A Journey To Discovery

Emotions run high at the forum’s reunion, but once again an accord is reached

BRUCE WALLACE January 6 1992

A Journey To Discovery

Emotions run high at the forum’s reunion, but once again an accord is reached

BRUCE WALLACE January 6 1992

A Journey To Discovery


Emotions run high at the forum’s reunion, but once again an accord is reached

Like guests at any reunion, their warm greetings masked anxiety over whether they could recapture the magic of a previous time and place. Six months earlier, they had been strangers to one another: 12 Canadians of disparate backgrounds and perspective who struck agreement on a common vision for Canada’s future after an emotional weekend of argument and empathy. This time, arriving at Le Château Montebello’s sprawling cedar lodge along the Quebec shores of the Ottawa River on a chilly Friday afternoon in December, they clutched photos of home and family, eager to enrich those nascent friendships. Richmond, B.C., Crown prosecutor Richard Miller carried a copy of Stephen Leacock’s Literary Lapses as a gift for Charles Dupuis, a Montreal lawyer who had confessed in June to never having heard of one of English Canada’s most revered voices. It was a group of Canadians, noted Gatineau, Que.’s Robert Lalande, wearing a newly acquired Optimist’s Club pin on his lapel, “who see positive things and who see hope for this country.”

But a gathering designed to discuss Canada’s constitutional deadlock was sure to test that bond. “Are you ready for the battle?” a startled Miller was asked on the first day by a reporter from Maclean Hunter Cable TV Ottawa, which was making an hour-long documentary of the weekend’s discussions to be shown on CBC Newsworld at 7 p.m. EST on Sunday, Jan. 12. Indeed, despite their exposure to one another’s positions last June, some of the 12 participants acknowledged that their attitudes had hardened during the interim months. “I hesitated to come,” said Karen Adams, a 34-year-old knitwear designer from Toronto. “I’m sick of hearing about the Constitution.” And Marie LeBeau, 47, who would miss her daughter Annie’s 21st birthday by attending, said that she now carried “an anger I did not have the first time.” Added LeBeau: “I came deter-

mined not to sign anything.” Instead, she pledged not to get too overwrought. Her vows met with mixed success. A measure of the ease with which the group’s differences could be exposed would emerge on Sunday morning. Negotiator Roger Fisher, leading a three-man team from the Harvard University-affiliated Conflict Management Group, suggested the 12 write an open letter to other Canadians appealing for the building of a more tolerant Canada. When Miller proposed addressing the letter “Dear Fellow Canadians,” Dupuis, a Quebec sovereigntist, protested, arguing that “a lot of Québécois don’t exactly identify themselves as fellow Canadians.” As a result, Dupuis cautioned, they would not read the document. “That’s their problem, not ours,” Miller curtly responded. Other alternatives were suggested. Senator Gérald Beaudoin, sitting in on the discussion, offered “Fellow Citizens” or “Concerned Parties,” and several members of the group laughingly nominated “To Whom It May Concern.” But the debate angered Montreal businessman Cyril Alleyne. “This is getting totally out of hand,” he said. “Quebecers are still Canadian until a vote is taken.” Soberly, Fisher agreed. “If this can’t be managed, then Canada is really in the soup,” he said.

The group of 12 Canadians did reach consensus. But it was a brittle process that threatened to collapse at several points. Dupuis appeared to know just how tough the road ahead would be when he arrived on Friday afternoon. Before the first session began, he snatched a few free moments to swim in the hotel pool. “The way Roger works, I don’t expect to have a lot of time to relax,” he said to a Maclean’s reporter before duck-diving under water and swimming away. An hour later, sneezing and red-eyed from a reaction to chlorine, he was slipping into his chair in the main discussion room. Glancing to his seatmate on the left, New Brunswick store owner Sheila Simpson, he smilingly chid-

ed: “Try to be nice this time.” With that, Fisher convened the formal meeting, and the weekend began.


FRIDAY, 5:30 P.M.

FISHER: Last time, we looked at the question of what is wrong with Canada, and you formulated some ideas and suggestions for all Canadians. This weekend, we are looking more closely at the constitutional problem. We are trying to formulate good ideas for making [Ottawa’s] proposals better than they are. What advice might we formulate to improve these proposals, to expand them, to eliminate some, simplify them, and have the government pay attention to what you think should get attention?

