The Birth of Nunavut

No two nations are built the same way or from the same materials. Canada is the product of many varied and distinctive accomplishments, from the CBC to medicare, free trade and, most recently, the Inuit territory called Nunavut.

July 1 1999

The Birth of Nunavut

No two nations are built the same way or from the same materials. Canada is the product of many varied and distinctive accomplishments, from the CBC to medicare, free trade and, most recently, the Inuit territory called Nunavut.

July 1 1999

Cut out of the Northwest Territories at the cap of Canada, Nunavut is a mammoth leap of faith - or folly. The newest territory, which came into being on April 1, is the country’s largest jurisdiction, spanning three time zones, one-fifth of the nation’s land mass, more than five times the size of Germany and four times that of Sweden. Yet there are fewer than 30,000 people in Nunavut, a population density of only 1.3 people for every 100 square kilometres. Winter persists for more than six months, and the ground is permanently frozen to a depth of hundreds of feet. Iqaluit, the capital, with a population of 4,500, has a mean temperature in January of-30° C. Little wonder that the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Mackenzie King, once wondered aloud whether Canada had too much geography.

But the North has always fired the Canadian imagination. The national anthem trumpets the “True North strong and free,” and Canadians cling to their self-portrait as (in the words of a 19th-century writer) the “young, fair and stalwart maiden of the North,” even though few travel very far beyond the cities and towns of the extreme south. Somehow, Canadians imagine that the North makes them unique, differentiating them from those soft, warm-blooded Yankees.

More than that, there is something breathtaking about the Nunavut experiment. The excitement of creating a new territory. The redrawing of maps. The idea of giving aboriginal people their due. The welcoming of a new century - “Although we cannot erase the errors of past centuries, we can welcome a new one by providing an opportunity for a fresh start,” suggests Maclean's reader Kathryn Martell of Kimberley, B.C. The peaceful process of fundamental change. “I was struck by the fact,” says Scott Serson, then deputy minister of Indian and northern affairs, “that Nunavut’s birthday happened just as the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia was entering an awful new phase. The whole Nunavut saga is a magnificent symbol of Canada’s flexible democracy at its best. The result is a government built around the Inuit people, so that it is truly their land now.”

It didn’t just happen. The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada called for the creation of Nunavut in 1976, and although they stuck to their goal with patience and toughness, their commitment to the country was never in doubt. As John Amagoalik, known as the “father of Nunavut,” puts it: “We are not trying to break up Canada. We're trying to join Canada.”

The federal government finally agreed to a separate territory of Nunavut as part of the 1993 Nunavut Land Claim Agreement, promising the Inuit people who dominate the region a form of self-government, a cash settlement in excess of $1 billion over 14 years and title to 350,000 square kilometres of land in the eastern Arctic.

The social, economic and political challenges are formidable, from unemployment to teen suicide to inflated expectations. Amagoalik understands the risks better than anyone. Perhaps it will be even harder to survive and prosper than before, he admits. “But at least it will be our people that will be making the effort. If someone is to blame, it won’t be someone in Ottawa or Yellowknife, but here—someone whom we can talk to, who understands our language.”

The Avro Arrow assumed mythic proportions

Canadians like to think of themselves as a peaceful people. This conceit, while neglecting the nations role in the wars of this century, makes more puzzling the extraordinary continuing interest in the cancellation of the Avro Arrow in 1959. The CF-105 was a warplane, an interceptor designed to destroy attacking Soviet bombers over the Canadian North. In the minds of many Canadians, however, it has assumed mythic proportions over the years as a symbol of national pride and the struggle for independence from the United States.

The need for the Arrow sprang out of the Cold War. The Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon in y^ 1949 and almost simultaneously developed longos ||y9K9 Q range bombers capable of striking North American 5; targets. What was Canadas contribution to the air defence of the continent to be? The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent in 1953 turned their attention to a new interceptor to be developed by A. V. Roe, a Britishowned firm located in Malton, just outside Toronto. The plan, initially calling for 600 aircraft, looked to Canadian development only of the airframe, with the engines, weapons and electronics to be acquired elsewhere. When no suitable engine could be found, Ottawa reluctantly ordered its development. At the same time, as costs rose towards a billion dollars, Ottawa scaled back its orders.

