Notes for Talk on Mutual Accommodation
First, congratulations on the conference, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead off. 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. When I told one of the greatest post-war U.S. psychotherapists about this U.S. achievement, he responded by saying this is what psychotherapists did – broaden the inclusive order in the psyche and contain what is not yet includable. It is a way of looking at things that has wide application and works.
Before we start I want to draw your attention to the small world that has brought us here. I first got the idea of mutual accommodation some thirty-five or so years ago – not as a big idea or the only shared Canada story, but a better way of distinguishing Canada than its so-called special tolerance. I saw two different driving forces in Canada and the United States. Canada’s drive was toward mutual accommodation. The American drive was toward division. Then two things happened. The great Canadian goaltender Ken Dryden told me in 2011 that “Canada needs a shared story to help reduce the Ottawa political fractiousness” he was experiencing as an MP at the time.
A week later, one of the world’s leading authorities on resilience in children told me the normal way forward for children at risk was to look for sources of strength rather than weakness. Nonetheless, she said, every once in a while one child with no visible sources of strength of any kind would make it. They found it was because the child created stories about themselves, in a sense out of nothing. That showed how very profound stories can be and how the power we have as individuals comes, at the end of the day, from the stories we have about ourselves that tell us who we really are.
The story of the small world that has brought us here started with what was then and still is one of the most powerful multinationals in the world – Exxon-Mobil. In the early eighties, I was on the board with Bill Innes of its partly-owned Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Oil. Bill then left to head Esso Japan. He spent the last ten years of his career as head of one of the largest industrial research and engineering organizations on the planet – Exxon Mobil Research in New Jersey. We reconnected when he retired and returned to Canada. He became interested in exploring with me the idea of mutual accommodation as the shared narrative of Canada. In 2014, we launched the Canadian Difference project with Trent University, and distributed a 32-page paper at a special meeting of Canadian history academics in Charlottetown, PEI, in November 2014.
The new Globe and Mail editor, David Walmsley, saw that paper and suggested I write essays on a wide variety of mutual accommodation related issues for the Globe. His goal was to get a national conversation
going. Since then, I have come to see how big and inexhaustible the idea of mutual accommodation is. John Stuart Mill’s book “On Liberty” took about 50,000 words. My essays on mutual accommodation for the Globe and Mail so far amount to some 55,000 words.
This is where we were about a year ago, when another Canadian, Hugh Helferty, who had worked under Bill Innes at Exxon-Mobil Research and Engineering, retired from Exxon. He took an interest in the project and got the idea of an India/Canada conference which led to today. As many here today will know, his wife is from India and her great-grandfather started the first women’s university in India in Mumbai.
We now leave the Exxon/Mobil world of North America, and turn to my daughter Susan and her husband Nestor, who were in India for an extended period fifteen months ago. They spent about 10 days with her old high school friend, Jill Carr-Harris and her husband, Rajagopal. I put Hugh Helferty in touch with Susan while she was there and she put him in touch with Jill. The result is Jill is here today with her husband, who will deliver the second keynote.
Twelve days ago, our small world got even smaller. My wife, Molly Anne and I were having a morning coffee with Shawn Atleo, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. At the very end of two hours together with his now wife, Heather Squire, he mentioned that ten years ago, at the request of a Jill Carr-Harris, he participated in a 375-mile march with Jill and her husband in the 2007 Janadesh march of 25,000 “Adivasi” landless poor.
I have known Shawn Atleo for almost five years. We were introduced by a mutual friend who said I had to get to know him. We first met at lunch. He had seen a longer version of my first paper, where I had said that the First Nations (I am told we must now say “First Nations, Metis and Inuit) were Canada’s biggest piece of unfinished mutual accommodation business. Our friendship started with that. We both now believe Canada and our indigenous people have found a way forward and, while the journey will be long and hard for both sides, both will stick to the Truth and Reconciliation path until together we finish together the unfinished mutual accommodation business.