• Fisher introduced the politicians who would sit in on the first leg of the discussion: Winnipeg Tory MP Dorothy Dobbie, co-leader of Parliament’s unity committee, Montreal Liberal MP Paul Martin and former Ontario premier David Peterson, who wryly noted that he is “no longer a grubby politician, just a statesman who can’t get elected.” Fisher then asked all the participants to tell the group how their thinking has evolved since the last meeting. As they spoke, Fisher’s colleague Robert Ricigliano summarized their thinking on flip charts located at the front of the hall.

Several participants expressed dismay that the national unity debate has taken on a belligerent tone, with Alleyne expressing astonishment that Canadians now talk openly of the possibility of armed conflict over Quebec separation. Lalande argued that the ongoing regional tensions have left Canada like “an aircraft coming in on a spiral dive.” But all the participants agreed that the country’s pressing economic troubles have exhausted patience with the unity debate.

JOHN PRALL= Look at our economic status and the taxes we are paying, and then see the costs that are wrapped up in running study groups all over the country. There should be a limit. We have had input. Now it is time for somebody to sit down and draw this thing up.

KARREN COLLINGS: Since we were together last June, many people have spoken to me. And they are just as concerned about the state of the economy as they are about the Constitution. They are becoming very frustrated at the length of time this constitutional problem is taking.

ADAMS: You are hearing about bluechip companies cutting back 20 per cent and that’s very scary. People are worried about whether they will have a job tomorrow. And to them, the Constitution is lovely and there are some wonderful proposals in there. But if I don’t have enough money to put food on the table, I don't really care about the Constitution. MILLER: I am concerned about this seeming desire to constitutionalize solutions to perceived problems. All that does is give power from the elected politicians to judges. Give everybody the right to health care or a decent home in the Constitution and you are creating unforeseeable problems for decades.

• Concern for the Atlantic provinces’ economy in a Canada without Quebec led Simpson to raise an issue that would become crucial to the final settlement. She argued that perhaps it is not necessary—or possible—to shift powers from Ottawa to all 10 provinces to the degree demanded by Quebec. And she suggested that perhaps the time has come to recognize that not every province should be treated the same way on every matter.

SIMPSON: The whole decentralization thing is starting to worry us down there. I think Quebec might need to get what it wants while the rest of us have to stay more as we have been. I don’t think we can decentralize as much as we might need to in order to accommodate Quebec. • Two forum members spoke immediately and forcefully for their particular constituencies.

Carol Geddes, a Tlingit native from the Yukon, told the group that Ottawa’s proposals on native self-government were “troublesome and offensive.” She criticized the proposals for allowing as long as 10 years to define selfgovernment and complained that there was no recognition of aboriginal nations as “distinct societies.”

Dupuis, too, talked to his colleagues about distinctiveness. He argued that Ottawa’s proposed definition of “distinct society” is too narrow. “The government is trying to simplify this idea of a distinct society to three specific points: language, culture and civil laws,” he said. “That is an error because to be distinct, a society is different on all kinds of matters. To try to limit this distinctness is the best way to flunk.”

The politicians then joined the discussion, recapping what they had understood from the opening statements.

DOBBIE: I was hearing that whenever we talk about special status—whether for aboriginal people or for Quebec—there is a willingness to reach out and embrace that specialness. But there is also some intimidation in the feeling that other people might somehow lose some-

thing in the recognition of the other person’s specialness.

We are so rich it is almost sinful. Why can’t we share it with each other in an open way, without feeling so intimidated that somebody else is going to get something we don’t have?

PETERSON: I sympathize with the point, but most Canadians have no desire whatsoever to talk about this issue. In spite of what Dorothy says, nobody feels rich and everybody feels poor. There is enormous insecurity, and at the same time people wish the [constitutional] issue would go away.

Now the grim reality is that it is not going to go away. It is heading to a deadline—perhaps next fall, perhaps in the spring—that will affect how our kids grow up. You have to solve the constitutional problem, whether you like it or not.

