What We Heard
In this part we attempt to do justice to the hundreds of thousands of voices we heard during our work. To do full justice to the wealth of material we received would need thousands of pages. But we hope that, in this part, the Forum's contributors will recognize themselves. We will identify the common threads in what we heard across the country, and also, where appropriate, highlight the differences that exist among participants.
For ease of flow and broad understanding, this part uses no statistics in reporting citizens' views. A series of tables supporting the views expressed on major issues is presented in Appendix B.
We recognize the trust that people who participated in the Forum have placed in us, and we hope that this part of the report echoes faithfully the passion and eloquence with which they expressed their hopes and concerns for Canada.
2. Major issues facing Canada
The people who moderated Forum group discussions, using our discussion guide, usually began by asking participants what they felt were the major issues facing Canada in the coming years. We suggested this to be sure that our report could reflect what was truly on the minds of Canadians, rather than only what our mandate specifically asked us to explore.
From the reports of these group discussions, as well as from the letters, briefs, and phone calls we received, a number of issues emerge. Those which were raised most often are discussed in full in the sections which follow. These are:
a) Canadian identity and values
b) Quebec and Canadian unity
c) Official languages
d) Aboriginal issues
e) Cultural diversity
f) The Canadian economy
g) Responsible leadership and participatory democracy
Many common threads run through all these issues, and they are to a large extent inseparable from each other. Issues related to leadership and democracy affect how citizens view solutions to the issues and how confident they feel about Canada's economy; concerns about accommodating diverse cultures are related to consideration of aboriginal issues, official languages, and multiculturalism policy; Canadian values, and our sense of identity, affect how citizens see problems and solutions in all areas of our society. These connections must be home in mind as we present citizens' views on the major issues we have identified.
In general, the comments we received on the major issues facing Canada reflected a high level of concern on the part of Forum participants. The anxiety surrounding both the importance of resolving these issues, and the likelihood political leadership could be trusted to find appropriate solutions, was often palpable. The Canadians who spoke to the Forum want their leaders to be aware of their concerns, and to understand their messages about how to deal with them - messages often rooted in very deep-seated and treasured Canadian values.
3. Canadian identity and values
Citizens who spoke to the Forum have focused a great deal on what it means to them to be Canadians. In doing so, they have articulated a sense of Canadian identity and a set of fundamental Canadian values by which they believe we should be governed - as individuals as well as politically and institutionally. Some of these values were expressed to us as indigenous Canadian traits; others were articulated as participants compared themselves to our American neighbours - in a comparative sense, we are "more this" and "less that" than Americans. However their values and sense of identity was expressed, it is clear that Forum participants have a strong sense of a distinct Canadian identity which sets us apart as a people not just from Americans but from any other country as well. This section will report on our uniqueness, as seen by the Canadians who spoke to us.
Many Canadians spoke or wrote eloquently to the Forum on the subject of the core values they see as essential elements of Canadian society. Some emphasized one or two; others presented a comprehensive picture of the society they believe we should aspire to, as with the participant who said, "'Peace, order and good government' are no longer appropriate values for Canada. Civil and social equality, respect for differences, the pursuit of peace, environmental respect, and world citizenship are more suitable values for contemporary and future Canada. These are values that people can espouse and pursue regardless of region, language, culture, economic circumstance, social status, and values that can make Canada distinctive and meaningful." A number of participants spoke to us specifically about the importance of shared values in building a nation: "Canada is indeed viable and very much worth preserving in new forms and with confirmed common values. We can become, for the rest of the world and for ourselves, a model of a linguistically and culturally diverse society functioning in harmony."
The following represent the list of core values which emerged very strongly, from participants in all regions of Canada, as essential elements of Canadian society:
a) Belief in Equality and Fairness in a Democratic Society
One of the strongest messages coming from contributors is their belief in the need for equality and fairness as guiding principles for our society.
A group in Newfoundland told us: "We believe that most Canadians want a society that ... protects national interests while remaining responsive, and accountable, to individual rights ... protects freedom, so that individuals can live their lives in the manner of their choice, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others...protects the rights of all Canadians to fair and equal treatment: women, ethnic minorities, different linguistic groups, aboriginal peoples, various religions, etc..."
The balance of individual freedom and fairness to groups whose rights also need protection must, participants tell us, be carefully maintained. Equality and fairness are not incompatible with tolerance and accommodation; on the contrary, as a British Columbian said to us, "My hope for the future of Canada is for ... a country where people feel comfortable with one another, are tolerant and understanding with one another, and where each person recognizes they have the same opportunities, responsibilities, and privileges." Some participants feel the balance between the rights of individuals and those of groups has tilted in favour of protecting the rights of minority groups. A group in Ontario told us: "We value freedom of religion ... we respect other peoples' culture but do not want their background pushed on us, i.e. RCMP uniforms." Another, in Manitoba, said: "The rights of the minority must be heard and the vote of the majority rules."
The belief in fair treatment of all our citizens is especially apparent in discussions on aboriginal issues. Over and over, participants said our treatment of aboriginal peoples has been unfair, and it is this unfairness - in contravention of one of our fundamental principles - which brings Forum participants to near unanimous conclusions that these past injustices must be remedied. "Natives have been treated unfairly in the past, assimilation is no answer," a group in Ontario told us. Another group, in Penticton, B.C., along with many others across the country, agreed: "The group felt aboriginal peoples had not been fairly treated..."
Fairness and equality extend, for citizens who spoke to us, beyond the level of individuals and groups in society to encompass provinces. This is discussed in more detail in the section of this part concerning Quebec and Canadian unity, but is worth noting here because of the extent to which participants are guided by this fundamental value in considering how Quebec's aspirations might be addressed within the context of a fair and equal federation. "We will not stand for any province demanding any more than equal treatment," said a group in New Brunswick, capturing the view of the vast majority of participants on this issue.
The citizens who spoke to the Forum are aware of the importance of having a democratic society, and value it deeply. One participant, from Ontario, defined Canadian democracy in this way: "Democracy means a continual consensus of the people of Canada; a dialogue among all her people so that we may get to know each other as best we can in a personal matter ... We must find the equality of mankind in our daily lives through forgiveness and understanding. We have not given up yet and must apply our collective intelligence to find solutions and not create more problems."b) Belief in Consultation and Dialogue
Related to our view of ourselves as people who settle their differences peaceably and in a consultative rather than confrontational manner, there is a great belief in consultation and dialogue as means of reaching consensual settlements of major issues. This does not just apply to governments as a modus operandi; Forum participants also believe that many of the country's difficulties could be reduced or eliminated through more and better dialogue among citizens. Lamenting the lack of dialogue between French- and English-speaking Canadians, a student in Ottawa said, "We put bars up and we say this is a culture, and that is a culture. Do we think that because we put up barriers we are different from people on the other side?"
The view is widely held that all Canadians must work together in solving our problems, and that communications must be improved among Canadians, to remedy the apparent lack of understanding that exists among different groups, regions, or provinces. This view is even more strongly expressed among Students' Forum participants than among their adult counterparts, and many young people wanted to see a more harmonious Country than we have at the moment. A junior high school student in Manitoba said, "If ten years from now a visitor from another country came to Canada and I had to say what I thought my country was famous for, I would like to say.... I think Canada is famous for its peace w itself and others.. "
In this regard, we heard from a considerable number of adults and students that there should be much improved programs of exchange among Canadians of all regions and all ages. In particular, Students' Forum participants have a very strong belief in consultation and dialogue as means for resolving differences, and were very supportive of improved opportunities for exchange. A petition with 3,982 signatories aged 11 to 19 (with a small number of parents and teachers included) from the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC) urged that there be exchanges among young Canadians, that they learn each other's language and discover each other's culture, to develop respect, understanding and tolerance. Others echoed the same view:
"It's really important to have exchange programs because the best time to learn a language is when you're young. And it is two different cultures. After you've been here a while you start talking to yourself in French and having dreams in French..." (Vancouver exchange student, age 16, in Quebec City)
"When I was a kid, the government subsidized my high school trip to Quebec. I'd never been out of province. It was like going to Italy. I went back home and learned French. I still have those friends I made there. Isn't that what we want from this country?" (Former Newfoundlander living in Toronto)
Another view that was expressed repeatedly and strongly was that not enough has been done to improve our education and understanding of one another. Citizens told us countless times about their lack of knowledge and reliable information about their history, their country, and their fellow citizens in different regions or of different cultural groups. Both the education system and the media took considerable criticism from participants in this respect.
In discussing such issues as Quebec's place in confederation, our history and political system, or the settlement of aboriginal issues, participants often faulted the education system for failing to equip them with sufficient understanding of our history and cultural evolution. "Our schoolbooks and videos don't recognize the different contributions of different ethnic groups," a group in Toronto told us. "I am dismayed at the lack of knowledge of our history that many of our teenagers have," said another participant. "How can people have a pride in and/or loyalty to something they know very little about?" Students, as well, indicated that greater attention should be paid to these areas. Participants, especially outside Quebec, often expressed a desire to see either a national curriculum in Canadian history, or national standards in education more generally, as the group in Haileybury, Ontario, which told us: (there should be) "...one standard of education for Canada as a whole - one public school system stressing patriotism, moral civil rights & tolerance of others of different racial entity." A caller to the Forum's 1-800 line echoed the views of many in saying, "Citizenship should become a core subject in our schools. Canadian traditions should be cherished and perpetuated."
There were also many protests against funding reductions in areas which could promote better understanding. The former Katimavik program was held up as an example: "Few Canadians have experienced Canada coast to coast, and so many Canadians don't comprehend the different cultures found within Canada. Katimavik would be a start," we heard from a resident of the Yukon. Exchanges among provinces and regions, and especially between Quebec and other parts of Canada, were often suggested as ways to improve our understanding of each other; such exchanges could be either government-sponsored or privately-initiated, as with the amateur sports programs which bring young Canadians from one part of the country to another: "Hockey unites Canada," a caller to the 1-800 line told us. "At tournaments, we disregard our differences. Therefore, have provincial teams meet every year in a tournament to promote national unity..."
In general, there was a great deal of recognition that we don't know enough about ourselves and each other as Canadians, and that improved knowledge is one of the few paths to better understanding and consensual problem-solving. As a participant at the Whitehorse Town Hall Meeting, who identified himself as an aboriginal Canadian, put it, "Perhaps when mainstream Canadians take some responsibility for rewriting the history books of this country so that we're included and so that everything ... that we've contributed to Canada is reflected, then perhaps people will begin to understand that we aren't a problem, we're people. And we have a rich history and good traditions and values." The same desire for knowledge of ourselves was echoed by Canadians of all other regions and backgrounds.c) Importance of Accommodation and Tolerance
Forum participants recognize the existence of different groups in our society and their need to sustain their own cultures while attaching themselves to the country's society, values, and institutions. As well, they acknowledge the existence of various legitimate competing regional and cultural interests in Canada. Moreover, they explicitly support the view that Canadians should strive to be accommodating and tolerant of all various groups and regions - as long as these latter demonstrate their own acceptance of accommodation and tolerance as key values.
Accommodating aboriginal peoples' aspirations for greater self-determination and Canada's overall ethnic and cultural diversity are the primary expressions of this value: one participant in Manitoba told us that, "The Aboriginal People are willing to be Canadians, accept the Canadian Flag, but want equal rights, run their own affairs and educate their own people, also have representation in Ottawa, and be treated like other Canadians, with respect for their own languages as well as English. What's wrong with that? They are as concerned about Canada as we are and moreso, as they were here first"; another, in New Brunswick, said, "Support for diversity should not be taken as support for multicultural ghettos ... Equality of person, equality of opportunity and equality of result should all operate within the framework of respect for diversity."
A great number of participants, in Quebec as well as elsewhere, wish for a greater degree of tolerance and accommodation for the two major language groups and for the aspirations of different provinces and regions, including Quebec. Measures to improve understanding among these areas is often recommended as a step toward such increased tolerance, as was expressed by a number of the participants in a Forum-organized exchange - return travel supplied by Canadian Airlines International - between the residents of Marieville, Quebec, and Wainwright, Alberta. A Wainwright resident who travelled to Marieville put it very bluntly in saying, "We think a law should be passed to get everyone to travel to Quebec. It's easy to fear what you don't know, but you can't fear a smiling face or a handshake ... These people need the rest of Canada to respect them and lift them up a little bit. I think we can do that without diminishing ourselves."
d) Support for Diversity
Forum participants have repeatedly emphasized Canada's diversity as one of the most important things they value about this country. This diversity has a number of facets: linguistic, regional, ethnic, and cultural differences are all embraced and celebrated by most of the people who spoke to the Forum. Although many people believe that Canada would continue to be a distinct nation if Quebec were no longer part of the federation, there is considerable appreciation of the addition to our distinctiveness that is brought by the French language and culture.
As well, participants recognize the contribution brought by Canadians of other than French or English origin. The aboriginal peoples, and the fact that they were the original inhabitants of this land, is widely recognized: "If anyone is distinct, it is Canada's native peoples," said a participant in Manitoba. The fact that Canada is a nation of immigrants is recognized and celebrated; however, as is discussed in the section of this part dealing with cultural diversity, there is considerable opposition to the continued use of public funds to support heritage language and culture programs. Achieving balance between an evolving multicultural Canada and a secure sense of Canadian identity provoked much discussion among contributors and resulted in comments such as that from the Ontario participant who said, "Ethnic and cultural diversity is an attractive embroidery on our national fabric, but the embroidery must not become so rich that the fabric itself is obscured and its strength damaged by too many needle pricks. If we really want a country, we must be Canadians first."
e) Compassion and Generosity
Forum participants deeply value Canada's compassionate and generous character, as exemplified by our universal and extensive social services, our health care system, our pensions, our willingness to welcome refugees, and our commitment to regional economic equalization. These attributes are most definitely seen as part of Canada's distinct character, and are, accordingly, to be treated with respect by those whose mandate is to enhance them.
A brief from the United Church of Canada sums up much of the attitude of Forum participants' toward our treatment of others in the statement: "The fundamental ethical assumption has been stated repeatedly: all people have the right to lay a claim on the rest of us to ensure that their entitlement to the common good is met."
A participant in Ontario expressed the same sentiment in terms of its meaning for the country: "One of our unique Canadian attributes has been a stronger commitment to the good of the many (in other words, the good of the community and the extended community) as compared to the good of the individual in his (and less frequently her) relentless climb to the top of the heap. This sense of community ... has been a strong force in creating a more humane face for Canada."
f) Attachment to Canada's Natural Beauty
While the North has long been part of Canadian myth and legend, participants indicated that Canada's unspoiled natural beauty is a matter of great importance to them, and is in their view threatened by inadequate attention to protecting our environment.
