As political leaders struggle to find a way out of the constitutional impasse over the Meech Lake accord, Canadians from coast to coast are assessing the nation’s chances of survival. To gauge the national mood, Maclean’s Senior Writers Barry Came and Peeter Kopvillem asked prominent Canadians across the country for their thoughts about their country’s prospects.
Ray Guy, 50, essayist and humorist, was born in Come By Chance and raised in Arnold’s Cove, Nfld. He writes a weekly column for the St.John ’s Sunday Express, as well as a monthly column for Atlantic Insight magazine-.
“I suppose the fact that it has only been 40 years since Newfoundland joined Canada gives us a different view of the possible breakup of the country. We’re just a fragment sitting out on the margins. We never really did feel that much a part of Canada. My wife has been trying to explain it to me for the last 15 years, but she was born in British Columbia. Still, we are all ready for a good bust-up down here. It has been pretty dull for the past 40 years.
“I have to admit we’ve been surprised at all
the publicity Clyde Wells has been getting. After all, Clyde has not yet done anything as far as the province is concerned. Now he has become a national figure before he became a provincial much of anything.
“Still, I guess it would be a pity. We’re just getting used to the pictures on all those cheques from Ottawa.”
Alex Colville, 69, one of Canada ’s most renowned painters, was born in Toronto but raised and educated in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Colville is now chancellor of Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.:
“I have been a lifelong advocate of free trade so, in that sense, I have to say the outlook is good. But I have also been a lifelong friend of Quebec, and I would find it appalling to see that province leave Confederation. Quebec’s attitude is perfectly reasonable. The irony is that those who are opposing Meech Lake, like those who opposed free trade, claim to be nationalists when the logical outcome of their efforts, if they succeed, would be to bring an end to the Canadian nation.
“If this country disappears, it is not going to be Quebec that will be the big loser. The French as a community will remain. The same probably applies to the Maritimes. They will likely drift back into the sphere of the New England states where they were before Confederation. Halifax was a flourishing port then, while Toronto was still a muddy village. Keep in mind that Confederation was a disaster for the Maritimes. It severed the region’s natural links with New England, forced it to buy products at inflated prices from Ontario and Quebec. But it did not destroy the existence of a coherent culture that never had much to do with national boundaries.”
Antonine Maillet, 60, Acadian novelist and playwright, is Canada ’s only winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s prestige-laden literary award. Maillet was born and raised in Bouctouche, N.B., and now lives in Montreal: “This country needs Meech Lake, or something like it, if we are going to hold together. We are at a turning point right now. A few 2 years ago, I thought Canada’s future was very g. bright. I am no longer so sure about that, ö “Many people do not seem to realize that ^ having two languages is an asset, not a problem. It is also true that the French are a
minority in North America. I understand minorities. I am from one myself. Minorities have to fight for survival in ways that sometimes do not seem fair. The rest of Canada must understand this about the francophones and help them. Meech Lake is the beginning of a chance.
“Canada without Quebec would be a disaster. It would split the country in two. What would happen to the Maritimes? They would turn to the United States. The same thing would happen in the West. What would Ontario do all alone? It would be much easier for Quebec to survive alone in North America than Ontario. Meech Lake, or something similar to it, must be done.”
Pierre Péladeau, 64, Quebec publishing magnate, is president of Montreal-based Québécor Inc. His company, with holdings that include the Quebec dailies Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, recently paid $590 million to buy 15 U.S. printing plants:
“I have no idea where this country is heading and I don’t think anybody does. But I do know that in Quebec a lot of people are not satisfied with the way Manitoba and Newfoundland want to do away with the Meech Lake accord after the [previous] premiers of those provinces had already accepted it once. This is bad for the unity of the country.
“People in Quebec are not happy. When I have people who work for me tell me they are not happy, I tell them to go elsewhere. It is like a marriage. If you are not happy with the woman you are living with, then you go out and get another one, and let her go out and find another man so that both of you can be happy. Maybe the same thing applies here.”
Mordecai Richler, 58, novelist, is a native of Montreal. Solomon Gursky Was Here, the latest novel in his 35-year career, was published earlier this month-.
“Had Robert Bourassa not invoked the notwithstanding clause and then followed that with the introduction of Bill 178 [prohibiting
outdoor commercial signs in English], Meech Lake would have passed easily. Now, whichever way the cards fall, there will be an ugly backlash, fracturing the country even further. I think there is a real possibility that the centre won’t hold.”
