Canada: A Vanishing Identity?


3 April 2002

Thank you. Only a friend could be that generous and I want to thank Rick Alway for not only those wonderful words but for his company all day from Toronto and on our return from this visit. We had a great drive down from the Halifax airport. Arrived here and it just reminded us what a beautiful province is Nova Scotia.

I’m delighted to be here to honour Allan J. MacEachen; to share the company with Senator Joyce Fairbairn and with Senator John Stewart, all of whom were with me in those early days when we served in parliament in various aspects. I want to say a few words about Allan J. before I get into my topic. I first met him at the so-called Kingston Conference in 1960 which was chaired by Mitchell Sharp, who’s still at it in Kingston, to revive the fortunes of the Liberal Party. I met Jack Pickersgill there. I met Mr. Pearson there, and Walter Gordon. More importantly, I met Allan J. About a year later he showed up in Montreal and invited me to lunch which I had to take him to, and he tried to persuade me to run as a candidate in the forthcoming election which eventually was 1962, as the candidate for St. Lawrence – St. George. I did that. Took on four other stellar people in Montreal, represented the heart of the city. I was elected on June 18th 1962 as was John Stewart from this constituency. As a matter of fact, I mentioned to John that now that Herb Gray is retired, he would have been 40 years in the House of Commons dating from June 18th 1962. I hope to persuade the Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milligan, the member from Kingston- the Islands, to throw a 40th anniversary party for Herb Gray to which John Stewart, myself, Donald Macdonald, Larry Pinnell, John Addison, John Munroe and others of that 1962 class will be invited.

But in any event, my connection with this part of the world and with Allan J. goes back to then. I can recite his legislative accomplishments. I mean, everyone knows that he was as influential a minister with Mr. Pearson as there was. By comparison I was just a junior, an apprentice. But what I really appreciated about Allan J. MacEachen, and what Rick Alway alluded to, was his mastery of the House of Commons. I was fortunate to be there in the days of John Defienbaker and Tommy Douglas and David Lewis and Jack Pickersgill. MacEachen was better than any of them. He was the best speaker in the history of the House of Commons in my day. He understood the mood of the House. He apprenticed Joe Green, Bryce Mackasy and myself in how to handle the House of Commons. And we believed as Allan J. did that the House of Commons was just not a legislative machine; it was the forum of the nation. Parliament comes from the Norman word parle, to speak. The House of Commons was the forum of debate. It was the forum of human interchange of ideas. It was trying to persuade. Trying to convince. Trying to work out a common view. And if ever we needed an Allan J. MacEachen, that is today because we need to revive parliament in a way that we haven’t seen since his greatest days. So I want to salute Allan J.

Coming down here, Rick Alway and I, being driven by Jim, we were just remembering the great province here of Nova Scotia – how beautiful it is. And, of course, we’re close to Mulgrave where my grandmother was born. And to Stellerton where my grandfather was the hoist engineer at the old mine before he campaigned for Sir Charles Tupper in 1896. Tupper lost and Wilfrid Laurier came in and the owner of the mine was a Grit, so my grandfather ended up in British Columbia, which is why our family grew up there. But in any event, I just thought that it is our good fortune as Canadians to live in this country, and let us remember it from time to time. I say this particularly to our younger people here tonight, that we occupy the most beautiful land on the face of the earth. It is our good sense that’s made this country one of the most free and open democracies in the world. Within limits, I can say what I want tonight. I’ve had the opportunity given only to a few to know our great and beautiful country from coast to coast to coast. A salmon barbeque with the Haida people at Hotspring Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands; sailing off the Gulf Islands; the glorious celebration that was the Olympics in Calgary; canoeing down the Burnside, as Rick has just reminded me of, to Bathurst Inlet on the Artic Ocean; in fact, twenty-five years of canoeing in all our northern rivers with my family. A sunset at Lake-of-the-woods; I married a Winnipegger; Go Home Bay in Georgian Bay; cross country skiing in the Gatineau; cheering for the Maple Leafs at the old Gardens (its not the same now); cheering for the Montreal Canadiannes at the old Forum (and its not the same now either); hearing mass at Notre Dame Church in Montreal; walking the fishing ports of Atlantic Canada; eating lobster on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay; sailing in the Bay of Fundy; sharing a bean supper at harvest time in Southern Saskatchewan. It was there that I remembered these short lines: “God comes down in the rain and the crop grows tall; this is the country faith and the best of all.”

