Search this site powered by FreeFind

Quick Link

for your convenience!


Human Rights, Youth Voices etc.

click here


For Information Concerning the Crisis in Darfur

click here


Northern Uganda Crisis

click here


 Whistleblowers Need Protection



One: Main Street

Since 1867, Ottawa policies have helped to create two Canadas. One is economically diverse, stable, populous and prosperous and exists within Inner Canada. The other is characterized by small populations (often shrinking further through out-migration), resource-dependent economies, low political clout and various degrees of regional discontent. This is Outer Canada. Large portions of both Ontario and Québec lie within Outer Canada; each of the two provinces accordingly have partial membership among the officially disfavoured regions of our country. Although the focus of this volume is Outer Canada, a brief overview of Inner Canada as the heartland of the country seems necessary as a point of reference. It should provide evidence that the division between "Outer" and "Inner" Canada is not a mere state of mind.

Various contrasting terms are used to describe the economic, political, societal and cultural structures which characterize Canada: core vs. periphery, inner vs. outer, metropolis vs. hinterland, centre vs. margin, heartland vs. hinterland. The two-tier model is both more enduring and more deeply entrenched in Canada than in most nations. In the United States, for example, the Boston-Washington corridor has, over a long period, lost its former national dominance in many spheres. More than half of the American population today lives west of the Mississippi River. Taking Winnipeg to be the approximate mid-point of Canada, there is little likelihood of ever duplicating this phenomenon in our own country.

In Canada, the communities which lie within the trading and transportation systems of the "Commercial Empire" of the St. Lawrence River have become more dominant in every sphere almost continuously over the decades. The late Toronto historian Donald Creighton and many of his followers have made it almost a heresy to approach our national experience in other than Laurentian terms. To the Creighton school, whatever enhances the quality of life along the axis is good; whatever does not is essentially "un-Canadian." Central to it all is the notion of Toronto and Montréal as the main creators, directors and beneficiaries of peripheral development. As Maurice Careless, another essentially heartland historian, puts it, Paris and London reached across the Atlantic to create Montréal and Toronto as "bases, garrisons, or entrepots on the frontiers of commerce and resources." By the close of the eighteenth century, he goes on, the hegemony of Montréal through the fur trade reached as far as the Pacific Ocean. Its rival Toronto would rise to dominance in the national order only later in the cycle.

Central domination has gradually weakened the sense of partnership and provincial equality that allowed Confederation to occur and to flourish in the hearts and minds of Canadians everywhere. One manifestation of the hinterland anguish was a comment made by Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells in the early spring of 1990 that the earnings of Newfoundlanders (then only fifty-six per cent of the national average) had risen only three percentage points in twenty-six years. "At that rate," he complained, "it would take us six hundred years to reach the national average." A Gallup poll released in November, 1989 indicated that only four per cent of Canadians felt all regions of our country had benefited equally from Confederation whereas 38 per cent thought Ontario had done best; 23 per cent said Québec; six per cent, Atlantic Canada; and nine per cent, Western Canada (Fig. 1).

Who Benefited Most From Confederation
Opinions in a Gallup Poll 1989

Figure 1

As the twentieth century draws to a close, most residents of Outer Canada continue to be denied equal opportunities and first-class memberships in our national family. By indicators such as personal income, types of economic activity, settlement patterns and political clout, our country can now readily be divided into two distinct regions. The centre, the industrial heartland of southern Ontario and southern Québec, has remained the privileged core of Confederation for most of twelve decades. Except for the rapid economic growth of Alberta’s energy boom in the 1970s and to a lesser degree by British Columbia’s impressive population growth to about three million residents since 1945, the hegemony of the centre has, if anything, increased during the second half of the twentieth century. Inner Canada’s initial advantage of location along our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River drainage systems was complemented by a good natural resource base and the best access to foreign markets for both staples and manufactured products. Other strengths were added as time went by: a large and growing regional population, control of Western Canadian development, strong financial institutions, and unchallenged political dominance in Ottawa.

