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The failure of the Canadian Right (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
It could be argued that, over the last five-and-a-half decades, the Canadian Right has conclusively failed to articulate a “counter-ethic” to the now-prevalent “Liberal idea of Canada” and is now on the fast track to extinction in the Canadian polity. The origins of the decline of the Canadian Right can be traced to the battles from 1963 to 1968 between Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and the staunch Tory John Diefenbaker (who was Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963), and the initial burst of “Trudeaumania” in 1968 to 1972. It was in those years that a more traditional Canada was fundamentally overturned, especially as symbolized by the adoption of the new flag, dubbed the “Pearson Pennant”, in 1965 – and the attendant, vast social engineering initiatives. The culmination of “the Trudeau revolution” was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). The social framework of Canada had been changed so drastically by that time, that Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative majorities of 1984 and 1988 ended up being a “defeat in victory” – or a “false dawn.”
The Canadian Right tried to regroup through the launching of the Reform Party in 1987. The Reform Party faced a climate of unrelenting media and institutional hostility -- especially in the 1996 controversy over the extension of anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians.
It could be argued that part of the Liberal Party’s strategy in the 1990s (in the wake of the collapse of Soviet Communism) 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, as they had explicitly promised to do; the Unemployment Insurance reforms, which drastically reduced benefits; the Canada Pension Plan 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 – which kick in at a relatively modest income threshold. It could also be argued that the Liberal Party, especially in the 1990s, has colluded with big banks, big insurance companies, and other major corporations, to the disfavour of the broad Canadian public.
Preston Manning launched the United Alternative initiative in 1998. This culminated in the creation of the Canadian Alliance – whose full, official name was the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance. The initiative failed to achieve its ultimate goal – a merger with the federal Progressive Conservative party – largely because of the intransigence of one man – federal P.C. leader Joe Clark.
In 2000, Stockwell Day was selected leader of the Canadian Alliance. Although he began well, he was increasingly sandbagged by the accusation that he represented “Christian fundamentalist extremism.” The November 2000 election was full of various mendacious accusations by the Liberal Party.
In 2001, Stockwell Day was essentially destroyed by a concerted campaign of the media, the Liberal Party, and dissidents in his own caucus. The ensuing Canadian Alliance leadership selection process of 2002 was won by Stephen Harper.
The merger between the Canadian Alliance (under Stephen Harper) and the federal Progressive Conservatives (under the leadership of Peter MacKay), was formally announced on October 16, 2003, and finalized by December 2003. This move, coming after decades of negativity for the Canadian Right, appeared to be a bright way forward.
In March 2004, Stephen Harper was selected leader of the reconstituted Conservative Party.
The Liberals won a minority government (a plurality of seats in the federal Parliament) in 2004. The Liberal government was finally voted down in the federal Parliament in November 2005. In the ensuing January 2006 federal election, Harper won a minority government. By sticking to centrist policies, Harper continued in power until 2008, when he called an election himself. He won a strengthened mandate, but the majority still eluded him. Finally, the Conservative government was voted down in the federal Parliament in 2011. However, Harper was finally able to win a majority in the May 2011 election. But the Conservative majority government continued with centrist policies.
In the October 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau (Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son) won a strong majority. This was a signal to sweep away whatever fragmentary conservative measures Stephen Harper might have been able to introduce in 2011-2015.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.