The long defeat -- Where the Canadian Right went wrong (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
A United Right
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 division and infighting for the politically organized Canadian Right, appeared to be a bright way forward. In March 2004, Stephen Harper was selected leader of the reconstituted Conservative Party. The June 2004 election was perhaps one of the most critical in Canadian history, and was supposed to represent the culmination of the now united political Right in its attempt to at least be a voice heard in the national debate, and on a practical level to assume a leadership role by achieving political power. Nevertheless, Stephen Harper essentially flopped – considering that the Liberals were highly vulnerable, especially over the politically sensitive (especially in Quebec) financial scandal known as “The Sponsorship Scandal” or “Adscam”. The Liberals managed to win a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons) in 2004, but were voted down in the federal House of Commons 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 a majority still eluded him. Finally, the Conservative government was voted down in the House of Commons in 2011. However, Harper was finally able to win a majority in the May 2011 election.
Failure in Success
The Conservative majority government of 2011-2015 represented one of the comparatively few, post-1896 moments of conservative electoral triumph in Canadian history. However, Harper timidly continued with centrist policies. He could have helped social conservatives considerably, even without touching same-sex marriage and abortion rights – for example, by introducing pro-family tax policies. Harper was demonized as “far right” and a “dictator” whereas his policies rarely challenged the “Trudeau Liberal consensus” of Canada – or what some have called “the Trudeaupia”. He also failed to properly vet appointments to the Senate, with the result that a highly damaging scandal erupted there. It should be well noted that it was a scandal over administrative, not substantial policy issues. There was a wave of anti-Harper books published during his Prime Ministership, and especially as the date of the 2015 election neared.
The Cult of the Leader (Version 2.0)
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. In the October 2019 election, the Liberals won a strong minority government, despite various scandals. They have been propped up by the NDP, which is even further left. Justin Trudeau has made various pronouncements indicative of his progressivism, such as his praise of the Chinese Communist dictatorship, and his proclamation that Canada is a “post-national state” and that there is “no core [Canadian] identity”. Indeed, Justin Trudeau has exemplified the “progressive” outlook in Canada. The 2018 federal budget was characterized by a deep social radicalism. Yet at the same time, Justin Trudeau has introduced few economically radical measures, and is looking out well for the interests of the one percent, most of whom are in fact liberals. The Liberal Party has usually been the party of the very biggest business in Canada.
Defining the Hegemony of Progressivism
One of the central reasons for the continuing failure of the Canadian Right since the 1960s is the ongoing establishment of vast liberal-leaning media, juridical, academic, educational, bureaucratic, and corporate structures – a nexus of interests which certain American and European critics have called “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 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. Unlike in most other Western countries, where countervailing factors of various kinds exist to the hegemony of the managerial-therapeutic regime, current-day Canada is probably an example of such a managerial-therapeutic system in its “purest” form.
Some of these countervailing factors in the United States include such things as the far greater saliency of the military, the far greater presence of organized religion (both in regard to fundamentalist Protestants and traditionalist Catholics), homeschooling as a major social trend, the existence of probably hundreds of more traditional-leaning private colleges, and a large network of right-leaning think-tanks and publications – which together are part of what some have called the “Right Nation.” At the same time, the United States has a more robust tradition of independent-minded, left-wing, anti-corporate, ecological, or agrarian dissent, such as that typified by Ralph Nader, Christopher Lasch, Rachel Carson, Helen and Scott Nearing, and Wendell Berry.
It could be argued that social, political, cultural, and economic life in Canada – lacking, in fact, either an authentic Right or Left -- has therefore become the least subject to popular will and democratic input. Indeed, it could be called “post-democratic.” The lack of robust democratic participation and input in Canada should be of concern to theorists across the political spectrum. Insofar as the system maintains itself through massive “prior constraint” against a very broad array of ideas, beliefs, and opinions, its pretense to be upholding democracy is questionable. Such a profound lack of equilibrium is radically harmful to a more “ideal-typical” form and exercise of democracy.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.