Post-Election Prospects in Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Nov 1993, p. 158-170
Black, The Hon. Conrad, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
A view of what Mr. Black feels went wrong with several governments, including those of Pearson, Trudeau, and Mulroney. What Quebec should and shouldn't get, based on what it has already gotten, and the consequences to the rest of Canada. What the Charter of Rights should include. Lack of political leadership in Canada.
Date of Original
2 Nov 1993
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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
The Hon. Conrad Black Chairman and CEO, Hollinger Inc.
Chairman: Dr. Frederic L. R. Jackman President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Herbert I. Phillipps Jr., Vice-President, Trust and Securities Services, Royal Bank of Canada and President-Elect, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Faith Holder, grade 13 student, Oakwood Collegiate Institute; Patrick Keenan, Chairman, Keewhit Investments Limited and Chairman of the Board, St. Michael's Hospital; Anna Porter, Publisher and CEO, Key Porter Books; Paul O'Donoghue, Chairman and CEO, Marsh & McLennan; Barbara Amiel, Journalist with the London Times and writes a regular column for MacLean's Magazine; His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter, C.C., Archbishop Emeritus of Toronto; Montague Larkin, Chartered Accountant and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Delores Lawrence, President, Nursing and Homemakers Inc. and President, African Canadian Entrepreneurs; Douglas Knight, Publisher, The Financial Post; Dixon S. Chant, Deputy Chairman, Hollinger Inc.; Rose Wolfe, Chancellor, University of Toronto; Senator Trevor Eyton, Chairman, Brascan Limited; Isabel Bassett, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.

Introduction by Dr. Jackman

Perhaps the best way to listen to Hallowe'en stories is in a small group crouched around a camp fire. So, when we encounter an audience as grand as we are today, we know we are either going to hear some extraordinarily true tales or that we are in the presence of a remarkable person, or perhaps both. Even if we can't sit close to our guest speaker, we know that we are in his presence. We can say, "We were there."

Of course, this remarkable person is none other than The Honourable Conrad Black, Privy Councilor, Officer of the Order of Canada, holder of several Honorary Doctorates of Law and Literature, and the humble writer of his own half-life autobiography, A Life in Progress. Mr. Black is known for his love of language, his fiery dialogue, his jarring putdowns, his eloquent debate and the power of his pointed pen. When one combines his appreciation of military history with his fascination with words, we know, indeed, that Mr. Black's pen will be mightier than the sword.

By purchasing some of the world's most influential newspapers, Mr. Black has created a potent army with which to dispense news and opinion around the world.

In the recreational game of Risk, world dominion is the goal. One achieves dominance by placing one's forces on different continents and then monopolizing those continents. For those of you who know the game, you will recognize Mr. Black's strategy when I tell you he has armies--excuse me newspapers--in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia (over 325 in total).

But to retrace his footsteps, as a young boy, Mr. Black rebelled :. against unfair school punishment. At Upper Canada College he subverted the life of the school in retaliation and thereafter was invited to seek an alternative institution for his teenage education.

After a half-hearted, but successful, attempt at obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton, he decided to study seriously. He moved to Montreal and completed his law degree in French at Laval University. Afterwards, at McGill University, he completed a Masters degree in history in 1973. During this period, Mr. Black, with Peter White and David Radler purchased the Sherbrooke Record, a Quebec newspaper for $18,000--only to sell it eight years later for 48 times the 1969 price ($865,000).

To this point, Mr. Black was considered by some to be a difficult and somewhat wayward boy. But in the next few years he became Intensely involved with Quebec political life and established himself as a serious writer and biographer. His book on Premier Maurice Duplessis is considered by many to be the definitive work on that extraordinary politician, published in 1977 and for which he was, two years later, conferred Honorary degrees by St. Francis Xavier, McMaster and the University of Windsor. More recently, he has been similarly honoured by Carleton University. Most recently, he received two of Canada's highest honours, the Order of Canada and membership in the Privy Council of Canada.

