CHAPTER 4
CANADA AND THE SEARCH FOR UNITY

A harmonious combination of parts

The societies that have grown up primarily within the framework of the provinces, and the French and English realities which have marked Canadian history for centuries, should not be considered as problem areas, simply to be managed and controlled. They are features of Canadian life to which we, and we think most of our countrymen, attach value. Canada would be impoverished by their absence, and Canadians would be diminished if they were denied the enriching experience derived from the often creative interplay between two linguistic and cultural orientations and among a diversity of regions and provinces. We do not want our children and grandchildren to be deprived of this heritage.

The goal of reform, then, is not to thwart or deny these realities which are an integral part of Canadian life, but to accommodate them more adequately, to accept and channel them within Canada as a whole so that all might prosper from their presence.

Balance is of critical importance in all free societies. It is doubly so in a federal and culturally plural state; balance between "province-building" and "nation-building," between the construction of a distinct society in Quebec and its membership and participation in Canada as a whole, between the will of the majority and the needs of the minority, between the claims of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the interests of other citizens.

But in terms of what criteria is the balance to be struck? The answer, in our opinion, must derive from some conception of justice and of a common good which is or ought to be the shared possession of all Canadians. We believe that this conception is as central to the resolution of the Confederation crisis as it is elusive and difficult to define. Indeed, the notion of a common good is a way of expressing the consensus that must support a free society.

One of the principal sources of the crisis is the erosion of the belief that the current arrangements of the country promote the common good. Consider some of the general grievances expressed by members of various groups. Many believe that the good of the whole is being promoted at the expense of their own welfare; they are called upon to make sacrifices for the sake of others and they receive little or nothing in return. They feel excluded from participating in the shaping of the common good, but they are expected to carry the burdens. They are left unsupported in their time of need, and consistently receive less than they consider to be their due.

Is this not the substance of which the unity debate is composed, whether the grievors are governments, language minorities, ethno-cultural groups or native people? The just balance for which we are searching is to be struck in terms of the common good. One can rank competing claims and ask people to exercise self-restraint by reference to the common good, so long as the good is in fact common, common to them as well as to others in the society.

We would suggest that a useful way of assessing the extent to which the common good has been achieved is to examine whether or not people are receiving their fare share, for it is in sharing equitably with one another that we express a sense of justice and a common commitment to the welfare of the whole community.

Sharing, at least from the point of view of the Confederation crisis, takes two forms. First, there is the matter of how the power of the community is assigned and who exercises it. The extent to which power has been justly shared is an important factor in the current debate, not simply in the political and constitutional realm, but in economic and social life as well. The second form which sharing takes relates to the manner in which the benefits and burdens of Confederation are distributed. The equitable sharing of benefits and burdens among Canadians of all sorts and conditions is an issue which permeates our social life, but it assumes a particular importance in the debate on Confederation.

Our position, then, is this. Duality and regionalism lie at the heart of the Confederation crisis. We plan to employ them as yardsticks for examining some of our major institutions and practices, and for assessing and suggesting proposals for change. Where an existing practice or institution is being reviewed, or a new one being suggested, we will ask: To what extent and in what sense does it usefully advance the recognition of duality (or regionalism)? We believe that any general reform effort, however well intended, which fails to enhance duality or which offends the principle of regionalism is unlikely to increase harmony and unity in Canada. Our criterion to determine what constitutes enhanced recognition is the principle of sharing, more particularly power sharing and the equitable distribution of benefits.

Some benefits of Canada

We have been speaking in the last few pages in rather abstract terms about the common good which justifies the association of free peoples in a federal country. Here we would like to be more specific in indicating what we have in mind, and speak plainly about some of the major benefits of Canada as a place to live and to raise one's children.

By international standards we are a people extravagantly blessed with the things necessary to a good life; in a global perspective, no one can deny that our problems, whether they are economic, constitutional or linguistic, pale almost to insignificance in comparison with the violence, cruelty, deprivation and weary despair that wrack so many other countries of the world.

Our country fronts on two oceans and a northern sea, giving us access to all the world and harbouring immense treasures beneath their surface. While some of the arid countries of the Middle East consider towing giant icebergs from the polar ice-cap to satisfy their thirst for fresh water, Canada has more of it than any other country in the world. Its forests seem almost inexhaustible, and oil and gas and minerals of all kinds lie in vast quantities beneath the soil and rock. The farmlands of the prairies produce grain so prolifically that we have problems storing it, while other nations starve for want of the necessities of life.

