The Montreal Downtowner, Wednesday, June 23, 1992
"Unity Thinktank" participants enthusiastic
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(Photo caption) Thinktank founder Phil McMaster focuses intensely on Monty Berger's idea.
For the last two weeks the Unity Thinktank has been holding meetings in order to help ordinary Canadians find ways to promote Canadian unity.
"As Canadians we tend to put responsibility into the hands of our leaders. The idea behind the Unity Thinktank is to get people to bolster their courage and stand up for what they believe in," says Philip McMaster.
"There isn't just one solution to Canadian unity," says the thinktank founder, "there are 27 million solutions. Almost everybody has an idea but those ideas need to be networked and the people who came up with the idea have to be able to find the resources to put them into action," adds McMaster.
So far, McMaster reports, there have been a lot of good ideas, and almost every one has been different, "It's good because everyone perceives the unity challenge as being something different. There is no magic bullet, there will never be just one solution to solve this problem. We are going to collect thousands of ideas and help people get the ball rolling."
One example of the innovative ideas that have emerged from the Thinktank sessions is the call for 24 hour language centres.
"Someone comes to Montreal from Toronto. Instead of pushing to make everything bilingual or in English, why not invite them to a place where they can drop in and there are volunteers who will help them learn a few phrases that will help them get by. Just to help people get along. The idea was George Butcher's and everyone at the session said, "well, I'll volunteer to help other Canadians learn more about Montreal and Quebec."
Other ideas have included a Canadian musical, Canadians Think, Therefore Are, a Canadian Shield Campaign and McMaster's own typically light, and slightly wacko idea to create a new distinct class of citizens Zebraephones—targeted mainly at the young, and the young at heart.
People who attend the sessions are enthusiastic and passionate, according to McMaster. "These are people who are passionate about the idea of Canada. They want to explain to those who don't understand what a great country Canada is, just how privileged we are to live here."
Another way in which the thinktank functions, is to encourage and acknowledge people who are fighting for Canadian unity. "Rosemary Joyce started presenting her Proud to Be Canadian T- shirts to politicians and people across Canada a year ago and she hasn't received one bit of recognition. She was frustrated and at the end of her rope. Her cousin persuaded her to attend a thinktank session and by the end of it she was totally pumped up again and realized that every one else in the room was in the same boat... plus at the same meeting, she found someone who printed T- shirts. "You need thinktank sessions like this to keep the energy pumped up and to attract investors and make these ideas work."
McMaster's positive attitude is having results, he has already received a phone call from a Francophone in Quebec City who wants to set up a Unity Thinktank in the province's capital and calls have started coming in from Toronto as well.
The Thinktank plans to showcase its ideas after the Canada Day Parade on July 1st, in Dorchester Square. "Some of the ideas are far enough along so that they can be shown, billboards, T- shirts or petitions, some ideas are still on paper and the Thinktankers are looking for other people to help them, whatever the idea happens to be."
Other groups, such as It's Our Country, Let's Talk, will also be appearing in the showcase.
The Unity Thinktank will also be taking part in the Canada Day Parade.
McMaster started the thinktank because when people asked him what he was doing about Canadian unity, he often turned the question around and found that everyone, by and large, had their own idea on how to promote Canadian unity. This, and the feeling that most Canadians are fed up with the way various levels of government have mismanaged the unity debate, led McMaster to the belief that a grass roots campaign to promote Canadian unity was the best way to keep the country together.
"Fence-sitters are more likely to believe in and be swayed by the opinions and passions of ordinary Canadians, it's something they just can 't dismiss as more government propaganda. Lots of people have ideas... and what we have to do is bring the ideas and the people who can help put those ideas into action together. My own belief is that if the idea is good enough, it will be turned into reality. But you have to keep pushing that idea."
As the ideas keep rolling in McMaster is hoping that backers or businesses with a little cash to spare will step in to help turn the ideas into realty.
"So far, these ideas and the thinktank's costs have been paid for out of individuals' pockets, and generally that isn't enough to keep the ball rolling. The business community in Quebec is scared to stand up and support Canada yet any business that supports a real grass roots movement, one that isn't political, one that can't be voted out at the next election, stands to gain a very great deal. It's what every business is doing, it is building loyalty. We are hoping that investors or corporations will come forward to sponsor and invest in the ideas."
(The Unity Thinktank sessions were held in June of 1992, at 901 Bleury Street, in Montreal. The office was closed following the very successful Canada Day Unity Showcase) -ed.