The swinging 60s

Scandal. Hippies. Flower power. Strangely, it was all good for business

Some things about the 1960s sound a lot like now. The similarities include disagreements between Ottawa and Washington over warfare and other military matters, plus such lesser items as crime, punishment and marijuana. The differences pitted the principles of the self-avowed Canadian “peaceable kingdom” against the self-certainties of the American superpower. The fallout typically affected the more timorous corners of the Canadian business community — increasingly dependent as was Canada's economy on cross-border commerce — with fears of becoming collateral damage. Comparable complaints afflicted like-minded politicians — or do nowadays, if not in the '60s, when bilateral transactions actually grew ever more bountiful amid exchanges of bickering, snubs and insults.

To weigh the likenesses of today with the 1960s, take the weekend peace marches against US-led war waged without UN sanction — the Vietnam War from the middle '60s, the invasion of Iraq in March. Note the marchers in the recent demos bearing the blue-on-white “Voice of Women” banner. It is a group descended from a vanguard of Canadian antiwar campaigns four decades ago. From its founding in 1960, the VOW has crusaded against war: what members like to call “the tyranny of man's oldest profession.”

Take also the destructive national debate of the early 1960s over Washington's proposals that Canada should join in a US missile defence system for the whole continent. That system compares in notion to President George W. Bush's current scheme, which is known to critics as Star Wars, and has potential to infect space with nuclear weapons, thereby violating a 1963 treaty that outlaws such behavior.

The first time around, basing American Bomarc missiles with nuclear warheads in North Bay, Ont., and La Macaza, Que., ran into opposition from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker himself and objections from many other Canadians, including the Voice of Women. You almost need a program to follow the Bomarc's fallout. In the end, during 1963, Diefenbaker's minority Tory government went down to defeat in Parliament over the issue. The Voice of Women lost a prominent member, Maryon Pearson, who resigned from the group when her husband, Liberal Party Leader Lester B. (Mike) Pearson, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize six years earlier, espoused the Bomarc project, supplanted Diefenbaker as prime minister, then gave the green light to the Bomarcs for what proved to be a useless nine-year existence. Observing the Bomarc fuss firsthand in Ottawa after the April general election in 1963: rookie MP Jean Chrétien, the man at centre stage for the encore 40 years later.

On top of the Bomarc brouhaha, there was criticism of the Vietnam war. That prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson's infamous “You pissed on my rug” snarl at Pearson after the Canadian prime minister, in a Philadelphia speech, dumped on US involvement in Vietnam. Several other friction points included sharply contrasting attitudes to Fidel Castro's Cuba. As Pierre Trudeau summed up in a 1969 Washington speech: “Living next to you is like sleeping with an elephant; no matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Still, by the end of the '60s, business had no serious beefs. On the contrary, a Diefenbaker proposal to shift the source of 15% of its imports away from the US to the UK got nowhere slowly. And in the year of the personal LBJ-LBP dispute, the two men signed what proved to be a rewarding economic stimulant for Canada, the 1965 Auto Pact, a continental sharing of motor vehicle output.

All the high-stakes drama in cross-border commercial and political activity was only part of the '60s story. There was a lot of offbeat stuff going on–reformist campus fury and pacifist flower power; Rachel Carson's environmental alert, Silent Spring, and Marshall McLuhan talking global village long before the global economy took shape. In April 1968, Pierre Trudeau became the first prime minister of Canada born in the 20th century. Premier Jean Lesage's Quiet Revolution in Quebec soon turned noisy with mailbox bombs. There were communes, the miniskirt, the birth-control pill, charge cards, the hippies, the Beatles, the pot-fueled fun–all the action that defined the '60s at home and abroad.

And, oh yes, the marijuana issue, now back to bother just-say-no Washington as Ottawa talks of decriminalizing personal possession. Some people recall the police in Ottawa during the 1960s effectively decriminalizing weed by simply ignoring its personal use only paces from Parliament Hill–or actually on it.

Excerpts from the pages of Canadian Business

As the world entered the 1960s, society seemed to be wallowing in corruption fueled by greed. Scandals ranged from peddling influence in Washington with expensive gifts to bribing radio disc jockeys in order to obtain airtime for pop music—payola, in the jargon of the day (pay + Victrola record player). The violations of social values turned many members of the younger generation into revolutionaries for reform, or encouraged them to drop out of the rat race altogether.

