What’s wrong with Canada and how to put it right
As a new generation of intellectuals sees it, here is
WHAT MUST CANADA do to survive and flourish in its second century?
Nobody has examined this urgent question with more earnestness, or better professional qualifications, than a group of young professors at the University of Toronto, who in 1962 formed the University League For Social Reform to study the problems confronting our country. They have just produced their first book, The Prospect Of Change: Proposals For Canada's Future (Copyright 1965, McGrawHill, $6.95).
The book is aimed primarily at scholars and is not likely to hit the list of best sellers. Yet it is likely to be widely discussed and quoted in a nation whose history, more than that of most nations, has been shaped by men who were basically academics. It could influence domestic and foreign policies for at least two reasons.
First, while its avowed purpose is simply to spark “vigorous and well-informed public debate,” it is actually a controversial if incomplete blueprint for Canada’s next hundred years, and, in a sense, the political manifesto of a new generation of intellectuals.
Second, it comes at a time when more Canadians than ever before are wondering where Canada stands, where it goes from here, and, indeed, how long it can endure. It comes when even those who still believe the twentieth century is Canada’s, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier chauvinistically boasted it would be, are beginning to think that Laurier may have made national success sound too easy and automatic. In short, it comes when Canada is in a new and unfamiliar mood of introspection and doubt, and waiting to be told what’s wrong and how to put it right.
What is wrong, according to the professors, is that the traditional Canadian habit of not rocking the boat, of “minimum risk and maximum containment,” of moving slowly and cautiously, is suddenly obsolete. The old strategy, in the words of Professor Abraham Rotstein, the political economist who edited The Prospect Of Change, was a response to the divisive forces of regionalism, to a high dependence on export markets, to ambivalence toward the British connection, to the “helpless paralysis induced by the seemingly insoluble quandary of Quebec’s place in our national life,” and to the overshadowing proximity of the enormous U. S. Once logical, this strategy is outworn because: The pace of change can no longer be contained. Today the issues that surround regional development and French-English relations, for example, can no longer be damped down. If for no other reason, we must shoulder the risk of change because it is the lesser risk.
What would members of the University League For Social Reform do to meet the situation? They would, among other things:
• Strictly regulate election campaign expenditures, pay these from the public treasury, and insist that the parties hold biennial open-policy conventions. The theory here, as advanced by Professor John T. McLeod, like Rotstein a political economist, is that if the treasury financed campaigns, the parties (he specifically mentions the Liberals and Conservatives) would be freed from the grip of big corporations that now provide campaign funds, and that regular policy conventions would curb “party professionals and ruling élites” and give ordinary people more say. McLeod suggests that persistent problems have been “waffled
or papered over by ad hoc expedients” because corporate business is able, under existing conditions, to block state-directed solutions. He adds that “increasingly active state intervention in the economic life of the nation is essential.”
• Give Canadians a party choice that is more than merely nominal and is based on ideology, not on a leader’s image. McLeod anticipates that this would be a natural consequence, if the parties were “democratized,” and that Canadians would at last have a chance to vote on issues, not individuals. As in Britain, the two main parties would cultivate different philosophies, different platforms, different sources of strength within the electorate, and would present sharp, clear-cut alternatives to the voter.
• Improve the House of Commons by appointing a permanent Speaker, by amending closure rules so they will not be so harsh that a government rarely resorts to them, by referring the estimates of a department to committee after twenty hours of debate on the floor, and by other timesaving changes. Professor Trevor Lloyd, an historian, emphasizes that angry outbursts and disorder in the House reduce public respect for parliament and for all law and authority, and that it is thus important to secure the prestige of the Speaker, who is entrusted with the task of preserving order and decorum. A permanent Speaker, “with a salary equal to that of the minister of finance and a pension of the same size,” could clamp down on senseless filibusters without being accused of political partisanship, although he would have to remember that a certain amount of filibustering is justified to impress on the country that the opposition is irrevocably against a particular government bill, or to stall the bill until public reaction to it can be appraised.
• Recognize that as urbanism and industrialism have made Quebec more like its North American neighbors, Quebec’s fear of assimilation, of losing its French culture, has mounted, and that as Professor Ramsay Cook, another historian, writes: “The one effective agency over which French Canadians exercise undisputed control, which can be used to counteract the dangers of assimilation inherent in the new society, is the state.” Presumably such recognition would, in practical terms, mean more latitude for Quebec’s provincial government, and a corresponding curtailment of federal authority, and would be fought by proponents of a strong central administration.
