Getting the Wakefield Train Back on the Rails

The Friends of the Steam Train

A comprehensive proposal for getting the Gatineau Valley steam train back on the rails quickly.

Clearing the tracks:

Before getting to the details we have to clear up some peripheral issues.

The Facts, nothing but the facts: Well, everyone (or almost everyone) knows by now that the Hull Chelsea Wakefield tourist steam train brought 40-50,000 tourists to ride on the train each year and, over a span of 15 years, it injected close to $150 million tourist dollars in the Outaouais economy. What is less well known is that it also produced some 100 full and part time jobs each year and led to further investments and tax revenues from hotels, restaurants and stores. Tax revenues more than covered government grants (of which there were none for the first fifteen years). The track had been sound for 100 years until people started to build around it without allowing for proper drainage and erosion management. That is why the tracks were undermined in the diluvial rains of 2011. One has to wonder why only the municipalities and citizens of the region received disaster funding from the government of Quebec, but not the steam train.

The Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield tourist steam train has been rusting at its station in Hull for three years. Those in charge of the train, that is the CCFO (Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais) have carried out study after study and tried to persuade the Quebec government to pay for track repairs to Mile Hill but are no closer to getting the train back on the tracks. Do we have more tourists than we can handle? Surely a prime tourist attraction and a profitable business deserve everyone’s attention? Sadly, during the absence of the train, local tourist revenues are down and the tourist company that specialized in putting together packaged tours of the region has gone belly up! The only functional tourist steam train in Quebec remains rusting in the garage!

The Proposal

Here is our five-step proposal to surmount these issues and get the train back on the tracks. It will be noted that the proposals try to provide positive outcomes for everyone concerned. No miracles are needed – all that is required is a shared vision and the determination of all the partners – the mayors and MNAs, the MTQ, the tourist industry, the chambers of commerce and the local investors and citizens.

  1. Get the train running between Chelsea and Wakefield: As a start, and likely on a temporary basis, get the train moved by this summer and running again from Chelsea to Wakefield so as to start the re-establishment of its national and international reputation. Governments have already invested nearly $5 million in renovating the track over the preceding three years, the Chelsea to Wakefield track is basically sound and will deteriorate if it is not used and maintained. Further, the Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais (CCFO) bought the complete train set to keep it in the Region, and then paid $150,000 for a professional consultant’s business plan for restarting the train, the Chelsea-Wakefield run is what they first recommended. Perhaps the shorter run would be more attractive to families with children, and for the adult and dinner train clientele, but for optimum business, the CCFO, with support from Quebec and Gatineau should repair the rail line from Chelsea to Gatineau as soon as possible! The CCFO’s engineering studies show that repairing the track in a secure fashion is an easy matter, using local materials and contractors.

    In the meantime, let’s bring the train to Chelsea and build a small station. Dismantle the current workshops and move them to a new site in Chelsea where the old station was located just north of Mill Street. There is a passing track and secure space, so the train will no longer be held hostage by the eroding Hudson ravine. The turntable could also be brought from Gatineau and parking is nearby. It is estimated that not many tourists who come to ride the historic steam train would be put off by the extra ten minute drive to Chelsea, given that most people already arrive at the train by car or bus. In fact, no matter what the future of the train in Gatineau, the home of the train should be moved to Chelsea from where it could be operated in either direction.  It would also bring new business opportunities and tax benefits to Chelsea. Everyone has to be seen as benefitting from the train.

  2. Complete the negotiations with new train operators: FOST has obtained from the operator of Camp Fortune and from the national railroad operations company Railterm, clear statements of their interest in operating the tourist train in partnership. One company is an expert in tourism, and the other in railways. The CCFO has known about their potential interest for months. We are very fortunate to have two companies with local connections and recognizing the potential synergy are ready to negotiate the agreements required to re-launch the train. Negotiations will be required for the support of the municipalities, the provincial government, federal government and potential local sponsors to restore the tracks and to invest in revitalizing the train. An effort should be made to encourage more private sector participation with longer-term leases, private sponsorships, and advertising. It should be remembered that up until the recent onslaught of natural disasters, the ‘le pet’t train’ managed to pull its own weight without government subsidies.

  3. Work with the CLD Papineau on a new Montebello train: As was to be expected, the Highway 50 Autoroute has taken away a lot of traffic and potential business from the communities along old Highway 148. One has to sympathize with their desire for a tourist attraction. Another train in the region would be complementary to the Gatineau-Wakefield run and could possibly be operated by the same company. Buying a second-hand and more modern train set would not be terribly expensive. The engine would be a bi-directional diesel thus making a turntable unnecessary. It could provide a different experience and would have to go faster, hence making the trip in an acceptable time so that it could leave from the Montcalm Street Station in Hull, thereby contributing to the rejuvenation of central Gatineau. It could also attract the construction of a new hotel and station terminus.

  4. Rails and trails: People talk a lot about bicycles but it is less recognized that the rail line is already a much loved seasonal walking and skiing path for local residents. Bicycles would hamper this use. That is to say, it is hard to imagine hundreds of bicyclists easily sharing a narrow path with community walkers and children. If Chelsea really wants to help bicyclists, it should complete paving of the shoulders of the few sections of Highway 105. Once completed, this would allow cyclists to ride from Wakefield all the way to Hull. In addition, space would be made available for bicycles transportation on the train for those who wish to bike back to Gatineau, or to continue north along the Gatineau River to Maniwaki. What more could one ask for?/

  5. Provide the CCFO with a community base: The CCFO owns the train set and is responsible for the rail line and development along the rail corridor. As currently structured and resourced, it requires a major reform to energize its entrepreneurial role in the development of the railroad corridor and land assets. The CCFO desperately needs a solid anchoring in the community either as an association or as a cooperative. This will help the CCFO to be able to reach out to the community in a positive manner to help provide the vision and determination required to bring the train back into operation. It also requires a professional general manager and an elected Board of Directors. Only a thoughtful and thorough restructuring will provide the CCFO with the leadership and energy it needs to surmount the current challenges.


The Hull-Chelsea Wakefield steam train was iconic and a successful magnet for tourists, providing a unique educational and heritage experience in the Outaouais and National Capital Region, thereby justifying an extra night’s stay and bringing statue and revenue to the region through the popular tourism packages that the steam train made possible.  Costs of repairing the line are likely no more than those required to convert it into a bike path, or even to abandon it as a natural linear park.

  1. The region should pull together and get the steam train back on track as quickly as possible, starting with a run between Chelsea and Wakefield. The region could possibly accommodate a more modern, faster tourist train suited to the longer line to Montebello.
  2. Reform of the CCFO is necessary to get things moving and to execute and manage all the necessary tasks to return and maintain the private and profitable operation of the steam train up the Gatineau Valley, and to revitalise the Outaouais tourism economy.
  3. Contribute to the revitalisation of historic core of Gatineau-Hull.
  4. Urge the relevant government agencies to complete necessary studies and to have approved an action plan to prevent further stream and gully erosion, and related land slips. This should be completed within six months.

Further background information on the proposals:

Considerations of moving the steam trainto Montebello: it would be terrific to have a complementary tourist train from Gatineau to Montebello but it should not be the historic Gatineau steam train!

More than a decade ago, the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield train company ran an experimental steam train to Montebello full of enthusiasts, media and politicians. It showed that the interest and the goodwill were there. It was also clear that the ride was long, slow, and not particularly interesting. But the real problem at the time seemed to be the difficulty to get a viable plan together. To add to the problem, heritage trains are not allowed to run at more than 25 miles an hour, making for a lengthy trip. To compensate, there is now a proposal to make the run shorter by starting in Masson-Angers. But it is not exactly a population or a tourist centre. Even the local Councillor, Marc Carrière, said, “as regards tourism at Masson-Angers everything remains to be done!”

However, we fear that the present heritage equipment (the engine dates from 1909) would not stand the wear and tear of the extra distance and speed. Also, by the time one builds new stations and turntables the cost is as about as much as rebuilding the track on Mile Hill. Then, there would still be the necessity of working out track rental costs, insurance, timetabling, etc. with the operators of the private rail line.

Rails and Trails: Some would like to use the present Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield train track as a bicycle path. Once again, it is a seductive vision but just not practical. Many people living along the tracks would prefer not to have hundreds of bicyclists in their backyards. Who will pay for converting the rail line to a trail (with costs equal to those for repairing the storm damage to the mile Hill track) and policing, insuring and maintaining the path? Besides, cyclists already have the Route 105’s paved shoulders and paths in the Park. The region needs the rail line for tourism now, and for commuters sometime in the future. At 40,000 passengers plus each year, that means job creation, family outings, increased retail, restaurant, accommodation and tourist dollars, while also retaining an informal hiking and ski path. When the steam train began, its past owners considered sharing the line with bicyclists. They quickly found that in many of the narrow cuts there is not enough space. Anyway, their insurance company told them they would have to build a fence separating the two activities for the whole length of the railway.