Challenge of the '60s: moral values

There's ample evidence of a general distortion of values in the world today. Mink coats and politicians, fixed prize fights, juvenile delinquency, misleading advertising and now, most recently, rigged quiz shows and Payola raise questions about the state of the public conscience….

The frightening thing is not that individuals depart from the paths of rectitude, but rather that there is so much apathy, so much general acceptance of evil practices that they seem to become almost normal….

We must examine the standards by which we run our own businesses, the way we raise our families, the discipline we impose upon ourselves. All this is important to the future of our country and to the future of those who follow us.

—Vol. 33, No. 1, January 1960

The challenge of youth

Young North Americans who have imbibed democratic and egalitarian values since a tender age are recognizing with some horror the disjunction between the ideals and what is really going on. In our mind-moulding information-glutted world the Beatles suggest: “We all want to change the world…but you'd better free your mind instead.” They call it “Revolution”…. The new emphasis is on man and his awareness of himself in the context of a new social consciousness.

—Vol. 42, No. 9, September 1969

Canada's health services can be improved…. But improvement does not necessitate a vast, tax-ridden state apparatus…. Health is more than freedom from disease, freedom from pain or from an untimely death. It means optimum physical, mental and social efficiency and well-being. No amount of massive government intervention will do for the individual what he alone must do for himself.

—Vol. 35, No. 4, April 1962

Canadian automotive industry

The automotive agreement is probably one of the most significant commercial agreements reached between Canada and the United States in the postwar period. It was born [in 1965] out of a Canadian concern…that while this country consumed about 7% of all North American style cars produced annually, it manufactured only about 4%….

In its first 3° years the agreement is credited by Department of Industry officials with establishing 98 new plants and 180 plant expansions. For 164 of these projects, estimated capital investment was $674.4 million, while for 107 of these projects, new jobs created amounted to 22,000….

The expansion is not confined to the automakers alone. Indeed a variety of Canadian companies has shared in the automotive boom, including paint manufacturers, carpet-making companies, the rubber tire industry, the automotive parts industry and plastics industry. And they too are anxious to see growth continue.

—Vol. 42, No. 1, January 1969

Trudeau as executive

It is still early in the game to evaluate Prime Minister Trudeau [sworn in April 20, 1968] but it seems safe to say that thus far his decision-making profile is one that has given confidence to business…. Some newsmen said he was a swinger and sure enough a swinger he became. Leather coat, ascot, sandals, sports car, beautiful women, quips, repartee with the press—this background portrayed him as a man not only of 1968 but beyond….

But there is enough evidence even now…to suggest the pattern—a careful, even cautious, approach in the area of commitments, close attention to the centers of power and control, a constant striving to creating an environment in which he feels at home and in which he can exercise some mastery.

—Vol. 41, No. 8, August 1968

Kierans' Telecommission

Telecommunications has been termed the nervous system of the 20th century, but in Canada, at least, it appears to be guided by 19th century laws.

Communications minister Eric Kierans… is planning to remove this dichotomy through the introduction of new concepts and new laws….

Telecommunications is an old-fashioned word that brings together all the intertwining threads of modern communications. It has to do with telephones and telegrams. But it goes beyond that to computer terminals and data banks, the cashless society, laser beam communications, cable television, touch-tone and visual display phones and facsimile transmission. It is at the root of the information explosion and promises a communications revolution that will bring upheaval through business, government, education and life at large.

—Vol. 42, No. 11, November 1969

Let's talk to the wild-eyed students

What's behind the current unrest on university campuses? University presidents are falling like ten-pins. It would be comforting to think it is only a passing phase…. Such an attitude is folly. True, there is much froth in the bubbling university kettle — many students become embroiled in campus conflicts for no better reason than the kicks they get out of it. Others seem determined to destroy the institutes of learning….

But not all student protest should be damned as the work of wild-eyed radicals, or irresponsible revolutionaries. There are students who seek legitimate university reform. These are the young people to whom business and university must give heed.

Example: Ian Hyman, vice president of the McGill Student Society…charges that because financial support comes from business and government, university research is key to these markets. Result: more time is spent on research than on good teaching….

Students have something to say today and both university and business must enter into dialogue with them.

As part of that dialogue the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of business, is making available this year 30 educational travel scholarships for male students entering their final year of undergraduate study. In a cross-Canada tour, scholarship winners will obtain a first-hand knowledge of developments throughout urban and rural Canada, with emphasis on the business scene….Channels of communication must be open.

—Vol. 42, No. 2, February 1969