Inner Canada has been at different times, identified with Ontario, Québec or both. It is only a narrow southern band of each province, three hundred kilometres wide and one thousand long, extending from Windsor to Québec City. This core is larger than England and Wales combined and is about two-thirds the size of France. It was termed "Main Street" by Maurice Yeates, an authority on Canadian urban and regional geography. Its centre today is clearly Metropolitan Toronto and to a lesser extent Greater Montréal. Standing astride these two dominant centres are the neighbourhoods of Toronto’s Bridle Path, Old Forest Hill Village and upper Rosedale and Montréal’s Upper Westmount and parts of Outremont. According to 1987 figures released by Revenue Canada on the average income of individuals filing income tax returns, seventeen of Canada’s twenty wealthiest communities are found in this Inner Canadian core.

The concentration of so much of Canada’s population, political clout, manufacturing industry, service sector, and research and development has created growing problems for both Outer and Inner Canada. Outer Canadians are increasingly alienated by what they see as major and ongoing national injustices and inequalities, justified by what has been seen until now as "the Canadian way." Inner Canadians, on the other hand, face the social, housing, transportation, pollution and other problems associated with overpopulation everywhere.

Maurice Careless’s view of Canada’s metropolis-frontier experience is that our metropolitan areas have been essential to the development of all our frontiers through history and down to the present day. "As a prime focus of trade, wealth, leadership, and enterprise," he contends, "the metropolis could effectively dominate wide economic hinterlands, whether in territories adjacent or lying far remote." What he doesn’t stress is that a long series of policy initiatives in Ottawa have provided our two core cities with an additional "leg up," something rarely offered by the national government to the rest of the country.

A Western Canadian historian, the late William Morton, effectively attacked this metropolitan view. He charged Careless with presenting a Central Canadian imperial perspective, neglecting most regional history, and attempting to impose a centralist mind-set on Outer Canadians. Like Outer Canadians generally, Morton felt strongly that Ottawa -- having pursued policies which strengthened Inner Canada at the expense of Outer Canadians for decades -- should adopt a strategy designed to strengthen the peripheries as well.

Domineering Heartland

Often erroneously perceived as a single political entity, Inner Canada in fact remains sharply differentiated along linguistic and cultural lines. Two communities, predominantly French-speaking in Lower Canada and English-speaking in Upper Canada, worked together over several generations for political and economic reasons, while maintaining what Hugh MacLennan called "two solitudes," socially and culturally. This partnership of convenience began with the export of furs, and later timber and wheat, to Western Europe. All three products left Canada primarily through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterways. Shrewd and aggressive merchants in Montréal took charge of the movement of commerce in and out of the St. Lawrence basin, first by exchanging our staples for foreign manufactured products. During their golden age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Montréalers also perfected transportation systems, business contacts, and linking mechanisms for both Lower and Upper Canada.

Because of their dependence on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes transportation systems, ports were the most dynamic early urban centres in both Ontario and Québec. The development of canals, railways, roads, telegraph and telephone lines later improved domestic and foreign trade significantly. It also prompted a host of new manufacturing centres to appear away from the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. By the 1 850s, the southern portions of Upper and Lower Canada had both achieved national importance. The development of manufacturing and financial institutions was accompanied by the building of numerous Inner Canadian railways, which further strengthened the regional economy. After Confederation, many businesses in the heartland expanded into Outer Canada, both east and west. Using their greater financial clout and their better access to credit, they absorbed or otherwise eliminated numerous manufacturing rivals in Atlantic Canada.

Because of John A. Macdonald’s 1879 National Policy, with its high protective tariffs on most agricultural machinery, farm producers in Prairie Canada eventually found themselves able to buy tractors and other machinery only from the Canadian core. Ottawa’s Bank Act of 1871, which opted for branch banking rather than following the American model of state-regulated and usually locally-owned banks, resulted in the rapid rise of large banks controlled from their head offices in Montréal and Toronto. Low postal rates, another Ottawa policy, assisted Inner Canadian retailers with catalogues, such as Eaton’s, to effectively challenge local retailers and regional wholesalers throughout Outer Canada. Limp-wristed antitrust laws enacted by our national Parliament also encouraged heartland companies in various sectors to absorb their competition, initially in Atlantic Canada, later throughout Western Canada as well. In short, Inner Canada, with the help of the "national" government, eventually came to control most wholesale and retail prices, interest and insurance rates, electronic communications, trading and investment policies, from St. John’s to Nanaimo to Yellowknife. This essentially colonial economic pattern persists to the present day.