"All Canadians love the land," a participant from Thamesville, Ontario, told us. "Maybe we learned that from the first Canadians, our Native people. They and we have always longed for it, defended it, and praised it in song, art, and story. We are now the Guardians of the final wilderness left on earth, and we take that responsibility seriously."
Over half the discussion groups who reported to the Forum identified the environment as a major issue for the country. While we were not a commission on the environment, it is clear that the Canadians who spoke to the Forum wish to have their concern signalled very strongly to governments at all levels. A Forum group in Nova Scotia captured the views of a great many participants in saying: "The beauty of our country ... must be preserved through stricter laws regarding pollution and other environmental hazards." For many people, the environment was the top priority; in the words of another participant, "Failure to attend to this problem constructively and immediately will make all else of little concern very soon." Forum participants recognize their individual responsibilities in environmental protection, but would like to see considerably more assurances that Canadian governments are taking the issue as seriously as are Canadian citizens. A group in Mill Bay, B.C., told us: "...the average Canadian is willing to work towards a cleaner and better environment but our government must show a greater concern, too. They must introduce legislation with 'teeth'...There must be more education regarding this matter and action - not just words."
The environment was also a matter of very serious concern for Canadian youth who participated in the Students' Forum. Our natural beauty is, for our younger children, one of the positive attributes they most commonly attach to Canada. Older students often made suggestions for ways to protect the environment: "It's not right that only big cities have places for recycling paper and metal," (tr.) said a senior high school student in Quebec. "We would like kids to talk to other people about the rainforests, starting to recycle, decrease the mills, and stop polluting the air," we heard from a group of junior high school students in Cornwall, Ontario....... we can't leave it up to another person, we all have to pitch in and help," said a junior high school student in Coquitlam, B.C. "It is everyone's responsibility to help out and keep our earth clean, after all there is only one earth."
g) Our World Image: Commitment to Freedom, Peace and Non-Violent Change
Our view of ourselves, and the world's view of us, as a free, peaceable, non-violent people is of great importance to Forum participants. They express substantial support for non-violence and for Canada's historical role as an international peacekeeper.
A group of Canadians living in Lagos, Nigeria, provided the comment: "Canadians are generally respected throughout the world. Their values and ideals are reflected in their international policies and activities and are internationally praised and often warmly appreciated." A caller to the 1-800 line said, "Canada should not try to be a world power like the USA. We should be the same kind of Canada that we have always been, a peaceful and quiet nation." Often, participants reflected their deepest attachment to the country in talking about how it is perceived from outside. "How can you not be optimistic about living in a country that is the envy of the entire world?" we heard from Hinton, Alberta. "To me, Canada is a nation with a conscience, a country that millions of people throughout the world dream of becoming part of. It seems incomprehensible that some Canadians are dreaming of its destruction."
Our strong national commitment to peace and non-violent change was captured by the participant in British Columbia who said, " & such activities as inciting to or participating in riot, rebellion, armed and unarmed blockades and other resorts to violence ... have no rightful place in Canada. In my opinion, if the law and order and democratic processes which used to be so characteristic of Canada are to be restored and strengthened, all resort to anarchy and violence must be outlawed."
Our participants, especially new Canadians, deeply value the freedom which Canadian citizens enjoy, and wish to see it protected. A participant in Willowdale, Ontario told us, "a Canadian is a person, regardless of ethnic origin, who ... feels free to develop in his or her own, individual way." Another participant, in Alberta, told us Canada is, for him, "& one of the only countries in the world where you can still dream dreams ... and they can still come true."
The funding cutbacks in recent years to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and VIA Rail were raised over and over by many participants as heavily symbolic of lack of sensitivity to national symbols. Together with changes in the RCMP uniform and, less frequently, reductions in service by Canada Post, indicate to participants that, while on the one hand, approaches which are seen as divisive (especially funding of multicultural programs and official language policy) are pursued, on the other hand government has been neglecting or actively damaging those institutions which could contribute to Canadian unity.
A participant in a group discussion in Toronto said, "my country is being taken away from me. I see cut-backs in the communications that this country needs to talk to itself. CBC is dying, VIA Rail is dying, and we're talking about putting cultural issues on the bargaining table with Mexico." Some urged a stronger emphasis on Canadian cultural expression: "Is it any wonder our citizens aren't sure who they are or what sort of country they want? They have been consuming a largely foreign diet on television and in cinema for at least 50 years." Others linked apparently endangered national programs and institutions with the further threat they felt would be posed by a new division of powers between the provinces and the federal government: "The shared programs, everything from transfer payments between the provinces to medicare and the CBC, are very important to Canada. Who will apply the mechanisms that keep us together if autonomy is granted to the provinces or regions?" From Saskatchewan, in particular, we heard about the symbolic damage of reductions in Canada Post services: "The Post Office is the only Federal presence in our community. We need ties to hold this country of ours together. A Federal Postal system should be one of those ties."
The practical importance of transportation and communications in holding Canada together was also raised: "(Communication and transportation were) recognized as a matter of essential importance in 1867 ... Rail, road and air transportation should ' be developed so that physical links across the nation for the transport of goods and for passenger travel and tourism may be maintained at a reasonable cost," said one participant. Said another, "Canadian unity has suffered almost irreparable damage from the policies of the present government. Our national rail system brought us together as a nation and was meant to keep us together as a nation. With its cancellation many areas are totally isolated."
Many of our citizens are also asking for some visible pride in what they view as a wonderful country. "It was not very long ago that I held a long standing opinion of the Americans as embarrassingly boastful," said one contributor. "They waved their flag at the seemingly least provocation, and I watched as a tongue clucking, modest, reserved Canadian. I don't feel this way about them any more. I applaud their open and unreserved expressions of pride in their country. They have much to teach us about national identity and pride and it is time we stopped blushing and started to vigorously wave our own flag."
In the view of a great many participants, unity will not come from government programs to promote it; it will stem from our people themselves as we discover our commonalities, our shared history, what we've built together, and how much our ambitions and aspirations, for our families or for the country we live in, are shared by the others who inhabit this land. The Forum's participants are asking their governments to make this sharing among citizens possible.
The forces of regionalism in Canada have often been portrayed as stronger than, and detrimental to, the forces of unity. Whether this has been true in the past, it is not the case in 1991 for the vast majority of participants - outside Quebec. While their attachment to their provinces or regions is strong, their attachment to Canada is clearly stronger, and they have placed very little emphasis on strengthening regions at the expense of the country as a whole.
In fact, the desire of the majority of participants outside Quebec is for a strong central government which will act with resolution to remedy the country's economic ills, help to unify its citizens, and reduce the level of division and discord among groups or regions. "We need a strong central government, one that sees the common good rather than all the little regional differences," we heard from New Brunswick. From Ontario, the same message: "It would be a serious mistake to weaken any of Ottawa's existing powers without full consideration being given to all the ramifications ... federal powers must not be lessened, rather, if possible they should be strengthened and even broadened." And from British Columbia: "Canada is a vast land covering diverse geographic and ethnic regions. Some regionalism must therefore be accommodated. However, the same factors suggest a need for a strong central government."
It is clear to us, in listening to participants, that they have lost faith in the political system as it currently operates (as discussed in more detail in section 9 of this part of the report). But this does not mean they want to strip the federal government of its powers and rely on other levels of government to set standards and funding levels for essential programs or services. On the contrary, the expressed wish for universal accessibility and national standards in areas such as health care and, for many participants, education, require that the central government play a key role.
This is not to suggest that regions outside Ontario and Quebec do not continue to feel ignored in decision making and cut off from the sources of political power. A letter from Alberta expresses the continuing awareness of and dissatisfaction with Canadian geopolitics: "The fact is that the overwhelming population of Ontario and Quebec means that any party that aspires to govern Canada must win the majority of seats in either Ontario or Quebec or both provinces. To do that it must have policies that answer the needs of those provinces which are frequently at the expense of the citizens of outer Canada." In Fort Smith, NWT, we heard, "The problem of the North being ignored has been therefor a long time."
One vehicle often mentioned, in all regions (although less often in Quebec than elsewhere), to achieve better representation of all Canadian voices regions is a reformed Senate: "...on the question of the Senate I would like to see it reformed as a house of regional representation," said a participant in Ontario. (Senate reform is discussed in more detail in section 9 of this part).
Another suggestion we heard, although less often, was for a constituent assembly to deal with constitutional reform: a Nova Scotia participant said, "Set up a constituent assembly independent of government, with equitable representation from each province (or region) and territory, and from aboriginal groups. I think such an assembly would be better able to work on constitutional matters, and I hope, more clearly express what we as Canadians want for our country."
A minority of participants favoured greater decentralization of the powers of the federal government: in the words of one group discussion report from British Columbia: "A loose federation of provinces would satisfy our particular needs. We still need a federal government for certain needs but avoiding the present overlap (wasteful)." To address these concerns, however, most participants focused on reform of federal institutions and processes, rather than decentralization of power or weakening the central government.
In our consultations, for the most part regional interests did not come first for participants. A report of a group discussion in Alberta described how the group saw the situation: "An overall concern for the welfare of Canada seemed to take precedence over any discussion on regional interests. Participants felt that in spite of the uniqueness of any particular region, that Canada is itself viewed internationally as being very distinct. We felt that although Quebec contributes significantly to that distinction, that many other regions contribute equally to our overall identity." This view was shared by the participant in Newfoundland who said, "I do not see any conflict between having a strong national culture and strong regional cultures - it is false thinking to make the distinction between these, for the two exist in a complementary way and have a symbiotic relationship. Strong regional cultures make for a strong nation (but) we certainly need to strengthen our ways of meeting with and speaking to each other across the different regions and for this we need effective systems of transportation and communication."
Certainly, Canada's different regions are appreciated as contributing to our distinctiveness, and our citizens value their regional affiliations deeply. It is clear to us, however, that the sense of attachment to Canada felt by citizens outside Quebec far outweighs their regional attachments. Within Quebec, this sense of attachment to Canada is much less strong. As we were told by a self-declared Montreal sovereigntist who reflected the majority of francophone participants in Quebec, "Being Canadian is just something that's on my passport ... There's nothing emotional about it." A minority of Quebec francophone participants told us of the value they saw in remaining attached to Canada: "The anglophones, too close to the American giant, need us like we need them to develop this country on a continental scale ... It is time for Quebeckers to renounce their adolescent revolt and to rejoin the Canadian nation of which they were one of the founding peoples and are now equal partners." Within Quebec we also found a considerable degree of attachment to the values described in this section, and a similar set of social and economic aspirations as in the rest of Canada. The measures suggested by many participants to increase dialogue and understanding between Quebec and the rest of Canada stem in large measure from the sense that the discovery of these common aspirations and values could do much to diminish the distance that Quebeckers and other Canadians currently feel from each other.
These values and aspirations were generally summarized by the submission from a citizen in Moncton, New Brunswick, whose vision of Canada is "A country where language is not an issue, it is a fact, and an enjoyable cultural distinction ... open immigration attitude and policy. A democratic country that listens to its citizens ... It is part fond memory of a time past, it is part wishful thinking, but it is a goal to achieve nonetheless ... a fair and generous country. A tolerant country, a prosperous country, a civilized country."
We leave the last word on Canada's identity and fundamental values to a, citizen from Braeside, Ontario: "We are for humility, equality and tolerance. Our diversified backgrounds are full of painfully gained wisdom and humility. We are the 'quiet Americans.' Consisting of minorities we try and mostly succeed in living together in harmony, albeit not without problems. We have an ever developing culture based on an adopted mix of past riches from countless sources: continents, countries, ethnic groups, tribes and individuals. Most of the world can describe us better than we can describe ourselves. This is perhaps because to re-define our identity over and over IS a part of our identity. Painful at times but perhaps the better for it. We can not simply take one of our minority groups, however strong or noisy, declare it superior and set up legislative and socio-economical mechanisms to re-make the entire population to compliance with its culture. Culture, by definition, is the 'customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.' Identity, by definition again, is 'sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing.' 0 yes, Canadians have an identity. Part of it must be our belief that we all have an equal right to be different."
Despite sharing many of the same values and aspirations, Canadians bring many different approaches to their consideration of the future. These similarities and differences will be explored in the following sections.
4. Quebec and Canadian unity
In 1965, 26 years ago, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism warned that Canada was passing through the greatest crisis in its history. Twelve years ago, in 1979, the Task Force on Canadian Unity (Pepin-Robarts) recalled this warning, and issued another, that Canada -had moved to an even graver and more critical stage in its history.
The Pepin-Robarts group also acknowledged in 1979 that "even crises can become tedious and difficult to believe in if they go on too long and if nothing seems to happen." Through the winter and spring of 1991, we found the truth of this statement: the continuing series of crises has become tedious for many Canadians, and there is a measure of disbelief that, even now, change is imminent and may be damaging and disruptive.
But we also heard that many more Canadians believe that-the time for warnings is past: action must be taken to end the series of crises we have lived through as a country, and a definitive solution is not only desirable but essential.
As with so many of the issues about which Canadians spoke to the Forum, we cannot separate views on Quebec and its place in confederation from views in a number of other areas, especially provincial equality, bilingualism, responsible leadership, and the process of constitutional reform. These areas are separately treated in this report, but they should not be regarded as distinct from one another; while they are complex issues in themselves, there are important aspects of each which are linked to the question of the future partnership between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Bilingualism is perceived by many to represent a major effort on the part of English-speaking Canada to make Quebec feel at home in confederation, and Quebec's language laws are regarded as a complete - even contemptuous - rejection of this effort.
These same laws are seen outside Quebec as an affront to deeply-held values of individual liberty and freedom of expression, as in the view of a group discussion participant who said, "A country that cannot guarantee equal rights to a citizen, whether from Lac St-Jean or Windsor, Matane or Vancouver, is not worth having." Linking this with equally deeply-held views on provincial equality, there seems in the minds of many to be even less reason to negotiate a special status for Quebec - making it more "equal" than others when it is seen to have made its citizens less equal than other Canadians. As a result, when the country's political leaders negotiated an agreement which apparently would have given Quebec a preferred status, many participants reacted with great anger to what they saw as a failure on the part of these leaders to govern in accordance with fundamental Canadian values.
