PARLIAMENT of CANADA
Home Parliamentary Business Senators and Members About Parliament Visitor Information Employment

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 19 - Evidence, November 4, 1998


OTTAWA, Wednesday, November 4, 1998

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 3:30 p.m. to consider the dimensions of social cohesion in Canada in the context of globalization and other economic and structural forces that influence trust and reciprocity among Canadians.

Senator Lowell Murray (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: It is our pleasure to welcome the Honourable Ed Broadbent as our witness this afternoon. Mr. Broadbent has had a distinguished political and parliamentary career. A member of Parliament from Oshawa, Ontario for 21 years, he was the Leader of the New Democratic Party from 1975 to 1989, a Privy Councillor and a member of the Order of Canada.

He has distinguished academic credentials. Prior to entering Parliament, Mr. Broadbent was for a short time a professor of political science at York University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and did post graduate work at the London School of Economics. Following his public career, he was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University in 1996-1997, and he is now the occupant of the J.S. Woodsworth Chair at Simon Fraser University.

He was from 1990 to 1996 the founding President of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development during which time he worked directly with those involved in the struggle for democracy in Haiti and Burma. In 1993, he was one of four international judges to sit on the Tribunal on Violations of Women's Human Rights at the United Nations Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and in 1994 he served as a member of the panel of experts on the International Tribunal on Rights in Haiti and was subsequently named by President Aristide as the international advisor to Haiti's Truth and Justice Commission.

[Translation]

Mr. Broadbent, it is a great pleasure to see you back here on Parliament Hill. You have lived through so many political experiences; you were one of the most respected participants in the great economic, social and constitutional debates that took place over two decades.

[English]

It is a great pleasure to see you here again. Please proceed.

The Honourable John Edward Broadbent, P.C., O.C., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., J.S. Woodsworth Chair, Simon Fraser University: I am delighted to see some old friends here and I am pleased and honoured to have been asked to be a witness on this important subject.

Having read with some care the testimony submitted by others during your hearings and the discussion in that context, I am happy to be here to talk about social cohesion, which appears to be the principal new social policy focus of the federal government. Before coming to the government's usage of this term, as presented by two senior public servants, I want to begin with another definition, what I would call the "common sense" definition of this term.

I found it reassuring that the definition in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary corresponded pretty much entirely with what I thought the term might mean: "Cohesion is the act or condition of sticking together." If we are talking about cohesion among citizens in a democratic state, then we would say, perhaps, "the willingness or sense of trust by citizens to voluntarily stick together." Put differently, that would mean that there was a positive set of feelings by most citizens about the major institutions that affect their lives.

It seems to me that that is what Michael Adams was getting at when, in part of his discussion, he said that social cohesion meant that Canadians had trust in each other and in their institutions; I believe it is also what a number of the other witnesses had in mind when they stated that social cohesion, at this moment in Canada, was under attack or was in a precarious state or more precarious than it had been in our recent history.

Professor Jane Jenson made an interesting and important point when she said that it was not accidental that talk about social cohesion in Canada and a number of other OECD countries is occurring at the end of the 1990s. It is true that it is not a coincidence, and there were quite particular circumstances that led to this.

From the point of view of this topic, it was a great advantage to me to get away from the real world of politics into the real world of the academic in the year I spent at Oxford a couple years ago. I was totally immersed in the study, in one sense, of the modern origins of social policy for the North Atlantic democracies, and what I will be saying flows to a considerable extent from some of the research and thinking I did at that time, which by happy coincidence seems to me to be quite pertinent to this topic.

The last time there was a common and serious concern about what we are now calling "social cohesion" in the North Atlantic democracies was, interestingly enough, in the middle of World War II. Prime Minister Churchill and his cabinet and President Roosevelt and his advisors were convinced that the horrible amalgam of the Great Depression and Naziism had, in good measure, resulted from the laissez-faire capitalism of the 1930s. They were determined to do something about that in the post-war order. In their view, for capitalism or a market economy to survive, major structural reform was indeed necessary.

They resolved to build a new post-war world order, based in part on what came to be known as "the welfare state," a democratic state committed to increasing degrees of equality. They were quite explicit about that. They and their socialist and Labour party colleagues, and subsequently, Christian democrats from Continental Europe, launched a system of social reforms guaranteeing a whole set of new social benefits, which they described as "rights of citizens," not as "a safety net." These were new social benefits that were to go to citizens as such, not because they were poor or handicapped or otherwise marginalized, but because they were to give citizens, whether rich, poor or average, a new set of social rights.

The decision was made in Mr. Churchill's cabinet in 1942, when it was decided to launch within the U.K. itself, as well as part of the new world order, a set of social and economic rights parallel to the then established political and civil rights in our Western democracies. For 35 years after the war, there was an unstated social contract that cut across class and ideological barriers. There were two key components of this social contract that existed in the North Atlantic states. First, capitalists, or Conservative and Liberal parties, on the one hand, accepted as necessary the ongoing presence of the government in the economy in order to ensure, on the basis of equality, key social rights. Those rights -- pensions, health services, universal education -- were to be taken in a sense out of the marketplace and assured to all citizens. Second, on the other side of the ideological divide, many working people and parties on the left accepted the market system with its inherent profits and inherent market-based differentiation in salaries as the dominant mode of production.

For that whole period of approximately 35 years, that social contract persisted, with Conservative forces, traditionally on the conservative side of our socio-economic ledger, on the one hand accepting a whole new set of social rights that were to be put in place, and socialists or left-wing parties on the other, accepting a private-sector marketplace as the dominant form of economic production.

