Biographical Notes

William (Bill) Atwood Macdonald was born and raised in Montreal. He graduated from McGill University, then left for Toronto at age 20 to study law at Osgoode Hall.

Bill practised law for 42 years, 20 of those as senior partner at McMillan Binch in Toronto. His client relationships included the Royal Bank of Canada, Algoma Steel, Honda, and the Ontario government during the Robarts and Davis eras. In 1976, Bill recruited John Turner to the firm after Turner stepped down as Canada’s finance minister (he would go on to become the country’s 17th prime minister in 1984).

In 1993, Bill left McMillan Binch (now McMillan) to establish W.A. Macdonald Associates Inc. Its focus is on government relations, economic policy, and the Canadian and global economic/political/policy environment. He has been involved for over fifty-five years in a very broad range of policy issues for governments and business, as well as specific major projects involving both provincial and the federal governments.

He leads two small CEO groups which he started approximately four and three decades ago, respectively—one on Canadian economic policy and one on the North American and global economy.

From the 1970s through the mid‑1980s, Bill advised the Ontario government on several major public matters, including the province’s fight against the 1969 federal tax reform white paper; the seizure of five loan and trust companies; and the province’s $100‑million investment in the Syncrude tar sands, which kept the project alive at a critical time.

He has extensive experience consulting on resource projects, among them the Alcan Kemano expansion proposal in B.C.; fighting Ottawa over the National Energy Program on behalf of Imperial Oil and the oil independents; and acting for the five remaining private sector potash producers in Saskatchewan to help them resist takeover. His latest major resource project was advising Inco on its vast nickel mine interests in Voisey’s Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador.

He represented the three basic steel producers in Ontario and five of its largest mining companies, defending against the 1969 federal tax reform white paper. He was instrumental in helping the Business Council on National Issues to shape the final competition law after a 12-year battle. He also acted for various groups of individual companies on wide-ranging policy issues, such as securities reform, class action lawsuits, competitive after-tax financing, corporate tax consolidation, and inflation accounting.

Bill served as chairman of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants Commission, which produced The Report of the Commission to Study the Public’s Expectations of Audits (the Macdonald Commission Report, 1988). On the recommendation of John Deutsch—former chairman of the Economic Council of Canada, and then-principal of Queen’s University—he was named a special taxation adviser in 1971-73 to the Bermuda government. It later credited his report for putting them into the black when almost all other countries were still heavily in the red.

In the aftermath of the federal wage and price controls in 1976, Bill was appointed by Ontario premier William Davis to a new committee on the Economic Future of Ontario, chaired by the premier; and later by the minister of labour to a new joint management-labour committee on the Quality of Working Life, chaired by the minister. He also served on a three-member committee set up by Premier Davis to advise on senior public service salaries.

Bill was a director of Imperial Oil for 21 years and National Trust for 35 years, as well as of Rio Algom and Marathon Realty. He was an adviser to Honda in Japan, Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., and was instrumental in having the discriminatory Autopact with the U.S. overturned at the WTO in Geneva.

Stemming from his early life in Montreal, he has a long personal experience and history-based understanding of Quebec. He retains significant relationships within the province’s senior business and political ranks and senior journalists. Today his network is global, and his friendships include former central bankers and leading economic and political journalists in New York, London, Ottawa, and Washington, D.C.

Bill has had a very long business experience with Japan. He was founding vice-chairman and later chairman of the Japan Society in Canada. He and his wife Molly Anne have spent more than a year of their lives in Japan over a span of 35 years. They have put together a unique collection of 17th-century Kakiemon export porcelain and the 18th-century English and European porcelain influenced by it, alongside a cross-section of 17th-century Shoki-Imari, Nabeshima, Ko-Kutani and Arita porcelain made during the same period for domestic Japanese use. Documented in a book titled Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo (2009), much of the collection now resides in a special gallery at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto, where it is intended the entire collection will end up.

