Canada's Potential and Our Political Will
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Oct 1973, p. 33-45
Gillespie, The Honourable Alastair, Speaker
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How Canada can learn and benefit from the mistakes and successes of other great cities and nations. Political will and determination that allows decisions and choices based on our own values. Resisting short-term expediencies in favour of long-term answers. A discussion of specific recent decisions and initiatives by the Canadian government from this point of view. Four obstacles that Canada and Canadians face in this endeavour, with examples and discussion of each. Briefly, they are: forgetting that cities are for people; a "Fly now—Pay later" approach to life; a defeatist colonial attitude; foreign domination of industrial and commercial institutions. The importance of political will.
Date of Original
4 Oct 1973
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Full Text
OCTOBER 4, 1973
Canada's Potential and Our Political Will
CHAIRMAN The President, Robert L. Armstrong


Distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is often stated, particularly by critics of government, that we need more business men in Parliament. Men who have proven their practical ability to succeed in business should be better qualified to govern than theorists, professional athletes and pure politicians. (In today's climate, pure may be an unlikely descriptive adjective to use in that context.)

We are honoured on this occasion to have as our distinguished guest speaker a successful businessman (I believe the only member of the Federal Cabinet who can be properly described as a businessman), who in his comparatively short career in Parliament has clearly demonstrated his ability to govern.

The Honourable Alastair Gillespie, a Westerner by birth, Victoria, B.C. being his natal city, defied the adage "Go West young man" but undoubtedly for the sensible reason that going West from Vancouver Island would take him right into the Pacific Ocean!

Before graduation from the University of British Columbia, Mr. Gillespie enlisted and served as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm of the, then, Royal Canadian Navy. Following the war, he pursued his undergraduate studies at McGill University. He obtained his M.A. as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and later his M. Com. at the University of Toronto's School of Business.

In 1968 when Mr. Gillespie was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Etobicoke, he was President of two manufacturing companies and Vice-President of Canadian Corporate Management Limited, as well as a Director of several other companies. He resigned from these companies on his election.

Mr. Gillespie played a key role in the tax reform process as ViceChairman of the Commons Finance, Trade arid Economic Affairs Committee from 1968 to 1970.

In October 1970, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, and Minister for Science and Technology in August 1971. Re-elected in October 1972, Mr. Gillespie was appointed Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce in November 1972.

In extra-curricular activity, Mr. Gillespie is a gentleman farmer and raises beef cattle. A story is told that the first shipment to market of several head of cattle almost resulted in disaster when the cattle got loose and the round-up procedure resulted in a substantial decrease in on-the-hoof avoirdupois.

When Mr. Gillespie first entered the political arena, he modestly states that it was common for people to say, "Alastair? Who is Alastair?" Now, after several years of exposure and being continually on the go, Mrs. Gillespie, attending a cocktail party recently was approached by a friend who said, "How's Alastair?" Mrs. Gillespie's response was, "Alastair? Who's Alastair?"

Our guest of honour is an avid participant in racquet sports, his favourites being tennis and squash.

I am proud to present to The Empire Club of Canada the Honourable Alastair Gillespie, who will speak to us on the subject, "Canada's Potential and our Political Will".


Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Alastair Gillespie, distinguished members of the head table, old friends and members of the Empire Club. After that very warm introduction from your Chairman I feel slightly exposed. I feel that almost all my secrets are in public.

Well, today I want to let you in on a secret. I was going to talk about our booming Canadian economy. I was invited to talk about my recent trip to Japan. I was invited to talk about trade and I would love to talk about trade-after all our trade has never been better in the last thirty years than it is right now. Of course I would like to take credit for that.

I was going to talk about practical policies versus political posturing and while I realize that the Empire Club is a lot less partisan than the membership of the Etobicoke Federal Liberal Association it still has its partisans. There are some very distinguished members of this head table who I think would be regarded as political partisans and my remarks were going to be slightly partisan.

