Spicer Commission 1991

Citizen's Forum on Canadian Unity


What We Think of What We've Heard

1. Introduction

Participants spoke to us from the heart.

They had a great deal to say. As we have seen in Part II, they talked about their country and its future; they talked about their political leaders and the media. They talked, at times with passion, about their concerns, their frustrations, their aspirations for themselves and for their children.

They hoped we would carry their message to their fellow citizens and to their political leaders.

From an initial stance of understandable cynicism and distrust toward us, some 400,000 people have fastened on the Forum as giving them some hope that their views will be received, will be heard, and will be acted on.

We have tried in Part II to report faithfully what participants have told us without any observation, comment or interjection on our part, so that the full weight of our respondents' message would remain undisturbed. Part II is indeed the voice of participants.

This part is the commissioners' voice. And we must tell you clearly: Canada is in a crisis. This is a crisis identified and experienced by the people of Canada as immediately as a drought affects a farmer. This is a crisis of identity, a crisis of understanding, a crisis of leadership. We have arrived at this conclusion not because participants used the word crisis - few of them did - but because what they told us adds up, mercilessly, to this conclusion.

Each one of us has been profoundly affected by the Forum's experience. We have come to know our country and our fellow citizens much better through listening and talking to participants. In this part, we want to share with participants and other fellow citizens the thoughts that come to our mind as this extraordinary adventure of rediscovering our country draws to a close.

As we reflect on the experience of the last eight months, there is one thing that is striking: how united we have found participants in their view of our political leaders, whom at present they do not trust; in their view as well of the media, which they see as playing a divisive role at this critical juncture of our country's history; in their demand to be more involved in the process that will define Canada's future.

We were struck to see how much - by their own admission - participants from all regions and language groups lack knowledge of some of the issues they discussed that can shape the future of their country.

But truly the most arresting thing of all, emerging from what participants told us, is this: a tension between their search for unity and the claims of various groups and collectivities is perceived as posing great threats to their sense of being a country.

What immediately triggered the Citizens' Forum was the failure of the Meech Lake accord and the ensuing despair of French-speaking Quebeckers that they can achieve equality, respect and security within Canada. If their cultural originality and different needs cannot be accommodated within a rethought and renewed relationship, then the Québécois may well separate themselves from the current structure and pursue their destiny independently, with or without association with what remains of Canada. This was not the course that most of our Quebec participants preferred - but the course many indicated they would indeed follow, unless' changes were agreed to that would make them feel more comfortable within the Canadian family.

Most participants outside Quebec, while strongly preferring Quebec to stay, have made it equally clear: if Quebec wishes to go, the break must be clean, complete and final. They express little or no interest in any ,significant form of association with an independent Quebec. Given the pressures that a Canada without Quebec would face, it is certainly possible - some say probable - that within a few years Canada without Quebec would cease to exist.

But there are other points of tension also. The place of Canada's aboriginal peoples in the constitution has yet to be resolved in a mutually satisfactory manner. Their quest for self-government has raised the question in the minds of many participants whether it can be accommodated within their sense of being one country. And there are also many longstanding aboriginal peoples' land claims. For many of the participants this is a moral issue, purely and simply a question of justice. They feel strongly these claims must be resolved: swiftly, sensitively, equitably. But they realized that it is also an extremely complex practical issue. Settling these many claims and righting the many wrongs raise questions and have consequences that most Canadians simply don't yet understand. Participants demonstrated a great deal of goodwill, but this could dissipate if the consequences of redress are not well explained and thoroughly understood.

There are still more stress points. Participants attached great value to Canada's multicultural heritage, yet at the same time many have expressed great concern about our emphasizing our differences too much, to the point of threatening our unity.

Similarly, many participants claimed that Canada's official languages policy is divisive and they harshly criticized the way it is implemented. Yet representatives of our official languages minority groups have protested that their rights are not recognized and enforced.

All these issues - Quebec, our aboriginal peoples, cultural diversity and official languages - raise a very fundamental question: Who are we Canadians? What is it that makes us distinct and special among the nations of the world?

In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation agreed to create a new country, under a federal form of government, based on a recognition of the linguistic, cultural and religious diversity of the peoples involved. These were people of vision who wanted to build a unique country, truly different from their great neighbour to the south. Unlike the framers of the United States' constitution, they took specific steps for constitutional protection of collective rights and the two official languages. The acceptance of diversity as a source of pride and richness was to be the cornerstone of the new state.