Within Quebec, the interpretation of other Canadians' views on the failure of the Meech Lake accord, and of Quebeckers' current place in the hearts of other Canadians, is very different from the views we heard expressed from Canadians outside Quebec. For the most part, the failure of the Meech Lake accord has been portrayed in the media and elsewhere as an explicit rejection by the rest of Canada of Quebec's minimum demands. There is a widespread conclusion among our Quebec participants that, if the minimum has been rejected, no future hope remains for a renewed federalism which could be acceptable to Quebec: "...if English Canadians couldn't accept the minuscule and defensive provisions of Meech, how will they accept a substantial change in the current Constitution?" one Quebecker asked, echoing the question of many others. A group discussion in Quebec reflected the widespread view in that province that the rejection of Meech Lake was a slap in the face to Quebec and its people: "It is clear that the rest of Canada doesn't want us: it is therefore the time for us to affirm ourselves." (tr.)
Nonetheless, despite the anger which was expressed about the behaviour of Canada's leaders in these negotiations, and despite a widespread belief among Canadians outside Quebec that the province had been confederation's favoured child for long enough, we have found much hope among participants that a way can be found to keep Quebec as part of the Canadian family. A resident of Saint John, New Brunswick, said, "I do not want separation, as my good French Canadian wife said, with tears in her eyes, 'don't tell me that I'll need a passport to go see my family."' A group discussion in North York, Ontario, reported that, "The very first thing said was there needs to be a movement away from the idea of treating Quebec as separable from Canada. We are one nation, not two."
The group went on to highlight one of the essential divergences in recognizing the aspirations of Quebeckers and other Canadians in saying, "Quebec is a distinct society within the nation, but so -are many other parts of Canada. That society is in terms of culture, language, etc, but not in terms of rights or responsibilities. "
For most participants outside Quebec, Quebec's continued presence in confederation cannot be bought at the price of damaging or destroying those things they value most about the country, and in particular, must not be bought by sacrificing individual or provincial equality. This message could not be more clear from the Canadians who spoke to the Forum. The result is a willingness to talk, to try to reach an accommodation, but without a firm conviction that one can be found.
At the end of the day, Forum participants outside Quebec recognize the very real possibility of Quebec separation, and regret deeply that an important part of the country may be lost. But if that is the price to be paid for having a country left which they can value, they are willing to pay it: from British Columbia, "This submission comes from a Canadian who would prefer to live harmoniously beside a friendly, foreign Quebec rather than a disgruntled, reluctant province. This Canadian does not believe that separation would result in disintegration of the rest of Canada." Another expressed the common desire to see an end, once and for all, to the series of crises, and move on to other issues: "Is it not time to decolonize Quebec and set it free? Certainly there will be some turmoil, but Canada can then get on with development and international integration instead of in-fighting over constitutional issues." A group in Etobicoke, Ontario: "We have to be prepared to let Quebec separate in order to preserve these things that we like about Canada if Quebec is not prepared to accept them; these benefits come with taxation (good social programs, education, etc.) and we are prepared to be burdened in order to have them."
From participants inside Quebec, we see a calm sense that more discussion will take place, but the outcome will be acceptable to them. As a society their aspirations are seen as achievable, their needs are clear, and they will no longer accept any arrangement which does not meet their fundamental requirements. One group discussion among francophones in Quebec pointed out what they saw as a basic obstacle to reconciliation with the rest of Canada: "Canada can't be saved. From the beginning, there has been a difference of perception - Quebec sees itself as 1/2, Canada sees it as 1/10."(tr.) On the same theme, the group said: "Quebec's future must not be decided in Newfoundland, or in Manitoba ... Quebec is not a region, it is a nation. " (tr.)
We heard some expression, among francophone Quebeckers, of hope that a way can be found to remain part of Canada: "We are proud to be Canadians of French expression, and want to remain that way," one group told us, going on to say: "When Europe is in the process of unification, when the barriers are dropping in the Eastern Bloc countries, the possibility of seeing our country fragmenting strikes us as illogical." However, the majority view among Quebec francophones who spoke to us is captured by the participant who said, "Canadian federalism is a failure ... among the different alternatives now available to Quebec, moving to sovereignty seems to us to be the most welcome."(tr.)
Quebec: A Culturally Distinct Member of the Canadian Family
Much of the negative popular reaction to the Meech Lake accord has been attributed, in the media and elsewhere, to citizens outside Quebec refusing to acknowledge Quebec as a distinct society. In fact, those Canadians who spoke to the Forum, many of whom held very negative views of the accord, do so primarily either because of the constitutional reform process or because of what they viewed as the granting of special privileges to Quebec that would be denied to other provinces. Forum participants are very often quite willing to recognize Quebec's cultural and linguistic distinctiveness; what they cannot accept is that the provincial government of Quebec should have special powers deriving from this cultural distinctiveness that would have the effect of creating two different definitions of the rights and obligations of Canadian citizenship.
The insistence on equal status as a pre-condition for Quebec's membership in the Canadian family does not derive from a lack of acceptance of Quebec's special nature. There is considerable acknowledgement among our participants of the distinct linguistic and cultural characteristics of Quebec society. An Ontarian said in an individual report following a group discussion, "Most people I talk to do not want a divided country. Nor do they deny the right of Quebecois to preserve their language and culture." Another participant said, "Quebec's language and culture must be recognized as making it a distinct society."
The presence of the French fact in Canada, represented in large measure by Quebec, is viewed by many participants as one of our country's distinct characteristics, and those who appreciate it most deeply are also often the most saddened at the prospect of losing Quebec as a part of the country. A British Columbian urged the strengthening of this distinct Canadian fact through the education system: "So, make it mandatory that all Canadians at least learn English and French well, really well. So that we can understand the humour of each other, our plays, our books, our different cultures in general. How proud we would be, to be different from the Americans. How much more fun we would have to be able to listen to each other's nonsense. And sense. How really Canadian we would be." From a senior student in Camrose, Alberta, we heard: "Having -two languages doesn't split up the country, it MAKES it." "Quebec is part of this great nation," said a writer from Ontario....... Without Quebec and their French language I would feel lost as a Canadian." Said another, "The separation of Quebec from Canada in any form would be a great loss. Quebeckers should somehow be made aware of all the positive reasons for their remaining in Canada, they are sincerely wanted as members of the Canadian family." A Nova Scotian told us, "I could no more imagine Canada without Quebec than I could Nova Scotia without Cape Breton. Quebec is a big part of my cultural soul as a Canadian."
A number of participants outside Quebec feel that Canada represents the province's best hope for cultural survival: "Quebec would not survive many generations. Surrounded by Americans, the French language and culture would die and Quebec would be one more American state," said a participant in Ontario; a group in Nova Scotia told us, in French: (Quebec's challenge is to) "avoid assimilation in an English sea. Quebec is protected to some degree by thirty million Canadians. Separate, it will be isolated, drowned. Quebeckers will therefore have to learn English and will be more easily assimilated."(tr.)
Although a minority would be willing to extend special treatment to Quebec to keep the province in confederation, even most of those Participants outside Quebec who recognize the province's distinct society strongly believe that its distinctiveness must be protected within a fair and equal confederation or Quebec must be left to pursue its destiny alone. A participant in Alberta reflected the emotion with which many hope Quebec can accept an arrangement that both sides will find acceptable, "I think Quebec does have to make a choice once and for all: In or Out. The country cannot go on under a constant threat. It is not fair to Quebeckers nor is it fair to other Canadians. Quebec with its unique language and culture is what makes Canada different. We must not lose this. Please believe me. We need you now more than ever."
The comments of participants outside Quebec on the province's distinctiveness tended strongly to . focus on what this distinctiveness brought to Canada as a whole, and did not by and large reflect an appreciation of the strong sense of nationhood and need for self-determination that we found among participants from Quebec. With this in mind, the Forum undertook two initiatives to explore whether personal contact between Canadians from Quebec and elsewhere would help bring about a better understanding of each others' societies and national aspirations. One project was an exchange of participants from group discussions in Wainwright, Alberta, and Marieville, Quebec; the other was an initiative supported by VIA Rail which involved a train-car load of Forum participants from Toronto travelling to Montreal, and being billeted in the homes of participants there, followed on the next weekend by the Montreal hosts travelling to Toronto to spend time in the homes of the Torontonians.
The results were striking for both sets of participants. Almost all came away with a greatly enhanced understanding of the others' society, and a more subtle appreciation of the positions expressed and the concerns held on both sides of the Quebec debate. Said one of the Wainwright participants, "Quebec's needs will not make the country weaker, it will make it stronger. My greatest fear is that the country is not mature enough to realize this and will, in a selfish and childish fashion, demand from Quebec what it cannot give. It is now our move." A francophone Montrealer said, upon arrival back in Montreal from Toronto, "It's too soon to say I'm no longer a sovereignist but at least I know there is in Canada this strong will from some people to keep Quebec in Canada and it's very touching."
These exchanges clearly demonstrated, in our view, that the greater understanding that comes from personal contact between citizens of Quebec and of the rest of Canada can be enormously beneficial in creating a climate for dialogue and accommodation.
Does Equal Have to Mean The Same?
Although the Forum's participants have not, by and large, engaged in detailed discussion on the current division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, the insistence from those outside Quebec on a fair and equal confederation is clear, as noted above. Certainly, outside Quebec we have not found a significant desire for greater devolution of powers to provincial governments; on the contrary, participants are much more likely to suggest areas (notably in health care and education) in which the federal government should take an even stronger role than at present. A participant from British Columbia expressed the view of the majority of those who spoke to the Forum in saying, "Quebec is an important part of our country. It provides spirit and culture and diversity. But if the price for Quebec staying in Confederation means giving up most of the powers of a central government, it cannot happen. Better opt out and see i we can be better neighbours than family members."
Non-constitutional mechanisms might be found to accommodate a number of Quebec's and other provinces' desires for control in certain areas. In the view of participants outside Quebec such agreements would have to be made in the context of a strong pan-Canadian framework of equal rights, national standards, and equal accessibility to programs and services by all Canadians for them to be acceptable. As a letter writer from Alberta expressed it, "We must do all we can to keep Canada together but not by granting one province more or less power than any other." Participants' strongly-held views on individual equality and on the need for commitment to a common concept of Canadian citizenship were reflected in the group discussion in British Columbia, which reported: "None of us want to see Quebec separate, but none of us want to see Quebec given special privileges, the 'teacher's pet.' We are all Canadians first and members of regions second. Each may have special needs but the laws should be the same for all." Students' Forum participants were also intent that no province have more privileges than any other. A Manitoba student who thought bilingualism is "a neat idea" went on to say, "The French culture should get no more special privileges than the English culture does. No less ... but no more."
Across the country, but especially from participants in Quebec, we heard concern about overlapping or duplicated government policies or services among different levels of government. In discussions of what should be the responsibilities of the Quebec government in any new arrangement, jurisdiction over language and culture was usually mentioned; beyond this, however, opinions varied greatly. However, the issue of overlap and duplication was raised in groups across the country, as with the group in Drummondville, Quebec, who said: "...review the division of powers. Avoid duplications - all provinces are dissatisfied with the current federalism we are asking for a less centralized Canada." (tr.)
The Question of Sovereignty
Many participants, while ready to express views in principle on the subject of Quebec's place in Canada, were unwilling to take a final position on renewed federalism or on separation in the absence of a clear articulation of what these two arrangements would involve.
This desire to have all the cards on the table and to participate in a debate on the reality rather than the theory, was felt both in Quebec and elsewhere. A francophone group in Quebec reported that they wanted to see "a debate on the economic consequences resulting from Quebec sovereignty" (tr.); another francophone group in
Quebec wanted to know "the irreparable consequences of a Quebec-Canada divorce: 1. economic, 2. political." (tr.)
A letter from Ontario expressed a similar desire: "Let's have no more wooly talk of sovereignty association, unless we all really understand what it means. Quebec politicians have led the population of Quebec to believe that they can survive as a separate state with all the advantages of being part of Canada and suffer no problems from being a distinct state. Set down the conditions now so that we all understand what true separation really means."
While the Forum cannot provide these answers for participants, we can, however, reflect to those who will be developing such options our participants' very high degree of interest in what will be proposed, and the high degree of understanding, knowledge, and concern with which they will assess any proposals for fundamental change in the Canadian federal structure.
Federalism or Separation, but No Sovereignty-Association
Among the options for Quebec's future status which have been put forward by various parties, during the last few years - a list which includes symmetrical and asymmetrical federalism, sovereignty-association, and full independence, along with numerous other models and terms - participants outside Quebec, by a substantial margin, see sovereignty-association as the worst of all worlds. Their message to Quebec is, stay or leave, but if you leave, it must be a complete departure. A number of representative quotes from Canadians who spoke to the Forum convey the flavour of the majority view:
"It was felt Quebec is like a teenager who wants his own room, telephone, and so forth, yet still expects an allowance from 'Dad.' If Quebec goes, it must go all the way without keeping one hand in Canada's 'pocket."' (Ontario)
"If Mr. Parizeau and his friends want to go, let them, with what they can take on their backs and nothing more." (Newfoundland)
"If they decide to separate it should be complete. No sovereignty association. It should be declared a foreign country and treated as such." (New Brunswick)
"I want Quebec to remain in Canada, but as an equal, not a superior. I am distressed at Quebec's greed and selfishness. If Quebec separates there must be no sovereignty association, no economic union, no common currency. If Quebec breaks up this country it will be an enemy and one does not associate with enemies." (British Columbia)
"I believe that most Canadians love Quebec and wish that it would remain a part of Canada. However ... I am fed up with their threatening to leave Canada ... I say let them leave Canada - after paying their fair share of our deficit. We should not give in to their wild demands which would wreck the Federal system. We would be a much stronger Canada without them." (Ontario)
"If (Quebec) can't find a way to adapt to our framework of federalism, then - and I write this with much sadness - I think Quebec ought to be allowed to leave." (Alberta)
Furthermore, a considerable number of participants who were willing to contemplate Quebec's separation also had views on what the terms should be: "I believe that if Quebec separates it should separate with good will but with no ties. I cannot believe that we could progress with a common currency. Canada should be allowed to maintain a corridor through Quebec and free access through the St. Lawrence Seaway." (Prince Edward Island)
"(If Quebec leaves) they must pay their share of the national debt and pay for any federal buildings and institutionsthat are located in Quebec. Also the members of Parliament including the prime minister (Mulroney) and senate and heads of federal institutions in Quebec should have no say in the negotiations." (Saskatchewan)
"if Quebec goes, then the rest of Canada must draw a line in the sand: no common currency, do not share defence, share federal debt, stop transfer of $$ and projects in Quebec. The rest of Canada Must not be heldunder the gun." (Ontario)
Within Quebec, the majority view was characterized by a serenity about the future - that a suitable arrangement would be made, one way or the other. From a group discussion in Quebec, we heard: "Quebec will be stronger when it is independent than it is now ... It costs more now for Quebec to be part of the Canadian federation. It pays more than it gets from the federal system." (tr.) Another group recognized that Quebec independence would break up Canada, but told us that is not their concern: "Canada will be broken in two. That doesn't concern us." (tr.)
