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A Note to the Reader

We Canadians are known virtually the world over for our cherished national values of generosity, moderation, fairness, civility, and reasonable compromise. This book is a call for elected and appointed policy makers in our national capital to begin living up at home to our reputation abroad.

The focus is on our peripheral regions, which I call Outer Canada including in the term virtually the entire country outside of Toronto-Montréal-Ottawa. Inner Canadians, more precisely, are a few thousand residents of Toronto’s Old Forest Hill Village, the Bridle Path and upper Rosedale; Montréal’s upper Westmount and sections of Outremont; and Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park and New Edinburgh. In short, they are those who by means of private wealth, position, and political clout have called most of the shots on national policy since Confederation.

In each of these three favoured cities, homeless people, food banks functional illiteracy and soup kitchens today co-exist alongside obscene affluence and luxury. Many hard-working individuals in all three centres get by each month only with great difficulty. Others, with what appear to be huge family incomes, spend up to half of it paying for mortgages with fourteen to fifteen per cent interest rates. Such people in the context of this book are really no more Inner Canadians than is a resident of Canso, Rankin Inlet, or Nanaimo. One important difference, however, is that the present federal cabinet, like others before it, is much more concerned about the well-being of one group than the other. Inconsequence, someone losing job in Inner Canada usually has much better prospects of replacing it than does someone across Outer Canada.

Outer Canadians are the approximately eighteen million of us who live outside Toronto-Montréal-Ottawa. I include all of us, admittedly some what arbitrarily, because the evidence is overwhelming that many of the policies of successive national governments have cost us dearly in terms of population, opportunity, economic stability and self-respect. The cost of official Ottawa’s short-sightedness is greater in some provinces than in others, but the differences are mostly in degree.

The experience of my friend, Wilf Aucoin, formerly of Cheticamp on northern Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, illustrates the point. He and nineteen male classmates graduated there from Notre Dame Assumption High School in June of 1962. No jobs were available locally. Nor were there opportunities for further training, so ten of the male graduates immediately enlisted in the armed forces. The remaining ten, along with some of their female classmates, caught the same train for Toronto. A similar exodus of young men and women probably repeated itself in hundreds of Outer Canadian communities that year and in most years since. Today, there are more economic reasons than ever for Atlantic Canadians to "go down the road to Upper Canada."

Some in both Outer and Inner Canada will reply, "Thank goodness for the strength of Toronto’s economy then and now." Others will salute the recruitment policies of our armed forces. Yet both reactions miss the deeper point that these continuing migrations weaken local communities and our national unity. Outer Canadian parents want their children to have a reasonable opportunity to settle near them.

I am not suggesting that young or older Canadians should not be able to start again in some other region of this unique country. New starts in new locations form a necessary feature of life in any open society. The basic argument here is that any national government worthy of the name must bring in a new National Policy which pays far more attention to equality of opportunity for Outer Canadians. For example, Cape Bretoners are capable of growing good hay, which is badly needed by dairy and sheep farmers in Newfoundland, but federal and provincial policy does not encourage the formation of farm enterprises that could produce the needed product efficiently. Ottawa farm policy in Cape Breton promotes only micro-farms, which are unable to export anything.

In these perilous times, it is tempting to wait until the dust from the Meech Lake process settles, in Québec and elsewhere, before beating the regional drum. But continuing to sweep major national problems under the carpet will only compound them. A large number of Québeckers in the periphery, as indicated in the chapter, "Life on the Shield," are charter members of the Outer Canadian Club. Addressing their legitimate concerns more effectively than at present, with due regard to the limits of federal jurisdiction, is more likely to aid the all-important issue of national unity than continuing what, in essence, amounts to ignoring peripheral Québeckers. To demonstrate that the concept of Outer Canada is no mere state of mind, the first chapter, "Main Street," shows how flagrantly Ottawa has long played regional favourites.

The present plight of many Atlantic Canadians has been caused to a considerable extent by a fairly continuous indifference from our national governments since the 1880s. The Atlantic story in Confederation to date is particularly vexing because decades ago the region enjoyed a genuine and stable prosperity. Nothing in history is irreversible, as events in Eastern Europe are showing, and in a nation like our own, a number of economic and political reforms can today achieve much for 2.2 million Atlantic Canadians. They must no longer confront indifference in Ottawa’s political and mandarin circles.

Northern Ontario’s ongoing problems with national policy makers are combined with those of residents of the Québec sub-regions because they share similar circumstances. The long and deeply-rooted discontent of Westerners with Ottawa policy-making constitutes a separate chapter. The chapter "Up North" focuses on the predicament of the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In many ways, regional alienation is exemplified most dramatically by conditions north of sixty degrees latitude because the lives of Northerners are probably still more dominated by Ottawa than are those of Canadians anywhere else. Concluding the first part of the book is an essay entitled "Canadians Speak Out" which presents opinions on problems dividing the country and on ways of building unity held by some reasonably representative voices among 26 million Canadians.

Part two of the book begins with a piece, "Dealer’s Choice," which is mostly an indictment of the insensitivity of the Mulroney government to Outer Canada. The attitudinal problem in Ottawa certainly did not begin in 1984. Some major current national issues, including culture and communications, the failed Meech Lake process, and the goods and services tax are discussed in a second chapter here.

The final section of the book looks at some possible solutions. The chapters "Kickstarting Development" and "Reconcilable Differences" attempt to reach to the heart of two distinctive Canadian twins, "executive democracy" and :executive federalism." Each of them as practised now, encourages the continued existence of Inner and Outer Canada. In the final chapter I have offered some remedies likely to help us all to live together more amicably.

My overriding purpose is to explore ideas that might strengthen national unity, to seek a political catharsis that might produce a unifying vision for Canadians generally, and to serve as a catalyst for those everywhere making a genuine effort to reconcile regional differences in future national policy making.

This book, then, is a modest attempt to contribute to the necessary national effort to keep Canadians together. It is my firm belief that by staying together as one country, Canadians in all regions of it can better serve their interests, reach their goals and achieve their aspirations.

David Kilgour
Ottawa and Edmonton
September 1, 1990


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