Geography and history: the two determining factors of our nationhood. One is physical, immutable; one is human and generational. England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, the American Revolution, the arrival of people from everywhere and all have been made welcome here. But geography and climate still hold sway: limitless, vast, rough, cruel, relentless. The human condition exposed to the relentlessness of nature. But also the benign seasons: the languet summer and the glorious autumn. The Group of Seven caught this on canvas in breathtaking fashion. And with this vastness we still have in this country the gift of solitude. Being alone. Or with the family at the family cottage or the chalet or the camp. The long evenings over the barbeque. A quiet evening paddle. Watching the sun go down. Watching the moon come up. No where else on the face of the earth can one as easily be alone with oneself as we can in this great country.

Our identity as Canadians has been facing three simultaneous challenges. One is the prolongation of the debate over Quebec’s place in confederation. My sister Brenda calls it the ‘referendum neverendum’. That seems to be put on the back back burner. Lucien Bouchard started putting it there. Premier Landry has now removed sovereignty from the election issues facing the province. So for the moment, we can let it lie.

The second continuing challenge is the continuing erosion of sovereignty and Canadian ownership and jobs under the so-called Free Trade Agreement with the United States. And the third challenge is the fad called globalism that dissolves borders under the banner of big business and trade.

Last time I was down in the Maritimes on this type of subject was at Mount Allison with the late Dalton Camp and we talked about globalism. I was a little chagrined because Dalton Camp agreed with me. As a matter of fact, one of the students in the question period afterward said “Mr. Turner, you’re delivering the lecture tonight and Dalton Camp is delivering the dinner speech tomorrow night. How can you be so stupid as to allow him to have the last word?” I said, “Sir, it doesn’t matter when Dalton speaks on the program, he always has the last word.” Anyway, I regret his passing. And the last time I was down here on this type of subject we spoke about globalism. But I think he’d agree with me now on what I have to say about the Free Trade Agreement. And I say it recognizing that Prime Minister Mulroney is a graduate of this institution. I didn’t want to take unfair advantage of him but I did have an advantage. I read the agreement!

I am, as Allan MacEachen will testify, a historic free trader, as was my mother, and the Canadian government. But the agreement with the United States is not a free trade agreement. It did not resolve a number of very tough questions, questions on both sides of the border on subsidies. And subsidies is the issue that is killing us now on the softwood lumber dispute. And we’re now being afflicted with a 29% duty which will cost upwards of 20 to 30 billion dollars, particularly hard for Atlantic Canada and northwest Ontario and my province of British Columbia. Countervails, again involved in softwood lumber. Anti-dumping. We’re now being afflicted by the Americans challenging us on steel, wheat, potatoes and dairy products. Those issues were not resolved and I complained before parliament to that affect. I was told by John Crosby, at least he was honest in the House of Commons, when I said I don’t think Mr. Speaker that the Ministers read the agreement. And Crosby said to me on the floor of the House of Commons, “why should I read the agreement?” I said I’d needn’t go any further, Mr. Speaker, on this particular subject.

We were told that with the dispute resolution mechanism between the US and Canada, we wouldn’t have to go to Geneva anymore, to GATT. We could now have our own dispute resolution mechanism with the United States and resolve our problems neutrally. So I read that section and it said Canadian exports into the United States will be bound by American law (fair ball) “as it may be amended from time to time.” I said that sounds like a pretty open ended resolution. Shortly after I came to that conclusion, Senator Lloyd Benson – who later became secretary of the treasury, he was then the senior senator from Texas, and chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce – came up to Ottawa with two of his democratic colleagues and also with Senator Mansfield from Missouri who was the chief Republican and two of his republican colleagues. So we had six American senators join the negotiation of this treaty when it was before the House of Commons. I gotta hand it to Benson; he had breakfast with Prime Minister Mulroney and his colleagues but he knew who the fun guys were so he had lunch with us.