Rebuilding the Tracks on Mile Hill: As a result of the torrential rains of 2011, the estimated costs of rebuilding the railway tracks on Mile Hill are between $4 and $6 million. Engineering studies show the track is amenable for complete and safe restoration. Rather than lose this valuable transportation corridor, one would have thought that the provincial government would give a helping hand to the railway and recoup their investment via tax revenues. But this has not transpired. Instead, the Quebec Ministry of Transport has not responded in detail to the CCFO’s proposals that were provided over twelve months ago. Instead, telephone calls elicited vague concerns about future terrain stability in the Chelsea Creek area and, that the MTQ mandate did not extend to “tourist trains”!

In further high-level conversations in December, MTQ  Ministry confirmed that pending a complete study of the “lands at potential risk due to stream and gully erosion”, the Quebec Government is not prepared to consider any further investments to repair the rail line. However, the public has noted the major repair last year by MTQ of a land slip on the Autoroute 5 near the Chelsea Creek, and the further investment of $160 M to extend the same Autoroute 5 to Wakefield, clearly demonstrating Quebec engineers’ ability to build across clay soils.

Since December, there has been no further word as to a concerted plan of action, as proposed, to study and rectify the security of Chelsea and Gatineau lands potentially threatened by further erosion and lands slips. The result is that we have multi-million dollar businesses, jobs, and new investment opportunities going nowhere. How does this fit with Quebec Tourism recent announcement declaring that the Outaouais is a new “Gateway to Quebec”!

Surely the priority for the MRC des Collines, the municipalities of Chelsea and Gatineau and the Ministries of Transport and of Public Safety of Quebec, along with the CCFO, is to come together with their engineers, and mount an immediate review of past studies, to carefully analyse and identify any high-risk areas along the water courses, and then to develop a program to secure and manage a storm-ready drainage system in those areas threatened by Chelsea Creek and the Hudson ravine. Implementation could be spread over several years on the basis of priority and risk analysis.

The authorities must move ahead quickly as it is surely vital to protect Chelsea/Gatineau housing developments, and the local and regional transportation and energy infrastructures from further damage.

The Friends of the Steam Train urges the relevant government agencies to consider all aspects this proposal. Consistent with the efforts of the CCFO, this proposal is flexible, affordable, and realistic to get the train back on the rails and to start re-building good tourist related jobs and revenues as quickly as possible.

Position presented by Friends of the Steam Train, February 24, 2014

For further information please call John Trent 819-827-1025;
or Harry Gow 450-787-3658
or Nicole Desroches 819-790-9476;
or Laurent Dery 819-777-2936

Train, Train, Who’s Got the Train?

John E. Trent

Past president, Friends of the Steam Train

What is happening with the Wakefield Steam Train? Here’s the story.

Because of a washout on Mile Hill in July 2011, the train has not run for two years.

The Gauthier-Groulx family operated the train profitably, without government support, for 15 years, but got tired of bureaucracy and sold the train to the Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais (CCFO) which also holds a contract to manage the rail line on behalf of Gatineau, Chelsea and  La Pêche municipalities and representatives of other regional stakeholders.

The CCFO closed down the train twice in recent years due to torrential rains. Just as in Calgary, the governments are the only ones big enough to help overcome these local disasters.

During the past two years, the CCFO has had a major study done by Desjardins Marketing which put forth a solid business plan and budget. The CCFO’s Technical Committee, including Wakefield’s Neil Faulkner, has carried out studies for repairs of Mile Hill and other areas with a potential budget $5.3 million. The repairs are ready to go, so the train could operate in 2014.

Why is nothing happening? Complex reasons force me to gloss over details. The CCFO needs government funding for track repairs. The Federal government is not interested. Municipal and regional governments will help. But the big chunk has to come from Quebec.

The Minister of Tourism says he sees the steam train as the most important Outaouais project in his portfolio, and one of the top ten in the province. Locally, the mayor of Chelsea says Chelsea recognizes the train’s tourist value and its ability to generate revenue for local commerce. So what’s the problem?

There needs to be approval from the Ministry of Transport of Quebec (MTQ). It appears to fear all of Chelsea will flow into the Gatineau on a sea of leda clay. The MTQ fails to acknowledge that leda clay conditions are common throughout the St. Lawrence Valley, not just in Chelsea. Our studies show good drainage and slope stabilization works! But, no one can get a definitive decision out of the MTQ.

Quebec wants to be assured there is an operator to run the train. The CCFO called for statements of interest from businesses but has not brought negotiations to a conclusion. Friends of the Steam Train long ago proposed that a cooperative be formed but the CCFO does not seem to be interested.

Quebec also wants to see expressions of interest from the community. The CCFO has been gathering signatures on a petition. Nicole DesRoches, president of the Friends, said she has already gathered nearly 5000 signatures of which around 500 are from Wakefield. Other than this, there have been few demonstrations of interest.

What can we all do? The CCFO must put together a partnership of potential operators. Political leaders of the Outaouais must force the MTQ to the negotiating table. The mayors must scream. Wakefield Commerce should organize a huge rally. We can all write our governments and representatives and even the Low Down.

The United Nations and Canada

What Canada Should Be Saying at the UN


Since its founding at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, Canada has been one of the great champions of the United Nations. A Canadian, Prof. John Humphrey, was even the principle architect of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. But, Canada did not just go along with wave. We have never thought the UN was a perfect institution and Canadians have always tried to improve and reform the UN. For instance, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in introducing peacekeeping to the UN. For years we worked to improve the openness of the Security Council. More recently, Canada funded the Commission that created the ideas for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ resolution which is slowly reconstituting notions of sovereignty so that the world can really modernize international relations. Canada has been a respected and successful champion of the United Nations because we have been an active player within the Organization, because we understood diplomacy and international politics and because, thus we knew what we were talking about.

Many people maintain that this has not been the case since the Harper Government came to power. Few of them had traveled outside the country and even fewer had any experience in international relations. They decided to base their foreign policy on their Conservative philosophy and their party policies.

Unfortunately, this government’s criticisms of the United Nations are often directed in a manner that distorts and misrepresents the actual functions of the world body; and often in a manner designed to appeal to a narrow band of Canadian public opinion, while ignoring impacts on how Canada is perceived internationally or on the international organizations.

Increasingly the government of Canada’s undermining of the UN and global cooperation is reported in the mainstream media. Here are just some examples:

  • A treaty to regulate the Arms Trade was just negotiated at the UN and opened for signature a few weeks ago. But Canada didn’t sign.
  • The “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) sets out a range of measures for strengthening UN capacities to protect civilians, prevent conflict and maintain peace and security. But Canada’s diplomats at the UN are now forbidden from joining debates on R2P.
  • And the government is withdrawing Canada from international conventions that Canada once helped to build. Earlier this year Canada pulled out of the Convention on Desertification. Our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the world’s only legally binding plan to tackle climate change, is perhaps the most egregious example.
  • In April the UN Security Council mandated a new international peace operation, MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Historically, Canada has been one of the largest aid contributors to Mali. Not surprisingly a Canadian peacekeeping contribution to MINUSMA was requested. UN spokesman Kieran Dwyer even said publicly that, “Canada is in a very strong position to play a role.” Peggy Mason, a member of WFM – Canada’s Board of Directors, and a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament said in a press statement that, “Canada’s resumption of humanitarian aid is of course welcome and needed. But it’s not enough. Canada should also support the crucial political and security sector reconstruction efforts in Mali. The best way to do that is to contribute Canadian troops and civilian personnel to MINUSMA.” Alas, Canada has so far declined UN requests to support peacekeeping in Mali.
  • Canada’s domestic legislation to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions is a disaster. As the Toronto Star recently reported, “A statement from the World Federalist Movement – Canada, a lead campaigner against the bill, says that Bill S-10 would generate a number of ‘exceptions’ to the treaty’s prohibitions, that would allow Canadian soldiers to engage in activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the treaty.”Canada’s draft bill has been characterized by the international NGO Coalition on Cluster Munitions as “the worst national legislation, by far.” An “open letter” presented in Parliament by the World Federalists on behalf of 27 legal experts called on the government to “remove or radically revise” the offending parts (section 11) of its draft Act to Implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The bill is now at second reading in Parliament. There is good chance that the outcry against this bill has been so strong that the government may let the legislation die on the order paper.

As World Federalists we are not a large organization. We cannot address every instance of the Government’s attacking, slandering, or withdrawing from parts of the United Nations system. Therefore we must intervene strategically, on issues of consequence for both the UN and Canada.

One issue where we have developed a recognized presence is our support for UN peacekeeping. We have become the leading NGO voice calling on Canada to do more to support UN peace operations. Polls show that Canadians continue to regard UN peacekeeping deployments as the most desirable international role for our military.