This view was not, however, universally shared within Quebec. There was a wide recognition of the possible negative consequences on the province of separation; a caller from Quebec City to the 1-800 line expressed the ambivalence of many Quebeckers in saying, "Quebec gives the impression of believing itself to be more advanced than the rest of Canada. If there is a separation, I will stay in Quebec, but I don't want to have to choose. It's up to English Canada to act." (tr.)
A Montrealer said, "If Quebec separates, it's the little people who will suffer. This separation promises nothing for ordinary people." (tr.) A small number expressed concern about the terms of separation: "Canada might well decide that it would be better to maintain its responsibility towards native peoples in the north ... and annex the whole of 'New Quebec' to the Northwest Territories. "
A relatively small number of francophone Quebeckers told us of an emotional attachment to Canada, as with the group in Quebec City who told us: "...through peaceful cohabitation and collaboration with our English-language counterparts, we have ... made Canada a distinct, democratic, compassionate society, different from the United States ... a state with which we are proud to identify ourselves." (tr.)
Consequences of Quebec Separation
The overwhelming majority of participants believed that the separation of Quebec would have negative impacts on both Quebec and the rest of Canada, including many of those outside Quebec who express strongly their view that no special treatment should be extended to keep Quebec within Canada. A man in the Yukon said, "Perhaps it's psychological, but Canada without Quebec would be open to further erosion, dissipation and regional division."
Others were quite specific in their concern. In particular, francophone minorities outside Quebec were very concerned about their place in a Canada without Quebec. From New Brunswick, we heard that, "Franco,,3hones outside Quebec would become even more of a minority than they are now. We will have to fight against assimilation. It's a real worry for Acadians in New Brunswick - we have everything to fear from a union with other maritime provinces." The same sense of threat was echoed by the Nova Scotia participant who said, "Without Quebec ... Acadians will be weaker ... Without Quebec, the concept of multiculturalism itself will be affected. Our assimilation rate is very high. Our minority, nonetheless, added to the population of Quebec, constitutes all the same a mass. Without Quebec, we will be a negligible minority in Canada. And the provinces, except Quebec, are not very conscious of bilingualism issues." A group of Franco-Manitobans told us: "If Quebec separates, bilingualism in Canada will be finished." (tr.)
Similarly, English-speaking Quebeckers were concerned about the impact on them if Quebec were to separate. While many recognize and support francophone Quebeckers' cultural and linguistic aspirations, most who spoke to the Forum opposed separation' One participant spoke for many in telling us, "If Quebec separates I will still consider myself a Canadian first, and if made to choose, would without hesitation choose Canada."
A considerable number of Forum participants outside Quebec see negative consequences for both Quebec and the rest of Canada in the event of separation:
"I don't want Quebec to go because Canada will fall apart and with regionalism the NWT will be prey to exploitation by provinces." (Northwest Territories)
"I wish those who say 'let Quebec go' would look beyond Quebec and see four Maritime provinces that we would be severing at the same time." (British Columbia)
"The group expressed much concern that in the event that Quebec separates our country will be swallowed up by the United States, one of the reasons to work out some accommodations between the various areas of the country to prevent such a breakup." (Ontario)
"Canada is the only country in the world ... which is a member of both the British Commonwealth, and its French equivalent, La Francophonie." (Ontario)
"An independent Quebec would severely damage the pride many Canadians take in their united country ... it seems likely that New Brunswick would lose something of its closeness to Quebec and perhaps would seek stronger regional ties with. the Atlantic provinces or New England." (New Brunswick)
"(Quebec separation) will adversely affect the future destiny of this province ... We, as a province, have more to lose than any of the other Atlantic provinces. We have historic economic linkages with Quebec, i.e., Labrador." (Newfoundland)
In addressing Quebec's future with Canada, the consequences of Quebec separation were the principal focus for the senior grades in the Students' Forum. Most who addressed -the issue foresaw negative consequences: "If Quebec becomes a new country, it will cause massive problems for Quebec, Canada and the world," said a class in Alberta. "We would lose shipping privileges of some of our major waterways like the St. Lawrence river." An Ontario class saw the consequences as: "Possible loss of waterways, CPR, possibly the French in other provinces would feel hostile, lost, deserted. Sport teams coming from Quebec would be lost. Natural resources from Quebec would be lost."
A minority, but a passionate one, among Forum participants feels the possible loss of Quebec very deeply. A correspondent from British Columbia told us, "Quebec must be, forever, part of Canada. Losing Quebec would be about as bad as losing one's legs. The French language is part and parcel of our heritage. Let Quebeckers have their signs and schools and everything else related to their language. In turn, they will use English when they need to. If the rest of Canada can't tell Sud from Nord, then that's too bad." Another, from Alberta, said "Our arrogant MPs must take time and care to see that realistic wishes of Quebec are attended to in such a manner that Quebec remains an integral part of Canada. I believe that all Canadians know there will be no winners should Quebec separate."
There is, however, among many participants a sense that the rest of Canada can survive the shock of Quebec separation, if the federal government takes a strong leadership position to unite what is left of the country. In a letter from Ontario which captures the view of a great many participants, the writer acknowledged that Quebec's cultural and linguistic distinctiveness is a fact, and that this fact may certainly result in separation. But he urged that English Canada develop its strength and unity in the interest of a creative interdependence whether Quebec technically decides to separate or not. He reflected the view of many that a strong central government is a necessity for Canada's future survival with or without Quebec: "Only a united English-speaking Canada, united not by semantics but by its institutions, will have the clout to deal successfully with Quebec, to resist United States cultural and economic colonization, and to keep its respected place in the world hierarchy of nations."
5. Official languages
The implementation of Canada's official language policy was a major issue of concern for participants, especially outside Quebec (although it is also of considerable importance for English-speaking Quebeckers).
The Value of the French Fact in Canada
Forum participants have given a very mixed review to the presence of English and French in Canada. On the one hand, the majority outside Quebec express severe opposition to the implementation of Canada's policy on official languages, which they often see as unnecessary and irrelevant: "Bilingualism has failed. Quebec should retain French language rights in their province. The rest of Canada is and will remain English. We cannot afford this policy any longer. French should continue to be taught across Canada with proviso that English be taught in Quebec," reported a group in Alberta. On the other hand, a significant number, and often the same people, express their appreciation for the fact that Canada's population is made up of two different language groups and value the distinctiveness this gives our country: "I do not believe that French should enjoy protection only in Quebec. It is one of Canada's two national languages and part of Canada's identity ... Tolerance is needed on both sides," said a participant in Manitoba.
Complaints against official languages policy as it is applied by the federal government are legion, and are linked with a number of other issues. However, the distinction must be made between the changes citizens wish to see in the application of the policy, and the value they place on bilingualism as a personal goal for themselves or an aspiration for their children, as well as on having a country in which two languages are spoken and respected. The two sides of the coin were captured by a participant from Manotick, Ontario, who said, "Two languages should be an asset, but administration of 'official bilingualism' has taken a potentially wonderful and unifying asset and made it hurtful and divisive."
Quebec's Bill 178
An underlying theme in much of the discussion of official languages policy was the opposition expressed by many participants outside Quebec toward that province's law on the language of signs, Bill 178, which imposed restrictions on the use of languages other than French for external display, and the subordination of languages other than French for internal display. These restrictions are symbolic to participants outside Quebec of a rejection of two decades of effort toward an officially bilingual country.
As well, Bill 178 was seen as representing an approach to individual rights which is inconsistent with the values expressed by the majority of contributors outside Quebec. The Quebec government's use of the notwithstanding clause to exempt Quebec language policy from the official language rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was widely criticized as not reflecting appropriate Canadian values. A letterwriter from Ontario made an often-heard statement in saying, "Much of the Canadian antipathy towards Quebec can be traced to the Quebec language charter." A group in Richmond, B.C., said: "...bilingualism is expensive, especially since Quebec doesn't allow English on signs." An Alberta participant also made the link. "I would like to see Canada be bilingual, but not forced in areas where there are no French. I also believe the signs in Quebec should be in both languages."
English-speaking Quebeckers were much less concerned with these restrictions in talking to the Forum than were Canadians outside Quebec. Most English-speaking Quebeckers who spoke to the Forum viewed the protection of the French language as necessary to Quebec, and to Canada, and conveyed a call for greater tolerance on both sides. Many felt that the two language groups in Quebec are co-existing increasingly peacefully, and blame the politicians and élites for continuing to create tensions between them: "I do not, as an anglophone, feel threatened, although sometimes somewhat 'foreign.' I believe that French should remain the first language of Quebec, and that anglophones living in the province should be prepared to communicate in this language, just as francophones living in an English province would learn to communicate in English."
Nonetheless, Quebec's language laws were perceived by many English-speaking Quebeckers as exceeding the bounds of necessity, especially as they were perceived to hinder freedom of expression: "I recognize and accept that French is the dominant and primary language in Quebec. I also believe that the French language can be promoted without hindering freedom of expression. Bill 178 irritates me." Expressing the typically strong sense from anglophone Quebeckers that Quebec can only retain the French language and culture within the framework of a united Canada, one said, "Canada's democratic magnanimity has provided an incubator so that the French language and culture could grow and prosper in the new world and it will continue to do so as long as Quebec remains an integral part of a strong united Canada."
From francophones in Quebec, we often heard comments about what they viewed as the restrictive and ungenerous language policies of other provinces, compared to which they viewed Quebec's approach to English in a very favourable light. "If all the francophones in other provinces would be treated like anglophones in Quebec, this would be 'paradise' since there is no bilingualism in other provinces," (tr.) we were told by a group of Quebec francophones.
We heard from francophones outside Quebec that they are very concerned about protecting their culture and language, and that they regard the federal government as the major source of help in this protection. An
Albertan told us, "Most Quebeckers are astonished when they arrive here to hear us speak French and, when they are told that we are Franco-Albertans, often they look at us as though we were Martians!" (tr.) In an attached copy of a letter to the prime minister, the same participant asked, "Are our rights as a francophone minority entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in perpetuity or are they at the mercy of the number of votes your party can win or to please English Canada if you abandon francophones outside Quebec..." (tr.) A brief from la Commission nationals des parents francophones (the National Commission of Francophone Parents) emphasized the importance of having French schools available for their children, saying that their organization's sole objective is "to ensure the implementation of an education system in French as a first language for francophones outside Quebec." (tr.)
Bilingualism in the Federal Government
The majority of contributors who addressed official bilingualism expressed concerns about either the extent or the costs of official languages in the federal government. Although some accepted the principle of serving citizens in the language of their choice where numbers warrant, by far the prevailing view was that official bilingualism was insensitively and excessively applied, was wasteful and divisive, and should be reduced considerably or eliminated altogether.
A group in Peterborough, Ontario captured the majority view in reporting: "Official bilingualism throughout all of Canada is divisive, unnecessary, impracticable, economically harmful, because English is the business language of the world it must be prime but our educational system should encourage the learning of additional languages." A group in Qualicum Beach, B.C., said: "Official Language Act should be repealed. Too expensive and not needed. French language should be spoken in Quebec and in other areas that are predominantly Francophone."
Of those registering views against bilingualism, many did so somewhat reluctantly, and the majority did so for what they considered to be reasons of practicality: "Pierre Trudeau's vision of a multicultural and bilingual society for Canada was a noble one, but it is apparent now that it simply will not work."
One contributor, reflecting the distinction some people draw between the services of government being delivered in both languages versus the concept of a truly bilingual country, said, "I do not believe Canada will ever be a bilingual country. Canada is too vastfor that. It's crazy to expect someone in the heartland of Quebec to become a fluent English speaker when they never have the opportunity to use English. It's crazy to expect someone in Tuktoyaktuk to learn French, when they are surrounded by people speaking Inuit language. " On the other hand, a group in North York, Ontario, said: "Bilingualism by force has not worked at all. If the money invested in language training for the civil service and others had instead been put into ensuring good language instruction in the school systems of the country, we probably would have been bilingual by now."
"Being able to speak both English and French should be a worthwhile personal goal for all citizens of Canada as an essential element of Canadian 'distinctiveness,"' summed up one participant. "It is also an achievable goal, if only the politicians had the courage to admit that the language policies they have been advocating for the past two decades failed miserably and left the country deeply divided. It's time to scrap the enforced bilingualism policy and heal the wounds."
Participants had many complaints about the way official languages policy is implemented, some specific and some more general. A sampling of what we heard:
"The cost of providing French-language services across the country is absurd."
"The 4 billion - 5 billion per year cascaded into the so-called Bilingual program is a monstrous affront to the people of this country."
"Bilingualism is costing Canadians 10 billion a year and the money is being wasted."
"Take the 'Official' out of the language act."
"Discontinue $800 bonus to public servants. It is very divisive. "
"We cannot escape the suspicion that the definition of 'bilingual' according to the employing agencies of Canada's Civil Service is one whose original language was French and who now can handle English."
"Many government positions have been filled with people whose only qualification is the ability to speak French. Let us stop this destructive waste!"
"All positions of power in government, civil service, the armed forces and RCMP have been taken over by Francophones, and unilingual anglophones reduced to second-class citizens."
"I resented having to take French throughout school just so I could achieve a higher education. Why must it be mandatory for university and certain jobs?"
A minority of participants expressed their support for bilingual services as currently provided by the federal government. "An official languages policy which guarantees service in either English or French at the federal level of government," recommended a group in Merville, B.C., which went on to suggest: "At the provincial level, service in the predominant language of the province (it is the responsibility of the individual to learn the language of his place of residence)." A contributor in Manitoba told us, "My recognition of Quebec's distinctiveness and my belief that Quebec is a vital part of Canada leads me to confirm my support for the status 4?f French and English as official languages across Canada."
A small number also expressed the view that federal policy should try to accommodate the many languages of Canada's citizens. One participant suggested that, "We must strive to be sensitive to all cultures not just French. I cannot support a special status for French Canadians. I do support multilingual services available to all citizens of Canada. Included in telephone books in Australia is a number that accesses translation for non-English speaking citizens. That's the kind of equality that interests me."