Today, Mr. Black is perhaps Canada's best known businessman. He has become a folk hero and the subject of a Peter Newman biography, The Establishment Man. He is unusually open about himself and his opinions. Always concerned about Canada, today he will address us on the topic everyone is preoccupied with: Post-Election Prospects in Canada.

Would you welcome The Honourable Conrad Black.

Conrad Black

No new Canadian government has entered office with less public enthusiasm in my lifetime than Jean Chretien's, not even Joe Clark's in 1979. Certainly there is no sign of the general excitement that greeted Louis St. Laurent and Mike Pearson or the euphoria that accompanied the elections of John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney.

I must say however I am well pleased with the result of the election, not for reasons of partisanship and despite the defeat of many friends in several parties. I see it as a second step, last year's Referendum having been the first, in Canada's rejection of a national political orthodoxy that the people know has failed. Almost as important as the rejection of that orthodoxy is the rejection of a political leadership class that has for the most part with, I'm sure, good intentions imposed and lived off that orthodoxy for decades. The incoming government may not in itself be exhilarating, but I think that the challenge of trying to find a new workable basis for our nationality is.

Not surprisingly for a country which was founded as a demarcation of spheres of influence between the British and Americans following the stalemated War of 1812, Canada's rationale as a country for most of its history was the combination of the British connection, the French fact and a diffuse fear of the United States. As the British connection declined and the French fact became more disruptive to Canada, the political, bureaucratic, academic and journalistic elites of this country informally developed the myth and I'm afraid it was a myth, starting about 30 years ago, that Canada's raison d'etre as an independent country vis-a-vis the United States was to be more caring and compassionate than the Americans, which inevitably meant more socialistic. In fact, the United States has a much better philanthropic and voluntary record than Canada, but this was the political orthodoxy we are only now rejecting.

In its early phases this was a concept based on stricter gun control and more generalized access to medical care in Canada than in the United States. It shortly became a pattern of steadily more generous wage and benefit packages, especially after Mr. Pearson recognized the most militant federal public service unions and made his infamous concessions to the Seaway workers.

As the Federal Government, under Pearson, Trudeau and Mulroney, became steadily more preoccupied with buying Quebec's affections, social programmes multiplied, new categories of disadvantaged persons were endlessly identified, lionized and materially placated.

In 1969, when Jean Chretien was Pierre Trudeau's minister responsible for native people, he required each new employee of his department to sign a form acknowledging that he might be laid off because it was the government's announced intention to close down that department. Instead, it has proliferated and multiplied over these many years and now costs almost $20,000 for every designated native man, woman and child in Canada.

With the public sector showing the way, the private sector in Canada rewarded its employees with a generosity that bore no resemblance to productivity increases. We retained our supposedly competitive status opposite the United States by more or less steadily diluting the value of our currency compared to the U.S. dollar, on average about four-fifths of a cent per year for nearly 35 years.

Under Pierre Trudeau, the power of the federal state was vigorously defended against regional pressures, especially Quebec nationalists, as necessary to continue the source of these great socialistic benefactions. The process reached its logical official climax in 1982 when Trudeau succeeded in inserting in our patriated constitution as a raison d'etre of Canada the pursuit of regional economic equality.

This was an insane conception, but I recall little public dissent from it at the time other than from my wife as she has become and myself. Geography can not be repealed and people must move to resources, not the reverse. Canada assumed the burden of Sysyphus. The result was that Canada became a high-tax, high-debt, high-unemployment country. Since much of the deficit spending that has given us the highest foreign debt of any developed country was run up to buy Quebec's adherence to Canada, it is galling to hear Jacques Parizeau express reservations about Quebec continuing to be a part of such a debt-ridden country as Canada has become. Quebec will not escape its share of that debt so easily.