Whether governments were conventionally described as, for instance, the Harold Macmillan Conservative government of the U.K. or the Social Democratic Party government in Sweden, there was substantial agreement with the central thrust of Keynesian economics, which had two key components: First, the state had an ongoing role in the economy, particularly when there was a downturn, to stimulate demand and therefore ensure substantially high levels of employment. Second, there was the exception of the other key Keynesian point at the time, that while free trade in goods and services was to be welcomed, there should not be free flow of capital between states. The second point, which was an important technical consideration for Keynes, was that the free flow of capital would inevitably, if not dismantle, seriously weaken nation states to deliver on their other objectives of social policy; in other words, it would seriously weaken their capacity to control fiscal and monetary policy.

Whether there were Social Democrats or the Labour Party on the left or the Liberal, Conservative or Christian Democratic Party on the right, there was a broad consensus about this in our democratic system.

The argument at the time, broadly speaking, was not an argument in principle. If you look at the 1930s, this was a radical change from the 1930s <#0107> and certainly Churchill and Roosevelt and others thoroughly understood what they were doing after the war. However, during that period, there was a broad consensus on these points, and it was not a matter of debate between political parties. No matter what they said in partisan debates, it tended to be more over the speed with which more emphasis was put on expanding equality within society as opposed to the principle itself.

This ecumenical political movement appeared in distinguished post-war leadership to set this underway. What they had hoped would happen did in fact happen. Between 1945 and 1980 there was a remarkable period of cohesion in the North Atlantic world. The extremist parties on the left, the Communist parties, and the Fascist or quasi-Fascist parties on the right virtually disappeared in the North Atlantic world during that period; And workers -- predominantly blue-collar workers then -- having governments that at last showed concern for their social well-being, not only ceased the open acts of rebellion that had occurred before the war, but did not resist specially targeted government affirmative-action programs aimed at removing systemic inequality for women and other discriminated groups.

Richard Nixon, interestingly enough, supported affirmative-action programs for women, which is indicative of the broad range of consensus that existed on many matters during that period.

Citizens were experiencing during that period within their society a growing sense of equality and a growing acceptance that their government was committed to this expansion of equality within society. Having become more equal, Western society in fact became more tolerant and expansive. Foreign aid programs were supported by ordinary people during that period in addition to the kinds of affirmative-action programs I have just alluded to in respect of domestic policy.

It was also during that period that Canadians started to describe themselves as sharing and caring. They certainly did not do that in the 1930s, when the state neither shared nor cared. However, during that period, the period when I grew up, my formative years, Canadians started to describe themselves in that fashion because they were experiencing a government that also shared and cared.

Then there was an abrupt change. We may come to some of the important nuances of this change that came in the early 1980s. The catalyst for it was the accumulating deficit problem of most governments in this region. Most governments, but by no means all, had accrued large deficits for a mixture of demographic reasons: higher costs for pensions, higher costs for education, people living longer -- there was a whole range of reasons that led to a rather common set of pressures on North Atlantic governments, regardless of whether they were again governed by left-wing parties or by right-wing parties in terms of our conventional descriptions.

The major reaction in respect of the shift away from this post-war consensus came not at all in Continental Europe, but in the Anglo-American countries -- the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. Notably, the ideological leadership for this shift came from Ronald Reagan in the United States and from Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom.

The shift that I am now about to talk about that came in our part of the world by and large did not come in Continental Europe at all. Continental Europe had established by far the world's strongest universal-rights-based welfare states. I do not think it is an accident that this kind of shift did not occur in those countries, did not occur in Germany, the leadership of which for most of this period was divided between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, or in other parts of Europe. The kind of ideology, and with it serious practical policy, that affected social cohesion came largely -- not exclusively, but largely -- in the Anglo-American world which we are part of.

While all regimes or governments tended to respond, starting in the 1980s, to this deficit problem, in our part of the world the response took on a particular ideological cast as well. It was not just a matter of dealing in the short run with fiscal pressures. The response, I would argue and contend, was also made by some people with utter conviction. I do not want to be misunderstood in this; there was no hypocrisy involved. Whether one likes Margaret Thatcher or not, very few have called her hypocritical. She was a woman who said what she believed. I believe that what these people believed was utter, negative, social folly, which I will comment on. However, they believed it with considerable conviction.

There are two parts of this important period in modern Anglo-American democracies. One was the ideological view, and I am well aware of the great simplification that I am indulging in here, but it is essentially accurate. This was a view that, suddenly, "public" activity became bad or not very good, and "private" activity was good. All that could be converted into markets should be; the good life should be pursued essentially apart from government. Pursuit of the common good by political means during this period in this view is replaced by private activities. Even civil society, traditionally understood to be a key and important part of any democratic society, is given a new, exalted status within this particular ideological framework, so that what takes place again within civil society is good. That which is taking place in the public domain is at best neutral, but probably inefficient and bad otherwise.

As Ronald Reagan once said, "Spending for general social programs is spending of other people's money and should be stopped." Margaret Thatcher once infamously said, "Society does not exist; only individuals exist." Both said that, in terms of the welfare state, only safety-net programs were really justified. That is to say, programs that would in fact keep people above the destitution level, like perhaps the old "poor laws" in England, were appropriate, but having universal social programs for all citizens, which was the basic formulation supported by Churchill and other people in the early post-war years, was rejected outright by this new version -- whether we call it neo-conservatism or neo-liberalism -- that soon became quite dominant.

During this period, we also saw the emergence of international trade deals that were, of course, devoid of any content that referred to human rights or environmental concerns. It was again applied to the international domain -- laissez-faire in the complete and unfettered way that was the international equivalent of the same ideology that was being applied at home.

Now my view is that a number of the people who gave testimony talked about the changing attitudes that were occurring, but did not give or attempt a causal explanation of what really happened in the 1990s. I believe that what happened in the 1990s was more or less the direct consequence of the policies pursued in the 1980s. Increasingly, citizens in Canada and other Anglo-American countries saw governments as being irrelevant to citizens' goals. I am exaggerating somewhat. However, polarization in incomes took place, and there was a general sense of highly diffuse insecurity amongst our populations. There was a deepening of inequality in almost every regard.