A few sectors in Outer Canada matured quite independently of Central Canada, including the British Columbia and New Brunswick forest industries, the Alberta and Saskatchewan oil and natural gas industries, and fisheries on both coasts. The disproportionate concentration of economic clout at the centre remains, however, a distinct feature of Canada. It is all the more conspicuous among industrial democracies, given the diversity of the country and its mammoth size.

In general terms, with good incomes derived from a rich agricultural economy and foreign trade in staples, early Inner Canadians made use of the tariff, railway-building and other features of the National Policy to establish their regional dominance everywhere in manufacturing, transportation and financial spheres. Their successors, entering the twentieth century, had the additional advantages of large local markets, ready access to prosperous and huge American markets, proximity to transportation routes, and above all the political and administrative muscle in Ottawa necessary to enhance the heartland role of Central Canada. Managers in fast-growing cities located within southern Ontario and southern Québec, themselves products of an industry-led civilization process, became in many areas the effective managers of Atlantic, Northern and Western Canadians.

Numerous indicators of Inner Canada’s economic and political dominance underscore the continuing pivotal role of the Windsor-Québec City corridor in modern Canada. In 1986, it was estimated that 13.9 million people -- over fifty-five per cent of the population of the country -- lived within the core, an area which constitutes about fourteen per cent of the populated area of the country. More than half of the population of this axis lives in the metropolitan areas of Montréal, Ottawa and Toronto.

Using data from 1982, the geographer Maurice Yeates demonstrates that the core/periphery division is readily apparent in the character of Canada’s international trade. The figures for 1989 confirm the continuation of this pattern. Staples and food products constitute a large share of exports; Outer Canada is the source of most of them. Inner Canada dominates both the export and import of manufactured products. The periphery dominates national trade in crude oil, forest products, and natural gas, most of which go to the United States. Other materials are partially fabricated in our heartland, and then exported primarily to the United States. Manufactured end products, such as auto parts, are produced virtually only in the core and are usually exported to the United States.

An ongoing feature of the axis is its dominance in the industrial field. Seven Out of every ten manufacturing jobs in Canada are located within the core (Fig. 2), with the bulk of employment in manufacturing being in a few major central cities: Toronto, Montréal, Hamilton, Kitchener. Among our twenty-two metropolitan areas, fifty-seven per cent of the national employment in manufacturing is located in Toronto and Montréal. This manufacturing region contains all types of industry, particularly those which involve a high level of processing, such as machinery and transportation equipment, metal fabricating and chemical products.

Manufacturing Sector Employment

Figure 2

There are various types of manufacturing: industries are often divided into so-called "low and high value-added industries." The former entail relatively low wages; the latter just the opposite. In Inner Canada they tend to be concentrated in different locations. Our high value industries (machinery, petroleum and coal products, chemicals, transport, metal fabricating) are prone to cluster in our largest metropolitan centres -- Toronto and Montréal -- and in particular within the "golden horseshoe" around western Lake Ontario from Oshawa-Whitby to Hamilton. Low value-added sectors (clothing, furniture and textiles), on the contrary, tend to be dispersed in smaller Ontario towns and in Québec’s part of the axis.

The geographic concentration of high and low value-added industries is, of course, explained by the availability of capital and labour. Southern Ontario initially offered more abundant capital than labour and therefore has attracted capital-intensive, high value-added industries. In Québec, labour has traditionally been more abundant than capital; more labour-intensive and low value-added industries have tended to locate there.

Yet, service industries within the axis today provide three times as many jobs as manufacturing. Three major groups prevail: wholesale trade, finance, and business management services. Not surprisingly, a high percentage of labour forces in Ottawa-Hull and Québec City are in services and government activities. Metropolitan Toronto and Montréal specialize in finance, services to business management, and wholesale trade. Kingston and London are dependent on health and education-related services.

The predominant role, then, of Canada’s heartland can be found in past and in present patterns of manufacturing, trade and service industries, not to mention cultural activities and political clout.

The Major Cities

The direction and intensity of the movement of people, goods and information as a result of these economic activities point to the high volume in the core; they show a clear pattern of interaction between the core and periphery. As Yeates demonstrated in 1985, and as my own more recent research confirms, Montréal and Toronto continue to be the major generators and destinations of this movement. The pattern of road traffic, for example, indicates that the major flows occur on highways that are at least four lanes and follow the corridor from Windsor to Québec City, with Toronto and Montréal as the major nodes and Ottawa-Hull and Québec City as lesser ones. The pattern of interaction as measured by airline passengers points to a direction of flows involving both business and politics. The figures for 1987 and 1988 (the most recent available from Statistics Canada) on air passenger origin and destination demonstrate that the largest volume of traffic is between Montréal and Toronto. Ottawa-Toronto ranks third, after Toronto-Vancouver.