Will the Canada of 1992 continue to be founded on respect for all of its diverse peoples? Will Quebec, and will French - the language of the majority of its people - continue, as was the case in 1867, to be recognized as distinct characteristics of Canada? Will we be able at long last, to provide our aboriginal peoples with their rightful place in our constitution and recognize their just claim for institutions of their own in ways that will honour their quest for dignity and respect? Will we be able to strike a more effective balance between our search for better integration of new Canadians in our society and our respect for cultural differences?

In other words, is the Canada of 1992 to be rebuilt in the same spirit that led to its: creation in 1867? It appears to us to be the fundamental question that participants have raised and must be addressed by those who care about the future of this country.

Our own response to the question is a resounding yes" based on a conviction that all Canadians, from Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic seas will benefit socially, culturally, economically, from a revitalized federation that will recognize the diversity and different needs of its many peoples.

2. Steps towards building a new Canada

With some amazement we discovered, as we have seen in Part II, how much participants share in basic values, regardless of language or region, that help to identify them and set them apart from their ancestral societies other than the aboriginal peoples - and from our neighbours on this continent.

We must build on these shared values as we proceed to revitalize our country. Acceptance of diversity is for Canadians a primary value, even if we honour it more than observe it faithfully. The commitment to diversity goes back to the origins of Canada, as we have seen.

And while we have had - and still have - our share of intolerance and bigotry, most Canadians look upon these as a source of shame. Freedom and dignity in diversity is a value we all esteem, even if it is not always attained.

The participants, regardless of region or language, cherish in particular our democratic freedoms and liberties, and our self-image as non-violent peoples.

We have a deep commitment to the environment, and are willing to give up some material prosperity to help preserve it.

All Canadians share in democratic parliamentary institutions that we have adapted over the course of time to suit our particular situations and needs. We all see a role for our governments in guiding our economies and pursuing our cultural welfare, just as we all feel great pride in Canada's positive image in the world and successes abroad.

We all share in a commitment to fairness made real by our social programs - health care, education, old age security, protection against unemployment. And Canadians' commitment to fairness is reflected in their desire for justice for the aboriginal First Nations.

This is indeed an impressive array of common, shared values.

But we must also look at the contradictions and puzzles we have found in some of the things participants said they value.

Equality is a case in point. But what do they mean by equality?

They stressed equality among provinces - including Quebec - apparently without knowing or recognizing that provinces are not perfectly equal, and never have been.

Our provinces joined confederation at different times on different terms. Bilingualism was established by our constitution in parliament and the legislatures of Manitoba and Quebec, but not others; denominational school rights were established in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland, but not in other provinces; there was a provision for a special property and civil rights regime for Quebec, different from the requirement in other provinces. There are special provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that apply only to Quebec - and others that apply only to Newfoundland to suit particular-circumstances and needs. British Columbia joined Canada with the promise of a transcontinental railway.

Thus, the notion of equality of the provinces is neither as absolute nor as unbending as some of the participants seem to believe.

Another case in point is how to reconcile Quebec's insistence for a major realignment of government powers and responsibilities with participants' clearly expressed preference - at least of those outside Quebec for a strong central government. At the same time,

there is plainly support for the view that Quebec has a distinct, unique presence in the Canadian family that our constitutional arrangements can and must accommodate.

Those who wish to see a stronger but leaner central government are also crying for national efficiency, the elimination of waste, and what is seen as duplication and overlap of federal-provincial jurisdictions. And there are those who wish to see a distribution of powers between federal and provincial authorities that is more functional, and that clearly recognizes that provincial governments are, in many instances, able to responded to the citizens' needs better than a distant federal government.

We must also somehow reconcile two very different elements of nation-building: the power of shared mythology or symbols, with the effectiveness of genuine, pragmatic programs. These are inevitably intertwined, as our transportation and communications systems have so effectively displayed. We have to understand that the pragmatic demands of managing programs - closing a rural post office - can have symbolic consequences far more powerful than any effect on the bottom line. But we must also recognize ,that innovative, sensible programs that engage Canadians in accord with their values may be a key to effective nation-building.

Whatever our future directions, we must ensure that fundamental Canadian values are not jeopardized. They must be considered in planning from the start. Our consultations have made it clear: Canadians will no longer take matters on trust. They want to be persuaded that government initiatives will not cut across the values they cherish. Otherwise, we must wonder whether Canada will still be governable.

In the face of these contradictions and puzzles, revitalizing our federation presents a major challenge.