The reaction to this situation, both by Canada and by a number of other OECD countries, although not by all, has been to talk about cohesion. A lot of this is well motivated, but, as you will see, I seriously disagree with the thrust. So there is a reaction, in this part of the 1990s, to the social consequences of these programs that were launched in the 1980s. However, there was not, coming from Churchill and Roosevelt and others after the war, a reversal of the economic policies from the 1930s. Instead of paying attention to the economic policies of the 1980s that were leading to the 1990s, there is a new emphasis entirely; in fact, I see a shift in focus to something called "social cohesion." However, in my view, it is principally, but by no means exclusively, the economic policies that have led to the breakdown of social cohesion.

Generation X, and the data presented by some people on that, I found very interesting. Generation X did not, like some new pop song, just appear out of somebody's mind. Generation X to a considerable extent is a product of post-war thinking and political policies -- which I am. I grew up in an industrial town in Southern Ontario in the late 1940s and 1950s, and therefore to a considerable extent what shapes my values, political and social, came out of that. So, too, the Generation X people, born since 1960, were just coming into age when the policies of the 1980s started to kick in. So, it does not strike me as being entirely surprising that this generation tends to be the "me" generation, tends to be self-protective, tends to be skeptical about governments doing things, tends to want, whenever possible, to turn things over to the private sector as a means of resolving human problems.

Having experienced, in broad terms again, a democratic state that neither shared nor cared, as evinced by the policies launched in the 1980s, these young people in growing up turned out to be what one could only expect: self-protective and self-interested. Notice that I am not saying "selfish," by the way. They are uncertain, without a feeling that their government is likely to be of significant assistance to them as human beings either at this stage in their lives or later on when they will retire.

The motivation of a number of the OECD countries and Canada in talking about social cohesion is very similar to what it was after the war. You will see from some of the statements, if you read old OECD documents and some of our own documents of government, that the motivation is the same. The capitalist economic system perhaps is being threatened. If these young people are no longer feeling secure, feeling a sense of commitment to their own societies, then a challenge to the system itself may not be too far down the road; or, as some people quite correctly have said, if you want better economic results from a productivity point of view, it is better to have social cohesion.

It is better to have people with a sense of trust of their fellow workers, a sense of trust of managers, a sense of trust of their political leaders, if they are to be economically productive. That is the thinking of a number of the people in the OECD. In order to preserve a market system of some kind, we must re-establish a sense of cohesion or a sense of trust.

Professor Jane Jenson, whose testimony I was in substantial agreement with -- perhaps diplomatically; I do not know -- took great care, as a number of people did, to lay out a number of options. I am more explicit and categorical in my judgments, as has become evident already, and I welcome the discussion. Professor Jenson said a number of times that there was a kind of mix of liberty, equality and solidarity; there were trade-offs involved in these things, and we had to achieve the right balance. I do not agree with that argument. Particularly, I do not agree on what is needed at our time.

It seems to me that the evidence is very clear. What is most absent is a concern about equality. That is what is really missing from the equation right now in serious policy initiatives, whether at the federal or the provincial level. So it is not a matter of choosing the right mix. The matter right now is that we need a much more serious commitment coming from the government. It is by no means the only institution in our society, I want to emphasize, that will be instrumental in developing a sense of cohesion, but it is in my view, in democratic societies, the single most important institution. As it is, every week we have a new set of statistics with rather alarming pictures of inequality between groups, between regions, and between genders.

What we need to do is follow, not in detail but in principle, the example laid down as perhaps the last great moment in the North Atlantic world after the war; what we need is what was needed then. The 1930s were to be changed in economic policy according to the people who launched the post-war order, and they specifically said that what we needed was more equality. I believe the same thing. We need more equality concerns by our governments, more control over the controls of capital, which is another technical point in order in part to achieve the equality. Governments must do things and be seen to be doing them. They must in short also provide ideological or philosophical leadership.

I could never imagine, if I may say so in this context, the kind of speeches I have heard in the 1980s coming from a Bob Stanfield or a Pierre Trudeau, or coming from, say, a Tommy Douglas or a David Lewis. All of these people were part of a broad consensus that believed in a government's place in a citizen's life, and believed in it particularly from the point of view of necessarily, on a continuing basis, involving itself in the economy and in society to ensure greater degrees of equality, precisely because the inherent thrust of a market economy is to create deep and pervasive inequalities.

I may be unfair to some of the people who were speaking as senior public servants here. I am well aware that they take their instructions, as they should, from their political masters, but the documents that were presented in talking about social cohesion seem to me to have it backwards. What we should be talking about in fact is social justice, and what Canada needs from its political leaders is a commitment to social justice, not social cohesion as such. If social justice gets underway, then one of the consequences will be social cohesion.

I looked at with care and read a number of times the definition of "social cohesion," which seems to be guiding social policy in many departments at the federal level. I would propose an alternative agenda that could have substantial support from the people of Canada, if not from the current mix of politicians. Social justice, not social cohesion as such, should be the guiding principle.

I have written the following:

Achieving social justice is an ongoing process: a process of developing a society of shared values, a society that gives primacy of concern to those political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a society in which all Canadians have an equal right to their differing individual and collective identities, and an equal claim to the resources needed for their realization.

Such a goal would have as content that which is consistent with the best of Canadian traditions. It is based on a document whose first draft was written by a Canadian, and is one that could inspire a number of young Canadians to see that the good life should mean more than personal success.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Broadbent, for an opening statement that was extremely interesting, stimulating and perhaps even provocative.

Senator Kinsella: At the beginning of your presentation a question came to mind that you have answered at the end of your presentation. I had written down the words "human rights as a means of achieving social cohesion." Obviously that is your position and I agree with that view.

A lot of students of Canadian society and a lot of people in this town seem to have a great deal of difficulty in understanding what some have described as the different categories of human rights, not to reject the principle of the unity of human rights.