Montréal and Québec City

Careless sees both Québec City and Montréal as leaving deep imprints on all Québeckers for more than three centuries. During the 1760s, the British conquest of New France transferred effective metropolitan supremacy over the St. Lawrence from Paris to London, thereby displacing French-speaking merchants in both Canadian cities and rendering Québeckers more rural in outlook than they had been before. Careless argues that even under the British rule Québeckers continued to focus on Montréal and Québec. From Confederation onwards, Québec City remained the political champion and cultural centre of the province. Montréal’s commercial network spread into the West and Atlantic Canada after Confederation, and dominated both regions well into the twentieth century. Today Montréal is unquestionably the economic capital of Québec. When comparing the two cities, Montréal is usually referred to as the metropolis and Québec City as "the old capital."

During the summer of 1964, as a university student working in the largest Québec lower town branch of the Bank of Montreal, I experienced Montréal’s economic domination over Québec City in various ways. One day, a fellow employee asked my assistance in composing a letter to the bank’s head office in Montréal. Why, I wondered, did he need my help with a letter I presumed would be in French? He responded that the bank’s head office required all communications from employees, even ones living in Québec City, to be in English only.

Today, Québec City is more than ever the political capital of the province. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the Parti Québécois victory in 1976, various measures aimed at unilingualism, and a host of other political factors have given it pre-eminence in terms of government over the much larger city of Montréal. In addition, Québec City, as the seat of the National Assembly, intervenes directly in decisions by Hydro Québec, the giant provincial Crown corporation.

Metropolitan Montréal, with almost half the provincial population, is Québec’s business, theatre and communications heart. The city dominates the southern and western regions of Laurentian Québec, and it is a major national business centre with a large quantity and variety of manufacturing. However, it is a distant second today to Toronto in banking, investment and insurance activities. Until 1977, Montréal was the country’s premiere city. Today, it has 2.9 million residents compared to Toronto’s 3.4 million. During 1989, nine to ten per cent of Montréal residents were unemployed, compared to less than four per cent in Toronto.

Nonetheless, Montréal is the motor of the province’s economy, accounting for fifty-two per cent of Québec’s gross domestic product and almost half of the work force. The region of Montréal, according to the 1988 Statistics report by the Government of Québec, contains sixty-seven percent of the industrial establishments of Québec and accounts for almost seventy per cent of the province’s manufacturing employment. Nearby Dorval airport is a hub of activity; Mirabel has yet to catch on as an international gateway. Montréal’s maritime shipping remains important in Canada.

The dominance of metropolitan Montréal over other regions of Québec is impressive. An analysis of all Québec provincial cabinet ministers between 1867 and 1960 by geographic origin shows that on average half of them came from the Montréal region. A 1977 paper by the provincial government’s office of planning and development documents that the city contains fifty-seven per cent of the population of the province, sixty-nine per cent of the industrial employment, sixty-nine percent of the volume of the province’s manufacturing and sixty-one per cent of textile employment. It concludes, "Québec is divided into two: Montréal and the rest." Personal income in 1987 for the Montréal economic region was the highest in the province at $18,459 per capita, with some communities in Greater Montréal at $19,784. The average per capita income for the province was $17,256, while some communities in the Gaspé and the North of Québec had average personal incomes as low as $11,405 and $12,151 respectively.

In his 1981 article, "Regional disparities: the more it changes the more it’s the same," Michel Gailloux refers to Montréal as "Québec’s breast," traditionally feeding its hinterland regions but increasingly unable to do so. Jean-Claude Thibodeau and Mario Poise, the authors of a study "The effects of the domination of Montréal on the other regions of Québec" bluntly state that economic development in Québec must pass through the region of Montréal, which by the weight of its influence is the fundamental factor in bringing growth and economic development to the province. It is necessary to revitalize Montréal first, they contend, and the whole of Québec will benefit as a result. This is, of course, only another application of the trickle-down economics of the Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney governments.