And so, before the lunch I said, “Senator, why don’t we get some of these issues out of the way so we can have a good lunch, if that’s possible?” He said, “Turner, that makes sense. What are your questions?” Well I said there are certain issues that haven’t been resolved, and I recited the subsidies and the countervail and the anti-dumping sections of the Agreement. He said, you’ve read that properly. I said, “Senator, I’ve been advised by some of my colleagues and certainly by some of the media and the big business community in Canada, why don’t we take away what we can get right now and then we can negotiate better afterwards?” He said, “Mr. Turner, that would be a very, very bad thing to do.” I said “why is that Senator?” “This is a take it or leave it agreement, Mr. Turner.” And I was there with Don Johnson and Lloyd Axworthy and Herb Gray and all our people. “Well”, I said, “Senator, can I redo this dispute mechanism wording? We are bound by American law “as it may be amended from time to time”.” He said, “Mr. Turner, that’s right.” I said, “what does that mean?” “It means what it says Mr. Turner. The United States Congress will never, I repeat NEVER, yield its jurisdiction over trade.” I said, “Senator, that very clear” and I turned to Senator Mansfield his republican counterpart, and I said, “you’ve heard my questions to Senator Benson your colleague and you’ve heard his replies. Is he speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party or the whole of the senate?” “Mr. Turner, I liked your questions. They’re very relevant. I also endorse Senator Benson’s replies. Senator Benson was not only speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party of the United States, he was speaking on behalf of the entire United States Senate.”

Well, nothing could be clearer. And I’m still practicing law and I’m down in Washington on a number of trade issues. There is not a Washington trade lawyer who doesn’t agree with my assessment that we got ukered! We got taken. We were naïve. And the United States does not believe in free trade, it believes only in managed trade. By managed trade they mean fair trade, namely fair to the American producer and consumer. Of course, you will ask why do our trade numbers look so good? I said, that’s easy. When our dollar falls from 88 cents in 1988 when that treaty was signed, to 62 cents US today, it’s a no-brainer.

Just as a side bar – what should we do about the Canadian dollar, the Loonie? It’s a productivity issue. Our productivity is badly below that of the United States. It’s a commodity price issue, the price of our main commodities, although metal prices are starting to come back. It’s an investment climate issue and taxation issue. My friend Bob Moony, a Canadian who is a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, wants to peg the Canadian dollar to the US dollar. Wow! We would lose every bit of flexibility we have in social policy, taxation policy and investment policy. Ask the Argentines whether it really works!

One effect, of course, of this low Canadian dollar we’re experiencing is that we’ve become the bargain basement for acquisitions and takeovers in the corporate world. In the last year, we have lost half our energy companies to the United States. Calgary’s only half the town it was a year ago. The same thing is happening in Toronto. We’ve become bargain basement – we’re losing corporate head offices. Now I speak a little selfishly here because I live on corporate head offices. I deal with corporate governance issues, director fiduciary issues, and so on. But I’m representing boards of directors. Every board of directors that moves out of Toronto to the United States or out of Calgary to Houston or Denver: there’s another client gone. It’s not only me; it’s the young lawyers I’m trying to train, the advertising people we’re trying to train, the chartered accounts we’re trying to train. It is all the specialized businesses in Canada that depend on our decision-making focus here in Canada. And the leaders of our Canadian business community don’t appear to care about it.

A further risk to our sovereignty is the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. I want to deal with this issue and it’s a very tough one. We are dealing first of all with a ghastly human tragedy. What happened at the World Trade Centre was just inexcusable. Everyone of us had friends who didn’t come out of those buildings. One of my major clients is Marshall McLennan, the insurance brokers. We lost 750 people down there that day. My son-in-law David Jasper – we’re expecting another grandchild next week – was talking to one of those guys in the investment firm, quarter to nine in the morning, and the guy says, “David, there’s been a bomb or something. I’ll call you back.” He didn’t call back. He never got out. So I’m not under-estimating the sheer barbaric ghastliness of that tragedy. But terrorism is a very difficult war to fight and the temptation is to overreact. I’ve done a lot of study in German history. I remember that the great German chancellor Bismarck used to say that anger is a poor advisor. In other words, don’t make decisions when you’re mad. Graham Fraser wrote in the Globe and Mail that 9-11 marked the real end of the 20th century. He’s right. What we have now is a danger of overreaction. We must know who the guilty parties are. Four times as many civilians in Afghanistan have now been killed than were killed at the World Trade Centre. Force must be used in a focused way. The terrorists today are urban, high tech and globally mobile. The reflex of war is overkill. The response has to be focused. The real target has to be the strife, the poverty and despair that prevents young people from looking forward to a world of hope and burns them inside and turns them into terrorists. Those terrorists were living without hope, mixed with rage, vexed by religious fervor; the hopeless make suicide killers. Too much of this, unfortunately, is found in the Arab world. Religion, envy, humiliation and a deep sense of injustice motivates these people. So the threat of terrorism cannot be addressed by military force alone. There is a role for diplomacy in marshalling international pressure against regimes that shelter terrorists.