"Two Founding Peoples"
Many contributors outside Quebec seemed to approach bilingualism as a gesture made to Quebec in the past to make Quebeckers more at home in confederation. They believe that considerable effort and resources have been dedicated to this effort, but which is now being rejected, along with Canada, by those Quebeckers who wish to separate. Said one contributor, "In the 1970s English Canada extended the hand of appeasement to Quebec and Official Bilingualism was born. We have now had 25 years of Official Bilingualism failure, Quebec could care less and now plans final separation
However, others, especially members of official language minorities, often recalled the notion of the "two founding peoples" as a basis for today's approach to language policy. A group of Franco-Ontarians reminded the Forum: "It was French Canada that was the 'founding nation,' not Quebec. Our rights as a minority evolve from the status of 'founding people,' and will continue whatever is the outcome of the present constitutional debate." Another group of FrancoOntarians suggested that "if Ontario declares itself bilingual, the other provinces would follow and Quebec would open up more to us."
The concept of "two founding nations," English and French Canada, came under considerable attack from Forum participants, as with the contributor in Peace River, Alberta, who said....... if the two founding peoples are traditionally thought of as the English and the French speaking peoples, we are doing a massive disservice to those residents of Canada who were here long before either. To some extent, it also flies in the face of multi-culturalism in a country boasting that it is a melting pot, a successful amalgamation and integration from people of more than 150 ethnic backgrounds." In particular, the concept is seen as insultingly exclusionary to aboriginal peoples, as with the strongly worded statement of a participant who said, "Only a racist would exclude the aboriginals as a founding people."
The concept is also challenged by those addressing the fact that Canadians who are of neither French nor English origin now account for 37 per cent of the Canadian population. This appreciation of our multiculturalism (which is dealt with in more detail below) was expressed by one commenter who said, "Canada is made up of much more than the official 'two founding races,' English and French, Ontario and Quebec ... We must aim to have everyone feel part of the whole." Another said....... this is a multi-racial country and constitutional/cultural considerations must be expanded beyond the English-French, Canada-Quebec questions." Although the "two founding nations" concept had a small number of supporters - as with the British Columbian who said, "Canada should be bilingual, French and English, since our history recognizes two founding people with two distinct languages" - the clear view of many Forum participants is that Canada is a land of aboriginal peoples and immigrants (or the descendants of immigrants), and that these groups have made valuable contributions to the development and strength of Canada.
As mentioned earlier in this section, an important distinction must be made between participants' views on the implementation of official languages policy, and their views on bilingualism as a personal or social asset. The Forum's contributors are by and large quite supportive of second-language instruction, and a considerable number favour increased levels of second-language instruction as part of the education system nation-wide: "French language should be automatically taught as a second language in schools, and English language should be required as a second language in Quebec." Making the same point, another contributor said, "Personally, I would like to see both languages taught from one end of Canada to the other, starting in kindergarten.
The virtues of a bilingual country, and the desire for future generations to participate in it fully, were seen by the participant who said, "We want (Quebeckers) to know that ... parents are standing in line to enrol their kids in French immersion programs. We must make them aware of our changing attitude in order to counteract the impression given by a few redneck Ontarians who trampled and burned the Quebec flag ... Canada is one of the few countries where one can experience another language and culture within its own boundaries and that is one of the things which make this country so precious to me."
A resident of Terrace, B.C., told us, "I am actively' bilingual and I regularly participate in local French Immersion programs. I do so in support of a personal philosophy that language opens the doors of other cultures thereby disclosing new insights towards personal and thus social development." A group discussion in Toronto reported: "... several comparisons were made to bilingual or multi-lingual states in Europe and elsewhere - usually to stress the importance of a unifying central authority alongside linguistic diversity."
Bilingualism in Canada: Unifying or Divisive?
The view was very often expressed that Canada's official languages policy has contributed significantly to the current crisis, including animosity towards Quebec and/or toward French. Frequently used terms describe bilingualism as "divisive" and as "breaking up the country," as in the view of a contributor who said, "Bilingualism beyond the original constitutional provisions was politically motivated, unjust, uneconomical, divisive and a mistake. We must not go further and the affirmative promotion of French across the country must be stopped." Another told us....... forcing bilingualism nationally creates anger and makes hiring talented people difficult." An Ontario group said: "(Bilingualism) is perceived as being of little interest to most Quebeckers whereas a large number of English Canadians have felt alienated by the implementation of bilingualism in the past two decades."
On the other hand, many participants celebrated the distinctiveness that having two major language groups gives Canada in the world: "Bilingualism, in my view, has become a trait of Canadians. I don't think that there is any threat to anyone's cultural identity."
Most contributors were much more supportive of learning and using two (or more) languages than they were of the implementation of official bilingualism, which they see as divisive and wasteful. A former Montrealer now living in Ontario captured the sentiments of many by saying, "It is in the diversity of how we have been able to retain our two principal cultures in Canada which sets us apart as Canadians from our neighbours to the south and it is this richness in heritage and language that I believe is worth preserving."
Clearly, major irritants exist with current official languages policy; however, many contributors (often the same ones) recognize the need for the federal government to provide at least some level of minority language service, and the notion of French and English as Canada's two primary languages is quite deeply entrenched as part of participants' sense of national identity.
6. Aboriginal issues
Forum participants were highly concerned and virtually unanimous in their discussion of aboriginal issues. Their comments were urgent. "...we can never be a united nation until the rights and concerns of the true founding peoples ... are addressed and settled," said one participant; "Real power in native hands now," said another.
The Forum's discussion guide suggested that participants comment on three areas: relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples; the settlement of aboriginal land claims; and the effects of aboriginal self-government. Participants' views on these subjects will be presented in this section; however, we also wish to draw attention to the fact, which we heard repeatedly from groups and individuals in all parts of the country, that people feel very uninformed about aboriginal issues in general, and these issues in particular, and are consequently very reluctant to make specific recommendations. "A massive education effort is now needed, aimed at ordinary adults, to clarify the aboriginal reality and its historical background ... HELP US UNDERSTAND!" pleaded a group from Nova Scotia. "We want more discussion and education," said a group in British Columbia. "We don't know their background or the demands. Very few people know what the Indian people own now, how they get paid, if they own the reserve lands they live on or what is meant by self-government." A group in Manitoba said, "We don't know where the starting point for negotiations is. Does it go back to treaty rights?" Participants repeatedly called for more access to information about aboriginal culture and issues.
Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Relations: A Source of Guilt and Shame
For the vast majority of participants, the history of aboriginals and non-aboriginal relations in Canada is appalling, and they believe the injustices of the past must be rectified. As we heard from a Dene leader in an Electronic Town Meeting. "Our people, whether we are Indian, aboriginal, or Métis, were never defeated, and because of that we have never really spelled out our arrangement with Canada and we're not really Part of confederation.
Although the Forum heard from only a small number of aboriginal peoples, those who spoke to us often told us, emotionally and compellingly, of the dreadful economic and social conditions which characterize most native communities. In Thompson, Manitoba, a Forum commissioner saw and heard the despair of residents. And also heard the warning of a native man who said, "You can only back dogs into a corner for so long before they come out snapping and biting."
A group discussion among members of the Native Brotherhood Society in Winnipeg encapsulated many of the aspirations we heard from aboriginal participants, in reporting: "Native peoples should have the right to manage their own affairs. More leaders are just now emerging. Native peoples should have the right to preserve our language and should be able to have their own justice system for their own people - to help stop the vicious circle of repeat crime rate (incarceration). Native people should have the right as do other peoples in Canada such as ... the right to have promises made promises kept ... the right to manage their own minerals from their own land ... the right to not be made into something they are not. Assimilate not Integrate."
Non-aboriginal Canadians who have been to native communities shared the dismay of aboriginal participants concerning the economic and social conditions in these communities: "Two summers ago I had the pleasure of first hand experiences with aboriginal people," said a letter from Ontario. "In Ontario I visited the native reservations in Moosonee followed by native reserves in Regina and Saskatoon ... I was shocked at the living conditions..." "Conditions on reserves are terrible, every Canadian must be equal in every respect," said a group from Nova Scotia.
Participants faulted both Canadian society in general and the federal government in particular for allowing these conditions to develop and be perpetuated. "In my opinion, natives and aboriginal people seem to be neglected by the government. I believe they deserve more than they are receiving," said a participant in Ontario. A group discussion in British Columbia reported: "As it was put this evening, the situation (regarding native peoples) is a 'national disgrace' and the collective guilt we feel around the mess in our own nest holds us back from taking the place we should as a peacemaker/keeper in global affairs."
The aboriginal peoples who spoke to the Forum also had a message to communicate to the rest of Canada: in the words of one woman at a Forum discussion in Whitehorse, "I've been a 'problem' all my life ... It's time we rewrote the history books so we're included, so then people will understand we aren. t a problem we re a people with a rich history." More specific ally, a caller to the 1-800 line from the Northwest Territories told us, "We, the aboriginal people, do not want to lose our aboriginal rights. We want involvement in constitutional development. We want to work on land claims and get people involved in aboriginal issues and concerns. Leaders of the aboriginal people should get more respect from federal and provincial bureaucrats. Native people should have their own Commission and revise the Indian Act." From Resolute Bay, NWT, we heard, "Some laws do not work effectively in the high arctic because there was limited or no input by Inuit so there is a perception that laws are ineffective. Language of government -forms and other essential government documents are not geared for the majority population Inuit. "
A considerable number of participants wanted to see the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development abolished, as part of a more comprehensive response to aboriginal issues. "The Department of Indian Affairs should be reformed or abolished. Land claims should be settled as soon as possible. Natives should become equal citizens not more than equal." said a report of a group discussion in Saskatchewan.
Non-aboriginal participants often referred to the concepts of "two founding nations" and "distinct societies" in discussing aboriginal issues. "If anyone is 'distinct,' it is Canada's native peoples," said a participant in Manitoba. "Our aboriginal peoples have taken exception to the description of Quebeckers as a founding nation and I have to confess that I find it extraordinary that our native Indian groups have not been included in that description ... It is insulting to those people ... this needs action now," said a letter from New Brunswick. "Aboriginal Indians and Eskimos are a Distinct Society," we heard from a participant in Saskatchewan. "The aboriginal people were here before the French and before the English, consideration should be given to their aspirations and they should have a fair share in the running of this country," reported a group in British Columbia. Some aboriginal participants expressed concerns about the survival of their cultures: "The Inuit culture is majority - and it's a gentle culture compared to other Canadian cultures and not as strong in protecting itself," we were told in Cambridge Bay, NWT.
A number of participants drew parallels between the situation of aboriginal peoples and that of Quebec. "Quebec and the native question are tied very closely together, a question of nationhood and asserting their special status. (The group) wondered if it is realistic for native people to have a separate society, going back to the way their life was 300 years ago, and wondered if that's what they want or do they want to live a more modern life," we heard from Prince Edward Island. A participant in Nova Scotia told us, "We have been so obsessed with Quebec (as Quebec has been so obsessed with itself) that the concerns, not just of native people, but of all other Canadians have not been heard." Also raised was the impact of Quebec separation on the resolution of aboriginal issues: "An aboriginal member of the group said that much of the land currently in Quebec belongs to the Cree Nation and that if Quebec chooses to separate it should not be allowed to take the Cree Nation and its land from Canada."
Some participants were particularly concerned with the conflict between Canada's treatment of aboriginal peoples and Canadian citizens' expressed values: as a caller to the 1-800 line said, "We must make peace with our ancient population and ensure that its interests are protected, not ours. My vision of Canada is that of a nation that is tolerant, that includes Quebec and natives, where power is shared, not fought over."
Contributors also highlighted what they saw as the conflict between our desired international image and our domestic disgrace: a letter from Newfoundland said, "This country has been critical of the treatment given to native peoples and minorities in places like South Africa, Brazil and the USSR. Yet, we have not managed to provide most of our natives and minorities with a means by which they can have adequate input into the way the country is governed."
However, despite the majority view that special recognition is required for the needs and aspirations of aboriginal peoples, not all participants supported this view. A significant minority believed that aboriginal peoples already received enough or too much recognition or government support, and that these "special privileges" should be diminished. "Make them equal, stop supporting them, put them to work," said a group in New Brunswick; "Indians (should) live in our towns, go to our schools, get good jobs, and fight to keep them. This way they will learn self-respect," said one in Ontario. A Manitoba group said: "Aboriginals should be integrated into Canada and then subject to Canadian laws. If they wish to practice their own culture in their own homes, that's fine."
The issue of whether aboriginal peoples should be subject to the same rules concerning taxation as other Canadians was often mentioned, often by people who were at the same time supportive of resolving outstanding grievances....... aboriginals should pay taxes like other Canadians," said a group in New Brunswick. "Native people should obey all the laws that apply to the rest of us, including taxation," said another in Alberta.
In particular, Canadian youth participating in the Students' Forum were much more opposed to special recognition for aboriginal peoples than were adult participants. The students in general adopted an egalitarian approach to questions of cultural diversity. "No-one should be treated any differently because of skin colour or their heritage, and believing that they should be is racist in my opinion!" said a British Columbia high school student - and the senior students who discussed aboriginal issues extended this approach to aboriginal peoples as well. Although a minority of these students identified aboriginal peoples as a society different from other Canadians, as with the student who said, "The Natives are a communal society and their culture is very important to their way of life," the majority felt aboriginal peoples should integrate into a diverse Canadian society. "Reserves should be done away with because they isolate Natives from the group," said a report from a senior high school class in Nova Scotia. "People should not be given special rights or privileges because they are white or ... Native Canadians," said a class in Ontario.
Among adult participants, however, the definite majority view was expressed by the letter from Quebec which said, "(We) have not adequately recognized the rights of the peoples who were living in this terri . tory when it was settled by our forefathers. In justice, we would recognize their rights and invite them to participate in reaching consensus on the future organization of our society."
Aboriginal Land Claims: A Top Priority
The degree of consensus which we heard on the issue of aboriginal land claims cannot be overemphasized. On no other issue did Forum participants demonstrate such clear-cut agreement: the message to government is that these outstanding claims are a national and international embarrassment, and must be resolved quickly and fairly. "Land claims should be settled according to the treaties and promises that were made and accepted in good faith," we heard from New Brunswick. "Land claims need to be settled. We have a moral obligation to the aboriginal peoples," said a submission from Alberta. "... a first priority ... settle the Indian and Inuit land claims," we were told from Ontario. "Aboriginal land claims and treaties should be honoured and settled as quickly as possible," from Manitoba. "Native land claims need immediate attention," from British Columbia. "All outstanding land claims should be settled as quickly as possible," from Newfoundland.