You alluded to civil and political rights, the classical freedoms, which really is a case of "Government, do not interfere." The struggle was always against government: "Government, don't act; don't interfere with our freedoms." However, the second category of rights, the social, economic and cultural rights like the right to work or the right to education or the right to health -- those rights have very little meaning, if you do not have, for example, a school system. The right to health means nothing, if you do not have a health delivery system. Those rights by nature are programmatic. They require the programs of society.

To use that old division in society between the governmental sector and the non-governmental, I do not see how, in the late 1990s, any voluntary organization in our society could deliver a health delivery system. It cannot. Even the nuns, considering what they were able to do in years gone by, could not do it today. Therefore, the social, economic and cultural rights by definition require the programs of state, the programs of government.

I am sure you recall the discussions around a social charter in the Constitution, and the Beaudoin-Dobbie report of the Special Joint Committee on a renewed Canada. Page 81 of that report states that social, economic and culture rights are not justiciable and therefore are not really human rights. That is wrong, because they are rights, as you said; not only are they in the Universal Declaration, but they are in the covenants that are part of the treaty law.

Mr. Broadbent: That is a typical lawyer's view. We are in agreement. It is so typical of lawyers, who are wrong about so many things, to say that a right is only a right if it is justiciable.

Senator Kinsella: There are different models of how we judge things, including the social audit, and the UN system is based upon a social audit. Within the Canadian context, as we explore how Canadians must come together better, do you think that we should be exploring a Canadian social charter, which would be enforced by a social auditing mechanism? In other words, just as we have a fiscal auditor, we would have a social auditor.

Mr. Broadbent: I agree with you that the social rights, in distinction from political and civil rights, by and large are what are called "positive rights." That is to say that -- and it is convenient language -- they require positive action by the state or by government of significantly more economic resources to make them feasible than do political and civil rights. This was the point I was coming to and, if I may say so, it was to my surprise to discover that Winston Churchill's cabinet in 1942 launched a campaign and said, after the war, that there should be social and economic rights, not just political and civil rights. It was indeed a coalition government, as senators will know, but that was a decision taken.

One of the things that gives me hope, frankly, as a Canadian and as a citizen in this sense of the North Atlantic democracies, is that there was indeed a broad consensus that transcended a particular ideological focus, which our parties have and should continue to have, that will emphasize certain differences.

I believe strongly that part of what I tried to sketch in there as an alternative agenda for Canada, compared to the social cohesion one, is grounded on the range of rights, in part because we as a country have adopted the two covenants; in addition to the Universal Declaration to which we are all obligated as members of the UN, specifically, Canada has adopted the Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. So this is something that transcended party differences, but it has social implications. That is why I welcome so much, if I may say so, your initiative, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, to get at this discussion in a serious way.

What it does mean is that the distributional struggle, if I can put it that way, is partially taken out of the marketplace. That is what that decision after the war was all about. They were saying that there were certain rights that we ought to have as citizens -- not safety nets; rights: decent pensions; good university access; good health services for all citizens, not as handouts to the poor. That consensus, I believe, was there at one time. It was a matter of degree: "How fast do we expand it?" I see its potential and I see it as very serious, frankly. I try to separate my partisan proclivities, if you like, but these are convictions that I have. We are in a serious situation in our country of growing inequality that is not only morally unacceptable, but, for reasons that the post-war leaders saw, leads to instability, too, which is a different value.

I realize I am taking a long time to answer your question, senator, but I would love to see our Parliament committed to this, which I think has pragmatic implications. You could have a debate about the speed of implementation, but it is the principle that I would like to see adopted. Whether the social audit timing is right for Parliament, I do not know; I have not given enough thought to it. However, I should like to see public engagement by the Parliament of Canada and commitment -- not simply the formal commitment we have to the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but a serious commitment such that we begin to take it seriously in terms of a programmatic agenda as part of our national politics.

You talked about a social audit. I would like to see that for our private-sector companies. A change in the Companies Act, for example, through federal legislation could require all our companies to have not only a financial audit but a social audit as well. That is another matter for real discussion and it is another way of preserving -- because I am in principle for that -- a private-sector economy, but one that becomes increasingly democratized and accountable to more people. So a social audit is doable, feasible and desirable for companies within Canada. However, because I have not thought enough about it, I am not sure that it is doable in the political system.

Senator Kinsella: Theoretically at least, would you agree that we have the criterion in the articulated rights that we recognize? With that measure, social justice is mediated; the means to achieve it is through rights. In other words, it is not justice that creates rights but rather it is rights that provide the medium for which we achieve social justice.

Mr. Broadbent: And subsequently social cohesion.

Senator Kinsella: Exactly, and so the students that, for instance, I teach, many of whom you have described very well in your comments, are not enjoying a lot of human rights. They are experiencing the absence of the right to equality and therefore they feel no cohesiveness. There is no cohesiveness for them. A further example for our university-level Canadians is our failure to comply with Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 1976, when we ratified that covenant, we said we would take steps progressively to make post-secondary education freer; well, the opposite is the case. That is why it is no surprise to me that we find university students not caring. It is not because they are selfish. They have nothing to be selfish about.

Senator Johnstone: I have written down two statements here. Margaret Thatcher said, "Society does not exist; only individuals exist." Does that in any way conflict with your statement about "utter, negative, social folly"?

Mr. Broadbent: That is my reaction to Margaret Thatcher; and I deeply believe that, while respecting her -- as I have already indicated, she had great integrity as a politician -- I just thought she was crazy. That is another matter. I am equally candid.

Senator Johnstone: You do not want to say anymore on the subject.

Mr. Broadbent: I do not want to make the whole speech again. I am a social democrat as you know, but what Margaret Thatcher did was turn Harold Macmillan upside down. At one point he made a speech accusing her of selling the Crown jewels. There is a Tory tradition, as we well know in this country, as well as a Liberal tradition, that coincides with a good part of the main thrust of my party's tradition that sees individuals as inescapably part of society. Just as we have a right to pursue our own good and interests in many domains, we have an obligation, as part of a society, to work with our fellow citizens in certain communal or collective activities as well.