We know that the UN is not perfect. It is currently failing the people of Syria, for example. But, warts and all, it is necessary. It succeeds far more often than most people realize. And as the one organization that can convene all the world’s nations, it is the basis for building a better framework for governing our world in the years ahead.

In these times it is up to us to be more active, more vocal calling for a more civilized and sensible Canadian orientation to the United Nations system.

We hope that you will support these efforts by making a donation to the World Federalists.

Our present government is out of step with the times. The United Nations is the world’s essential universal political institution. Canada and Canadians should support a better United Nations system.

How can we build global governance institutions: a thinking process?

John E. Trent

Summary: “How can we build global governance institutions: a thinking process” is a project being sponsored by the World Federalists and partners as a follow-up to the successful completion of the booklet, “The United Nations and Canada: What Canada has done and should be doing at the UN”. Canada is currently in a difficult position to lecture the world about the UN. But, what we can do is to lead the world in thinking about how the UN must be transformed.

Issue Background: The single greatest problem in the world is our incapacity to make authoritative decisions about global challenges from climate change to conflict, from fiscal crises to inequality. Surmounting these challenges requires new global, decision-making institutions that are sufficiently legitimate to be accepted by governments and citizens. The question is: how do we get there, knowing states are averse to giving up sovereignty?

The Project: Beginning in 2014-15, the World Federalists (perhaps with others) will initiate what will start out as a ‘virtual’  thinkers conference to investigate the means and processes by which the world can move toward authoritative, decision making institutions for global governance, including a transformed United Nations. The organizing committee will invite a number of experts from different disciplines and career backgrounds to participate in working groups to analyse and prepare reports on various aspects of the problem of building global institutions. These reports may lead to a debate in a public conference or directly to a publication.

The following are some of the major issues to be analysed. 1) What will be the structure of a new generation of authoritative global institutions? 2) One or several? 3) Upon what norms and values will these institutions be based? 4) What will be their relationship to state sovereignty? 5) How will they obtain and maintain their authority i.e. by what ‘constitutional’ process will they be created? 6) What will be the principles of the new global system in which the new global institutions will operate? 7) How does one explain the need for authoritative institutions? 8) What are the obstacles and impediments to global institutions? 9) How can a favourable public opinion be developed? 10) How can the public be involved in the creation of new global institutions? 11) How can national governments be influenced to endorse the process toward global governance? 12) How do we get the support of the media? 12) How can civil society and academics be implicated? 13) How should ‘like-thinking’ countries, governments and leaders be involved? 14) What role would be played by practitioners with experience with multilateral organizations? 12) How best to communicate and structure the institution building process?

The participants: Scholars, multilateral specialists and practitioners, civil society leaders, media, diplomats, political leaders, senior students, and thinkers about globalization, UN reform, the future, and institution building. It will also be open to those interested from the World Federalists and other NGOs. It will include a social media campaign, media relations, a publication process, and communicate its findings to political parties and other countries.

Objective: Prepare an agenda for governments and NGOs.  January, 2014

United Nations World Summit

Published in Participation
The bulletin of the International Political Science Association
Vol. 29, No. 3, Fall 2005, pp. 16 – 18

United Nations World Summit Sept.05

A comparison of the preliminary and the final draft outcome documents
John Trent
Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa

“Let us be frank with each other and with the peoples of the United Nations. We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required.”

– Secretary-General Kofi Annan, address to World Summit, September14, 2005.


The 2005 UN Summit of World Leaders was a three-day conference preceding the regular United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. More than 180 leaders, a record number, were expected. Originally billed as a five-year review of the UN‘s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce world poverty, the agenda was broadened significantly to include UN institutional and policy reforms.

This assessment of the UN Summit is primarily a comparison of the Draft Outcome Document of August 5, 2005 of the General Assembly (A/59HLPM/CRP.1/Rev.2, upon which the negotiations were made) and the final outcome document of September 13, which was approved by the world leaders at the UN Summit on 16 Sept. 2005. Included in the Aug.5 draft were most of the ideas put forward by the Secretary-General in his April 2005 report ( to the General Assembly (with the notable exception of a proposal for reforming the UN Security Council). Kofi Annan’s report, in turn, had drawn on the recommendations of the Report of his High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change ( and the Sachs report on the Millennium Project (

During his stewardship of the United Nations since 1997, Kofi Annan has laboured mightily to bring structural reform to the Organization. At the September Summit, the leaders of the member states brought forth not a mountain but a molehill. While in general we may say that the politicians and diplomats have tried to put a positive spin on the results of the Summit by saying it was a “glass half full”, the non-governmental community was largely negative and the media somewhat split. What has been underestimated so far is the number of significant proposals that have been postponed.


  • The Millennium Development Goals are reaffirmed in the Outcome Document with the precise steps needed to attain them. Some developed countries will commit themselves to the goal of 0.7 of GDP for development aid by 2015. An additional $50 billion a year is supposed to be made available by 2010. Developing countries will adopt national plans for MDGs by 2006.
  • The Summit recognizes new innovative sources of financing to fund development objectives, such as an International Finance Facility or taxing international commerce, e.g. a tax on air travel to be implemented by some countries.
  • The General Assembly accepted the new responsibility for the UN to protect people from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
  • The UN capacity for peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding will be strengthened and there is a detailed blueprint for a new Peacebuilding Commission to help war-torn countries.
  • The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be strengthened and the budget doubled.
  • The proposal to create a new Human Rights Council is accepted.
  • The Outcome Document includes decisions: to create a worldwide warning system for natural disasters; to mobilize new resources for the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria; and to improve the UN‘s Central Emergency Revolving Fund for disaster relief.
  • For the first time at the UN there is an unqualified condemnation of terrorism, by all member states. The Nuclear Terrorism Convention will be signed immediately.
  • There was approval of new, independent auditing and oversight mechanisms for the UN administration. Some new authority over staffing and priorities was accorded to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly, including a cull of obsolete tasks and a one-time buy-out of staff.
  • A new Democracy Fund, already created, will strengthen the UN‘s role in promoting democratic governance worldwide and democracy as a universal value.
  • There is a commitment to eliminate pervasive gender discrimination.
  • The serious challenge of climate change is recognized, but action will be based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, not the Kyoto Protocol.


  • There is an affirmation of old development pledges but without firm, new
    commitments from the rich. The document, once again, fails to break significant new ground on most major issues relating to debt, trade and aid.
  • There is no definition of Terrorism because a small number of countries insisted on excluding ‘freedom fighters’ from the concept.
  • The Secretary-General has not been given the strong executive authority required to manage the UN on a day-to-day basis.
  • Criteria for the use of force by the Security Council have not been included, which may make the “responsibility to protect” rather toothless.
  • Aside from the Peacebuilding Commission and the promise (perhaps) of a new Human Rights Council, there are virtually no structural or institutional reforms of the UN system – including the Security Council (once again).
  • There is a failure to affirm a wide range of previously agreed commitments on nuclear proliferation and disarmament.
  • The few, modest efforts included in preparatory documents to strengthen environmental governance were excluded from the final document.
  • All references to the International Criminal Court were removed.
  • Notwithstanding the breakthrough on “responsibility to protect,” the document strengthens the sovereignty of nation states at the expense of the human security.
  • The “Sachs programme” of immediate, practical aid has been eviscerated.


  • There will be a “strong push” to complete a comprehensive convention on terrorism within 12 months.
  • The endorsement by the UN of its responsibility to protect civilians (dubbed R2P) is a good first step. The next step is to get R2P endorsed by the Security Council, to strengthen early warning mechanisms and articulate criteria for the use of force. The General Assembly needs to, “continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations.”(paragraph #139, final outcome document)
  • Before the Secretary-General can establish a “rule of law assistance unit” he must submit a report to the General Assembly (#134e).
  • There is a commitment to discuss and define the notion of human security in the General Assembly” (#143).
  • Legitimation of the Security Council through the expansion of participation has been put off. The Group of Four (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) met during the Summit and announced they would submit a new resolution to the General Assembly. The General Assembly is requested to review progress on reform of the Security Council by the end of the year. Japan threatens to reduce payments.
  • The new president of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, has been charged with conducting negotiations to establish “the mandate, modalities, functions, size, composition, membership, working methods and procedures” for the Human Rights Council during the 60th session. As the Secretary-General has stated, “Nations that believe strongly in human rights must work hard to ensure that the new Council marks a real change.” (Wall Street Journal, 19-09-05)
  • The Secretary-General is to report to the 60th Session on an ethics office, the implementation of management reforms, and budgetary needs.
  • The new Peacebuilding Commission is asked to begin its work no later than December 31, 2005. The Commission’s “Organizational Committee,” responsible for crucial decisions on composition of the Commission, needs to further refine its procedures and working modalities. Further clarity is required as to the scope of the Commission’s work, and to which of the UN‘s organs the Commission will be accountable. The Secretary-General is to set up a peacebuilding support office within the secretariat and establish a multi-year, standing Peacebuilding Fund.
  • Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson, accepted Annan’s request to lead a working group of leaders to keep up momentum on UN reform efforts.