I was going to talk about the difference between the government's practical policies for meeting our responsibilities for the economy as opposed to the opposition's political posturing; in keeping, of course, with their interest in replacing the government. I was not going to be overly unkind to anyone, including Mr. Stanfield and his Conservative colleagues. After all this is a pleasant luncheon.

I was going to try, however, to show first that their postured alarm was just that and no more and that while inflation persists here, as in other countries, the Canadian economy is in good hands and in good health. No, I was not going to speak or break into a chorus of The Land is Strong . . . the truth of that song may now be obvious but I don't think the electorate, judging by the results of last year, took to the tune.

However, as the Financial Post recently editorialized on September 22nd, "For all the intimations that disaster must be headed our way Canada has never had it so good. " The editorial went on to say that both this year and next year it looked very good indeed.

Now that would have been a great speech because Canada is in the middle of an economic boom and Toronto is leading the way. I have heard complaints by employers, for example, that they cannot find people to work in the Metro area and I believe it. Nearly everyone is already working. The actual unemployment rate in Metro Toronto is well under 4 per cent, closer to 3 per cent today, and what economists I think generally would regard as full employment. There are fewer people now registered at Manpower, fewer people drawing Unemployment Insurance and fewer people on Welfare.

For instance, the present Welfare case load in the Metro area is around 16,000 compared to over 20,000 at this time last year and 27,000 in 1971.

But in all honesty, a large part of our economic well-being must be credited to the world-wide economic resurgence. Canada more than others, more than other countries, must always remember the extent to which our economy as a great two-way trading nation is affected by the economic health of other countries. Just as we have pointed to other countries and their burdens of unemployment or inflation when Canada was experiencing similar problems, so we must admit we are doing well in large part because others are also doing well-but Canada is doing better.

Canada's inflation rate year by year and over the last five years is lower than most industrialized countries. Over 420,000 Canadians have entered the work force this year. Wage gains, while exceeding the inflation rate, have not been unreasonable. I would emphasize "while exceeding the inflation rate"-notwithstanding the headlines that some papers had yesterday-have not been unreasonable. Our short-term interest rates remain the lowest in the industrialized world. Our exports are setting an all-time record with the highest growth rate increase in 30 years. Our companies are making record profits and undertaking substantial plant and employment expansion and we are headed for a real growth rate of over seven per cent this year.

And we have not given up on inflation, not by a long shot, as our recent measures I hope have made very clear.

I had that speech prepared on the health of our economy, on Canada's comparative advantages in this world-wide inflationary period and on the reasons why Canada would not have been well served by price and wage controls.

But I am not going to give that speech today. The speech seemed appropriate when I was in Ottawa: it no longer seemed as appropriate when I got to my city, when I got to my city of Toronto and I had a couple of days to walk around and reflect upon some of the things I saw happening and some of the things that I saw might happen in this great city.

I would like to take you back a little bit. In my capacity as Trade Minister, I have had the opportunity recently of visiting some of the world's great cities-Washington, London, Brussels, Tokyo. These are great cities, very impressive cities, but we can learn, I think, not only from their successes but we can learn from their mistakes if we have the wit and the will to do so. I think we are better off here in Canada than in any other place in the world. Think of cities like Chicago, Tokyo and New York . . . bustling but uneasy. We still have the time, I think, to learn from and avoid the mistakes that others have made. Our opportunity to build great cities and to forge a great nation has never been greater but it depends on one thing. It depends on political will: the determination to decide for ourselves what we will become, the determination to make choices according to our own values, the determination to set our own priorities in accordance with our own interests, the determination above all to be ourselves. The realization of this national potential will increasingly depend in this period of rapid change on our ability to resist the pressures of short-term expediencies in favour of long-term answers.

That is why I think the government's decision to extend the pipeline to Montreal and to adopt the principle of a two-price system for petroleum products is so important. That is why I think the government's decision to support our secondary manufacturing and processing industries is so important. That is why the government commitment to extending our economic advantages to all regions of the country is so important. That is why the government's decision to give French-speaking Canadians equal opportunities to deal with their Federal Government in their own language is so important. That is why the government's commitment to give Canadians greater participation in and control over their own cultural and economic life is so important.