The serious damage that Margaret Thatcher did was to give an ideological justification for selfishness: "I can just look after myself." Indeed, that is a kind of moral position: "I am all right in doing that and ignoring the concerns of my fellow human beings." That has done serious political damage, particularly in the Anglo-American world.

What was dangerous was that that was the first time -- that was 1980, and she did not do that to get elected. That came after she was elected. It was the first time since 1945 that we had the head of a government take such a position. Many, not all, by any means, but many corporate heads might well have said something like that, but no serious politician in the Western world in the post-war period, until Margaret Thatcher, had denigrated the state, had denigrated the public sector in such a way, and that has done us considerable damage, because Generation X grew up in part with that thinking.

The Chairman: May I just interject here? Earlier, you drew a distinction between the policies followed in the Anglo-American world and those followed in continental Europe; 15 or 16 years on are people better off on the continent of Europe? Are social conditions better on the continent of Europe for having followed those particular sets of policies?

Mr. Broadbent: Unequivocally, yes. I would rather be an unemployed German than a low-wage American, to take the two models. We now have 41 million Americans without health insurance. I could give you other figures about the number living in poverty. Western Europeans will not tolerate that. I commend them.

I grew up with serious anti-German biases, understandably coming out of my boyhood experience from World War II. I now look to Germany for leadership, and I mean that profoundly.

The Chairman: Since the election or prior?

Mr. Broadbent: It has been since the election, but it is not just that. The Christian Democrats under Kohl categorically rejected Thatcherism and said so. They called for a social market economy. The German state maintained one of the strongest welfare states in the world. As public opinion surveys show, German citizens are deeply committed to peace, and so on. There has been a significant change, to say the least, in Germany. Germany is now unquestionably the dominant economic and political power in Europe.

I was so pleased, not simply that my party had won the election, but at the remarkable ease with which that had taken place; after all, Mr. Kohl had been there for 17 years. One might have thought it was time for a change. Incidentally, the campaign was not a Blair-right campaign, if I can put it that way, but a campaign to link rights and trade policy, a campaign to increase pensions, not get rid of them. So there is still a strong commitment, particularly on the continent, to the "universal rights-welfare state-citizenship" notion that I think is good.

Senator Johnstone: If I may ask a supplementary, which predates Thatcher, we used to have a saying in the Royal Air Force, "To hell with you Jack. I'm all right." Does that sound like your view of Thatcher?

Mr. Broadbent: I have said enough about that, but it is sort of that.

Senator Cohen: I started to question my own political background, because I was agreeing with you so much. You said that from 1945 to 1980 we had developed a sharing and caring society.

I grew up in the 1930s, after the depression, when we may not have had the social programs, but we had a lot of caring and sharing. When the people from the depression would knock on our doors asking for help, we were there to give it to them. Social justice was a natural area for us to be in. Then, when Churchill's government changed the rules and brought in the rights and pursued them, we were in a world crisis then with the Second World War.

Do you think that having 1,500,000 people in poverty today, with the gap between the rich and the poor growing, is enough of a social crisis in Canada, not to equate it with World War II, but to move the government forward to take a look?

According to yesterday's paper, the Toronto council says homelessness is now a national crisis, and then in today's paper I see that the government is taking a strong look at doing something about homelessness across the country. Then Mr. Pratt, of Courtney Pratt, speaks to us about how business is now listening, and really hearing. Business is looking to become involved in this whole area of social justice and helping the poor.

Does a crisis in society move governments, or should it move governments? Could I have your comment on that, please, and I would also like to hear a little bit more about the "social audit" concept, because I think that is a very powerful area that you touched on.

Mr. Broadbent: I touched on many things, of course, senator. If you agree that there is some shift towards the idea that we need to reinstitute the legitimacy of government in our lives, including, without taking it over, an ongoing role within the economy, is there a sufficient crisis? I doubt it. I am afraid I am still pessimistic.

I remember that, when the G-7 met in Halifax three years ago, our government took the initiative to have "capital flows" put on the agenda. I understand it was on the agenda for about 30 seconds, or maybe a little longer, because there was also the crisis in Mexico shortly before that. Now we have fully half of the world's economies in recession, with over 150 million unemployed.

The Chairman: You have noticed that they are looking at the Tobin tax again as a means of slowing things down.

Mr. Broadbent: I was just coming to that. Look at the devastation in Asia.

The Chairman: Can you explain why that is?

Mr. Broadbent: In part they are saying, "Well, look at what happened in Asia." We did not get into "globalization" much, which is a serious and vague notion that has to be broken down, too, but one of the legitimate points about globalization is the effect of the flow of capital. I referred to Keynes strongly opposing that because it would be destabilizing -- and for exactly the reasons we have seen, an overnight run on somebody's currency. In the total absence of international or national control mechanisms, you can devastate a whole people's standard of living overnight.

I have not heard a serious counter-argument to that. That is why I come back to this pervasive notion. We all do it. I happen to be on the left; I am a social democrat; value systems count. It seems to me that heads of government are wedded to this neo-liberal, neo-conservative market viewed too strongly.

A few years ago, 35 Nobel laureates in economics called for the Tobin tax. Surely they knew something about economics, but we still seem to be wedded to this view that you should just allow the corporate sector to do what is in their interests and eventually it will be good for us. As Keynes also said, eventually we are all dead, but it may be sooner than later.

It is a serious question whether there is the sense in the political minds of our leaders that something must be done in an updated version. No one wants to go back. I am not saying that we should go back to the details of 1945, but by all means go back to the principle involved, which is that the government must be involved to protect the public interest. The details should be a fleshed-out version. In this case, it seems to me, it should be some version of the Tobin tax or some version of what the Chileans have done, or other countries have done, which is related to that on capital flows.

I cannot assess whether the political timing is right, whether there is a sufficient sense of urgency or not in our political leaders.

