in the world, we have a built-in diversity arising from language and cultural differences. It is a diversity which can and does enrich the lives of those who are able, and I should say willing, to experience the interaction in positive ways. It is a diversity which has the potential for animosity and divisiveness. We have some experience in this regard.

But it is also a diversity worth preserving. It is a diversity worth preserving in its own right. And it is a diversity worth preserving for defensive reasons as well--as a very important key to keeping Canada as one, well into the future.

Robert Stanfield is a man who, I always felt, would have been an outstanding Prime Minister of Canada. A few years ago in a speech in New Brunswick, he gave more evidence of this, with a thoughtful analysis of some of the choices which now lie before Englishspeaking Canadians. Among other things, he said:

Accommodations must be reached. They are not likely to be reached if a substantial proportion of anglophones believe that Canada is basically an English-speaking country outside of Quebec--that it would have remained so if politicians had not stirred up the French, and could be restored to such if only politicians would stop catering to the French."

So here we are, a few days before our long-soughtafter constitution becomes a reality, with a feeling among many Canadians that, finally, we may have a period of calm. But here I stand, telling you that, in many respects, things haven't changed at all. As far as Quebec is concerned, we have to keep doing more of the same--more give-and-take, more patience, more willingness to demonstrate an understanding of the concerns and hopes which have been emanating from the Province of Quebec since 1867 and earlier.

There is no doubt that the Parti Quebecois is now firmly committed to Quebec independence which sometimes makes it difficult to keep our thinking straight. But through all of the noise which arises from the PQ, let us remember that there are many French-speaking Quebecers who remain strongly committed to Canada.

However, we know they continue to have some very legitimate expectations. Essentially, what these boil down to is one simple, but fundamental request. It is that English-speaking Canada demonstrate its acceptance of the French fact in Canada, of the fact that more than one out of four Canadian citizens have French as their mother tongue. We are being asked, very simply and very sincerely, to acknowledge that Canada is officially a bilingual country and that the francophone minority has special needs to ensure the survival of its language and culture. In terms of attitudes, this seems to me to involve two things: a sense of security and a sense of respect. Because they are a minority, francophones in Canada constantly need tangible evidence of our sensitivity and awareness in this regard.

As the social and cultural homeland of the vast majority of French-speaking Canadians, we are also asked to recognize that Quebec has its own special responsibility and therefore may have particular requirements that other provinces do not. Too often, we have found ourselves hung up on a phrase such as "special status" or "dualism" or something else. What we have to ensure is that Canadian federalism is flexible and supple enough to accommodate Quebec and the special characteristics of other regions also. When we stop to think about it, several provinces, including Manitoba, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, as well as Quebec, already have some degree of special status based on the terms under which they entered Confederation.

Quebecers, and I mean federalist Quebecers, clearly have a legitimate case that continues to require our consideration, and personally I see nothing to be frightened of. The Canadian dimension includes as part of itself the Quebec dimension. Without it, we would never have come into being as a nation. And it remains today as an essential part of our Canadian identity, to ourselves and to the world. An important aspect of this dimension today as in the past is, of course, language policy. Listen to what a distinguished Canadian said to this club about this:

Now, to those, and I don't think they are numerous, who keep on talking about what they think would be the gain to Canada by the elimination of the second official language, I have only this to say, that they are whittling at the foundation of Confederation, because apart from that section of the British North America Act there would have been no Confederation, and without it today Confederation would not have survived.

That was part of an address to this club on April 4, 1946 by the Honourable Donald M. Fleming, who of course later became Canada's Minister of Finance.

The Province of Ontario--its government and its individual citizens--have a special responsibility in all of this. As the most populous province--and as the province that is, so to speak, at the very core of Confederation--we must show maturity and leadership. We must show the way.

I know that many of our citizens have grown weary of hearing it said, but our responsibility and challenge is to demonstrate continually to the people of Quebec, in a whole variety of ways, that we accept and understand their feelings and aspirations, and that we are able and willing to continue to listen and react to those feelings in tangible ways.

It is not a simple thing to achieve, to get that message through to the people of Quebec, as distinct from the PQ government. At Queen's Park, we have spent more time than I care to remember trying to come up with ways to get the message through.

Sometimes you feel that it is futile--that no matter what you do, it never seems to be enough, or worse, that nobody seems to really care. But down deep, you know that it is the only answer, the only long-term hope.

So you keep going, a step at a time, doing what you can--and, surprisingly, seeing some payoffs not only from Quebec but also right here in our own home province and down east and across the west.

For ourselves, we must never forget that, with more than half a million Franco-Ontarians, we have almost as many French-speaking residents in Ontario as the total populations of provinces like New Brunswick and Newfoundland. In truth, we can look back with real pride over the past ten or fifteen years in Ontario, to see what tremendous strides have been taken in the area of services for our French-speaking residents, strides which have been, in themselves, a major benefit to all the people of our own province, and strides which have demonstrated to people elsewhere in Canada that Ontario is able and willing to show the kind of Canada-first leadership that is so badly needed.

