The first page of the first issue of Policy Options began: ”œThe purpose of this magazine is to assist Canadian thought about all aspects of public policy. The purpose of this note is to solicit help for the process.”
The purpose of this article is to show how such help was indeed given and what it indicates about the issues that were then of most concern to Canadians.
The March 1980 editorial explained why the IRPP board had decided to undertake the experiment. There was ”œan unmet need, felt by many Canadians, for a national magazine that takes the whole range of contemporary policy concerns for its scope.” For two reasons, IRPP was the right organization to try to meet the need. Its endowment gave it the necessary inde- pendence. And it had been set up to put policy research to pub- lic use. The Institute’s work ”œmust penetrate beyond elite audiences and provide a meeting ground for people with broad concerns for public policies in all their interconnections.”
I was initially the member of the IRPP board who, at a meeting late in 1979, chaired a committee to consider the idea of the magazine. Whether it succeeded in its purpose would depend, obviously, on the calibre of the contribu- tions it could, without payment, attract. Certainly there would be responses from people with ideas but without access to appropriate outlets for them. Yet fresh ideas, how- ever plentiful and good, would not be enough. The maga- zine would serve its purpose only if the new entries to policy discussion were mingled with those of veterans, of people whose accomplishments would ensure that a forum to which they contributed got serious attention.
The mix came, soon. Policy Options stirred more active interest than we had dared to assume. Busy people, actively involved in public affairs, proved willing to find time to communicate their views in a fashion suited to the forum. It was their contributions that mirrored the main policy concerns of the time. It was thanks to them that the maga- zine became established and could grow.
The growing also depended, however, on others. The opening statement of the first issue had recognized the need to ”œdo more than illuminate issues in the immediate forefront of concern.” Policy Options must also encourage new directions and identify issues of long-term importance. Some of that did indeed come from the senior contributors. But even more came in the articles offered by lesser-known, often young, people eager to promote their ideas, some- times ”œthinking outside the box.”
What to do about the democratic deficit is an example. As will be shown later, there was authoritative writing about electing the Senate, about improving the parliamentary process. It was, however, a doctoral candidate who pointed to more fundamental reform. Eric Mintz contributed the one article about the financing of party leaders. ”œSeveral candi- dates for the PC leadership in 1983 apparently spent in excess of half a million dollars.” That was already a vast acceleration from the style of leadership campaigning a generation earlier. It had to rise even faster, to the dizzying heights of the final Martin campaign, before ”œthe dependence of our leading par- ties on the large corporations” was limited by legislation. Mr. Mintz’s other pointer to democratic reform is still on the agenda for future action. He urged the parties to foster mean- ingful grass-roots participation in order to counter the stacked selection of convention delegates and so ”œlessen any tendency for the party leader to become too dominant.”
Other examples of the foresight of younger contributors ranged from early childhood education to Nunavut. Another doctoral candidate, Duncan Matheson, contributed the most penetrating article on the politics of social policy. It proposed that the cost-sharing of the Canada Assistance Plan be replaced by a division of functions. All income supports would be pro- vided directly by the federal government. The provinces, aided only by equalization for the poorer, would deliver social serv- ices and provide in-kind supports for special needs.
At the beginning of Policy Options the ambition was great but the resources were small. It was at first only a quar- terly; and while publication was soon extended to six issues a year, they were smaller (as well as far more cheaply presented) than those of today. It was not until 1985 that we moved to the present, almost monthly, schedule. So this review will range, for representative material, over the 27 issues of the first five volumes, 1980 through 1984.
As the period began, the brief Clark government was replaced by the final term of Trudeau liberalism. When it ended, the Mulroney Conservatives had recently taken over. The 1981-82 recession produced the heaviest unem- ployment since the 1930s depression. Inflation became less desperate than in the previous decade but was still severe. The main external influences were stagflation, Thatcherism and Reaganomics.
Nevertheless, economic and social issues were not the main concerns. Canadian politics were shaped more by the Quebec referendum of May 1980. Sovereignty-association was rejected, but the rest of Canada was shaken from con- stitutional lethargy. The aftershocks con- tinued until, by rejecting the Charlottetown Accord in the national referendum of 1992, the Canadian pub- lic frightened its politicians off their pre- occupation with the Constitution. Perhaps foresight may therefore be claimed for the first issue of Policy Options. Its article of constitutional import, by Agar Adamson, was a review of ”œthe referendum in Canadian experi- ence,” which was then mainly of provincial plebiscites on the demon liquor.