• “Are we dealing with too large a package?” MP Martin had asked the group about Ottawa’s 28-point program for constitutional reform. Fisher’s response was to break the proposals into six general categories: distinct society, native self-government, the Canada clause, Senate reform, power sharing between Ottawa and the provinces, and the proposed economic union. Those topics would form the agenda for the rest of the weekend. Fisher asked the group how Ottawa’s suggested remedies in each of the six areas failed to meet their expectations. He began with the distinct society clause. How, he asked Dupuis, have Que-

bec’s interests not been met by the proposed distinct society clause?

FISHER: What is the clause supposed to do for you?

DUPUIS: One thing surprises me about Canada. Canadians feel distinct from Americans because they have Quebec. And Canadians really love Quebec: ‘Stay with us; we love you very much.’ But they want to love us the way they wish to, not the way we wish to be loved.

When you put a definition on something, you restrain its effect. This is exactly the opposite of what we wish to have, because we are so different on many, many matters, not only on language and culture. Some say we even make love differently.

COLIN FINN: So would you be happy with a statement that says you’re distinct, period? DUPUIS: Not only that we are different, but that we can protect it. Not a pious wish. LALANDE: You can’t put everything in black and white. There has to be an attitude involved. Laws will not change people. I think we are trying to put words into something for which no words are available. It is something emotional. Can you put emotions on paper?

DUPUIS: One thing is for sure, if you don’t put teeth into a legal text, it is of no use.

• Geddes then compared the problem of defining Quebec’s distinct society to the difficulty in finding legal language for native selfgovernment.

GEDDES: This issue of definition has also been used against us. We are asked: ‘Tell us what you want. Write your bible; write your blueprint of the way you understand aboriginal self-government.’ So we have a big problem because we can’t define precisely and exactly what self-government means.

FINN: You have to come back to reality. Nobody is going to give you a blank cheque.

GEDDES: When your socalled Canada was created, nobody said to Canadians:

‘Tell us exactly, precisely, what Canada is going to be or else you can’t have a Canada.’ And yet now we are expected to come up with an exact definition of self-government.

FINN: But you have to start somewhere. You have to put something on paper.

GEDDES: We don’t know what formula is going to work right now because we have never been given the chance to have aboriginal self-government.

• Fisher noted the shared struggle of Quebecers and natives to define their distinctiveness.

“They both want to know that the values they hold are being respected, and yet they don’t want them listed like a shopping list, carefully written out and locked in,” he said.

But opposition to the distinct society clause was also strong outside Quebec, argued Miller. And it would remain so as long as the perception existed that special recognition would bestow added powers to Quebecers.

MILLER: No right-thinking Canadian is going to quarrel over whether Quebec wants to have certain rights within its geographic boundaries that other people don’t have—as long as it is not at our expense. But that is not understood. VIOLA CEREZKE’SCHOOLER: If terminology is used that lets people think this is more favoritism, then the language is going to cause antagonism.

COLLINGS: Canadians outside Quebec are hostile because they don’t understand what the word distinct means. If Quebecers are not

getting more power, explain the word distinct so it does not have the stigma of power attached to it. If it was explained simply to Canadians that distinct meant different, not better, then Canadians would be far more accepting. But it cannot be explained in paragraph after paragraph of legal jargon. ADAMS: No one has stated it simply. It has to be nonthreatening.

• Before ending the session for dinner, Fisher turned the discussion to the other constitutional proposals. The politicians made the forum members aware of just how difficult some of the choices facing the country will be. Referring to the group’s June statement calling for politicians to be more responsive to the wishes of their constituents, Dobbie asked them who would be left to speak for the national interest. And Martin warned the Quebecers that their provincial government’s aggressive intervention in Quebec’s economy “is allowed because it is a province of Canada, and would not be allowed if it were an independent country.” Fisher closed the opening session by urging the group to focus its efforts on those areas where they could make strong recommendations to the government, rather than trying to solve all of Canada’s problems. Then, he warned them that there are no quick-fix solutions. Said Fisher: “People say, ‘We are so fed up with this God damned question, let’s solve it all—bing.’ ” That, said a suddenly solemn Fisher, “was what the Croatians thought they were going to do. And I don’t want any misguided thinking about a quick-fix solution on that.”


