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Eleven: Our Future Together

The twentieth century, we were promised by Wilfrid Laurier, would belong to Canada. Instead the country is today entangled in a constitutional knot, faces mounting economic problems and is even endangered in its existence as a single country. The demise of the Meech Lake accord, the first-ever separatist Member of Parliament elected for a new Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons, Western premiers musing publicly about their region’s fate in the new political climate -- these and other issues indicate we are at a pivotal moment in Canada’s history.

Our present crisis provides opportunity to move on and follow directions that might lead us to fulfil the dreams and expectations placed in Confederation. Trying to maintain the status quo with a series of crisis-controls and palliative measures will simply no longer do. Only courage, vision and sense of purpose can prevent our country from fragmenting into regional blocs, political and economic structures devoid of the attraction of being a part of one great country.

The late Robert Kennedy used to say: "Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’ "All of us who have not given up on a united Canada during this difficult period must not hesitate to think things that never were. The vision for the future of Canada I hold is one where the principles of regional equality and fairness will not only be reflected in national institutions, but will serve as eminent precepts for the conduct of decision- and policy-makers. Should the legitimate concerns of the disadvantaged outer parts of our country not be integral parts of the national interest and addressed accordingly? In short, we need to renew our federalism quickly and we all have a role to play in bringing this about. The goal of the exercise here is worthy of everyone’s best effort: one united Canada.

What follows is an attempt to propose remedies in the direction of overall reforms. They include constitutional, institutional and economic matters, but are neither exhaustive, comprehensive nor all-encompassing. Consistent with the thrust of this book, they seek to end our present pattern of the centre versus the peripheries which has created two classes of Canadians.

All of the proposed reforms are achievable, but they will probably require a new political leadership convinced that real changes, not cosmetic ones, have to come if we want to keep this country together. My vision of the country relates to the 1990s and beyond.

A New National Policy

We cannot build unity if the things that divide Canadians are not dealt with candidly as part of a genuine renewal process. Examining what Canada is all about must include what the country might become. Repeating worn-out clichés and appealing to a sentimental concept of Canada cannot replace serious attempts to address basic issues at the heart of the many problems facing the country.

Addressing the inequalities resulting from the division of the country into Outer and Inner Canada is vital. The outer regions contribute to the success of the centre, but for more than a century their role in Confederation has been reduced to little more than natural resource hinterlands. Our national Main Street, as the most favoured, populous and prosperous region of the country, must start to share opportunities with them.

The failure of successive federal governments to deal with and reconcile divergent regional needs has produced serious strains and cracks in the fabric of our country. Only once has Canada defined its overriding national goals. In 1879, the "National Policy" set the objectives of populating the country, linking the common market with a national transportation network, and developing our industrial base. The two central provinces, more accurately the southern parts of them, were the beneficiaries of the industrial strategy with the ensuing economic stability and political weight. The Atlantic provinces declined in relative importance and became more and more dependent on federal government handouts. This spawned a bitter sense of regional grievance, one that Western Canadians have shared fully and that is now in my own region, for various reasons, close to an all-time high since the Great Depression.

More than at any other time in our history, we need to formulate a New National Policy. Central to it must be the principle of fairness and equality of opportunities for all, including the residents of the eight outer provinces and of the two territories. All have worked hard to strengthen Inner Canada during the earlier years, often at the expense of their own unrealized potential and aspirations.

Atlantic Canada, Northern Ontario, peripheral Québec, Western Canada and the North -- all need to be fully integrated into a national partnership. Their priorities and concerns must be addressed by Ottawa in a manner sensitive to the local needs of each of them.

The alienation, isolation and hopelessness of the inhabitants of Northern Ontario’s resource-towns and the Québec single-industry peripheral communities must become a concern for national decision-makers who now dismiss them as part of an unchangeable hinterland experience. Boom-and-bust cycles can be expected to persist in these Northern communities, but innovative approaches to diversify the local economies are available. They include involvement and participation by residents in community-based development programs and the redirection of regional development funds away from centres in our industrial core. Both would bring welcome changes to local economies and improve the quality of life in remote, harsh, yet breathtakingly beautiful environments.

