On the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation – the case against current-day Canada (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
Examining the arrival of “soft-totalitarianism” on the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation
The 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation is being celebrated in 2022 (July 1). Nevertheless, it is clear that Canada today is diametrically different from what it was in 1967 (the Centennial), let alone 1867. Canada was founded in 1867 as a union of two, long-pre-existent, historical nations – English (British) Canada, and French Canada (centred mostly in Quebec). The Aboriginal peoples were included insofar as they had been traditionally considered to be under the special protection of the Crown.
Until 1896, Canada was dominated by an alliance of English Canadian Conservatives and Quebec “Bleus.” After 1896, however, federal governments came preponderantly to be formed by the Liberal Party. The success of the post-1896 Liberal Party was predicated on combining virtually every federal parliamentary seat from Quebec, with a minority of seats from English Canada. Despite a typically poor showing in English Canada, the large number of Quebec seats meant that it was a formula for power which almost always worked. Until 1963, perennial Liberal rule did not have radical social implications, as all the main parties shared in a “traditionalist-centrist” social consensus. In an effort to appeal to a broader number of Canadians, the Conservatives had changed their name in 1942 to “Progressive Conservative” but the party remained home to many different conservative factions. The third main party was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which, although social democratic in economics, was quite socially conservative. They changed their name to New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961 and have successively become ever more “politically correct”. A fourth party that had a sporadic presence in the federal House of Commons as well as in provincial politics was Social Credit, a smaller, right-wing populist party that arose in the 1930s. They were loosely based on the ideas of C. H. Douglas, who criticized the big banks. A fifth party that was mostly based in Western Canada, were the Progressives. In the 1921 federal election, they won the second largest number of seats in the House of Commons, but they quickly faded thereafter.
The crucial 1963 election pitted the staunch Tory, John Diefenbaker (who had held the post of Prime Minister since 1957) against the Liberal Lester B. Pearson, a career diplomat, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing United Nations peacekeeping. Diefenbaker, originally a small-town Prairie lawyer who frequently championed the underdog, had won a minority government in 1957 and, with the support of Quebec, one of the historically largest majorities in the federal Parliament in 1958. (When Francophones tire of the Liberals, Quebec sometimes throws its support en masse to the “bleus.”) In the 1962 federal election, the P.C.s were reduced to a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons). In 1963, Lester B. Pearson, supported by the electioneering and pollster expertise of the U.S. managerialist classes, who resented Diefenbaker’s refusal to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, swept into power. (These events are aptly described by Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Parkin Grant in his Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965).)
In 1965, Pearson engineered the change of Canada’s flag from the Red Ensign (a flag which had, like Australia’s today, the Union Jack in the upper-left corner), to the current Maple Leaf flag. The flag was seen by some critics as a “new Liberal Party” banner. Although the move was not extensively debated at the time, many political theorists have considered a change of a country’s flag as a marker of “regime change.”
Diefenbaker lost the leadership of the P.C. party by 1967, and was replaced by the stolid Robert Stanfield, a former Premier of Nova Scotia. Although a decent and likeable man, Stanfield generated no excitement. All the charismatic politicians were Liberals, a political reality that would haunt the P.C.s for years.
Pearson was followed in the 1968 federal election by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau was a Quebec-born, flashy, personally very wealthy, perfectly bilingual (French and English), socially liberal, left-wing intellectual and lawyer, who seduced the country in the 1968 federal election, a phenomenon then called “Trudeaumania.” He was sometimes called “the philosopher-king” or “the Northern Magus.” However, in subsequent elections, Trudeau never received a majority of seats in English-speaking Canada, but always won nearly every seat in Quebec. Nevertheless, he remained in power from 1968-1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980).
In the 1972 federal election, the Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield won only two seats less than Pierre Trudeau. However, between 1972-1974, the Liberals were supported by the New Democratic Party in the House of Commons (led by David Lewis, a longtime social democratic activist who had among other achievements, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, remembered for his pithy phrase from the 1972 campaign, “corporate welfare bums”). In 1974, the Liberal government was defeated in a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons, but the Liberals were able to win a majority in the 1974 federal election.
