Britain and Canada in the Post-Imperial Era
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Feb 1979, p. 230-238
Ford, Sir John, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Personal ideas about Britain and Canada in the post-imperial era, dating from 1945. The differences in the Commonwealth before then, and after. Main differences include the emergence of the Soviet Union and the United States as superpowers; the United Nations as a new force; the quasi monopoly position of the Arab countries in the Middle East in the supply of oil; the leap forward in science and technology. Comments of how Britain and Canada have adapted in the face of these changes.
Date of Original
15 Feb 1979
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
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.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
FEBRUARY 15, 1979
Britain and Canada in the Post-Imperial Era
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald W. Lewis


Your Excellency, distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: I am delighted to welcome you, Sir John, to The Empire Club of Canada in this our 75th anniversary year. I want to tell you, Your Excellency, that in our seventy-five year history, we have listened to eighteen speeches relating to imperial matters and with the word "imperial" contained in the title of the speech.

In connection with the Empire and the Commonwealth, the club has heard 142 speeches. Now please do not think that I am implying that at 160 speeches we have overdone the subjects. On the contrary, 160 is not overly many speeches when this forum has heard well over two thousand addresses in its history and, by my rough calculation, has been spoken to the equivalent of one month and twelve days non-stop. And that does not include the introductions.

My point is that the themes, Imperial, and Empire and Commonwealth, are integral to the history of this club and it is singularly appropriate that in this three-quarter century anniversary year, we are addressed by the British High Commissioner and that you have chosen as your topic, Sir, "Britain and Canada in the Post-Imperial Era."

My reference book tells me that while foreign countries are represented by Ambassadors, Commonwealth countries are represented by High Commissioners. That this holds true over the years is evidence of the continuing bonds between the forty nations of our Commonwealth. And nowhere do these ties remain more close than between Canada and the United Kingdom.

Our guest speaker joined the British Foreign Service in 1947 following military service in World War II when Sir John was decorated with the Military Cross for gallantry in action. Following postings in London and Budapest, he was appointed Consul at San Francisco in 1954. Thereafter, it was back to London where he served for two years in the Treasury.

Our speaker was then posted as Head of Chancery at Bahrain, then back to London where he served in several Foreign Office appointments. Sir John was subsequently posted as Commercial Counsellor to Rome. Then in 1970 he was appointed Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office and it was in this post that he played a significant role in the negotiations for Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. The following year our speaker became Consul General at New York and in 1975 Ambassador to Jakarta.

Now being an Ambassador is fraught with difficulty as evidenced by the experience of the British Ambassador in Washington some years back. About a fortnight before Christmas he was rung up by the local TV station.

"Ambassador," said the caller, "what would you like for Christmas?"

"I shouldn't dream of accepting anything."

"Seriously, we would like to know and don't be stuffy. You have after all been very kind to us during the year."

"Oh well, if you absolutely insist, I would like a small box of crystallized fruits."

He thought no more about it until Christmas Eve when he switched on the TV.

"We have done a little Christmas survey all of our own," said the announcer. "We asked three visiting Ambassadors what they would like for Christmas.

"The French Ambassador said: `Peace on earth, a great interest in human literature and understanding, and an end to war and strife.'

"Then we asked the German Ambassador and he said: 'A great upsurge in international trade, ensuring growth and prosperity, particularly in the underdeveloped countries. That is what I wish for Christmas.'

"And then we asked the British Ambassador and he said he would like a small box of crystallized fruits."

Following Sir John's tour as Ambassador to Jakarta, he was posted to Ottawa last year as the British High Commissioner. Our speaker has chosen to talk to us today on the theme "Britain and Canada in the Post-Imperial Era." Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured at this time to introduce to this audience Sir John Ford, Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, Military Cross, the British High Commissioner at Ottawa.


I am delighted to be with you today. I proudly confess I am a bit of a square. I am one of those who believe that the British Empire was a magnificent institution; that when the history of the 19th and 20th centuries is written by historians in a hundred years' time they will regard the passing of that empire as a transition to be lamented; and that, if our imperial administrators are judged fairly on the standards of their day, they performed well. There are many people, however, who unfairly judge those administrators by the standards of today, and then feel a sense of guilt for the mistakes that our ancestors made.