Current Project

The Canadian Narrative Project

Starting a national conversation about our shared and separate stories and who we are
Canada, Still the Unknown Country
Will mutual accommodation be Canada’s contribution to the world in the 21st century?
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Understanding the Canadian Difference
Mutual accommodation as a defining feature of Canada’s success
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About the Canadian Narrative Project

“The Canadian genius for compromise is reflected in the existence of Canada itself”

Northop Frye

Canada has spent its first 150 years making a coast-to-coast, half-a-continent country based on mutual accommodation. The next 50 years will be more globally focused as Canada’s multiple advantages in a world of rising instabilities and limits bring about more externally focused pressures and opportunities. These will require a bolder Canada that knows its mutual accommodation strengths and sets itself a still higher performance bar.

Compromise has been the essential Canadian foothold on the path to a broader mutual accommodation story as the best way to achieve separate and shared purposes. Compromise can often be the achievement of the least common denominator. Mutual accommodation is the search for the largest common denominators.

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Canada’s Shared Narrative

“Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity”

Marshall Mcluhan

  • Canada has had a growing shared narrative from its beginning, but it still remains largely implicit and unknown.
  • Stories are what give countries the usable history they need to face their challenges. The more such stories, the greater strengths a country has to draw upon. Canada has many such stories —some separate; some connected to one another. It needs to understand its shared and its separate narratives
  • Canada’s primary shared narrative may be its uniquely strong drive toward mutual accommodation, made necessary by its hard geography and demanding history (French/ English and the United States) and made possible by its amazing choices.
  • This narrative started at the very beginning with mutual dependency between European settlers and the aboriginal peoples to become a country that has become increasingly one of mutual shaping and accommodation.
  • Canada has also had major mutual accommodation failures, most importantly with its First Nations, which is the major unfinished mutual accommodation challenge it now faces.
  • Canada from its beginning developed a focus on what works over ideology; nationality; ethnic division; religion; and class. This differentiates it from both Europe and the United States. It is in some ways a post-national, post-ideology country.
  • The qualities needed for Canada’s successful mutual accommodation were the Canadian qualities of patience, restraint, flexibility, acceptance of complexity and a willingness to accept some of its economic disciplines from governments.
  • The utter necessity of mutual accommodation is perhaps the greatest lesson of the twentieth century and of post-Middle Ages European history; the fact Canada alone among larger countries in the twentieth century got that greatest lesson right has made today’s Canada not only a good country to live in, but a great country by the standards of all history.
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Canada and the Wider World from 1867 to 2067

“Like hockey, Canada, I think, is a ‘find-a-way’ country...
I believe that the 21st century will be a ‘find-a-way’ century”

Ken Dryden

THE CASE

The shared Canadian narrative that made possible a coast-to-coast half-a-continent country is its drive toward mutual accommodation. This has made it a unique and great country by the standards of history. It is for its citizens, “one of the world’s rare and privileged countries in terms of peace, justice, liberty and standard of living.” (Robert Bourassa).

The focus of its past has been largely internal and the United States. The focus of its future will be more external and beyond the United States. Canada has the water, food, space, resources, politics, economy and societal and cultural ways that the world is scarce of and wants and/or needs. This provides both opportunity and risks.

If Canada is to seize the opportunities and avoid the risks, it needs to have a national conversation about its shared and separate stories and who its diverse peoples have become. Whatever is now implicit needs to be made explicit and explored—a sense of how Canada got to where it is and how to envisage its future, and then seize it.

THE MESSAGE

Canada is still in some sense an unknown country, to itself and to others. It needs to start a national conversation about many big things, but above all about its shared mutual accommodation narrative and to what extent it captures how most Canadians see and feel about their country. Over the years, many first class historians have brought Canadian history to life for its citizens. It is for citizens to decide what their stories are and what their stories mean for their future.

Stories, ideas and choices. These are what shape individuals, societies and civilizations. They are how one explores possibilities and tests limits. They are the source of purpose and the way forward in the pursuit of purpose. Vision—the sense of what can be—lures and drives all three.