From aboriginal participants, we heard about the extreme importance they attach to the settlement of land claims; we also heard about the difficulties of native peoples living off reserves. A submission representing 850 native peoples living in the general area of Clinton, B.C., of whom most come from the former Clinton Band, High Bar Band and other bands in the area, told us: "We are concerned about the lack of/or absence of funding for native people living in this area. Although the Department of Indian Affairs should be providing services in the area of education, housing, economic development and health and welfare, most of the people in this area do not receive any services. Indian Affairs has adopted a policy of not assisting off-reserve native people. Yet year after year we are made aware of funding available for native people and we are unable to access it."
Forum participants did not, by and large, discuss the existing process for the settlement of land claims in detail, to examine its flaws or recommend alternative processes. Rather, they concentrated on what they saw as the federal government's lack of ability or will to find solutions. In discussing this, and in expressing their high degree of concern with the lack of progress in recent years, contributors also grappled with reconciling their deeply held values of fairness, on one hand, and individual and collective equality on the other, with what clearly must be special treatment for one group in Canadian society. Most participants felt that special attention is needed to rectify past injustices. A typical majority view was expressed by this participant: "These often forgotten people must have greater freedom to control their destiny. A more consistent and honourable plan for settling their land claims is justifiable." And, from another person: "Treaties must be honoured, in full. Land claims must be dealt with, in good faith, with at least the same degree of respect and generosity that we extend to foreign governments."
A group discussion in Penticton, B.C., reported: "The group felt aboriginal peoples had not been fairly treated and that land claims should be settled as soon as possible with priority given to the least complicated claims." A group in Toronto reported: "Guilt, shame, anger at past injustice, willing to accede to most verifiable land claims."
Among those participants who supported quick and fair settlement of land claims, a considerable number qualified their support with concerns about cost, practicality, or rights and responsibilities. "The federal and provincial governments should settle all legitimate land claims as soon as possible. A condition of this settlement should be that aboriginals assume the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen of Canada," said a participant in Ontario. A group in Alberta said: "Settle all Native land claims within the next year! If this means making new countries within Canada for them, then so be it, but if that is the path that is chosen, then no more unending monies channeled to them."
A small minority of participants tempered their support for the settlement of land claims with the view that all Canadians should be equal, and that no Canadians should be given special status, or that aboriginal peoples must be Canadians first. As one participant put it, "We should negotiate settlements because they were here first, but we need to be careful about granting special rights to any groups within a free and democratic society."
Aboriginal Self-Government: What Does it Mean?
While the principle of aboriginal self-government is broadly supported, by Forum participants, it is also an area where noh-aboriginal contributors' self-confessed lack of knowledge prevented them from'taking final positions.
We have heard, from some aboriginal participants, the reasons why they view self-government as necessary, and how they view the principles around which it should be implemented: from Cranbrook, B.C., we heard that, "To the Kt'unaxa/Kinbasket, self-government is the ability to govern ourselves without interference by outside governments ... The preservation and promotion of the aboriginal languages must be a shared responsibility of the provincial and federal governments as it was a combined effort between these two governments to destroy the languages of the first peoples in this country ... The First Nations governments must be responsible for governing themselves through the implementation of their laws that have been established by their ancestors." A member of the Norway House and told us....... many people don't approve of a native government system at the Ottawa level and provincial level ... It will only be bureaucracies, more monies spent at these proposed levels. We believe in Self Government at the Community level but only if we have a voice, self determination, democracy, to plan and to develop together."
Aboriginal participants also raised the issue of whether self-government is an inherent, sovereign right or whether it is a matter for legislative jurisdiction, as with a municipal government model. Representatives of First Nations who spoke to the Forum unequivocally reject legislated self-government: "We do not come to Canadian people with a begging bowl asking for jurisdiction to be put into it," we heard in a presentation in New Brunswick. "We want Constitutional recognition of our existing jurisdiction that has never been extinguished." From the Haida Assembly in the Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., we heard: "Our Nationhood is not open to question. You cannot give that to us or define that for us. All we are asking for is respect. That mutual respect that we've offered so that we can sit down and negotiate a way that we can live together."
Although non-aboriginal participants' concepts of self-government vary widely, most conceive of it "within (the) Canadian law and political system." A group in British Columbia told us: "Self-government on Reserves is acceptable but must follow the laws of the land."
In contrast to the views expressed by aboriginal leaders, most non-aboriginal participants who expressed an opinion on aboriginal self-government believed that it should involve powers similar to those of municipalities: "Reserves should be converted into self-government through the municipal method ... the idea should be to make them as self-sufficient as possible with, at some point, the responsibility of raising part of their budget through taxation." Another typical view expressed is, "Municipal government (elected) by anyone who lives on treaty lands, even non-Indians ... (for) the provision of municipal services" along with "a self-administered trust that managed the inheritance common to all members of the band."
"The group felt that municipal governments should be set up on the reserves," said the report of a group discussion in Ontario. "Aboriginal Self-Government in a form similar to Municipal Government is acceptable and encouraged. A form of Self-Government that has exemptions from provincial or federal laws and responsibilities would not be acceptable," said a group in British Columbia.
One issue which was only occasionally highlighted is the difference between self-government where the land base is apparent and defined, and self-government in other areas, primarily urban, where the connection between territory and jurisdiction is more problematic. Most participants who discussed self-government considered it appropriate for clearly defined territories: as one contributor put it, "Self-government makes a lot of sense for the larger areas up north. These could be treated on a par with the provinces. For smaller territories it becomes problematic. They could have municipal functions."
Other participants recognize that the municipal model may not satisfy native political, cultural, and social aspirations: "If a kind of municipal government within a province is envisaged, it would probably be workable and have no appreciable effect on provinces or on Canada. But it would probably be unacceptable to many aboriginal people, particularly those who want to go farther to establish their independence and identity. "
As with the settlement of outstanding land claims, a small number of participants were opposed to the idea of aboriginal self-government. A group in New Brunswick told us: "...self-government does not seem practical"; another, in Alberta, said: "Any thought of Native groups separating from provincial jurisdiction or from the nation of Canada should be quickly dispelled. Native people should obey all the laws that apply to the rest of us..." A group in British Columbia told us: "Aboriginal Self-Government in a form similar to Municipal Government is acceptable and encouraged. A form of self-government that has exemptions from provincial or federal laws and responsibilities would not be acceptable."
But the majority of participants wish the federal government to act, and soon. They recognize that accommodation is needed, and on both sides. In a letter from the Yukon, a Roman Catholic brother whose father was French and whose mother was a Klingit spoke with passion about his ancestors' links with the land, hoping for ways of coming up with mutually acceptable solutions to Canada's problems: "Canadian citizens have the duty and obligation to give aboriginal people their rights. This could take sacrifice. Doing what is right and just is not always easy and painless. Sacrifice will be easier if it is understood that it is the only moral option and that ultimately it will benefit everyone. Aboriginal people must understand that it is impossible to get everything. They must give up on some demands,"
One contributor from the Yukon summed up the treatment of aboriginal issues by governments in recent years by saying, "It is incomprehensible' that after 17 years of talk and $40 million dollars that land claims and self-government are still not settled ... Every day the government stalls costs taxpayers money. This simply has to stop!" Forum participants' desire for resolution of these issues is both urgent and unambiguous.
7. Cultural diversity
Canada's ethnically and culturally diverse population is, for the majority of participants, one of our most positive national characteristics. However, the way our official multicultural. policy reflects this diversity came under considerable criticism.
The essential complaint is that, in the words of a group discussion from Oakville, Ontario: "Multiculturalism is by itself divisive ... we spend too much time being different and not enough being Canadian." While a great many participants felt that "more exposure to diverse cultures promotes more tolerance, understanding and cooperation, leading one to Canadian identity" (Mississauga, Ontario), many of the same people felt as did a group in Richmond, B.C.: "We are generally in favour of celebrating our cultural heritage. We feel our mosaic character as one of our Canadian characteristics, as opposed to the American melting pot. We feel cultural and ethnic art, music and traditions should be celebrated as in Winnipeg's Folklorama. However, we must remain Canadian first and reinforce that fact through education and cultural events. We must have a strong core to avoid being distracted from who we are."
Overwhelmingly, participants told us that reminding us of our different origins is less useful in building a united country than emphasizing the things we have in common:
"A strong sense was voiced that there should be active maintenance of cultural diversity within the country and that people's distinctiveness should be tolerated. However, the group felt that ... minority groups should themselves promote their own ethnic language and culture in their own homes and cultural milieu. The group stressed, however, that THERE SHOULD NOT BE ACTIVE GOVERNMENTAL FINANCIAL SUPPORT for the promotion of those ethnic cultural and linguistic differences." (Quebec)
"The policy of financial support from our government to foster the maintenance of foreign traditions while at the same time starving national cultural institutions such as the CBC and the Canada Council constitutes negligence." (Ontario)
"A true culture should be in the individual philosophy of living, not in the visible rituals and languages. We do not advocate using government funding to support multicultural activities. We believe this works against unity by creating division in our society." (Alberta)
Participants queried the focus on citizens' origins and celebrating heritage cultures, rather than embracing a uniquely Canadian national character and celebrating our Canadian heritage: "The Federal Government is promoting multiculturalism to the detriment of a true Canadian identify. There should be allowances for the freedom of new Canadians to practice their own culture and language in the confines of their community but the government must make it abundantly clear to all immigrants that to become a Canadian citizen, their foremost loyalty must be to Canada and its laws." Participants believe that the symbols of Canadian heritage are being changed or eroded to accommodate new Canadians, thereby leaving few symbols that are identifiably Canadian and reflect our traditions.
"This leads to the issue of turbans to be worn as part of the R.C.M.P uniform," as a participant from British Columbia put it, raising a concern which we heard over and over about one of our most identifiable symbols. "I was dismayed that the judicial system regarded this as a racial matter. To me, and many other Canadians the R.C.M.P. uniform is a symbol of our Canadian identity and should remain so." As mentioned in the discussion of Canadian values, there is considerable concern that the rights of minority groups are eroding the individual rights of Canadians in general. Many groups and individuals who expressed their pleasure in Canada's cultural diversity also expressed their disapproval that historic Canadian symbols or institutions should not be treated as permanent. "Our new Canadians have more cultural recognition than Canadians," said a contributor from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Funding of Multiculturalism Programs
A great many participants see the funding of multiculturalism programs as a concrete example of the way in which the government is encouraging divisiveness through our diverse cultural origins, rather than fostering unity. The statements made about public support for heritage cultures were usually unambiguous: a group from Ontario said: "The group felt that public money should not be spent to keep alive another culture. Rather, it should be the job of the cultural groups to look after preserving their own language and other aspects of their previous culture." From a group in British Columbia: "The good aspects of any culture will survive and spread without any help from the government if the people want to keep those aspects alive." A group in New Brunswick reported: "(multicultural communities) should be allowed to follow their cultural activities but at their own expense."
A number of participants, including many of the new Canadians who spoke to the Forum, told us they would prefer to see available public funds spent on language training and other forms of integration assistance for newcomers to Canada, rather than on heritage culture preservation. "I derive great personal joy from living in a multicultural society. But I also think that we have to be pro-active in dealing with the changing demographics of Canadian society," said one participant. "This means providing funding for special programs where they are needed and insuring that human rights are upheld for all citizens. We need to forego wasteful extravaganzas in favour of effective programs to help integrate rather than assimilate newcomers into Canadian society."
No More "Hyphenated Canadians"
One of the most consistent messages we heard from participants was a desire to see an end to "hyphenated Canadians." The practice of attaching our origins to our citizenship is very pervasive in Canada, but over and over, from new Canadians as well as others, participants asked the government to understand that our citizens just want to be Canadian.
The Muslim Women's Study Circle told us: "Ethnic Canadians find it hard to identify themselves as Canadians because they're always asked about their roots." An Ottawa man said, "I speak as one whose own heritage is basically north European - German, Russian, Danish and English - and I did not come to Canada to try to maintain those heritages, but to leave them behind and do what I could to be Canadian." While some contributors either strongly favoured or strongly opposed a culturally diverse society, most enjoyed and embraced our diversity while criticizing the official attitude toward it: "The society that I envision would understand and accept the differences which each individual and each culture bring to it." From another, "The effect of your 'multiculturalism' - nobody is Canadian; instead everyone remains what he was before he came here and 'Canadian' merely means the monetary unit and the passport." Still another said, "...if, indeed, we aspire to be a Nation, then such a notion must be more than just an assortment of hyphenated Canadians." And, from another, "there should be no such thing as French Canadians, Jewish Canadians, Irish Canadians...we are all 'Canadians' not hyphenated Canadians."
The belief that we should all be "Canadians first" was very strongly expressed outside Quebec. In Quebec, the majority sentiment was that newcomers should adapt to the culture of Quebec, and attach themselves to the language and symbols of the province. A group in Drummondville reported: "Promote the integration of cultures. Fear for Quebec francophones. Promote the French fact in Quebec." (tr.) Francophones were less likely than English-speaking Canadians to focus on multiculturalism policy as a barrier to cultural unity:
"We believe that we accept them well but we have the impression that they come to Canada but do not want to be Canadian or Quebeckers. They form communities and close themselves off in a little Italy, a little Greece, a little China, etc. They should make an effort to integrate with us." (tr.)
The young people who participated in the Students' Forum had a somewhat different view of Canada's cultural diversity than did their adult counterparts. Students were less likely to raise concerns about newcomers' attachment to Canada, and more likely to raise racism in Canada as a serious problem. "Canada is a rainbow of people and places," said a fourth-grade student in London, Ontario, reflecting the general acceptance among student participants of Canadians' diverse origins. But, "Racism is an issue which should be resolved," said a grade twelve student in Bedford, Nova Scotia; "We are a racist society, as evidenced by the media and everyday events," said a tenth-grade student in Kitchener, Ontario.
Some adult participants also raised the presence of racism and racial discrimination in Canadian society as issues which need to be addressed. The Canadian Ethnocultural Council told us: "There is some noted public opinion to suggest that Canadians are 'over-governed.' It is important to note that from the perspective of minorities or those facing inequality or discrimination, the opposite is the case. The struggle of minority ethnocultural communities is largely one of turning around the way things have been done in the past, on the premise that while society is changing, institutions are not.