A great deal of the impact of the 2005 UN World Summit will depend on negotiations over the key postponed items (e.g. definition of terrorism, the Human Rights Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, responsibility to protect and criteria for the use of force, Security Council reform, and UN peace and police forces etc.). The determining factor is likely to be the capacity of Civil Society to influence governments to take real action.

Nevertheless, the Final Outcome Document is indeed a half empty glass in comparison with the earlier version. World leaders did not seize the opportunity to reconsider their priorities in dealing with global challenges and global governance. Still, it is worth remembering that until days before the Summit, after the arrival of U.S. ambassador Bolton with his 450 amendments, it appeared there might not be any final document. The “core group” diplomats had to work without stop for a consensus that keeps the UN at the centre of diplomacy. However, to reach consensus, statements of principle have replaced commitments to action in many passages.

Despite Bolton’s efforts to eliminate all references to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) they are still front and centre and half of the document is still dedicated to development issues. However, many experts believe that the poverty-reduction measures are increasingly falling behind schedule.

It is still too early to interpret President Bush’s endorsement of the MDGs and Secretary of State Rice’s proclaimed warm relationship with Kofi Annan. Perhaps it is because the big winner under the development heading in the Document is the “Global Partnership” programme from the Monterrey Conference in which “development” is always dependent on “good governance” – the new slogan for protection of private property, law and the market economy. The Summit’s original thrust, to reinforce efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, seems to have ceded pride of place to making development comfortable for the liberal economy.

Trade, investment, debt, commodities and “quick impact aid” are essentially stand-pat sections based on present power relations and little innovation. There is no attempt to reign in the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the main actors in these fields but controlled by the wealthy countries. . The developed countries show little real generosity. A paragraph on opening up European and American markets to commodity trade has been emasculated (para 29 of the August 5 draft). It would have had more effect on least developed nations than any other measure.

Women are one of the few groups from Civil Society who believe they have made gains at the Summit. After considerable lobbying, gender equality and women’s rights are included not just once but under numerous headings. One month after the meeting, the Secretary-General put forth a comprehensive plan for including women in the UN‘s peace and security efforts.

But, we have to ask ourselves broader, even more essential questions. Not even the High Level Panel Report considered fundamental modernization of multilateralism. The “responsibility to protect” provisions open the door to reconsideration of sovereignty, but who will walk through? What is to be the role of international institutions in the 21st century? Are they able to deal with the challenges of globalization? Is there a need for improved global governance? If so, how can it be brought about? Thinking of the IPSA 2006 World Congress, can democratic values be introduced to international politics? The Summit opens up a challenging agenda for political science.

For more details, see the Media Backgrounder on the UN World Summit and the paragraph-by-paragraph comparison of the outcome documents at


20 October 2005

Rethinking the United Nations

John E. Trent

Article in The United Nations and Canada: What Canada has done and should be doing at the United Nations, Ottawa, World Federalists 2013

The Harper government says the United Nations is not effective enough. What should Canadian governments do about it? The response of the Conservatives has been to disparage the UN and withdraw from multilateral activities. Rather than pouting, Canada should help the world to rethink the United Nations.

Rethinking the United Nations ought to become a central program of the Department of Foreign Affairs. But, this cannot be done at the whim of a minister. The Department would be initiating a quasi-constitutional process with the intention of encouraging other ‘like-minded’ countries to follow suit. We need a publicly supported process to provide legitimated policies to foreign affairs ministries. We can learn from ‘deliberative democracy’ exercises about how to be both effective and inclusive. This process of democratic assemblies was developed over the past two decades to be both educative and participative and to bring informed public input to policy making.

The task is to settle on a critical analysis of: world problems, a set of objectives and values for world governance, potential new global institutions, and a path for achieving them — accompanied by an outreach program of education and communications.

What is wrong with the world?

The world is challenged by climate change, the wealth-poverty gap, terrorism, pollution, global warming, the plight of women and children, mass migrations, pandemics, financial crises and enfeebled states etc. But, each one of these global challenges has one common denominator: the world is incapable of taking authoritative, legitimate decisions that will command respect and be adhered to. UN reform is the one common problem upon which we should all focus.
But why can’t the UN make the big, urgent decisions? In one word, because of sovereignty – the belief that each state has the right to do as it wants without fear of foreign interference in its domestic affairs. Every other institutional problem flows from this concept of sovereignty, first elaborated in the Peace of Westphalia in1648. World affairs are still dominated by a European concept three and a half centuries old.

UN blockages are rooted in outdated notions of sovereignty and nationalism. The existence of the Security Council and the veto are founded on the bully principle that the most powerful – not the community – should call the shots. Regional caucuses of sovereign states demand equal representation in all UN affairs including human rights. The bureaucracy of the UN is still corrupted by hiring on the basis of national quotas. National foreign policies are still determined by presidents, prime ministers and cabinets acting just like monarchs. There are few democratic controls. We still have a long way to go from sovereignty to cooperation.

What would effective global institutions look like?

First, we should democratize international organizations by including popular assemblies beside their state, decision-making bodies. We can work to limit and eventually eliminate use of the veto. Much greater use can be made of the International Court of Justice and their decisions should become binding on governments in . Hiring in the UN should be done on the basis of competence and integrity. Criteria for the use of the Responsibility to Protect policy need to be established.

Second, we should learn from the European Union’s step-by-step model of gradually building common functional institutions, creating supranational law, rights and institutions, assuring viability by creating weighted voting according to population, particular interests, economic weight and sovereign participation. A first step would be opening up our foreign policy to democratic participation and controls. These are all techniques for slowly weaning us away from strict adherence to sovereign, national authority.

Third, principles and values are fundamental. Fears of creating a global governmental bully must be replaced by the certainty that not one of us would move toward world governance that did not include all the techniques of democratic state-craft we have developed over the last two hundred years. These include concepts for dividing and controlling power and promoting rights and equality via constitutional democratic institutions, elections, federalism, liberalism, rule of law, local police and decentralized governance.

How Canada can move the world ahead?

Canada can help develop a constituency and a community of practice that values cooperation and global governance. If we put our heads together as suggested at the outset we will come up with a plan. Reform will not be easy. It will be opposed by those who have an interest in war rather than peace; who feel more secure in their narrow national vision; those who are opposed to “rule by the ignorant mob.” I am convinced they will be outweighed by those everywhere who are wise enough to recognize that the world will learn to govern itself or it will self-destruct.

Further Reading:

Jacques Attali (2011). Demain, qui gouvernera le monde? Paris, Fayard

Paul Heinbecker & Patricia Goff (2005). Irrelevant or Indispensable: the United Nations in the 21st Century, Waterloo, Ontario, Wildrid Laurier University Press.

W. Andy Knight (ed.)(2005). Adapting the United Nations to a Postmodern Era: Lessons Learned, Houndmills U.K, Palgrave MacMillan

Ross Smyth (2006). One World or None: How Canadians Can Take the Lead to Abolish War and Democratize the UN, Montreal, Price-Patterson

John E. Trent (2013). “The need for rethinking the United Nations: modernizing through civil society”, in Bob Reinalda ed., Routledge Handbook of International Organization, Abingdon, Routledge.

Thomas G Weiss (2013) Global Governance: A “Philadelphia Moment”, and Global Governance: Why? What? Whither? Cambridge, Policy Press.

James A. Yunker (2011). The Idea of World Government: From Ancient Times to the Twenty-First Century, Abingdon, Routledge.

Canada and the United Nations

John E. Trent

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Harper spurned the United Nations and refused to speak there with the other political leaders. Foreign Minister John Baird took his place and was allowed to speak beside the representative of North Korea.

As one headline put it, “Baird blasts the UN”. He underlined two principal grievances denouncing the UN for “preoccupation with procedure and process” and describing the crisis in Syria as a “test” for the UN.

“Many people … cannot understand why this organization … has been unable to take concrete steps” Baird said. “While the brutal and repressive regime of Bashar Assad continues the slaughter of its own people, the United Nations continues to fail to impose binding sanctions …”

He concluded that Canada “cannot and will not participate in endless, fruitless, inward-looking exercises”. Earlier, Mr. Harper had let it be known that henceforth Canadian foreign policy will make common cause with democratic allies, “our true friends”.

What is wrong with this picture? In one word, it is ignorance – the ignorance of the leaders of the present Canadian government.