Under Brian Mulroney, in addition to the unbearable burden of transfer payments, the provinces, the "ten satraps" as Mr. Diefenbaker called them, were to be rewarded with a vast devolution of jurisdiction. The Charlottetown Accord, rejected in the Referendum of October 26, 1992, would have left the provinces in control not only of education, property, civil rights, most social programmes and natural resources and labour law, which they already possessed, but also the Supreme Court, the Senate, much of immigration and telecommunications and, ultimately, the selection of the Governor and the direction of the Bank of Canada.

By rejecting this federal self-dismemberment last year, the Canadian public not only declared the desire of English-speaking Canada to retain a functioning state, it announced, without being at all belligerent or antagonistic to Quebec, that it would not countenance any more jurisdictional concessions to Quebec or any other province to retain apparent adherence to a nebulous, shrinking notion of Canada.

Canadians also rejected the entire governing political class. All three established federal political parties and all ten provincial governments had recommended adoption of the constitutional proposals. The then prime minister had suggested that a negative vote was an act of "treason" by an "enemy of Canada." That 54 per cent of Canadians voted No convinced me that the people knew that this endless fraudulent process of trying to buy support with squandered jurisdiction and borrowed money had to end. Where Pierre Trudeau tried to buy Quebec with Ontario's and Alberta's money, Brian Mulroney added the incentive of conferring sovereignty in all but name.

Brian Mulroney had an unambiguous mandate in 1984 to govern with fiscal responsibility and to end favouritism to Quebec. He finessed the 1988 election with free trade, but when he was judged not to have honoured his mandate, his English-speaking conservative supporters deserted him. He was thus unable to sell his constitutional decentralization to them and his nationalist supporters in Quebec, who had only been masquerading as conservatives, deserted him also. He bequeathed Kim Campbell a torso without limbs.

All three parties were complicit in this endeavour to bribe Quebec with borrowed money and irreplaceable constitutional powers.

Not since the disappearance of the British and American Whigs in the 1850s and 60s, has a major English-speaking country eliminated a national political party. That so forbearant a people as Canadians have virtually destroyed two of their three parties is convincing evidence that they realize that that policy has failed.

I would be remiss, and would short-change us all, if I failed to celebrate with you the utter decimation of what still, after more than 30 years, calls itself the New Democratic Party, almost as great a misnomer as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation which preceded it. The voters of Ontario, especially, demonstrated that they know the difference between a social contract and simple, monstrous mis-government. They know, and will show at the next provincial election, that delivering over the entire process that operates in every business, of dividing reward between labour and capital, wholly to Ontario's unions, and driving out of Ontario half a million jobs and billions of dollars, is not a social contract. They will not judge crushing debt and confiscatory taxes in exchange for a deteriorating education system and health services, a social contract. The destination of most of the money earned by Ontarians must be determined not by the premier of the province, but by the people whose earnings and income it is. To exchange job security for wage caps in the public sector after one of the richest jurisdictions in the world has been driven to within sight of insolvency is not a social contract. It is a calculated onslaught on the dignity, birthright and well-being of every citizen of this province.

Like prisoners marking off the days to their release, Ontarians may count out the days to the end of Bob Rae's perfidious regime.

Canada's institutionalized compassion was, in the terms of the workplace, counter-productive. The benefit of the fiscal handouts was transitory but the resulting debt has hobbled us. And the apotheosis, the epiphany of caring Canada was the pandemic of political correctness, the mission conducted by almost every government in Canada under every bed and behind every bush, to search out and sanctify victims. What began benignly as solicitude for the disadvantaged shortly became a dragnet for the aggrieved, even those whose grievances had to be induced to consciousness after years of unvindicated sublimation. Every regional, sexual, physical, ethnic, demographic and circumstantial shortcoming has enjoyed an endowed martyrdom. The power to value and reward work has been largely usurped from the employer by the government of Ontario and other provinces under a raft of pay equity rules. The right to hire and promote on merit has been superceded by quotas. The hectoring, Orwellian presence of the state and its volunteer auxiliaries, hounds not only the cigarette smoker and the impatient motorist, but the devotee of the ethnic joke, the amateur of traditional folklore, such as those wishing to see the authentic musical Showboat and almost anyone with a lingering nostalgia for the efficacy of the free market.

