My Canada


4 November 1998

Well thank you very much Mr. President and your Excellency, Senator, Mr. Minister and distinguished guests from all over. Thank you for inviting me. I don’t know why I feel this way. I give three or four speeches a week, virtually, across the country. But I’m more nervous about this speech than almost any I’ve ever done. I think it has to do with the fact that back in 1970, together with Jim Nunn and some others, I was one of the leaders of a student movement that almost got me expelled from here. At that time we were fighting as I recall it, we were fighting for democracy, for freedom for the students for inclusion, for a chance to be part of decision-making. I know now it was all about getting boys into girl’s rooms and girls into boy’s rooms. So to all of those students who are here, you can thank me in part for the victory in those days. And to all the parents who are here, I say I share in your suffering, having been successful in my earlier crusade.

I personally am deeply honoured to be delivering the second annual Allan J. MacEachen Lecture. The first was delivered last year by a former Premier, Bob Rae, and I’m delighted to continue in the tradition of inviting has - been, out-of-work Premiers to give this lecture. In fact, off the record, when we’re through, I can give to the committee the names of several of my colleagues who will soon be joining our ranks, on the unemployment line with us. And, by the way, being unemployed, I’m not looking for your sympathy. When I told one of my constituents that I was stepping down after 10 years as Premier and that I’d be joining him on unemployment insurance, his remark to me was, "Don’t worry Frank, you’ll be eligible for the big stamps won’t ya?"

Anyway, I have to tell you that driving onto the campus tonight the memories really started flooding back of a place that was such a huge part of my life. It was really a case of deja vu, and I realize that "le plus les choses changent, le plus elles restent les mêmes." That there are so many things here that are the same even though some twenty-five years have elapsed, I still love it as much as I did then. But some things have changed in this world. Imagine if we had a modern-day Rip VanWinkle, and he were to awaken after 10 years. And he were to talk to somebody about what was going on. I am sure the first thing he would want to do, to know was, "What is happening in the world and what is taking place in the province and what is taking place in the country? In the economy?" And finally when he got around to the serious issues of politics, he would probably ask about some of the personalities of the day. He would say for example, "What happened to that promising, young, curly-headed, Progressive Conservative, Jean Charest?" Well, the answer would be "Well, he’s the leader of the Liberal party now." "Well, what about that fiery federalist in Ottawa Lucien Bouchard?" "Well, actually he’s leading the separatists in Quebec now." "What about the fellow who gave a lifetime to politics and retired after being Prime Minister, Joe Clark?" "Well, he’s running for Prime Minister again now." "And what about Brian Mulroney? I remember how popular he was, so popular that after he left St. F. X. everybody claimed that they had been a roommate of his when he was here" Well, turns out he was a part-time student at St. F. X., living off campus!"

Things change. In actual fact I can tell you that I accepted this invitation with a considerable amount of dread. Personally I read Bob Rae’s extremely eloquent speech of last year and I know that I could never match his intellectual craftsmanship. And secondly, being a recently retired Premier I can tell you puts one in an enormously delicate position. If one talks about the national government, the federal government, you are accused of having an ambition. I have none. If I speak about Nova Scotia, I’m accused of meddling in the affairs of another province. I once spoke in Halifax and said that I thought John Buchanan had not been a very good Premier. Although everyone seemed to agree with me, nobody liked me saying that. Therefore I won’t say that this time, here in Nova Scotia. And if I say anything about New Brunswick, I’ll be accused of second-guessing my successor. And I think he’s doing a fine job, so I won’t second-guess him. Finally, to compound it all, we are in the midst of a Quebec election campaign, and Quebecers, as you know, are not very enthusiastic about people intruding into their affairs. So with all of these constraints, why am I here?

Well, simply put, I feel an enormous sense of obligation to St. Francis Xavier University, now ranked third in the nation and to its president, Dr. Sean Riley, who should rank even higher, I might add. More importantly, I know an enormous debt of gratitude to Allan J. MacEachen, who was my employer, my mentor and my protector. This lecture has allowed me an excuse for my own private homecoming, a chance to come back to St. F. X., a place that I love, loved then, and always will. Probably the biggest influence in my entire life, St. F. X. has defined me, created the context as to who I am. It was where I met my friends who remain my friends today. It was where I met my wife and where my three children chose of their own accord to attend. And like Julie and I before them, our children’s friends all across this country and around the world are their St. F. X. colleagues. And so the circle ever expands, just like a stone in a lake. I know that it’s been said so many times that it sounds trite, but it is absolutely true. St. F. X. is more than a university. It really is a state of mind. It’s a concept. It’s a culture. It’s something bigger than the institution in which it resides. Those who have gone here, share something very, very special. And those who have not, feel left out of that magical circle.

