Magazine article Canadian Speeches

To Save Canada Renew the Quest for Renewed Federalism

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

To Save Canada Renew the Quest for Renewed Federalism

Article excerpt


Former Prime Minister

Most Quebecers are said to prefer renewed federalism -- with constitutional assurance of protection for their language and culture -- to secession. But lacking the assurance they seek within Canada, many Quebecers will seek it with an independent country. Federalists of all political parties, from provincial and national jurisdictions, are urged to seek a new formula, a new vocabulary, and a new timetable for renewed federalism. Speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto, April 14.

You have invited me to speak about Canada in the 21st century. When it comes, I will have celebrated (I hope) my 60th birthday. Ten of those years will have been spent in Parliament, as national leader of my party, almost nine of them as prime minister. However my perspective -- on the 21st century -- has also been shaped by other experiences: by my boyhood on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River; by having attended university in Nova Scotia in the late 1950s, and in Quebec at the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s; by a career in law and business in this country in the 1970s and 1980s; since 1993 by my activities in law and business internationally; by the biggest teaming experience of all, the experience of parenthood and my concern for the country and world we are leaving to our children.

Canada's professional and corporate world, to which I returned after 1993, is far different from the one I left in 1983. In politics, my colleagues and I had been preoccupied with ensuing Canada's successful transition -- Canada's dangerously belated transition -- from the old economic environment to the new.

At one point in the early 1980s, the British weekly magazine The Economist had carried an editorial headline which read as follows: Wildcat Canada Resigns from the World.

The headline summarized the economic and fiscal policy against which my party, in Opposition, waged political battle, culminating in the election of 1984. The reference to "resigning from the world" was a bow to the phenomenon we have come to know as globalization. This new economic environment is so different, the change so great and the transition to it so wrenching, that some historians compare its impact to that of the Industrial Revolution some 200 years ago.

At such a time, people are gripped by anxiety and insecurity. It was no different in the 1980s. A resurgence of protectionist sentiment and policy arose in the Congress of the United States. And as The Economist noted, the previous federal government here had designed its own Canadian version of Fortress America.

Canada had to alter course. We had to make fundamental policy changes: a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. NAFTA. Abolishing the 13.5% manufacturers' sales tax and introducing a 7% consumption tax (the GST) to spur exports. Eliminating FIRA. Abolishing the National Energy Program, including the PGRT. Privatizing Crown assets from Teleglobe to Air Canada to Canadair and de Havilland to (partially) Petro Canada. This, along with operational efficiencies, resulted in 90,000 jobs being removed from the government payroll. The Patent Act was revamped to strengthen the pharmaceutical industry and attract billions of dollars in new investment. On the fiscal side the average rate of growth of program spending was cut by 70%. Government spending on programs moved from $1.23 for every dollar in total revenues to $0.97 by 1993. An operating deficit of $16 billion per year was transformed in to a $6.6 billion surplus. As a percentage of GDP, the federal deficit was virtually cut in half, from 8.7% in 1984 to 4.6% in 1990-91. The worldwide recession took a serious toll on that number but public finances were still left in a position significantly stronger than where we found them.

(I want to congratulate the present government on maintaining all of these policies in place -- despite the fact they had voted against every single one of them while in opposition! …

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