Chapter 1
Agenda for Change

The Task Force on Canadian Unity was created on 5 July 1977 with a broad mandate to obtain and to publicize the views of Canadians regarding the state of their country, and to provide the ideas and initiatives of the members of the Task Force on the question of Canadian unity. We have been actively engaged in that enterprise for a year and a half.

On 1 September 1977, after our first full Task Force meeting, we published a communiqué in which we expressed our initial impression of the work which confronted us and indicated how we planned to proceed. We said:

The Task Force ... recognizes that Canada and its present federal system are under great stress. The creation of the Task Force is itself a testimony to this. All regions of Canada are reflecting and expressing this malaise. The most pressing questions are being raised in Quebec and the Task Force intends to give these high priority' Nevertheless, the concerns of other regions are vitally important and will be given our full attention.

We went on to say that we planned to suggest some "concepts and policies which could constitute some of the elements of a third option for Canada." (The full statement is reproduced as Appendix 2.)

In looking back at that statement of eighteen months ago, we are struck by the degree to which that collective judgement has guided us in our work. Canada and its constitutional system is in a protracted state of crisis; the primary, but not the only challenge, comes from Quebec; and the pressing need today, as it was then, is to discover the basis for a fresh accommodation which will permit the people who inhabit this vexing and marvellous country to live together in peace, harmony and liberty.

We embarked on our Canadian tour a few weeks after issuing the communiqué, and it was the beginning of an unforgettable period for us all. Few Canadians are given the opportunity to participate in such an extraordinary experience, and it is something that we will carry with us for the rest of our days. Between September 1977 and April 1978 the Commission visited fifteen Canadian centres from Vancouver to Yellowknife to St. John's, meeting a wide cross-section of Canadians and discussing a bewildering variety of subjects. During these Task Force visits, and between them, we spoke on radio and television shows, to journalists, to individual citizens, to service clubs, to university groups; we also held regular Task Force meetings in Ottawa and elsewhere to review progress, discuss background and policy papers with our staff, and consult with experts of every description. Since the end of our tour, we have held lengthy meetings to continue this work and have met regularly with people who could provide us with necessary information and help us to develop and refine our ideas.

What have we, as eight Canadian men and women, learned from our experience? More, one can say right away, than it will be possible for us to communicate. Each of us will take away from the past eighteen months a range of personal impressions and insights which it would be impossible to record fully. We were, after all, eight citizens from eight different parts of the country, who came to the Task Force with a diversity of opinions, personal beliefs and-let us admit it openly-some preconceived ideas. We have learned a great deal from Canadians across the country and from one another: in the process, we have gradually found ourselves holding a common purpose and sharing a common point of view. We do not mean to imply that we agree on all things; that would not be true, nor would it be very stimulating. But it is this common point of view, this shared sense of purpose which we have achieved as members of the Commission, that forms the basis of our three main publications.

A Future Together is our first publication, and contains the observations and recommendations of the Task Force.

The second publication, Coming to Terms, will be a guide to some of the critical words and concepts in the unity debate. It grew out of our experience of the tour and our growing recognition of the fact that there was great confusion abroad in the land, even at the basic level of the meaning of key words and concepts. It is not that we believed or believe now that Canada's problems would be dissipated if we all agreed to attach the same meanings to the same words, but rather that there is often fruitless conflict created as a result of the uncritical way in which ideas are expressed and the confused manner in which all of us are inclined to employ crucial terms. We have tried to draw attention to that fact and to clear the ground to some extent in this volume.

The third publication, A Time to Speak, records what we heard as Commissioners on our national tour and what we read in the extensive correspondence which many Canadians directed to the Task Force. We have sought to reflect as faithfully as we could the variety of concerns, opinions and ideas expressed by citizens about their country.

The reader of A Future Together will observe that the bulk of the study and recommendations relate to the public policy and constitutional domains, that is to say, to what governments do, how they do it, and the manner in which they are constituted and controlled. The selection of this focus was made quite consciously, and it is perhaps worth while to take a few moments here to explain why.

Many Canadians who appeared before the Task Force argued persuasively that public attitudes are at the root of the crisis: if only we could develop the attitudes required to make our present institutions work, there would be no need to reform our constitution. We acknowledge the force of this argument, and have attempted in our contacts with the public and as far as possible in our reports to encourage the development of attitudes and beliefs more conducive to national unity. However, to urge people to change their attitudes is not in itself a sufficient response to Canada's crisis, which is why we have gone beyond that to make proposals for institutional reform. There are several factors to consider here.

First, attitudes do not exist, nor do they change, in a vacuum. They are commonly formed in response to certain social circumstances and particular institutional arrangements. Thus they are more likely to change as a result of altered circumstances or arrangements than as a result of simple exhortation. It is our hope that institutional and policy reform will encourage the development of attitudes which support Canadian unity.

Secondly, it is not easy to effect changes in attitude directly, certainly not in a report of a commission of inquiry: it is worth considering, for example, what our report might have looked like if our dominant objective had been to suggest directly the transformation of attitudes in Canada-rather like, perhaps, the Sermon on the Mount or a textbook in social psychology.

The third factor is the timetable Canadians will have to meet. It is our conviction that Canadians are in the midst of a crisis which requires a rapid and determined response; it is our further belief that it is inevitably our central and provincial governments that will be our main agents of action and change. If this is so, it is incumbent on us to look to what governments can do for and with the Canadian people-and do quickly. This is not in any sense to downgrade the significance of a richer understanding and a greater generosity of spirit on the part of all Canadians; these are clearly of the utmost importance. But they cannot possibly come quickly enough and forcefully enough to constitute a sufficient response to the challenges facing the country during the next couple of years. There is no doubt, for example, that we need to reassess the adequacy with which our educational systems prepare our children for the responsibilities of citizenship, but educational reform will not by itself be a convincing response to the challenge Quebec is currently posing to the rest of the country.