Billions have been ineffectually hurled at the native people, many of whom officially share ownership of reservations but are in fact imprisoned in the hopeless welfare camps located there. Short of giving them back the entire country, we will never make a restitution that will salve the consciences of the authors of these programmes, but we could surely give them a better return on our money than we have done. We have compensated the Japanese-Canadians, apologized to the Italian-Canadians, piled official commissions and reports on ourselves, which have denounced our society as racist and violent. Most recently a royal commission has suggested an oath for all adult Canadian males of non-violent intent towards women, and neighbourhood violence watches to incite denunciations and promote local vigilante investigations of alleged violence against women.

Canada has become the world's most politically-correct country and has transformed itself into an international laughing stock. Each new outrage of authoritarian meddling is received with shrieks of amusement in informed European and American circles. The presenter of the satellite telecast in Great Britain of the recent World Series referred to Toronto as a city so dour, regimented and unspontaneous that its civic motto should be "Thank God it's Monday." Viewed more closely, this earnest Canadian social democracy is a good deal less amusing, and I think most Canadians have had enough of it. I think that was an unjustly severe view of Toronto but surely this is not the status we have striven for in the world for all these years.

The success of the Reform Party shows that the people are exasperated with politics that consist of imposing behavioural norms and rules on a democratic electorate. Not five per cent of our countrymen believe that our political leaders have any real standing to prescribe what we should think or do. The collapse of the Progressive Conservatives indicates the country is disgusted with a party which calls itself conservative but is in fact socialist. We have Bob Stanfield and Dalton Camp, not Pierre Trudeau, to thank for the insanely profligate idea of the Guaranteed Annual Income, a salary for anyone who survives childbirth. Bill Davis not only stole Steve Lewis's clothes, as was said of Disraeli and Gladstone, he wore them. We couldn't get him out of them and some of us tried. And the consequences of Red Toryism are heavy upon us today.

Looming over Canadian public life throughout these 30 years has been the status of Quebec. I am one of those who believes French-Canadians had just grievances about their position in Canada and that English-Canadians very conscientiously addressed those grievances. When Robert Bourassa invoked the Notwithstanding clause in 1989 to overturn the courts, gut Quebec's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and render the English language invisible in Quebec, to subject it to the oppressions of Quebec's language policy even, as Mordechai Richler

pointed out in the New Yorker, the chalkboard bilingual sidewalk statement of a restaurant's daily special, it was the end of the line. As he did so Bourassa acknowledged Quebec gained over $8 billion per year from federalism.

Quebec must decide if it is part of Canada or not. Canada is prepared to offer a pan-Canadian status for French and powers for Quebec quite sufficient to assure Quebec's legitimate aspirations. In my years in Quebec, what most impressed me about Quebec nationalists was that I never met one who could conceive of the idea that there was such a person as a Canadian who felt as patriotically about Canada as he felt about Quebec. Quebec's problem with Canada today is not grievances but lack of respect, and who can blame Quebec for that, given Canada's political record in recent years. The solution to Quebec's uncertain status is not more concessions, Canada has made quite enough of those, but an enhanced level of Canadian political leadership and governance. If we are embarrassed at Canada's political leadership, should we be surprised that the Quebecois are also?

With appropriate political leadership, the goodwill of most English-Canadians will probably be reciprocated by most of our French-speaking compatriots. Maurice Duplessis used to say that the nationalists of Quebec were "like a ten-pound fish on a five-pound line." They had to be reeled in and let out very carefully, but they are no longer on that line. We are and that is how the Quebec nationalists have been playing English Canada. This too must stop.