[Translation]

Senator Lavoie-Roux: Thank you, Mr. Broadbent. It is quite a unique occasion to have you here among our guests. Do you speak French?

Mr. Broadbent: A little, I am not perfectly bilingual, but I can understand your observations and your questions.

Senator Lavoie-Roux: I do not agree with you completely when you say that the "caring and loving society" came into being in the 1980s. I do not know how old you are, but I know how old I am. I can tell you that, in the 1930s, I was not very old, but citizens already had this feeling of love and compassion for their neighbours. Maybe that was more due to the church than government. I remember my neighbour who was having some trouble, we had to take care of him as best we could. So this feeling was not just born in 1980. Apparently, it is not what you said.

Mr. Broadbent: I would like to clarify my observations.

[English]

I totally agree with you about individual Canadians in the 1930s; there were remarkable illustrations in the depression years of Canadians helping each other. We did not have public opinion surveys done then. I am not aware of any in the history, and I know a fair bit about it. I am talking about when Canadians, as citizens, started to describe themselves as a way of distinguishing themselves. Very often in public opinion polls, to distinguish ourselves from Americans, we frequently say that Canada is a sharing and caring nation. It is the point of when we started to describe ourselves that way. I certainly did not imply or mean to imply that people in the 1930s did not care, but I am making the argument, whether you agree or not, that we started to describe ourselves that way after we put in place these universal social programs, which in fact illustrated the point that we did share and care.

Senator Lavoie-Roux: You define the rights of the citizen as being social, economic and cultural. How can we respect the cultural rights of every individual in this country, when there are probably at least 80 to 100 sects with different backgrounds? How can we make sure that the cultural rights are there for all of them, as well as the economic and social rights, and that we know what we are talking about? In terms of cultural rights, is it a feasible thing when you have so many different backgrounds?

Mr. Broadbent: Is it feasible in principle? Yes. Let me try to say what I mean by that. Take our three principal or dominant cultural linguistic groupings, the Aboriginals, French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, those three large categories; we have taken steps as a country, constitutionally, and we are fleshing that out in greater detail all the time, to ensure the preservation of these categories, and the Aboriginals are a broad category. I hesitate to use the term "First Nations," because they are First Nations plural. There are many groupings within that.

As a Canadian of European ancestry, I can now say that we are coming to grips with our Aboriginal injustices and moving towards undoing them. I live in British Columbia, where there was recently a major settlement between the federal government and British Columbia and the Nisga'a to deal with that.

Within the great Canadian family, there are many other Canadians, maybe even a plurality of Canadians, who are of neither French nor English ancestry. Certainly there are a number of non-aboriginal Canadians who do not come from the roots of English-speaking or French-speaking people, and although we have not carved out very special constitutional protections for their minority cultures within this family, in the way we have for the French, English and Aboriginals, nevertheless, we have created, through multicultural programs, initiated both federally and provincially, many initiatives that make Canadians from other backgrounds more at home and more at ease, with total self-acceptance of their original cultural heritage; within the practical limitations to which you are alluding, they are free to practice their traditions, including their language, within the broader Canadian family.

I do not have any illusion that over the long haul, while we must always cherish that and protect the right of these individual collectivities to live and organize within Canada to enhance their cultural traditions, we will eventually evolve with a strong English language, which is amalgam of all these people too, and a strong French language, with again increasing immigrant role within French language traditions in Quebec and outside, and strong Aboriginals. They will remain dominant.

[Translation]

Senator Lavoie-Roux: When you talk about social, economic and cultural rights, particularly cultural, there are limits. There are other large, considerable communities, whether Italians, Greeks, Armenians or Chinese. You limit your comments to the three groups recognized by the Constitution, those you referred to, namely people of English, French or Native origin. We cannot talk about respect for the cultural rights of all groups here. We can certainly encourage them to maintain their contacts with their roots, but there are limits. We cannot talk about respect for cultural rights in the same way we talk about social and economic rights.

[English]

Mr. Broadbent: I agree that there are limits in a real society, and I do not think I can add anything to what I have already said.

Senator Wilson: I appreciated your distinction between rights and a social safety net, partly because the rhetoric about a social safety net is so high these days. I also appreciated your reference to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and its implications. I remember a short conversation I had with Stephen Lewis once, when I said, "What is the point of all these covenants and conventions, because nobody abides by them." He said, "They do, and I use them as a tool for children, so don't abandon them." However, it is the implications.

You also said that there was an unstated social contract that was beyond parties in the 1960s and 1970s. If we are moving towards such a social contract through the observance of human rights and social justice, it seems to me that the whole issue of power is involved.

I would like you to address the whole issue of civil society, those who, in many sectors that I am in touch with, see themselves in conflict with the prevailing philosophy right now. Is there sufficient institutional space for civil society to have any effect on policy? Are there any public institutions that could help to mediate the conflict that is inevitable?

Mr. Broadbent: Just picking up on your last observation, some conflict is inevitable -- and desirable. Right? That is free debate. That kind of debate is what a free society is all about. One way of defining it is that it institutionalizes conflict in the sense that it makes it a debate and we do not shoot each other, and so on. So some level of debate and conflict is inevitable and desirable.

With respect to your notion of civil society, I have just had the pleasure of heading a national panel on the voluntary sector in Canada. We are preparing our final report. There are some 175,000 voluntary organizations in Canada, 75,000 of which are charitable. This sector plays, and has played since before Confederation, a very important role in our democracy. A very high percentage of Canadians -- one of the highest percentages in the world, if not the highest -- participate in the voluntary sector, which I will define for our purposes as "civil society" in this discussion. On the one hand there is government, in all the governmental institutions, and the private sector, the profit-making sector, and on the other there is the voluntary, non-profit sector, which I will define as "civil society."