The Quebec referendum would not have been a triumph for the federalists, led by Claude Ryan, if they had pre- sented the constitutional status quo as the alternative to separation. The prom- ise, encouraged from Ottawa, was feder- alism in renewed form. No one was more experienced in constitutional negotiations than Gordon Robertson, who wrote the principal article in the second issue of the magazine. It was an appropriately powerful statement of the need for renewal and of what then seemed to be its feasibility.
Trudeau had returned to office with constitutional reform as his principal interest. When his first version of it encountered strong objections, not only from Quebec, he for a time proposed to proceed without provincial agreement. For that, as well as for much of the con- tent of his proposal, he was taken strong- ly to task, in the first Policy Options of 1981, by the eminent jurist J. V. Clyne, who urged a more deliberative procedure by means of a constitutional assembly. In the event, of course, Trudeau compro- mised through a process of parliamentary hearings and hectic negotiations with the provinces, culminating in agreement with nine provinces, all but Quebec.
In Policy Options the separatist view of that outcome was vehemently expressed by Claude Morin: the other provinces had betrayed Quebec and confirmed that English Canada would never agree to a constitution with which Quebec could live. Claude Ryan wrote, in sorrow rather than anger, to insist that isolation could be overcome only by full recognition of Quebec as a dis- tinct society within the Canadian duali- ty. Arthur Tremblay (one of the quiet architects of the Quiet Revolution) maintained that the damage must be repaired, the constitutional breach closed. So did Robert Stanfield. They gave early voice to the effort for the inclusion of Quebec that subsequently drove the negotiation of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.
In that period there was, on the evidence of Policy Options, a widespread view that an elected Senate would lessen the tensions of Canadian diversity by bringing regional viewpoints into more consideration in Ottawa. One of the detailed proposals was made in a second article by J. V. Clyne. Almost all his sen- ators would be elected for six years by single transferable voting in multiple- member provincial constituencies, with half retiring at three-year intervals. But he made the interesting suggestion that, in addition, each provincial government should appoint one senator at its pleasure, to be in effect its delegate in Ottawa. Such representation might take some of the wind out of meetings of first ministers.
Gordon Robertson saw an elected Senate as the realistic way to achieve something of the renewal promised in 1980 but not delivered in 1982. He proposed a special senatorial power: any legislation of lin- guistic or special cultural significance should require a double majority in the Senate – that is, the approval of both a majority of English-speaking and a majority of French-speaking members. With that, and with other powers such as approval of appointments to the Supreme Court, an elected Senate could help to correct both the isolation of Quebec and the alienation of the West.
Royce Frith, then an appointed senator, joined in the case for reform, and suggested how to get the existing Senate to give its constitutionally nec- essary approval. The initial election would be of half the members, for five- year terms. Existing senators who did not wish to run could keep their appointments until the second election, and then retire with pensions.
Among Policy Options contributors there were other advocates of an elected Senate and some skeptics. In 1984 Robert Stanfield deflated both view- points. He defined the distinctive prob- lem of Canadian governance as the need to reconcile national policies with pro- found regional concerns. No doubt an elected Senate would help in the future ”” if its composition and powers satisfied both Quebec and the West. But since that was unlikely, we should concentrate on meeting the need for reconciliation within existing institutions. It was the proper role of national political parties. The Liberal party had generally succeed- ed in the role, but Trudeau had lost the West. The Conservative party needed to gain, at last, genuine strength in Quebec. Policy Options readers were given an ele- gant rationalization for the strategy by which the two terms of Mulroney gov- ernment were about to be won.
It was, however, a leading Newfoundland Liberal who most force- fully assigned to political parties the responsibility for reconciling national policy with regional diversities. Ed Roberts, distinguished among politi- cians by his perceptive awareness of history, emphasized that they would have to undo their latter-day develop- ment into centralized machines unat- tractive to members with a sense of national and regional purpose.