The Canada we know has been shaped by the visions of three leaders (Samuel de Champlain, Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier); visions of a society, of a country and of a way of doing politics. It is the result of amazing choices in response to a hard geography and a demanding history (French/English and the United States). The Canada it must now become will be the result of new choices. These will be around how Canadians use and protect their special scarce assets and the purposes they put them to. They will also reflect the role Canada chooses in a world of huge change, peril and opportunity; one in which working within limits may become as, or perhaps even more, critical than the pushing of possibilities.

The national focus of the last 150 years has been on consolidating the coast-to-coast country of Sir John A. Macdonald. The focus of the rest of this century will be more externally centered on a global role and what the country chooses to stand for in human history.

Canada right now faces a huge number of immediate economic policy challenges. They will require political will and voters ready to face up. Canada very soon will also face additional and even larger political challenges around a new Sir John A. Macdonald moment. These will require vision, boldness, much discussion and no doubt some real political fights and long struggles.

  • What if the 21st century is primarily about resources, creativity, innovation and governing diversity?
  • What if the population explosion, resources limits, and climate change make management of the planet more and more difficult?
  • What if the demands of an inclusive global order prove too much for too many important countries?
  • How might Canada fit in? That is the biggest question of all for Canadians. The answer will be a long time coming, but the questions are becoming clearer every day.

POST-1914 MOMENTS IN HISTORY ERAS AND WHAT FOLLOWS

1914–1945
My parents’ era: driven by horrific, unbridled violent force: two world wars; a great depression; a holocaust; and the near suicide of Europe, followed by a forty-five year Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

1945–2001 (or 1991)
My era: unexpected huge expansion of possibilities, prosperity, peace and stability.

1991 (for former Soviet Union), 2001/2008 (for U.S. and rest of the world)
Our children’s and grandchildren’s era: stalling of post-war inclusive global order: less global/less inclusive and now under potential breakdown and disorder and destabilization threats.

Now, through next 50 years
Our children’s and grandchildren’s lives: one of limits from post-1991 global economic and financial hangover; huge population growth; resources and human relationship management pressures; major climate change impacts; and hard-to-manage geopolitical crises.

The challenge
What kind of global and separate (and differently connected) orders are needed for a world that has to move on from the inclusive global order that first extended to the Western world and then to one that now involves virtually the whole world in ways it may not be up to handling; a different world of containment, disintertwinement and reduced inclusiveness?

SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD’S COUNTRY ABOUT TO BECOME THREE-CANADAS-IN-ONE: FROM BACKWATER TO GLOBAL ROLE TO A PLAYER IN HUMAN HISTORY

  • The first Canada, a backwater that took 150 years to consolidate and build into a half-continent-about-to-be-three-ocean country.
  • The second Canada will have to move from a less internal to more external focus, based upon its socio-cultural and political strengths; its huge food, water, energy, mineral and space advantages; and its best of global neighbourhoods. These give it both opportunities and the risk of powerful external pressures; together, these will require Canada to go global.
  • An even smaller England of the early 16th Century had a rule of law/constitutional democracy gospel to spread. Canada has a mutual accommodation gospel to spread as the only lasting way to achieve individual and collective purpose. The spread of the English gospel involved forms of occupation. The choice of the Canadian gospel will be made by and for others, not by or for Canadians. Mutual accommodation is not a purpose. It is a way of achieving purpose. It is based on the idea that multiple purposes are valid and where there is good faith, ways can be found to accommodate one another’s purposes. This often a very long and very hard path.

HOW CANADA HAS WORKED FOR CANADIANS

For me
It gave me the space and the scope to own my own life and to pursue both individual and shared purpose; and it gave me a Canada-shaped father who hated only one thing—a feeling of superiority by anyone opposite anyone else; and

For newcomers
“Canada gives you what you give to Canada” (a Muslim Yemeni taxi driver in Ottawa).
“I can live with integrity and hold my head high in Canada” (a former Bangladeshi engineer, now a taxi driver in Toronto), because he had escaped pervasive corruption.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, SO WHAT NOW FOR CANADA?

What now?