By the time John Diefenbaker won the 1957 election, the fate of the Arrow was in doubt.

The new Conservative government looked for other countries that might buy the aircraft, but found no takers. Its senior military advisers spent months worrying about the Arrow, concluding that if production went ahead, the

urgendy needed re-equipment of the army and navy would be stalled for lack of funds. The United States was working on the Bomarc surface-to-air missile, which seemed capable of destroying attacking bombers and “cooking” their nuclear payloads. Then in 1957, the Soviet Union put a satellite into orbit, a clear indication that Moscow was on the verge of producing effective intercontinental ballistic missiles. What then was the utility of an interceptor designed to shoot down bombers?

The big difficulty was that Avro and its suppliers employed 25,000 workers, including a first-rate team of designers and engineers. If the government killed the aircraft, these skilled workers might be lost to the country. But the changing technology, the opposition of the armed forces chiefs and the ever-escalating costs forced the prime ministers hand. In February, 1959, Diefenbaker scrapped the Arrow, announcing Canada would acquire Bomarcs that were effective only with nuclear warheads.

The public reaction was one of outrage. The Arrow, as Macleans reader Hattie Dyck of Truro, N.S., notes, “had changed the way we thought about ourselves.” Conspiracy theorists contended the Americans had forced Diefenbaker to kill the Arrow because it was too advanced. Soon, the CF-105—far from being a source of Canadian pride— became a symbol of Canadas takeover by the United States, commemorated in books and plays of conspiratorial bent.

In reality, the Arrow was cancelled because it cost too much. Diefenbaker made the right decision, but he paid a heavy price. Four years later, divisions within his administration over the Bomarc missiles and their nuclear warheads brought down the Tory government.

At long last, medicare

The Great Depression of the 1930s left deeper scars on Saskatchewan than on any other part of Canada. The provinces farmers saw their cash income fall by more than two-thirds between 1928 and 1931 and as late as 1937 two-thirds of the population were living on relief.

But out of the crucible of the Dirty Thirties came a new generation of political leaders who were determined to protect their people from the ravages of similar catastrophes in the future. And chief among these reformers was Thomas Clement (Tommy) Douglas, a feisty Baptist preacher, who became one of the most influential politicians of his time.

A member of Parliament-turned-provincial leader of the social-democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the NDP, Douglas had gone into politics because of the Depression. Fie had seen his parishioners in Weyburn ruined, their families broken up, their incomes cut in half. He had watched as serious illnesses bankrupted families and left the poor destitute and dependent on charity for their health care. All citizens, he believed, had an absolute right to hospital care and to doctors’ services. And when he led the CCF to power in Regina in 1944, Douglas got his chance to act.

In 1947, his government passed legislation that took the first step towards universal hospital insurance. It took Douglas more than a decade before he was able to persuade Ottawa to share the cost, but the Saskatchewan example (backed by federal cash) was so compelling that by 1961 all 10 provinces were providing hospital insurance for their citizens.

Medicare was a tougher nut to crack. Doctor-run medical insurance plans covered two-thirds of Saskatchewan’s citizens, and there was strong opposition from physicians to any government intervention in this area. To them, publicly administered medical insurance meant socialized medicine—medicine that was too strong for the doctors. Douglas, however, was determined. His government began planning in 1958 and made medicare the central issue in the 1960 Saskatchewan election. The CCF was re-elected, and the bill establishing medicare in Saskatchewan passed on Nov. 17, 1961.

The struggle was just beginning, however. Elected national leader of the newly formed New Democratic Party, Douglas left Regina for Ottawa and was succeeded as premier by Woodrow Lloyd. Able enough, Lloyd lacked Douglas’s flexibility, and Saskatchewan was soon thrown into a provincewide doctors’ strike. The government was committed to medicare; the doctors were committed to its elimination, and on July 1, 1962, they walked off the job.