• “I’ve got a lot of advice for the Prime Minister,” said Peterson to general snickers when Fisher kicked off the morning by proposing that the group members send a letter to Brian Mulroney with their suggestions. Fisher and the Harvard team wanted the participants to continue their critical study of Ottawa’s proposals, with the intention of making some general recommendations to the government. As Fisher put it, “OK, Mr. Mulroney. We’ve met, we’ve looked at your proposals, and here are a few things we would like to say to you: ‘Spend more time on this,’ or ‘Work on that.’ ”

Fisher then adjourned the general session and assigned the participants to smaller groups so that they could make suggestions on how to improve the proposals. In a small breakout room off the main room, Martin helped one group grapple with the government’s ambitious proposal for economic union. As prescriptions for reviving Canada’s lethargic economy were scrawled on charts and papered to three walls, it became apparent to the participants that the problem was too sweeping for a simple constitutional fix. “Look at how long this list

is,” Adams cried out at one point. “Do you think all of this is going to happen by June?” The exercise convinced them that Ottawa should drop economic union from its constitutional package. In its place, Martin recommended that they call for the establishment of a commercial tribunal that would mediate trade disputes. Said Martin: “We can’t put the entire burden on the federal government.”

But the most heated moments of the morning took place during a discussion in another breakout room, where the participants confronted the jagged sensitivities about the distinct society clause. To demonstrate why they refused to put a narrow definition on Quebec’s distinctiveness, LeBeau and Dupuis challenged Miller to provide a concise explanation of what makes British Columbians different from Ontarians.

MILLER: (With an apologetic glance at Peterson.) We’re a bunch of bananas politically, whereas Ontario politics seems to be incredibly bland and well-ordered. Ontario is white bread as opposed to the hippy derelicts that populate British Columbia. But I don’t see why I’m being asked the question.

DUPUIS: In Quebec, we have developed some

attitudes and habits that are different. Recognize what we are.

MILLER: You want protection for your language and your culture and that’s being offered by the current proposals, as it should be. Any further recognition of distinctiveness is probably unnecessary. Texans don’t seem to need constitutional protection for their distinctiveness from New Yorkers.

DUPUIS: But we need protection for matters that might occur in 20 years, that we can’t see. MILLER: Worry about that in 20 years. DUPUIS: Not you, but another party might then say: ‘You can’t have that. You’re distinct for three reasons and that’s not one of them.’

•»By then, eight participants had crowded into the rapidly warming boardroom. Dupuis removed his jacket.

DUPUIS: We are the ones who feel rejected. And today we are being asked to be realistic and compromise. I don’t have to compromise; you have to. That’s what the common Quebecer thinks.

FINN: But the common Canadian thinks the contrary. We don’t owe you anything. If you want to be a partner, let’s sit down and negotiate. But no one is going to beg or make a deal that is going to give special status.

• But before the group broke for lunch, Miller admonished Finn for his hard-line approach. MILLER: Distinct doesn’t cost me. It does not detract from my ability to live as a Canadian the way I want to because Charles lives differently.


• It was an impatient Fisher who awaited the participants’ return from lunch. But the afternoon session began with rather dry speculation among the politicians on how the constitutional debate would unfold over the next year. The prospects of a national referendum were discussed, and Peterson reminded the group that, with or without Canada’s permission, Quebec could vote to leave Confederation. Then, he said with a wry smile, “the majority’s only option is, if they don’t like it, to send in the army and they can shoot across the Ottawa River at each other with peashooters.”

At 2:45 p.m., Dobbie stood up to leave for a speaking engagement in Winnipeg the next day. She warned the group that their work was just beginning; hard choices still had to be made. Indeed, some of the participants appeared strained and overwhelmed by the complexity of the issues. Dobbie encouraged the group to send her a copy of the letter they would write to Mulroney. And a confident Fisher responded by predicting,

“You’ll have your own letter soon enough.” But within the hour, his boast would sound hollow.

Fisher and Ricigliano circulated draft documents containing material culled from the morning’s sessions.

Martin was immediately critical of the group’s suggestion that the proposal for Senate reform be shelved.

MARTIN: Was it the view that we could get away with not dealing with Senate reform? I would have thought that there are some issues that will absolutely have to be dealt with. And Senate reform is so important to the West that you will have to deal with it in the package.

SIMPSON: There was concern that everybody would get bogged down in the process of debating what the representation was going to be and so on.

• Indeed, Fisher himself had been leery of tackling the complexities of Senate reform. “I don’t want another 12 sheets of paper circulating,” he told Ricigliano during a later strategy session. But the politicians would not let them off the hook.