  • Complete the unfinished mutual accommodation with First Nations.
  • Preserve and manage well its special merits in a world of limits and rising pressures.
  • Attract, enhance, encourage and retain the best of people (which requires strengthening individual and reward/opportunity competitiveness and related institutional and cluster critical mass); it also requires a culture of both science and freedom of the imagination.
  • Lift its boldness and high performance game.
  • Individual opportunity combined with a bold, high bar mutual accommodation culture is a powerful combination for a high risk, uncertain world.
  • Continue to rely on mutual accommodation to pursue collective and individual purpose.

Confidence in the chances

  • Reasonable confidence Canada has the resilience to navigate its way through a more dangerous and hard-to-manage world, based on its usable history of getting good leadership and followership choices when needed; it will, however, need more boldness and higher aspirations.
  • Confidence in global system’s ability to navigate is more problematic, because it does not yet have enough usable history or a strong enough leadership and followership choices record. There is a high likelihood that the demands of inclusive global order and emerging limits will, in combination, prove beyond the ability of too many countries to meet.

THE WAY THROUGH THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS

How well things go for the world depends on how much effective investment and effort is individually and collectively put into:

  • innovation, creativity and high performers and performance of every kind, alongside a more widely-held spirit of “who dares wins”;
  • more effective governance of diversity:
  • Canada’s mutual accommodation;
  • U.S.’s post-1945 containment and broadening of the inclusive order;
  • Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther-King and Nelson Mandela non-violent resistance; and
  • honest and effective reconciliation of competing claims in a world of greater limits (no matter how much offset by ongoing expansion of creativity and innovation).
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NEW! Recent essays published in The Globe and Mail

Since late May 2015, Bill Macdonald has authored a series of essays on the Canadian narrative of mutual accommodation that have appeared in The Globe and Mail newspaper and web site, as well as at canadiandifference.ca, which will soon become the home of this extended national conversation. Comments are welcome.

Why Canada must work with China in shaping global trade

October 20, 2017

Canada has two big China opportunities. First, an expanded relationship with China is important and timely. Second, China's Xi Jinping is the only major world leader who may have the strength and will to preserve a largely open-trading and rules-based global system on which postwar peace and prosperity rests. [ More ]

The U.S. and China: The world needs a grand bargain

October 13, 2017

The world has two great powers – the United States and China. And though being a great power isn't what it used to be, great powers still matter. Their reach has been much reduced since 1945, not so much by competitors as by their inherent natures. [ More ]

Canada’s path forward during turbulent times

June 10, 2017

First, Quebec separatism. Now, U.S. separatism. Fortunately, separatism is something Canada knows how to handle. [ More ]

Navigating the world during the Trump era

May 20, 2017

“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else,” said Winston Churchill. This observation is key to navigating a Donald Trump-led United States in political turmoil. [ More ]

Canada’s 150th year could be as pivotal as 1867 and 1967

March 19, 2017

2017 is not 2015. Sunny ways need real sunshine. It felt sunny in Canada in late 2015: equal numbers of women in the cabinet, a country with broadly good politics at federal and provincial levels, and a Canadian voting public that rejected Islamophobia. [ More ]

Why a failed bid for electoral reform is a win for Canada

February 11, 2017

Canada will face some challenges in a Trump America, post-Brexit world. The potential for geopolitical instability and difficulties with a U.S. in political turmoil is considerable. Canada will feel the rise of divisive politics elsewhere and so Canadians need to better understand why its political system has worked so well. [ More ]

Calm, compassion and common sense will help forge a way forward

January 13, 2017

The whole world, not just the West, has been increasingly driven by two powerful forces, liberty and science. The either/or forces have steadily overbalanced the both/and capacities for compassion and mutual accommodation. [ More ]

Important Brexit lessons for an anxious, fraying world

July 15, 2016

For many people in Britain, Europe, and the United States, things are changing too fast – life is unfamiliar, and far from what it used to be. They no longer feel at home. [ More ]

An urgent call for national (economic) unity in Canada

June 10, 2016

All hands on deck – that’s what Canada needs right now. Working together is never easy, but provincial premiers and First Nations leaders must join Ottawa in facing a global economic and political situation that is likely to remain unsettled for decades. It is urgent that Canada figure out where it stands on both counts, and what strengths it can bring to bear. [ More ]