The fourth factor is the expectations of people, the manner in which they anticipate the current stresses will be relieved. The crisis admittedly has many causes and dimensions, but a large number of Canadians assume that it is in the political and constitutional arena that Canada's problems will be primarily resolved. An expectation of this kind, when it grows strong enough, develops a momentum and integrity of its own. This, we believe, has occurred to such an extent that it is now inconceivable that a settlement satisfying to a majority of Canadians could be reached in the absence of political and constitutional reform.

These, then, are the main factors which have led us to devote primary attention to those activities broadly within the control or subject to the influence of governments. Since this is so, however, we wish to state plainly here some of our thoughts on attitudes and outlook which may not receive as full expression elsewhere in the report.

The Task Force was created to examine and report upon problems relating to disunity in Canada, and people were invited to attend the hearings to speak their minds on this subject. It is therefore not surprising that we heard more about what is wrong with this country than about what is right, although positive opinions were certainly not absent. All of us were struck by the astonishing array of grievances, complaints and problems that were paraded before the Commission. As often as not, each was advanced as the cause, or the major cause of the country's disunity.

In a few cases, the analysis of the country's ills seemed to be the product of a narrow and self-serving preoccupation; in most cases, however, the diagnosis was offered by conscientious and well-meaning citizens whose concern transparently was not with self but with country. As such, these citizens bore witness with their attitudes and very identity to the diversity of which so much has been made in Canada.

However, one feature of this diversity causes us concern, for it is a diversity in ignorance of itself, where each fragment of opinion is inclined to think that it is the whole. Again and again, people from one group, or one part of the country, or one economic class would engage in an analysis which they believed to be generally true, but which seemed to us, who had just got off the plane from the other end of the country, to be but a small fragment of Canada's reality.

Sometimes the country seemed to us to be composed of a multiplicity of solitudes, islands of self-contained activity and discourse disconnected from their neighbours and tragically unaware of the whole which contained them all. When one spoke, the others did not listen; indeed, they barely seemed to hear. Canadians live in a big, empty land but they congregate in vital, often boisterously energetic communities. Why is it that we have not learned better to employ this century's communications technology to talk together across the empty spaces?

In our encounters with Canadians we discovered-beyond the good will and generosity and simple common sense, of which there is a great deal-instances of suspicion and occasional hostility, envy, intolerance and parochialism. Much of it seemed to be based on ignorance and an instinctive mistrust and fear of those who are different: those who look and dress differently, who speak a different language, who practise a different religion or enjoy unfamiliar customs, who came from somewhere else.

In A Future Together we have done what we could to find ways in which our governments and constitutional structure can help to bridge the gaps that keep us apart. But there is a range of concerns that we do not believe we can address very directly here, and that is the dimension constituted by each of us in our attitude to ourselves and one another. In this domain, we believe that Canadians have a long way to travel, and little time to make the journey.

Not only must we learn to accept the fact of diversity, but we must also discover how to cherish and embrace it. If we can learn to believe that our neighbour's differences are not a threat to us and what we stand for, but a part of the neighbourhood within which our own identity finds free expression, we shall have moved a long way toward understanding what the Canada of tomorrow must be about. For we believe that it is only in that fashion that Canadians will establish for themselves a sense of sharing and a common purpose which all can accept without doing violence to their own beliefs and identity.

It is in this light that we understand the terms "national unity" and "Canadian unity." For some people, unity seems to imply the submersion of diversity into one homogeneous mass. For others, it conveys an image of artificial, government-induced flag-waving, and "patriotic" celebrations which do not spring from any natural emotional source.

For the members of the Task Force, however, Canadian unity is neither of these things: it is the sum of conditions upon which the various communities and governments of Canada agree to support and sustain the Canadian state. As such, it endows each of the parts with something it would not have if it stood alone. It is, then, a just union of constituent elements, or, as one dictionary puts it, a harmonious combination of parts.

The full enjoyment of unity in this sense has so far eluded the citizens of this country, but it remains the object of our quest; indeed, it seems to us that the main problem does not lie in preserving or re-establishing unity, but rather in constituting it in the first place.

We do not wish to leave Canadians with a false impression. Canada is a grand and beautiful country, too little known and understood by its people. It possesses natural riches beyond the dreams of most other countries in the world, and freedom prospers here better than in most places. Nevertheless, Canada is passing through a period of travail which is more than a crisis of development; it is a crisis of existence itself.

The agenda for resolving our problems is very full. Our governments are already embarked on a process of constitutional review; federal elections must be held prior to the middle of this year; and the government of Quebec is committed to holding its referendum soon, probably within the next year.

The Task Force has found itself living near the eye of the storm during most of its short life, and at each step of the way it has sought to organize its own activity and timetable in such a way as to assist Canadians as much as possible in coming to terms with the issues confronting their country. Rarely, we think, has a commission of inquiry had to carry on its work in such a highly charged and rapidly changing political environment.

It is in view of the crowded national agenda and the accelerating pace of activity that we have decided to release A Future Together at this time. Under different circumstances, we might have wished to take more time, to study and reflect. The urgency of the present situation does not allow us this luxury. We plan to make some of our more detailed background material available subsequently. It is our hope, however, that this report will provide Canadians across the country with an appreciation of the Task Force's position and point of view, and that it may be helpful to the country's political leaders. It contains in its observations and recommendations the core of the Task Force's thinking on the subject of Canadian unity.

Last HTML revision: 10 May, 1996

William F. Maton