But, ladies and gentlemen, let us not delude ourselves. The kind of Canada we want won't just arrive or come into being by itself. We have got to be prepared to make some decisions, some decisions now with benefits to be realized rather later. That is not easy, that goes against the built-in bias of the political system. It also goes against the base of technological change, and social and political change too, because they have increased the pressures on governments for instant answers and instant results. These pressures to produce now, I would say, have immensely increased the difficulties of decision-makers who want to concentrate on building a stronger and more distinctive Canada.

I would like to mention particularly four obstacles. They are not an exhaustive list by any means, they are a partial list. There are four obstacles and I think they are very important obstacles which we have got to overcome if we are to build that kind of better, stronger, distinctive Canada which I think Canadians want and I think all Canadians know they are well involved in right now.

I want to go over these four obstacles with you. The first one is stated in these terms: in urban Canada too often the inclination of planners and developers and city councillors is to forget that cities are for people. Now that may sound like an awful cliche, a well-known cliche to you; but if it sounds too simple ask yourselves how many high-rise developments have a human dimension. Some . . . but an awful lot don't measure up.

That is why the recent changes produced by my colleague the Minister of State for Urban Affairs Mr. Basford, to protect and improve the character of local neighbourhoods, is so important to a great city and that is why I think the decision of the Toronto City Council to take a new look at high-rise development over the next two years has so much potential significance if properly followed through.

Perhaps another way of stating the first of my four obstacles is to say that too often our priorities have placed development for the few ahead of the interests of the community.

Let me take another example. I am thinking of the Toronto waterfront. I think it is an excellent example. The waterfront in Metropolitan Toronto is clearly one of the City's great potential natural assets. Does anyone really disagree? I doubt it. There are few cities that have this kind of natural advantage. Certainly the developers have long recognized those assets. They have known them for years and have been busy planning bigger and more elaborate structures to capitalize on them. They were not bothered very much by the thought that they might be curtaining off in concrete a view of Lake Ontario which should belong to us all. Little did it seem to matter that we were allowing our prime lands and waters to be reserved for those lucky enough to be able to pay the price.

That is why the Federal Government's decision announced a year ago, to provide the land and water lots for the central area of downtown Toronto in my view is so important. That is why it is so important we exercise some caution against this almost remarkable growth to make sure Toronto's growth is compatible with the interests of the people who live here.

I know that for many years we will be assailed for that decision, and I hope that as the years unfold and as the realization of the potential of that waterfront unfolds more and more people will get excited about it and more and more people will want to take a part in planning it and in saying what kind of a waterfront they want, a waterfront with a human dimension.

When it comes to talking about the obstacles we must overcome to realize our potential, my second concern could be put in these terms: it is the all too human preference to choose the expedient solution over the long-term answer.

Now Metro Toronto is the fastest growing urban centre in North America, probably one of the fastest growing centres in the world. Look around you. If you choose to ignore that fact then it is easy to justify doing nothing now about the future air services that come with the size and importance of this region.

One thing in my view is clearly predictable. We are going to need an additional airport to provide for the future growth of this region. Do we wait until it is too late before we make that decision or do we act now when it is clearly, as I say, evident? Right now there is little enough appropriate land but think how much less land there would be in ten years and how many more people would be dislocated and how much higher the price in terms of human discomfort and human dislocation as well as the cost of land.

How can we conscientiously, speaking now as a government, how can we conscientiously side-step the responsibilities of beginning now to prepare to handle properly the volume of air traffic we know will be coming to Toronto?

My colleague, the Minister of Transport Jean Marchand, tells this story. When he was Minister of Regional Economic Expansion he used to think Canada was a very complicated country. There were the Maritime regions and the Maritime interests. There were the Frenchspeaking interests and there were Quebec interests. There were Ontario interests and Northern Ontario's interests were different from Southern Ontario's interests. The people in Western Canada had different interests than the people in British Columbia. We were a very complicated people. There were a lot of different people. Ever since he has become Minister of Transport he has realized one thing very clearly. There are only two kinds of people in Canada: there are those who are for airports and those who are against them.