On the first day of the strike, a sick baby died after its parents, one newspaper reported, “knocked in vain at hospitals and surgeries closed by the 900 doctors who have suspended practice.” Such incidents led the national media, ordinarily not supporters of socialist causes, to turn against organized medicine and its refusal to obey a law passed by

the legislature. The issue, The Globe and Mail declared, was “not medicare but democracy.”

The impasse was broken when both sides accepted the appointment of a mediator. Lord Stephen Taylor, a British doctor and peer, was histrionic, persuasive and compelling. He shamelessly browbeat both the government and the physicians into accepting an agreement on July 23.

A national medicare scheme now was all but inevitable. The Royal Commission on Health Services, reporting in 1964, called for universal, comprehensive, publicly administered health insurance for all Canadians. With Tommy Douglas, in opposition, urging it on, the Liberal government of Lester Pearson proposed a shared-cost program to the provinces, with an implementation date of July 1, 1967. Although there was some fierce opposition among doctors, insurance companies and certain provincial governments, opinion polls made it clear that Canadians wanted to be freed of the direct burden of medical bills. Implementation was delayed by a year and ultimately all 10 provinces were forced—or seduced—into joining the plan by the pressure of public opinion and the lure of federal money.

Choosing the ‘Canadian wolf’

There is a host of conspiracy theories surrounding Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation in 1949. The British colluded with Canada to have the union come about. Ballots in the second referendum were destroyed to produce the desired result. Vast sums of money from Canadian corporations poured into Newfoundland to ensure the result. The pro-Confederation campaign was secretly orchestrated by the Liberal party in Ottawa.

The truth is simpler. Newfoundland, a dominion in its own right, had effectively declared bankruptcy early in the Great Depression, and Britain had put its dominion status in suspension and named an appointed Commission of Government to run the island’s affairs.

The Second World War, which brought substantial numbers of Canadian, American and British service personnel to Newfoundland, also brought prosperity, and the Canadian presence helped to erode the long history of suspicion between Canada and Newfoundland. It is possible that the United States, which had acquired bases there in 1940, had some interest in acquiring Newfoundland for its defence potential. It is clear that Britain did not want this. And it is beyond doubt that a financially strapped United Kingdom decided after the war that it could no longer bear the expense of sustaining Newfoundland.

Beyond that, everything was up for grabs. There were many in Newfoundland who wanted dominion status and full self-government restored. There were some, including members of the powerful merchant Crosbie family, who looked to a link to the United States as the best choice.

And still others, led by the extraordinary journalist, labour organizer, pig farmer and broadcaster Joey Smallwood, wanted to join Canada.

When the British announced their intention to pull out, they called a national convention to decide Newfoundland’s future. Only one outright Confederate won election to the 45-member convention; happily for Canada that was the indefatigable Smallwood who, though badly outnumbered, dominated the proceedings heard by all on radio. Gradually he built support by educating his countrymen about Canada. “They had no conception of a federal system of government,” Smallwood said, nor did they understand the benefits that could flow to every outport with Confederation.

Through force of oratory, Smallwood won agreement that the convention should send a delegation to Ottawa to

discuss terms with Canada. For three months, the delegation bargained and bickered through the sweltering summer of 1947. When they returned, they carried a long description of how Canada worked and the benefits that flowed to all provinces. Special terms for Newfoundland arrived soon after, and Smallwood, as he said, “had the time of my life explaining and expounding Confederation.” So well did he do his job that the case for Canada became a credible one, and the British government decided to place three options on the referendum ballot: self-government, Confederation with Canada, and the continuation of the Commission of Government.