Montréal is no typical North American city, despite its plentiful downtown skyscrapers: it is far more a European one. It now covers virtually the entire length of Montréal Island. According to the Québec government’s figures, in 1982 Montréal attracted 1.3 million Canadian tourists from other provinces, 52.2 percent of the total number for the province. (Québec City, the third most popular destination after the Outaouais region, was visited by 233,000 Canadians.) Manufacturing plants are found almost everywhere in Montréal, especially along the river banks, in Laval and along the freeways to Dorval.

French-speaking Quebeckers, who comprise four-fifths of the province’s population of 6.6 million, claim only fifty-six per cent of the residents on the island of Montréal. People of countless origins and languages work downtown at the foot of Mount Royal, but upper Westmount remains an almost exclusive preserve of its still mostly English-speaking captains of industry. Stone and mahogany-filled mansions with splendid gardens are abundant there, a mute testimony to the ongoing clout of at least this part of Montréal as a key piece in the Inner Canadian puzzle. Most other districts of the city, especially the walk-up apartments in east Montréal, are really far more a part of the Québec Branch of Outer Canada.

Metropolitan Toronto

Within Ontario, Toronto, designated a city in 1834, outpaced its early rivals -- Hamilton and Kingston -- through the natural advantage of location on rich farm land, and by becoming a regional railway link and attracting immigrants. Following Confederation, the city added financial and manufacturing muscle to the transport dominance it had already acquired over Outer Ontario. But only well into the twentieth century did it finally successfully challenge Montréal in a number of sectors, notably mining and lumbering, for dominance of peripheral regions such as the Prairies. The whole of Outer Canada outside Québec became its oyster after World War II. Entering the I 990s, Toronto is our dominant metropolis. Frederick Fletcher, a Toronto political science professor, has said Ontario is "the spider at the centre of the web of Confederation." If this is the case, then its provincial capital is the directing head of the creature.

Toronto is our largest national metropolis, occupying 632 square kilometres and extending forty kilometres along the north shore of Lake Ontario and inland about sixteen kilometres. It is home to 3.4 million people, thirteen per cent of Canada’s entire population and thirty-five per cent of Ontario’s. The Greater Toronto area, which includes adjacent communities in Halton, Durham, Peel and York, contains almost four million people. It is the national business capital, accounting for a quarter of our country’s gross national product and half of our national exports. Forty-four per cent of the sales of Canada’s top one hundred industrial companies take place in Toronto -- a yearly financial flow of $19 billion. Equally significant, the Greater Toronto area today provides half of all income taxes paid by Ontarians to the federal and provincial governments.

"Metro has real manufacturing muscle and has the highest income, output and invested productive capacity of any municipality in Canada," boasts the 1987 annual report of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. More than five thousand separate manufacturing firms are located within its communities and about one third of Canada’s retail market is located within 200 kilometres of Toronto’s CN Tower. The Toronto Stock Exchange now accounts for about three-fourths of the activity on all Canadian stock exchanges. Per capita income within the city in 1987, the most recent year for which statistics are available, was $21,905. During the same year, it was $12,541 in one district in northeastern Ontario; $12,400 in Newfoundland; $13,138 in PEI; $14,685 in Nova Scotia; $13,752 in New Brunswick; $17,256 in Québec; $16,709 in Manitoba; $15,862 in Saskatchewan; $18,176 in Alberta and $17,731 in British Columbia.

In the film business, more than thirty-five feature films were produced in the city in 1987 alone. Toronto is also Canada’s construction leader. Office space is abundant and prestigious, with the city having almost thirty per cent of Canada’s total urban office space, twice the proportion of New York City which has only fifteen per cent of the available American office accommodation. 1989 was the eighth consecutive year of economic growth and development for Metro Toronto. With its diversified economic base, Toronto led the country in new business activity, retail sales, manufacturing and small business growth, ending 1989 with a 3.7 per cent unemployment rate and new building permits in excess of $3 billion.

Toronto is home to half of Canada’s largest five hundred companies (Manhattan includes only about one tenth of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies). Sixty per cent of our computer firms and four out of five foreign banks operating in Canada are located in Toronto.

Toronto housing prices in early 1990 averaged $289,000 -- having approximately doubled since 1986 alone -- when average prices were $95,000 in Halifax and $76,000 in Regina. Despite John Crow’s interest rates, which have in recent months caused a major fall in housing prices nation-wide, Toronto’s home prices have made it the most expensive city in North America for a home-owning family to live in.