The genius of the federal form of government is its almost unlimited flexibility, its suppleness. Countries that have adopted this form of government, like Switzerland, the United States, Germany, or Australia, have adapted it to suit their unique needs and circumstances.

The crafters of a new federation, like the Fathers of the original one, will be called on to be bold, imaginative, and determined to let nothing stand in the way of a responsible, honourable compromise acceptable to all the federation's members.

3. The costs of Quebec independence

We must be very clear. Failure to deal with these contradictions and puzzles will be fatal to Canada's survival. There is an economic cost of which people on both sides of the unity issue - inside and outside Quebec - are by their own admission, shockingly ill-informed. With the departure of Quebec, all of us would be poorer. We need to know how much poorer, and why, and for how long.

Internationally, we would be weaker. Our status in the world is based on our being seen as a mediating, peacemaking, moderate force, much of whose moral credit comes from reconciling different cultures. That status would be grievously damaged. Further, two smaller nations would lack the influence of a larger one. Canada is at present a member of the G7, the group of the world's seven strongest economies which broadly sets the world's economic agenda. Neither Quebec nor a Canada without Quebec would qualify for G7 membership.

And our weight in a host of international organizations - the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization of American States, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, and many more - would be much diminished. Our capacity for international aid, in which many take justifiable pride, would be severely limited by the increased economic needs of a separate Canada and Quebec.

Prosperity would depend on Quebec and a leftover Canada arriving quickly at some sort of new arrangement. But the chances of this would be poisoned if the parting were rancorous, as it likely would be. In any event, no matter how amicable, the sum of the parts would not add up to the existing whole for a long time to come.

And there would be a major instability within the residual Canada. The dominance of Ontario, the maintenance of the economic union, the status of international trade and financial arrangements - these would become immediate and overwhelming issues the day after Quebec separation.

Canada without Quebec would be subject to possibly intolerable pressures to fissure along north/south lines. And we need be in no doubt: the various provinces and regions, if driven in despair to join the United States, would do so as supplicants. They would be in no position to dictate terms. We would be foolish to expect charity.

Governments - and every Canadian - must think much more, and much more deeply, about all this.

4. Failure to respond to aboriginal needs

There is an anger, a rage, building in aboriginal communities that will not tolerate much longer the historic paternalism, the bureaucratic evasion and the widespread lack of respect for their concerns. Failure to deal promptly with the needs and aspirations of aboriginal peoples will breed strife that could polarize opinion and make solutions more difficult to achieve.

Consensus among the Forum's non-aboriginal participants is astonishing, verging on unanimity. They tell us that aboriginal peoples in Canada have been unfairly treated, that this has besmirched our international reputation, and that it offends our collective principles of caring and fairness. They are somewhat reluctant to engage in detailed discussion of self-government and land claims, citing lack of understanding on complex issues. They consider that the federal government in particular must resolve these issues with the aboriginal leadership.

Gandhi said that you can judge a civilization by the way it treats its poorest citizens. The forceful moral dimensions of the challenge presented by aboriginal peoples give these issues a special place. How we resolve them will decide our future as a country that can stand in the world with pride.

5. Findings and suggestions

On some issues, the consensus of Forum participants is clear. We will now (indicated in bold type) offer some opinions and suggestions rooted in citizens' views to address what we believe are the central problems. On other issues - many specific dilemmas facing Canadian government and society - no one yet has the detailed answers. Certainly, we do not. Many of these demand expert advice and research, and far more time than the eight months we had.

Canada's Identity

Canadians see their country as prosperous, peaceful, tolerant, quiet, pristine and beautiful. If we were to open our borders to greater immigration, we would very rapidly hit whatever annual maximum we cared to set. And we would still have the problem of illegal immigration. In a world where most countries have large numbers of citizens wanting out, Canada is a country where millions of people desperately want to get in, sometimes even if it means risking life. Surely these people can't all be mistaken.

We have not, as Canadians, depended much on words to remind us of who we are. We do not recite oaths of allegiance. At least outside Quebec, we are not taught to quote the speeches of former political leaders, no matter how eloquent. None of us knows by memory the first words of our constitution. Perhaps we should. Perhaps in the search for constitutional renewal we should take time to find the words that will help to bind us, to remind us of what we have in common, of what we cherish. They should be modest and quiet, but they should resonate to that most central of values we all share: freedom and dignity in diversity.

Participants frequently and loudly told us they were dismayed at the government's perceived weakening of national institutions and symbols. This complaint ran the gamut from VIA Rail (for many outside Quebec) to the CBC (for many in Quebec, and for English-speaking artists, intellectuals, many rural Canadians, aboriginal peoples and people wanting news from a national perspective) to turbans in the RCMP and to the Post Office, especially rural offices.