Canada was lucky to come to understand it was necessary to put what works ahead of nationalism, ethnic difference, religion, class and ideology. This has made Canada not just a good country but a great country. Great countries (like great leaders) make many mistakes, including big ones, but they get the most important things right.
I will refer to three choices made by leaders and followers that have entrenched the Canadian mutual accommodation story. Example one is Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin in 1848, twenty years before Confederation. Example two is the election and re-election of Sir Wilfrid Laurier from 1896 to 1908. Example three is the way Pierre Trudeau’s unilateral instincts were contained when he patriated the Constitution some 35 years ago.
The first example is LaFontaine and Baldwin. They led the only 1848 reform movement in the Western world to prevail as a responsible government and never lose its democracy. The francophone Catholic LaFontaine in Lower Canada needed the strength of the anglophone Protestant Baldwin from Upper Canada to overcome the anti-reform position of the Quebec clergy. Baldwin, in turn, needed the strength of LaFontaine to combat the anti-reform power of the Family Compact. Both were able to work together successfully at a time when differences of religion and nationality were intense everywhere. When LaFontaine lost his Quebec seat, and Baldwin lost his in Ontario, each ran successfully in the other’s province, despite Ontario English Protestants who did not much like French Catholics and Quebec French Catholics who did not much like English Protestants. This accommodation showed, 20 years before Confederation, that a shared public purpose pursued through compromise could trump nationality and religion with Canadian voters.
The idea of restraint is also a striking element in this story. LaFontaine stood down the anti-reform mob outside the Legislature in Montreal by asserting that reform would prevail without recourse to violence – a century before Mahatma Gandhi championed a very much larger and more consequential non-violence movement in India, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Martin Luther King in the U.S.
The second example is Laurier. His vision was political – to achieve peace, prosperity and public purpose through compromise and accommodation. Laurier said that the 20th century would belong to Canada. In many ways, that proved true, in the relative goodness of life available in Canada to ordinary people (never forgetting that indigenous people were largely left out). It became true primarily because Canada followed the Laurier vision of public achievements through compromise and restraint. The very election of Laurier, a francophone Catholic from Quebec, as prime minister only 30 years after Confederation, is but one example. This approach was so powerful and suited to Canada that it kept the federal Liberal Party in office three out of every four years over the following century. This is 180 degrees opposite to the American approach, which is to use no-compromise to counter-public purpose.
The third example deals with Pierre Trudeau’s unilateral constitutional patriation effort. This is still not politically resolved in Quebec, because the Constitution was brought to Canada without Quebec’s inclusion – something I said publicly at the time was wrong. It still remains so and will likely remain that way for a very long time. Canada’s two most ideologically-driven and uncompromising either/or prime ministers of the last century, Pierre Trudeau and Stephen Harper, were each forced by Canadian voters to live within Canada’s overriding mutual accommodation reality.
By contrast Mr. Trump and the Tea Party were spurred on by voter divisiveness, not held back by American voter moderation. Mr. Trudeau was forced by Canada’s mutual accommodation ways to abandon unilateral constitutional patriation and accept the “notwithstanding clause” override to his Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This simultaneously made a Quebec language bill possible (which Trudeau did not want), which in turn helped keep Quebec in Canada (which Levesque did not want). It needed the intervention of Western premiers, who would not accept the courts as the final word in every situation. It was a very Canadian outcome. Quebec stays but gets its language bill.
Much of the American politics is driven more by loathing of the other party and its leaders than by anything positive. Both federal Liberals and Harper made the same mistake. Harper thought voters loathed the
Liberals more than they did. Liberals thought voters loathed Harper more than they did.
Mackenzie King called the CCF of 80 years ago “Liberals in a hurry”. Justin Trudeau in 2015 referred to Conservatives as our neighbours, not our enemies. By contrast, Hillary Clinton called Trump voters “the deplorables”. American voters are spurred on by the extremes of their leaders. Canadian leaders are contained by Canadian voter rejection of extremism.