It has a very important role, not only in providing a whole range of initiatives and services -- everything from cultural matters to programs for the aged -- but also in initiating very often things that governments later take up. They have a very positive and creative role there. Any government would be insane that does not consult them when developing a new policy. If you are working with the policy for pensioners, for instance, you should be consulting pensioner groups. It should go without question.

There is a very interesting initiative that the Blair government took which I think our government should have a look at. Through a series of discussions, which has resulted in a paper, there was serious consultation with the voluntary sector in the U.K. to set up procedures to enable the voluntary or civil society sector to have a real impact, not simply to be consulted, but on the outcomes of government policy. They had a hard look at that.

I am afraid I have not seen the document yet, but the government and the voluntary sector have produced a kind of working document to show how there could be a positive interrelationship between the civil society and the government of the day, whatever the party is, so that, in addition to where there will always be some disagreement and conflict, which is part of what democracy is all about, they may be able to determine how that sector can have a positive role in influencing the government.

It should be something that we look at ourselves to see if some broad-ranging conclusions could be reached on that between the government, say the federal government in this instance, and the voluntary sector.

Senator Wilson: Do you have any comments on my question about powers, since it is heavily involved in this?

Mr. Broadbent: They are about rights. They are about giving citizens power, or if we have international trade agreements they are about giving corporations power and maybe reducing the state's power. Any serious rights discussion is of course a discussion of power relations. Power is crucial and we should not hesitate to talk about it in a democracy.

One of the important agendas that we ought to be looking at as a country is increasing the accountability of our democratic state institutions. Parliaments and legislatures must be more transparent and accountable. With elections and access to information, by and large we have a strong democratic state tradition.

Part of what I learned in the past year looking at the voluntary sector is that it is quite accountable. It is out there and open, transparent in most of its activities. However, there are a number of things that should be done. We are making recommendations to make it more accountable and transparent.

The key thing in the future of not only our society but others is the corporate sector. One of the great interesting developments in the old left-right debates is what has been put aside -- we will see for how long. This whole question of nationalization has been put aside, for example. Unfortunately, power relations are still on the table, which is what should be the case. That is why I eluded before to the fact that I would like to see our country pay increasing attention to having a dynamic private sector. Their mandates should be broadened so that CEOs and boards of directors take into account social obligations, not just the bottom line. For example, certain minimal human rights conditions and certain environmental considerations would be part of it.

This comes back to the power question you are raising. Right now corporations have largely unaccountable power. This is not because they are evil or wicked; this has happened through our own laws. In the world, 51 of the largest economies today are not countries; they are corporations largely accountable to no one except their shareholders. Their mandate is profit maximization.

Do not take away profit maximization. That is the way the private sector functions. However, for future democratic concern, add certain other obligations. Just as we change state structures when they became democratic, they take on different sets of responsibilities.

This is a power question. The big power question is: "How do we maintain the vitality and creativity of a private sector, and at the same time make it more accountable in a broad-ranging way to society as a whole beyond the simple maximization of profits?"

It will not happen. Some companies are doing that. If you look at Levi-Strauss, The Body Shop, and other companies around the world, they are self-imposing social audits themselves. They are doing it. However, I do not think it will become a common practice until Parliament makes it one.

Senator LeBreton: I was rather taken by the very simple dictionary definition of cohesion as an act of sticking together. You did a good job of describing, almost by decade, the post-war period and the 1950s and 1960s. You talked about the remarkable cohesion in the North Atlantic world between 1945 and 1980. I agree with that. Having become more equal, people became more tolerant. You used the example of foreign aid, which is supported by Canadian citizens.

Mr. Broadbent: And affirmative action programs.

Senator LeBreton: I have the sense that people are not as willing to listen to the other person's point of view. Perhaps it is because of the condition that we are in and perhaps it is Generation X. Perhaps it is the influence in this shrinking world and the fact that we hear that we are not as tolerant. The political make-up of Parliament reflects that. I see it in communities. I have the sense that we Canadians sit here believing we are tolerant, believing we are special and different from the Americans, but I am not so sure that is the case. Do you have a comment on that?

Mr. Broadbent: I am not an expert on public opinion. Mr. Adams was here before. His work and that of others show what you have just said. We have become less tolerant, less sharing and caring than we once were, rightly or wrongly. Causal explanation is notoriously difficult. However, I do believe the Generation Xers are that way because in large measure we abandon them. Beginning in the 1980s we told them to look after themselves. We started the cutbacks in social programs. We started to say that the state is not a legitimate way of expressing your humanity for the public good. You are much better to head out and look after yourself or even do charity work, which I do not denigrate at all, but do it exclusively there as opposed to through public action, whether in Parliament or the provincial legislature.

I come back to the role of politicians in this. What was new in the 1980s was that we had politicians, such as Bill Davis in Ontario, saying this. Mr. Robichaud in New Brunswick would not have said this.

You know my own party, almost by definition. There was a generation of political leadership that believed in the legitimacy and the necessity of the social interaction of the state with the economy to ensure a good, common, social level of citizenship, not safety nets. I grew up with that. I took it as what the world should be all about, but the Generation Xers did not, so how can I criticize them? They are not selfish, but they are self-interested. They sense that the state has abandoned them so there they are out pursuing what is kind of superficially described maybe as "me-ism."

There has been some change, and that is well documented. A good reason for that change is the political policies that we put in place.

Senator LeBreton: On the issue of people becoming more equal, of course women entered the workforce in great numbers. I remember the 1970s with the "Why not?" campaign and women taking their proper place in the workplace. However, I sense that younger women do not appreciate or understand perhaps that things have not always been this way. Women have fallen back, as far as I can see. There might be more of us in the Senate, thank goodness, but in terms of their influence in politics, witness right now what is occurring federally here. There are issues that women traditionally bring to the table in politics and in business. Have you any thoughts on that?

Mr. Broadbent: I am not sure. Do you mean on the increasing role of women?