We urge the government to review and coordinate its thinking on the whole range of national institutions and symbols - especially those with communications or historic value - to give them more evident importance, and to avoid the impression among Canadians that they are losing their sense of country. In some cases such rethinking may mean merely better explanations, in others changes of policy. But since perception is reality, the government cannot ignore this issue without further destabilizing or weakening citizens' feeling of Canadian unity, especially among English-speaking Canadians.

Anyone trying to frame a new constitution should seriously consider a constitutional preamble enshrining simple, eloquent words that explain Canada's past, its identity and values, and Canadians' free commitment to the future.


Among the issues of most concern to the Canadians who spoke to the Forum, Quebec and its role in Canada's future was of central importance. The great majority of citizens outside Quebec want Quebec to stay in the Canadian family - but not at any price. Even some proclaimed sovereigntists among our relatively small number of French-speaking Quebec participants spoke, often reluctantly, of preferring to work out a solution within some kind of Canada, but doubted this could be accomplished.

In this crucial area, as in so many others, Canadians both inside and outside Quebec admit they are grievously hampered by lack of knowledge: knowledge of our land, of our history, of our economic reality, of our fellow citizens - ultimately, of the hopes, fears and interests of other Canadians. For many people in Canada, the sheer size of the country precludes knowing the land extensively. While a number of popular historians have tried to broaden our knowledge of our history, it is clear that our schools have failed to teach many basic facts about the "other" Canada. Outside Quebec, the history of Quebec is little known. Inside Quebec, the history of other parts of Canada is equally untaught and equally unknown.

And it is frighteningly clear, all across Canada, that the economic consequences of Quebec separation are not appreciated in terms of what it would really mean for Canada and Quebec. We heard concern and uncertainty; vague threats and ultimatums, often with a flavour of bluff; and impatience and wounded pride.

Everywhere, with both Quebeckers and non-Quebeckers, we found an appalling and dangerous lack of knowledge of each other. Politicians and political journalists can cast deforming shadows, eclipsing the reality of ordinary human beings. Yet we found among participants an often hesitant eagerness to know real people from the "other" side. When the Forum was able to bring people together, by television or radio or in person, even these few brief contacts were seized on with hope and pleasure.

Further, we can say that - providing the word "distinct" does not mean "superior" or "superiorly entitled" - the expression "distinct society" as a description of Quebec seemed acceptable to some Forum participants. With a little probing, quite a few agreed that if "distinct" really meant "different but broadly equal," they could, in effect, echo "Vive la difference '

As noted earlier, few participants knew that provinces are in fact not perfectly equal - that their various special needs were recognized when they joined confederation. Nor did they necessarily consider whether other parts of Canada might not have special needs in the future. So, we found ourselves going beyond what we were told. Just as we weighed what the people told us and concluded that Canada was in crisis, so we have weighed the options and concluded that perfect equality does not exist between provinces and never has, for the excellent reason that special needs must be met. Many provinces have a strong interest in offshore fisheries, for example - and arguably some have special needs but it would be difficult to argue that special needs in offshore fisheries exist in Saskatchewan.

Given that provinces have entered confederation on different terms and operate under different provisions, we believe that special arrangements in provinces based on special needs are a fundamental principle of Canadian federalism. This principle would apply where needed to all provinces.

Within the Quebec context, we believe that if Canadians can be persuaded to place the emphasis on equity in the face of specific needs, then people outside Quebec could accept that Quebec should have the freedom and means to be itself - a unique society with its own distinctive place in a renewed Canadian family.

We recognize, among these specific needs, the vital importance for Quebeckers of maintaining their French language and culture. We also recognize that English-speaking Quebeckers receive constitutional guarantees of language rights which French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec do not have, except in Manitoba - and in New Brunswick, where constitutional guarantees go even further.

If the Canadian people can be persuaded to accept constitutional changes that would help Quebec to increase the protection of its language and culture, then we believe this in turn could lead to a greater willingness within Quebec to reform Bill 178, which is perceived outside Quebec as discriminatory.

We believe Canadians wish to be better informed about the possible consequences, for both Quebec and the rest of Canada, of Quebec independence. We believe that the federal and provincial governments, and the private sector, should take steps to ensure that all Canadians are made aware of the economic, political, social and international consequences of Quebec independence.