The disconnect of people from political parties had already become a major concern. In the first issue Alec Corry, perhaps the most renowned political scientist of the time, wrote of ”œthe precipitous decline of public confidence in government,” the need to find ”œways and means of enlarging citizen involvement.” In the second issue, a mix of seven politicians and commentators assessed the 1980 election. The general view was expressed by a Conservative, Michael Meighen: the campaigning had simply reinforced the country’s spinning of its wheels. Another (then) Conservative went further. David MacDonald wrote that impressionistic politics had tri- umphed over substance because of public ”œalienation and despair over our practice of government.” His conclusion might equally have appeared today: ”œWhat we must learn from this is the need for parliamentary reform.”
Other articles emphasized the increasing failure of parties to be open to the public. Remedies included reforms of parliamentary procedure to strengthen the role of MPs relative to their bosses. Paul Thomas, of the University of Mani- toba, contributed three articles with particularly forceful suggestions. Gordon Gibson welcomed the rise of single interest organizations and thought the political system too set against them, while I argued that it was the decay of parties, as associations for public partici- pation in public policy, that caused peo- ple to concentrate on the special interests where they could have more influence. My contribution urged, among other things, smaller cabinets, a more active role for other MPs, shorter election campaigns, and at least a begin- ning of electoral reform by the simple transferable vote in single-member con- stituencies. Without reforms there would be no shaking of the top-down organization separating party member- ship from active involvement in policy.
On some of the issues that preoccu- py us today, early Policy Options had little to say. The contrast is particu- larly sharp for social policy. Apparently the programs initiated in the 1960s were still giving general satisfaction a decade and more later. There was hard- ly anything about pensions. The broad- er problem of aging, as discussed by Claude Castonguay and by Nicole Schwartz-Morgan, had become the need for more flexible timing of retirement and changes of activity.
Similarly, articles about health care were mostly directed, with hope, to impending issues. One urged that fee-for-service remuneration of doctors be mod- ified to create incentives for group prac- tice. Another argued that the physicians’ monopoly of primary care should be bro- ken by enlarging the role of nurses. The correlation of low income and poor health was documented, the significance for health of pollution and working con- ditions emphasized. Most forcefully, Daniel Cappon criticized so-called health policies directed to curing sickness and too little concerned with pre- venting it. Shirley Post clearly out- lined a child health program emphasizing preventive care.
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Another strong article made the case for early childhood care and education, arguing that the issue was not whether federal funding was required but how it should be programmed. Articles such as Florence Bird’s ”œSolidarity for Women” were signposts to social progress since made. Two articles urged acceptance of growing diversity in family relationships. Several gave early attention to the need for a broad- ening range of voluntary effort and organization. Another far-sighted con- tribution underlined the growth of ”œgrey power” in an aging society. The influence of youth was reflected in a discussion of marijuana law; the reform then thought practicable was to retain the offence of possession but limit the penalty to fines only.
The articles that most reflect expec- tations so far sadly disappointed were those on aboriginal problems, though even there Peter Jull’s 1982 ”œNext Steps for Nunavut” stands as an exception.
The content of Policy Options clear- ly reflected the consequences of the 1977 pooling of federal transfers for health care and post-secondary education. Provincial budgets prompt- ly became more responsive to the demands of health services rather than universities, with the result that educa- tion was, briefly, a more contentious aspect of federal-provincial fiscal rela- tions than medicare. One article described the universities as ”œembat- tled and demoralized.” More positive- ly, John Graham took the view, then rarer than now, that universities would be better without government operat- ing grants, if higher fees were matched by student financing adequate to ensure access according to ability.
Concern about executive federalism found little expression in early issues of the magazine. On the contrary, several contributions suggested the development of joint agencies. One also anticipated the Council of the Federation by proposing a ”œHouse of the Provinces” with its own secretariat for ”œinterprovincial conferences where Ottawa has no constitutional jurisdic- tion.” Liberal MP Herb Breau anticipat- ed a current federal view by urging that stricter conditions should be attached to federal funding of provincial programs. Donald Savoie underlined the essentially political nature of federal-provincial relations. One contribution, by Edward McWhinney, called for enhancing the role of municipalities in the federal sys- tem; it even suggested the possibility of provincial status for big cities.