Senator LeBreton: I find that people are not as tolerant now of women because some segments of society tend to blame women for the economic fact. There are more women in the workplace. There are men, and some people in society, that tend to blame women. People make statements that more young men are disenfranchised and are committing suicide, and they tend to blame it on the fact that they have had to share the workplace more.

Mr. Broadbent: In my generation immigrants were blamed. People single out targets. If there is an unemployment problem, then there are too many immigrants or something. Now, if a young man has difficulty getting a job, and a significant number do, although I do not know the actual number -- many would say that it is because of women. In either case, as a generalization, it is a reflection of their own insecurities.

Living in the North Atlantic world between 1945 and 1980 was the greatest time to live for the greatest number of human beings ever in history. Of all the times, that was the time in history to live. It was an expansive, increasingly egalitarian time that embodied the sense that we are all in this together. By that I do not mean that we had totally equal incomes. We took certain things out of the marketplace and they got them. We have this tolerance; we come back to that.

I represented an industrial riding of Oshawa in my formative days and early in my political life. When affirmative action programs came in, I heard very few objections about women getting preferential treatment in large measure, I believe, because those same workers were receiving the benefits of a decent state that cared about their well-being, so they were more prepared to be tolerant.

I am in British Columbia right now. Anyone who knows modern Vancouver knows that it, like modern Toronto, is anything but a white town. We are rich and vibrant because of that. I have no idea if racist comments are on the increase. I suspect that compared to where we were 10 years ago, there is probably a growing incivility. There are probably more racist comments than there would have been a decade ago. I do not know that. If that is the case, it is a reflection in general of this unequal insecurity about global markets and that kind of thing.

Senator LeBreton: When you summed all this up, after we talked about the period from 1945 to 1980, you said that there was an abrupt change in the early 1980s. The catalyst was the accumulative deficit problem. In hindsight, what could we have done then in the early 1980s?

Mr. Broadbent: I will not name the former prime minister, but I had a conversation with one about this, and we both acknowledged we were both wrong. In this period we expected growth rates that were roughly twice the level than turned out to be the case. When the economic cycle turned down, both I in the opposition and a certain prime minister who will go unnamed anticipated that the turnaround in growth would be jacked back up to the kind of growth rates we had before. So there were miscalculations.

The Chairman: In this discussion, are we focusing too much on the certain circumstances on social policy traditionally understood? What about economic policy? I know what your position was on free trade, although I note today that the main point you made about the free trade agreements was that they lacked a social and human rights component. However, as to the whole question of economic policy, is it time for Keynes to come back or is there a whole new economic policy out there somewhere that should be introduced and that will have the same revolutionary impact on society that Keynesian economics had in its day? At some point we must open that discussion. You may have to come back.

[Translation]

Senator Ferretti Barth: Mr. Broadbent, I speak French, it is the language I speak best next to Italian. You have done some research, you have looked up the meaning of social cohesion in the dictionaries. I have been asking myself this question ever since we started talking about the issue. Do you believe in social cohesion? And if so, in the context of globalization, how do you envisage it for Canadians? Will it be possible or not? Will social cohesion cause the disappearance of volunteer work, charities and community centres? These agencies do outstanding work.

[English]

Mr. Broadbent: When I began my studies in Oxford two years ago, I was more pessimistic than I am now. I had believed that something called globalization was rolling right over us and that there was almost nothing we could do. I now do not believe that at all. We made political decisions. I go back to the observations about the free trade agreement. Certain parts of that were good and certain parts not so good. The part that is a real problem for any nation state is this flow of capital and how it affects their capacity to have their own interest rates, to have indeed a fixed fiscal policy. That is government action and leadership on a collaborative basis by all states. Just as we put old Bretton Woods insitutions in place after the war, a new formulation of them can deal with that part of the problem.

Second, my research led me to realize that there were remarkable differences on how states were coping in this great world of globalization, that they are not all forcing the disintegration of their welfare systems. Some of them were building them up. There was considerable variation in terms of domestic political policy in what they decided to do or not do. Globalization was having domestic effects and I think that is important.

If you look at the domestic policies of three different states, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany, there are considerable variations in these countries. They are all within the European family of nations. There are variations on how they have coped with globalization, especially on social equity, burden sharing and so on. I am more convinced now than I was before I looked at actual history that there is still a lot of scope for political activity in the nation state if you want to do it.

Collectively, the Government of Canada is in a position that is beyond the deficit. They are now talking about, or they were a few months ago anyway, about the options that are before us. Do we deepen or strengthen social programs, for example, or do we have tax cuts? These are very serious implications for this issue.

For example, I was in the U.K. for the election. It will not surprise any of you that I, as a resident Canadian citizen, could vote. It will not surprise you who I voted for. Both the Labour and the Conservative parties admitted the British health services and education were in serious difficulty, and that is to put it euphemistically because they were seriously underfunded. However, neither major party told the British electorate that if the citizens in Great Britain paid the same level of taxes as the French and the Germans, they could double their expenditure on health services and education.

Senator Lavoie-Roux: They are not all that good in France, either.

Mr. Broadbent: Things are relative. It illustrates the differences in options. It is up to the British citizens. If they want to have what I regard as grotesquely underfunded public education and health care systems, that is their right. If they want to rebuild it, then they must increase taxes.

The Germans, the French and the Swedes are three entirely different political cultures. The rich in all of those countries send their kids to the public education system, not to private schools. Why? Because they keep them well funded and they are very good. They also use the same hospitals. England to this day has a differentiated health care system, one for the rich and one for everybody else. As for the schools, there is one for the rich and the others are for everyone else. It is up to the British to change that.

No matter what is happening in globalization, it has something to do with the political values of the British. If they want to have lower taxes, if they want to have more money to spend on gadgets instead of spending their money on health care or parks, that is a political choice.

Whatever the problems are in globalization, the major response is that it is within our own power politically in our own countries.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. The students and professors at Simon Fraser are very fortune to have had you for the last couple of years.

The committee adjourned.


Top of document