We need to bring Maritimers and Newfoundlanders back into Confederation as equal partners and not as the stereotyped "poor cousins." This will require serious attempts to break the cycle of the region’s dependency and reliance on Ottawa grants. There are many views on how best to move the Atlantic provinces to self-reliance, but locally devised programs usually deal best with specific problems. Greater investment in one of the region’s largest and real assets, its people, can bring a transition to self-reliance and sustainable economic development. Better joint federal and provincial programs are needed to assist Atlantic Canadians to upgrade their skills, manage new technologies, and provide more support for local research in developing new strategies and technologies. New job creation in non-traditional occupations, particularly in services across Atlantic Canada, is crucial. It would allow people to avoid the costs of migration and to reap the personal benefits of pride and confidence.

The Atlantic Economic Council proposed an Atlantic alliance, believing it would provide the region with a unified voice to help eliminate institutional barriers to growth and to facilitate access to modern communication technologies. It might also increase the demand for Atlantic products both within Canada and abroad and enhance their creation through a better coordinated development policy. Products derived from resources common throughout the region should, in particular, find opportunities for improved access to American and European markets. The entire region must present a unified voice in the planning of national trade policy and in negotiations over marine boundaries and fisheries management.

The expansion of capabilities in such activities as developmental software is also important for the Atlantic region. Its industrial base must be diversified, all opportunities to develop new products and services pursued. Special emphasis must be placed on high and medium technology operations, on activities that are "knowledge-intensive." A range of human skills need to be further developed. Better rail transportation is another part of Atlantic Canadian needs. Residents have long depended on rail passenger transportation, more than most other Canadians. It might not be feasible to restore the regionally-oriented freight rate system of the Intercolonial railway before 1912, which did so much to promote regional manufacturing, but all options should be fully considered in light of the harm done by earlier national governments. Certainly the damage done to the region by the most recent VIA Rail cutbacks should be undone as quickly as possible.

Western Canadians believe their region is vital to the overall nature of Canada. They have sought the democratization of institutions and a pluralistic society in which no cultural background is given preference. Yet, Westerners share the conviction that our potential in human and national resources has been too little explored and developed.

The "New West" is going to be built on, among other things, technological advances in processing natural resources. Ottawa must assist in this process rather than continuing to indicate that it believes Westerners are all wheat farmers. A coherent strategy is needed to achieve western diversification. A first step is obtaining a fair share from Ottawa of regional development spending, federal procurement and export financing. More investment in the region’s real asset, its people, is needed to achieve a more skilled and mobile population for new technologies.

The four Western premiers, during their July 1990 conference, discussed general objectives and a common agenda for the region to follow in order to overcome challenges. They agreed to ensure closer co-operation and co-ordination among the Western provinces and a reduction in inter-provincial barriers to commerce. The region also needs to define a position on the needs of agriculture and of the food industry in respect to international trade. Improved regional science and technology and research and development efforts can prepare the West for a host of technological changes. An improved information network about new products with greater distribution to the regional business community across the four Western provinces and beyond is badly needed. New export opportunities need to be sought in part because export-driven growth encourages diversification. A good business climate has to be maintained as the success of most initiatives will depend largely on the private sector. Foreign investment has to be attracted to technology sectors and more transfers of proven foreign technologies into the region are necessary.

Western disaffection has to be dealt with, not dismissed casually as a regional phenomenon nurtured by stereotyped Westerners. Westerners need to know that their concerns are ongoing priorities for national leaders. The fact that so many Westerners today feel alienated from the national government shows that the present government, like virtually all before it, is unable to see the West as a fully equal partner. In this context, the Triple E Senate -- the product largely of Western thinking on how to bring the voice of all outer regions more effectively into Ottawa -- must not be lost in the aftermath of Meech Lake’s collapse. Westerners must continue their campaign to democratize the upper house.

Seven and a half million Westerners seek major changes on both the attitudinal and institutional fronts in Ottawa, but economic and political equality with Ontario and Québec continues to elude our region eight decades after the last two Western provinces joined the union. The more we hear about regional fairness, the more elusive the concept appears to become. National leaders must put their rhetoric into practice in all corners of the federal government. Some national institutions will simply have to be forced to represent all regions fairly; the issue will be an important symbol of national unity for any national government in the 1990s. A host of changes in discriminatory practices inherent to our "executive democracy" under which Westerners have struggled needlessly for decades must be completed rapidly. Then, and only then, will the region be a full partner in Confederation, and the political party in office achieving them become a truly effective instrument of national reconciliation.