Official Languages

We have heard much discussion of "bilingualism" - a word with many meanings. It is vital to distinguish among them: for example, the federal government serving each citizen in his or her preferred official language (that is, serving them in the one they are taxed in); making it possible for people to work for the federal government in their preferred language; bilingual signs where really needed or posted for symbolic reasons; French immersion; grants to Quebec to assist English language education; youth language exchanges; civil service language training that is more or less appropriate; or the notorious bilingual Corn Flakes box initiated by W.F. Kellogg in the 1920s for apparently sensible commercial reasons.

We must also recognize that although French and English are official languages federally, there are other needs. Aboriginal languages are necessarily official throughout the north. And we must understand that other than in Quebec and New Brunswick, official language status provides an essential symbolic reassurance to francophones in other provinces that their plight is not hopeless, and that they can look to Canada to safeguard their efforts towards cultural well-being.

Canada's use of two official languages is widely seen as a fundamental and distinctive Canadian characteristic. Among many, especially the young, the ability to speak, read and write both French and English is accepted as a significant personal advantage. Even many parents who dislike "official bilingualism" are eager to enroll their children in French immersion.

On the other hand, we find that the application of the official languages policy is a major irritant outside Quebec, and not much appreciated inside Quebec. People outside Quebec saw with alarm that province's banning of languages other than French on public signs. They suffered a dramatic loss of faith in the equity of official bilingualism, because it seemed to them to make it a one-way street - even though English-speaking Quebeckers enjoy many constitutional protections and have institutions for which there are few counterparts for French-speaking citizens elsewhere in Canada, other than New Brunswick.

In spite of real and needed progress in linguistic fair play in federal institutions, a sometimes mechanical, overzealous, and unreasonably costly approach to the policy has led to decisions that have helped bring it into disrepute. Citizens tell us that bilingual bonuses, costly translation of technical manuals of very limited use, public servants' low use of hard-acquired French language training, excessive designation of bilingual jobs, and a sometimes narrow, legalistic approach are sapping a principle which they would otherwise welcome as part of Canada's basic identity.

These weaknesses are creating a public perception of the policy which, in the absence of more positive information, inflates its real defects and errors.

An independent review of the application of the official languages policy is badly needed to clear the air - with a view to ensuring that it is fair and sensible. Otherwise, there is a risk that rising public dissatisfaction and misunderstanding will lead to rejection of the policy as a whole, with irreparable damage to the principle - that should command universal acceptance - of linguistic equality in federal institutions. One purpose of the review should be to make clear to Canadians the costs and benefits of official languages policy and activities, and explain far more clearly its goals and methods. Such a review should evaluate public information efforts as well as investigate all the public's expressed concerns.

In addition, Canadians expressed strong and positive views about our two official languages and their children.

We believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn both official languages in school.

Aboriginal peoples

Canadians want justice for the aboriginal peoples. On this, there is an astonishingly high degree of consensus - although also a potentially harmful ignorance of the realities of aboriginal people's aspirations. We are glad that the federal government has recognized that significant action is urgently needed, before the situation worsens, and is taking steps to set up a royal commission.

Forum participants stated a clear desire to see longstanding territorial and treaty claims resolved in the best moral, social, and economic interests of all Canadians. Further procrastination would serve only to increase the costs of settlements and exacerbate existing tensions between native and non-native communities. Further, such inaction would greatly damage Canada's international reputation.

In the interests of a more equitable Canada, Forum participants recognized the need for First Nations people to have greater control over decisions which affect their future. The government of Canada has, on previous occasions, spoken of increasing the self-sufficiency and self-respect of the aboriginal peoples through the enlargement of aboriginal capacity for self-government, within the framework of the Canadian constitution. The concept of First Nations self-government serves to promote native dignity, respect, and economic independence. It is a key factor in the future determination of First Nations people as a distinct group and must be included in a review of confederation.

We join with the great majority of Canadians to demand prompt, fair settlement of the territorial and treaty claims of First Nations people, to secure their linguistic, cultural and spiritual needs in harmony with their environment.

We join with the Canadian people in their support for native self-government and believe that First Nations people should be actively involved in the definition and implementation of this concept.

We believe that the department administering Indian Affairs and the Indian Act should be phased out as self-government comes into reality.

We believe that Canada should officially recognize the history and contribution of aboriginal peoples as the First Nations of Canada.

Cultural Diversity

While Canadians accept and value Canada's cultural diversity, they do not value many of the activities of the multicultural program of the federal government. These are seen as expensive and divisive in that they remind Canadians of their different origins rather than their shared symbols, society and future.