PETERSON: Paul is right. This is the West’s price for solving the distinct society question, and it cannot be finessed. So the question is,

do you want to say, ‘We are all Canadians and we are prepared to stick our necks out, roll the dice and see if we can come up with something.’

• Martin had to leave Montebello, imploring the group on his way out to “send a signal to Canadians that we are, in fact, going to have to resolve the really contentious issues.” The group agreed to try to turn their broad princi-

pies of generosity into finer constitutional language. The effort would be limited to three major constitutional areas: Senate reform, distinct society and native self-government. But the experience would lead to searing confrontations that would bring the forum to the verge of failure.


• The first head-on collision took place almost immediately. Examining a draft definition of self-government, the group forcefully quizzed Geddes on its implications for nonaboriginals.

ADAMS: Do you foresee problems setting up self-government? GEDDES: Yes. There was a lot of difficulty with family favoritism in setting up a justice system in the United States, for instance. But we insist it is necessary to be allowed to iron those things out on our own. MILLER: I am concerned about criminal law. I don’t think it is realistic to think that groups that aren’t geographically definable can opt in or out of particular parts of a criminal code.

GEDDES: Jurisdictions have to be negotiated. I can’t tell you, ‘Here’s the wording, here’s exactly what will happen in downtown Vancouver.’ MILLER: But [the definition of selfgovernment] has to accomplish more than your ends. It has to accomplish our ends, as well. And it has to give us some understanding of what we are agreeing to. You are saying to us: ‘You must agree to sell us your car. And once you have agreed to do that, then we will discuss price and warranties.’ GEDDES: No. We are saying: ‘Acknowledge that we have a right to have a car as well.’

MILLER: Well, not my car.

GEDDES: But it is not your car. That’s the whole bloody thing: you think it is your car and it is not your car.

• Then, Geddes warned the group that the rights of aboriginals and nonaboriginals were sure to clash.

GEDDES: We are not going to be nice little Indians anymore and just give up everything and be content with the swampland we have been given. We have got to stop that. So please don’t assume that we will not impinge on the rights of others. We will. Part of that car is ours. FINN: Does self-government also imply self-funded? GEDDES: OK, listen you in Canada: Canada has made its money on our resources. We have not had a chance to have resource-revenue sharing. So

don’t give me this smug attitude about how you Canadians have made money from the sweat of your brow. You haven’t. You made it from the aboriginal people in this country. And that attitude makes me sick. •But there was consensus that the principle of native self-government needed to be affirmed. And no objections were raised to the text’s commitment to refer future conflicts to a judicial body. The group then turned to study the distinct society clause. But the debate dissolved into a legal quarrel among the lawyers in the room— Miller, Dupuis, Fisher and Peterson. The arcane conversation left several participants edgy and unhappy. “Rick is interpreting the clause as a lawyer, and you are interpreting it as a non-lawyer,” Fisher told Collings at one point. But LeBeau, too, bristled at endorsing words that she described as “Chinese to me.” Cerezke-Schooler pleaded for the group to stop treating the distinct society clause as a concession to Quebec. “We are making it sound like a concession and it isn’t,” she said. “It is an understanding and appreciation of what Quebec is and has to offer the rest of us.” But the mood was sour, and Prall finally cut Fisher off to ask for a break.

As some of the group snacked on biscuits and sipped tea, Ricigliano sought out CerezkeSchooler and Collings at the back of the main room. “We’re all fragmented and it has fallen apart,” Collings told him. As others filtered back into the room, they echoed her fear that the process had derailed. Said Simpson: “Just like the country, it is going down the tubes.” The time had come, said Collings, “to stop being so polite and start being honest.”

The following moments were rivetting. Back in a full session and spurred on by Ricigliano, the participants stopped haggling over legal language and tried, instead, to recapture some of the emotion that had worked so successfully in June.

ADAMS: You tend to go off into legal terminology and we all go, ‘Holy mackerel, you’ve lost us.’ The original idea was to write a letter to the Prime Minister in normal, basic language. LeBEAU: If I may say so, I never agreed to

write a letter to the Prime Minister.


And there have been a couple of times when assumptions were made about Quebec staying in Canada, and Charles and Marie were shaking their heads no, quite vigorously. We are not picking that up and addressing it.