A survey of eighty-three of the world’s most expensive cities published by a Geneva-based organization released in May, 1990 showed that Toronto ranks as the most expensive on this continent, ahead of New York, Chicago and Washington. The study was based on a basket of 151 products, including food consumed at home, alcohol, tobacco, clothing, transport, sports and leisure, but not including housing. Toronto was the most expensive city in the Western hemisphere.

During the 1970s, almost half of the new immigrants to Canada were understandably attracted to Metro by its strong industrial base and employment opportunities. It continues to be a magnet for at least a quarter of all immigrants to Canada and in 1988, 35 per cent of newcomers located in Toronto. The unemployment rate, at 4.1 per cent in mid-1990, was among the lowest in the country. In the 1988 Annual Report of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, the chairman of its Council wrote: "It is no secret that the very many who flock to Metro see us today as a safe and vibrant community; the hub of Ontario’s economy; the industrial heartland of Canada, a cultural and tourist mecca

There are drawbacks. An article in the January/February 1990 issue of Saturday Night magazine, "Welcome to Toronto" by David Eddie, reflects the inevitable result of too much development. "Welcome to Toronto means," he wrote, "welcome to a typical metropolis of the late twentieth century; grid-locked, crime saturated, thoroughly compromised The lack of affordable housing and the choking traffic top the list of big city woes which afflict the greater Metro Toronto area. A survey by Goldfarb Consultants commissioned by the Toronto Star in the spring of 1989 found that a huge majority of those surveyed --85.9 per cent-- were dissatisfied with the lack of affordable housing in Metro. More than half of the residents surveyed didn’t expect to ever own a home within a commuting distance of the city, and nearly one in four families is thinking of moving away --a quarter of them because housing costs in the Metro area are too high. Some residents say housing prices and mortgage costs have been the most important topic of conversation for many months.

Peter Ustinov has praised Metropolitan Toronto as "New York City, run by the Swiss" and Canadians everywhere have reason to relish the thought. Many might even share the boosterism of a Globe and Mail editorial published in the final days of the 1980s: "While most Canadian cities generally improved their situations (especially Montréal), Toronto seemed to grow into another order of urban being. Narcissistic as the city became, it is simply descriptive to say that Toronto bloomed as a national city on a wider stage, with all the virtues and frustrations that implies. We dare to say it here first: Canadians everywhere have a right to be proud of Toronto, Canada."

Seldom grateful that unemployed neighbours, friends and family have found new opportunities in Toronto, Outer Canadians generally might fail to notice that the biggest contributor to Toronto’s housing, rent, traffic and other congestion problems is our national government itself. For example, the single federal constituency of Etobicoke-North in suburban Toronto alone received $1.3 billion in federal procurement contracts during 1987, whereas all four western provinces together with their 7.2 million residents, received only $933 million in federal contracts the same year.

I am not arguing that the Greater Toronto area should be penalized for its many successes. It is the mega-locomotive of the national economy and therefore what hurts the metropolis probably affects Outer Canada in an even more severe way as a result of the ripple effect. On the other hand, a nationalized federal government should do what it can to avoid the patterns of France and Great Britain where little of consequence is encouraged to locate outside the two national capitals.


Boarding a plane in Ottawa for Edmonton last year, I overheard two Western businessmen discuss their just-concluded visit to the national capital. One nodded in full agreement when the other shook his head and muttered, "It’s the most subsidized city in the country." My mind went back to 1969 when the $6 million cost of a special acoustics system in Ottawa’s recently-completed National Arts Centre alone approximated the entire cost of Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre, which was built at about the same time. The capital seemed to me like a modern Babylon then; it still does. What, however, are the current facts about Ottawa of special interest to Outer Canadian tax payers?

"Sorry, Ottawa, but Statistics Canada has the evidence in black and white. Almost any way you measure it, we look like Fat City," wrote the Ottawa Citizen’s Daniel Drolet earlier this year. The statistics are persuasive:

  • Ottawa families have the highest average income compared with other cities in the country --$48,600. Nearly one-third of all Ottawa households report an annual income of more than $50,000.

  • Ottawa-Carleton has fewer people at low-income levels, proportionately, than the Canadian average. Only 13.2 per cent of all households in Ottawa-Carleton reported incomes of less than $20,000. The Canadian average is 19 per cent.