Politicians, who are after all human beings, love to make those decisions in which the public realizes an immediate benefit. Those are the kind we really like. We become heroes and we put off when you are going to have to pay for it. The benefit is now and sometime later the accounting. It is a sort of "Fly now-Pay later" approach to life; but decisions on things like airports for the future I think have to be made now. Building airports for future traffic won't fit that formula of "Fly now-Pay later". They are the very reverse. No immediate benefit, no immediate benefit but a substantial immediate cost in terms of dislocation of people, and substantial political cost in terms of the disfavour you incur with various groups in a society. Long-term planning and taking decisions of those kinds is the very reverse of the classic political decision-making process. But that is not a reason for turning aside, and I would say that on the contrary, because of the rate of change, we are going to have to be involved in many more of those kinds of decisions and that requires political will.

Do the citizens of great cities like Toronto really want their political representatives today to duck their responsibilities for tomorrow for the future inhabitants of Toronto? Do they really want their political representatives to take the deceptively easy route, the political safe way; or do they want them to help to preserve the essential character of their neighbourhoods and protect their natural assets such as the waterfront? Do they want Toronto to be the most livable as well as the most exciting city in North America? Or would they let it become, as some other cities are now, nothing but a sullen casualty of the greatness that might have been?

Ladies and gentlemen, the third obstacle, as I see it, to realizing our potential, can be described as that defeatist colonial attitude where Canadians think others can do anything better. It can be stated in these sorts of terms: we can buy cheaper in Europe or Japan or the United States, so why should we try to compete?

This idea that Canadians cannot compete comes into play in all sorts of situations. I think it affects many of the most important gut issues facing Canadians in the future, such as industrial innovation and cultural identity.

It suggests to me a terrible lack of recognition or lack of faith in the competence of Canadians to develop themselves and their own country. It is largely a legacy of the past but it still persists. It can do more to deflect the positive growth of Canadian industry and Canadian identity than perhaps any other attitude.

I want to give you two examples. I want to talk about CANDU. CANDU is the Canadian engineered and Canadian produced nuclear power reactor. It is now claimed as one of the world's most successful nuclear power reactors. The Pickering plant, for example, is producing more power than all of Canada's hydro plants at Niagara Falls. It is producing power cheaper than any other nuclear power plant in the world. It is working well now but it was not without its detractors as it tried to get started. The fainthearted said it was too much of a gamble. Why spend money on a Canadian system when we can buy the technology risk-free from the Americans?

Clearly if Canadians buy that argument they will end up buying everything from others and buying nothing from ourselves. If we take that approach and apply it to other industries we will be selling out our chance to build our own kind of Canada. That attitude would mean that we will never develop anything ourselves, at least nothing on the frontier, nothing that is exciting, nothing that is reaching into the future, nothing which is on the edge of new knowledge.

Why are we educating young people in universities if we are not prepared to back up our faith in them with opportunities related to new technology, related to new ventures? If we take that attitude we are never going to build anything very distinctive. The CANDU, I think, is an example of Canada's ability to compete.

As I have said in many speeches we will not put a wall around Canada. We can compete, we are competing now. However, we will have a long time still to compete with that colonial attitude.

The second example I want to give of this particular attitude is in the programming of our radio and TV stations. Canadian programming on television and radio is I think a good example. It has always seemed cheaper and safer to buy whatever some other country had been watching or listening to. After all we could always say well, it has been tested, hasn't it? It was not too difficult to justify this arrangement. Not long ago you could say well, the imported product may have lacked something for Canadians but, my God, the Canadian product did too. But the CRTC, the Canadian Government Agency concerned, persevered. It stuck to its commitment and over the howls of anguish of station owners it watched as more good Canadian products were being enjoyed by more Canadian viewers and listeners than ever before.