Ethnocultural groups in Canada certainly wish their

backgrounds to be respected; and we, like most Canadians, enthusiastically agree. But those who wish to pre-

serve and promote their languages and culture are, by and large, willing to underwrite the costs themselves. And most Canadians think they should. They believe it's one thing to promote and cherish diversity, and another for governments to entrench and fund remembrance of ethnocultural origins.

In relations between ethnocultural communities, citizens see far more need in two areas: a) the clear, practical welcoming of newcomers into an evolving mainstream; and b) the reduction of racial discrimination through education and effective programs. Most citizens are concerned with what they think of as the much needed better integration of newcomers: for example, eliminating long waiting lists for language training in English or French, social orientation, and assistance in transferring foreign degrees and qualifications to meet Canadian standards. Equally important is the need for employment equity for all Canadians.

Canada's ethnocultural people told the Forum that they want to play their full role in the country as equal members of society - no more and no less. Many of them feel they have not been treated historically as equals. They want to be treated as equals across the broad range of social activity: industry, media, government, the political process, decision making, and jobs.

Citizens spoke to us often of their desire to see a definition of being Canadian which can encompass the many different origins of our citizens.

We believe that federal government funding for multiculturalism activities other than those serving immigrant orientation, reduction of racial discrimination and promotion of equality should be eliminated, and the public funds saved be applied to these areas. The key goal of multiculturalism should be to welcome all Canadians to an evolving mainstream - and thus encourage real respect for diversity.

The department of multiculturalism in fact has moved substantially in this direction in recent years. The bulk of its budget goes to help new Canadians and minority communities to play an active role in Canadian society, and also to promote more harmonious race relations and cross-cultural understanding.

But this new thrust of the department has not been explained to Canada's people, who believe its activities are promoting divisions between Canadians and doing so at the taxpayers' expense.

We believe that the government should devise a clearer, bolder and more imaginative public information programs on the value and benefits of cultural diversity, explaining both the above refocusing and the enormous contribution of ethnocultural communities to Canada.

We believe that provincial education departments, perhaps sharing textbooks and methods more closely, should maintain some heritage courses, but only for young elementary-school immigrant children. Such courses should be concise and be given for no more than a year or so for each immigrant child, to assist young newcomers' transition to their new land's culture and society.

Our Lack of Knowledge

We do not know enough about ourselves. Without a radically fresh approach to improving what we know about each other, our lack of knowledge of the basic realities of this country will continue to cripple efforts at accommodation. It will also leave such efforts exactly where citizens do not want them left: exclusively in the hands of élites, especially politicians and the mass media.

In the course of the Forum's work we have tried to expand public knowledge on key issues, but in the time available we could do little. A major responsibility rests with governments and the media. But some things are possible in which citizens can have a more direct hand.

Other nations - such as Sweden and France have successfully developed programs to ensure that their citizens can know their own people and landscape better, and it is inexcusable that Canada should have virtually abandoned its efforts to do likewise.

We believe that the federal government should work with the. private sector, the educational sector and the voluntary sector (especially sports and cultural organizations) to bring forward plans, preferably jointly, to create once again a vigorous network of travel and exchange programs, emphasizing but not confined to young people.

We believe that a creative and innovative approach is needed to lessen the difficulties our geography imposes on Canadians in understanding and appreciating their country. We believe that the federal government should invite the travel industry to work out realistic and affordable plans to allow Canadians to visit other parts of Canada much more cheaply and conveniently.

We believe that Canadian students deserve a better understanding of their country's history, embracing all regions, at a much younger age. Such deeper understanding should include the history and cultures of aboriginal peoples and ethnocultural peoples. To that end, curriculum materials prepared in consultation with Canada's first peoples should ensure a fuller and historically more accurate description of the role of the aboriginal peoples in this country's history. Provinces outside Quebec should consider a common history curriculum, at least in part. They should explore with Quebec any further degree of coordination that respects the quite different pasts and perspectives.

Canada's Economy

Citizens repeatedly raised the subject of the economy throughout the Forum process. Indeed, in many cases economic concerns ranked higher, and were pressed more insistently, than any other. Canadians are right to be concerned about their economy. Chronic deficits and a high and rising national debt have contributed to high interest rates. These, together with a high foreign exchange rate have caused job losses, lost exports, missed job-creating investment opportunities and a sharper cyclical downturn than necessary.