In dealing with Uncle Sam, Canada must be patient and firm

May 20, 2016

In 1993, I was in Tokyo to address a group of businessmen on “Coping with a Changing United States in a Changing World.” It was a year after George W.H. Bush, then U.S. president, had become violently ill at a state dinner with the prime minister. [ More ]

Next stop for the NDP: the end of the road

May 6, 2016

The federal New Democratic Party may soon be out of runway. Not only is it now a non-regional player searching for a place in a political landscape that the regions dominate, it is ideological in a country where ideology has never really taken hold. [ More ]

Why the Liberals’ budgetary best is likely still to come

April 8, 2016

Aspirations and campaign promises were job one for the Trudeau government’s first budget. Getting Canada on a sustainable economic path will be job two for 2017. [ More ]

Canada could play a major role in strengthening U.S.-China relations

March 24, 2016

How much interdependence is possible in today’s world? What form will it take? How stable will the way forward be? [ More ]

Can Trudeau’s optimism survive in a world of every-nation-for-itself?

March 11, 2016

Canada is feeling very good about itself and its new government, especially now in the immediate afterglow of this week’s warm Washington welcome for the Prime Minister and his family. [ More ]

To revive Canada’s economy, reward those who pitch in

February 26, 2016

Vaudeville ain’t what it used to be, nor is the Canadian economy. But the economy can bounce back, and this week Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced something to help it do just that. [ More ]

To transform Canada’s economy, Trudeau needs to be a ‘bold builder’

February 12, 2016

Canada’s wake-up call has arrived with all the bad economic news – the falling loonie (which raises the cost of living), collapsing oil and commodity prices, a serious bear stock market, reduced government revenues, and weakening employment performance. [ More ]

Justin Trudeau can’t afford to ignore Canada’s economic challenges

January 1, 2016

Mr. Trudeau can still be the prime minister he campaigned to be – the champion of mutual accommodation and the notion that “better is always possible” – but only if he also goes in the right fiscal direction. [ More ]

Truth and reconciliation: Will this time be any different?

December 18, 2015

The coming year offers Canada its best chance in four centuries to reach an accommodation with its indigenous population. [ More ]

There’s a big risk in doing too little for Syria’s refugees

December 4, 2015

Munich – we did not face up. The Holocaust – we looked the other way. History may not repeat itself, but sometimes, as the old saying goes, it rhymes – that is, it takes a different route and still winds up in much the same place. [ More ]

Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways – and a storm on the horizon

November 6, 2015

The results of the federal election were so startling, and the likely effects so huge, that it will be some time before we can grasp them fully. But let’s start with three major outcomes that go beyond the usual fallout from elections. [ More ]

The trouble with going back to the future

October 23, 2015

Canada has just had perhaps its greatest election when it comes to advancing the cause of mutual accommodation. [ More ]

No Trump: The best bid for Canadian-U.S. prosperity

September 29, 2015

As Canadians prepare to go to the polls Oct. 19, the economy is the campaign’s main focus, as it almost certainly will be when the Americans do the same this time next year. What should voters be asking? [ More ]

Time to reconsider the nature of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

August 29, 2015

Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution and the survival of the fittest portray a world that is competitive, one divided into winners and losers. [ More ]

Overcoming Islamophobia: Fear is never the best basis for action

August 14, 2015

There is no valid reason for Islamophobia, no matter what Islamic State or homegrown extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam do in Canada, the United States or other countries. [ More ]

A new role for Canada and the U.S. in a world of persistent menace

August 4, 2015

Mutual accommodation – the willingness to compromise, if required, to settle a dispute or move forward – may not always work, but it should always be an option. [ More ]

Canada’s major challenges as it finds its way into the future

July 26, 2015

Canada has big things to think about, discuss and do on two major fronts. As a country, we must get back to living within our means. [ More ]

How Canada’s eight leaders of special vision guided the way

July 7, 2015

Great countries get the leadership they need just when they need it the most. Exactly why that happens is both a mystery and a miracle. [ More ]