Eight prominent contributors dif- fered on a topic that is of less concern today. Flora MacDonald, external affairs minister in the Clark government, set the ball rolling with an account of what felt like the entrapment devices by which senior officials sought to monop- olize advice. The complaint was not that they were partisan but that they resisted change to policies they had been involved in developing. The effect for a new government was that bureau- cracy impaired democracy.
Mitchell Sharp argued, in contrast, that government needs the continuity supplied by professionals familiar with the issues and with departmental administration. In 1984 Kenneth Kernaghan similarly urged the incom- ing Mulroney government to preserve the role of an independent, non-parti- san public service. Hugh Segal, however, thought it a subversion of democracy that, while governments came and went, an elite public service should be secure at the apex of power and influence. He proposed that, when- ever a new prime minister takes office, all deputy ministers should be required to put their resignations at his or her disposal. Tom d’Aquino offered a com- promise that is the way, for good or for ill, that has in fact been taken. Public servants should be secure in their rank but ministers should also have bigger, senior staffs of their own appointees.
Ted Hodgetts gave a penetrating analysis of the dilemma inherent in the role of deputy minister. Gordon Robert- son emphasized the duty of anonymity. It fell to J. L. Granatstein to foreshadow, in an article headed ”œOnce but not Future Kings,” why the topic would get less attention twenty years later. During the war and early postwar decades, a small Ottawa ”œmandarinate” had presided over the vastly expanded busi- ness of government. What had more recently followed was not a further growth in responsibilities so much as a ”œmassive explosion in the machinery of government.” A greatly more numerous senior bureaucracy inevitably depreciates the importance of most of its individual members. That is part of the reason, at least, why their relations with ministers now get much attention only when some kind of abuse comes to the fore.
In the decade of Thatcherism Policy Options gave appropriate space to the relation between government and the market economy. Maurice Strong contributed a judicious review. There was some public-private mix in all economies. Not only were fiscal and monetary policies prime factors in establishing the business environ- ment; in the United States, particular- ly, military and space spending shaped much of industry. And ”œin China today (this was 21 years ago) there is widespread public discussion of the role of private investment in the mod- ernization of Chinese society.” In Canada, government leadership in ”œthe strategic direction of the econo- my” should call chiefly for equity-type investment when private capital was insufficient. We could develop ”œthe kind of dynamic, pragmatic public- private mix that will enable us to set an example to the world of a successful pluralistic society.”
There were contributions both to the right and to the left of that. The specific question of whether existing Crown corporations should be priva- tized was addressed in two articles. One, by Tom Kierans, drew lessons from British experience and concluded that privatization was generally benefi- cial but must mean exposure to gen- uine competition. The heading was borrowed from famous Canadian wording: privatization if necessary but not necessarily privatization.
The other article eschewed compro- mise. Privatization was a misnomer. Dis- mantling a Crown corporation was really a matter of ”œgoing public,” the transfer of shares from ”œprivate government hands” to ”œthe Canadian public investor.” There had been an ”œunwarranted” expansion of Crown corporations, federal and provincial, in transportation and other commercial activities. They competed unfairly with private enterprise and cre- ated the risk of ”œpublic sector imperial- ism.” The author was a shipping CEO who would soon move into politics in 1988 ”” Paul Martin.
Discussion of macro-economic pol- icy reflected the confusion of the time. Despite the recession, the infla- tion rate did not peak, at over 12 per- cent, until 1981 and was still over 4 percent in 1984. Government deficits were large and increasing, but their stimulus to the economy was offset by tight monetary policy and the related uncertainties of industrial investment.
Such stagflation bred the main concern of economists contributing to the magazine: how to reconcile more jobs with more stable prices. There was little wish to repeat the earlier Trudeau experiment in income and price con- trols. The answer most proposed, in various versions, was a tax-based incomes policy. Prices would be left to the market, wages to collective bar- gaining. But wage and salary increases above some designated level would be subject to special taxation, on firms making the increases, on the recipi- ents, or on both. And, to make this acceptably fair, there would be corre- sponding taxation of increases in returns from capital. The proponents of incomes policy who most strongly criticised the monetarism of the time were Walter Gordon and John McCallum (then an economics profes- sor, not a politician).