8. The Canadian economy
Concerns about the economy dominated many Forum discussion groups. Participants expressed a deep-seated insecurity about the current state and future prospects of the Canadian economy. They did not broadly accept the dislocations that come from measures designed to respond to international economic forces. "What concerns people now is whether they'll have a job tomorrow, how high taxes are and the quality of life in their local community. Tinkering with clauses in the constitution comes a poor second," said one British Columbian, echoing the view of most participants. The vast majority regard economic factors as being largely beyond their individual control, but they hold their governments responsible for creating a healthy economic climate within which they and their families may prosper.
Although participants usually focused on specific aspects of the economy, and did not generally engage in discussion of the causes underlying poor economic performance, or the interaction among the different elements of economic policy, a small number presented their concerns at the level of the economy as a whole. "This country, with all its riches, should be economically #1 in the world, but it is slipping deeper behind," said a letter from Ontario, going on to say, "The reason for this is its industrial underdevelopment which in turn comes from the fact that Canada has never been a well managed united country but the sum of ten different, partially underdeveloped and semi-independent, often feuding countries, living beyond their means solely for political expediencies. While we have some dubious free trade' with the U.S., we still have no free trade within Canada." A Newfoundlander told us, "interprovincial trade barriers, provincial differences in codes and standards, and an absence of transferability of credentials, education, and social services are all testimonials to the failure of Canada to become a nation ... Support for decentralization should be based on the rational evaluation of appropriate divisions of power, not knee-jerk reactions to a failed federal system."
A considerable number of participants linked their concerns about the economy with what they saw as the fundamental social contract of the Canadian federation. An Ontarian who wrote to us believed that "Canada was founded with the belief in an active interventionist government. Not that this has always worked for Canada's benefit, inter-provincial trade barriers attest to that, but the fact is, an entire system and way-of-life has been built upon premises other than the ones espoused by Brian Mulroney and other proponents of economic 'liberalization'...This stemmed from the belief (originally Conservative/Tory in nature) that government was the 'care-taker' of society, and that in view of Canada's peculiar socioeconomic and geographic circumstances, economic rationality was ill-suited for the Canadian milieu and the public interest, or common good.
"If you have any kind of decent value system, you do not measure the success of a country on its performance in international markets," one participant told us, going on to say, "A country is successful if it feeds and educates its children, cares for its sick, disabled and elderly, and promotes a healthy social and cultural life which enables the full development of all its citizens at a decent standard of living. Competition is an economic tool which can help to bring about these conditions. To make it an end in itself as the federal government now does contradicts the sense of community co-operation and sharing which we need for a country which is truly successful in human terms."
There is a strong sense, outside Ontario and Quebec, that economic policy decisions are driven by the needs of central Canada, and that their effects on other regions are of little importance to Ottawa. A participant from Alberta said, "An example of the type of policy I am referring to is the recent high interest rate policy of the federal government. It was in place to battle inflation. Where was the inflation? In Ontario. Did the Western Provinces or the Maritimes have an inflation problem? No ' Did they pay the high interest rates? Yes." In Manitoba, we heard, "At present, Ontario and Quebec have most of the money - business - power and population. Whatever is good for them they endorse - even to the detriment of other regions of Canada. "
Ultimately, participants regarded economic policy as a matter for governments; the conundrum at the moment is that, in an area vitally important to them as individuals, their fate is in the hands of governments they do not trust to tax or spend wisely or to consult them adequately before changing important ground rules: a group in Scarborough, Ontario, told us, "We need leaders who are visionaries who would lead us in this effort. We can no longer depend on our non-renewable resources to carry the country's economy."
By far the most frequently mentioned economic issue was the deficit. Apart from the general concern that the deficit be reduced, participants often recommended limits on governments' ability to incur large deficits, limits on or strict monitoring of government spending, and a balanced budget. A group discussion in Hay River, NWT, told us, "We are living beyond our means. Our inability to deal with our debt is the one thing that will destroy Canada." Another group discussion, in Waterloo, Ontario, reported that, "Canada is a rich country, rich enough to aid others even more than we are currently doing. However, we have acquired massive debt loads, both as a nation and as individuals. We simply cannot continue to live at our present level. Unless we curb our considerable wastefulness, cut down on unnecessary extravagances and lower our needs and expectations, both as a nation and as individuals, we may ruin ourselves and be unable to give anything to anyone else." A caller to the 1-800 line put it succinctly: "The government is living a champagne life on a beer budget.
A popular idea was some form of limitation on the deficits governments would be allowed to incur. "We must have a clause in the constitution that sets clear limits for both federal and provincial governments on how much debt will be allowed in a given year and also how much accumulated debt will be allowed," said one letter. "The business of buying votes and then leaving the bills for the next generation is an odious way to get power and it must be prevented in the future."
The Goods and Services Tax
With respect to the GST, comments were overwhelmingly negative. Generally, participants felt that the GST was forced on them without adequate attention to what is seen as the clearly expressed opposition of the citizenry. From the 1-800 line, a caller asked, "How will the people of Canada be able to influence the government through the Citizens' Forum if their ideas on the GST and free trade were so easily ignored?" A letter from Alberta told us, "The one thing it (the GST) does do is remind me, every time I pay for an item or send out an invoice, how much I hate the government." From Manitoba, we were told, "Reduce the national deficit, but nor with devices (GST) that impoverish a large portion of the population."
A small percentage expressed some support for the tax, particularly if it could be used to reduce the deficit. "Lower the deficit with the GST collected," said one letter from Ontario.
Forum participants were quite concerned about government spending, perceiving much of it as wasteful and not addressing the country's real problems. Spending in a number of areas - notably on social services, regional economic equalization, communications, education, and the environment - received widespread support and calls for increases, as from the Ontario participant who called for "...the political will to unite this country under a strong central government which will provide universal medicare, old age security, unemployment insurance, day care and equal opportunities for education."
However, there is a broad perception that a great deal of other money is spent by government in frivolous or futile pursuits. A participant in British Columbia told us that, in his view, the major issue is "Government spending, Ifeel that government employees are allowed to spend too much money without an investigation when there are people starving." A Nova Scotian, reflecting the widespread perception that a disproportionate share of government spending occurs in Quebec, said, "The federal government can pour billions of dollars into Lavalin and Bombardier yet it has to cut back in Atlantic or Western Canada."
Regional Economic Disparities
Considerable concern was expressed about economic disparities among Canada's different regions. Although these concerns were heard more frequently in the Atlantic region than elsewhere, citizens in all parts of the country indicated their awareness of regional economic disparities and their continued willingness to help eradicate them.
Anxiety in Atlantic Canada over the condition and future prospects of that region's economy cannot be overstated. While an entrepreneurial spirit is strong, Atlantic Canadians are aware of the region's small population base and continued need to rely on economic . assistance from other parts of Canada; however, there is a strong sense that the region's interests are not of sufficient importance to Ottawa. A group discussion in Nova Scotia reported: "There was a general feeling that interests of Maritimers are of little importance to federal government: cuts to transfer payments in education, apparent phasing out of medical insurance payments by federal govt., Via Rail cuts, etc. indicate indifference to regional concerns. Anxiety to placate Quebec seems more important to federal govt. than regional inequalities." "...the Maritimes are forgotten areas of Canada ... have never been treated equally," we heard from New Brunswick, where we were also told, "The Atlantic Provinces should be exempt from federal budget cuts."
A letter from Newfoundland highlighted the differences in the relative definitions of recession and prosperity in different parts of Canada. "Last summer I spent several weeks in Ontario, particularly Toronto, Oshawa, and Ottawa," this participant said. "A trade recession was 1 . n progress then or so we were told. I saw new homes being built by the score; department stores doing business at a rate seen in Corner Brook only at Christmastime; more new cars in an average parking lot than here we see in a dealership yard. My ,only comment on that kind of trade recession is, please give us some of it here in Newfoundland!"
We also heard concerns expressed in western Canada, particularly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, about the condition of the agriculture industry. "The farms are going under," we were told over and over. A group in Manitoba asked for "more consideration given the agricultural areas and farmers of Manitoba. If not looked after, there will be no farmers left." Another wanted to see "a system to spread wealth in Canada to have the poorer parts of Canada have the same privileges as richer provinces."
We heard very little objection expressed from the "have" provinces to continuing their contributions to less advantaged regions; however, participants in British Columbia and Alberta very often expressed opposition to government support for the economies or industries of Ontario and Quebec. "I wish to see a significant change in the economic relationships between the center (Ontario and Quebec) and the West," was a typical comment from British Columbia; "I think the center's economic domination and exploitation of the West should be ended forthwith. I would be prepared to see the West continue to subsidize the Maritimes but not the center." Even in Ontario, we heard little call for direct government support to Ontario and Quebec industries; the issue was not a major point of discussion for Quebec participants.
Free Trade Agreement
A high degree of interest and concern was manifested concerning the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, with very little positive comment coming forward except in Quebec where the agreement is more positively perceived. "Withdraw from Free Trade agreement which only benefits international bankers and companies," said a group in British Columbia. Participants thought that too many businesses are locating outside Canada; water resources were not specifically excluded from the FTA; the US was given an unacceptable level of access to Canadian energy resources; the FIA is costing Canadians too many jobs; and, the US benefits disproportionately or solely from the agreement: "Free trade is killing Canadians with plants closing and moving to the cheaper U.S. markets. The deal needs to be renegotiated to level out the playing field. It is too much to the advantage of the U.S." was a typical comment.
Participants expressed their concern and anger that the dislocations they perceive to be resulting from the agreement have not been addressed by government. A group in Southwestern Ontario told us that, for them, a major issue of concern "is that of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and its effects on a region where the Canadian automotive industry is heavily concentrated, such as Windsor. The region must be strengthened by the government, to help alleviate (the damage) which will be caused by the Free Trade Agreement."
9. Responsible leadership and participatory democracy
One of the strongest messages the Forum received from participants was that they have lost their faith in both the political process and their political leaders. They do not feel that their governments, especially at the federal level, reflect the will of the people, and they do not feel that citizens have the means at the moment to correct this. Many of them, especially outside Quebec, are prepared to advocate and to support substantial changes to the political system if these would result in a responsive and responsible political process, and in responsive and responsible political leaders.
Participants' desire for these changes is related to a loss of faith, on their part, that the existing political system will make decisions which reflect their values and aspirations for the country. To the extent that reforms can be made which would restore this faith, participants' demand for direct participation in decision making would be less. In other words, they would like major decisions affecting them to be made in a responsible manner, and in a manner that is responsive to both the expressed views and the general well being of citizens.
"Honesty and spirit of service to the people - none of the other issues can be addressed without such goodwill from all parties. At present Parliament is a charade of political gamesmanship." (From a couple in their 70s, in Ontario)
"The group wants our elected officials to get off their collective butts and start 'leading' this country." (From a group in Manitoba)
"Partisan politics have alienated Quebec and divided the regions. Political parties have promoted false perceptions among Quebecers: Tell Quebec whatever she wants to hear, so long as she gives us her votes. Tell Quebec how different she is from the rest of Canada, and that only our party can represent her interests. Politicians have set Quebec at odds with the rest Of Canada, and to a lesser degree the regions with each other." (From a letter from Saskatchewan)
"We can't be fooled into thinking that all we need is to find the right formula and everything will be fine. Our political leaders are bankrupt, and lack vision or mandate." (From a group in Manitoba)
"There isn't a single thing we can do. We vote in a government that says they will make things better or whatever else they say ... When have they kept a promise? But it doesn't matter what I think, I am 14; no one listens..."' (From a junior high school student in Ontario)
"Just terrible the way they carry on in Parliament like unruly children. Bad tempered brats, no control, quarrelling between parties. Why don't they get together and use their better ideas?" (From a group in Ontario)
"Political priorities are not necessarily national priorities ... Grassroots organizations should be consulted to a greater level." (From a group in New Brunswick)
"There is a vacuum of leadership, with no clear vision and purpose, to our national destiny, and graft, corruption and inefficiency prevail, in a burdensome bureaucracy of legality and taxation." (From a letter from Quebec)
The requirement for responsive and responsible leadership is not an issue separate from the others treated elsewhere in this part of the report. Rather, it is an underlying theme which runs throughout the comments we heard on a wide variety of issues: on management of the economy, on treatment of aboriginal peoples, on constitutional change and the place of Quebec in the federation, on bilingualism and multiculturalism. In all these areas, citizens have told us they do not feel governed according to their wishes and their fundamental values.
As participants discussed the problems and challenges they see in Canada's future, commissioners were often told that the media must take a considerable share of the blame for focusing on our divisions, for not doing enough to convey basic, reliable information, and for failing to show us to ourselves in a constructive manner. A group discussion participant in Islington, Ontario, put it succinctly: "Media: a major source of misinformation and confusion."
In many cases, participants expressed the view that what they saw as the media's emphasis on confrontation and editorializing distorted the presentation Of issues and increased the chances that problems would turn into crises: "The media has done us much harm in reporting on such things as Quebec separatist feeling and on Meech Lake. The media has blown things out 0 f proportion and sensationalized," said a group in Manitoba. A participant in Merville, B.C., said, "(the) media must stop emphasizing our differences and concentrate more on those things which we have in common and which unite us." It is clear to us that Forum participants are charging not just political leaders, but also the media, with a responsibility to adhere to fundamental Canadian values in fulfilling their role in our future.
Fundamental Values to Which Governments Must Adhere
Fundamental Canadian values, clearly expressed to the Forum, are especially relevant in considering participants' disaffection with the political process. Specifically, the vast majority of the citizens who spoke to us believe that the country is not being governed according to the values they espouse and which they believe characterize Canada as a society.
The three fundamental values most often mentioned as needing to define governments' behaviour are equality, fairness, and cooperation.
The concept of equality applies both to individuals and to their provinces, territories and regions. The equality of individual citizens is a concept that has gained considerable currency in Canada since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect. Participants strongly disapprove of government policies which seem to promote the rights of groups over individuals, or seem to limit the rights of individuals, especially in comparison with citizens in other Canadian jurisdictions. Similarly, as discussed in more detail in the section on Quebec and Canadian Unity, the Canadians who spoke to the Forum will not countenance apparent inequality among provinces or special privileges" for one or more provinces.
Second, a strong theme stressed by a great many contributors was that Canada is a country in which citizens decisions and governments should try to make that are fair - to the citizenry in general, to different provinces and regions, and to different groups that extend across geographical and political boundaries within the country. A number of groups were often mentioned as having been unfairly treated in the past, notably aboriginal peoples, but also Acadians, anglophones in Quebec, francophones outside Quebec, Westerners, maritimers. The converse of this sentiment is that no group should receive unwarranted preferential treatment.
