MACLEAN'S FORUM

AN ACTION PLAN FOR CANADA

Federalists and separatists on a national forum create a vision of a unified nation

Anthony Wilson-Smith January 6 1992
MACLEAN'S FORUM

AN ACTION PLAN FOR CANADA

Federalists and separatists on a national forum create a vision of a unified nation

Anthony Wilson-Smith January 6 1992

AN ACTION PLAN FOR CANADA

MACLEAN'S FORUM

Federalists and separatists on a national forum create a vision of a unified nation

In the six months since their first uncertain greetings to each other, they have traded thoughts, letters, impressions and, on occasion, moved one another to laughter and tears. Last June, at the invitation of Maclean’s, 12 Canadians met for three days at a southern Ontario resort. There, often long into the night, they discussed the convictions that divided them—and the emotions that still bound them. The group, including federalists, a representative of aboriginal peoples, and Quebec sovereigntists, debated the frustrations of the country’s past and whether they could agree on a vision for its future. In the end, they produced a 16-page statement of “joint suggestions” aimed at re-awakening Canadians’ belief in their country and in themselves.

Last month, Maclean ’s brought the same 12 people together again. They exchanged the outdoor heat of their late-spring retreat and the initial coolness of that first encounter for the wintry chill around the gracious Chateau Montebello in Quebec—and the warmth of old friends reuniting.

But their challenge was no less daunting. Their mandate, according to discussion leader Roger Fisher of the Harvard Negotiation Project, was to “generate advice for all Canadians” on how the country should prepare for the future. At Montebello, the group studied the federal government’s current constitutional proposal and discussed ways in which its contents might affect the lives of all Canadians. Then, they sought agreement on accepting, rejecting or modifying the federal plan.

In the end, the forum’s declaration endorsed a formula for renewed federalism and a statement of shared Canadian values. It amounts to a detailed blueprint for a country that all 12 members—including self-described Quebec sovereigntists Charles Dupuis and Marie LeBeau—could comfortably live in. Despite his convictions, explained Dupuis, “If there’s a [constitutional] proposition on the table that satisfies me, I’d be crazy to say no just for the pleasure of saying no.”

As demonstrated in the eighth annual Maclean ’s/Decima poll that forms a part of this special issue (pages 46 to 67), the forum’s work took place against the backdrop of a populace that is tired of the constitutional debate, gloomy and anxious over the economic outlook and exasperated by politicians and political disputes. Still, the survey indicates that Canadians are prepared to compromise in their attitudes towards political change in order to achieve a constitutional settlement.

Those sentiments were for the most part strongly shared by the participants in the Montebello discussions. But their undertaking was particularly difficult because, to accurately reflect the conflicting opinions across the country, Maclean’s had selected them specifically because of their sharply differing visions of Canada. Last spring, Decima Research, the magazine’s regular polling firm, analysed its data banks to identify the main patterns of opinion that form the national psyche. Decima identified six so-called clusters of thought, ranging from Firm Federalists to Quebec Hard Separatists. Maclean’s editorial staff, working with names of individuals that Decima provided, selected 11

participants to reflect those clusters. Maclean ’s then chose one other participant, native Canadian Carol Geddes, from outside the process because traditional polling methods do not produce a representative sampling from the nation’s native communities.

To lead the group’s Montebello discussion, Maclean ’s again turned to Fisher, founder of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard Negotiation Project, the recognized world leader in the burgeoning field of conflict resolution. Fisher, 69, pioneered the theory of “principled negotiation”— through which the search for shared interests replaces arguments over non-negotiable demands. He and other members of his group work in many of the world’s trouble spots, including Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

To help the 12 have a more realistic understanding of the complexities of their task, Maclean ’s invited five current and former politicians known for their expertise in constitutional matters to attend as observers and advisers. They were Senator Gérald Beaudoin and Winnipeg Conservative MP Dorothy Dobbie, the co-leaders of the parliamentary committee on constitutional reform; Montreal Liberal MP Paul Martin; Saskatchewan NDP MP Lome Nystrom; and former Ontario premier David Peterson.

The group’s conclusions are notable above all for their common sense, clarity—and the unbridled pride in the recognition of shared Canadian values. “Rather than focusing on differences and letting them divide us,” the group says in a letter to fellow Canadians, “we can appreciate those differences as valuable, worthwhile and essential to our Canada. Let us remember the similarities that make us all Canadians first” (page 40).

They also produced a joint letter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (page 38) and a list of specific recommendations to the government on how to make the present proposals more palatable to Canadians (page 36). Those recommendations touch on such contentious areas as how— and whether—to treat the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, the rights of aboriginal people to self-government, and Senate reform.

Their conclusions elicited enthusiastic responses from the constitutional experts who watched the process unfold, as well as from outside observers. Beaudoin, a former dean of law at the University of Ottawa, told the group: “You have done truly remarkable work.” Said University of Toronto political scientist Richard Simeon: “This is the kind of settlement that we are going to have to reach.”

Still, the shared conclusions clearly held different weight for everyone. Dupuis and LeBeau, the two Quebec sovereigntists, said as they departed that it is still likely that only a sovereign Quebec can meet their needs. But, LeBeau added, “Separation may not in the end be necessary.” In the agreement that the forum members reached, and in the personal bonds that developed among them, they concluded that what unites them is more important than what divides them. On a much larger scale—and with far higher stakes—that is the essence of the choice that Quebecers and other Canadians will have to make in 1992.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

OR CANADA