The North essentially defines the Canadian personality and sets us apart as a nation. Throughout history we have failed to develop a fair partnership with the residents of at least forty per cent of our national land mass. We ignore the special character of the region and the uniqueness of its peoples and continue to impose on them southern ideas and structures, mostly originating in Western Europe, that were not designed to accommodate northern circumstances. What we really ought to decide is whether we want the North to continue to be a part of Canada. If so, are we prepared to do what is necessary to provide the political and economic conditions in which native and non-native Northerners can govern themselves and be themselves?

Such a policy would also reinforce the Canadian presence across the North. The ongoing issue of Canadian Arctic sovereignty resurfaced with the voyage of the American ice-breaker, "the Polar Sea"-- many saw it as a direct challenge to Canadian sovereignty over the waters of the archipelago. Canadians clearly want these northern parts to remain Canadian. The residents are Canadian Inuit; new constitutional arrangements must be achieved to recognize them as equal Canadians. Our unique national character should enable us to accommodate differing cultural, political and economic interests in Canada’s North as elsewhere. We have here a rare chance to demonstrate to the world that Canadians really are unique in that they can live successfully with differences.

Until now, Canada’s frontiers have lacked a spirit of belonging and a common sense of purpose with the rest of the nation. Disappointment and frustration with the terms of Confederation in distant corners of the country have torn at the very fabric of Canadian nationhood. In order to preserve the country, we must now respect our frontiers in ways which give us all a unifying sense of national purpose, fired by the effort of meeting a common challenge.

The only region widely seen today as a "frontier" is our North, with its richness in human and natural resources. Some Southerners came, lured by its many promises, and left, taking out all that could be turned into profit, bringing disruption and destruction to the centuries-old ways of life there. We must re-invent this frontier in order to repair the damage that the greed behind the "roads to resources" drive has caused. Canada, as a whole, needs the balance that the ecologically-sensitive North needs -- the balance between desired economic development and preservation of an awesome environmental heritage that belongs to all Canadians. Above all, we must bring justice and a dignified way of life to the once self-reliant and proud native peoples, who face poverty and discrimination, powerlessness and assimilation within their own homeland.

In short, the region and its peoples have to be finally brought into Confederation as equal partners, enriching us all. This is the real challenge of the North and Canada.

Related in part to the subordination of the North is the ongoing subjugation of aboriginal Canadians across the country. No other Outer Canadians have been treated worse, or for longer, by successive national governments. Under the Indian Act, enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada and incredibly still in full force today, Ottawa mandated its Indian Affairs Department to control virtually every aspect of Indian life: land use, education, politics, municipal and provincial government matters, economic development. Even some Indian Band Council resolutions must still be approved by the department before going into effect. In brief, the statute purports to encourage Indians, but in practice affords little respect to their culture, religion or traditional way of life. I agree with George Erasmus, President of the Assembly of First Nations, that Ottawa still views aboriginal Canadians as "wards of the government with no real ability to influence their communities."

A positive consequence of the barricades at Oka and Merrier Bridge was the widespread agreement among Canadians that it is time to end the "dialogue of the deaf" between governments and aboriginal peoples. A more serious effort by Ottawa to complete land claims negotiations is essential. Our First Nations also have a good deal to teach other Canadians about self-government, which some of them practised even before Europeans reached North America. I support the key recommendation of the 1983 House of Commons Special Committee on Indian Self-Government that Ottawa must establish a new relationship with the Indian First Nations and that an essential element of the relationship must be Indian self-government.

Economic Development

Despite decades of intervention by governments, regional economic disparities in Canada persist. Gaps in employment opportunities widen and stagnation remains a fact of life in many remote communities throughout Outer Canada. A multitude of Ottawa-designed measures to reduce economic disparities between regions have not brought significant improvements, and the need for a new approach to the problem is evident. The notion of using community programs as tools for economic and business development is thus gaining support in Outer Canada. Residents of small isolated communities in hinterland regions face the choice between a continued dependence on welfare and emigration, or active involvement in local development with assistance. They are taking up the challenge of revitalizing their economies. They are also better aware of their economic problems and opportunities than are officials in distant centres. So many "top-down" policies, devised by distant federal and provincial bureaucrats, have proved unsuccessful. Thriving "bottom-up" initiatives undertaken by isolated communities suggest this might be the welcome break in rethinking economic development across our country.