• Increase economic — but not military — aid to underdeveloped lands. Professor Melville H. Watkins, a political economist, bluntly asserts that as perhaps the secondrichest country on earth, after the United States, our aid record has been “one of the worst.” It can be argued, of course, that U. S. aid — and the U. S. record has been one of the most generous — has done more harm than good because so much of it has gone into the bank accounts of feudal overlords and so little into the hands of the hungry, and because it has bolstered tyranny.
• Accept close trade ties with the U. S.
and join the U. S. in pressing for multilateral tariff reductions to open world markets to Canada. Watkins says Canada’s population and income level assure “a domestic market which is large enough to support a diversified and viable industrial base,” and
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WRONG WITH CANADA
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that this base does not need protection and would benefit under freer trade. As he sees it, tariff “allows inefficient high - cost production behind its wall; this raises prices to the Canadian consumer and lowers his real standards of living.” He shrugs off the possibility that free trade might work in reverse — might disastrously increase imports from the rest of the world instead of increasing exports.
• Combat unemployment and inflation by appropriate monetary and fiscal measures. Unemployment, Watkins holds, can be checked by lowering the rate of interest, by expanding the monetary supply, and by deficit budgeting, while inflation can be checked by higher interest, tighter money and surplus budgeting. He says the country stalled in the late 1950s because these tools weren’t properly used.
• Stop fussing about foreign control of Canadian resources and industries. “There is no convincing evidence,” states Watkins in what will surely be one of the more controversial passages in the book, “that foreign ownership is a threat either to Canadian independence ... or to our ability to exercise effective domestic policy . . . Devices to encourage twenty-five percent Canadian ownership will tend to reduce . . . foreign investment in Canada and to decrease the incidental advantages that accrue to Canadians.” Where Canadians do acquire twenty - five percent ownership, they tie up scarce Canadian capital that would otherwise be available for investment in Canadian enterprises, yet control remains in foreign hands.
• Assure income to people “separated from the labor market” at levels high enough to enable them to share in a rising standard of living. Professor Joseph E. Laycock, a sociologist, says that in today’s advanced technology, this is “both possible and realistic.” Nobody who is unemployed, unemployable or retired should be denied sufficient income for a decent living standard. “Unemployment-insurance payments are only suitable for short-term unemployment. Instead of persons suffering greater economic deprivation from extended unemployment, payments might well be increased to cover fully the expenses involved in retraining programs and maintained at this level if employment cannot be secured.” Laycock proposes help for low-paid workers who are more or less hidden on the borderline of poverty, without unions to bargain for them and practically voiceless politically. If wages can't be boosted to an approved social minimum, the marginal worker, he feels, may have to have supplementary wages from the state.
• Find permanent solutions for regional economic retardation. Professor Hugh Whalen, a political economist who discusses this phase of the program of the University League For Social Reform, concentrates on the Atlantic provinces, where personal income per capita is nearly five hundred dollars a year lower than the Canadian average. Relatively speaking. the Atlantic economy is as re-
tarded as it was forty years ago. “The traditional income disparity between the Atlantic provinces and the rest of Canada,” Whalen writes, “should be reduced. Such a policy objective can be justified on social, political and economic grounds. The existence of a chronically underemployed and rapidly growing population of five hundred thousand living permanently at subsistence levels in the rural slums of the Atlantic region can no longer be justified in the context of Canada’s postwar economic growth . . . The cost of meliorating economic retardation in the Atlantic area is by no means excessive. Direct costs, it is believed, would be less than the actual and projected Canadian investment in the St. Lawrence Seaway. The indirect costs would likely be minimal, and certainly much less than the annual hidden cost of the Canadian tariff.” Whalen advocates, for the Atlantic, a co-ordinated scheme of tax incentives, capital assistance and other “special measures” to encourage industrial growth there. The remedies applicable to the Atlantic region could be applied to other depressed areas, perhaps by the provinces in which the areas are located, but in the case of the Atlantic region, assistance will have to come from federal sources.
• Convince the labor movement that it must be a party to national economic planning and that wage demands must not outpace the rise in
A possible new role for Canada: mediator between the U. S. and Latin America
man-hour productivity. Professor John H. G. Crispo, of the University of Toronto’s school of business, notes that price stability, one of the chief goals of planning, can’t be achieved “if the wage-determining process is left completely open-ended,” because union-won wage concessions will push up prices. He theorizes that collective bargaining “is not as effective a redistributor of national income as government tax and expenditure policies” and that the unions “could well afford to accept some restraint at the bargaining table in return for certain policy commitments on the part of public authorities.”