But it would be inappropriate to talk about the past. I have therefore chosen to give you, The Empire Club of Canada, a few rather personal ideas about Britain and Canada in the postimperial era.

That era dates, to my mind, from the end of the last war in 1945. It was then, under pressure from the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union and the new forces of liberalism surging up within the colonial territories, that Britain began the dismantling of her empire. But this had already shown signs of change with the development of self-government in the Old Dominions. That paved the way for the transition of the British Empire into the very different Commonwealth which exists today with the Queen as its head. It is sometimes forgotten that there are now forty different nations in the Commonwealth with a combined population of nearly one billion.

But today's Commonwealth exists in a very different world to the old empire. The following are the main differences I discern.

Firstly, the emergence of the Soviet Union and the United States as super-powers has created a new tension in the world--that between communism and capitalism. Secondly, that tension has been aggravated by a fragmenting nationalism among the developing countries, particularly in Africa where tribalism has transcended the artificial political frontiers drawn up by the old colonial regimes.

At the same time, in the development of the European Community in western Europe and perhaps also in the much younger Association of Southeast Asian Countries, there has been an encouraging swing away from a narrow view of national sovereignty towards the concept of communities of states where a measure of sovereignty is voluntarily surrendered. Although not super-powers like the Soviet Union and the U.S.A., the European Community and Japan are already superpowers in the commercial sense: and their growth has changed the global economic balance.

The United Nations has also become a new force. It has been hamstrung in many ways by the political differences among the Permanent Members of the Security Council because of the strains between the communist and non-communist states. Yet the UN has nevertheless provided a forum for the smaller countries to gang up together and collectively exercise an influence some would say disproportionate to their importance. It has also inhibited the major powers from flagrant acts in breach of the UN Charter, although it has not, for example, prevented the Soviet Union from invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Vietnam from invading Cambodia.

A new phenomenon too is the quasi monopoly position of the Arab countries in the Middle East in the supply of oil, without which the economies of the industrialized countries would grind to a halt. New too were the International Monetary Fund and International Bank of Reconstruction and Development which provided a new monetary framework for much of the world's commerce and financing of development in the less developed countries.

Even more important than the changes I have so far mentioned has been the leap forward in science and technology. Probably more scientists are alive today than have ever lived, and it has been said that only in this century did mankind cut the painter linking it with its neanderthal forebears. This is creating enormous problems of social and psychological adjustment.

Nowhere does this seem more true than in the field of communications. Radio communications and air travel have made the globe a smaller place. TV has brought the world into the family sitting room. For the first time the ordinary man of today is personally aware of what is going on far afield; and the eye of the roving camera can emotionally involve him in events which would otherwise be ignored. The ease with which TV can glide superficially over events and public issues and unscrupulously play upon human emotions has placed, for good or ill, a new power in the hands of those who operate the media and brought new dangers as well as new opportunities for democracy.

Perhaps partly because of this revolution in communications, religion is showing new signs of being a major world force. Islam is a growing political phenomenon in the Orient and Middle East, while particularly in Africa and South America Christianity has been spreading; and, with John XXIII and John Paul II, the Papacy has developed into a new moral force on the world scene.

Against this changing background how have Britain and Canada been adapting?

In the face of Soviet imperialism both countries participated with the United States and Western Europe in the creation of NATO. Under the umbrella first of United States nuclear supremacy and later of the balance of nuclear power between Washington and Moscow, NATO has successfully organized the collective defence of what I call the cockpit of parliamentary democracy in the North Atlantic Community. It is a sobering fact that the Soviet Union, already armed to the teeth, is at present spending eleven to thirteen per cent of its GNP on its armed forces and over the past six years the Warsaw Pact defence expenditure has increased on average annually by over four per cent. Yet during that same period NATO's defence expenditure has declined by .6 per cent annually and the NATO powers spend only 4.8 per cent, Britain about 4.9 per cent and Canada about two per cent of GNP on defence. In the face of these gloomy figures one can see how right our NATO leaders were last year when they agreed to increase their defence effort.