Nobody, but nobody embodied that St. F. X. philosophy better than Allan J. MacEachen. He reflected the ideals of this institution in his public life, in his commitment to sharing and caring, and in his views of the activist role of government, something which I’ve always felt was fundamental to leadership in this country. His philosophy is that we truly are our brothers’ keeper. At a slightly more selfish level, Allan J. took enormous advantage of the St. F. X. route. St. F. X. became a training ground for his office and some might say, all of Ottawa. We became known in the entire public service as the St. F. X. Mafia. In that respect, Dr. John Stewart was the sorcerer’s apprentice. Like the major leagues baseball scout, he used to teach them, shape them and discipline them. And if they passed that final muster, he’d send them on to the big leagues under Allan MacEachen.

I think I must have disappointed Professor Stewart because in my first referral I ended up sorting letters in the Post Office in Antigonish. I learned my lesson well however and eventually ended up in the big leagues in Allan J.’s office. It was there I learned about politics at the highest level. I was responsible for research on the empowerment of Members of Parliament, the better functioning of the committee system, and later an analysis on various proposals for amending the Canadian Constitution. I also learned about politics at a slightly more basic level. I was responsible for ensuring that the R.C.M.P. gassed their motor vehicles at the appropriate Liberal service station in communities from Judique to Goshen. I also became part of a very exclusive club in Canada: Allan MacEachen prodigies. I joined the ranks of people like Colin MacDonald and Neil McNeil and Ronald MacDonald, and John Young and Pat Sullivan, David MacDonald, Moses Coady and all the other Coadys you can count, Francis LeBlanc and so many others. Every one of us became a political activist. Every one of us became energized and turned on by the politics of Allan J. And it was from Allan J. MacEachen and my St. F. X. brothers and sisters, that this farm boy from rural New Brunswick came to know more about Canada, creating a passion for the country that I’ve never lost to this day. Because the Council for Canadian Unity was present in Antigonish today, I was asked to talk about Canada in my speech. Although this lecture is pretentiously entitled, "My Canada," that is only meant to emphasis that I’m speaking today as citizen Frank, not as a former Premier, not as a Liberal, not as a political aspirant.

We’ve had quite a history, our Canada. Forged by the resolute spirit of our forefathers, it is truly astonishing that a country that is so young should achieve such prominence in the galaxy of great powers of the world: currently a leader of growth in the OECD countries, lowest inflation rate amongst the G7, best debt reduction record of all industrialized countries. We once again have been named for the fifth time by the United Nations as the best country in the world in which to live. How boring it all is. The honours continue to fall upon us. All of these achievements seem to camouflage a lassitude which is present in the country, aweariness or a boredom with our continuing star status, a sense of listlessness. A sense of drift which at the level of the media is manifested in a palpable cynicism, a deep sense of mistrust of institutions and leaders that no effort is made to hide. At the citizen level, it assumes the nature of a national angst, almost a sense of foreboding that all is not completely well in the Garden of Eden. In many ways as Canadians, we are victims of our own success. We live in a country where it has been just too easy. We live in a country with an abundance of natural resources. It has been easy, almost too easy, to make a passable living from our seas teeming with fish, our millions of acres of arable land, our limitless forests. Our boundless geography has spared us the problems of overcrowding. We’ve known neither invasion by a foreign country nor revolution within. Ours is a history of prosperity and peace, bordering on docility. Our patriotism is muted. Our country is taken for granted. We have no natural enemy and without a natural enemy, we have very little energy in our country to mobilize. Unfortunately, we have always been at our best when challenged by some type of natural enemy.

In the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s, the energies of this country were mobilized and focused on bringing social justice to our citizens. We saw the introduction of programs such as National Health Care, Family Allowances, Unemployment Insurance. During the 80s and the 90s the country became fixated on deficit reduction, learning how to live within our means - not very sexy or energizing but quite necessary work. The problem is that we were successful in this agenda. Our successes are worthy of acclaim. But it also has left us barren of resolve, lacking any other enemy to fight, being in that state of drift that I’ve talked about. What are the potential rallying points for the Canadian psyche to create that energy, that enthusiasm again that would really stir the minds and the souls of the body politic? Well, we speak critically of National Health Care; it’s on everybody’s lips. But I think that we know that in our hearts, it’s the worst system in the world, except for every other health care system in the world. This is a battle of endurance. It’s not really a battle of heroism. We speak of the redistribution of powers in the constitution, a constant source of talk amongst the politicians of Canada. But the sight of so many Canadian politicians, running around like "Pac Man," gobbling up powers, is not something that stirs the soul. We speak of the international financial crisis, but we know that most of those solutions lie far beyond our shores. In short, Canada needs focus, an agenda, a rallying cry for Canadians. We need a cause so important that it will fixate the attention of all Canadians make them feel good again and give them a sense of purpose. I believe that that national agenda, that national rallying cry of political will, must be the pursuit of knowledge. And now I’ll tell you why.