As well, these events have led to federal/provincial disputes over allocating the burden of government expenditures, as governments are forced to cut spending. Participants think political squabbles have worsened their concerns, and angered people who are mainly worried about their jobs and our values and traditions of sharing. Participants also worried about losing such cherished universal social security programs as health care and old-age pensions, or about seeing them weakened. They are right to be concerned. The burdens imposed by high tax rates and by competitive international investment and trade pressures must inevitably be relieved - one way or another.

Many participants still look to their governments to insulate them from international economic forces, despite the fact that many Canadian governments, including the federal government, have been emphasizing the need to adapt and adjust to market forces. Privatization, deregulation, the Free Trade Agreement, the Mexican trade initiative and reinforced attempts to achieve expanded General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade arrangements are all cases in point.

As a result, many participants feel betrayed and bereft, and are confused and angry. Part of this is due to their sense that traditional Canadian values are being usurped by anonymous market forces and that governments are doing nothing to deal with these. Governments are in part responsible for these fears, which we believe come from misunderstandings that governments must clarify - or continue to pay a heavy price for, as will our country. -

Canada is a nation because it shares values and strives to preserve and advance common purposes and objectives. Governments have always played a major role in achieving our goals. The successor their endeavours has elevated the role for governments within the national mythology to the level of a dearly held value.

To be sure, governments have operated cheek by jowl with market forces in our mixed economy. At various times, government-inspired influences and market influences have waxed and waned, as circumstances dictated. But the images of a transcontinental railway, of a national health plan and of a universal pension plan are deeply imbedded in the collective psyche of Canadians. Not only are participants troubled, as we have said, about the survival of existing programs. They are wondering about the role - if any - that governments are going to play in the future, to help them to continue to prosper as international competitive pressures relentlessly increase. They also want to know if and how their taxes will help reduce the national deficit.

We believe governments must clarify these issues for Canadians. History plainly shows that governments have a constructive role to play redressing market imperfections, supplementing market initiatives, and preserving the country. They are the only entity which can house and nourish the widely shared values which give birth to our common purposes and objectives. Putting such actions in the broader world context that now prevails is among the most important challenges facing governments.

At the other end of the spectrum, we would note, participants appear to be unrealistically optimistic about governments' ability to insulate them from the often dramatic ups and downs of international competition.

We believe these developments place the burden of responsibility on us all - the private sector, the labour movement, small entrepreneurs, skilled and unskilled individuals -to adapt and to invest our own time and our own efforts in ourselves, so that our society can compete. Only in this way can we continue to enjoy high living standards by producing goods and services which bring us all greater profits and prosperity.

Improving Federalism

We were not charged with reinventing federalism or rewriting the constitution. But, based on participants' comments, we can offer some thoughts for making today's federalism work somewhat better.

In all parts of Canada, participants see overlapping government services as part of the problem, in that federal and provincial governments very often duplicate each other's activities - and thus spending - and for that reason are often inefficient. Further, citizens see governments as often too far from the people they serve. Also, there are challenges arising from globalization of the economy and its impact on our national needs and values.

Quebec is not alone in pressing for a streamlined and rebalanced division of powers between the federal and provincial levels. This viewpoint need not imply any wholesale move towards decentralization; nor does it necessitate the gutting of national standards nor the discrimination of citizens' social programs from one jurisdiction to the next. Rather, it requires that both levels of government place themselves unequivocally in a position to show the common taxpayer the most efficient use of any tax dollar.

In seeking to address these concerns, both levels of government must seek a greater degree of functionalism: who is in the best position to do what? Perhaps, quite often, policy can be established centrally - with serious provincial input - but delivering programs may best be done close to the people. This provides for equity and national standards, while ensuring flexibility to meet local conditions and needs.

We heard much from participants about national standards, especially in education. This is a sensitive issue - especially in Quebec - because of traditional provincial jurisdiction, and we can only flag it as a challenge for future action. It cannot be neglected, however, because we can only hope to meet the effects of globalization with a workforce that is continuously upgraded and trained in new skills to internationally accepted levels.

A start can be made now at a serious, credible effort to address duplication and inefficiency.

We believe that in its efforts at national renewal the federal government should place a high priority on working with other governments to eliminate, wherever possible, overlapping jurisdictions and programs, and to identify government efficiency as a major goal, bearing in mind that effectiveness can be increased by placing programs as close as is practical to the people.

Further, we believe that the federal government must ensure that fundamental social values and essential national institutions be protected in revising structures and processes necessary to achieve efficiency.

