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The Liberal regime in Canada today: A social-scientific critique
By Mark Wegierski
It is clear from the run-up to and progress of the current federal election campaign in Canada, that one of the main problems of the current-day Canadian system, is the fact that virtually the entire context or "terrain" of political, social, and cultural debate in Canada is defined by the long-ruling Liberal Party. It is very difficult for serious dissident voices -- such as authentic traditionalists and conservatives -- or conscientious ecological critics of consumptionist capitalism -- to be heard.
Indeed, it is all too easy, in current-day Canada, to demonize someone like Stephen Harper, the leader of the recently reconstituted Conservative Party. For example, Joe Clark's pre-election attacks on Stephen Harper (made April 25-26, 2004) -- combined with ongoing media snideness and Liberal attack-ads and rumours -- are continuing to have a certain impact on the campaign. One would like to respond to those overheated, ad hominem attacks, with the ice-cold reason of social science. How can one possibly reply to accusations of having "a dangerous...kind of mentality"?
It could be argued that Joe Clark himself, as leader of the Progressive Conservative party from 1976-1983 and 1998-2003, and Prime Minister of Canada for nine months in 1979-1980, has been little more than a "spoiler" over the decades, of any possibly successful initiatives of the "Centre-Right Opposition" in Canada. He seems to be playing this role to the bitter end and twilight of his political career. Clark should remember that both the Progressive Conservative Party under Peter MacKay's leadership, and the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper, approved the proposed merger of October 16, 2003, by over 90 percent in both cases. Considering the unusual possibilities of "regime-change" now before Canadians, the author of this article would like to draw attention below -- in the careful language of social science -- to what the current regime of the federal Liberal Party represents. It could be argued that the current-day system is so tightly entrenched that nothing but a Conservative Party majority government would be able to make a real difference in this regard.
Indeed, one often finds oneself grappling with concepts for a long time, before something like a paradigm shift in understanding occurs. In regard to Canada, one could examine for a long time why the country has found itself in the state it is in today -- until one comes to the fundamental realization that what has been going on in Canada in the last three decades is not the "reform" of a Western democracy, but the creation of a new type of "regime." Although this regime uses the old Western democratic rhetoric and legitimating rituals, it no longer embraces democracy. There is a transvaluation of the rhetoric of democracy.
Democracy, in its original definition, is a formal system of choosing between different idea-clusters (and groups and individuals that represent them) that are constituted "organically" out of the natural debate and give-and-take of various state and government structures, as well as civil society itself, all of these somewhat traditionally-conceived.
The current regime professes its support of "democratic values" -- which it simply sees as "the good Canadian values" of "the natural governing party." It sees itself as embracing *one* idea-cluster, which it then takes upon itself to impose totally on society, through total administration. However, the way this is done is not only through the state itself, but through reconstituting a pseudo-civil society, defined mostly as the "new social movements" (what the few remaining critics of the system call the special-interest groups). "Democratic values" is a superideology which integrates into itself, in a refashioned image, the more traditional categories of state, elected government, civil service, and civil society. While on the one hand, huge resources are given to explicitly political interest-groups, at the same time, big-business, particularly large corporations and large banks, is brought into the benefits of the system if it understands that it must make large donations to the ruling Party, and acquiesce in, or, more likely, to enthusiastically promote, the current sociopolitical agenda. The emergence of mass media (especially the taxpayer-funded CBC), and mass education (the public education establishment which extends from daycare to university) in the 1960s have also been major buttresses of the system, making total immersion in one total outlook far more possible than would have been the case in less "modern" societies. This is all reinforced by a legal-juridical system whose driving engine is ever more "advanced" interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
The formal majority held by the Liberal Party in the federal Parliament in the Trudeau years (1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-1980) was based on rock-solid support from Quebec. Trudeau won a majority of seats in English Canada only once, in 1968. The support of Quebec and the New Democratic Party (Canada's incredibly ideologically-energetic social democrats), allowed the Trudeau Liberals to carry out massive social and cultural transformations in English Canada to which many English-speaking Canadians were profoundly opposed. The old traditional Canada was simply undermined and abolished in myriad ways. The Liberal Party as it had existed under long-serving Prime Minister Mackenzie King, where it was at least somewhat traditionalist, was also radically changed. It is hard to find any society in history, which has been impacted as much by one individual, as is the case with Trudeau and Canada.
The "Trudeau revolution" carried out fundamental change that created its own socio-cultural ground for further change -- such as the liberalization of abortion and divorce law, and the opening to mass, dissimilar immigration from non-traditional sources. It has been virtually admitted by Tom Kent, a prominent Liberal adviser, that the new immigration policy was conceived to strengthen the Liberal Party, and to annihilate what had often been earlier called "Tory Toronto." By the time of Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney's massive majorities in 1984 and 1988, the country had been so deeply transformed that only the most energetic leadership could have made a difference. Canada in 2004 is essentially waiting for the democratically necessary alternation of governments of widely divergent social and cultural viewpoints that should have occurred in 1984.