From next to nothing, we built a thriving Frenchlanguage secondary school system that now serves over 30,000 francophone young people all across the province. This, of course, is in addition to the 74, 000 pupils receiving their instruction in French at the elementary school level.

We have seen a steady increase in the numbers of English-speaking elementary school children who are at last getting a real chance to begin to learn French as a second language at a level that will enable them to grow with the language in a way that will be meaningful and lasting. In the last few years, we have built a capacity to provide a range of French language services in virtually all of the offices of the Ontario government in those areas of the province where the bulk of French-speaking Ontarians reside.

Since 1979 there has been a guaranteed right for anyone in the province to a criminal trial in French. As of April 1982, the civil courts in Metropolitan Toronto and the francophone regions of the province will be able to operate in both languages.

This is the foundation, carefully and firmly built primarily over the past fifteen years, upon which we shall continue to expand, as before, steadily and without diversion.

Our prime motivation shall continue to be the justice of providing more and better services for our French-speaking population of Ontario and for all the people of Ontario--for I believe it would be an error to proceed as if our every action were in response and reaction to the Parti Quebecois. Such has never been the case in the past, and I suggest that it should not be so in the future.

That said, however, all of us must be acutely aware, in this present environment, that our actions and our words can be, and often are, taken as signs of intent and commitment, particularly throughout Frenchspeaking Canada.

Personally, I strongly believe that what we do in Ontario will ultimately have a major bearing on the long term political outcome in Quebec.

Still, as I said earlier, it is sometimes very frustrating. Even Premier Levesque, while reading a Council of Ministers of Education report on French language education in Canada, told us that he was surprised to find out how much Ontario had done in the area of French-language education services.

Here we say that the signals that go beaming into Quebec from Ontario will ultimately reach the people of Quebec--yet we run up against these situations where people who ought to know the realities of Ontario don't know. What real hope is there for reaching the average Quebecer--the men and women who can do their own thinking, who have their own views of Canada, who will continue to support federalism (and oppose separation)--if there is no evidence that the rest of Canada cares.

I think we can get the message across and it must be done through person-to-person, community-to-community, business-to-business contacts. It won't get through by government-to-government interaction only. But Canadians from Ontario and the rest of Canada, visiting Quebec and doing business in that province, writing to their friends and relatives, can get that message across.

And what is that message? It is that we are concerned, we care, we want them to stay as part of Canada. Tell them that we in Ontario want to welcome them as neighbours in our province and to make them feel at home here. And tell them we do care about keeping Canada united. Let's not fall into the trap of doing nothing in Ontario, even when our conscience tells us we really should, just because we think that there is no way of getting this message through to Quebecers.

The challenge of attitudes, understanding and commitment, however, not only involves individual Canadians, but also their governments. We have a right to expect all our governments to make our federal system work effectively, to seek consensus, and to accept compromise.

We will work with the present government of Quebec. We will rebuild the bridges between our two provinces. In our mind, there is no reason that the historical relationship established during the years between Ontario and Quebec by men like Mercier and Mowat, Taschereau and Ferguson, Duplessis and Frost, Johnson and Robarts, Bourassa and Davis cannot still exist. For our part, we will participate.

What we ask is that the Quebec government--as a government that was solidly re-elected last year on a good government platform--drop its reticence to take part in federal-provincial and interprovincial meetings and act like a strong provincial government within the Canadian federal system.

I hope that the Quebec government will take part in federal-provincial and interprovincial meetings; that individual ministers and ministries will work together in areas such as tourism, labour, educational exchanges, for the mutual good of the people of both provinces; that there be genuine government-togovernment communication.

I began these remarks by asking the question "Do you think that Canada will exist on February 18, 1992?" 1 hope by now we are all convinced that our answer must be "yes."

There is so much at stake. So many sacrifices have been made. The future can be so bright.

But here and now the challenge rests with us and the call is for a real commitment on the part of each one of us--a commitment to Canada, to what it stands for and to what it can be, a great, united country with an unlimited future. I believe this commitment is worth it.

Do you?

The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Wells by Walter Pitman, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Hanging Together: Canada After Patriation

The imminent British Parliament bill that will become the constitution of Canada. Canadians' misunderstanding of what the constitution will mean. Clearing up some misconceptions. The beginning of a new era for Canada. The isolation of Quebec, again. The need to continue efforts to keep Quebec as an integral part of Canada, and why we should. The speaker's conviction that separation by Quebec would just be the beginning of separation by several provinces, with an explanation of why. Canada's diversity, and the need to preserve it. Defensive reasons for preserving that diversity. The commitment by the Parti Québécois for independence for Quebec. The problem of semantics. An examination of the issue surrounding Quebec independence. The importance of what Ontario does in this regard. Getting the message out. A challenge of attitudes, understanding and commitment by individuals as well as governments.