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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future

Couchiching's Diamond Jubilee

MICHAEL MACKENZIE,
Superintendent of Financial Institutions, Canada

What I want to do is to indulge in a trifling little bit of nostalgia, then try to put some kind of future spin on my observations of Couchiching and its importance.

To me the great value and the interesting thing about Couchiching, was that from the perspective of a young man who was "Bay Street", it was an opportunity to argue with, talk with, listen to people who were diplomats, public servants, teachers, adult educators, union leaders, other businessmen, CBC types.

It was a great opportunity to really broaden out in a very friendly and amiable way into other worlds and other perspectives and other views.

I don't see it happening these days as much as it should.

It was an optimistic place, our memory of being on the CIPA Board, our discussions with the CBC, our discussions in planning the conferences was structured around an externally focused set of subjects, not always but generally.

I guess there was a hidden set of assumptions in all this that the really difficult insoluble problems, or terrible problems in the world were all out there, they were in Latin America and they were in the Changing Far East, to name the two conferences I was involved with, or other parts of the world.

Domestically we would deal with such problems and topics as germane then as they would be today, but in a more optimistic general frame.

These were our problems, but they were manageable problems, we were living in a country that had a great future, we were living in a country where there was a whole lot of change going on, but on the whole there was a sense that the problems of our country were to be dealt with and dealt with together and they were solvable, workable.

There were a couple of intellectual mile posts of change for me through the early 70's into the 80's as a background to where we are today in the world that I see.

The first was a conference early in 1971 in Quebec, where a speaker from Manchester University, brought out his view of the changing world. He used the word complexification.

What he meant was that you could not take any area of problem, be it a technical problem, a social problem, a political problem, an educational problem, a public policy problem, or position, and deal with it on its own terms without really thinking of the environment and without realizing that if you push it over there, it's going to have an effect over here; that the unintended affects of what anybody does may very well outweigh the policy or the intended effect.

I think we always need to remember this. Certainly I had a sense of the end of innocence, I won't say the end of Liberalism, but a sense that we were getting into territory where things were not as simple as we used to think arguing around late into the night here at Couchiching a decade or so earlier.

As a public servant trying to regulate the financial health of the Canadian Financial System, I am always asking myself and I am asking the government, the governor of the Bank of Canada, or any of the institutions I deal with, whether the intended effect of what we propose to do is not going to be swamped by the side effects and the other effects.

The other intellectual milepost I recall is from another conference in Toronto, where we talked about Supply Side Economics.

Being a bank inspector, I do get concerned about inflation. And one of the reasons I get concerned about inflation is that over time the increasing cost of everything can destroy an institution like Couchiching.

We used to be able to operate on a very inexpensive low scale basis for people. You could have some radio coverage, or even television coverage by the CBC, you could do a whole lot of things and not really worry too much about the cost level.

But, cost levels today really mitigate or militate rather against the possibility that organizations and institutions like this can survive and prosper and accomplish the kinds of things that Gordon and Eric have been talking about and I will certainly echo.

I want to talk about why I think there has been a decline in the ability of people who come from different walks of life, different political perspectives, different views of the world to talk with each other in an amiable and listening way, than it used to be, and I think there are good reasons for this.

The first politician I ever met and had a long talk with was M.J. Coldwell. He said the fundamental important thing about Canadian politics for him was his ability in Question Period to yell and scream, or his ability to argue vehemently about cause that he felt very deeply and then go and have dinner with the guy he was arguing with.

This is one of the features of life that in a civilized democracy is incredibly important.

I am worried at the moment, because I think that world, and I'm oversimplifying, has in fact, and it is very true of this country, has splintered into two general halves, in terms of our thought processes and our political agendas.

The first world is the nice world, the world that we all like and love. It is the world where really what is important to us is the quality of life. It is a world where we are looking forward to an improvement in civility, an improvement in conditions in this country.

Our image of ourselves as gentle Canadians, as civilized caring people, as people concerned about social programs and health care and multiculturalism and equality rights of one kind or another and so forth.

To use words from my line of trade, it is a consumer oriented, expenditure driven set of values.

It is a world where the political agenda puts a lot of emphasis on a lot of very good things. A lot of single causes; a lot of concern about rights, and a deep concern about the environment. There is concern, too, about regionalism and the village and local values.

And again dealing with the political agenda, it is a world where in one part of our country, in Quebec, we are perusing a vision of the country which is very heavily oriented to a quality of life set of concepts and a quality of culture instead of concepts.

I have no problem with sympathy or adherence to many of these causes and I will not distinguish which is the most and least important on that list.

In economic terms it gets a little more negative because people don't know how to relate this. For instance, if we need to spend money on a program or to provide equalization payments to Newfoundland, or we need to put in pay equity, or we need to provide this or that for whatever good causes, the question about where the money comes from is secondary. It is assumed that somehow that will come along.