I am not saying that all Canadian content has been good, but a great deal has been good and more of that is coming. My experience has been that most Canadians enjoy seeing or hearing their own culture over their own airwaves.

Here again there were so many that thought it could not be done because it was being tried by Canadians.

A fourth obstacle to realizing the potential of Canada to our growing sense of Canadian national identity that I think we must overcome is the foreign domination of our industrial and commercial institutions. I am not going to repeat the catalogue. You know it. Close to 60 per cent of all our manufacturing industry is foreign controlled. Many of our industries are almost totally foreign controlled. Canadian industry has a larger proportion of foreign control than that of any other country in the world; or to put it another way, Canadian industry is more dominated by the decisions of foreign parents than industry anywhere else in the world.

Canadians no longer feel very comfortable with that fact. Canadians and the Canadian government are determined that Canadians should have greater participation in and control over their own future development. That is why the Foreign Investment Review Act now before Parliament and awaiting third and final reading is so important. The government is asking Parliament for the power for Parliament and the government-it does not now have the power-to screen a proposed take-omer of any existing Canadian enterprise and subject to certain rules to screen proposals for the establishment of any new business in Canada by foreign interests.

Under the Bill the test for the allowance of a foreign investment is significant benefit, significant benefit to Canada. If significant benefit can be demonstrated or negotiated then the investment will be allowed. If it cannot be demonstrated or negotiated then the investment will be disallowed.

In my view, significant benefit is a central principle not only to the Foreign Investment Review Act but to the development of Canada-significant benefit, a positive thrust. But the voices are still being raised against this principle. They are the voices sometimes of the vested interests. They are, in my view, the voices of the faint-hearted. They say that they would prefer the test of "No detriment". I do not think that they really understand what is at stake here. The idea of the test of no detriment instead of significant benefit I think is crucial. It is clearly not acceptable to the government or to the Canadian people to go no detriment. We have taken a position in favour of significant benefit to Canada.

Surely Canadians should benefit by being here just as others benefit by coming here. Ours is a constructive nationalism, a positive Canadianism. I think it conforms with the views of Canadians who want to build a stronger and more distinctive and a better country with a distinctive identity. We won't get these things done without a determination to look out for our own best interests. We won't get these things done with a faint-hearted or wishy-washy test of no detriment.

Can you imagine trying to negotiate a better deal for Canada on a test of no detriment? It all reminds me of the guy who seeing some stranger approaching his house opens the door and says, "Say, Mister, move into my house but please don't hurt my family." Instead of: "You are welcome but you are expected to contribute something to our household."

Canadians insist that future foreign investment attracted by our tremendous potential comes in only if it contributes significant benefit to Canadians. It is significant benefit to Canada or no go.

I think it is fair to say that the Foreign Investment Review Act is an investment in Canada's future.

Mr. Chairman, this takes me back to my starting point, which is to look forward to building a strong Canada, a distinctive Canada and a positive Canadianism. It is a question of political will, no more, no less. It is a challenge to take the natural advantages we have, our natural and human resources, and have the political will to make the necessary decisions to develop them in our own best interests. Each time we exercise this political will it becomes easier because we are building on something that we have already begun. Canadians alone have the choice and the chance to build Canada, a stronger, better, distinctive Canada. No one else has.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Gillespie was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Mr. Joseph H. Potts, C.D., Q.C.

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Canada's Potential and Our Political Will

How Canada can learn and benefit from the mistakes and successes of other great cities and nations. Political will and determination that allows decisions and choices based on our own values. Resisting short-term expediencies in favour of long-term answers. A discussion of specific recent decisions and initiatives by the Canadian government from this point of view. Four obstacles that Canada and Canadians face in this endeavour, with examples and discussion of each. Briefly, they are: forgetting that cities are for people; a "Fly now—Pay later" approach to life; a defeatist colonial attitude; foreign domination of industrial and commercial institutions. The importance of political will.