The concept of locally generated initiatives as a tool for economic development in depressed communities is still at the experimental stage. Already there is enough evidence that this approach can revitalize the economies of small and isolated communities. Paradoxically, the federal government has a role to play in encouraging decision-making and self-help through local development organizations. No additional spending is required; it is sufficient that the assistance presently earmarked for the region be channelled to local development organizations, and free from bureaucratic domination. This assistance should provide the resources enabling these local organizations to create information networks, to train people and to explore new market opportunities. Smaller and more isolated communities must have priority over urban centres in obtaining government funding because they face more difficulties in acquiring the money and business information they need.

Local development approaches will not work economic magic; nor can they be panaceas for all economic hardships. Yet they present a viable opportunity for residents of remote parts of the country, if instead of turning to welfare or emigration, they are allowed to shape their own future in the environment in which they grew up and want to live. The involvement of the federal government in assisting such efforts would be seen as a caring response to the needs and concerns of Outer Canadians, and proof that the vision of prosperous Canada extends to all communities. As additional funding is not anticipated for such a strategy -- an important consideration in a period of fiscal restraint -- policy makers should seriously consider this concept as a tool for improving the economic viability of stagnating communities. The payoffs might be measured in terms of human dignity, an improved quality of life for Outer Canadians and a boosted economic vitality for their depressed communities, as well as a changed perception of the national government as being responsive to local concerns.

Our national policy-makers tend to devise most fiscal, monetary and other economic policies for the entire country on the basis of national averages. Also, some of their policies are specifically targeted to deal with Central Canada’s problems. However, sharp discrepancies in regional unemployment rates and the economic performance of provinces suggest that we cease these practices; monetary policies intended to cool the economies in the centre often destroy the economic health of Outer Canada. Ottawa programs and initiatives can no longer be designed on the basis of average national needs as these often have little or limited application for the needs of individual regions and local communities.

More than 75 percent of the new jobs created since 1983 were in Ontario and Québec. This shows that unemployed Canadians in Outer Canada do not have equal access to job training and employment opportunities. Current accelerating trends in national employment patterns indicate that slow-growth regions and isolated communities will be further disadvantaged.

During the last decade, virtually all of the job creation in the country took place in the service sector. Now, the development opportunities for service-led growth in regions which lack diversified or specialized service centres are not bright. The increasing importance of the service industries, mostly concentrated in relatively few major cities, suggests that regions lacking significant metropolitan centres will face developmental problems.

The national labour market in the 1990s as identified by leading economic analysts will be characterized by increasing employment in service activities, more jobs requiring high knowledge, and further concentration of highly skilled and well paying jobs in large centres. These developments and the way we respond to them will determine both our regional employment opportunities and our overall position in the global economy. Quick and decisive efforts by the national government are needed to bring about adjustments. Effective education and training programs must take these trends into account and serve to develop the human resources of our Outer regions. Investment in people is our best stake in the future.

We must also re-examine our education and training practices. There is mounting evidence that many entering the labour force lack numeracy and language skills, making further training difficult. Also, the training programs of both federal and provincial governments which do not respond to the needs of the labour market must be redesigned: if redundant, inflexible or irrelevant they should be eliminated.

The world is becoming much more competitive and technology is evolving rapidly. To maintain lifestyles we are accustomed to, we must compete with vibrantly developing economies everywhere. Canada’s living standards are already falling in relation to those of other industrial nations and our overall competitiveness is slipping due to declining industrial efficiency and limited research and development effort. According to the 1990 World Competitiveness Report, Canada ranks fifth among 23 industrial countries in international competition following Japan, Switzerland, the United States and West Germany. A year earlier, we ranked fourth.

The energy and attention of Canadians has been focused on the Meech Lake accord tribulations for too long. We need, instead, to deal with the way we prepare Canadians for the challenges of an increasingly technological world. We need a concentrated effort by Ottawa and all of the provinces to respond to the challenge.

A Regional Perspective

The remedies to many of Outer Canada’s legitimate grievances are within our national grasp if elected and appointed policy makers in Ottawa can be persuaded to significantly change their attitudes and a host of policies and laws. Regional justice must become a major Ottawa priority, continuously reinforced by an iron political will from every government in Ottawa. For the sake of genuine national unity, any prime minister worthy of the office must be ready to "walk their talk" on the issue.