Canada’s defining narrative began early, with the reliance, amid a difficult geography, of European traders and settlers on aboriginal people. Over the centuries, the nation that has emerged has continued – in fact, extended – this tradition of mutual shaping and accommodation. Canada has not been entirely free of violence, but its primary markers have been a blend of vision and of what works on the ground. In this way, it has become a great country unlike any other in history. It is a different kind of great country for a very different kind of world.
Canada’s three greatest visionary leaders – Samuel de Champlain, John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier – each combined vision, practical boldness and an ability to work and get along with a wide range of diverse people. Baldwin and LaFontaine, in 1848, showed that political and social reform could be achieved by non-violent means in an era when that did not happen elsewhere. All these leaders would see much of their visions embedded in the fabric of modern Canada.
Champlain wanted a new kind of society – one in which aboriginals and Europeans could live together in amity and with mutual respect. Individualism underlies the American dream – the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for every citizen that is reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The still unrealized Canadian dream comes from someone best remembered as an explorer, but who arrived here as a soldier familiar with the horrors of war in Europe.
Champlain had many dreams – one was the colonization of New France, which he did; the other, finding a passage to China, which did not exist. The greatest of his dreams was humanity and peace. In North America, Champlain became a political leader and statesman who, through his ability to get along with different people, was able to convert dreams into reality. One of Canada’s greatest challenges is to complete Champlain’s great societal vision. If Canada had stuck with the Champlain vision, we would not still have the unfinished business of a traumatized indigenous people.
Canada had to accommodate people of French and English heritage, and of Catholic and Protestant faith. It had to be ready to stand up to the United States and to build a sound economy. Macdonald remains the country’s greatest builder, striving for a nation of “one people, great in territory, great in enterprise, great in credit, great in capital.” He got three big things right: Confederation, a transcontinental railway and containment of American expansionism. He also got English-French politics mostly right. Finally, when the country needed a looser federation than Macdonald sought, his Confederation later allowed it. But he got a very big thing wrong – the failure to extend inclusiveness to Canada’s indigenous people.
Macdonald found, in his partnership with George-Étienne Cartier, a way forward on the Quebec political front. And he recognized how fundamental mutual respect was to mutual accommodation: “Treat them as a nation, and they will act as a free people generally do – generously,” he said of French-speaking Canadians. Canada would be very different today if, instead of advancing residential schools, Macdonald had, as Champlain did, extended this inclusiveness to indigenous people.
Confederation was a first. No previous colonials had written their own constitution. It set in motion a coast-to-coast country that has survived and mostly thrived. Canada also has emerged as one of the better places for most to live. And, because of its achievements in mutual accommodation, it is one of history’s truly remarkable countries. And because of the potential importance of this idea to the world right now, Canada has vastly more runway ahead than it has used so far.
The belief of Baldwin and LaFontaine in reform through non-violent means has become the Canadian way. Macdonald’s vision of a coast-to-coast three-ocean country has led to the quality of life that Canadians
enjoy. And Laurier’s political model of accommodation has, for the most part, been followed. Together these visions have made Canada great and a country of unexpected magic – but because of its unfinished mutual accommodation business, still a flawed one!
Mutual accommodation involves two fundamentals. One is effective two-way communication – careful listening and careful speaking. The other requires a belief that a shared and meaningful order exists at the heart of things. Geography creates one kind of communication problem – it helps to explain why western Canadians feel alienated from Ottawa and Toronto, and why midwestern and southern Americans disdain Washington and New York. But breaking away from history can result in much bigger and deeper challenges than holding onto it. The U.S. Civil War lasted for just four years but its aftermath persists, and contributes to our neighbour’s current political turmoil.
Canada did have its own break in history, but it was not abrupt. Rather, it was more a slow moving on while also holding on. Its English and French connections have remained, though they have gradually become less
relevant. The American rupture between North and South was sudden, violent and destructive. Canada’s recent Quebec existential crisis was peaceful and lasted for decades. Words prevailed over force. These differences have produced very distinctive communication, institutional and socio-cultural results in each country.