Now it is obvious that the United States is going to be more demanding of its allies. Now I admire the Americans for this. When they get to this kind of stage they say you’re either with us or against us. I remember President Bush’s great speech the day after that event. “The commitment of our fathers is the calling of our time.” He’s going right back to Jefferson. America first. Protectionist sentiment. We’ve got to be careful as Canadians that terrorism does not become a cloak for protectionism at our expense. So there is a hardening attitude in Washington. I’m there all the time, including trade. Are you with me or against me? And what does Canada do? I believe we support American initiatives wherever possible in this focused area, but we watch our own border policy, we watch our own refugee policy, our own immigration policy. We’ve got to make sure that the border stays open. Lumber and energy: that’s the current conundrum. In my province Premier Campbell is facing the loss of 20,000 jobs in British Columbia – a 20 billion dollar hit. Next door, Premier Klein is saying, “oh don’t worry about that, I want to sell oil and gas to the United States.” We’ve got a very complicated national problem here. I think that we have to continue to fight this lumber issue to the World Trade Organization and to NAFTA. Appeasement just doesn’t work. The challenge ahead, of course, is how to preserve our national identity while supporting legitimate American initiatives that are well focused and well determined.

If we as Canadians are to meet this national challenge in the global and continental world, we need to call on the best and brightest of the next generation to take an active role in the political life of this country. This is why I am glad to be here, President Riley, before your students and alumni. We need more young people who are willing to set aside their own personal goals for a time and put the country first. That’s what Allan J. MacEachen did. That’s what Joyce Fairbairn did. That’s what John Stewart did. I believe that’s what I tried to do. We need more Allan J. MacEachens in the House of Commons. The best and the brightest.

When I was growing up and entering politics, I was briefly part of that Hyannisport touch football thing run by Jack and Bobby Kennedy down in Hyannisport. I can tell you, only Jack and Bobby threw the passes, the rest of us blocked and tried to catch. But I got to know them and I was invited down to the President’s inauguration and then Bobby became Attorney General in the United States and I later became Attorney General in Canada and we had a lot to do with cross border affairs. When Bobby was running after the death of his brother, and after Lyndon Johnson’s term, for the presidency of the United States, he gives me a call in Ottawa. He says I need some bullets, something on Canada. Gives me some bullets on Canada, because I’m being asked questions and I don’t know the answers. He said, by the way, give me some on Mexico too because you know Mexico better than I do. So I said where do I meet you? He said I’m going to be talking for the students of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Show up, he said, and we’ll have a steak dinner afterward and you can give me the bullets. So I get there and there are 15,000 young people like you people here, but 15,000 young people in the field house of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I’m sitting there next to Bobby. And Bobby gets up and says, “America needs you! America needs you badly! I need you! I’ve got to reach out for you! I know you’re studying and I know you’re going to have families and I know you going to have to make some money, but America needs you. We need the best and brightest of your generation.” Those were Bobby Kennedy’s words. A week and a half after that great speech where I gave him the bullets in the steakhouse, he was assassinated in California. And four days later I’m a pallbearer at his funeral. But I’m just telling you that what Bobby Kennedy said to the young people of the United States applies to us right now. We need a new revival of participation in our public process. People who are willing to sacrifice something – family time, money, opportunities, privacy, for the public life of our country. You’re part of the system too and we can’t take this public process for granted. We can’t always leave it to someone else. We’ve got a great country. It’s worth preserving. The challenges are immense and it won’t happen unless more of you care and do something about it.

My dream, and I’m sure it’s Allan J.’s dream, has always been that one day we would live up to our potential as a country. We never have quite lived up to our potential as a country. That was Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s dream. It was also Sir John A.’s dream. And they still remain our greatest prime ministers. We’ve got such a great heritage and a great opportunity with our limitless land, our water, our resources, and our northern frontier. There’s space to be alone when we want to; our two languages, our many cultures, our spirit of freedom and tolerance, our respect for the law, our faith still in parliamentary democracy. I think we all in this room want this nation to endure because millions of Canadians, I know, share my dream for our country – for a Canada that is strong and sovereign and united.

Thank you Sean

Thank you ladies and gentlemen


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