For its people, the land provides a vast terrain on which to work and play, and supports a wide variety of lifestyles and possibilities from which to choose: the millions of Canadians who have come from other lands in the twentieth century to make their homes here would readily attest to that. We possess, then, a rich endowment of human, as well as natural resources, evoking in its variety the land itself. Despite the variety, however, there are certain minimum standards of education and health services, income and shelter which almost all Canadians enjoy, and which are increasingly being treated by the community as social rights or entitlements.

In addition, whether by good luck or good management, Canada has been a free and peaceful society, marked by a creditable though by no means perfect record in civil rights and by an infrequent resort to violence or civil conflict to express grievances and obtain redress. The manner in which the Parti Québécois is pursuing its goal of sovereignty-association is grounded solidly on these characteristics of Canadian society.

The combination of the physical domain of Canada and the accomplishments of twenty three million people has produced a country which has been a significant international actor, especially since the second World War. Not a big power by international standards, its middle-rank position has kept it out of direct involvement in most of the conflicts that have preoccupied the world scene recently, but has left it with the reputation and resources necessary to play an often beneficial role in the re-establishment and maintenance of peace.

These, then, are a few of the benefits which we as Canadians enjoy and to which our children have access. Many of the citizens who spoke to us on our tour were clearly very conscious of these advantages. Indeed, lying beneath the grievances and the criticism expressed to us in our tour, we discerned among a great many Canadians an intense love of their country and a deep concern for its future. Often this feeling, if it was made explicit at all, was expressed with a certain shyness, as if patriotism was either a private or a problematic affair. This tendency has the unhappy effect of making patriotism a subterranean thing which is difficult to see, difficult to share and difficult to build on. But can one build a loyalty to the whole on the basis of a country's diversity? The Swiss have managed to root their commitment to diversity in their hearts and in the foundation and institutions of their country so that it has become their dominant shared value; in this area, Canada would do well to emulate Switzerland.

One reason for the magnetism of the Parti Québécois is the promise it offers of participation in a bold and exciting collective enterprise. Political life in Quebec has been given new purpose and significance in the last two decades by the sense of a people taking its destiny into its own-hands. The pending referendum on sovereignty-association is the most recent and the most dramatic expression of this phenomenon. The symbolic importance and appeal of these factors should not be lost sight of; a citizen, in speaking to the Task Force, made the point succinctly when he said: "it takes a dream to fight a dream." For our part, we believe that the vision which supports the preservation and reorientation of this country is as positive as, and more compelling than, that which supports the Parti Québécois option.

We believe that there are three social objectives which Canadians might reflect on, and which might form the basis of much useful private initiative and public policy formation: to treat diversity as a national resource rather than as a social problem; to encourage greater sensitivity to the Canadian dimension of our lives; and to seek to understand as well as possible the major forces operating on Canadian society and to develop public policies and institutions on the basis of that understanding.

Three objectives for Canadians

1. Diversity as a source of strength

The first, then, is to encourage by all means possible the positive understanding of diversity as a source of strength in Canada. At its most basic, this is a matter of self-interest, for it is very clear to us that the social and cultural diversity of Canada is stronger than its political institutions and will predominate, should there ever be a head-on clash.

That it is a great deal more than self-interest many people would agree. Nevertheless, we Canadians often say it with our lips, but do not feel it in our hearts, or live it in our daily existence. Instead of growing sympathy and understanding between French and English-speaking Canadians, for example, we seem often to be saddled on both sides with continuing ignorance coupled with uneasiness mounting occasionally to fear.

In considering diversity as a source of national strength, we would also wish to advance what might be called the "shelter theory." A large and diversified country can provide shelter for its members from the cold winds of economic change and political upheaval that sweep the international world; Canada possesses incomparably more strength on the international scene, diplomatically, economically and militarily, than would any of its constituent units standing alone.