Champlain’s vision was societal; Macdonald’s was national; and Laurier’s was for a different way of doing politics. All three visions survive and thrive. The visions of its founders have shaped Canadian society in ways that have become mutually reinforcing. Champlain’s desire for a diverse and peaceable society remains a dominant, if not yet fully realized, aspiration. Much remains to be done in mutual accommodation with the indigenous people and, now, in finding a way to cope with anxieties about extreme Muslim groups, fed in part by a fearful neighbour and its hyped-up media.
No one thing is ever everything. I first saw mutual accommodation simply as the distinctive drive Canadians have. I have come to see it as much more – as a better way of going about things everywhere and at all times. And a way the world urgently needs much more of.
I have come to see mutual accommodation as one of the four better ways humans have found to go about things. The other three are freedom, science, and compassion. The West over the last five centuries has been dominated by freedom and science. The world has become increasingly hard to manage because of the resulting imbalances. The West, to be manageable, needs more mutual accommodation and compassion – for reasons of basic survival and thrival. Canadians have exhibited a stronger drive toward mutual accommodation than any other country – especially in comparison with a United States driven by division. Mutual accommodation – the shared Canadian story – is crucial to Canada today and to all the world. The world needs a global conversation about mutual accommodation. This puts Canada and mutual accommodation at the centre of the next stage in world history.
The United States has been great in freedom and science – the two most transformative forces for doing things in a better way since the Renaissance. There is still more to do about science and freedom, but they need to be better balanced by mutual accommodation and compassion.
Since its beginnings – first Quebec in 1608 and then Confederation in 1867 – Canada has had three very big achievements. First, it has survived – not just as a nation but as one that includes the distinctive province of Quebec. Second, it made itself coast-to-coast. Finally, despite its divisions of nationality, culture, language, religion and class, it has developed a political and socio-cultural outlook that works. It has one big failure with its indigenous people which it is starting to address.
Use words, not force. Make railways, not war. These overly simple ideas capture a Canadian story that differs from those of most countries. Canada’s story has increasingly been driven by persuasion. The American story has more often been shaped by war and violence: the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Indian Wars, Mexican Wars, lynching and 300 million guns in private hands. As one of the great American historians put it over 25 years ago in Boston, the United States was created by force and preserved by force. He told us, there was nothing – and he repeated, “I mean nothing” – the United States would not do to preserve the Union. Canada accepted, unlike the Americans, that Quebec could choose to leave. After several decades, Quebec has decided not to do so. Both Quebec and Canada are the stronger for it.
In the past, Canada’s main mutual accommodation challenges have revolved around religion and language. Today they revolve more around identity and differences. Our sense of being different – as individuals and groups – is what gives us strength in, and meaning for, our world What we need to talk more about is the possibility that the differences on which our sense of identity rests can be strengthened, not threatened or weakened, by making room for the differences of others. Our anxieties in Western countries revolve around our identities and also underlie today’s populism. We cannot simply tell others not to be anxious or call them names, as Hillary Clinton did. We have to talk about anxieties and find ways to work our way through them.
Thank you again for today’s conference and for giving me the chance to participate. An American journalist friend, who died much too young fifty years ago, told me just before he died that he had decided the big difference between Canada and the United States was that in his country, you had to shout to be heard – in Canada you did not. Fifty years later the small world of Canada and friends from India will not need to shout to be heard. That is a huge strength and a huge blessing.
A few years after my friend died, I realized “celebrity” is a form of shouting. This helps us understand why there are so many celebrities in the U.S. and so few in Canada. Mutual accommodation is a long and hard path. Freedom has taken centuries to take hold. Mutual accommodation. Shouting is a harder way forward. The Canadian difference – the Canadian advantage – may be that we can hear each other without having to shout?