The batde was joined. “Come near at your peril, Canadian Wolf!,” the anti-Confederates of an earlier age had sung, and the words echoed still. For his part, Smallwood argued that the “Commission of Government means security, but no democracy; responsible government means democracy, but no security; Confederation means democracy and security, both”—an effective argument indeed and all the more for being true. Despite his herculean efforts, Smallwood did not carry the day; responsible government finished narrowly ahead of Confederation with the Commission of Government (or status quo) well behind. As no option had a majority, a second referendum was held. This time, on July 22, 1948, Smallwood and Canada won— 78,323 to 71,334 for Confederation.

Smallwood became the first premier of Newfoundland, and the benefits he had promised duly flowed to his people. By free choice, Newfoundland had united itself with its larger neighbour, and by free choice Newfoundlanders had bought into all the benefits of being Canadian.

The CBC became an icon of nationhood

“The question is the State or the United States,” young Graham Spry told a parliamentary committee in 1932. As the passionate voice of the Canadian Radio League, Spry urged that the government create a publicly controlled and operated broadcasting system if broadcasting was to be Canadian, not American.

Radio was already American enough. By 1931, one-third of Canadians had radio receivers, and they listened in growing numbers to a regular diet of American soap opera, comedy and music. Up against the giants CBS and NBC, with their empires of stars, stations and powerful transmitters, Canada could only muster 60 private oudets and a single national network, run by Canadian National Railways and on air only a few hours a week.

“We can tune in regularly to stations in Seatde, Oakland, San Francisco, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Denver, etc.,” a West Coast reader of Macleans

wrote at the time, “but consider it an achievement to get a station at Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary or Edmonton.”

The solution was state intervention. In 1929, a royal commission under Sir John Aird recommended the establishment of a national radio network under the auspices of a Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) that would be patterned after the British Broadcasting Corp. Aird wanted an instrument for “fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship.” The recommendation was implemented three years later by Conservative R. B. Bennett, the capitalist prime minister who presided, sometimes

imaginatively, over the worst of the Depression.

Cultural historian Mary Vipond says Bennett became convinced that radio had potent nationbuilding potential. “While newspapers were local, magazines middle-class and movies purely entertainment, radio appealed to all classes, in all parts of the country, and could be successfully used not only for entertainment but for informational and propaganda purposes.” This was to be the modern equivalent of the CPR, the great national railway that had knit Canadians together since the 19th century.

Nationalism was in the air. The Group of Seven were painting their bold Canadian landscapes. The country was emerging with its own foreign policy from the shadow of mother Britain. French and English alike fretted about the cacophony of American mass culture directed straight at tiny Canada.

The CRBC proved a weak reed for nationalist dreams. In 1936, it was replaced by the more effective Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and within a year the CBC was reaching 76 per cent of the population—even if it never did become the full state enterprise originally envisioned by Aird. Canadians of the 1940s and 1950s grew up with the networks sounds ringing in their ears— “Keep happy with the Flappy Gang,” and Foster Hewitts “Hello Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”

Governments, thinking the CBC belongs to them rather than to the people, have been among its severest critics. From the Lester Pearson eras raffish This Hour Has Seven Days to recurring accusations of separatism in RadioCanada, what passes for independence at the CBC has often been perceived as downright bias by the politicians.

In recent years, the politicians have extracted their revenge: between 1988-1989 and 19981999, the CBC’s annual appropriation, voted by Parliament, was slashed by 31 per cent—to $629,715,000 from $915,249,000 in constant 1988 dollars. The corporation’s woes have been accentuated recently by labour strikes, low morale and uncertainty over changes in leadership. Some of its staunchest supporters despair, fearing Americanization of the CBC may be inevitable. That would be the final straw for all those Canadians who cherish the public broadcaster as one of our few remaining symbols of nationhood and distinctiveness.

Tapping the potential of the Columbia River

Water, fish and recreation: the 2,000-km-long Columbia River had it all. It also had the potential to generate huge amounts of hydroelectric power, but because the river rises in British Columbia and flows into Washington state, the development of that power was an international question, and in Canada, a federal-provincial one, as well.