We’ve witnessed a profound change in the last decade, a change as irreversible as it is disruptive. That change is the globalization of the world economy. The merits of free trade, in my view, are absolutely irrelevant to this debate. It’s like the Niagara River cascading over the Falls, it’s a force too vast to be stopped. The globalization of trade is really the second phase of a trend that commenced over a decade ago. The first was even more profound; it was the globalization, not of trade but of information. It’s the megaforce of information moving at warp speed that has so dramatically changed the world landscape. Even the iron will of a totalitarian Soviet state could not stop the onslaught of blue jeans, rock-and-roll, and Hollywood movies. The Berlin Wall, immune to attack by tank or artillery, could not survive the relentless bombardment of radio waves through the ether. North Korea, virtually the only totalitarian state that has not yet fallen in the world, has decreed that all crystals be removed from television sets to avoid incoming signals. They surely will not survive for long. One of the implications of this massive thrust towards globalization, both of telecommunications and trade, is a reversion to tribalism. All of us, in this huge world that we live in, with so many influences affecting our behaviour, are reverting back to some deeply embedded instincts that we can hold on to and provides security to us. That tribalism is reflected in returns to culture, to religion, to political parties that are so small and focused that they represent only our local interests, not the big tents that we use to know of as political parties. And community as well is a reversion to tribalism, as people, many of us in Atlantic Canada, want to hold on, anchor ourselves to something, in a world that is just drifting away all around us.

This globalization of trade and information has brought another phenomenon that should keep us sleepless at night. And that is the commodification of the world economy. Everything is now a commodity, whether it be a pound of fish, an engineering service or minute of telephone time. And political intervention to shield products from commodification have little value in a world linked by the World Wide Web with instant access to competitive products and services, anywhere, anytime. For a country like Canada, simply to compete on a commodity basis, would be little short of disastrous. It would truly be a race to the bottom and one that we could never hope to win. We have one choice - one choice only - and that is to become a knowledge rich society, constantly innovative, constantly adding additional value to our goods and services. This investment of knowledge will allow us to command premium prices and enjoy to a premium quality of life. Are we ready for this extraordinary knowledge revolution, this revolution that must guide our country for the coming millennium? The answer, unfortunately, is clearly, no. We cannot continue to rely on our past investments, our past successes and accomplishments. We cannot sail our ship with yesterday’s wind.

The creation of the "Foundation For Innovation" and the "Millennium Scholarship Fund" are significant steps in the development of a national investment in knowledge and I think it tells you that the Government of Canada has a strong sense that this is where our country must go. But it has to go far beyond that. It has to be a rally cry for all Canadians. The private sector must be involved. The public must have their attention fixated on this most important question. We need to create that learning culture amongst the citizenry as a whole within Canada. The facts, unfortunately, are that we are falling farther behind. On the World Index of Competitiveness, we now have slipped in the Science and Technology category from ninth to twelfth. In the People category, which measures education and literacy, we have fallen from second to sixth. Our level of literacy remains the same as it was five years ago.

I was shocked recently, when doing some consulting with a very poor country in South America. I learned that 96% of their population was literate. That’s light-years ahead of our record in Canada. Other countries are passing us by in terms of productivity. Our GDP per person is now only 78% of the United States, down from 85% ten years ago. Our productivity is growing at 2.1% compared to the United States growth rate of 3.4%. And that’s not all. The gap will get worse. United States businesses are investing twice as much in Research and Development as we are, and that discrepancy is carried over into the public sector. The United States has 7.4 researchers per thousand; we have about half that number. This research and development has resulted in substantially more innovation. They grossly exceed us in patent applications per capita. In fact in Canada, we’ve granted 12 times more patents to foreign investors as we have to our own Canadian residents. If the United States, with zero unemployment, virtually, and a 65 cent Canadian dollar, with those disadvantages, can compete with us straight up and often win, right now, we should be very, very worried. We cannot ignore the importance of investments in education and technology. We cannot ignore the importance of research and development. We cannot ignore the importance of innovation. We ignore the advance of technology at our peril.