To be a global role model, Canada must realize what sets it apart

June 22, 2015

Use words, not force. Make railways, not war. These overly simple ideas capture a national story – the Canadian one – that differs from those of most other countries. [ More ]

The magic of the Canadian ideal

June 13, 2015

Two ideas: Canada is magic, and that magic has conjured up one of history’s truly transformational ways in which to do things better. [ More ]

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Get Involved

“When I am in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like”

Jane Fonda

We want to build a national dialogue on the Canadian narrative of mutual accommodation. We want people from all walks of Canadian life: academics, civil servants, business, political and labour leaders, students, media and, especially, ordinary citizens—new and old—to add their voice.

  • Does this feel like the Canada you know and live in?
  • What successful examples of mutual accommodation can you point to?
  • Is mutual accommodation a way of achieving purposes? a measure of Canada’s greatness?
  • Where does this idea fall short in understanding the Canadian experience?
  • How might this idea be made relevant to the global community?

We are building a specific shared narrative web site and a range of social media tools to gather, analyze and share feedback with the broader community. We hope to launch this stage of the project by early 2015.

The first step for your participation is to fill out the form below and we will let you know when it goes public.

Thank you very much.

*required fields

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Selected Writings

Notes for Talk on Mutual Accommodation

at Symposium on "Gathering on Common Ground: Building Harmony through Diversity in Canada and India"
Queen’s University, Kingston Ontario
June 25, 2017

There were three great mutual accommodation achievements in the 21st century. Two – Canada’s mutual accommodation story and Gandhi’s non-violent resistance achievements in India – will be discussed here. The third was the U.S.-led post-war inclusive global order achieved by broadening the inclusive global order and containing what could not be included at any given moment.

Getting Better Collective Decisions for a Globalized World

Presented at the Forging Our Future Symposium
Shanghai, China
July 27, 2010

The theme two years after the Lehman Brothers collapse was that the global balance sheet recession and financial crisis was caused by U.S. behaviour over 25 years, but that the 2005 arrival of China on the global economic scene greatly aggravated the crisis. China was now key to global recovery and this required changes in the future for China. China understands this, but has found making them difficult. Fortunately, since then, the U.S. has unexpectedly managed to become the only positive global source of economic momentum. This is thanks largely to its special basic qualities and how it has faced and adjusted to the crises. It has been indispensably helped by its new oil and gas technology.

Will the U.S. Need Help to Recover?

Getting the Context and Diagnosis Right

Presented at the Japan Society Symposium
Toronto, Canada
March 24, 2009

Six months after the Lehman Brothers collapse, two themes were paramount. First, did the U.S. need help to recover? Answer then and now, yes. This was seen to mean current account surplus countries had to increase their internal consumer demand. Second, might the global order prove more than the world at this stage could handle? It was more of a question then; it is more of a potential reality now. The surplus countries did not come forward, but shale gas and tight oil did. In 2014, the U.S. is the sole country with strong expansion momentum. The rest of the world is still not helping. The way ahead on the inclusive global order looks high risk. How this turns out will be crucial to the U.S. and global economic future.

Culture:
The Driving Force of the 21st Century

Presented at the Travelroute 1 Conference on Japanese/Canadian Tourism Business Opportunities
Toronto, Canada
April 3, 1997

Culture will be the 21st century driving force in a New World of consumer dominance that has taken hold and is spreading. This has been reinforced by the return of history and reassertion of politics in a post-Soviet Union geopolitical, post-Reagan/Thatcher economic, world. This outcome is proving to be a mixed factor in the world that is now emerging.

The New World

A lecture delivered at the Owen Graduate School of Management
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
November 30, 1994

A New World emerged in the early 1990s—one of reduced scarcity that involved a shift from producer to consumer dominant forces and institutions, alongside a broadening inclusive global economic order. Since then, the shift to consumer dominance has grown and strengthened, but the broadening inclusive global order has stalled. It is now under threat and becoming less global, less inclusive and less stable.