Wednesday Night #467 and the Spicer Commission

Written by  //  February 6, 1991  //  Marc Thébaud Nicholson, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  2 Comments

Wednesday Night, the Spicer Commission and Water
As we pulled into the parking lot of our hotel in Saint Augustine one evening, the car phone rang and it was Marc, then a student at Concordia University, and holding the Wednesday Night fort in our absence, asking us what we knew about somebody named Spicer and why would he think he could take over a Wednesday Night? After a moment of silence, Diana admitted that some time before, when the Spicer Commission[1] had announced how it would proceed she had written to Keith Spicer and offered Wednesday Night as a forum. But she had never had a reply – until now.
A local designated Forum facilitator/moderator had informed Marc that the following week, Wednesday Night would be consulted and in the meanwhile, she would drop in to go over the kit and the process. (This was in the early days of the consultations, and the initial structure was quickly modified in light of their experience – as the Spicer Report says “In the end, the citizens did it their way” and Wednesday Night was no exception.)
We suggested Marc call a couple of our close friends and frequent Wednesday Nighters to help line up attendees, and gave him the names of a half-dozen Wednesday Night “regulars” who should absolutely be on the list and could help him with other ideas. We then insouciantly continued our holiday, confident that the evening would be a success, albeit not likely what the moderator had in mind.
We later learned that Marc’s preliminary meeting with the moderator was a bit touchy. She explained how the evening would proceed and he said “No, that’s not how we do Wednesday Night”. After some discussion, Marc prevailed.
It was, we are told, a very successful evening although, as predicted, not necessarily what was expected.
The opening question was what did people in the room think would be the most important issue of the 21st century.
From a dark corner of the room came one word “Water”.
As the facilitator vainly searched for water in her lists of probable answers, the general agreement on the importance of water quickly morphed into a debate about what percentage of the world’s water resources was in Canada.
We do not know if this prescient prediction made it into the final report of the Commission, – it does not appear in the Summary -, however, over recent years, issues related to water, especially its non-renewable nature, reappear with increasing frequency on the Wednesday Night agenda. has extensive Web pages on water and the debate over whether water should be “commoditized” often rages. Thanks to the evolution of the Internet, serious information on water is readily available and were we to restage the Spicer night, someone would have replied in an instant that Canada has 7% of the world’s renewable supply of freshwater and 20% of the world’s total freshwater resources (including waters captured in glaciers and the polar ice caps). And likely would have cited the Environment Canada Website!

[1] The Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future, chaired by Keith Spicer, was known as the Spicer Commission. Under his leadership some 400,000 Canadians were consulted on the country’s shape, values, and priorities. The Forum was designed as a travelling road show, consultations took place all across the country in “living rooms and kitchens, schools and universities, church basements and temples, farms and reserves, boardrooms and chambers of commerce, YM/YWCAs, union halls, parks, theatres – even trains, prisons, street shelters”.

2008 Update
We were looking up something in the Spicer Commission Report and found this section, which we feel is as true today as in 1991, remembering that the young people referred to are now in their 30s and 40s.
“While the North has long been part of Canadian myth and legend, participants indicated that Canada’s unspoiled natural beauty is a matter of great importance to them, and is in their view threatened by inadequate attention to protecting our environment.
” ‘All Canadians love the land,’ a participant from Thamesville, Ontario, told us. ‘Maybe we learned that from the first Canadians, our Native people. They and we have always longed for it, defended it, and praised it in song, art, and story. We are now the Guardians of the final wilderness left on earth, and we take that responsibility seriously.’
“Over half the discussion groups who reported to the Forum identified the environment as a major issue for the country. While we were not a commission on the environment, it is clear that the Canadians who spoke to the Forum wish to have their concern signalled very strongly to governments at all levels. A Forum group in Nova Scotia captured the views of a great many participants in saying: “The beauty of our country … must be preserved through stricter laws regarding pollution and other environmental hazards.” For many people, the environment was the top priority; in the words of another participant, “Failure to attend to this problem constructively and immediately will make all else of little concern very soon.” Forum participants recognize their individual responsibilities in environmental protection, but would like to see considerably more assurances that Canadian governments are taking the issue as seriously as are Canadian citizens. A group in Mill Bay, B.C., told us: ‘ … the average Canadian is willing to work towards a cleaner and better environment but our government must show a greater concern, too. They must introduce legislation with teeth…There must be more education regarding this matter and action – not just words.’
“The environment was also a matter of very serious concern for Canadian youth who participated in the Students’ Forum. Our natural beauty is, for our younger children, one of the positive attributes they most commonly attach to Canada. Older students often made suggestions for ways to protect the environment: ‘It’s not right that only big cities have places for recycling paper and metal,’ (tr.) said a senior high school student in Quebec. ‘We would like kids to talk to other people about the rainforests, starting to recycle, decrease the mills, and stop polluting the air,’ we heard from a group of junior high school students in Cornwall, Ontario. ‘… we can’t leave it up to another person, we all have to pitch in and help,’ said a junior high school student in Coquitlam, B.C. ‘It is everyone’s responsibility to help out and keep our earth clean, after all there is only one earth.’ ”
The whole report is quite fascinating and deserves to be read or re-read today.

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #467 and the Spicer Commission"

  1. Margaret Lefebvre May 8, 2001 at 8:26 am ·

    Tales of Wednesday Nights of Yore

    ‘Twas the time of the Commissions, of Agreements, of serious yearnings stirring in the land; Bélanger-Campeau, Meech Lake, Beaudoin-Edwards, The Charlottetown Accord … a time when a feather raised in Manitoba changed forever the political landscape of our time.
    Into this time of questioning and reappraisal rode Keith Spicer. With a Borsalino on his head and regulation in his soul, he brought the Spicer Commission experiment in unity polity to Wednesday Night. Marc Nicholson was host that night, and as we sat around the table, herded into order by an officious pollster, we were asked to answer the questions on the stipulated questionnaire.
    First off, the burning question…What will be the most important issue for Canada in the 21st Century? And from the back of the room, came the single word … water. “Water?” she said, scanning her notes and flipping over pages of questions and answers. …. “Yes”, said the voice, .. “Water”.
    And then, the moment of truth was upon us, for this after all was a major commission sent across the land to hear the views of all the people … “You can’t say water”, she said, “it isn’t on the list”.
    And there you have it, you can bring a Commission to Wednesday Night, but you cannot make it think. MML

    Happy 1001

  2. Keith Spicer November 3, 2008 at 11:21 pm ·

    Dear Diana,
    So kind of you to write and to send me these comments — and the Forum report. Quite a stroll down Memory Lane…
    Warm regards, Keith Spicer

    From: Diana Nicholson
    Subject: RE: Cuts to Arts funding
    Received: Monday, November 3, 2008, 4:52 AM
    Dear Keith,
    This is a long-delayed follow-up to your message , but I came across something that I thought would amuse you and also bring back some happy memories of a major accomplishment.
    Please take a look at our account of the Spicer Commission at Wednesday Night.
    I can only imagine that you were as disappointed as I in the Canadian election results. Let us hope that the Phoenix will indeed spring from the ashes, duly renewed and energized. At least we have the US elections as a heartening (let us pray) example of really exciting developments. The challenge will be for Mr. Harper to develop appropriately cordial relations with someone with whom he has nothing in common!
    Kindest regards, Diana

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