Baird continually infers that the faults are those of the “United Nations”, “the organization”. But even beginning students are taught to distinguish between the UN and the actions (or inactions) of its member states. The UN is composed of a Secretariat and its sovereign members, especially those in the Security Council. The United Nations itself has no independent powers, no army, no taxes.

In the case of Syria, many people may not understand but Foreign Minister Baird should, that many within the UN desperately want to act on Syria and have drafted many proposals only to have the sanctions repeatedly refused by two veto-wielding Security Council members, Russia and China.

Certain powerful countries have vetoes to stop them from leaving the UN if it were to trampled on their vital interests. The UN was invented because, if we want peace, countries cannot just deal with their “true friends”.  Russia and China are terrified the West will use the UN to interfere in their internal affairs over issues of unlawful repression and abuse of human rights. This natural reticence with regard to UN action was inflamed by the UN authorized actions in Libya which China and Russia think went well beyond the Security Council resolutions. Hence their “vetoing” of action against their ally Syria – in exactly the same way the United States uses its veto to protect its ally, Israel.

This is an explanation of the UN, not a justification. Many of us would like to completely transform the organization. But Canada will not be able to help with UN reform if it is just pouting in its corner. To improve the UN requires being recognized as a knowledgeable team player – as we used to be.

Even as a small power, we were regularly elected to the Security Council, although not under Harper. Not so long ago, we were able to use our considerable influence to make the Security Council more open, inclusive and transparent. Canada gave successful leadership to the movement for Responsibility to Protect — the first transformation of the sovereign state system.

If the UN concentrates so much on “procedure and process”, it is, once again, because its members, led by Mr. Harper’s ally the United States, forced it to do so. It was forced to restructure its administration, cut its budgets and limit its personnel.

“Inward looking exercises” can be fruitful. They have completely changed the UN over the decades. Founded as a peace and security organization, it is now mostly responsible for development and human rights in the world. It is to the UN that Mr. Baird turns to distribute much of Canada’s foreign aid.

As a knowledgeable player, rather than a hectoring nuisance, Canada has proven it can make a difference.

John Trent is a Senior Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa and the author of works on The United Nations System: the Policies of Member States and Modernization of the United Nations System. 

International Financial Institutions Must Be Reformed

John E. Trent

Letter to International Herald Tribune, 24 March 2009

Dear Editors,

When will Americans recognize that sometimes others can have as good or better ideas than them? Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Balkenende of the Netherlands propose that their must be new international financial institutions to regulate financial markets (March 21). David Brooks rejects the European proposals as “perverse cosmic myopia”.

For Brooks, only American proposals for short term stimulus, strengthening the IMF and preserving open trade are worthwhile.

Those of us who have been studying international reform during the past decade know where Mr. Brooks is coming from. It is the same old mantra of don’t touch the sacrosanct American sovereignty, constitution and freedom of action. Don’t talk about institutional reform.

The world has tried to ignore the need for basic reform during the past two decades of financial crises. But, Europeans have learnt from experience that only long term improvements in sovereignty and institutional development can allow them to achieve their common economic and social aims.

Let us hope that Obama, Geithner and Summers will be open to the European ideas by recalling that Americans originally invented the division of sovereignty in federalism to create a higher level of institutional governance to oversee economic development for all.

John Trent, Chelsea, Que., Canada.

No Reenactment of the Plains of Abraham Battle

John E. Trent

Letter to the Ottawa Citizen, 05-02-09

The decision of the National Battlegrounds Commission for a full-scale re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham to commemorate the 250th anniversary of this event ranks among the most crassly stupid ideas I have heard.

I doubt that sensible people would welcome a recommendation by historians, for example, that they re-enact the sacking of Washington and burning of the White House by the British and the retaliatory burning of “Muddy York” (Toronto) by the Americans in the War of 1812. There are hundreds of examples of historical events that it is plain silly or even dangerous to commemorate.

Maybe the driving force behind the stupidity is money. The Mayor of Quebec has said he would not miss the event for anything. One wonders whether this is because the American Bus Association has named it one of the hundred great events of the year?

Josée Verner, the federal minister responsible for this event, defended the federal government against the nationalist villains who are attacking the project. She said it is not meant to be a political or festive event.

Ms. Verner has stated that anyone who is offended by this summer’s re-enactment of the historic 1759 battle in Quebec City can simply stay home.

The point is that the Battlefield Commission is insulting all the people who have worked so hard in recent decades to develop a fruitful dialogue between French and English-speaking Canadians.

It denigrates attempts to build Canada as a model bilingual, multicultural society. It is a slap in the face to those who think the role of the federal government is to build harmonious relations between the various parts of the country, not to divide them.

The re-enacting of the battle is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The proof of the pudding is that the Quebec nationalists are already up in arms because of this insulting reminder, whereas they have been relatively quiet in recent years.

Some argue that they re-enact old battles in countries as diverse as the U.S., Great Britain and Spain. Once again, the point is that these historic battles are not between two ethnic groups still trying to accommodate each other in the same society.

As my daughter, Debbie, says so wisely, “In a society that is still fragile, you do not go about trying to provoke people. You don’t want to continually remind people of winners and losers.”

John Trent, Chelsea, Quebec Retired professor of political science, University of Ottawa


John E. Trent

Introduction: To understand Canada it is necessary to understand things are not always what they seem – for better and worse. Canada has been called the “Peaceable Kingdom”. It is, but underneath there is a deeper reality. Canadian society is a seething cauldron of contending forces, now heated up by influences of globalization, which continually threaten to spill over into open conflict. This reality has led to another: the necessity of learning the art and science of managing the balancing act that is Canadian governance. This balancing act requires teaching our citizens a certain degree of compromise and of tolerance for diversity so that we can keep the contending forces below the boiling point. One of the elements of this difficult and fragile balance is the practice and policy of bilingualism which, like the other pieces of the puzzle is always a work in progress.

The federal government of Canada recognizes two official languages in its laws, constitution and policies. Although it is only a federal and New Brunswick policy, considerable strides have also been made in other provinces. In 1951 only 12 % of Canadians said they were bilingual. By 2001, 18% of Canadians said they were bilingual for a total of 5 million people. Of these bilingual Canadians, 44% were Francophone and 9% Anglophone. As of the 2001 census, there were 1.3 million English mother tongue Canadians outside Quebec who claimed to be bilingual. In Quebec, the number of bilinguals had increased from I million in 1951 to 3 million in 2001 (41%), of whom 67% of Anglophones profess to be bilingual and 37% of Francophones. New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province saw its number of bilinguals go from 100,000 (19%) in 1951 to 250,000 (34%) in 2001. Here we will use the terms bilingual and bilingual regime as a short hand to refer to the political institutionalization of French and English – without at all assuming that all the population itself does or is intended to speak both languages.

How is bilingualism doing in Canada? At present, 72 percent of Canadians are favourable to the French-English bilingualism of federal institutions. This is a level of support without precedent since the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969. Among the young, the figure is 80 percent.

By way of comparison, only 56 percent of the population was favourable to bilingualism in 2003 according to the continuing polling done for the Commission of Official Languages by Decima Research (latest poll February 2006). A majority of Canadians in all provinces now support official bilingualism ranging from a high of 91 percent in Quebec and 77 percent in the Atlantic region to 58 percent in Alberta. Across Canada, 90 percent of Francophones like bilingualism while support comes from 65 percent of Anglophones. Astonishingly, 70 percent of people questioned across the country said they were also favourable to bilingualism in their provincial institutions but only New Brunswick has official bilingualism. So, on the whole and for now we can say the language question has settled down in Canada and according to an amazing 84 percent of respondents bilingualism has become one of our most enriching assets and even a factor of success for Canadians at home (84%) and in the world (89%).

Looking at several early antecedents of bilingualism in Canada teaches us not only its historical roots but some lessons that still apply. We then turn briefly to some of the key developments over time of linguistic relations between the country’s English and French-speaking populations and the high and low points in building a bilingual political regime. So that we do not imagine that linguistic policies alone do a bilingual country make, we then consider some of the conundrums that continue to challenge bilingualism in Canada and a few proposals for improving its potential. These steps will allow us to conclude with some context and explanation for Canada’s bilingualism by seeing how it fits in with the general Canadian identity in the 21st century.

A Few Historical Antecedents: It is sometimes thought that bilingualism in Canada started with the federal government’s Official Languages Act in 1969. But, of course, such a policy innovation could not have had much success without at least some historical antecedents on which to build. One of the first bilingual initiatives was during the Union Government of 1840.

