Separatism can't: be all bad-look what it’s done for the National Unity Business!

Allan Fotheringham July 25 1977

Separatism can't: be all bad-look what it’s done for the National Unity Business!

Allan Fotheringham July 25 1977

Separatism can't: be all bad-look what it’s done for the National Unity Business!

Allan Fotheringham

It was a few years ago over a beer, where all great ideas arise. Ottawa journalist Frank Howard detected a new industry emerging in Canada: an industry dedicated to the feeding and flourishing of federal-provincial conferences on the constitution.

Such was the proliferation of those endless, fruitless gabfests, Howard perceived vast forests cut down to provide the paper for the growing piles of bureaucratic gobbledygook, entire new towers to be built to house the armies of constitutional experts, new railways to be constructed to transport the bulky reports around the country where they would never be read. In essence, a perfect, government-induced facet of the Gross National Product: nonproductive, self-generating, expensive and so faceless and boring the public would never demand any check on it.

We have, today, a successor to the constitutional conference industry. Just as promising, just as regenerative, just as incestuous—it is the national unity movement. It is, in 1977, the most successful cottage industry of our time—the imitation of a perpetual motion machine that involves only talk, meetings, reports and agendas. No sausages emerge, no product to be packaged, shipped, marketed, sold or traced. It is only talk, motions for further meetings, expense accounts, pitchers of water, and newspaper stories. The ideal cottage industry. Canada specializes in them.

There are two interesting aspects to the national unity cottage industry. The first is that it provides a make-work project for the Liberal hegemony, a handy process by which Liberal names that need to be kept in prominence are kept in prominence.

Take, to be rude, Mr. Trudeau’s Task Force on Unity, charged with the responsibility of keeping Canada together. Cochairman, of course, is the charming JeanLuc Pepin, paid some $57,000 as he was paid as Anti-Inflation Board chairman, the previous job he was given. To keep his name prominent until the propitious moment when he can be floated back into the cabinet. Another member is Richard Cashin, who, although now an NDP supporter, is a former Liberal MP. A third is Ross Marks. Who he? Mayor of the outpost of 100 Mile House, BC, a leader of the Emissaries of the Divine Light and a former head of the Union of BC Municipalities. The country was stunned no more than Marks when the announcement came—he expressed some puzzlement at his appointment. Later, it became clear. The Liberals have been working on Mayor Marks to be

their candidate in the new riding of Cariboo, where 100 Mile House sits. The exposure won’t hurt. There are further reaches of rudeness to probe. The national unity workshops springing up across the country like crabgrass are largely stocked by Liberal faithful. As an example, there are five such groups in Vancouver. One is headed by citizenship court judge Bruce Howard, who was given that job as a result of being a defeated Liberal MP; the same group includes the past president of the BC Liberals. A second is run by an ex-aide to Ron Basford. A third is composed of largely Liberal lawyers and acolytes.

Are Tories less concerned about national unity than Liberals? Are New Democrats? One doubts it. But when you have a cottage industry, it is trusted to those you know and trust. Would you give a widget factory to strangers? Don’t be foolish.

There is a second intriguing spin-off to this cottage industry. A large part of it is dedicated to the manufacture and marketing of Dr. John Evans as a household name in Canada, a Liberal household name, if you wish to be pointed about it. Dr. John Evans, you will note, is a member of the Pepin-John Robarts Task Force on Unity. Dr. John Evans will host a high-level conference on national unity this fall. If you don’t know who Dr. John Evans is at the moment, the deep thinkers who are thinking about an eventual successor to Pierre Trudeau are going to make sure that a year from now you will know a lot about him.

John Evans, to start, is a first-class mind. President of the University of Toronto. Just the right age: 47. Rhodes scholar.

Married to the daughter of Grant Glassco, author of the Royal Commission on Government Organization (another cottage industry). Six children. Superb scholarly credentials. Skis. Raises cattle. All the right things.

John Evans, secondly, was practically unknown in the political world until the Parti Québécois victory last November. Then the PM began to invite groups of prominent concerned citizens to 24 Sussex Drive to dine and discuss. At one such gathering, goes the inside story, an offform Trudeau attempted to summarize the consensus of the group. He had got it all wrong. He was simply off base. No one dared contradict him. Then Evans spoke up. He marshaled the gathered opinion, squeezed it, explained it—and dazzled the PM who had been so wrong. Within a month, whose was that strange face along with the Trudeau group on that crucial visit to Jimmy Carter? John Evans!

Next: York University President Ian MacDonald (with the backing of Tory Premier Bill Davis) organizes Destiny Canada, a national unity conference assembling some 500 ordinary Canadians in late June. Guess what? Dr. John Evans will host, with the implicit backing of Trudeau, a national unity conference of 200 top academic minds October 14-15. (Guess who had his observers at President MacDonald’s meet? President Evans.) Even better, before serving even five years as president at U of T, Evans has given notice and a search committee is out to find a successor. Even better, he’s studying French.

The Ottawa lust to vault him into the current lacklustre cabinet is almost palpable. There is that safe seat in TorontoEglinton that Mitchell Sharp has been keeping warm. The mini-boomlet on Evans as the needed new face rockets round the academic common rooms and the mandarin palaces in Ottawa.

There is, you see, the factor that it is the Liberal leadership turn for the anglophones. There is the fact of the vacuum behind Trudeau, with Don MacDonald admitting he hasn’t got the royal jelly, and Otto Lang, who thinks he’s got it but hasn’t got any common sense. There is the fact that the Liberals have always been successful in going outside the party for leaders: The aloof corporate lawyer St. Laurent; the nice guy diplomat Pearson; the strange ex-socialist Trudeau. Dr. John Evans, unknown in 1977, soon to be well-known in 1978, fits the recipe. After all, what use is a cottage industry if it can’t produce an heir to the realm?