I’m reminded of the shortsightedness of that modern-day Luddite at Western Union, who refused to patent the telephone saying, "This device has no inherent value to us." Well, I’d remind him and ourselves that the next generation of transmission equipment will carry 160 billion bytes per second - enough capacity in a glass fiber, the width of a human hair to carry 2 million voice calls every second. We must take our lessons from the great cities of years gone by: The New Yorks, the Londons, the Tokyos, the great cities of the world. They did not become great cities by accident. They, and cities like them, were riverports or seaports or railheads. They grew around the transportation imperative. They grew where they were for a reason. The great centres of growth in the next millennium will be based on knowledge. They will grow around universities, community colleges and R&D facilities. The richness of the knowledge base will be the principal ingredient for success. And where those knowledge bases are present, just like an oasis in the desert, we will see a flowering of culture and knowledge and industry and jobs and activity and energy. We need to make the necessary investments in this country, in these great centres of knowledge.

Success in this national effort will bring a whole host of dividends. First, and perhaps most importantly, it will make a huge reduction in our unemployment and underemployment. We currently have need for tens of thousands of knowledge workers in Canada, but those jobs are only the tip of the iceberg. With modern information technology, all the world is a giant market place. We can help satisfy the need for the 346,000 knowledge workers required in the United States; the 367,000 required in Europe; the 75,000 required in Germany alone, and hundreds of thousands of other requirements all around the world without ever leaving our native soil. That is the second huge benefit that these investments in knowledge will bring. That benefit is regional equality in Canada. Remoteness will no longer be a barrier. Nobody but nobody has ever foreordained that we in Atlantic Canada need to be poor, that we need to rely on others. If we make the conscious decision with those new tools that are available to us, where remoteness is no longer a problem, where we have instant access to markets all around the world, then we can be just as rich as any other part of this country of ours. Access to markets for us in Atlantic Canada is but a fiber optic cable away. And what a great force for national unity: instead of drifting aimlessly, we could work together in this country to restore our national pride, to bring a new sense of patriotism to our people. To work as one with a national resolve that should focus the efforts of all Canadians. And that is what we ultimately need as Canadians: a common enemy! Something which unites us even more than we’re united today. Something on which that we can focus all the energies of this great country and challenge them into in order to mobilize the public of Canada.

Can we do it? Well, don’t bet against us. We have a heck of a lot going for us in Canada. On our worst day we’re still better than any other country in the world. We have always been able to rise to a challenge in this country. When this country was formed over a hundred years ago, and needed a national railroad to unite it, a ribbon of steel was built from coast to coast by the sheer force of hard work and the perseverance of our pioneer forefathers. When we were asked to stand with other freedom-loving countries in the world during two great wars, Canadians were there standing side by side, and standing tall in the name of freedom around the world. And when the cause of peace became the world’s greatest preoccupation, Canada once again stood at the very head of the line, ready to throw its resolve into the trouble spots around the world, justifiably earning us the title of "the World’s Peacekeepers." And when countries of the world, as so many have, became fractured by violence, by dissent within, by foreign wars, Canada opened its doors to refugees, whether they were Hungarians, or Czechoslovakians or Vietnamese. People of all races, of all colours, from all points around the world, were welcomed - were welcomed with open arms by Canada. Can such an agenda unite us in Canada? Well, you bet it can. After all, there has always been more to this nation which unites us than divides us.

When I talk to salmon fishermen in British Columbia, they are really not very different from the cod fishermen in Newfoundland who also have lost their livelihood. When I talk to the farmers on the Prairies, I find that they’re experiencing the same problems with crop failures as the farmers in the Annapolis Valley. And the flood victims of the Saguenay have suffered from the same unstoppable act of God as the citizens of the Red River areas of Manitoba. There is really very little difference amongst the immigrants to this country who came from points all across the world, all of us, or our forefathers, all having come here because we saw this land as a beacon of light, a welcome to people from all around the world to this peace-loving country that we could live together in harmony. And we’ve embarrassed all of these immigrants, all of these comers to our land, with unconditional love and with open arms. There is really very little difference my friends, between the French of Quebec and the English of the rest of Canada in their common devotion to social democracy, the rule of law to support for universally available health care, and the enjoyment of a reputation, globally unrivaled by any country in the world.

I think all Canadians feel that they are enriched by those differences, stronger for being a country, francophone, anglophone, aboriginal, ethnocultural, with people from all over the world coming here and participating by putting their culture into the mix and enjoying the culture and richness of others. And there really is very little difference amongst us. There certainly is very little difference in the blood that was shed by A. A. Lechapelle of Quebec, killed at age 21, on the fourth of July, 1944, whose inscription reads "I left my wife and child, dearest on earth to me, for peace. May they preserve it." There is very little difference from his blood and the blood of an Acadian from New Brunswick, J. W. Mazerolle, who died just a month later, buried under the marker, "I died for my country, Dear Canada." Vive Le Canada!


Political Science Department

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