The new nationalism in Africa and Asia seems to me to place a special responsibility on Britain and Canada. All over the developing world there are people struggling against the odds for freedom and democracy. They look to us for a lead. How can we strengthen their faith in parliamentary democracy if our nations cannot solve their problems in a democratic manner? What we do and how we do it has a significance that spreads far beyond the borders of our countries.

The fact that the world today has economic super-powers--the United States, the European Economic Community and Japan--has inevitably had its effects on the trading patterns of both our countries. Britain has joined the EEC while you have found an increasing percentage of your trade takes place across the 49th Parallel.

The UNO has involved both our countries in a global diplomacy. Because of Britain's membership in the Security Council we have had to take a policy line on world issues which might not otherwise affect our interests. So have you, particularly when, as last year, Canada was a member of the Council. These obligations provide both our countries with opportunities to play a positive role in world affairs. Canada can in fact fairly claim to be the most experienced country in the world in participating in military peacekeeping operations under the UN flag.

Like Britain and the United States, Canada is one of the few industrialized countries which possesses vast energy resources, oil and natural gas, coal and uranium. You have them in most enviable quantity. Britain too is blessed with oil and gas sufficient probably at least until the end of the 90s and with coal enough to last three hundred years. The technologies that have been pioneered in our pits and in the North Sea should be of value to you too. I do not think, for example, that it is often realized how quickly we have built up in Britain a modern offshore oil servicing industry. Ten years ago we had none. Now over sixty per cent of our North Sea oil industry needs are met from plants in Britain. Not all that industry is British-owned. But it provides jobs for British people and, unlike many of you Canadians, we in Britain do not worry too much about foreigners owning parts of our industry. We believe that the important thing is control and taxation rather than ownership.

Like Britain, Canada has played an active part in the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development and has pursued active policies in spreading aid and technical assistance among developing countries. I saw for myself, for example, what you were doing in Indonesia. Like other developed countries, however, both Canada and Britain are faced with a difficult problem: we want to sell more to the developing countries of Asia and Africa but we do not want to take their products in return. We fear that their cheap textiles and other mass-produced articles might put our workers out of work. Yet we must allow the have-not countries to earn their keep if world trade is to go on expanding and we are to move towards a juster world society. We shall have to let them do so by stopping making the things we have traditionally made and concentrating on meeting needs for other more advanced goods that they cannot make. This is a difficult process of adjustment.

Difficult too is the adjustment to the 20th century's great leap forward in science and technology. So many of the social problems which trouble our societies are the result of our failure to adapt quickly enough to the changing conditions under which we live. The very speed of progress increases the importance of hanging on to those stable elements in our society--for example, tradition and religion and institutions such as the family which have served our ancestors so well down the centuries.

It is, I suggest, no accident that the election of Cardinal Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II created such an immense sensation throughout the world. The divisions and disillusionment of the West as a result of two fruitless world wars seem to have created a new yearning for a leadership that will meet the needs of the human spirit in our scientific and technological age. If in Pope John Paul we see the hope of just such a leader, we can see elsewhere in the spread of terrorism and tyranny ample evidence that a new dark age could settle down on the world.

The picture which I have thus sketched for you is in some ways dark and full of dangers for all the values on which our societies have set such store. Yet it also presents ample opportunity for positive action and promise of better things to come thereby. Here I think that the activities of clubs such as yours can be of great help. By studying the circumstances of today in the light of the lessons of the past you can help point the way ahead and give the lead to others. In thanking you for your hospitality today may I end up wishing you every success in doing just that.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Brig. Gen. S.F. Andrunyk, O.M.M., C.D., a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Britain and Canada in the Post-Imperial Era

Personal ideas about Britain and Canada in the post-imperial era, dating from 1945. The differences in the Commonwealth before then, and after. Main differences include the emergence of the Soviet Union and the United States as superpowers; the United Nations as a new force; the quasi monopoly position of the Arab countries in the Middle East in the supply of oil; the leap forward in science and technology. Comments of how Britain and Canada have adapted in the face of these changes.