Leadership and Democracy

Throughout the work of the Forum, participants constantly and urgently raised with us their fears and their anger about leadership and the process of government. In their anger, they denounced the existing political leadership.

Yet this anger is not merely directed at politicians.

The mass media are equally swept up in it. Their interaction with politicians is seen as too often exaggerating a normal political adversarial system. One example is the media's tendency to cover the House of Commons daily Question Period mainly for its posturing, theatrical value, instead of covering thoroughly the more demanding, yet revealing, committee meetings where MPs analyze proposed laws in detail.

Participants went on to suggest an array of remedies, many of them new to, or rarely used in, our parliamentary system: referenda, impeachment, recall, proportional representation, free votes, an elected or abolished Senate, fixed or limited terms of office, the direct election of the prime minister, the convening of a constituent assembly. All originate in a desire for a more responsive and open political system, whose leaders - they think - are not merely accountable at election time but should be disciplined swiftly if they transgress greatly.

In an important sense, the failure of constitutional negotiations in the last decade points up an important aspect of the way our national political system works: its inadequacy in its present condition as a means for settling conflicts. Regions and factions within Canada inevitably disagree, but their conflicts are not seen to be resolved in the House of Commons. They are resolved in secret - in caucus rooms, Cabinet offices and federal-provincial conclaves. Canadians dislike secrecy.

Participants in the Forum know well that compromises must be made and deals struck. If they cannot see into the secret meetings, they can force their leaders in front of the cameras and microphones. But a price is paid for this rough contribution to direct accountability-. sound bites and TV clips and the hunt for headline-making quotes may often trap politicians into even more I gross simplification and confrontation than a healthy democracy demands.

Obviously, there is a need for the political system to respond better. That need is at the heart of our country's problem. Politicians must prove that the system can be more responsive. Otherwise, the pressure from citizens for radical changes to the system will become more insistent.

We heard that a constituent assembly followed by a national referendum on a new constitution would be attractive to many people. However, given the very wide variety of scenarios for that approach, we must as a group leave serious analysis of that method to specialists with more expertise and time than we have.

We concur with the vast majority of Canadians who believe that the Senate should either be fundamentally reformed or abolished.

We join with Forum participants in deploring the mindless, and sometimes disgraceful, behaviour of members of both Houses in bringing the parliamentary system into disrepute. We agree with the Forum's participants who have pointed constantly to the fact that our system is too partisan and far too adversarial. In particular, we would urge a careful review of the Question Period and how it is organized, with an eye on the more productive Question Periods in other parliamentary systems.

We agree with the many Forum's participants who have pointed to the fact that our system is too subject to an iron party discipline. Shorter sessions so that members of parliament can spend more time listening to their constituents, more free votes both should be seriously considered.

As earlier noted, a long menu of other possible changes in our way of governance was proposed by participants. We have not the expertise to analyze them. But given the large number of Canadians who have expressed interest in them, the government owes citizens the dignity of seriously considering their ideas.

We have found that the people of Canada have developed a great appetite for the kind of discussion and dialogue the Forum stimulated.

We think that the government, over the period of national rebuilding, should consider how it can best encourage and enrich the kind of dialogue started by the Forum and make use of some of the methods we have used.

The government should also consider using such methods on an on-going basis for major issues, or for any issues put forth by citizens.

We believe that politicians of all parties should consider using some of our techniques to greatly increase their grassroots consultations in developing ideas, policies and programs, or in solving problems which affect citizens directly, even if this means spending less time in parliament and more with their constituents.

Citizen input may also be essential before policies are implemented. Nothing in this is contrary to our parliamentary tradition; rather it enhances and safeguards the essence of that tradition. The challenge to government is to create a continuing climate for true dialogue. The means are at hand; it would be a pity - indeed, unwise - not to use them.

6. Conclusion

Our work with the Forum has been a stirring and mind-stretching experience for us all. What we heard from the peoples of Canada at times shocked us, sometimes saddened us, always interested us, very often moved us. in many ways, it also changed us. We come out of this phase - for it is no more - of Canada's national renewal with a clear message to those who put us here.

We have tried as best we could to collect and focus what the people told us. If we have misunderstood and thus made errors or omissions, these are honest, and on them the people will judge us.

We won't conclude with our own words, but with one last thought from a citizen. This sums up a warning about the fate of this report which thousands asked us to convey to the government and to all politicians: No hyperbole or political hedge can screen any member of any legislature who thwarts the will the people on this matter. The voters are watching and waiting.

Last HTML revision: 10 May, 1996

William F. Maton