Third, a significant number of contributors also stressed the need for a cooperative effort if we are to achieve the type of Canada we desire. A pervasive theme of Canadian history and literature is that we are an improbable country built on compromise and cooperation, in the face of a forbidding geography and climate that would otherwise overwhelm us. The present day incarnation of this underlying concept of Canada is the recognition that we are still a relatively small population next to a very large and potentially dominant neighbour, and that any action we take which reduces our capacity to act as a unit will ultimately damage, more than benefit us. Further, participants encourage not just a passive cooperation - working together ' because we do not have an alternative - but also a much more active effort toward mechanisms which will bring together our competing interests and work toward resolving them in a peaceful, cooperative manner.
The vast majority of those who spoke to the Forum do not believe their current leaders have been governing in accordance with fundamental values. While some expressed sadness and disappointment in their leaders, a great many more were angry, with their anger being directed particularly at federal politicians. The prime minister was a favourite target, with many participants even calling for his resignation. A number of quotes from participants will convey both the tone and the general message being delivered:
"... lack of vision is the actual reason behind your forum. The Prime Minister, his Cabinet, his Party, indeed all parties and all the legislative assemblies all lack vision. None have been, none are capable seeing a new future for Canada and when we call for a proposal, they admit to a lack of one."
"... another problem is the Prime Minister's inability to keep in touch with the public. Most people are against Free Trade, G.S.T., cutbacks (just to name a few) but he still rams it down our throats whether we like it or not."
"Our three political leaders are not committed to intellectual integrity."
"The secrecy involved in the Meech Lake process must never happen again."
"The Government alone is responsible for the broad feeling of disunity in Canada. Its handling of issues reflecting Canadian unity is deplorable."
"The people who haven't got the message - and don't want to hear it - are the politicians, particularly our Prime Minister. He will do his desperate best to go the decentralized route even if it means the dismemberment of the country. If he loses Quebec, he loses his power base. The scary part is that many premiers wouldn't mind this more-power-to-the provinces scenario at all."
There is no ambiguity, and practically no regional variation, to be found in the disillusionment of our population with its current leadership, nor can their call for honour, responsiveness, and governance in accordance with their fundamental values be misinterpreted.
Many of the Canadians who spoke to the Forum about leadership issues are concerned with the constraints placed on their elected representatives which prevent them from being responsive to their constituents' wishes. There is a widespread perception that the work of parliament has little meaning, since the government controls parliament and other elected representatives have little or no opportunity for significant input. Forum participants have told us that,. were they to believe that the government of the day is doing things which they have voted on and approved, this might be tolerable. As it is, the actions of the government, once , seem to bear little resemblance to the party in power platform in an election campaign. Major government policies are developed and enacted during a mandate which either were never mentioned or received little attention during a campaign. In the words of one participant people feel there is a lack of significant communication between the general population and the government, that politicians once elected do not act as if accountable to the people."
Consequently, since election campaigns do not constitute a vote by the people on these policies, and since elected representatives seem to have little or no influence or freedom to represent constituents' views, there is a perceived need for mechanisms which will (a) require members of parliament to consult their constituents on major issues; and, (b) either give them more freedom, or require them to vote according 'to their constituents' wishes. A group in Ontario reflected the consensus of most Forum discussions in reporting:
"The government must be changed. We must have a system whereby our elected representatives truly represent and reflect the wishes of their constituents."
Mechanisms in both these areas were often specifically recommended by Forum participants. Participants' support much more use of free votes and for the relaxation of party discipline, which is perceived as a major constraint on the effectiveness of elected officials in representing constituents' views and in controlling a government agenda which may be out of touch with citizens' concerns.
A group in Ontario reflected the widespread desire for more citizen involvement: "...the blind adherence to party discipline that is required of our MPs has turned the House of Commons into a House of Puppets ... The often repeated argument 'I was elected to make decisions and do not need the opinions of constituents' is not acceptable in a modern country with a highly educated population." A participant in Nova Scotia told us, "We need more free votes' and less following party line. An MP does not have the freedom to reflect his/her constituents' wishes. The MP brings the message from Ottawa to his riding. The message must go from the riding to Ottawa!!!" A correspondent from Alberta said, "I would like to vote into parliament the representative I feel will do the best job for me. How- ,Am ever, that particular individual may belong to the wrong party ... If I vote according to party, I automatically sanction all issues on that particular platform, whether or not I actually agree with them."
Another participant echoed this view in saying, "The major flaw in our country today is the abuse of democracy so prevalent at both federal and provincial levels. Our politicians are not listening to us, but are driven by party solidarity." A participant in a Yukon group discussion said; "We can speak only twice a decade. Then we must suffer the indignity of being told, 'The people of Canada have elected me therefore..., We have learned to distrust this method. It is not up to politicians to effect a change in the fabric of the country ... They must listen to the people rather than a battery of advisors. This cannot be done by polls. Socrates demonstrated that questions predict answers."
Another suggestion which was often made was for members of parliament to be required to consult constituents on issues and to vote according to the views received. As a correspondent from Saskatchewan put it, "Our elected members of Parliament should be forced to comply with their regional voters' wishes, not with their conscience or party affiliation." A British Columbian said, "MPs who are elected should answer to their constituents and in the Commons according to the majority consensus of their constituents in matters of national importance."
A significant number of participants - including junior and senior high school students - proposed limitations on the number of terms of office an elected official could hold. "The office of Prime Minister must be so set up that no person be allowed any more than two successive terms," said a letter from Newfoundland, 11 because after that they tend to ignore the public an think they rule by divine right."
Ensuring responsiveness at a more regional level was generally the rationale for those who recommended reform of the Senate. However, specific positions were less clear. While many suggested an elected or differently-appointed Senate which would help equalize regional political power bases, a considerable number of participants also recommended the Senate's abolition altogether. Participants outside Quebec were more concerned with Senate reform than others:
"The most obvious change that is required immediately is the Senate ... The Senators should be elected and there should be equal representation from each province regardless of population size." (New Brunswick)
"The senate as presently constituted, except on rare occasions, is probably more expensive than it is worth; yet Parliament over the past twenty years has lost enough of its power to delay bad legislation that some sort of check or balance is necessary, or a majority government can do immense damage. An elected, equal and more effective senate, qualified on the basis of citizenship, with no party allegiance, elected for a period of 8 years." (Ontario)
"Senators should not be from parties in power, they should be elected by the people." (Alberta)
"The Senate, which has been a real drain on the tax- payers of this country and becoming more so, should be abolished. If a Senate is necessary let it be elected from every province in much reduced numbers." (British Columbia)
On the topic of Senate reform, many participants had negative comments about the appointment of additional senators to deal with the Goods and Services Tax legislation, or about the behaviour of senators during that debate. "The debauchery in the Senate over the G.S.T. was beneath civilized behaviour," said a participant from Ontario. "It only proved how useless the senate is to-day." A contributor from British Columbia told us, "About the only good thing I can say about the present federal government is that John Fraser told the Senate that they cannot get $163.00 for showing up for work. "
Although Senate reform or abolition were mentioned by a considerable number of participants, most did not consider it a complete solution to the problems they identified; other mechanisms as described in this section were also very often included.
If elected representatives do not respond to the call to be more responsive to the wishes of their constituents, participants are adamant that there must be ways to discipline them more frequently than every four or five years. Specifically, we have received many recommendations for a mechanism by which an MP can be recalled following a petition signed by an adequate number of his or her constituents. There have also been many calls for a mechanism by which an incumbent prime minister can be removed from office by the citizens directly rather than by his or her political party membership.
A letter from British Columbia summarized succinctly the views of many in saying, "Elected representatives must be more accountable to the voters or recall and replace them." Another felt that "The wishes of the citizens are becoming less important to the Members of Parliament than their own personal desires and wishes. The citizens should have the power to recall a member if he fails to act in the interests of the country and fails to present bills or argue for the rights and betterment of the citizenry and the country." An Ontarian told the Forum that, "The constitution must be amended to provide a way to impeach politicians who do not carry out the wishes of their constituents. If they are not carrying out their constituents' mandates they must be replaced." Another expressed with passion the sentiments shared by many participants in saying, "As for the government itself, recall and direct responsibility to the electorate should be implemented. You do not rule us, you work for us. Stop being so secretive, try honesty and straightforwardness. The people of this country are thirsting for an honest government."
Direct Citizen Participation
The third element of political reform for which Forum participants are expressing a desire is a mechanism or mechanisms for direct citizen participation in important decisions affecting their lives. As a group in Quebec told us: "The opinions and comments of individuals concerning 'their' country and its future should be considered. It is time the individual becomes actively involved in the future of Canada and not leave it to the politicians!"
Much of this concern focuses around processes of constitutional reform - the desire for a more open, public, democratic process - but it also extends, with almost equal weight, to other important policies. As noted earlier, changes which provide for a more open, responsive government may diminish the demand for direct citizen participation in decision making. However, in the absence of such changes, and, in some cases, in addition to them, a number of mechanisms have been suggested. The two most popular were more use of referenda on major policy issues and a constituent assembly or other extra-parliamentary mechanism for constitutional reform. "Citizen-initiated referenda to make Members of Parliament accountable to their constituents would be an excellent check on extravagances," we-heard from a participant in Ontario. "Set up a constituent assembly independent of government, with equitable representation from each province (or region) and territory,, and from aboriginal groups," we were told in a letter from Nova Scotia, which went on to say, "Put an end to executive federalism!" The mechanisms, however, seem less important than the will of government itself to govern in accordance with the citizens' expressed desires and values.
A participant from British Columbia provided a comment which summarizes the underlying aspirations of many who are requesting the changes set forth in this section. In summing up why changes were necessary, this participant said, "Canadians seek more than just a stable government and a buoyant economy; they desire a more adequate democracy. Canadians desire a democracy which allows greater participation. They desire a democracy that no longer excludes certain groups from their rightful place in our rich heritage and society. They desire a democracy that is centred upon a belief in equality, justice and co-operation." Citizens who spoke to the Forum have told us, very clearly, that a renewed democracy is vital to their continued faith in their nation.
When we began our consultations many people doubted the Forum process and wondered whether what they said would actually be heard. No part of the country was any more doubtful than another in this respect; citizens in all areas of Canada expressed the same hesitations and concerns.
As we reported in Part 1, by the end of our consultations we were overwhelmed by the citizens' reaction to the Forum itself and especially to our discussion groups. Here, we will let the voices of participants be heard on the Forum itself and on citizen participation more generally.
On the Forum
"I was happy that Inuit were asked to take part." (Northwest Territories)
"I have recently participated in a local forum, and feel very positive about the experience. The opportunity to have input to the country's future, in such an immediate sense, seemed to inspire lively discussion among the sixteen participants, and a surprising degree of consensus." (British Columbia)
"This very forum is viewed by many Westerners as a cynical exercise in public relations rather than a purposeful study." (British Columbia)
"Please find attached the submission of myself and fifteen other friends and neighbours. The interesting thing about the signatories is that they are not the kind of people who rush out to public meetings of any kind, and would be reluctant to speak out at any but the smallest gatherings. We all share a deep and abiding love of Canada, and a sense of urgency that a massive healing process must begin soon." (Ontario)
"I must confess to a sense of utility about this process, since I find it hard to believe that the present government of Canada will listen to any of the citizens of the country." (Ontario)
"(What did members of the group indicate they were willing to do ... ) Be more involved. Participate in the Citizens' Forum. (For several, this was the most political activity of their lives.)" (Quebec)
"The Forum should address the growing sense of powerlessness of Canadians, who no longer (an in some cases, never did) feel confident of the government's commitment to its people, or of its ability to lead." (New Brunswick)
"It was the unanimous consensus that if we had to spend $27 million annually on this Forum as opposed to an annual $295 million on Parliament ... and if the distillation of an annual Forum were by law imperative of implementation, we would opt for a permanent Forum." (Newfoundland)
"I resent the fact that a government must go out and test' the mood of the citizens whom it governs. Appointing a Commission 'from on high' is not only a recognition of the separation of government and community, it is a manifestation of the abuse which has generated such a division. These philosophical objections, however, are insufficient to excuse non-participation; the goals of your Commission are too important to ignore." (Newfoundland)
On Speaking Out for Canada
"The Federal government has been too quiet and timid for decades which allowed the politicians of Quebec to become too dictatorial. Now, since all Canada seems to be waking up you can't stop talking about it anymore, please hammer away at it day by day until the referendum or next election, as long as there is hope. Canada is well worth fighting for." (Quebec)
"We must ensure that this land called Canada is here for the next ten thousand years and beyond. This Is what I want and this is what my family wants. This I am willing to stand up and be counted for. One vote, one voice, one Canadian. If I am the only voice then we are in a sorry state. I think not. Canadians from all walks of life are not and will never be willing to let this country go down the drain without so much as a whimper." (Ontario)
"I am a seventy-two year old white, Anglo-Saxon Canadian ... I will send a copy of this letter to Prime Minister B. Mulroney, Premier Bob Rae, Premier Clyde Wells, Audrey Mclaughlin, Jean Chrétien, and my local representative ... This is a sacrifice on my part as I live on pensions and I realize one or all copies might never be read by anyone except the mail clerk, but you will not be able to report the people don't care." (Ontario)
"The most salient idea running through the whole discussion was the need for individuals to have a stronger voice in the decisions affecting their lives, region and country." (Ontario)
"Make the young people in Canada proud, WE ARE THE FUTURE and if something isn't changed, there won't be much of a future." (Saskatchewan high school group)
"Still the greatest country. Let's ask what we can do for Canada, not what can Canada do for me. Let's work to make it great." (Alberta)
"In conclusion, as far as my input having any effect ... I rate my effort's chances even lower than yours, but at least I have tried. I believe it is every citizen's right, duty and indeed obligation to make an effort in this matter; otherwise we do not deserve the benefits of living in this country." (British Columbia)
"We would be willing to make financial sacrifices if these were equitably borne by individuals, industry, and government. We would be prepared to devote time and effort in any cause that would strengthen Canadian unity. (a summation of 4 months' discussion by a group of eight adults who met in each other's homes every two weeks." (British Columbia)
We hope Forum participants have heard their own voices in this part on "What we Heard." Let the people speak one more time - through the voices of a junior high school class in Saskatchewan, whose desire mirrors the other Canadians who are speaking to their government through this Forum:
"We can try to make the adults listen to us and we can tell them what we think and then maybe they will consider it and not only think about themselves all the time. And maybe the Prime Minister and all the important people might listen to us for a change and maybe Canada will become a better place."
William F. Maton