For most of Canada’s 123 years, southern Ontario and metropolitan Québec have offered models of dynamic, diversified, and stable communities in what is now internationally regarded as one of the most successful federal democracies on earth. In terms of Inner Canada by itself, the grand Canadian experiment has succeeded probably beyond any of its founders’ dreams. It seems unthinkable to many Outer Canadians that significant numbers of Montréalers now favour effectively breaking their ties with the rest of Canada as the recent by-election in Montréal suggests. Has the virus of secession, evident in so many nations across the world in a perestroika age, reached even the core of Québec?

Some in our three favoured cities continue to believe that the real Canada does not exist beyond the viewing distance from Toronto’s CN Tower, Montréal’s Place Ville Marie, or Ottawa’s Peace Tower. If you’ve real talent, they think, you’ll relocate from Outer Canada and become "movers and shakers" where the real action is. Do they really believe that in a world boiling over with secessionists from Lithuania to Tibet that Canada will survive into the 21st century as one country if Ottawa policy makers continue to treat Inner Canadians as their only real constituency?

Within the European Community, as the 1992 unified market fast approaches, large regional disparities exist, but there is at least a growing consensus among Eurocrats and European parliamentarians alike that they must be reduced with all possible speed. From a Canadian perspective, it was facile to argue, as Pierre Trudeau did more than two decades ago, that "the road to prosperity lies in the direction of international integration"; Quebeckers, unlike West Europeans, have never known the presumed advantages of full sovereignty. Many Quebeckers today clearly believe that their cultural and language differences demand full nationhood with possible economic ties to the rest of Canada to be discussed after separation. This reality gives a special urgency to the regional justice issue now facing our country.

The entire national government deck must be reshuffled so as not to be stacked in favour of Inner Canada. For example, if the chartered banks can be shown to be lending a disproportionate share of their depositors’ money to finance realty projects in and around Metro Toronto, a new Minister of Finance should exercise some "moral suasion." Is it better to have yet another mammoth commercial tower in downtown Toronto, or to ensure that small businesses across the country (which already employ more than 40 per cent of us) have better access to bank credit than most now do? This heresy will evoke outrage from the executives of our "Big Six" banks; but if these companies are paying virtually no federal income tax, few individuals are likely to take their howls seriously.

Some judicious carrots and sticks will probably also be necessary to encourage new manufacturing plants and future-oriented businesses to locate across the country. Part of the problem is business culture: too many business people think their facility must be within Inner Canada to be "on the varsity." Ottawa must use the host of levers it holds, including its procurement policies, to achieve a more regionally-balanced manufacturing sector. One obvious means is to encourage newcomers to Canada to settle across Outer Canada. There are limits to this, of course. But current practice seems to perpetuate the bias: one complaint heard about our Hong Kong immigration office is that officials there continue to encourage applicants to choose Toronto or Montréal as their destinations. Wouldn’t an Immigration Minister who cares about this issue attempt to ensure that all our missions abroad try more vigorously, to persuade immigrants to locate across the entire country?

In the case of tourism, why are so many of the national government’s new tourist attractions located in Ottawa-Hull? One initiative in that respect could develop a new formula by which Tourism Canada, when spending abroad on promotion of Canada, would provide a leg-up to peripheral communities whose economy depends on tourism. Instead of borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to build the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Civilization in the National Capital region, a more nationalized government might have spent a fraction of such sums attempting to spread the National Gallery collection across the country. The Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology near Drumheller, Alberta, completed in 1987 and run by the provincial government, illustrates the point. Built at a fraction of the cost of Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization, it has already attracted more than 600,000 visitors on the basis of its exhibits. Ottawa should be putting its available museum and tourism dollars into similar projects across Canada.

More than ever, our major electronic and print media are concentrated in Toronto and Montréal. In consequence, the news that most Canadians watch or read across the country is filtered through the priorities of Inner Canadian editors. It is essential for national balance and fairness that the attention of the country does not always focus on issues from the perspective of our two largest cities.

The CBC is one of the most vital links between our regions and is essential to enhance our cultural identity. Its mandate should require that it make issues better known to Canadians: region to region, province to province, coast to coast. Regional programming for the most part continues to be done according to Inner Canadian perceptions of regional values and traditions. It should, instead, strive to produce quality productions reflecting authentic regional concerns and culture. The unique identity of communities such as Corner Brook, La Ronge or Iqaluit should also be given the opportunity to be seen and heard nationally. Such coverage is a prerequisite for a better mutual understanding among Canadians in diverse regions and a shared feeling of belonging to one country. This is the real challenge to both public and private media across Canada.

