Fight the future! The next federal election will be one of the most important in Canadian history
By Mark Wegierski
It can be argued that all the main political endeavours of Prime Minister Stephen Harper today are leading towards a huge showdown with the Liberals in the next election. In such a showdown, either the Conservatives will win a majority in the federal Parliament, or, winning less than a majority, they are likely to find themselves consigned to political oblivion. One possible consequence of a Conservative defeat in the next federal election would be to allow even the most obtuse observers to understand that conservatism is highly attenuated in this country. It could then be seen that the seeds of conservative failure were sown decades ago.
Indeed, it could be argued that, over the last four decades in Canada, what could be called the "Centre-Right Opposition" has largely failed to articulate a "counter-ethic" to the "Liberal idea of Canada." The term "Centre-Right Opposition" is used because of their perennial underdog status in Canadian federal politics since at least the mid-1960s.
The origins of the conservative decline can be traced to the political battles from 1963 to 1968 between Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and the staunch Tory, John Diefenbaker (Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963), as well as to the initial burst of "Trudeaumania" in 1968 to 1972. It was in those years that a more traditional Canada – such as that typically represented by long-serving Prime Minister Mackenzie King – the head of a Liberal Party that could be characterized as "centre-traditionalist" -- was fundamentally overturned.
The overturning was especially symbolized by the adoption of the new flag in 1965. An act so fundamental as the adoption of a new flag has almost always in political history characterized "regime-change." The new flag symbolized a farewell – or perhaps rather a good riddance – to the traditional Canada. The change of the flag was subsequently accompanied by vast, social engineering initiatives – in which most of the traditional Canada was swept away in a vast, roaring tide of social, cultural, political, and juridical change.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980). The culmination of what has been called "the Trudeau revolution" was the bringing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) into the Canadian constitutional structure. The combination of the Charter's actual language, written in the penumbra of the post-Sixties' era, as well as the almost immediate emergence of a massively "activist judiciary" – greatly intensified and magnified the enormous transformations of Canadian society that had been underway since the mid-1960s. The social framework of Canada had indeed been changed so drastically by the 1980s, that Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative majorities of 1984 and 1988 ended up being -- for "small-c conservatives" -- little more than a "defeat in victory" -- or a "false dawn."
The "Centre-Right Opposition" tried to regroup through the launching of the Reform Party of Canada (co-founded by Preston Manning, the son of longtime Social Credit Alberta Premier Ernest C. Manning) in 1987. (The Social Credit Party – taking its name from the concepts of C. H. Douglas -- was a smaller, right-wing, populist party in Canada that arose – especially in Western Canada -- in response to the Great Depression.) The climate of unrelenting media and institutional hostility towards the Reform Party created a suitable context for the encouragement of Liberal arrogance -- and the Liberal majority governments of 1993 and 1997.
Part of the Liberal Party's strategy in the 1990s, to draw the sting of Reform Party criticism, was to adopt so-called fiscal or economic conservatism. The extent of the Liberal austerity measures against the mass of ordinary Canadians included: not rescinding the Goods and Services Tax (GST), as they had explicitly promised to do; the Unemployment Insurance (UI) reforms, which drastically reduced benefits; the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) reforms, which substantially raised the amount of contributions that have to be paid into the program; and the Old Age Pension and Old Age tax-exemption clawbacks.
The establishment of the Canadian Alliance failed largely because of the stubborn intransigence of Joe Clark, who had been a luckless Prime Minister for nine months in 1979-1980, and steered the federal Progressive Conservative party onto reefs and shoals in 1998-2003. Although Stockwell Day – who had defeated Preston Manning for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance – began well, he was increasingly sandbagged by the accusation that he represented "Christian fundamentalist extremism." Stockwell Day failed to defeat Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien in the November 2000 federal election. After a major caucus revolt, Stockwell Day had to initiate a new leadership selection process, although he did not decline from trying to contest it himself. Stephen Harper handily won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in March 2002.
The long-awaited merger between the Canadian Alliance and the federal Progressive Conservatives -- announced on October 16, 2003, and finalized by December 2003 -- was followed by Stephen Harper winning the leadership of the renewed Conservative Party in March 2004. Although the Conservatives made significant gains, they failed to win a government in the June 2004 federal election, with Paul Martin's Liberals forming a minority government. (The rivalry between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, Jr., had resulted in the latter's ascension to the Liberal Party leadership and office of Prime Minister in November 2003.)
After the defeat of the Liberal government in the House of Commons in November 2005 (when all three opposition parties voted against it), the Conservatives finally won a minority government in the ensuing January 23, 2006 federal election, as a consequence of, among other issues, the public's perception of grotesque levels of corruption in the Liberal Party.
It could be argued that there has occurred in Canada, since the 1960s, the ongoing establishment of vast, liberal-leaning, governmental, juridical, media, academic, educational, and corporate structures -- a nexus of interests which some critics have termed "the managerial-therapeutic regime" -- which could be characterized as socially liberal and economically conservative. There is also the fact that "North American" pop-culture is, indeed, the primary "lived cultural reality" for most people in Canada, which tends to reinforce socially liberal, consumerist/consumptionist, and antinomian attitudes, especially among the young. The resources available to left-liberals in Canada clearly outweigh those of "small-c conservatives" by astronomical factors.
Given the direction of developments in Canada over the last four decades, the future of Canadian politics is quite likely to move towards a "post-democratic" and de facto "one-party" system -- which will be overwhelmingly socially liberal and economically conservative. It's possible that a thoroughly neutered federal Conservative Party – possibly renaming itself "Progressive Conservative" again -- could be a part of that kind of system – but the concept of an abiding "Centre-Right Opposition" will be dead.
If this goes on, life in such a society for serious conservatives could eventually come to resemble some insalubrious combination of an existence considerably similar to that of Winston Smith in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and of Bernard Marx and John the Savage in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Indeed, if Harper is conclusively defeated in the next federal election, there will already at that point be little more remaining than the possibilities of private self-cultivation by isolated resisters, with probably the main hope for restorative social action in Canada becoming various regionalist/devolutionist scenarios.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.