As Mason Wade says in his monumental history, The French Canadians: 1760-1945, the great achievement of the quarter century of Union Government (1840-1867) was the working out of a partnership between English and French, which guaranteed the rights of both in a bicultural country (p.276). This is all the more surprising because the period could not have started out in a worse manner. Lord Durham’s report on the uprisings of 1837-38 had proposed the cultural assimilation of the French Canadians in a union government to overcome the problem of ”two nations warring within the bosom of one state” and the “hopeless inferiority” of the French in an English North America. Thus, the Union Government established by the British Colonial Office made no allowance for the French language in the legislature where English was the only official language. However, Robert Baldwin, leader of the Upper Canada (Ontario) Reform Party recognized early on that the Union could not be governed without the support of the French Canadian Reform Party led by Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and more importantly their “reciprocal and lasting confidence”. Language was the first test. Together, Baldwin and Lafontaine would fight both for the adequate representation of the French in the Union and for responsible government – the precursor to full-fledged democracy.

It is not an exaggeration to say they worked together. On the opening day of the session, Baldwin resigned from the executive council because the Governor General refused his request to include Lower Canadians (Quebecers) in the body. When Lafontaine was defeated in his seat in Quebec in the election of 1841 due to the manipulations of the Governor General, Baldwin offered him one of the two seats in which he had been elected in Upper Canada.

“The incident was a proclamation of the alliance between the Reformers of the two provinces, and of that collaboration between French and English which was to create a different Canada than Durham had envisaged. A former lieutenant of Papineau, a man against whom a warrant for high treason had been issued four years before, a Catholic French Canadian, was elected from the stronghold of Protestant English Canada.” (Wade:234).

But, this was only the beginning. In England there was a new government that named a new Governor General, Sir Charles Bagot, with instructions to make “No distinctions of National origin, or Religious creed” and to choose the best advisors “without reference to distinction of local party”. Let us remember that these instructions came from a country that had been in a life and death struggle with Napoleonic Europe only 30 years before. Meanwhile, the Lower Canadian Reformers under Lafontaine had become a clear and well-disciplined majority. Bagot asked the opinion of the current government leaders who expressed the opinion that “the support of the French Canadians must be obtained by giving them a larger share of the administration” so that one could “govern the province more effectually”. Bagot invited Lafontaine to be attorney general but he insisted that his colleague, Baldwin, from Upper Canada be included in the ministry. When Lafontaine rose in the legislature he began to speak in French, another minister asked him to speak in English. He replied,

I am asked to pronounce in another language than my mother tongue the first speech that I have to make in this House. I distrust my ability to speak English. But I must inform the honorable member that even if my knowledge of English were as intimate as my knowledge of French, I would nevertheless make my first speech in the language of my French-Canadian compatriots, if only to protest against the cruel injustice of the Union Act in trying to proscribe the mother tongue of half the population of Canada. I owe it to my compatriots. I owe it to myself”. (Wade: 239)

Enraged by the inclusion of the Reformers in the Ministry, the Tories of Upper Canada worked hard and successfully to defeat Robert Baldwin. At which point, Lafontaine invited the citizens of Rimouski, one of the two seats to which he had been elected in Lower Canada, to elect Baldwin there, which they did unanimously. The tables had termed and the alliance had been cemented. Lafontaine continued to maneuver for the repeal of the Union Act’s provision against the legislative use of French until finally the government decided to outflank him and make its own address to the Queen on this subject. A new Governor General, Earl of Elgin, was named. He and the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Grey, agreed that responsible government would be granted to the colonies.

Following another election in 1847, Elgin was able to call on Baldwin and Lafontaine to form the government. A Francophone, Augustin Morin was unanimously elected Speaker and R-E. Caron named president of the Legislative Council. In 1849, Elgin opened the session by reading the speech from the throne in English and French. The proscription of French had been repealed.

It had taken only ten years for the French Canadians to rally from the death sentence pronounced upon their nationality by Lord Durham’s Report and the Act of Union… The rebels of 1837-38, both English and French, now held office and were supported by the British government, while the former loyalists proclaimed their revolt. The great achievement of the next two decades was to be the working out of a partnership of English and French which guaranteed the rights of both.” (Wade: 276)

The second historical case to which I wish to draw attention is with regard to bilingualism – or its lack – in the public service of Canada’s central government. From the time of Confederation in 1867 to the reform of the Civil Service Act in 1918, Cabinet ministers made public service appointments on a base of patronage. Originally the federal government just used the public servants who worked for the Upper and Lower Canadian governments (today’s Ontario and Quebec. Thus, up to 1918, the federal bureaucracy was reasonably bilingual and representative of the French and English populations.

With the gradual reforms of the Civil Service Act in 1908, 1918 and 1961 the merit principle was introduced and employment was based on professional competence and competitive exams. The problem was that professional competence was based on the English culture and often included topics like economics that were not stressed in the Quebec classical colleges. The examinations and interviews reflected patterns of thought of English-speaking Canada. Francophone bilingual skills were not part of the assessment, no provision was made to provide public services in French and nothing replaced patronage to assure language representation (Jackson and Jackson: 393).

The result was that by 1926, the number of French-speaking employees in the federal government had fallen to 20 percent and by 1945 it was 12 percent, while approximately 25 percent of Canadians were French-speaking (Wilson: 244). In 1965, only 5 percent of the senior executives appointed by the Public Service Commission were French-speaking (Jackson & Jackson: 393). Things were so bad by the 1960’s, that the Francophone commissioner on the highly reputed Glassco Commission on government organization felt obliged to publish a separate statement on the subject of bilingualism and biculturalism which the Commission had ignored in its 1962 report (Mallory: 177). In several key departments there was not a single French-speaking high official.

“It should become common practice for English and French-speaking public servants to express themselves in either official language in the course of their work, knowing that they will be understood…and that Canadians of either official language should be able to communicate in their own language with federal public servants; and that the linguistic and cultural values of both groups should be taken into account in public service recruitment and training…(Public Service Commission Report, 1967: 18).

It took 25 years but by 1992, some 29 percent of all public servants were Francophone, although there was still a weakness at the executive level. By 1995 the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the head of the public service, the Chief Justice and the Chief of Staff of the military forces were all Francophones.

The problem prior to the mid-1960s of this “greatest single fault of the Canadian bureaucracy” (Mallory: 177) was the proverbial ripple effects it had like a stone dropped in a pond. Just as with the language of the legislature, bilingualism in the bureaucracy is not an issue that touches people in their every day lives. But both as a symbol and as a practical matter it had far-reaching consequences. First, if French was not used in the public service then Francophones are not tempted to work there and decisions are increasingly taken through an English Canadian prism, reflecting English culture, needs and interests. Second, if the population is not served in French then there is no buy-in by Francophones to the central government, which is increasingly seen as a “foreign” imposition. This was a major contributing factor to the rise of nationalism and the birth of separatism in Quebec. As early as 1971, Prof. James Mallory was able to surmise,

“An effective political system must adequately represent the many divergent sections of the community. In Canada the most basic of these sectional differences arises from the co-existence of two cultures and two language groups. The political system, in the Cabinet, the courts, the usages of Parliament and in other ways, has developed mechanisms of representation and accommodation. And so it should be with the bureaucracy. (Mallory: 175)

The development of French-English relations and a bilingual regime:


1867 The Constitution Act (formerly the British North America Act) stipulates French and English will be the languages of Parliament and the Quebec Legislative Assembly

1910 – 1997 Associations are launched for the advocacy of French and English minority groups in every province and territory.

1963-67 The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

1969 Official Languages Act (updated and extended in 1988)

1969 Position and office of Commissioner of Official language is created to oversee implementation of the Act, investigate complaints, conduct studies and report to Parliament.

1969 Official Languages of New Brunswick Act (1993 constitutional amendment of Canada to enshrine the equality of French and English in New Brunswick).

1970 Official Languages in Education Program launched to give federal financial support for minority language and second language education.
1971 Canada adopts an official policy of multiculturalism.

1977 Law 101 in Quebec reinforces French in the public and private spheres.

1977 Canadian Parents for French founded to promote bilingualism and French immersion education.

1978 Court Challenges Programme of Canada to give financial support to individuals and groups to have their language rights clarified before the courts.

1978 Quebec – Canada agreement to let Quebec manage immigration within its borders.

1978-97 French linguistic school boards create in all provinces.

1980 Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Official Languages created in the Senate and the House of Commons

1981 National Program for the Integration of Both Official Languages in the Administration of Justice.

1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Liberties guarantees language rights.

1985 Committee of Deputy Ministers of Official Languages created.
1988 Supreme Court starts clarifying language rights in a series of landmark decisions.

1990 Defendants obtain a right to a trial in their language across Canada.

1994 Provinces and Territories start to work together on French language services in the Ministerial Conference on Francophone Affairs.

1996 Joint Governance committees formed of the federal institutions and the minority language communities.

2001 Minister Responsible for Official Language named.

2002 Official languages are included as a recruitment criterion in the renewed Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

2003 Action Plan for Official Languages announced with $750 million in new funding for the next five years in education and health and other areas.