• Establish Canada’s role in world affairs as that of a mediator between the leading Western nations and the nonaligned nations which, politically, are between the East and the West. Professor David P. Gauthier, a philosopher, is convinced that this relatively modest part is the best Canada can now hope to play. Canada is inextricably bound by self-interest to the U. S., but can act as a friend at court for the nonaligned and seek to ensure that their views are heard and reconciled as far as possible with Western views. Meanwhile, says Gauthier, “Canada can and should dispose of the nuclear weapons now under its partial control . . . Once such a step is taken, in conjunction perhaps with the withdrawal of Canadian forces from Europe, it will be possible for Canada to urge the creation of a non-nuclear club. If most of the nations in the world could be persuaded to join such a club, one of the great dangers of the arms race would be eliminated.” Gauthier says the United Nations and the World Court both need greater powers, and that Canada should try to get the middle and smaller nations to support the necessary changes. In hemispheric affairs, Canada’s short - range goal should be increased aid to. trade with, and investment in the British Caribbean possessions, while in the longer run it should encourage the replacement of the Organization of American States by a new organization that would focus on economic development rather than the prevention of political subversion, and might be “able to avoid becoming yet another instrument of American imperialism.” Gauthier warns that if Canada were to join the OAS. as the U. S. has been urging, it might be less capable than it is now of being a mediator between the U. S. and revolutionary Latin American governments.
• Encourage the expansion of trade with the Soviet bloc — imports as well as exports, since trade can’t be a one-way street. Exports have been ten times imports in recent years and long - term trade can't be preserved if such an imbalance continues. Professor Rotstcin recommends that Canadian government agencies help Soviet trading corporations find Canadian markets, and help private companies in Canada negotiate sales to Soviet agencies. He underlines the fact that Russia is now the fifth-largest trading nation in the world and that “Canada is offered today opportu-
nities that make for both peace and trade.”
• Prepare for a three-hundred-percent increase in university enrollment in the next few years, even if the process of preparation requires a stiff boost in tuition fees. Professor Ian M. Drummond, a political economist, puts forward the contentious argu-
ment that fees are unreasonably low, covering less than a fifth of the operating and capital costs of the universities. They are based, he says, on the fallacious supposition that graduating a student from university is worth four times as much to the country as graduating from a university is worth to the student. He
claims that most university students are from relatively prosperous families. but admits that in 1961-62, for all undergraduate students in universities and classical colleges, the “median parental income" was $5,968. How far can you stretch $5.968?
• Restrict the Canada Council to the field of the arts, but without re-
ducing its budget, and set up an independent agency to run the research and scholarship program in the humanities and social sciences that is now under the Canada Council. In one of the livelier chapters of The Prospect Of Change, Professor Hugo McPherson of the University of Toronto’s department of English, says this would leave the council more time and money for the arts, but implies that the time and money would be wasted if it kept on producing “tame or safe” awards and its adjudicators, instead of openly defending their selections, still hid as in the past behind a curtain of anonymity. “Many adventurous young artists in Toronto and Montreal,” he reports, “already speak of the council as Squaresville . . . Discretion is surely one of the strongest and most negative virtues of the Canadian character; and in the affairs of the Canada Council, as in many areas of Canadian life, it plays a major part in robbing the scene of color and vitality. A number of academics and administrators have warned me, for example, that if dozens of disappointed competitors were to begin harrying their judges with letters, letters to the editors, and so on, the council would soon find it difficult to recruit experts to adjudicate its competitions. I agree that such harassment would be a nuisance to the adjudicator, but if he is a genuine champion of art or ideas he must be prepared to make his views known to a wide public. Instead of handing out discreet rulings at the back door, he
must be willing when necessary to defend his judgment publicly. Without debate of this kind, involving persons of recognized authority, public taste will remain undeveloped ...”
There are other chapters in The Prospect Of Change — chapters not quoted here because they are purely technical, such as one that propounds a formula for determining what public investment projects are worthwhile, by Professor Ian Burton, a geographer. Such a formula is no doubt valuable, with the pump-priming doctrines of Lord Keynes extended by The Affluent Society doctrines of John Galbraith, and with all signs pointing to a system in which governments will be the biggest employers, the economic stabilizers, the buffers against adversity, the patrons of the arts.
Indeed, the central theme of The Prospect Of Change is that in this new, complex, automated age, government enterprise and private enterprise must be teamed up, with the state assuming a more and more influential role in the direction of Canada’s development. This at least is the thinking of the new generation of intellectuals at the University of Toronto. It would be surprising if it were not shared by the new intellectuals elsewhere in Canada. And if the book has shortcomings, it is evidence that they are searching hard for a path out of the current tangle of doubt, worry and fear — a path toward restored confidence in our national destiny. This, in itself, makes its publication a significant event. ★