Internally (and this is the other facet of the shelter theory), a large country like Canada is an association which makes it possible for the strong to support and assist the weak; and Canada has had ample evidence out of its historical experience to demonstrate that times change rapidly, and that those who are helping others today may be in need of help tomorrow. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Maritime colonies were as prosperous as any in British North America: today the Maritime provinces depend heavily on the transfer of funds from other parts of the country through programs financed or directly administered by the central government. Though it now seems hard to believe, Alberta, just a couple of generations ago, was dirt poor; the memory of this fact, combined with a historic sense of grievance toward the "East" and a provincial economy which is largely dependent on oil and natural gas, helps to explain Alberta's ardent defence of provincial rights in the resource sector.

This brings us to an important point. The shelter theory only works domestically if the various communities in the country feel that by and large they have been given a fair shake. A long-standing sense of exploitation and neglect is barren soil in which to seed a commitment to the common good and to the principle of sharing one's good fortune. Canada has had its share of success and failure in the area, but one way in which we have been much less effective than we should have been is in explaining to ourselves and one another what membership in this country involves-what one has a duty to provide and a right to expect.

To rectify this situation will require action on many fronts. We need to explain more fully and clearly why we are doing many of the good things we are doing, such as our program of equalization payments. We need to ensure that our educational systems reveal the dynamism and variety of the Canadian experience to our children and awaken their curiosity about their fellow citizens who share this vast land. We need to insist that our communications network actually communicate, that it send messages back and forth among Canadians, rather than receive one-way transmissions from the United States. Our scientific and cultural agencies need to enhance our common appreciation -of the distinctive things which are done by different people in different parts of Canada. We need to promote programs of travel and exchange within Canada so that individual Canadians can gain some experience of one another. And behind and beyond all this, we need to work systematically to rectify injustices and correct instances of unfair treatment wherever these are discovered.

These, then, are our thoughts on the first broad objective which Canadians might reflect on; namely, to strengthen the genuine appreciation of diversity as a source of Canada's strength and identity.

2. The enhancement of the Canadian dimension

The second broad objective is to ensure the vitality of the "Canadian dimension;" that is, to ensure that there is both an effective government and a form of loyalty and respect for citizens to attach themselves to as Canadians. The Canadian dimension should serve to sum up and express the range of cultural affiliations and identities we each experience in our own way, and to reveal them as something to be shared among us all.

We can speak vigorously about the second objective because of what we have already said about the first. If Canadian unity is built upon an appreciation of diversity, then we have no hesitation in arguing for the enhanced recognition of the Canadian dimension; indeed, a feeling of security arising out of the respect-even affection-with which one's own identity is treated is more likely to increase than to diminish the loyalty one feels toward the association which extends that respect.

We need to strive to create a society which is as open as possible, which encourages and welcomes the contributions of its diverse communities, and which is imaginative in finding ways to permit common enterprises to go forward without eroding the distinctiveness and individuality of the contributions. Many native peoples, for example, argued before us that their cultural outlook and approach to life contain lessons from which others might benefit, and it is clear to us that the majority society has a long way to go in finding a way of learning from the native experience in Canada.

We also need to stimulate a consciousness on the part of the participating units in Canada that their local activities are likely to have a national aspect to them, and that some thought should be given to how their particular activities and aspirations fit into the whole and contribute to the country's general well-being.

In the course of our history we have successfully carried out some massive and impressive developments, either on a national or regional basis; such things, for example, as the opening of the west and the building of the railways, the creation of a Canadian broadcasting network, and the giant hydroelectric projects of Quebec, Labrador and British Columbia bear witness to this fact.

But we need to find the knack of productive cooperation in many of those spheres and activities which are going to provide the challenge of the future. Some of our economic difficulties, we believe, may be attributed in part to our present incapacity to cooperate creatively among ourselves so that we can compete successfully with some of the other major trading nations of the world. This is an issue where one must expect governments and their agencies to show some leadership, but it extends far beyond them into our industrial and commercial sector, and raises questions about cooperation and conflict between firms, between workers and management, and between the various enterprises and functions that must necessarily contribute to a major economic project or international marketing venture.

3. The adaptation of political Institutions

Mention of governments brings us to our third and final broad objective; namely, to ensure that as Canadians we work to adapt our constitutional structures and public policies to Canadian society as it evolves, and not the reverse. Put as starkly as this, it seems to be a point of view that it is hard to disagree with, but we have discerned considerable evidence of the contrary practice and attitude. As our society and economy evolve, it seems to us that the task of the politician is to seek to understand the forces at work as clearly as he can and to assist in the continual adjustment of public institutions, and formulation of policies and practices that is a necessary consequence. This is going on all the time, of course, but a clearer acceptance of it as a natural and continuous process in the twentieth century would make life easier for us all.

