Since he left his boyhood home near Brandon, Man., at 14, Maurice Strong has earned wealth as a businessman and international respect as an environmentalist. Over the years, Strong, 63, has frequently served abroad as a senior UN official—most recently as the Geneva-based secretary general of the huge UN Conference on the Environment and Development, which was held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14. Strong’s term with the United Nations ended on Aug. 31, and last week he returned to Canada, setting up home in a fashionable lakefront apartment in Toronto. Strong said that he would remain active in environmental affairs; he currently is helping to set up an organization called the Earth Council, based in San José, Costa Rica, that will monitor implementation of the measures agreed on by world leaders in Rio. And as he prepared to live in Canada again, Strong expressed concern over the implications of the Oct. 26 constitutional referendum. Foreigners, Strong told Maclean’s, are only beginning to realize that “the Canada they know could self-destruct.” Overseas, he said, there is “incredulity, really almost disbelief, that Canadians could be considering doing this to themselves.”
Strong said that, apart from acting as a parttime UN adviser and working with the Earth Council, he planned to concentrate on his personal business interests. They include investments held by Vancouver-based Strovest Holdings Inc. Still, Strong conceded that one potential job might be a stimulating challenge: running the troubled, provincially owned Ontario Hydro power utility. Hydro officials said that Strong is on a shortlist of names being considered as possible successors to outgoing chairman Marc Eleisen, who will leave the corporation on Oct. 31. Facing major problems with some of its power-generating nuclear reactors and with rapidly decreasing revenues, Hydro has increased rates by nearly 25 per cent during the past two years. Strong said that he had not sought the job, but that “it would be wrong to say that I wouldn’t feel a sense of challenge” if Hydro offered it to him.
But there were other demands for Strong’s time in his new home city. He was honored last week at a dinner held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Canadian Executive Service Organization, a volunteer program that assists projects among Canadian native people and in Eastern Europe and developing countries that Strong helped to launch in 1957. Strong was also attending sessions at a UN-sponsored congress on environmental education and commu-
nications being held in Toronto Oct. 16 to 21.
Strong said that he was still optimistic that the Rio conference, which attracted 15,000 delegates and 120 world leaders, would lead to an eventual reduction in environmental degradation around the world. Environmentalists have criticized the conference for producing weak international agreements to limit atmospheric pollution, preserve biological life and curtail a wide range of environmentally damaging practices. Strong said that for the time being, severe economic problems in many parts of the world were diverting the attention of gov-
ernments from environmental issues. But he said that thousands of delegates to the Rio conference would “generate a whole new round of grassroots signals that would keep the heat on politicians” over environmental issues in the future.
On the Oct. 26 referendum, Strong said that Canada has been able to develop influence and a reputation in the world to a large extent because “we are an example of how a country can achieve its independence peacefully, live in peace with the biggest and most powerful neighbor in the world and live at peace in a multicultural environment.” A dismembered Canada, he said, “won’t command the same respect or influence. And that has practical implications for our economy.” Added Strong: “The tragedy is that if Canada does divide, we will realize too late that the sum of the parts will be much less than the whole. And no part of Canada will have the influence or the respect or the capacity for looking after its own citizens that Canada as a whole has.” One of the nation’s most distinguished citizens has returned to live in unsettling times.
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