Desmond Morton, 52, historian, teaches at the University of Toronto, where he is also principal ofErindale College. Morton, who was
born in Calgary, published his latest work, Forged in Fire (written with Jack Granatstein), this year:
“I am very worried. I think that Quebec is entitled to the Meech Lake accord. Without it, the prospects for Confederation are extremely gloomy. Quebec received nothing out of the patriation of the Constitution in 1981 and 1982. The Meech Lake accord will help to remedy that situation. It is not perfect, by any means, but it is better than nothing. Remember that Meech Lake is not the end of constitutional reform. Without it, however, it might be.”
Israel (Izzy) Asper, 57, lawyer and businessman, was born and raised in Manitoba. He is now chairman and chief executive officer of the Can West Capital Group, a communications and financial services company based in Winnipeg:
“ I fully support the Manitoba report [recommending changes in] Meech Lake but, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. It does not address the two issues that are central to Western Canada’s demands—the creation of a Triple E Senate and the removal of the immigration clauses favoring Quebec.
“If those two issues are not on the table, Western Canada is going to be angry. We are tired of being insulted. We are not impressed or frightened by the blackmail of certain political leaders who say, ‘Do it our way or you will be the cause of the breakup of Canada.’ We are happy to accommodate Quebec, but there are certain things that Western Canada—along
with all the other lightly populated provinces— needs in order to unload the dice, to unstack the deck. Without an equal, elected and effective Senate, we will not have a voice. Without immigration, we will continue to be consigned to the political wilderness.”
Marjorie Bowker, 73, retired judge in the provincial court of Alberta, lives in Edmonton. She rose to national attention last year after she published a critical treatise on the Free Trade Agreement:
“Now we are in a dilemma because no matter if the Meech Lake accord is approved or rejected, the country is greatly weakened. I am afraid that the ‘distinct society’ clause will encourage Quebec to choose independence. If we reject it, it looks as if we are denying Quebec its just rights—and it could be the same result.
“The great pity is that this accord was ever brought out in the way it was and agreed to by 11 people meeting literally in secret. It was a weakening of the national government, and we need a strong central government in order to hold a country like Canada together. Now the accord’s critics are being looked upon as the destroyers. I am grateful that there are people like Gary Filmon and Clyde Wells who are strong enough to state their positions. It is just a blessing for Canada that there were changes in the governments of those provinces.”
Mel Hurtig, 57, president of Hurtig Publishers Ltd. and publisher of The Canadian Encyclopedia, is an Edmonton native. Hurtig was founding chairman of the Council of Canadians, a nationalistic lobby group:
“I have never been as concerned about the
future of Canada as I am now. The lack of unity, the animosity, the absence of strong leaders speaking up for a united country is very, very worrisome. The combination of the Free Trade Agreement, which robs government at all levels of a multitude of powers, plus the decentral-
izing impact of further constitutional change to meet Quebec’s demands, will produce a country in name only.
“When Prime Minister Mulroney failed to repudiate Quebec’s Bill 178, all kinds of Canadians across the country said the hell with that. That action by Premier Bourassa was a nationbreaking action. Decades of work were lost. Mulroney should have stood up and said if this is going to be a bilingual country it has to be bilingual everywhere, not just outside of Quebec.”
Thomas Berger, 56, former Supreme Court of British Columbia justice and a native of Vancouver, now practises law in that city. He headed the 1974 to 1977 royal commission into the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline:
“The Canadian adventure requires a lot of patience. The object of the exercise is not to produce a flag-waving populace that believes in mindless patriotism. The history of the Canadian experience has been the working out of arrangements between the two main language groups, between the majorities and the minorities. These arrangements shift from province to province. It is a mistake to think that a formula exists somewhere out there that will resolve these dilemmas forever. It won’t.
“Brian Mulroney and Robert Bourassa came up in the middle of the night with a formula they now insist we all must buy. I don’t think we can work that way. There is no ultimate formula. We move from one crisis to another, from one adjustment to another. It has been a marriage that, in its own way, has worked. I am not prepared to see both sides contemplate the possibility of living without one another. That is an unpromising future.
“I think we will return to the Canadian virtues of patience and tolerance. That is what this country is all about. I just cannot believe that Bourassa represents the soul of Quebec just as I cannot believe that Mulroney represents the idea of Canada. There is a lot more to Quebec and to Canada than Bourassa and Mulroney.” □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.