The impact on Canada of the shifting patterns of international trade and economic power, the aging of our population, the westward shift of the centre of gravity of Canadian economic activity and enterprise, the growing strength of regionalism, the rapid emergence of a distinctive society in Quebec and its position in a predominantly English-speaking North America-these are all major developments which raise issues worthy of the boldest Canadian imagination.

Our proposals for a restructured federal system have been developed, not only to assist Canadians in coping with the country's present stresses, but also to put us all in a better position to come to terms with future pressures as they arise.

Our position

In our September 1977 communiqué we asserted that we intended to support those who were "searching for the terms of a better Canada," and declared our commitment to the continuation of a Canadian federation, that is, "a system with the authority of the state shared by two orders of government, each sovereign and at the same time committed to cooperative association with the other, under a constitution." We further stated our belief that such a system is the one best suited to our diversity and to the nature of our geographic, social and economic environments.

We felt able to make such a declaration because of our conviction that a federal system is much more supple and accommodating than many people believe, and because of our expectation that Canadians and their political leaders would in fact find the will to make the many changes necessary to meet the country's contemporary and future needs. As to the suppleness of a federal system, the accomplishments of the Government of Quebec since September 1977 attest to the wide latitude for action which exists even within our present arrangements; as to the will to reform, there are now some signs of a readiness on the part of Canada's citizens and a desire on the part of her political leaders to accelerate the long process of restructuring our common arrangements, a process which we hope to encourage with this report.

We have tried in this report to answer three questions: How do we secure the fuller expression of duality in all the spheres to which it relates? How do we accommodate more satisfactorily the forces of regionalism that are altering the face of Canadian society? How do we make the principle of sharing an "operational value" in our country, and within and between our governments, so that duality and regionalism and the other features of Canadian life are given appropriate recognition?

There are four general points we would like to make here before presenting our specific conclusions in subsequent chapters. First, we think that the approach to Canada's problems must be as varied and comprehensive as are the problems themselves. There is no single answer that will do the job. If we are to make Canada a better place for all its people, it will require action on many fronts: economic, social and cultural as well as political.

Secondly, we recognize and accept as a continuing, unavoidable feature of Canadian society that there will be marked variations in the strength, size, character and aspirations of the communities which together make up Canada. This will inevitably be reflected in wide variations among the provinces of Canada, despite their constitutional equality. This we accept as well; for example, the fact that the province of Prince Edward Island is smaller in population than the municipality of Mississauga, Ontario, does not mean that the former should cease to be a province or that the latter should become one. It does mean, however, that the federal arrangements that permit both Ontario and Prince Edward Island to flourish must be capacious.

Thirdly, we are concerned to ensure that, whatever system is worked out, the principle of flexibility and the provision for continual adjustment are preserved. We have noted already how rapidly the country's circumstances and prospects can alter, and how quickly the preferences and goals of parts of the population can develop; in the light of those factors, it would be folly to develop a political structure which imposed a straitjacket on future generations. It is highly desirable that we leave sufficient openness in the political system and constitutional structure to permit progressive adjustment as needs and circumstances change. We recognize that a willingness to preserve a flexible constitution depends in part on the security and confidence of the constituent units, and we will suggest a variety of ways of coping with this.

Fourthly, we will try to suggest ways in which Canada's eleven senior governments can increase the degree of cooperation and reduce the level of conflict that mark their contacts with one another. To effect improvement in the relations between governments, we believe that two important steps must be taken in the constitutional domain. The first is to clarify to a greater extent than is currently the case the roles of the two orders of government; some of the difficulty arises out of genuine confusion about who is to do what, and some out of the dubious exploitation by one government or another of the ambiguities which exist in the respective roles as they are presently defined. The other step that needs to be taken is to extend and secure the institutions within which intergovernmental cooperation can take place. We have some significant institutions of this kind now (for example, the federal-provincial conferences), and we think a good deal more can be done.

These are the four basic elements in our position that will shape our approach to specific issues. We will deal successively in each of the following three chapters with social, linguistic and cultural issues (Chapter 5), with our economic life and prospects (Chapter 6), and with the political and constitutional structures of Canadian federalism (Chapter 7).


Last HTML revision: 10 May, 1996

William F. Maton