Our national government is a highly centralized organization and a disproportionate number of its key decision-makers have experience only within Inner Canada. For this and other reasons, the capacity of our federal government to represent regional interests and take into account regional circumstances is grossly inadequate. Ottawa officials play key roles in the decision-making process: they are shaping the policies of the government. Major decisions are normally made at the middle and senior levels of departments. Despite their protests to the contrary, cabinet ministers rarely have much influence on the first draft of a policy position paper or on cabinet documents. It is vital to look at the federal bureaucracy from a regional perspective in order to see who are the usually faceless personalities behind policies that affect Canadians in every corner of the country. Better regional representation in the public service could provide more effective participation by Canadians from Outer Canada in national decision-making. Senior public servants must in future be more aware of existing opportunities and limitations in the regions before setting policy; they must be made more responsive to specific needs of the region and more sensitive to regional circumstances.

A few years ago, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, Joe Clark, organized a "cultural immersion" for some six federal deputy ministers in Edmonton. The, seminar conducted by prominent Albertans, was intended to give them a sense of Western Canada, to dispel some old stereotypes and to sensitize them to the needs of the region. It was reportedly a highly successful endeavour and should be expanded and continued on a regular basis. The awareness Ottawa-based officials have of Canada as a whole could also be reinforced by rotating personnel between headquarters in Ottawa and the regions.

A Constitutional Convention

In the post-Meech era, it is difficult to foresee successful constitutional negotiations during the next two or three years. Many Canadians were deeply offended by the "top-down" first ministers’ process of last June’s eleventh hour negotiations to save the Meech Lake accord. The next stage in updating our constitution must have real democratic legitimacy.

The Federal Republic of Germany’s constitutional convention of 1948 might be a model, though it would have to be adapted to Canadian circumstances. One of its appeals for provincial governments is that the West German basic law established a federal system of government which entrenched effective safeguards to protect the rights of the eleven German states. These include a constitutional court, half of whose members are appointed by ministers of the state governments. Rotating and instructed delegates of the state governments constitute the upper house or Bundesrat. The Federal Republic of Germany continues today as a genuinely federal state; the state governments have not been reduced to being mere subordinates of the central government as so often happens in federal systems. The Federal Republic is, today, one of the most successful democracies established since the Second World War. Canadians everywhere can be impressed by the effective guarantees of individual rights and freedoms enshrined in West German basic law. How did it come about?

The West Germans, with a population of 45 million in 1948 and a territory about one-half that of our Yukon, chose sixty-five individuals to draft their new constitution. Canadians and their governments might now agree that sixty-five is a workable number of delegates for a Canadian constitutional convention despite our size and regional differences. Allocating sixty-five positions would be difficult to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, but with good will on all sides it can be achieved. Since Canada, unlike many other democracies, has never had a constituent assembly, it would be healthy to have our citizens elect directly a majority of the delegates.

Thirty-three could be elected on a province-wide basis in elections held on the same day across Canada using voters’ lists compiled at the previous federal election. In larger provinces, it might be more practical to elect, say, one delegate from each of a number of districts. Candidates could campaign either as independents or with the endorsement of a political party. No tax monies would be available to subsidize election campaigns, but daily allowances could be paid to delegates for their time at the convention.

Direct election of thirty-three delegates might be rejected by all thirteen governments (including the two territorial ones) for reasons of cost at a time when many taxpayers are wary of any proposal involving more spending of their money. In that case the two levels of government could each appoint thirty-two delegates on the same basis as was done by the legislatures of the West German states to provide representation for all political parties represented in the various assemblies. The remaining thirty-two delegates might be chosen by federal and provincial legislatures according to rules worked out by a federal-provincial conference of first ministers.

The Canadian convention could adopt the basic structures and procedures of the German convention for the best of all possible reasons: they worked. There would be little need for experts to prepare a draft constitution: we already have the BNA Act and many other modern federal constitutions, including the West German basic law, as points of departure and of reference.

A major issue would be whether a new constitution adopted by the constitutional convention would be binding without ratification by Parliament and all ten provincial legislatures. The West German experience indicates that it might be more realistic not to require approval by a majority in any. The premise would be that a majority-approved constitution should not be a creation of Parliament and the legislatures, but rather an enactment of the will of the Canadian people, the real source of both federal and provincial authority. The constitutional convention would represent the Canadian people as a whole.