Quebec's choice will be between a co-equal status in a Canada which actually functions and is not just a permanent squabble between concurrent jurisdictions, and a realistic version of Quebec's independence. This version will not be Rene Levesque's and Jacques Parizeau's and Lucien Bouchard's fairyland of sovereignty-association.

If Quebec wants independence, it will assume its per capita share of the federal debt. All Quebec counties which vote to stay in Canada can. Federal claims on northern Quebec will be asserted, and independent Quebec can negotiate its own currency and trading arrangements and not piggy-back on ours. Federalism's merits are obvious and shouldn't be promoted by recourse to bribery and blackmail. Properly explained, as part of our desire to share equally a serious country with Quebec, I still hope and believe enlightened federalism would be that province's choice.

If not, Canada would be easier to govern and, though it is heresy in many circles in this country to say so, if Canada wishes to federate with a neighbour, it could make a better and more fulfilling arrangement by far with the United States than several which Quebec has already rejected as insufficiently generous to it.

Jean Chretien can be either the final exponent of a failed policy or the leader of a new public attitude which will prevail whether he chooses to put himself at the head of it or not.

The new consensus will require an end to constitutional implosion and blackmail and an end to unbearable excesses of social spending. It will require repeal of universality and retrenchment of social programmes other than to the deserving and necessitous. I doubt that this category includes the wife of the Somali warlord now being bounty hunted by the U.N. despite our gratitude to the U.N., as the only organization that might, by shaming the government of Quebec, restore the visibility of Canada's majority language, in Quebec. The emerging consensus will require that immigrants generally adhere to an official culture, English or French, and not be publicly assisted to avoid doing so and that they be admitted to this country on a basis that does not constitute systematic importation of racial frictions that Canada has long congratulated itself on having avoided. This insistence does not mean disrespect for any group, only a determination to avoid social decomposition.

The new political consensus will eventually roll back much of the vast quango of transfer payments and wealth redistribution we are now groaning under. It will revoke the primacy of the labour leaders in industrial affairs and restore balance between labour and capital. It will not tolerate the endless demands of organized groups of self-pitiers. According to my reckoning, about 400 per cent of Canadians now qualify as officially recognized victims. Canada is not racist and most Canadians are tolerant people, to a fault, in fact. Otherwise, we wouldn't have tolerated the politics we have for as long as we have.

The country's Charter of Rights should declare the absolute fundamental equality of rights of each citizen and the freedom to exercise those rights up to the point only that they don't impinge on the rights of other citizens. Rights must be held and exercised individually. Group rights are a matrix for oppression, whether invoked against Communists and Jehovah's Witnesses, as Duplessis did, or against voyeurs or those who habitually hire white, able-bodied, heterosexual men, or to be more topical, provincial cabinet members who have non-physical affairs with departmental employees, or tactile judges with naughty light switches.

The whole process of electing rather mediocre leaders who will use the powers we the people have given them to tell us exactly how to behave and what to believe will stop. Contrary to my wife's well-publicized expectations, consent forms will not really be necessary at each stage of physical intimacy a couple, including a married couple, achieves.

The process of taking money from those who have earned it and giving it away to those who haven't, in exchange for their votes, will be curtailed to the legitimate cases of compassionate need.

For all of these reasons, I rejoice. Canada is a rich country with a talented population. All we lack is leadership. On his past record, there are no grounds to believe Jean Chretien is of the future rather than of the past, but the people's will, will be done, by him, or by others. If he doesn't grasp the real lesson of the fate of the other two traditional parties, he will share that fate. Miracles do occur and after what this country has been through in recent years, we're due for one.

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Post-Election Prospects in Canada

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
A view of what Mr. Black feels went wrong with several governments, including those of Pearson, Trudeau, and Mulroney. What Quebec should and shouldn't get, based on what it has already gotten, and the consequences to the rest of Canada. What the Charter of Rights should include. Lack of political leadership in Canada.