National Post

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Thursday, September 09, 1999

Couple used to taking political centre stage
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

Adrienne Clarkson and writer John Ralston Saul have used their celebrity to wade into a variety of political debates. From North American free trade, to women's rights and the amalgamation of the city of Toronto, they have often sought a public platform.

In the late 1980s, Ms. Clarkson and Mr. Saul strongly attacked the proposed free trade agreement with the United States.

"I am in favour of free trade, and I think only grumpy, insular isolationists would not want greater freedom of choice and larger markets for our goods," Ms. Clarkson told a 1997 parliamentary hearing on free trade. "I guess what I am against is the particular deal we seem to have struck ... In this agreement I am very concerned because we have given to potentially the most powerful partner, and the one that already has the most influence on us, what they have always wanted, and we get nothing in return."

Ms. Clarkson, Ontario's former agent-general in Paris, went as far as to threaten she would move to Quebec if free trade was instituted -- arguing that Quebec's culture would be protection against "Americanization."

Americanization became a recurring theme and threat in her public statements.

"As a woman, I fear that the gradual Americanization of our society might mean that I could not get on a subway alone," she told the parliamentary committee.

Ms. Clarkson did not shy away from giving U.S. audiences the same message.

"We want to be your partners, not lackeys who get over-dependent and hostile. You'll like us better that way," she told a lunch crowd at the Americas Society in New York in 1988. "You must understand the intellectual community is against it," she said of free trade.

"My politics are not party politics," Mr. Saul said during the free trade debate. "They are issue politics. I'm an economic nationalist."

In contrast to her position on trade with the U.S., Ms. Clarkson spoke in favour of a trade deal with the then European common market.

"That would have been a very, very healthy thing for us," she said in 1988. However, her view of Europe was not all positive: "The thing about the common market is that European countries are basically tribal. The French, Germans and Italians are tribes," she said, warning that "racism that can arise in a country like that."

As for Canadians,"We are not a tribe," she said. "We are a series, a group, a conglomeration of people. We are not basically tribal in our approach to life. That is a positive thing in many ways."

Nonetheless, she has often criticized Canadians for complacency.

In 1985, she told the Empire Club that Canadian businesses have been losing out to a share of business with France due to "shyness, and inability to make tough deals and just, generally, thumb-sucking."

She denounced the David Peterson government cuts to Ontario's cultural budget in Paris, arguing that a "failure of will" was causing a Canadian identity crisis.

Ms. Clarkson has also spoken out on women's equality, telling audiences that affirmative action policies that favour women would be justified until women "hold 52% of the power."

In 1986, she told 200 female educators that women in positions of power should concentrate on hiring other women. She had done so herself and would continue to do so, Ms. Clarkson said.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100 it's going to happen the other way around, so a little bit of redress doesn't hurt," she told a conference of Women in Educational Administration of Ontario.

As the newly appointed publisher, president, and CEO of McClelland and Stewart in 1987, Ms. Clarkson said she looked forward to using the power to implement her philosophies, and urged other women to do the same.

"I'll be able to run a major cultural institution in the free enterprise field. That's where I now feel I can effect the greatest change. I'm going to hire people and fire people. I'm going to do all sorts of stuff and really have fun," she said.

In 1997, Ms. Clarkson joined an all-women's rally to protest the Ontario government's plan to amalgamate the municipalities surrounding Toronto into a megacity. Women were in a unique position to explain "PMS" or "Pernicious Megacity Stupidity" to a mostly male government, organizers said.

The amalgamation plan "is a manifestation of a kind of cruelty women are best able to understand," Ms. Clarkson said.

"We are basically being bashed. We are being abused in the worst possible way," she added, criticizing the provincial government for its lack of consultation with municipalities.

Mr. Saul has also criticized the policies of various governments.

"What doesn't seem to exist in this government," he said at a 1995 rally to save Toronto's Harbourfront, "is a national cultural policy."

As president of PEN, the Canadian chapter of the international writers' organization, Mr. Saul attacked the Mulroney government's budget cuts to native newspapers and television. Mr. Saul said the $6.5-million 1991 cuts were a "surgical operation to remove the voice box from the native community."

At a McGill Convocation in 1997, he told a reporter: "Writing is politics. It's not an ivory-tower domain. It's a form of politics."

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