There could be a condition that unless a majority in each of the thirteen legislatures subsequently ratified the proposed constitution in a free vote, our existing constitution and conventions would continue unaltered in their entirety. This would encourage all delegates to look for compromise-formulas thought to be acceptable to a majority in each of the legislatures. In providing such a veto to a slim majority of politicians in every legislative assembly in the land, the whole process might, however, become a huge waste of time, money, and national goodwill.

I am fully aware that, whatever form the new constitution may take, it will inevitably appear to be less than satisfactory to some of the delegates, to a minority or majority of legislators in each of the federal and provincial legislatures, and to some of the Canadian people. Dissenters might well prefer the status quo to be maintained. Yet national events, in particular the present mood of public opinion in Québec, unmistakably suggest that existing arrangements need to be updated to reflect the realities of today. After what happened in June of 1990, the current political and constitutional practices could result in the eventual dismemberment of our country. Like the West Germans in 1948, we have no choice but to entrench in a new constitution all the features of a truly federal state, a nation in which Canadians, wherever they live, will feel themselves to be full partners.

An important preliminary step to the convening of a constitutional convention should be public hearings held in every province and territory to hear from Canadians. Those on a panel doing the listening could be men and women chosen by members of our national family, including the English- and French-speaking, aboriginals, the West, Atlantic Canada, the North, Québec, Ontario, and the third of our people of origin in neither the United Kingdom nor France. The panel might produce a first draft of what it had heard and circulate it broadly for further public discussion. Once this process is completed, delegates to the constitutional convention could be elected by any method recommended by the panel in time. A national referendum might well be recommended by both the panel and the constitutional convention to ratify any constitutional recommendations.

Senate Reform

Our unloved Canadian Senate was fatally flawed from Confederation onward because senators were both appointed for life and named by the Prime Minister, a double defect completely incompatible with producing effective regional voices in the Canadian Senate. There is now growing public support across Canada for major Senate reform, and possibly enough public awareness that a reformed upper chamber is essential if our national government is to work the way it should.

We Outer Canadians need assurance that our concerns will become continuously part of the national policy agenda, for the first time since 1867. The recent long overdue appointment to the Senate of the first-ever elected Senator, Stan Waters, as well as a rather limp-wristed statement of good intention about Senate reform in the first ministers’ political agreement of June, 1990 might be signs on the wall. Perhaps it has finally been realized that a remodelling of the Senate aimed at balancing our federal system cannot be postponed any longer. Still, a meaningful mechanism leading to the overhaul of our upper chamber is not yet in place. With the Meech Lake accord’s failure, some even consider Senate reform a dead issue. I believe that the momentum originating in the West to elect senators cannot now be stopped. As we redefine the country’s institutions, Senate reform will reappear on the agenda with even more urgency.

Our country faces a set of challenges that would be daunting even at the best of times. The events of the year 1990, a critical one in our history, reinforce a need for a new constitutional deal that would foster harmony and consensus among the various parts and peoples of Canada, the pressing need to reduce a staggering national debt without recourse to a crippling new national consumption tax and the need to build an economy fit to meet the requirements of a highly competitive world-market. A new test is how to harness the negative energy and emotion released by the failure of the Meech Lake accord; how to channel it into a constructive process leading to reforms; how to make sure that these reforms will reflect the real needs and concerns of all parties involved in the Meech Lake process. To meet the demands of our time, we need political leaders who will rise to the occasion. Disillusionment with our current leading politicians probably makes it impossible for us not only to trust them again, but also to believe they can reconcile our differences and bring about healing.

The intellectual vacuum that now permeates Ottawa seems incapable of reconciling the contradictory forces at play. Nor can it deal effectively with regional demands and at the same time rekindle a national spirit of unity. We require national leaders capable of setting a clear agenda for the current political climate and of bringing us together. These must be men and women who have the respect and trust of Canadians generally, and ultimately people whose vision of our country includes regional fairness in all government policies, equal economic opportunity for Canadians everywhere and personal integrity. Above all, we need a higher sense of national purpose and a redefinition of our national objectives, policies and institutions which must better reflect our differences. The concerns of all of us, no matter where we live, must become a part of national policy-making. Only in these terms can we find the nation and the unity the vast majority of Canadians are seeking.


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