Therefore, the political consequence of is that we become rather protectionist when we think about economic agendas. We don't like Free Trade, we don't like people who talk about competition, we are suspicious about notions about economic growth, because this world will more often than not will see the negative side of that.

Let's turn our attention for the moment to what I call world number two.

It is a harder world; its not so nice.

It's the world that is concerned with technology, global competition and the changes that are occurring on a massive scale right across the world. It is revenue driven in its concepts and the development of its political agendas. It says we have to know where the money comes from before we can spend it.

It is a political agenda that translates into support of free trade; a producer, investor oriented, political economic agenda, it is concerned about competitiveness, immigration in terms of adding to the economic value of the wealth producing elements of the country.

And it is very concerned about growth, stability and so forth.

People who are operating out of these two different worlds don't like each other much. And they get increasingly irritable when they talk to each other, particularly because these conversations or dialogue or arguments are taking place in an environment which is being overwhelmed now by the escalation of problems.

I want to put this in a Canadian focus for a moment.

At the moment if we do not develop a capacity to flexible enough, candid enough and imaginative enough and I'm afraid to say, hard working enough, this country will likely disappear a separate political entity by the year 2000.

I am not terribly optimistic and I see two major concerns.

Chair mez vous parlez de parfective de Quebecois. De Quebecois un polve un question terment important, et ce de question de les cerevaince de notre pays et l'nesseste pour nous vote au Canada des changez. D'accepte les bession les neccesite des fair les changmont dons les pays.

To me, Quebec is posing an absolutely sensible set of questions to the rest of Canada.

Quebeckers are saying, as I read it — and I have had the good fortune of living in Quebec for 10 years — we want to be part of Canada, but the part of Canada, the Canada we want to be part of has to be a different Canada.

And we may have different views about all of that, but I take this as an extremely serious question.

However you may feel about Meech Lake and all the dialogue that occurred a year or so ago, the fact is that they are convinced that the rest of us really don't care that much and that we do not really accept their vision of the bilingual French- English polarity basis of our country.

That is a challenge and I think we have to respond to it.

The second great problem and it is very closely linked in terms of its practical effect is the enormous debt load of Canada.

I speak of debt not deficit, because you can argue the deficit. I am an accountant and I know how to play with numbers.

But, you can go to the bank accounting houses and they know how much you owe and in which currency. And I am afraid that this debt problem is of an enormity and a magnitude that really truly threatens our ability to survive.

I have no magic answers for dealing with it, but I have looked at the history of nations and I can inescapably come to the conclusion that nations that carry an unmanageable debt load for too long do not survive or do not survive intact. The obvious example these days is Latin America.

But, I do want to leave you with a couple of basic thoughts and they do relate to this place.

And I want to quote two people who had a very active role in this institution. One of them was mentor and boss Walter Gordon, who I think most of you will know is known as a rather nationalistic Canadian; a vision that I share.

His message to us that worked with him went something like this, "Remember gentlemen being Canadian is a privilege and not a right and if we want to enjoy that privilege and really want to enjoy the fact of the country, we have to work like the very Devil and we have to work to the higher of our own standards or the international standard."

And as I think about then and now these words seem to be very apt, strong, a little disconcerting, because they do pose challenges to us and they pose challenges to us whether we are old fogies like me or the younger generation, the emerging generation that this conference is dealing with.

The second great influence that comes out of here was Frank Underhill, who was one of my professors at University. He would critique the administrations of the country and the other politicians, regardless of what party, and he say, "We have to get a vision of Canada, we have to develop." And its there, this could be a great country, but if we do not articulate and keep talking about developing a vision of Canada, we will lose it.

Having said that, it is my own political agenda, and my own political view that we all have to come to terms, in a democracy, we are responsible for the future and not our governments. It is up to us to deal with the problems and challenges and opportunities that come out there and we can't hand that over or blame somebody else or pretend that there is anybody out that is trying to do us in, because even if true, it is irrelevant.

This country is immensely more multicultural tolerant than most European countries. Let's just translate that tolerance into an attitude towards our Quebecois compatriots and colleagues. Maybe this is a way of marrying these two worlds and providing a basis for dialogue.

I think we should be is overwhelmingly generous in our responses, generous and welcoming of a concept of a distinct society, different languages, different races, different peoples, who live together in this country, but pretty cold-eyed and tough- minded about a lot of the nitty gritty money issues, or some of the power sharing issues or what ever.

If we can combine these two worlds and keep a cold-blooded and tough minded approach to actually negotiating and dealing with situations as they come up, we can make it.

To put things in a Couchiching context, one of things I've noticed is that we don't care enough for institutions in this country. And, this is one of them that I think we should care for.