I’m concerned about what your feeling is, Marie and Charles. (Pausing to draw a deep breath and becoming tearful.) Because I want Canada whole; I don’t want it to split. Part of this is emotional, and we are not paying attention to that.

And we must, because this is not a rational process.

RICIGLIANO: When I hear Vi say that, it sends up red flags. Because if this group is emotionally unsatisfied by a discussion that centres around constitutional language, my fear is that the rest of Canada will feel the same way. And if a unity process is to succeed, it will have to satisfy people on a gut level. SIMPSON: One of the problems with this round is that the word distinct caused such an emotional reaction that even by clarifying it, people still say, ‘I accept the clarification, but don’t use that word.’ Any [advice] I got in the

last couple of weeks to bring up here was, ‘Tell them to get rid of that word.’

FINN: But you can’t change history. The word is there. SIMPSON: Well, if it

means the end of the country, why can’t we change a word?

MILLER: Because the changing of the word would probably mean the end of the country.

SIMPSON: OK, what about explaining the word in a nonthreatening way? CEREZKE-SCHOOLER:

I want to know what we have to put on the table to keep us together.

FINN: (Turning to Dupuis and LeBeau.) You have to offer some suggestions as to what’s acceptable. But you don’t seem comfortable in telling us what your needs are. LeBEAU: You say put it in black and white. (Gesturing at Finn.) Tell me in three points why you love your wife. Or should it be seven points? (She pauses.) I’m at a loss for words.

RICIGLIANO: Are there actions that would do it? Are there symbols that would do it? LeBEAU: I wonder if we could recapture the magic we had in June. We are going at it in a Cartesian way: one, two, three; a, b, c. Maybe we could go in a more creative way. •At that point, Peterson, who had been scribbling on a notepad, offered a suggestion.

PETERSON: Maybe our reaction has been wrong. We have been responding to Quebec, the ‘demander,’ like we do with the aboriginal people, saying, ‘Jesus, what do you want?’ And begrudgingly giving it up as opposed to taking the view, ‘My God, we’re lucky to be in a country with French people, with aboriginal people.’ Rather than doing it begrudgingly, do it warmly, and respond to Vi’s very important point. This ain’t exactly an intellectual exercise; it is an emotional exercise.

Now what if this group would all sign on something like ‘We warmly endorse the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, and recognize that it is in the tradition of flexible constitutional arrangements that have characterized the country for 124 years’?

• In a folksy manner, Peterson told the group about special constitutional arrangements in the past for other provinces: the guarantee of a railroad for British Columbia and protection for

the margarine industry in Newfoundland. “This is in that tradition,” he said of the distinct society clause. “Then, if you want to cut it off a bit, you can always say: ‘This in no way alters the rights of anybody outside Quebec.’ Even guys from British Columbia could

agree with that,” he said, chiding Miller. Of the remarkable catharsis that followed, Ricigliano later recalled that “I looked at my watch and only 20 minutes had passed” since the group reconvened after his talk with some disgruntled members. But the barriers had been shattered. “Put what he said on the board,” said a suddenly assertive LeBeau of Peterson’s words. “I’ll sign this.” Fisher would later sit down with Miller, Finn and Dupuis to, as he put it, “fuss with the final language.” But the ugly tide of disagreement over distinct society and native self-government had been turned back. By the afternoon’s end, Senator Beaudoin had joined the session. He delivered a friendly lesson in Canadian constitutional history to a now more relaxed and spirited group. The real lesson, said Peterson shortly before the day ended, was that “the country will only be saved if there are enough spontaneous acts of generosity and kindness.” He concluded: “Politicians can’t lead if every-

body is bitter.” A relieved LeBeau threw her arms around him as the session ended. “We need you,” she said.


• The day began with a sparkler on a bran muffin and a willing but uneven rendition of Happy Birthday for Collings, who had turned 44. Ricigliano sported the same blue-flowered tie he had worn when the group reached agreement against the odds last June. “It’s my ‘Save Canada’ tie,” he said. LeBeau made a late entry, whispering to a reporter: “I’m here. Everybody, take a Valium.” But there was little need for sedatives or charms. The 12 participants were in the mood to strike a deal.

