Within three weeks of the New Democratic Party’s election victory on Oct. 17, 1991, British Columbia’s new premier, Michael Harcourt, set out on a trade mission to Japan, Hong Kong and China. In making that twoweek journey, the premier maintained a tradition in the westernmost Canadian province of developing commercial, investment and human ties across the North Pacific. And now, as economic recession and changing north-south trade patterns exact a toll on British Columbia’s resource industries and other sectors of the economy, the province is looking more than ever to Asia. Maclean’s Vancouver Bureau Chief Hal Quinn recently spoke with Harcourt about trade and other challenges facing the province in the 1990s and beyond. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: Almost 40 per cent of British Columbia’s trade is now with Pacific Rim countries.
Will that continue to grow?
Harcourt: Yes, very substantially. And it will grow too with South America and Mexico. That is our role, British Columbia’s role, in the medium and long term, to be Canada’s front door on the Asia Pacific, to act as a catalyst and as a meeting place.
This is where the action is.
Maclean’s: What parts are British Columbians to play in that future role for their province?
Harcourt: We are moving towards a highskill, high-wage, high-salary economy based on our strategic location. The hi-tech and service industries in southwestern British Columbia are emerging, and more and more high-tech businesses, like pharmaceutical companies, want to locate here. We are not going to be competing with “60-cents-an-hour” in Mexico. We are going to the higher range because it is one of the few areas in the world that people choose to come to, because of the location, high quality of education and health services, and the cultural and recreational activities available. And companies want to come here simply because it is a very pleasant place to live. Maclean’s: But the three tradition-
ál pillars of the B.C. economy, forestry, fishing and mining, are hurting, while tourism is growing quickly.
Harcourt: We are going through some painful changes, some due to low commodity prices, which is really affecting mining and forestry communities. Our economy is undergoing some structural changes, but they are shallower and narrower than the deep and broad changes in the rest of Canada, whether you look at the cod fishery or the collapse of Hibernia in the Atlantic, the 30-per-cent unemployment in east Montreal, or the combination of rust belt and free trade closures in Ontario.
And some of the changes here are towards getting more value-added products, and jobs, out of our industries.
Maclean’s: Since the last wave of capital and people from the rest of Canada and from
overseas from 1988 to 1990, analysts are saying that a good percentage of the people coming to this province now, where unemployment is already 11 per cent, are unemployed Canadians. Harcourt: We have had a 40per-cent increase in the welfare case load in the past two years, most of it people coming in from outside the province. The British Columbia taxpayers, like all Canadians, are first paying their fair share of income taxes. Secondly, are making equalization payments as a “have” province. Thirdly, we are paying the extra taxes loaded on by federal cuts to health, education and social services. But now, fourthly, we are paying another $420 million in extra welfare costs to provide for people coming from the rest of Canada. I don’t begrudge it at all, but at least it should be shared 50:50 by Ottawa, as it used to be. The federal breach of contract has been very costly to B.C. taxpayers.
Maclean’s: The population of the Lower Mainland is predicted reach 10 million in 20 to 30 years. But with a population now less than two million, already air pollution in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley is a chronic problem. How can that growth be accommodated?
Harcourt: The air-pollution
problem in Greater Vancouver is terrible. fact, it is worse per vehicle than Los Angeles. The situations are eerily similar. Both areas have large populations on the water with mountains to the north, east and south, and ocean breezes that push the air pollution, mostly from cars, into the centre of the basins. That is why have had discussions with the governor Washington state, because pollution doesn’t stop at the border. We are starting with stricter emission standards in effect in September in the Lower Mainland. And we will need much greater emphasis on public transit, will eventually have to switch our cars natural gas and ethanol fuel as an interim then move on to hydrogen, solar and electrically powered cars. It is going to take some very bold new measures to maintain the high quality of life we want in British Columbia. □
or less dictates it.” That view is supported by Manitoba Conservative MP Dorothy Dobbie, the co-chair of the $4 million Dobbie-Beaudoin committee. “I don’t know if you can put a cost on trying to save a country,” Dobbie said last week. “You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Adds University of Ottawa political scientist John Trent: “After Meech Lake we came close to rupturing the country. Canadians had to do some stocktaking as to who they were and where they were.”
Still, the current spending is formidable in its scope and size. It began in the dark days
following the failure of the Meech Lake accord in June, 1990, as worried and dispirited leaders vowed to undertake a massive exercise in public consultation before launching a second round of talks. The first major step in that process of consultation was the creation of the $23-million Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future, the so-called “Spicer Commission,” which travelled from coast to coast seeking citizens’ views. Other consultations included the $1-million Beaudoin-Edwards parliamentary committee and the Dobbie-Beaudoin committee. In addition, Ottawa spent $9 million on
six regional conferences and
gave another $9 million to native groups to enable them to canvass their own members. The total for these efforts: $46 million.