The International Joint Commission, the Canadian-American body that presides over border issues, had been eyeing development of the rivers potential since the end of the Second World War, but it was not until 1960 that Canada and the United States settled down to serious negotiations. The result was a historic, and monumentally complicated, 60-year treaty. Canada would build three dams in British Columbia for water storage—the Duncan, north of Kootenay Lake; Mica, north of Revelstoke; and the Hugh Keenleyside, west of Castlegar—and operate them to maximize water flow and power production downstream in the United States. For its part, the States agreed to pay $69 million, worth $400 million in todays dollars, for the flood-control benefit of the new Canadian dams. In addition, Canada would get half the power produced from the Columbia.

Calculating benefits and losses from such a complex, costly agreement was no easy job, but W. A. C. Bennett was up to the challenge. The visionary—and confronta-

tional—Social Credit premier of British Columbia decided in 1961 to sell the provinces share of the power, but Ottawa objected. It was not until 1964 that Victoria and the federal government finally reached an agreement allowing the province to pre-sell the power back to the United States. The treaty was then ratified.

Not all British Columbians rejoiced. Conservationists worried about the impact of the dams on the salmon run. Others believed Bennett had sold off the provinces birthright. But Bennett was convinced hydro development was the key to his province’s future.

Electricity prices rose inexorably, and the good deal of 1964 seemed less so in 1994 when the arrangements under which the United States bought British Columbia’s share of the power came up for renegotiation. At stake was 1,400 megawatts, enough to light Victoria. The 1994 negotiations produced an agreement that would have given the province $6 billion over 30 years, but the Americans walked away from the deal. However, in March, quietly and without fanfare, a new deal was put in place: instead of reselling all the electricity to the United States, the province will also be able to collect the power at the U.S. generating stations and transmit it to British Columbia where it will be used to attract new industry or sold to other customers. The total potential value of this 1999 deal is $5.4 billion. This may be less than the tens of billions in trade that flow across the border under the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, but it is big money nonetheless for Canada’s West Coast. Columbia River water is worth its weight in gold and kilowatts.

Leduc changed Alberta’s future

In the period immediately following the Second Word War, the future of Alberta seemed dim. Despite its agriculture, the province’s economy was stagnant and its natural-resource sector was in deep trouble.

True, Turner Valley, located in the foothills south of Calgary, was the largest oilfield in the country, but its production was declining every year and no longer met half of the needs of even the Prairie provinces. As Blair Fraser, the celebrated Ottawa editor of Maclean’s, wrote, Alberta was stuck as “a ‘have-not’ province, chronically broke.”

Shell Oil had sunk $11 million—a considerable sum in those days—into the search for more oil, but all it got was one natural-gas well at Jumping Pound, west of Calgary. Imperial Oil had spent even more,

$23 million, and had 133 dry holes to show for it. Shell pulled out. Imperial decided to keep trying, but only for a little longer.

Imperial’s next attempt, beginning in late 1946, was at Leduc, in the plains 24 km southwest of Edmonton. The miracle happened on Feb. 13, 1947. As one of the crew remembered it, a drilling site known as Leduc No. 1 started to show some signs of life shortly after 4 p.m. “Then with a roar the well came in, flowing into the sump near the rig,” the worker said. “We switched it to the flare line, lit the fire and the most beautiful smoke ring you ever saw went floating skyward.”

“Oilmen knew they’d found one of the great producing regions of North America,” Maclean’s reported. “Alberta’s future changed overnight.” The importance of the discovery “was not the size of that one field, considerable though it was. It was the revelation that oil could be recovered from the Alberta plains.”

By the end of 1947, nearly 30 wells were in production at Leduc, yielding 3,500 barrels of good quality oil a day. Here, then, was the base upon which to build an Albertan and Canadian oil industry. Other discoveries followed. At the time of the great Leduc strike, the country was heavily dependent on foreign oil, importing $206 million dollars of it annually. Leduc and subsequent finds meant that most years Canada was a net exporter. In the words of energy historian Robert Bothwell of the University of Toronto, “Alberta escaped what had looked like the long slow decline of its oil industry; Canada was spared

dependence on foreign oil at the cost of many millions of dollars of foreign exchange.”