On the evidence of Policy Options, the world was less on the minds of Canadians than it is today. Aid to developing countries was the only part of foreign policy to be given more attention than in recent times. The most forceful contribution emphasized the self-interest of indus- trialized countries in providing not only more outright aid but also in opening their own markets to third- world products, creating more securi- ty for commodity prices, improving access to technology and investment capital. That was the viewpoint expressed by P. E. Trudeau.
There was also foresight in articles on the international importance of environmental protection and resource conservation; on the impending trans- formation of Asian economies; on the growth of trade in services as the leading edge of globalization. Only one ”œn” needs to be changed to a ”œq” to make a contemporary comment of a sentence in a 1981 article by George Ignatieff: ”œAs we have seen … especially in Iran, the use of military force from outside is inef- fective for achieving political purposes.”
However, relations with the United States, as reflected in Policy Options, were then less about diploma- cy and defence, much about trade and investment. The contributors had three characteristics in common. They were for multilateral free trade in prin- ciple; but they were worried about Canada’s competitiveness; and they were much impressed by the ”œcom- mon market” in Europe. A 1980 article by Ted English of Carleton University examined various trading groups. It raised the possibility of a US-Canada free trade area but, recognizing that more bedfellows would be preferable, boldly speculated about a ”œPacific area” also including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Mexico.
That grand concept was not pur- sued. Subsequent articles concentrat- ed on a deal with the United States. However, they did not foreshadow what was soon to happen. Most sug- gestions were not for a general agree- ment. Darcy McKeough, writing with the authority of a former Ontario treasurer and minister of economic affairs, put it most firmly: ”œWe should get down to brass tacks on sectoral free trade. We should identify the industries where, to our mutual bene- fit, we can reduce or eliminate the barriers between the USA and Canada.” In the same spirit Pierre- Paul Proulx (one of the drafters of the famous ”œbeige paper” of Quebec fed- eralists) argued strongly for sectoral ”œintegration and harmonization”; but a free trade area as such was ”œnot a policy option to envisage from a Canadian perspective.”
Irving Brecher did envisage ”œa free trade area with the United States in industrial goods and services” toward which we might move ”œwith all delib- erate speed.” No one envisaged the desperate negotiation of a deal com- prehensive for Canadian imports but leaving the United States able to impose restrictions protective, for example, of its lumber lobby.
Policy Options‘ suggestions were different from the outcome in another important respect. They were about trade, not about a full freeing of invest- ment as well. Several articles were indeed critical of the process that then subjected foreign investment to fussy but ineffective review. Roy Davidson, notably, wanted to abolish any restric- tion of new foreign enterprises, while controlling takeovers of existing Canadian enterprises. Others, Tom Kierans in particular, went further in rejecting economic nationalism, but early issues of the magazine provided no prior discussion of the sweeping integration of cross-border investment that turned out to be impending.
That failure of foresight does not stand alone. There was, for exam- ple, nothing in early Policy Options about the way in which colour-blind immigration had begun its profound changing of Canadian society. Nevertheless, this review has shown that, from the beginning, our contribu- tors generally looked at current issues from the longer view that sound poli- cies require.
The capacity to provide such a forum makes IRPP greatly important to the democratic identity of Canada. A country where people are so widely spread across a continent, and so close to their giant neighbour, is unlikely to be as well served by its commercial media as are, notably, the West Euro- pean countries by some of theirs. That major element of our democratic deficit was discussed by several people experi- enced in the print and broadcast media. The most important contribution, how- ever, was made by the lawyer and for- mer Conservative politician who had become the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Freedom of opinion, Gordon Fairweath- er argued, was impaired by media own- ership insensitive to its public responsibility. Canada’s new Constitu- tion was entrenching the legal prece- dents that placed jurisdiction with the federal Parliament. It should legislate to ensure diversity in the Canadian sources of news and opinion.
If ever that advice were acted on, Options might become more purely a forum for the analysts and framers of public policy. That alone is part of the essential foundations of a free society. But it has to be built on. It has to be used, by the political parties and media above all, to strengthen the information, and diversify the opin- ions about the public business, that people in general hear, read and see. The weaker the media, the less rooted in policy are the parties, the more important it is that Options be not only an informer but an invigorator of pub- lic policy discussion.