  • The region has the highest proportion of university graduates -- twenty per cent more than anywhere else in the country.

  • Despite announced cuts, mostly cosmetic, by the Mulroney government in spending in the area, the National Capital Region was named by a Toronto consulting firm as the top economic performer among some twenty-seven Canadian cities during the last half of the decade. Approximately three and a half million visitors came to Ottawa during 1988. High tech and development sectors accounted for a big part of the region’s performance. The local economy seems to be growing less dependent on the federal government. In 1980, for example, the federal government employed 30.2 per cent of Ottawa-Carleton’s work force. By the end of the decade, the figure was 21.8 per cent.

In 1893, Canada’s future prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier, expressed his wish to see Ottawa become "the centre of the intellectual development of this country. . . the Washington of the North." The Ottawa Improvement Commission founded in 1899 was the first planning agency for the area. With a yearly budget of $60,000, it tried to change the image of Ottawa’s "sub-arctic lumber village" past. Following a number of name changes and enormous increases in power and budget the National Capital Commission came into being in 1959. Its primary purpose is to develop and improve the federal capital, "in order that the nature and character of the seat of the government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance." In other words, it is to make the city look really elegant at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.

Contrasted to the period when the Ottawa Improvement Commission made do with an annual grant of $60,000, the National Capital Commission’s resources are breathtaking. Total expenditures by the Commission for 1988-89 were $113 million, with the parliamentary portion amounting to $61.5 million. During 1988-89, the NCC spent $8.7 million for the development of its Confederation Boulevard, which it wants to make "as distinctive to Canada’s capital as the Mall is to Washington or the Champs Elysées is to Paris." It further spent $3.3 million on landscaping the grounds of the National Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Other prominent features of the federal presence in the Ottawa area are the many government institutions established simply because it is the capital. These buildings, particularly the Parliament Buildings, are clearly of major importance to regional tourism. It is, however, Ottawa’s cultural institutions, ostensibly established in the interests of Canadians generally, which benefit most directly and continuously the residents of the capital region. The National Arts Centre, the National Library, the National Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Science and Technology, the National War Museum, the National Postal Museum and the National Aviation Museum -- all are located in Ottawa, which demonstrates the national government’s efforts over the years to enrich primarily the cultural lives of residents of the National Capital region.

It is ironic that with all the public money spent to bring Ottawa closer to Canadians, almost half of us are unable to locate Ottawa on a map of the country according to a July 1989 Gallup poll. It appears that our national capital fails to evoke pride and a sense of nationhood and is far from a unifying symbol for citizens everywhere. In many countries, the capital is a cherished national symbol, a place around which the population can rally in times of uncertainty and trouble. London and Paris have been the seat of government throughout centuries of history. Ottawa, a relatively new capital, has largely failed to develop this symbolic status, despite the federal government’s direct efforts to provide the city with enhanced significance through increased spending.

Douglas Fullerton, a former NCC chairman, noted one of the side effects of the government’s efforts to make Ottawa an important national symbol. "A capital of growing physical appeal may have had a favourable impact on visiting Canadians, helping them accept special federal spending in the region, but the consequences are sometimes two-edged. ‘Fat City’ is a phrase that comes easily to Canadian visitors from areas in economic trouble."

Right across the Ottawa River and close to all this government-created pomp and luxury lie the three western Québec communities of Pontiac, Gatineau Valley and Papineau. In mid-1990, a report by the Québec Social Affairs Council identified all three as among the poorest in the province, with the average family income being about $25,000. Equally distressing, the unemployment levels in the three were dreadful. Those who know the by-ways of the National Capital region should be troubled by this public affluence and private poverty co-existing so close to one another. It would be far better to direct part of the huge sums spent in recent years on buildings like the Museum of Civilization ($257 million) and National Art Gallery ($162 million) on improving the skills and the lot of Western Quebeckers and other similarly depressed Canadians across the country.

The millions of dollars spent on beautifying the capital region and on such grandiose projects as the ceremonial route will win neither the affection nor the pride of Outer Canadians. A more caring and just federal government associated with the city would certainly put "the capital into the heart and mind of every Canadian" -- the elusive dream of one chairman of the NCC -- more effectively than will all the attempts to concentrate value, interest and beauty in Ottawa.


Home Books Photo Gallery About David Survey Results Useful Links Submit Feedback