2004 Treasury Board announce new imperative staffing for bilingual positions.

(Commissariat aux langues officielles, 35e rapport annuel, 2005: pp. 1-1)


Despite the auspicious alliance between Baldwin and Lafontaine that gave birth to Canada’s democratic development, it must not be assumed that all was rosy between the English (Protestants) and the French (Catholics) in the country’s early days. Many of the Loyalists who fled the American Revolution in the 1770s to come to Canada had bitter memories of centuries of French-English wars in the Americas under which they had suffered. A large number of the settlers who came from Great Britain in the early 1800s were officers and men from Wellington’s army who came straight from the Napoleonic wars and were given land grants in Upper Canada. They had little love for the French. The Irish who came to Canada in the mid-1800s brought with them their bitter Protestant and Catholic feuds. In Europe the Protestants had been in the minority but in North America many thought it was time to take revenge on the ‘papists’. Finally the Riel Rebellions of the 1880s did nothing to improve French-English relations.

These lingering ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts were behind some of the bitterest disputes in Canadian history over the issue or religious and linguistic education rights. Time and again the Anglo-Protestants used their majority position to threaten closure of Francophone schools unless they abandoned their Catholic character. Canadian history books continue to remind us of:

1871 New Brunswick School Crisis

1885 Northwest Rebellion (Riel)

1890 Manitoba School Crisis

1901 Northwest Territories School Crisis

1912 Ontario School Crisis

The list tells us of the hardships, battles and animosity that barred the road to bilingualism. They make its recent successes an even more impressive testimonial to the slow evolution of tolerance and compromise in the Canadian political culture.

Another list confirms with what slowness the English-speaking majority grudgingly gave French a place in the government of Canada and with what difficulty each battle was won.

1927 French included on postage stamps

1936 French included on bank notes

1959 Simultaneous translation in the House of Commons

1962 Family allowance cheques in French as well as English
(Commissioner of Official Languages 35th Anniversary Report, 2005:p. 6)

Some Conundrums of Bilingualism: Conundrums are riddles or difficult questions. I use the term to refer to situations that present perplexing challenges to those who try to develop and manage Canada’s bilingual regime. I am referring to geographic and demographic realities, socio-economic and technological trends, historical attitudes and aspirations, public opinion, foreign influences, community life and political interests. Let us look at four of these conundrums that effect bilingual trends: moral and ethical issues in a multicultural country and a globalizing world; the distinctness of Quebec; the existence of official language minority communities, and bilingualism in the public service. One could add many other conundrums such as trends to assimilation of Francophones outside Quebec at the same time as French associations and community life are flourishing, but Charles Castonguay focuses on this in his writings.

MORAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES: The moral/ethical conundrum is rooted in the ‘me too’ attitude. Why can’t my group have official language status? Why should French get special treatment in a majoritarily English Canada? Why should the French be better served than any of the large immigrant groups? Are there not more Ukrainians on the Prairies and more Asians than Francophones in British Columbia, and so on. Sometimes neo-Canadians make such claims but often it is a front used by Anglo-Canadians who have never wanted French to have its place in the sun. The only antidote is education about the deal that founded Canada, about governance in Canada necessitating good French-English relations, and about the probability that a loss of bilingualism would lead to a decline in tolerance for multilateralism. The respect for diversity that underlies multilateralism is always in jeopardy if one can judge by the pressures it is under in the United Kingdom following the subway bombings. But then, what does one say to Aboriginals who maintain that they too were one of Canada’s founding peoples and who want respect for their languages. Aren’t Aboriginal rights recognized by the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Around the world, we are told that 2,500 native languages will be lost by 2100 (Globe and Mail, 18-8-05: p.14). Unfortunately, our only viable answers are based on political efficacy rather than morality. Then there are the questions raised about whether it is socially good to keep people ghettoized on the basis of language and whether maintaining different languages and schools and communities is socially or economically healthy. Such issues are reinforced by globalism, which is tearing down all sorts of barriers and placing English on a pedestal as the one universal language of the future.

QUEBEC’S DISTINCTNESS: French Canadians have always been concentrated in Quebec (the reasons for this are another conundrum). More than 80 percent of French-speaking Canadians live in Quebec and more than 80 percent of Quebecers are Francophone. And yet the French founded and explored most of the North American continent and the Confederation deal was not limited to Quebec. This leads to contradictory desires to live comfortably in Quebec and to exploit the French-Canadian birthright to the whole of Canada. In terms of bilingual policy there are conflicting demands for bilingual equality across Canada and for building a French regime in Quebec. Such conflicts led to the rupture between Quebecers and their Canadian brethren during the Estates General of French Canada in 1967. Or did it? At the present time, the Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoit Pelletier (formally of the University of Ottawa) is elaborating with Francophones outside Quebec a new Centre on Francophonie in the Americas and a new Quebec policy of francophonie in Canada (le Droit 30-5-05). At the same time because of global and North American competition, a group of linguistic experts has proposed that Quebec’s unilingual Law 101 must be complemented with a bilingual or even plurilingual strategy (Stefanescu 2005). Meanwhile, Canada’s language planners have to deal with ‘purs et durs’ Quebecers who won’t help promote bilingualism and Francophones who want to know why they are getting poor service on Air Canada in Vancouver. But, it was always like this. In the 1890’s, Prime Minister Laurier had to compromise with Premier Greenway on the French school question in Manitoba because Quebec would not give him its support for a hard line policy, fearing Quebec would be the next target for federal intervention.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE MINORITY COMMUNITIES: In Canada the Official Languages Act names French and English as official languages and states that the federal government must look to the protection and promotion of their communal bases. This means that the government must fund minority community associations because they are dispersed and difficult to mobilize on a continuing basis. It takes an immense issue such as the threatened loss of Montfort Hospital, the one Francophone hospital outside Quebec, to rally minority communities. But, government funding causes problems of dependency and power. Relations between the government and representatives of ‘official language communities’ are in a continual state of tension, not to say turmoil. Associations representing ethnic communities are often tendentious, quarrelsome and dissatisfied with governments and politicians in general whom in their eyes, never do enough for their communities. They are in a constant state of low-level conflict with their provinces and municipalities, which cause political ripples throughout the country. But ministers do not like political surprises from the very communities they are funding. So they try to manage these relationships. The latest development is called “joint governance” in which the government establishes joint national committees with leaders of the minority communities to oversee various policy areas. However, community leaders feel that the velvet glove of management hides the fist of political control that emasculates their role as representative of their language group.

BILINGUALISM IN THE FEDERAL PUBLIC SERVICE: We have already seen that historically bilingualism has been a major issue in the federal public service. Now I want to focus on some of the lingering problems. Although there are many elements to creating a bilingual regime in government administration we may say that they are summarized by the questions of representation and participation. The composition of the public service should reflect fairly well the composition of the society, preferably at all levels. If democracy is to work, all major communities need to be represented in all domains of government. Once there, they should be able to work in their own language and citizens should have access to their government in their own language. After nearly forty year of effort, policies and structures have been put in place in the public service to achieve most of these goals.

Let us look at a few of the hold-over issues in the public service. Conundrums arise when the norms of representation and participation come into conflict with other norms such as merit, efficiency, economy and the old boy system. One issue has to do with senior public servants who have not yet managed to learn French after decades of leeway and all sorts of incentives such as time off for courses and personal coaches who come to their office. They have been ordered to become bilingual but for political or personal reasons or because of their supposedly irreplaceable professional skills their colleagues protect them. Another issue is trying to make the federal public service representative of the provinces in which they operate. For instance, in Quebec there is a considerable deficit in the number of English-speaking public servants in the federal government’s offices. Years of trying to surmount the problem have run into the attitude of the French managers who wonder why they should help the English in Quebec when Francophones have so many problems elsewhere – of course, this attitude is never made public. Or there are the issues of language in the work place. Anglophones complain that after taking French courses they can never get their Francophone colleagues to converse with them in French – because they don’t want to waste their time and efforts on someone with poor French skills. Or what do you do if you are a manager forced to produce with reduced resources and someone wants your unit to operate in two languages?

A Few Proposals for the Future:

There are always steps one can take to improve policies and institutions and I will indeed make a few such proposals. But, bilingualism in Canada is more than a policy; it is a sort of national icon. It has become part of the “Canadian political personality”, even if some analysts claim that Canadian public opinion places it on a lower pedestal than, say, human rights of multiculturalism. The basic problem is that you have to manage bilingualism and invest in it. It is not just a set of principles or public attitudes. During the past 30 years, bilingualism has been presented as a sort of national duty, an obligation. Rarely is it portrayed as a pleasure, a positive benefit in and of itself, as a cultural achievement, an opening to others, a political guarantee, a stepping-stone to multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Most of our proposals will fall in this latter category.