The Centre-Right Opposition in Canada has been unable to marshal the societal support to prevent the triumph of the Liberal system. It was further hampered by the fact that much of the Progressive Conservative Party leadership was beholden to the "small-l liberal" idea-cluster, which it called "Red Toryism" -- while marginalizing so-called "small-c conservatism" from the PC Party. The term "small-c conservatism" arose precisely because the "big-C" Conservative Party in those times was often extremely remote from genuinely conservative principles -- which was a major factor behind the rise of the Reform Party -- co-founded in 1987 by Preston Manning. In the 1993 federal election, the Reform Party won 52 of 295 seats in the federal Parliament, and 60 of 301 seats in the 1997 federal election. In 1998 to 2000, the Reform Party transformed itself into the Canadian Alliance (whose full name was the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance) -- winning 66 of 301 seats in the federal Parliament in the November 2000 election. It should also be pointed out that the term "Red Tory" is somewhat ambivalent, as it can embrace the best of Canadian traditionalist-conservative philosophy -- as in the thought of George Parkin Grant -- or the worst of P.C. Party opportunism -- as probably now exemplified by Joe Clark.
Certain sociological and cultural factors weakened the Centre-Right Opposition. Despite the vastness of Canada's hinterland, there is the overwhelmingly urban nature of "the Canada that counts" in this country (mostly Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver). There is also the somewhat "inorganic" nature of the Canadian rural population. A peasantry in the Continental European sense has, of course, never existed in Canada -- there are no such things as villages with their sense of organic community going back centuries. Today, farmers themselves are a miniscule fraction of the country's population, while producing enormous amounts of food. (Canada is one of world's few net food exporters.) Virtually all cultivation, even in the so-called family farms, is done on agribusiness lines. There is almost no one who needs to live in the countryside; city living is accessible to almost everyone. Thus, what is arguably the bedrock base for social conservatism and traditionalism is highly attenuated. Indeed, the Greater Toronto Area, with a population approaching four million, is today the country's node, wielding vast social, cultural, media, and political power. The periphery (i.e., virtually all of the rest of the country) is often seen today as marginal and irrelevant.
One should not be impressed with the apparent economic skill of the ruling Liberal Party. Canada is, in territorial terms, the second-largest country in the world, with a superabundance of virtually all resources. To drive the economy of a country like Canada into the ground could be seen to require a very special type of stupidity. If it is economic prosperity one is looking for, the Liberal regime has found astounding ways of introducing multifarious handicaps to Canadian economic achievement -- such as high taxes and huge state-spending (with the military, incidentally, accounting for a mere 5 percent of federal government spending). It could be argued that Canada has, in the last three decades, been characterized by increasing degrees of what could be called pseudo-prosperity -- not rooted in anything more than the continuing sell-off of Canada's natural resources, and the piling on of federal and provincial debts for projects that are often of highly dubious social value. Certain neoconservative writers have calculated that all Canadians are collectively about as well off as the African-American population of the United States.
In current-day Canada, it often seems that which would seem the most obvious, natural and commonsense to do, is sometimes the most very difficult. The proposal of modest tax cuts, for example, is typically publicly viewed with horror as simply a ploy to force unwanted budget cuts onto the country or province -- as just another way of "waging a war on the poor." In Canada, government accounts for about 50 percent of the economy, as opposed to 34 percent in the United States.
Ironically, some Canadians today -- of varied ideological outlooks -- often have an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the United States (although they are usually unwilling to publicly admit to it) which they regard as a more exciting, more dynamic society. Yet in some senses, it could be argued that the emphatically post-modern, post-Western, and "post-democratic" regime which has been coming into being in the last three decades in Canada may be seen as more "progressive," as more of a "wave of the future" -- than any other system on the planet. Indeed, if things go on as they do today without any countervalent trends becoming prominent, Canada may become the first Western society "accelerated to oblivion."
Economically-speaking, the Canadian system is clearly neither fully capitalist nor fully socialist, but socially, it is most avowedly left-liberal.
Antonio Lamer, the former Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court, has pointedly stated that the court's function is not to uphold democracy, but "democratic values." Of course, the Canadian Supreme Court (and the Liberal Party) get to define what those "democratic values" are. It is the total exercise of one idea-cluster at the expense of others.
In Canada today, someone of prominence who -- however tentatively or conjecturally -- opposes the current Liberal regime, will almost inevitably find themselves publicly denounced as "dangerous." Indeed, they are "dangerous" -- to that Liberal regime -- to the behemoth strucutures of the current-day, federal Liberal Party and its allied media and interest groups.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.
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