In the 1976 national leadership convention of the Progressive Conservative party, Joe Clark was chosen as leader. In retrospect, it could be argued that there were better choices available than Joe Clark, a perennial “bungler.” Although Joe Clark was from Western Canada, he was frequently seen by Western Canadians, as a “collaborator” with Canada’s Eastern elites. Moreover, he had never held a job outside his parents’ small business, or the P.C. party.
In 1979, Joe Clark won a Progressive Conservative minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons). However, his time in office proved ineffectual, and the government was defeated in the House of Commons in a non-confidence motion. Trudeau, who had earlier claimed that he wanted to retire, came roaring back, and handily won the 1980 federal election.
Over his sixteen years in power, Trudeau inaugurated massive, transformational change that continues to this day – official bilingualism (promotion of French); official multiculturalism; mass, dissimilar immigration; high deficits; official feminism; and multifarious implementations of social liberalism. In 1982, Trudeau brought the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian constitutional structure – which essentially enshrined virtually his entire agenda as the highest law of the land. The enactment of the Charter was seen by both its supporters and opponents, as a virtual coup d’état. The Charter was quickly backed up by an “activist” judiciary and a Canadian Supreme Court where it was difficult to find even one identifiable “conservative”. It is hard to think of an individual who has had as great an impact on his or her society as much as Pierre Trudeau had on Canada. Perhaps the greatest change inaugurated by Trudeau was to alter Canadian political culture to hold the view that liberal progress was an inevitable and ultimately irresistible force for good. This mindset survives to this day, and conditions all of Canadian politics, left and right.
In 1983, Brian Mulroney (a Quebec-born, fluently bilingual, corporate lawyer and corporate executive) challenged Joe Clark’s leadership of the P.C. party, spearheading the leadership review vote at the P.C. national convention, which forced Clark to call a national leadership convention. As seen on television at that time, there was an amazing dynamic in this convention, where the delegates chose the leader. The spirited and more genuinely conservative Newfoundlander John Crosbie might have won the convention, if Joe Clark had released his delegates, but Clark clung on to the bitter end, thinking that he might yet win the leadership, thus ensuring the convention win by Brian Mulroney.
By a few well-chosen pronouncements in 1983-1984, Mulroney let the aura of “right-winger” float down on him, which he thought could assist him in the upcoming federal election.
In 1984, with the support of a Quebec once again tired of the Liberals, Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney won one of the largest majorities in Canadian history, against John Turner, the new Liberal leader, a corporate lawyer who had been Finance Minister in an earlier Trudeau government. However, Mulroney governed with unusual timidity, and was himself mostly a “small-l liberal” viscerally. Indeed, he brutally kept down “small-c conservative” tendencies within the P.C. party. The term “small-c conservative” refers to so-called “ideological” conservatives. Mulroney once snidely said that you could fit all the ideological conservatives in Canada into a telephone booth. Indeed, they were widely derided as “cashew-conservatives”, i.e., “right-wing nuts”.
Mulroney won the 1988 election by making it a referendum on Free Trade with the U.S. Ironically, Free Trade with the U.S. had in Canadian history been opposed by Conservatives (who looked to Britain) and supported by the Liberals. John Turner, the leader of the federal Liberal Party in 1988, was probably more of a “traditionalist conservative” than Mulroney. Indeed, Mulroney had raised immigration levels to a quarter-million persons a year, whereas they had fallen to 54,000 in Trudeau’s last year in office. They have basically remained at a quarter-million persons a year, for decades. However, in our day, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has raised the numbers to over 400,000 in the next three years. The immigration rate for decades was about twice as large per capita as that of the United States – now it is at least three times as large, per capita. Also, Mulroney did nothing when the vestigial restrictions on abortion were struck down by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1988.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.