  • Although there is a Minister Responsible for official languages in the federal government, there should be an independent department to give this issue the leadership and the clout it requires. As the 35th Anniversary Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages says, “Implementing rights requires political leadership, organizational capacity and resources” (p. 13). If Stéphane Dion had not been given the specific mandate in 2001, there never would have been the $750 million “Action Plan for Official Languages” in 2003 – after a decade of neglect and of programme and budget cuts.
  • Education: Canadians – and especially new immigrants – need continuing education about the fundamental agreements between French and English that underlie the Canadian constitution and Charter and give rise to the country’s political culture.
  • The only way to keep up pressure for linguistic rights is to have viable pressure groups in the linguistic communities. They need better funding and less hands on government controls.
  • It is one thing to fund minority language groups but they are essentially divisive. Governments have never understood the necessity of supporting bridging groups that provide dialogue and mutual support across the language divide. Canada needs its first French-English cooperative association.
  • Dialogue also requires exchanges. Canada should do a much better job of supporting massive student and citizen exchanges across Canada.
  • To develop leadership, continuing masses of young people need to be inspired with the importance of bi- and multi-lingualism. Although the University of Ottawa (Canada’s one fully bilingual, major university) is planning to create a new research centre on bilingualism, it is falling down in its role of inspiring its students – in their residences, activities and studies – to see multi-lingualism as a positive benefit not just an added weight and to strive for excellence in their linguistic endeavours. For the same reasons, Canadian Parents for French should be given all the support it needs.
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Société Radio Canada are a model of division. They should become a model of dialogue.
  • Why don’t our French and English radio stations make the presentation of each other’s music and music groups a cool and habitual practice?
  • The public service needs vocal and visible leadership from the top.

The suggestion of the former Commissioner of Official Languages that the “image” of French should be improved (Le Droit, 20-6-05: p. 12)-(hidden on a back page) should be embraced and extended to bilingualism. Presently, only one Ontario student in ten continues their studies in core French through to the 12th grade. The image of bilingualism needs to be changed from a patriotic duty to a springboard toward globalism.

In a recent study (Sorry, I Don’t Speak French) that has received considerable praise, the senior journalist and current Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, points out that language is still Canada’s number one political issue and it is never a question of black or white. Supreme Court decisions have recognized Quebec’s distinctiveness and knocked down discriminatory regulations. Ontario’s policy by “stealth” still refuses official bilingualism but has greatly extended education, legal and health services. Ottawa’s Montfort hospital, the only French/bilingual health complex outside Quebec, not only has been saved but has become a flagship institution. Even Ontario’s health card and drivers’ license have been quietly bilingualized. Still, Fraser maintains Canadians must wake up to the need to improve bilingualism and French – English relations. He stresses that since the near loss of the 1995 Referendum, “No effort was made to increase contact between the rest of Canada and Quebec.” (2006: 291). He proposes:

  • Twinning of French and English municipalities.
  • Attracting Francophone tourists to the rest of Canada using technological means to offer language information.
  • Directing immersion students to summer jobs welcoming Francophone tourists.
  • Strengthening school and university exchanges.
  • Universities must immeasurably increase their offerings in learning French as a second language especially in public administration, journalism and political science, the fields that are supposed to graduate professionals who can understand in either language to make to the government and communications systems function.
  • The media should exchange services and programmes and offer bilingual services.
  • Showing Quebec films across Canada.

More than anything, bilingualism needs optimistic and determined leadership, especially from Anglophones. There are fewer bilingual people in Canada than in Great Britain – which has fewer second language skills than any other country in Europe. “Because the two societies are largely unilingual, the national leadership and the national institutions of the country should be able to function in both languages.” (p. 297)


So, what can we learn from these historical vignettes and our overview of the development of bilingualism in Canada? First of all, did Baldwin and Lafontaine create an alliance out of the goodness of their hearts? Well yes, in part they did. As Wade informs us, “A sidelight of the thoroughness of their unity is supplied by a letter of 1844 in which Baldwin consulted Lafontaine about a Quebec school for his son Willcocks: ‘I must not expose him to the miserable embarrassment that I labour under myself for want of French.’ Baldwin’s daughters were already being educated by the Ursulines of Quebec.” (Wade: 242) It is hard to imagine a bilingual system functioning unless at least the élites have some degree of sympathy and opening to each other’s language and culture.

Second, such rapprochement is linked to real political facts. “The French under Lafontaine had formed a large block that was the real balance weight in politics. Bagot saw that to carry on government he must have French support.” (Careless: 201) There is ample evidence in the letters, speeches and reports of the day to show that all the political actors became aware that Canada could not be governed without the positive support of the French Canadians (60 percent of the population) and that this support would not be forthcoming with the proscription of French as a language of law and politics. Quebec and Francophones were then and always have been insurmountable facts on the Canadian political landscape to which institutions and norms must accommodate. To understand why we just have to look at two startling sets of figures. In Quebec more than 80 percent of the population is Francophone and nearly 80 percent of Francophones in Canada live in Quebec. Secondly, between them, Quebec and Ontario continue to account for more than 60 percent of the Canadian population. These figure speak volumes about political forces within Canada.

Third, it is equally true that the English-speaking majority often forgets the reality of the “French fact” in Canada. This is what happened in the federal public service. It was not exactly a plot or a conspiracy. After all, the merit principle was making its way in many democracies “in the interest of creating a qualified and efficient public service … which helps safeguard the neutrality of the bureaucracy (Jackson and Jackson: 389). During that period, Canadians had to worry about two world wars and the great depression to say nothing of industrialization and urbanization. And the French Canadians were not there in Ottawa in sufficient numbers to remind Anglophones of their culture and needs (‘les absents ont toujours tort’). This teaches us that even the most significant political realities can sometimes be ignored if they are not enshrined in government principles, institutions and policies – such as the Official Languages Act of 1969.

Fourth, a very subtle point made by the historian Kenneth McNaught, “The Baldwin-Lafonatine alliance established the real basis of the Canadian experiment in bi-cultural cooperation… based upon a clear understanding of goals, strategy and tactics. It established the point that Bagot reported to his superiors and which remained central to effective government thereafter: Canada could not be governed without the French. But even more important, it showed that Canada could be governed with the French.” (Mcnaught: 99) Lafontaine and his colleagues struggled mightily to demonstrate the “ability, the tact, the firmness and the patience” of the French Canadian representatives (Wade: 262). As Lafontaine said, “I have as a Canadian only one duty to fulfil, that of maintaining the honorable character which has distinguished our fellow countrymen and to which our most bitter enemies are obliged to render homage.” (Wade: 240) Lafontaine always had to demonstrate that he was a loyal subject at the same time as he protected himself against being out-flanked by the radical, nationalist Rouges of L-J Papineau. Nothing has changed in Canadian politics to this day.

Fifth, as early as 1939, Lafontaine had been in contact with Baldwin and his colleague, Francis Hincks. They wanted to join men of their own political convictions rather than accept an ethnic alliance. Hincks wrote Lafontaine saying, “We desire your friendship, esteem and co-operation” (Wade 229). Lafontaine eventually responded, “Our cause is common. It is in the interest of the Reformers of the two provinces to meet on the legislative ground in a spirit of peace, union, friendship and fraternity. Unity of action is more necessary than ever…” (Wade: 231). McNaught was to call it “a system of tolerance within a legislative union” (p. 99). In other words, these early political leaders understood two of the fundamental realities of Canada at the time and in the future. Canada is a country of minorities. No group has ever been predominant. Thus Canadians have had to learn to compromise in order to create good governance across their minority groupings while at the same time respecting the continued existence of each other’s community. Partly in recognition of these twin realities, the Supreme Court of Canada designated respect for minorities as one of the four fundamental and organizing principles of the Canadian Constitution (Reference re the Secession of Quebec: 217). In Canada, minorities (the English in Quebec, the French outside) are the bane of the political life of the majorities. They are also what “keeps them honest” and nurtures the evolutionary demands for effective bilingualism.

Sixth, a hypothesis worth pursuing is that bilingualism is the root concept that has led to the other basic principles of the Canadian political culture such as pluralism, multiculturalism, and respect for diversity that have led to Canada being called the “first 21st century nation”. Of course, each psychological disposition reinforces the others. It is because Canadians learned to be tolerant toward two languages and cultures that they became more cosmopolitan and relatively open to difference. As Will Kymlica has put it, “Canada is a world leader in three of the most important areas of ethnocultural relations: immigration, indigenous peoples, and the accommodation of minority nationalisms …That we have managed to cope with all these forms of diversity simultaneously while still managing to live together in peace and civility is, by any objective standard, a remarkable achievement” (Kymlicka: 3). Still, cultural policy and particularly bilingualism is still a work of art in progress.


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Prepared for presentation to the International Summer Seminar in Canadian Studies of the International Council on Canadian Studies and University of Ottawa and Carleton University. 2005 – 07

John Trent, 11 Williamson Rd., Chelsea, QC., J9B1Z4 819-827-1025,