Provincial politicians also loosened the purse strings to prepare for the constitutional talks. The B.C. government, for one, spent $140,000 on two task forces to sample public opinion, while Quebec’s Bélanger-Campeau commission last year cost nearly $5 million. Other expenses have resulted from building and maintaining new bureaucracies. In 1989, Ontario’s Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs had only
one assistant deputy minister. It now has four, each earning a salary of between $90,000 and $112,000. Three years ago, the ministry’s Ottawa and Quebec City offices each had two full-time staff members. Now, there are seven positions in Ottawa and four in the Quebec capital. On top of that, Ontario’s Office of Constitutional Affairs and Federal-Provincial Relations has grown to 32 staff members from 12 in 1989. Said Jeff Rose, the province’s deputy minister for intergovernmental affairs: “Our constitutional affairs staff has increased because that’s the name game in town now. But in addition to salaries, we’ve also had a lot of travel costs, flying people across the country.”
A similar bureaucratic expansion has occurred in Ottawa. After Clark accepted the job of constitutional affairs minister in April, 1991, the federal government spent nearly $40 million to create the new ministry and to double the number of federal-provincial relations staff; for one thing, the number of people employed in the FPRO communications office has increased to 25 from five in 1989. Officials from the Privy Council Office, the justice department and the secretariat of state have also been seconded to the constitutional file. And according to federal records, Ottawa has spent at least $400,000 on polls to gauge public attitudes on constitutional issues—surveys that the government now refuses to make public, despite a court action launched by federal Information Commissioner John Grace.
Although the constitutional fight appears to have been a gravy train for many advisers, some of those consultants say that taxpayers received full value for their money. Ottawa’s
weekends and holidays during the 10 months he spent working for the FPRO. Said Mann, whose contract ended in January: “The work was really intense. I think the money they paid for me was well-spent.” He added: “I am one of those people who are quite happy to no longer have the Constitution as a client.”
Academics who have worked on constitutional issues also claim that, with the exception of a handful of large government contracts, the field has not been profitable. Few have been more involved than Patrick Monahan, a law professor who is also director of York University’s Centre for Public Law and Public Policy in Toronto. He is co-editor, with colleague Kenneth McRoberts, of a non-profit newsletter titled “Canada Watch,” and author of a 1991 book on the Meech Lake negotiations. Monahan says that he earned only $3,000 from the 325-page book, which took six months to write. “I think it is a myth to say that people are making a fortune on the constitutional indus-
try,” he added. “Academics in this country— and certainly in law—are less well-paid than their counterparts in the private sector.” Some scholars even argue that their colleagues should not take government contracts on constitutional issues. Says University of Manitoba law professor Bryan Schwartz: “It’s time for a serious look at this. Politicians can’t speak freely because they’re subjected to party discipline, so you should have an academic and journalistic community acting as independent critics. Then, you discover that an awful lot of people who should be giving you informed and independent opinions are getting huge dollops of money from the federal government.”
Now that the political negotiations appear to be entering their final stages, the flow of money to academic advisers will become a trickle. By contrast, government spending on public relations advisers is sure to continue and probably increase—particularly if the federal government decides to stage a national referendum on
the Constitution. Elections Canada alone has projected that it would have to spend between $5 million and $7 million on ä media campaign to inform Canadians about the referendum process. Taxpayers may cringe at the thought, but for political consultants, the constitutional gravy train continues to roll.
E. KAYE FULTON
A MATTER OF CHANGING COLORS
Throughout his long career, the 61-yearold Montreal lawyer has managed to cloak himself in almost as many political colors as there are stools at Grumpy’s, the bar he frequents in the city’s downtown core. In his youth, Richard Holden campaigned door-to-door for the Union Nationale. He ran provincially as an independent in 1962 and federally as a Conservative in 1979, losing both times. In the 1989 provincial election he captured Westmount for the neophyte Equality party, then bolted the English-rights splinter group late last year for a brief, unrequited flirtation with Robert Bourassa’s Liberals. Despite those actions, however, few observers were prepared for the momentous step Holden took last week. In a move that outraged his overwhelmingly English-speaking federalist constituents, the Westmount MNA announced that he had enlisted in the separatist Parti Québécois.
As Holden formed his new alliance, he criticized his previous political allies.
“Quebec is going to become a separate
country and we English better have somebody in the Parti Québécois to look after our interests,” he declared at a news conference attended by a beaming PQ Leader Jacques Parizeau. “In spite of the English, I’ll represent them. They will catch up with me. Let’s face it: I’m way ahead of the thinking in English Quebec.” The dominant reaction from prominent anglophone Quebecers was outrage. “He should be impeached,” said May Cutler, a former Westmount mayor who helped to engineer Holden’s 1989 election victory. The Montreal Gazette labelled him “a clown,” as did Equality party Leader Robert Libman. Even the French-language La Presse derided the move, describing Holden in a lead editorial as an
“agreeable buffoon who, sooner or later, is
going to embarrass” the PQ.
Also expressing dismay were many members of the gregarious Holden’s wide circle of friends, including his old associate, Brian Mulroney. In Ottawa, the Prime Minister greeted a reporter’s question on the issue with icy disdain, dis-
missing Holden’s action as inconsequential: “In political terms, it is by no means an earthquake.“
Only the regulars at Grumpy’s, long inured to Holden’s quixotic behavior, chose to treat the matter lightly. “This is a great day for federalism,” said Montreal City Councillor Nick Auf der Maur, citing Holden’s unblemished record of inaccurate election forecasts. “Dick’s better than chicken entrails.” And novelist Mordecai Richler, noting that Holden has not taken an alcoholic drink in eight months, remarked dryly: “It’s the worst advertisement I’ve ever seen for going on the wagon.”
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