Almost five years after the discovery at Leduc, Fraser returned to Alberta. The treasury was bulging, he found. Twenty million dollars was spent in 1951 on roads and bridges, and millions more on hospitals and schools. Edmonton, the oil capital, was booming, even if it had not lost its “frowsy” appearance.

Thanks in part to generous U.S. tax laws, venture capital poured north into Alberta, while the financial titans of Eastern Canada were more timid. They had little interest in risking their capital drilling for oil and gas in Western Canada. Control of Alberta’s natural resources, Fraser concluded resignedly, “and the profits thereof, have very largely passed into American hands.”

By the time Imperial finally shut down the great Leduc oilfield in 1984, it had produced in excess of 240 million barrels—making Alberta truly Canadas energy province and fuelling the economic growth that created the prosperity of modern-day Alberta.

Battling historic fears to reach a free-trade pact with the U.S.

Relations with the United States obsess Canadians and their governments.

The Americans are so powerful, so bumptious, that their every twitch and grunt affects and frequently frightens us. And historically, no CanadianAmerican issue has been so potent as trade.

Reciprocity, or free trade, was the major issue of the 1850s and 1860s, important in the early 1870s and, despite the National Policy of high tariffs put in place by Sir John A.

Macdonald in 1878, the key issue in the 1891 election. The 1911 election turned on a reciprocity agreement negotiated by the Laurier Liberal government, and once again, free trade J was defeated in a campaign that saw Sir °

Wilfrid Laurier portrayed as a disloyal f Canadian because of his desire for f closer trade relations with the Yankees. I So potent were anti-Americanism and | protectionism that more than seven s decades passed before a Canadian government again sought free trade with the United States.

That government, of course, was Brian Mulroneys.

There was some irony in the fact that a Conservative prime minister aimed to overturn one of the party’s bedrock principles, but Mulroney—who had opposed free trade when he ran for the Tory leadership in 1983—was adamant in office. With the U.S. Congress apparently in a perpetually protectionist frame of mind, Canada needed an agreement that would assure its entry to American markets. Canadian business, eager for guaranteed access to the U.S. market, whooped and cheered and lined up to support Mulroney.

Against him was Canadian labour. To the unions, free trade meant continental rationalization of production, job losses and the virtual deindustrialization of Canada. Canadian nationalists trotted out rhetoric about America’s “manifest destiny” to swallow up Canada. Free trade, they declared, was treason. Surprisingly, perhaps, the federal Liberals, just as ready as Mulroney to abandon historic principles, came out against free trade.

In fact, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, reached in late 1987, was about much more than trade, most of which already moved back and forth across the border with minimal duties. The areas that most mattered to the United States were foreign investment, energy and culture.

When Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan signed the FTA on Jan. 2, 1988, the issue was joined. And when the Liberal-controlled Senate refused to pass the agreement,

Mulroney dissolved Parliament and went to the people.

The issue of Canada’s future in North America was to be settled once and for all.

Mulroney and his government were deeply unpopular, and the FTA initially seemed unlikely to improve their lot. Liberal TV advertisements against the deal were powerfully effective, and Liberal leader John Turner scored points in the leaders’ debate on television. Nationalist groups argued vehemently against the deal. As Mel Hurtig, the Alberta author and former publisher, put it, the FTA meant “Goodbye distinct Canadian values, hello American.”

But Mulroney didn’t panic, and the Conservatives benefited enormously from an advertising campaign organized by business supporters of the FTA. They won the Nov. 21, 1988, election with a substantial majority.

At first, the critics’ worst fears appeared to come true. Plants moved south, jobs disappeared in wholesale lots and unemployment rose. A deep recession worsened matters. But Canada’s trade with the United States increased dramatically. Canada now is part of a continental market, a situation that was formalized when Mexico was added to the free-trade zone in 1994. But whether Canadian values and Canadian nationalism can survive for long still remains to be seen.