The group formally welcomed NDP MP Lome Nystrom, who gave them a short but cogent outline of the challenges in reforming the Senate. “There’s a lot of alienation in the West that we don’t have the say we should have,” he explained. “We’re not saying we should radically decentralize, but instead give the provinces more say in the centre through Senate reform.”

The group agreed to produce three separate documents. One would offer specific recommendations to the parliamentary unity committee on the three major constitutional issues. A separate letter to the Prime Minister would advise him on how to lead the country over the coming months. And they discussed the possibility of an open letter to Canadians appealing for them to become informed and involved in the public debate.

Again, they divided into smaller groups. In one anteroom, Collings drafted what she termed the “love letter to Canadians.” But most participants crowded around Beaudoin and Nystrom in the main room as they answered questions on how to reform the Senate. “I had better protect my own vested interests,” the senator joked as he sat down. But he also predicted that Senate reform would cause a “terrible fight” in the country.

PRALL: I take issue with appointing more senators to a body which already does not work.

LeBEAU: Enough is enough. Next election, slash 50 senators. I can’t afford it anymore. FINN: The cost is a drop in the bucket. It is not a question of more or less; it is a question of effectiveness.

• LeBeau revived another suggestion from June, pushing for a Senate without partisanship. “We need a Senate of wise men,” she said emphatically. Responded a smiling Beaudoin: “Are we in heaven, for God’s sake?” The cooperative mood appeared inexhaustible.


• By late afternoon, following lunch and a bracing sleigh ride through the surrounding woods, the group had resolved the most contentious points. They agreed to an elected Senate with limited powers. The new chamber would increase representation from Western Canada, and would give francophone senators a veto over laws affecting Quebec’s language and culture.

There were some final hitches. A reference to “a national education system” was modified to account for the sensitivities of the provinces, who have constitutional control over education. And a mild dispute arose over the letter to Canadians. Adams rebelled at suggestions that references to Quebec and natives be placed in the opening paragraphs. “We are sick of hearing about it,” said Adams about the First Nations, a comment that Geddes later acknowledged made her extremely hurt and angry. Said Adams: “That is not what is drawing us together at this moment. The commonness is what we should be bringing forward at this moment.”

But the exercise led to three documents that required only final touches for endorsement by all 12 participants. Before leaving, Beaudoin and Nystrom paid tribute to the group by extending them an invitation to appear before Parliament’s unity committee.

BEAUDOIN: The work you have done is very interesting, and if you come before the committee it is going to have some importance for our

country. It is very serious work you have done.

I say that not to please you. It is a fact. NYSTROM: I’ve learned that there is more that unites us than divides us. There is a common ground. It is a matter of giving the idea that we can unite this country some momentum.


• Dupuis had entertained at Sunday night’s dinner by singing White Christmas in a striking Bing Crosby-style baritone. But freezing rain— not snow—had fallen through the night, encrusting the Montebello grounds in a treacherous layer of ice. Still, the participants were surefooted as they fine-tuned the texts (pages 36 to 40). As they made alterations to the final versions, the group reflected on the encounter, and on the need for Canadians to become informed and involved about the choices facing the country.

LALANDE: Canadians will have to make an effort. We have to indicate to the Canadian people: ‘If you don’t get involved, we are going to lose the country. Read history. Find out more about Canada and fellow Canadians.’ If we can do

this among ourselves, why can’t we do it across the country?

SIMPSON: I think you are selling people short here. We have seen in the last few months more and more demand to be involved in the political process. And people realize that in order to do that, they have to educate themselves.

RICIGLIANO: You might say to people: ‘Yes, we might not have gotten it quite right, but I certainly think we set an example of how to go about it: using your head and your hearts to deal with a tremendously complex issue.’

• By then, there was little to do but sign the final texts. Miller had left late Sunday afternoon for an engagement in Vancouver. But he read a faxed copy of the final version and signed along with the rest. In his farewell to the group the day before, the prosecutor had looked around the room and said quietly: “You’re all good friends now, as you were last time. This one built on the last. And I really think I’ve gained 12 wonderful friends.” A chorus of voices interrupted him. “Only 11,” they corrected. A laughing Ricigliano said: “He’s learned to like himself better.”

In a modest sense, at least, they had provided a model that might serve all Canadians well in the critical months ahead.